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Earthdate 2004-05-18

Iraqi History

Consulting Encyclopædia Britannica (CD 1997) for context, first from Britannica's biography of 'Abd al-Karim Qasim, prime minister of Iraq (via a 1958 coup) prior to the Baathists:

In March 1959 Pan-Arab opponents of Qasim launched an open rebellion in Mosul.  The bulk of the army remained loyal, and the uprising was crushed with little difficulty; Qasim removed some 200 army officers of whose loyalty he could not be certain.  Among civilians he was forced to rely for support mostly upon communists, who were eager for a chance to strike at their right-wing opponents, the Pan-Arabs, and now pushed for a larger voice in the determination of government policy.  Qasim resisted their demands, and several months later purged communist elements from the police and the army.

Qasim's support as prime minister steadily narrowed.  By 1960 he had suspended organized political activity and repressed both right- and left-wing civilian and military elements when it seemed that they might compete with his authority.  His rule was supported only by the army, but in the spring of 1961 a rebellion broke out among the Kurds — an ethnic group acutely conscious of its cultural differences from the Arabs and to which Qasim had neglected to fulfill a promise for a measure of autonomy within the Iraqi state.  This Kurdish revolt undermined even Qasim's military support, as much of the army became tied down in a seemingly endless and fruitless attempt to put down the rebellion.  This situation, along with the discontent produced by repeated military purges, drew a number of officers into open resistance to the Qasim regime.  'Abd as-Salam 'Arif led dissident army elements in a coup in February 1963, which overthrew the government and killed Qasim himself.

Looking over this history, two points become clear.  This tale of Iraqi turbulence doesn't sound very different from Iraq's history for the subsequent four decades.  Moreover, Qasim in particular had alienated virtually all segments of Iraqi society by the time he was overthrown.  His major political opponent, whom he had previously purged, along with dissident army elements, fearful of his already wide-ranging purges throughout the military corps, got together and killed him.  There's manifestly nothing in this sorry story that requires any “assist” by the CIA.

Quoting further, from Britannica's article “Iraq, History of”:

Iraq was declared a republic and Islam the religion of the state; all executive and legislative powers were entrusted to the Sovereignty Council and the Cabinet.  It soon became clear, however, that power rested in Qasim's hands, supported by the army.

Conflicts among the officers developed, first between Qasim and 'Arif and then between Qasim and his supporters.  'Arif championed the Pan-Arab cause and advocated Iraq's union with the U.A.R.  Qasim rallied the forces against Arab unity — Kurds, communists, and others — and stressed Iraq's own identity and internal unity.  'Arif was dropped from power in October, but in 1959 Qasim's power was threatened by other factions.  He tried to divert public attention to foreign affairs by advancing Iraq's claim to Kuwait's sovereignty in June 1961.

Sound like any other caudillos you know?  Kuwait was never part of Iraq, by the way; as another article in Encyclopædia Britannica makes clear, foundation of the autonomous sheikdom of Kuwait dates back to 1756, while (unlike Iraq) it was never a part of the Turkish Empire.

This brought him into conflict not only with Britain and Kuwait but also with the other Arab countries.  He opened negotiations with the Iraq Petroleum Company to increase Iraq's royalties, but his extreme demands resulted in the breakdown of negotiations in 1961.  Public Law 80 was enacted to prohibit the granting of concessions to any foreign company and to transfer control over all matters connected with oil to an Iraq National Oil Company (INOC).

One can see why leftists love this guy.

By 1963 Qasim had become isolated internally as well as externally; the only great power with which he remained friendly was the Soviet Union.  When one faction of the army, in cooperation with one Arab nationalist group — the Iraqi regional branch of the Arab Socialist Ba'th (“Revivalist” or “Renaissance”) Party — started a rebellion in February 1963, the regime suddenly collapsed, and Qasim was executed.

Once again, not very much different from the forty years that followed in Iraq.  Notice the comment:  “… the only great power with which he remained friendly was the Soviet Union.”  Even after Qasim's overthrow, the Soviet Union would continue to be fast friends with Saddam Hussein's Iraq — plus getting additional road mileage out of blaming the U.S. for Qasim's overthrow to boot!



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