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The revolution of 1958



Despite material progress, the monarchy failed to win public support and, in particular, the confidence of the younger generation. Before the revolution, Iraq lacked an enlightened leadership capable of achieving progress and inspiring public confidence. The new generation offered such leadership, but the older leaders resisted and embarked on an unpopular foreign policy, including an alliance with Britain through participation in the Baghdad Pact and opposition to the establishment of the United Arab Republic (U.A.R.).

The failure of younger civilians to obtain power aroused the concern of some young military officers who, required by military discipline to take no part in politics, called themselves the Free Officers and began to organize in small groups and to lay down revolutionary plans. The number of Free Officers was relatively small, but there was a considerably larger number of sympathizers. The officers worked in cells, and the identity of the participants was kept secret. Only the Central Organization, which supplied leadership of the movement, was known to all the Free Officers. The Central Organization was composed of 14 officers, headed by 'Abd al-Karim Qasim, who held the highest military rank.

Of the several plots proposed, that laid down by Qasim and his close collaborator 'Abd as-Salam 'Arif proved the most appropriate. The general staff issued an order to one of the brigades, in which 'Arif served, to proceed to Jordan on July 14, 1958, to reinforce Jordanian forces against threats by Israel. Brigadier Qasim, in command of another brigade, was to protect the brigades going to Jordan. He and 'Arif agreed that as the brigade proceeding to Jordan passed through Baghdad it would capture the city.

On July 14 the revolutionary forces captured the capital, declared the downfall of the monarchy, and proclaimed a republic. The leading members of the royal house, including the king and crown prince, were executed. General Nuri was killed during the disturbances. Qasim, head of the revolutionary force, formed a Cabinet, over which he presided, and appointed himself commander of the National Forces. He also assumed the portfolio of defense and appointed 'Arif minister of the interior and deputy commander of the National Forces. A Council of Sovereignty, composed of three persons, was to act as head of state.

A provisional constitution declared that Iraq formed an integral part "of the Arab nation" and that "Arabs and Kurds are considered partners in this homeland." 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. 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).

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.


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