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The military coup of 1963


The military faction that brought about the collapse of the first Republic preferred to remain behind the scenes rather than assume direct responsibility. The Ba'th Party, a group of young activists who advocated Arab nationalism and socialism, was entrusted with power. Ba'th leaders invited 'Abd as-Salam 'Arif to assume the presidency. A National Council for Revolutionary Command (NCRC), composed of civilian and military leaders, was established to assume legislative and executive powers. The premiership was entrusted to Colonel Ahmad Hassan al- Bakr, a Ba'thist officer.

Some of the Ba'th leaders wanted to carry out Ba'th socialist ideas; others advised more caution. A compromise was finally reached in which the party's goals--Arab unity, freedom, and socialism--were reaffirmed in principle, but it was decided to adopt a transitional program. Industrialization and economic development were stressed, and the role of the middle class was recognized. The dissension among Ba'th leaders, however, soon led to the collapse of the regime. President 'Arif, whose powers initially had been restricted by the Ba'th leaders, rallied the military forces to his side. On Nov. 18, 1963, he placed the leaders of the Ba'th Party under arrest and took over control, becoming in fact, as in name, the real ruler of the country. In May 1964, a new provisional constitution was promulgated in which the principles of Arab unity and socialism were adopted, and in July the banks and a number of the country's industries were nationalized.

The idea of Arab socialism attracted only a small group in Iraq, and 'Arif began to discover its unfavourable effects on the country. 'Arif himself had never been a believer in socialism, but he had adopted it under the influence of Egypt. The adverse influence of nationalization gave him an excuse to replace the group that supported socialism with others who would pay attention to the reality of Iraq's economic conditions. Nor had 'Arif been happy with the group of officers who had elevated him to power. He began to prepare the way to entrust power to civilian hands willing to be guided by him as chief executive.

In September 1965 'Arif invited 'Abd ar-Rahman al-Bazzaz, a distinguished lawyer, diplomat, and writer on Arab nationalism, to form a new government. Al-Bazzaz did not feel that he should abolish Arab socialism, but he offered to increase production and create a balance between the public and private sectors.

'Arif died suddenly in a helicopter accident in April 1966. Even before his death, Premier al-Bazzaz, known for his opposition to military interference in politics, had begun to talk about the need to hold elections for a representative assembly. Military officers pressured the new president, 'Abd ar-Rahman 'Arif, elder brother of the late president, to remove al-Bazzaz, and the Cabinet resigned in August 1966. Power remained in military hands, but factionalism in the army was accentuated and leadership frequently changed. The Arab defeat in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, in which Iraq took only a nominal role, led to intense unrest within the country and within the party. The Ba'th, joined by other opposition leaders, called for the formation of a coalition government and the holding of general elections for a National Assembly. President 'Arif paid no attention to their demands.


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