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Iraq History

 Coups, wars & instability

War with Israel followed in 1948, in which Iraqi forces were allied with those of Transjordan, in accordance with a treaty signed by the two countries during the previous year.

Fighting continued until the signing of a cease-fire agreement in May 1949. The war also had a negative impact on the Iraqi economy. The government allocated 40 percent of available funds for the army and for Palestinian refugees. Oil royalties paid to Iraq were halved when the pipeline to Haifa was cut off in 1948.

The war and the hanging of a Jewish businessman led, moreover, to the departure of most of Iraq's prosperous Jewish community. Although emigration was prohibited, many Jews made their way to Israel during this period with the aid of an underground movement.

In 1950 the Iraqi parliament finally legalized emigration to Israel, and between May 1950 and August 1951, the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government succeeded in airlifting approximately 110,000 Jews to Israel in Operations Ezra and Nehemiah; about 120,000 Iraqi Jews emigrated to Israel between 1948 and 1952.

In the mid-1950s, the monarchy was embroiled in a series of foreign policy blunders that ultimately contributed to its overthrow. Following a 1949 military coup in Syria that brought to power Adib Shishakli, a military strongman who opposed union with Iraq, a split developed between Abd al Ilah, who had called for a Syrian-Iraqi union, and Nuri as-Said, who opposed the union plan.

Although Shishakli was overthrown with Iraqi help in 1954, the union plan never came to fruition. Instead, the schism between Nuri as-Said and the regent widened.

Sensing the regime's weakness, the opposition intensified its antiregime activity. The monarchy's major foreign policy mistake occurred in 1955, when Nuri as-Said announced that Iraq was joining a British supported mutual defense pact with Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey. The Baghdad Pact constituted a direct challenge to Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser.

In response, Nasser launched a vituperative media campaign that challenged the legitimacy of the Iraqi monarchy and called on the officer corps to overthrow it.

The 1956 British-French-Israeli attack on Sinai further alienated Nuri as-Said's regime from the growing ranks of the opposition.

In February 1958 King Hussein of Jordan and Abd al Ilah proposed a union of Hashimite monarchies to counter the recently formed Egyptian-Syrian union, when Egypt and Syria joined to become the United Arab Republic on February 1, 1958. On February 12, Federation between Jordan and Iraq, called Arab Union of Jordan and Iraq, was declared.

Opening its doors for any Arab state to join if they wish ... Nuri as-Said concentrated on the participation of Kuwait as a third country in the proposed Arab-Hashimite Union, Shaikh Abdullah Al-Salim, ruler of Kuwait, was invited to Baghdad to discuss Kuwait liberation from the British protection, and on the subject of tri-unity.

Britain opposed declaring Kuwait independent at that time. At this point, the monarchy found itself completely isolated. Nuri as-Said was able to contain the rising discontent only by resorting to even greater oppression and to tighter control over the political process. Inspired by the example of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, the Hashimite monarchy was overthrown on July 14, 1958, in a swift, predawn coup executed by officers of the Nineteenth Brigade known as "Free Officers", under the leadership of Brigadier Abdul-Karim Qassem (known as "il-Za`im") and Colonel Abdul Salam Arif. King Faisal II and Abd al Ilah were executed in al-Rihab Palace, and displaying the bodies in public, hanging them by their feet outside the palace; as were many others in the royal family.

Nuri as-Said escaped capture for one day after attempting to escape disguised as a veiled woman, but was then caught and put to death, his body tied to the back of a car and dragged through the streets until there was nothing left but half a leg. Iraq was proclaimed a republic, and the Arab Union was dissolved.

Iraq works for close relations with the United Arab Republic, established by Egypt and Syria earlier this year. Qassem acts to keep up Western confidence by not interfering with oil production.

Iraq's activity in the Baghdad Pact ceased. Later the same year, on two occasions, Aref attempted to assassinate the new Prime Minister, Qassem, but failed. In 1959, the Mosul garrison, disillusioned with the new government, organized a revolt against Qassem. The revolt was ruthlessly suppressed, with the massacre of many hundreds of disaffected Arab nationalists and Ba'athists.

Later in 1959, another assassination attempt against Qassem, this time organized by the Ba'ath Party, failed. Amongst the unsuccessful assassination squad was the young Saddam Hussein.

Qassem ended Iraq's membership in the Baghdad Pact (later reconstituted as the Central Treaty Organization- CENTO) in 1959. Qassem remained in power for more than four years.

The Nasserites and the Baathists both wished to join the UAR (United Arab Republic - Egypt), a means to control the communists, but Qassem, not wishing to be overshadowed by Nasser, allied himself with the left and refused their demands. This served to alienate himself from his strongest supporters.

Qassem supported poor farmers and middle class workers, allowed trade unions to form, worked to end the feudal land system long in place, and lifted a ban on Iraq's Communist Party.

Qassem also attempted to negotiate with the Iraq Petroleum Company to increase Iraq's royalties. Finally passing ¨Public Law 80¨ in December 1961, declared the agreement by which foreign powers controlled the nation's oil reserves to be null and void, prohibiting concessions being granted to foreign companies. At the same time announced that the government was willing to negotiate with western companies to continue their exploitation of Iraqi petroleum with appropriate payment. Qassem also transferred control over Iraq's oil resources to an Iraq National Oil Company. This, plus the fact that a few cabinet positions were filled with people sympathetic to Communist Party goals, lead the US to label the events as a communist takeover, and to begin actively supporting the Ba'ath Party.

In 1961, Kuwait gained its independence from Britain. Abdul-Karim Qassem immediately claimed sovereignty over it, claim to the Amirate as originally part of the Ottoman province of Basrah. Britain reacted strongly to this threat to its ex-protectorate, dispatching a brigade to the country to deter Iraq. Qassem backed down, and in October 1963, Iraq recognised the sovereignty and borders of Kuwait. A period of considerable instability followed, with one military coup swiftly succeeding another, and leaders came and went throughout the 60s and early 70s.

Qassem was assassinated in February 1963, when Ba'ath Arab Socialist Party members took power; under the leadership of Gen. Ahmed Hasan al-Bakr as prime minister and Col. Abdul Salam Arif as president.

Nine months later, President Abdul Salam Mohammad Arif led a successful coup against the Ba'athists, ousting the Ba'ath government.

In April 13 1966 President Abdul Salam Arif dies in a helicopter crash! and is followed by his brother Gen. Abdul Rahman Arif. Following the Six Day War of 1967, the Ba'ath Party felt strong enough. The Ba'athists overthrow Arif and regained power on 17th of July 1968 coup.

Ahmed Hasan al-Bakr became president and chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) following the Ba'athists return to power. Iraq's general policy during these years was one of Arab National. Iraq was on the head of the other Arab troops during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and in the liberation war of 1973, gave material aid to Syria.

Iraq was heavily opposed to the cease-fire, which ended the conflict. Relations with Iran were fast deteriorating in the early 70s. Iranian arms supplies to the Kurd leader, Mustafa al-Barzani, now fueled the ongoing Kurdish situation, which had first emerged in a 1961 Kurdish rebellion.

Problems were compounded by border disputes with Iran, but these were partially settled in 1975, In Algiers on March 6, 1975, Saddam Hussein signed an agreement with the Shah (Algiers Agreement), that recognized the thalweg as the boundary in the Shatt el-Arab, legalized the Shah's abrogation of the 1937 treaty in 1969, and dropped all Iraqi claims to Khuzestan and to the islands at the foot of the Gulf. In return, the Shah agreed to prevent subversive elements from crossing the border, whereupon Iran withdrew aid from the Kurdish revolt and effectively halted it.

By the end of 1977, the Kurdish people had been granted greater autonomy and Kurdish was recognized as an official language. Politically, Iraq seemed to be stabilizing, and the oil boom of the late 70s contributed dramatically to an upsurge in the economy.


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