A People’s History of Iraq: 1950 to November 1963

Even potential 2008 Democratic Party presidential candidates like U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton ignored the demands of anti-war movement women activists prior to October 2002. According to her website, the current front runner for the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination apparently said the following on the U.S. Senate floor on October 10, 2002, in support of "A resolution to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq":

"… Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including Al Qaeda members… 

"Over eleven years have passed since the UN called on Saddam Hussein to rid himself of weapons of mass destruction as a condition of returning to the world community. Time and time again he has frustrated and denied these conditions. This matter cannot be left hanging forever with consequences we would all live to regret….

"So it is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our nation…And it is a vote that says clearly to Saddam Hussein – this is your last chance – disarm or be disarmed…" 

If the Bush Administration officials and the Democratic Party politicians who are responsible for authorizing the use of U.S. armed forces in Iraq had known more about the following history of Iraq between 1950 to November 1963. Perhaps, over 140,000 U.S. troops would not have spent another Christmas Day in Iraq in 2005.

By 1952, only 6,000 people of Jewish background lived in Iraq; and these remaining Iraqis of Jewish background mostly earned their living under the monarchical regime as either merchants or professionals. Left-wing activist-led resistance to the royalist regime in Iraq continued during the 1950s. After Fahd’s execution in 1949, a 22-year-old Iraqi of Kurdish background, Baha u-d-Din-Nuri, became the leader of Iraq‘s Communist Party in 1950. 

On August 23, 1952, Iraqi workers went on strike in Basra for four days. The regime’s police then killed three workers in Basra. But Iraqi peasant revolts began in the rest of the country in 1952 and 1953.

In November 1952, anti-regime street demonstrations, similar to the suppressed January 1948 "Wathbah" protests, again broke out on the streets of Baghdad. Organized by the Iraqi communist-supported Partisans of Peace anti-imperialist group, the "Intifada" demanded that civil liberties be guaranteed in Iraq, that a political system of free, direct elections be established and that the regime’s treaty with the UK government be abolished. On November 22, 1952 a mass demonstration in Baghdad demanded: "Anglo-American Imperialists, Leave Our Country!" 

The following day, Iraqi communist leaders led more anti-imperialist street protests in Baghdad. Iraq’s head of the Communist party, Baha u-d-Din-Nuri, was on the streets of Baghdad on November 23, 1952, "when at about one o’clock in the afternoon the United States Information Service library was burned" by protesters, according to the 1978 book “The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq” by Hanna Batatu.

The monarchy’s police then killed twelve of the protesters. In response, the anti-imperialist Iraqi demonstrators burned down the local police station. The Iraqi Army was then called into Baghdad to suppress the protests, martial law declared and all dissident Iraqi political leaders were locked up. 

Despite the arrest of its leaders on November 23, 1952, Iraqi communist activists were still able to organize another mass protest on November 24, 1952 condemning the "dictatorship". The regime’s Iraqi soldiers, similar to the Iraqi police on the previous day, opened fire on the demonstrators. They killed eighteen and wounded 84 protesters.

A new wave of political repression followed in Iraq. By the end of November 1952, 958 Iraqis were jailed as political prisoners and 2,041 Iraqis were temporarily detained. Another two Iraqi political activists were sentenced to death. Then on April 13, 1953, the regime’s police arrested Baha-u-d-Din-Nari. 

In June of 1953 there were still 164 Communist Party of Iraq members imprisoned in Baghdad‘s Central Jail and 123 party members locked up in the Kut Prison. On June 18, 1953, in the Baghdad Central Jail, the Iraqi communist prisoners staged protest. In response, their guards killed 7 and wounded 81 of the protesting prisoners. A few months later, on September 2, 1953, the Iraqi communist prisoners at Kut Prison also staged a protest. In response, the regime’s troops used machine guns against them, killing 8 and wounding 94 of the protesting prisoners.

Following this 1953 intensification of political repression by the regime, the size of the Communist Party of Iraq’s membership in early 1954 was only about 1/8 the size of its membership in 1948. But after an April 21, 1954 Military Assistance Understanding agreement between the Republican Eisenhower Administration and the Iraqi regime was signed on April 21, 1954, elections were held on June 9, 1954 in which the Iraqi communist-backed National Front won 4 of 10 constituencies in Baghdad. In response, Nuri as-Said was named to head the royalist regime’s government on August 2, 1954; and on August 3, 1954 the Iraqi parliament that was elected in June was dissolved. 

On April 4, 1955, the UK government pressured its puppet regime to sign a special agreement with Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and the UK–the Baghdad Pact– that more formally aligned the undemocratic Iraqi government militarily with the UK and U.S. An Iraqi poet named Husain ar-Radi (a/k/a Salam ‘Adil) also assumed the post of Secretary General of the Communist Party of Iraq in 1955.

To counter the continued political influence of the Communist Party of Iraq in Iraqi society during the 1950s and early 1960s, the U.S. government apparently began to encourage the growth of an anti-imperialist, pan-Arab nationalist, but anti-communist, Ba’th Party in Iraq during the Cold War Era. As Rashid Khalidi recalled in his Resurrecting Empire book: "Starting in the late 1950s, this policy ranged from covert sympathy for the Iraqi Ba’th Party to wholehearted backing for dictatorial Ba’thist regimes at various times from the 1960s through 1990." 

At first linked to Syria‘s Ba’th Party branch, when the Iraqi branch of the pan-Arab nationalist Ba’th Party was formed in Iraq in 1952. The group apparently only had 50 members. By 1955, the Ba’th Party in Iraq still had 289 members, although Syria‘s Ba’th Party had gained control of the Syrian government by 1954. The Iraqi head of state prior to the 2003 U.S. military occupation of Iraq (the currently-imprisoned Saddam Hussein) apparently began his connection to Iraq‘s anti-communist Ba’th Party in 1955 when he was 18 years-old.

The involvement of the regime’s Baghdad Pact ally in the 1956 military attack on Egypt by the UK, French and Israeli governments triggered Iraqi communist-led mass street protests in Iraq between November 1 and November 24, 1956. Although the regime’s police were able to suppress the November 1956 street protests, opposition to the monarchy within Iraqi military’s officer corps increased. 

Inspired by the way Egyptian nationalist military officers, led by Gamal Abdel Nasser, had overthrown Egypt‘s King Farouk in 1952, an Iraqi military officer named Rif’af al-Han Sirri organized a cell of a Free Officers group within the Iraqi military in 1952. By the end of 1956, there were 4 cells of Free Officers within the Iraqi military. By the end of 1957, there were 172 members of the Free Officers in Iraq; and on the eve of the July 1958 overthrow of the monarchy, 200 Iraqi military officers were part of the group. Less than 5% of the entire memberships of the Iraqi military’s officer corps, however, were members of the Free Officers on the eve of the 1958 Iraqi military coup.

In September of 1956, Iraqi communist activists had established contact with one of the dissident Iraqi military officers, Brigadier General Abdul Karim Qasim. In 1957 the Free Officers’ leaders who composed the Supreme National Committee also selected Qasim as their leader. Another member of the Supreme National Committee of Iraqi military officers, Kamal Umar Nashma, was also a member of the Communist Party of Iraq. After 80 junior officers of the Iraqi military joined the Free Officers in November 1957 Qasim met directly with Kamal Umar Nashma in early 1958. 

Later in 1958, without the knowledge of other members of the Free Officer’ Supreme National Committee, Qasim decided to unilaterally act to overthrow the royalist regime. Late in the evening of July 13, 1958, 3,000 Iraqi soldiers of the 20th Infantry Brigade were ordered by Qasim to move towards Baghdad. At on July 14, 1958, Qasim’s troops entered Baghdad and then seized the regime’s radio station, Ministry of Defense and royal palace, as well as the house of Nuri as-Said, the regime’s prime minister. At 8 a.m., Iraq’s Hashemite king and his family were then killed; and when the fleeing Nuri as-Said–disguised in a women’s dress–was recognized the following day on the street by a crowd of anti-imperialist Iraqis, the angry crowd killed him.

On July 14, 1958, Iraqi communist activists also helped mobilize 100,000 Iraqis to protest on the streets of Baghdad in support of Qasim’s anti-royalist military coup; and the property of the Hashemite royal family was declared confiscated on July 19, 1958. A provisional Iraqi constitution, giving a Council of Ministers legislative and executive power, was then enacted on July 27, 1958. 

In the months following the Qasim coup, considered the July 1958 Revolution in Iraqi history, the anti-communist Ba’th Party was still not seen as that politically influential within Iraqi society. Although it possessed 300 active members, 1200 organizational partisans, 2,000 organized supporters and 10,000 unorganized supporters, "its forces of attraction hardly compared with that of its Communist rivals," according to Hanna Batatu’s book, “The Old Social Classes and The Revolutionary Movements of Iraq.”

When 500,000 Iraqi protesters demonstrated on the streets of Baghdad on August 7, 1958 in support of Iraq’s new revolutionary government, "the Communists far outdistanced the other elements, at least in their organizational resources, and the direct leadership was manifest in their hands," according to Batatu’s book. By mid-1959, the membership of the Communist Party of Iraq exceeded 25,000. Communist Party of Iraq influence in the 40,000 member League for Defense of Women’s Rights, the 84,000 Iraqi Democratic Youth Federation and the 275,000 member General Federation of Trade Unions was also strong by mid-1959. 

An agrarian reform was soon proclaimed by Qasim’s regime on September 30, 1958 that set maximum limits on the amount of land that the 2,800 feudal landlords, who controlled 56% of all Iraqi private land, could possess. The Qasim regime also reduced rents on rooms by 20%, reduced rents on homes by 15 to 20%, brought down the price of bread, and reduced the Iraqi workday to 8 hours.

Initially, Qasim relied on Iraqi communist activists’ support for his government, because they appeared to be the only organized political force in Iraqi society capable of countering any anti-Qasim political forces in Iraq and within the Iraqi military. On August 21, 1958, Iraqi communist activists established a People’s Resistance Force of 11,000 young men and women in Baghdad to support the Qasim regime. The head of the Qasim regime’s intelligence service in late 1958 was also a member of the Communist Party of Iraq. The General Union of Iraqi Students initially elected an Iraqi communist activist to lead it during Qasim’s regime. 

Despite the democratic economic reforms he instituted and the political support his regime received from Iraqi communist activists, however, Qasim, himself, was just an anti-imperialist nationalist and not a communist. Initially, Qasim’s deputy prime minister was an anti-communist colonel named Abdel Salem Aref, who was an admirer of Egyptian leader Nasser and pro-Ba’thist in his politics in 1958. By late September 1958, however, Aref had resigned his post. Aref’s support for the unification, not federation, of Iraq with Nasser‘s United Arab Republic was not shared by Qasim.

An unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Qasim was then allegedly made by Aref when he and Qasim met with others in an October 12, 1958 meeting. In response, Qasim’s police arrested Aref on November 4, 1958 and closed down the Ba’th Party’s newspaper on November 7, 1958. 

Then on February 23, 1959, a Ba’th-supported plot in Mosul to overthrow the Qasim regime was discovered by Qasim’s Iraqi communist activist supporters in that city. The 180,000 Iraqis who lived in Mosul in March 1959 were much more anti-communist than the Iraqis who lived in Baghdad. In Mosul, the Ba’th Party had 150 full members, 600 Ba’th supporters and ties to anti-communist and anti-Qasim Iraqi military officers. Although the People’s Resistance Force group in Mosul which supported the Qasim regime contained 7,000 members, only 400 people in Mosul were members of the Communist Party of Iraq in early March 1959.

To protest the Ba’th-supported plot, the Iraqi communist activist-led Peace Partisans mobilized 250,000 people, many from Baghdad, to demonstrate in support of the Qasim regime in Mosul on March 6, 1959. The following day, Ba’thist activists burnt down the leftist bookshops and the Ali al-Khajju coffeehouse in Mosul. The Ali al-Khajju coffeehouse was the Mosul coffeehouse where local Iraqi communist activists hung out in the late 1950s. 

The next day, at dawn on March 8, 1959, anti-Qasim Iraqi military officers in Mosul arrested 60 local Iraqi communist activists. Then, at , these Iraqi Army Fifth Brigade military officers broadcast a call to revolt against the Qasim regime over the Mosul radio station.

Qasim loyalists within the military and the Qasim regime’s Iraqi communist supporters were able to prevent the Ba’th-supported Iraqi military revolt in Mosul from succeeding in March 1959. During this unsuccessful Ba’th-supported 1959 Mosul revolt, at least 110 Iraqis were killed and 300 Iraqis were wounded. Of the 110 Iraqis killed, 48 were Ba’th Party activists or allies and 30 were Communist Party of Iraq activists. 

In the aftermath of the unsuccessful Baath-supported 1959 Mosul Revolt, Iraqi communist activists organized large demonstrations which called for the Qasim regime to: "Crush the plotters; Purge the army and the administration; Arm the people; Withdraw from the Baghdad Pact without further delay; Take preventive diplomatic and punitive measures against countries which participate in plotting aggression against our country!"

On March 24, 1959, the Qasim government responded to the large demos by withdrawing from the Baghdad Pact; and the 400 British Royal Air Force troops who were still in the country were finally withdrawn from Iraq on May 31, 1959. Two thousand anti-Qasim officials were also purged from Iraqi government officers and Iraqi military officer posts. In addition, the Soviet Union also agreed to give a generous loan of $137 million to the Qasim government on March 16, 1959, which was to be spent within seven years on industrial, communications, transportation and agricultural development and infrastructure projects. 

In the United States, the Republican Eisenhower Administration was apparently upset about the post-July 1958 direction of Iraq‘s internal politics and apparently began to pursue a U.S. foreign policy of "regime change" in Iraq.. As William Blum recalled in his 2000 book Rogue State: a Guide to the World’s Only Superpower:

"A secret plan for a joint U.S.-Turkish invasion of the country was drafted by the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff shortly after the 1958 coup. Reportedly, only Soviet threats to intercede on Iraq‘s side forced Washington to hold back. But in 1960, the United States began to fund the Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq who were fighting for a measure of autonomy and the CIA undertook an assassination attempt against Qasim, which was unsuccessful. The Iraqi leader made himself even more of a marked man when, in that same year, he began to help create the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries [OPEC], which challenged the stranglehold Western oil companies had on the marketing of Arab oil; and in 1962 he created a national oil company to exploit the nation’s oil." 

In its April 29, 1959 issue, the New York Times also reported that U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director Allen Dulles described the post-March 1959 political situation inside Iraq as "the most dangerous in the world today." Yet Qasim was still unwilling to give any Iraqi communist activists a seat in his government’s cabinet in April 1959, despite their demands for cabinet seats.

So on May 1, 1959, between 300,000 and 1 million Iraqis, led by Communist Party of Iraq Central Committee members, marched on the streets of Baghdad to demand that Qasim include party members in his government’s cabinet. Later in the month, the UK government began shipping arms to the Qasim government to encourage Qasim to begin pursuing a more anti-communist domestic policy; and on May 24, 1959, Qasim began easing Iraqi communist activists out of their positions of mass media power in Iraqi broadcasting. A few weeks later, on June 11, 1959, Qasim also released several hundred anti-communist Iraqi nationalists from prison. 

On the first anniversary of the July 1958 Revolution, however, Qasim appeared to temporarily retreat from his less friendly policy towards Iraqi communist activists by appointing three "fellow travelers" of the party to minor Iraqi government cabinet posts, like the minister of municipalities, on July 13, 1959. But then inter-ethnic violence between Iraqi communist activists of Kurdish background and non-communist Iraqis of Turkish background broke out in Kirkuk between July 14 and July 16, 1959, which left between 31 and 100 Iraqis dead in Kirkuk.

Blaming the Iraqi communist activists for the Kirkuk inter-ethnic violence, Qasim then ordered the arrest of hundreds of rank-and-file Iraqi communist activists and supporters between July 19, 1959 and August 12, 1959. He also shut down the offices of the Iraqi communist activist-led General Federation of Trade Unions and began to rule Iraq in a more dictatorial way. By the end of September 1959, popular Iraqi support for the Communist Party of Iraq had decreased from the level of popular support it had enjoyed in May 1959. 

On September 20, 1959, the Qasim regime also executed 13 anti-Qasim, anti-communist nationalist Iraqi Army officers for their role in the unsuccessful March 1959 Mosul Revolt. Their executions provoked both a wave of anti-Qasim demos and Iraqi communist activist-led counter-demos in support of the Qasim regime on the Iraqi streets.

Between March and October 1959 the Eisenhower Administration’s CIA apparently collaborated with anti-communist Ba’ath activists like Saddam Hussein in organizing an October 7, 1959 assassination attempt on Qasim which left Qasim badly wounded by machine gun fire and in the hospital for two months. As Rashid Khalidi noted in his 2004 book “Resurrecting Empire,” "An investigative report based on interviews with a dozen American and British former intelligence officers and diplomats stated that Sadam Hussein was part of a `CIA-authorized six-man squad’ that failed to kill Qasim." 

According to this April 10, 2003 investigative report by UPI Intelligence Correspondent Richard Sale (on which the CIA declined to comment):

" …In the past Saddam was seen by U.S. intelligence services as a bulwark of anti-communism and they used him as their instrument for more than 40 years. His first contacts with U.S. officials date back to 1959, when he was part of a CIA-authorized six-man squad tasked with assassinating then Iraqi Prime Minister Gen. Abdul Karim Qasim…In the mid-1980s, Miles Copeland, a veteran CIA operative, told UPI the CIA had enjoyed "close ties" with…Ba’th Party…In a recent public statement, Roger Morris, a former National Security Council staffer in the 1970s, confirmed this claim, saying that the CIA had chosen the authoritarian and anti-communist Baath Party `as its instrument.’ 

"According to another former senior State Department official, Saddam, while only in his early 20s, became a part of a U.S. plot to get rid of Qasim. According to this source, Saddam was installed in an apartment in Baghdad on al-Rashid Street directly opposite Qasim’s office in Iraq‘s Ministry of Defense, to observe Qasim’s movements.

"Adel Darwish, Middle East expert and author of “Unholy Babylon”, said the move was done "with full knowledge of the CIA," and that Saddam’s CIA handler was an Iraqi dentist working for CIA and Egyptian intelligence. U.S. officials separately confirmed Darwish’s account. 

"Darwish said that Saddam’s paymaster was Capt. Abdel Maquid Farid, the assistant military attaché at the Egyptian Embassy who paid for the apartment from his own personal account. Three former senior U.S. officials have confirmed that this is accurate.

"The assassination was set for Oct. 7, 1959, but it was…botched…Qasim, hiding on the floor of his car, escaped death, and Saddam, whose calf had been grazed by a fellow would-be assassin, escaped to Tikrit, thanks to CIA and Egyptian intelligence agents, several U.S. government officials said. 

"Saddam then crossed into Syria and was transferred by Egyptian intelligence agents to Beirut, according to Darwish and former senior CIA officials. While Saddam was in Beirut, the CIA paid for Saddam’s apartment and put him through a brief training course, former CIA officials said. The agency then helped him get to Cairo, they said…

"In Cairo, Saddam was installed in an apartment in the upper class neighborhood of Dukki and spent his time playing dominos in the Indiana Cafe, watched over by CIA and Egyptian intelligence operatives, according to Darwish and former U.S. intelligence officials… 

"…During this time Saddam was making frequent visits to the American Embassy where CIA specialists such as Miles Copeland and CIA station chief Jim Eichelberger were in residence and knew Saddam, former U.S. intelligence officials said.

"Saddam’s U.S. handlers even pushed Saddam to get his Egyptian handlers to raise his monthly allowance, a gesture not appreciated by Egyptian officials since they knew of Saddam’s American connection, according to Darwish. His assertion was confirmed by former U.S. diplomat in Egypt at the time…" 

Qasim’s survival, combined with the loyalty to Qasim of Iraqi Army troops in Baghdad and the Iraqi communist activist-led "mass demonstrations in support of Qasim’s regime which soon filled the streets, paralyzed the military conspirators," (who had aligned themselves with the CIA-Ba’th coup plot and had agreed to establish a pro-Ba’thist military regime), according to the 1969 book “Iraq Under Qassem: A Political History: 1958-1963″ by Uriel Dann; so the Qasim regime survived the October 1959 CIA-Ba’th coup attempt.

While recovering in the hospital, Qasim allowed the Iraqi Trade Union Federation to regain its legal status on November 11, 1959. But between 1960 and 1963 Qasim did not allow the Communist Party of Iraq to operate as a legal party; and the party’s influence in Iraqi society continued to decline. Between May 1959 and early 1963, for instance, membership in the Communist Party of Iraq decreased from 25,000 to 10,000. 

Although immense Iraqi crowds greeted First Deputy Prime Minister of the Soviet Union Anastas Mikoyan when he visited Iraq in April 1960, Qasim continued to pursue an anti-communist domestic policy in 1960 and 1961. He suppressed Communist Party of Iraq newspapers. By October 1, 1960 only one Communist Party of Iraq newspaper was allowed to publish in Iraq. Qasim also started to remove Iraqi communist party activists from their posts in his government’s civil service bureaucracy in 1960 and 1961, although the Iraqi Air Force Chief position was still held by a supporter of the Communist Party of Iraq as late as February 1963.

The Baghdad center of the Iraqi communist activists-led Democratic Youth Federation was also shut down by Qasim on May 7, 1960; and, by the end of July 1960, 226 Democratic Youth Federation activists were detained by the regime. In October 1960 Qasim also ordered Iraqi police to raid the headquarters of the Democratic Youth Federation. 

As the recently-published Haymarket Books’ “A People’s History of Iraq: The Iraqi Communist Party, Workers’ Movements, and the Left 1924-2004″ notes, in 1959 "the Ba’thists and the nationalists" had "set up clandestine anti-communist squads employed in assassinating members" of the Communist Party of Iraq "and other radical groups." Between 1960 and early 1963, Iraqi leftist activists were also, increasingly, the apparent victims of Iraqi right-wing violence. Between early 1960 and October 23, 1961, for instance, 286 Iraqi leftists were apparently assassinated and 1,572 were apparently wounded by right-wing Iraqi gunmen. By early February 1963, 400 people in Mosul, alone, had been killed by right-wing Iraqi extremists.

The self-determination demands of Iraq‘s Kurdish population had apparently not been satisfactorily met by Qasim’s regime by the summer of 1961. So a war broke out then between Kurdish nationalists and the Qasim government. In December 1961, Qasim decided to also release Iraq‘s political prisoners. But after Iraqi communist activists organized large demos which called for peace with the Kurds in May 1962, Qasim again ordered the arrest of many Communist Party of Iraq members.

Qasim apparently feared the potential internal political threat to his dictatorial position from Iraqi communist activists more than he feared the real threat to his position (and life) from the apparently CIA-backed Ba’th Party activists, who were quietly gaining more support within the Iraqi military. On November 25, 1961, for instance, the pro-Ba’thist former Deputy Prime Minister (who had been jailed in November 1958 for allegedly trying to assassinate Qasim at an October 1958 meeting), Col. Abdel Salem Aref, "was brought from prison to Qasim, who embraced and entertained him, escorted him home and reinstated him in the army, although not in active service," according to the book, “Iraq Under Qassem: A Political History, 1958-1963.”

After being pardoned by Qasim and released from prison, Aref soon joined the "National Council of Revolutionary Command" committee of Ba’th leaders and active or retired anti-Qasim military officers who carried out the CIA-supported 1963 coup in Iraq. Another member of this committee was an Iraqi colonel named Saleh Mahdi Ammash, who was apparently recruited by the CIA when he served at the Iraqi embassy in Washington, D.C., according to the book “A Brutal Friendship: the West and the Arab Elite” by Said Aburish. 

By the end of 1962, a Ba’th Party militia of about two thousand men had been organized and trained; and in December 1962 the Ba’th activists fixed the date for a military coup against the Qasim regime for January 18, 1963. On December 24, 1962 the Ba’th Party’s student activists declared a student strike at Iraq‘s schools and university. The purpose of the Ba’th-led student strike was apparently to divert the attention of Qasim away from the Iraqi army and to act as a screen for the planned Ba’th-led military coup. On January 6, 1963, however, the proposed coup date was postponed until February 25, 1963

By February 3, 1963, Qasim had discovered that a coup was being planned and he ordered the arrest of three leading Ba’th plotters, including the CIA’s apparent representative on the "National Council of Revolutionary Command," Saleh Mahdi Ammash. Fearing further arrests, the remaining coup-plotters acted on February 8, 1963. Not surprisingly, L’Express reported in its February 21, 1963 issue "that the British and US intelligence services had known" of the February 8, 1963 coup in advance, according to the “Iraq under Qassem” book. Citing the January 1, 1994 issue of London‘s Guardian newspaper as his source, William Blum also observed in Rogue State that "papers of the British cabinet of 1963, later declassified, disclose that the coup had been backed by the British and the CIA." UPI Intelligence Correspondent Richard Sale’s April 10, 2003 investigative report also noted that "[former National Security Council Staffer Roger] Morris claimed recently that the CIA was behind the coup, which was sanctioned by President John F. Kennedy…" 

At on February 8, 1963, Brigade General Jalal al-Awqati, the pro-Communist Party of Iraqi Air Force chief, was assassinated near a confectionary shop in Baghdad. At , two Iraqi military jets first dive-bombed at Rashid Airport, making its runway unusable. Then they joined other Iraqi MIG-17s in firing rockets and cannons at the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. From their camps, other Iraqi military troops were ordered to march and Baghdad‘s radio transmitter was seized by the Iraqi military coup-plotters. By a statement of the Ba’th-led coup plotters was being aired over the radio.

At the Communist Party of Iraq’s Central Committee issued a proclamation that called for resistance to the February 8, 1963 coup and stated:

"A worthless band of reactionary and conspiratorial officers has made a desperate attempt to seize power in preparation for the putting of our country back into the grip of imperialism and reaction." 

Thousands of Communist Party of Iraq and/or Qasim regime supporters then began massing in front of Iraq‘s Ministry of Defense, forming an outer ring. When Qasim arrived at the Ministry of Defense at , the crowd of anti-coup demonstrators outside apparently was begging Ministry of Defense officials to distribute arms to it..

On the other side of Baghdad, meanwhile, Iraqi communist protesters tried to rush the Broadcasting House which the Ba’thist coup leaders had seized. The Iraqi Army’s Fourth Tank Regiment blocked the protesters from gaining control of Baghdad‘s radio transmitter.

At hundreds of anti-coup protesters were killed in front of the Ministry of Defense when an Iraqi Army tank regiment linked up with armed Ba’th militia members and fired on the mainly civilian protesters. Although the majority of Iraq‘s soldiers apparently were against the February 8, 1963 coup, they were indecisive in attempting to resist the coup. 

At a battle to seize Qasim’s headquarters at the Ministry of Defense began which did not end until on February 9, 1963. A half-hour later, Qasim was arrested by the pro-coup soldiers; and at Qasim was executed.

In the fighting in Baghdad between February 8 and 10, 1963, 5,000 Iraqi citizens were apparently killed, including 80 Ba’th Party activists and 340 Iraqi communist activists. The then-pro-Ba’thist colonel, Abdel Salem Aref, was named to head the new Democratic Kennedy Administration-backed Ba’th regime. Between February and November 1963, there apparently was a reign of terror against Iraqi leftists during this first Ba’th regime.. 

According to the 1978 book, “The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq book,”

"The new rulers had a past score to settle and, in their revengeful ardor, went to unfortunate extremes. Upon the slightest resistance on or a mere suspicion of intent to resist, Communists–real or hypothetical–were felled out of hand. The number of those seized so taxed the existing prisons that sports clubs, movie theatres, private houses, an-Rihayah Palace…were turned into places of confinement. The arrests were made in accordance with lists prepared beforehand."

The Kennedy Administration’s CIA apparently helped prepare the Ba’th regime’s arrests "lists." On September 27, 1963, the now-deceased King Hussain of Jordan told the Al Ahraim newspaper: 

"I know for a certainty that what happened on 8 February [1963] had the support of American intelligence. Some of those who now rule in Bagdad do not know of this thing but I am aware of the truth. Numerous meetings were held between the Ba’th party and American Intelligence, the most important in Kuwait. Do you know that on 8 February a secret radio beamed to Iraq was supplying the men who pulled the coup with the names and addresses of the Communists there so that they could be arrested and executed?"

According to “A Brutal Friendship–The West and the Arab Elite” by Said Aburish, a Time magazine reporter named William McHale was apparently also an undercover CIA operative in Beirut who furnished Ba’th leaders with a list of Iraqi communist suspects. McHale had previously been expelled from Iraq on March 26, 1959, after interviewing Qasim and then writing a hostile article for Time magazine about the Qasim regime’s successful suppression of the Ba’thist-supported 1959 coup attempt in Mosul. In his April 10, 2003 investigative report, UPI Intelligence Correspondent Richard Sale also revealed that "the CIA provided the submachine gun-toting" Ba’thist National Guardsmen of the post-coup regime "with lists of suspected communists who were then jailed, interrogated, and summarily gunned down, according to former U.S. intelligence officials with intimate knowledge of the executions." 

According to Sale‘s "Exclusive: Saddam key in early CIA plot" investigative report:

"Many suspected communists were killed outright, these sources said. [Unholy Babylon book author Adel] Darwish told UPI that the mass killings, presided over by Saddam, took place at Qasr al-Nehayat, literally, the Palace of the End.

"A former senior U.S. State Department official told UPI: `We were frankly glad to be rid of them. You ask that they get a fair trial? You have to be kidding. This was serious business.” 

"British scholar Con Coughlin, author of “Saddam: King of Terror,” quotes Jim Critchfield, then a senior Middle East agency official, as saying the killing of Qasim and the communists was regarded `as a great victory.’ A former long-time covert U.S. intelligence operative and friend of Critchfield said: `Jim was an old Middle East hand. He wasn’t sorry to see the communists go at all. Hey, we were playing for keeps.’"

The 39-year old poet who had been Secretary General of the Communist Party of Iraq since 1955, Husain ar-Radi (a/k/a Salam ‘Adil), was arrested by the new Ba’th regime on February 20, 1963. “The Old Social Classes and The Revolutionary Movements of Iraq” book noted that "although various means were employed to make him speak, he did not yield;" and "four days later he died under torture."

By March 1963, an estimated 10,000 Communist Party of Iraq members had been arrested by the Ba’th regime and many imprisoned Iraqi leftist activists were not treated gently. As the book “The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq” recalled: 

"In the cellars of an-Ninayah Palace…were found all sorts of loathsome instruments of torture, including electric wire with pincers, pointed iron stakes on which prisoners were made to sit, and a machine which still bore traces of chopped-off fingers. Small heaps of blooded clothing were scattered about, and there were pools on the floor and stains over the walls."

Even some members of the anti-communist Ba’th Party apparently began to protest against the way some of their imprisoned Iraqi leftist political opponents were being tortured after the February 8, 1963 coup. 

Officially, 149 Communist Party of Iraq members were executed between February 8, 1963 and the end of the initial 1960s period of Ba’th Party rule in Iraq in November 1963, including 7 of the 19 members of the Communist Party of Iraq’s Central Committee. But the actual number of Iraqi communist activists executed after the February 8, 1963 coup was apparently much higher. According to Said Aburish’s book, “A Brutal Friendship: The West and the Arab Elite“:

"The number of people eliminated remains confused and estimates range from 700 to 30,000. Putting various statements by Iraqi exiles together, in all likelihood the figure was nearer five thousand…There were many ordinary people who were eliminated because they continued to resist after the coup became an accomplished fact, but there were also senior army officers, lawyers, professors, teachers, doctors and others. There were pregnant women and old men among them and many were tortured to death in the presence of their young children…The British Committee for Human Rights in Iraq, one of the few international groups to investigate what happened after the coup, confirmed all this in a 1964 report and compared the Ba’thist hit squads to `Hitlerian shock troops.’" 

The CIA-backed Ba’th Party was able to overthrow the Qasim regime and then violate the human rights of thousands of Iraqi leftists in February 1963, despite there only being about 15,000 Ba’thist civilian supporters within Iraqi society at that time. But even after it eliminated its Iraqi communist political opponents and held Iraqi state power for the first time between February and November 1963, "the Ba’th was never able at any time to bring together one-third of the crowds that the Communists attracted in 1959," according to “The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq.”

Although the Communist Party of Iraq enjoyed much more support in Iraqi society between 1958 and early 1963 than the Ba’th Party, surviving Iraqi communist party leaders later concluded in a 1967 internal self-criticism document that: 

"We gave ourselves up to the delusion that we could preserve the mighty revolutionary army, which we built under the extraordinary revolutionary circumstances of 1958-1959, in a condition of passive defense or passive watchfulness indefinitely."

After undemocratically seizing Iraqi state power in February 1963, the Ba’th Party leaders "discovered that their opposition to" Qasim’s "government was the only factor that held them together," according to “The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq“.Divisions between pro and anti-Nasser Ba’th leaders, as well as between right and left pan-Arab nationalist Ba’th leaders led to the first Ba’th regime in Iraq’s collapse in November 1963, while 7,000 Iraqi communists remained imprisoned. 

On November 11, 1963, 15 armed Iraqi Army military officers burst into a Ba’th Congress meeting, seized the Ba’th left nationalist faction leaders at gun point and flew them to Madrid. Then, on November 18, 1963, Abdel Salem Aref, his brother, Brigade General Abdel Rahman and their Iraqi Army supporters suppressed the Ba’th National Guard Militia (which had increased in size from 5,000 to 34,000 between February and August 1963) and bombed the Ba’th National Guard Milita headquarters. The first Ba’th regime was overthrown and a new, pro-Nasserist regime was established with Abdel Salem Aref as Head of State.

As this review of Iraqi history from 1950 to November 1963 reveals, U.S. government involvement in Iraq’s internal political affairs led to major human rights violations in Iraq by the first U.S.-supported Ba’th regime in 1963. As the Haymarket Books’ recently-published “A People’s History of Iraq” by Ilario Salucci notes in its chronology of events: 

"[In 1963] The Ba’th Party strengthens its ties with the United States, and the CIA lends its support to the party’s repression of more than ten thousand people: the bloodbath of that year is to remain in the memories of the Iraqi people forever."

Opponents of an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq claim the U.S. government still has a moral right to attempt to exercise a special influence on Iraqi history, despite the record of human suffering produced by U.S. government intervention in Iraq since 1950. U.S. reparations for the Iraqi people, rather than an endless U.S. military occupation of Iraq, would seem like a more morally appropriate and democratic U.S. foreign policy objective. 

Bob Feldman is an East Coast-based U.S. anti-war Movement writer-activist. Photo from Indymedia.org