The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re:[casi] Memorable quotes: 'the white hope'

Dear John & List,

Thanks for your comments.

As an Iraqi who has lived and experienced that period
of Iraq's history closely and first hand, I dare say
my information is closer to reality (as seen from
within) than that of Cockburn or Aburish. They are
outsiders; not that their work is not valuable. But
sometimes their information is lacking in substance.
I will try to explain.

John labels the 1963 coup "counter-revolutionary",
seemingly because it overthrew the pro-Soviet regime
of Qassim. That seems to be an oversimplification of
facts and clearly a "special" way of seeing things.
Quite a number of parties, including the communists,
had by 1963 considered that Qassim has departed from
the original path of the 1958 coup and that his regime
had itself become "counter-revolutionary".

The era between 1958 and 1963 (Qassim's regime) was a
very turbulent one in Iraq's history. The majority of
Iraqis would agree that Qassim was an "Iraqi
nationalist", for whom Iraq came first. But I don't
agree that the coup was a "national-democratic
revolution". It was a movement of the army, unknown to
the political parties, inspired by anger at the
Palestinian catastrophe and inspired by the changes in
the world, especially the Egyptian revolution of
1952.. The army in Iraq (and for that matter anywhere
in the world) was never known to be "democratic"...

Geoff Simons is right in his conclusion that everyone
was for the revolution of 1958, but the honeymoon did
not last long.
In ruling Iraq, Qassim made several mistakes: he
concentrated all rule in his hands and became "the
sole leader" (as he was officially called!); he
depended on communists and pro-Soviet elements (in a
society where religion is very important and where
people saw communists as atheists) shunning others; he
did not allow opposition parties; he rejected the
constitutional parliamentary system for Iraq (the
people were not represented); he antagonized Muslim
communities and parties (through new laws); and he did
not pay attention to the peoples' aspirations for
stronger links to the Arab world. At that time, Nasser
of Egypt was the largest figure in Arab politics and a
symbol of anti- colonialism and anti- imperialism,
having succeeded in repelling the tripartite
aggression of 1956. Qassim seemingly hated him and
worked strongly to prevent any attempts of union
between the two countries.

In 1959, two major massacres occurred in Mosul and
Kirkuk in northern Iraq, where Ba'thists and Arab
nationalists and Turkmen were brutally killed and
hanged in the streets by elements considered to be
communists or associated with them. Hundreds were
killed, including women.. This created bitterness
against communists and against Qassim for allowing
this to happen.
An uprising of officers in the army in Mosul in 1959
was crushed and its leaders tried and executed.

These elements and others helped set the ground for
the overthrow of the regime. The purging of the army,
the arbitrary arrests of Ba'thists and
Nationalists,the power given to the "popular
resistance" militia, and the oppression and
censorship, all added to Qassim's isolation when in
April 1960 he turned against his communist allies. In
fact, when the coup of 1963 took place, a large number
of communists, who were wanted by the Ba'thists and
Nationalists, were found in Qassim's prisons!

Saddam Hussein was not a "getaway driver" in the
failed assassination attempt on Qassim in October
1959. He was one of the assassins, he got wounded in
his leg and escaped to Syria and from there to Egypt.
He only came back after the coup of 1963.

I very much doubt the allegation that SH worked with
the CIA or that he was instrumental in drawing up
lists of leftists and intellectuals who were to be
executed. He was a junior party member, with little
importance and little knowledge of things inside Iraq.
In addition to that, the CIA did not need him. They
already had tens, if not hundreds, of operators inside
Iraq, within the military, government and political
parties, including the communist party!

It is true that the Ba'th Party was small, but Qassim
had, by his actions, lost quite a lot of the support
among Iraqis. The coup was carried out by first
assassinating the Commander of the Air Force, General
Jalal al-Awqati, at the doorsteps of his house, after
which MIGs bombed Qassim's headquarters at the
Ministry of Defense, and 8 tanks attacked it from the
roads. The tanks were all destroyed, but the Rashid
Camp had already fallen in the hands of the Ba'thists
and Qassim could not get any support from the army. He
was captured, tried immediately and shot on the spot..
And so it remains unclear what is meant by such
statement :"What tipped the balance against him was
the involvement of the United States."

In retrospect, it is usually easy to make judgements
and reach conclusions. It is also easy to claim credit
for what one has not done.
It is perhaps true that the coup was regarded by the
CIA as serving their goal, that of getting rid of
communists, and getting their men to rule Iraq,
directly or by proxy...

Ali Saleh al-Sa'di's statement "We came to power on a
CIA train," is usually invoked to try to prove that
the 1963 coup was CIA orchestrated. That statement is
always taken out of context.

When did al-Sa'di say that?

He said it after the overthrow of the Ba'th regime in
November 1963, when the Ba'th leadership realized that
the CIA had gone through them to eliminate Qassim and
communists, and later get rid of them. I knew
al-Sa'di, and can say with certainty that he was not
working for the CIA. But we should also remember that
the CIA had important agents inside the military
branch of the Party, like Saleh Mahdi Ammash and
Hardan al-Tikriti; and among the Party leadership,
like Taleb Shabib and Adnan al-Qassab. But to assume
that the whole Ba'th Party leadership was conscious of
being part of a CIA plot, or that the CIA had plotted
the coup, is an exaggeration if not fabrication by the
CIA to take credit for the 1963 coup. And so the claim
that the CIA coordinated for the coup from the
agency's station inside the U.S. embassy in Baghdad is
an unsubstantiated claim bordering on fantasy..

Quoting Saïd Aburish has become common, as if the
gentleman is the absolute authority on Iraq... His
work, valuable as it may be, remains based on hearsay
and second hand information and contains mistakes that
should not be there..

It goes without saying that the CIA saw Iraq as "the
most dangerous spot on earth." That is because of
Iraq's wealth (OIL!!) and the educated population, and
because of its traditional political activism. Iraqis
are also known throughout their modern history for
opposing colonialism imperialism and for their
preparedness to assist those countries in need...

And so it is natural that the CIA saw the new regime
of Qassim as "endangering the balance of power in the
Middle East." Their main man in the coup leadership,
Abdul-Salam Arif, had been arrested before succeeding
in assassinating Qassim. Qassim had purged the army
and brought communists into control of most of the
sensitive positions in Iraq. And he had problems with
all of Iraq's neighbors, especially those under the
protection of the US and Britain. But it is not true
to state that Qassim's coup "was the [only] one
[during several decades in the Middle East] in which
Western intelligence services played no part..."

First of all, it was NOT Qassim's coup: it was a coup
planned by a group of army officers, the free
officers' movement, formed along the same lines as
that of Egypt. Qassim was their leader, being the most
And second, Western Intelligence services had several
of their men inside the coup's leadership, as I tried
to point out.

The analysis for the reasons of the coup of 1963 is
deficient, if not ridiculous. I am sorry that Aburish
has fallen victim to such allegations.

Qassim had done his best to prevent any union with
Nasser's Egypt. The Ba'thists and Arab Nationalists,
on the other hand, were strong advocates of such
union. And so overthrowing Qassim through the
Ba'thists would ensure renewing calls for a union with
Egypt, at least even in name.. How would the overthrow
of Qassim "ensure that Nasser had ceased his efforts
towards a union with Iraq" ??

The demise of the Iraqi Communist Party was also due,
in part, to the wrong policies carried out by the
leadership of the party, its absolute support of
Qassim's era of oppression, and its complete
subjugation to the will of the Soviet Union. The
Communists were strongly against any Arab Unity, and
dealt with the Palestinian issue from the viewpoint of
the Soviet Leadership. That did not register well with
the majority of Iraqis, who considered the Palestinian
issue the most important of that time. In fact, the
Communist Party of Iraq had in 1948 supported the
"struggle of the Israeli Proletariat" against British
rule, thus supporting the usurping of Palestinian land
and the establishing of Israel.. That could be
attributed to the fact that quite a number of the
members of the Central Committe of the Communist Party
were Jews..

I am not saying that the elimination of communists was
correct (lots of my relatives were communists!), but
the issue is not as simple as it may seem or as it is
sometimes presented.

The happenings after 1991 have led many Iraqis to
assume that the Communist Party had elements working
for "Western intelligence services" whose role was
exactly to assist in the demise of the Communist
Party. Some of those Communists now openly work with
the CIA..

Aburish makes another serious mistake by alleging that
the arrest of Colonel Saleh Mahdi Ammash led to the
anti- Qassim coup to be moved forward.

Qassim was seemingly tipped off about the coup. He
arrested Ali Saleh al-Sa'di in late January 1963, and
tried to make him reveal the names of his
co-conspirators within the army. I know those details,
because I even know in what car Al-Sa'di was
There are differing stories: some think al-Sa'di
confessed under torture, some say he didn't. What is
definite was that he was going to be executed that
day. That was the reason for moving the coup forward,
not Ammash..
Party members had been prepared for the coup since
1960. Thousands of arm bands were prepared, carrying
two letters in Arabic (Ha'. Qaf), abbreviation for
(National Guard) and were given to those civilian
members who were to participate in the coup. The coup
attempts were moved a few times, but the February 8th
was because Al-Sa'di would have been executed and the
coup foiled..

Ammash was probably one of the CIA men within the
Ba'th party.. He was seemingly recruited while working
in the Military Attaché of Iraq in Washington in the
late 1950s. But he was not the only one. The CIA had
others, perhaps more senior. When Qassim executed
rebellious officers in 1959, the CIA must have lost
some important agents. And therefore those elements
within the new regime did their best to serve US
interests. But it soon became clear that the
differences within the new regime were too big to be
contained from within, and thus the main CIA man,
Abdul-Salam Arif, who was brought from Qassim's prison
and made President, turned against the Ba'thists and
exiled their leadership and took control of the
country, until his "mysterious" death in 1966.

The issue of oil is of great importance, but Aburish
again makes mistakes.
I will quote the following from:

"Kassem closed the futile negotiations in October 1961
by announcing that the companies could continue to
exploit existing wells as they wished, but went on to
say: “I am sorry to tell you that we will take the
other areas according to legislation that we have
prepared, so that our action will not be a surprise to
you. Thank you for your presence here.” Two months
later, the government issued Law 80, under which the
companies were permitted an area of exploitation
limited to little more than their existing facilities,
or 0.5 percent of the original concessions. All
previous rights in 99.5 percent of the concession area
were withdrawn and assumed by the government. The
lengthy explanatory statement that accompanied the
promulgation of this law showed the extent to which
abiding historical resentment of the colonial system
that fostered the original concessions was as
important as the immediate controversy in leading to
The companies rejected the new law and demanded that
the dispute be arbitrated. They retaliated by holding
down production even though the investment and
expansion program initiated in 1959 was largely
completed. Iraq’s production for 1962 increased by
only 0.5 percent. By contrast, production in Kuwait,
Iran and Saudi Arabia, where each of the companies
held concessions, increased by 11.5 percent, 12
percent, and 9.2 percent respectively. Furthermore,
the government failed to get any bids from other
companies on the expropriated area or offshore. By
February 1963, there were indications that the regime
was considering the arbitration the companies
demanded, but in that month Kassem was killed by a new
coup. The new Ba’ath regime moved towards negotiation,
but made it clear that Law 80 was irrevocable. In
February 1964, the Iraq National Oil Company was
established to facilitate state exploitation of the
expropriated areas. The companies interpreted this as
a further violation of their concession rights, but
entered into negotiations with the Aref regime (which
had replaced the Ba’ath in November 1963) that
resulted in a draft agreement in June 1965."

This in my opinion shows that Qassim was prepared to
agree to the arbitration, having been forced by the
actions of the oil companies. This had nothing to do
with any CIA connection..
The new regime of the Ba'th remained faithful to Law
80 even through its negotiations with the oil
companies. It was after the overthrow of the Ba'th in
November 1963 that the oil companies were given new
concessions by the Arif regime, which goes to prove my
point that he was the CIA's man, who helped the CIA
get rid of the Ba'thists.

I hope this would further help understanding an
important era of Iraq's history.


Do you Yahoo!?
Yahoo! Platinum - Watch CBS' NCAA March Madness, live on your desktop!

Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
To unsubscribe, visit
To contact the list manager, email
All postings are archived on CASI's website:

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]