This article will feature in Issue 34: Protest and Revolution (November 2019)
The July 14th Revolution of 1958 led to the overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy and the creation of the Iraqi republic. One of the main leaders of the coup, Abd al-Karīm Qāsim, became the first prime minister of the republic. However, born out of violence and bloodshed, the Iraqi Republic was doomed from the start and, after only ten short years, the new republic, which had never been stable, crumbled.
From its inception, the republic was insecure and divided. Qāsim was unable to unite the Iraqi populace under the banner of nationalism. Socialism, which became a key feature of the republic under the Ba’ath party, also failed to be embraced by many Iraqis. The diverse make-up of the populace, each with their different beliefs and ideologies, was a major reason why it was impossible to unite the Iraqi populace under one philosophy. Neither nationalism nor socialism represented or included the needs of the various minorities in Iraq, nor did they promote tolerance for them. Supporters of pan-Arabism, a political movement and belief system that endorses the idea that all Arabs should unite to form one country or state, accused Qāsim of promoting social divisions rather than unity through his support of nationalism. Additionally, Qāsim’s desire to unite his people under Iraqi nationalism was simply too drastic a change after 37 years of adapting to monarchic rule. This was a major factor behind the collapse of the republic; the failure to unite the people under one ideology made the regime unstable and unpopular.
The Iraqi Republic was always doomed to fail due to the ideological disputes that were deeply rooted within the government, which rendered the republic divided and insecure. Conflicts existed between Abd al-Karīm Qāsim, the leader of the republic between 1958 and 1963, and Abd al-Salām Ārif, the deputy prime minister until 1963. Ārif championed the pan-Arab cause and advocated Iraq’s union with the U.A.R, whereas Qāsim rejected pan-Arabism. He instead tried to promote a new Iraqi identity that aimed to celebrate Iraq’s Mesopotamian heritage, emphasize the role and importance of the people, and glorify the July 14th revolution. Qāsim was unpopular in the Ba’ath Party and among Arab Nationalists largely for his emphasis on Iraqi Nationalism, rather than Arab Nationalism. They also regarded him as being too close to the Iraqi Communist Party, which both groups viewed with deep mistrust. Thus, it was Qāsim’s association with the Iraqi Communist Party and their growing strength within Iraq that eventually convinced the Ba’ath Party in Iraq that the only way to stop the spread of the communists was to overthrow Qāsim. This lead to the Ramadan Revolution. The last few years of the republic were turbulent and unstable, due to the unpopularity of socialism which was strongly embraced by the Ba’ath party and growing demand for elections. The ideological conflict that existed within the government from its creation created distrust and instability, and caused factions to develop. This ultimately hindered the new republic’s ability to flourish, and aided in its downfall.
Iraq’s foreign policy, which was heavily influenced by nationalism, a fundamental tenement of the new republic, isolated the republic from the rest of the world and left it unable to thrive. Many countries, particularly in the west, regarded Iraq with suspicion. Qāsim’s foreign policy approach steered Iraq away from the western sphere of influence and a close relationship with the United Kingdom and towards closer relations with the Soviet Union. Furthermore, because Qāsim recruited among the Iraqi Communist Party for support and was associated with the Soviet Union, the United States started to view Iraq and Qasim with suspicion, viewing the republic as a threat and fearing that it would fall completely to communist influence. Qāsim’s policy of demanding a greater share of the proceeds from western oil companies created further divisions between Iraq and the west. As well as isolating Iraq from the western world, Qāsim had poor relations with most of the Arab world, especially after Iraq left the Arab league in 1961 in protest of the organization’s support of Kuwait’s independence. It seems that Qāsim’s rejection of the Arab world was caused by his support of nationalism and desire to focus solely on Iraq.
Foreign relations did not improve under the Ba’th-ʿĀrif regime; they had little time for diplomacy as the various party factions were too focused on fighting amongst themselves. Their purge of thousands of communists and their supporters meant that the Baʿth regime completely alienated the Soviet Union. Through their rejection of the U.A.R, the regime also alienated Egypt. Isolated from the rest of the world the new republic could never flourish, as it lacked the resources and was isolated, without a strong ally.
The Iraqi Republic was doomed from the start. The republic and revolution did not have the complete support of the whole populace. Many Iraqis rejected both nationalism and socialism. The party itself suffered from ideological disputes, which caused infighting and eventually lead to the overthrow of Qāsim. Iraq’s foreign policy under both Qāsim and the Ba’ath party caused Iraq to become isolated, and it would be hard for the new republic to develop when it was at odds with most of the major world players.