14 July Revolution

The Iraqi coup d’état of 1958- alternatively known as the 14th July Revolution, 14 Tammuz Revolution and the Massacre of al-Zuhoor Palace- was a military coup responsible for the overthrow of the Iraqi Hashemite monarchy under Faisal II and the regime of Prime Minister Nuri al-Said. The coup would herald the end of the Iraqi Hashemite dynasty and usher in the era of the Iraqi Republic, as well as precipitating social and economic reform in the state of Iraq.

Events Preceding Revolution

Pre-Revolution Regime

In the years preceding the coup, Iraq was governed by Prime Minister Nuri-al Said with Faisal II as head of state. Said had dominated Iraqi politics since the overthrow of Rashid Ali in 1941, with fourteen consecutive elections as Prime Minister a period of some three decades [Cleveland, William L.; “A History of the Modern Middle East”, page 307] . Said was notable for his belief in ‘Particularistic Nationalism’ or wataniyah, the idea of focus upon the welfare of the Iraqi State rather than Arabs as a homogeneous whole (‘Ethnic Nationalism’ or qawmiyah, such as pan-Arabism) [Polk, William. R; “Understanding Iraq”, pages 106-7] . Al-Said also maintained close ties with former colonial overseers, Great Britain, as demonstrated by his voluntary assimilation into the Baghdad Pact in 1955. Said was opposed to Nasser’s pan-Arabism movement and took pains to not become too closely linked with the Egyptian sponsored movement. Said saw Iraq’s security concerns as being unique and not synonymous with those of Egypt: for example, Iraq’s security was affected by shared borders with powerful neighbors such as Turkey and Iran, whilst Egypt’s position remained relatively isolated. Nasser’s flirtations with the Soviet Union also disturbed Said, who was concerned by the latter’s intentions towards Iraq. As such, Said favoured a more independent approach in dealing with the aforementioned, striking up closer relations with the Turks and Iranians in 1954 and abolishing those with the USSR in 1955 [Ibid] Said was driven by the idea of preserving Iraq’s independence and, more personally, not becoming a puppet of Nasser. His actions were to create unrest amongst certain members of Iraqi society.

Discord Mounts

A growing number of educated elites in Iraq were becoming enamored with the ideals espoused by Nasser’s pan-Arabism movement. The ideas of qawmiyah found many willing adherents, particularly within the officer classes of the Iraqi military. The policies of Said were considered anathema by certain individuals within the Iraqi armed forces, and opposition groups began to form, modeled upon the Egyptian Free Officers Movement which had overthrown the Egyptian monarchy in 1952. Despite efforts by Said to quell growing unrest with the military ranks (such as economic benefits designed to benefit the officer class, and brokering deals with the U.S. to supply the Iraqi military) [Ibid, page 108] his position was significantly weakened by the events of the Suez Crisis. Said was to suffer for his association with Britain; the latter’s role in the Crisis seeming a damning indictment of his wataniyah policies [Ibid, page 109] [Barnett, Michael L.; “Dialogues in Arab Politics”, page 127] Despite Said’s efforts to distance himself from the crisis, the damage had been done to his position. Iraq was to become isolated within the Arab world; a fact highlighted by her exclusion from the ‘Treaty of Arab Solidarity’ in January 1957 [Ibid, page 128] . The Suez Crisis would greatly benefit the Nasser’s pan-Arabism cause, whilst simultaneously undermining those Arab leaders who held a pro-Western policy. Said’s fell firmly within the latter camp, and covert opposition to his governance steadily grew in the wake of Suez.

Building to a Crisis

On February 1st 1958, Egypt and Syria were to boost the pan-Arabian movement immeasurably with the announcement that they had unified under the title of the United Arab Republic (UAR) [Ibid, page 129] . The move was a catalyst for a series of events that would culminate in revolution in Iraq. The formation of the UAR and Nasser’s lofty rhetoric calling for a united Arab world was to galvanize the pan-Arabism movement within Iraq and Jordan. The governments in Iraq and Jordan attempted something of a riposte with the creation of the Arab Federation on February 14th [Ibid, page 131] - a union of the two states- yet few were impressed by the knee-jerk reaction to the UAR.The UAR quickly found another member in the form of Yemen soon after its formation: attention was soon to shift to The Lebanon where Syria was to sponsor the Arab nationalist movement in its civil war campaign against the pro-Western government of Camille Chamoun [Simons, Geoff; “Iraq: From Sumer to Saddam”, page 217] . Said recognised that defeat for Chamoun would leave Iraq and Jordan isolated. As such he made moves to bolster Chamoun’s government with aid throughout May and June [Ibid] More fatefully he would attempt to bolster Jordan with units from the Iraqi army, a move that was a direct catalyst for the coup d’état.

July 14th

The dispatching of Iraqi army units to Jordan played into the hands of two of the key members of the Iraqi Free Officers movement: Colonel Abdul Salam Arif and the movement’s leader, Brigadier General Abdul Karim Qasim. The Iraqi 19th and 20th Brigades (the former under the command of Qasim and the latter featuring Arif’s battalion) were dispatched to march to Jordan, along a route that would see them pass Baghdad. The opportunity for a coup was thus presented to, and seized upon, by the conspirators. Arif was to march on Baghdad with the 20th Brigade-which he had seized control of with the help of Colonel Abd al-Latif al-Darraji- whilst Qasim would remain in reserve with the 19th at Jalawla. [Marr, Phebe; “The Modern History of Iraq”, page 156] In the early hours of July 14th 1958, Arif seized control of Baghdad’s broadcasting station (which was to become his H.Q.) and broadcast the first announcement of the revolution by radio. Arif “…denounced imperialism and the clique in office; proclaimed a new republic and the end of the old regime…announced a temporary sovereignty council of three members to assume the duties of the presidency; and promised a future election for a new president.” [Ibid] Arif then despatched two detachments from his regiment; one to al-Rahab Palace to deal with King Faisal and the crown prince, the other to Nuri al-Said’s residence. Despite the presence of the crack Royal Guard at the Palace, no resistance was offered by order of the crown prince. It is uncertain what orders were given to the palace detachment, and what level of force they detailed. However, at approximately 08.00am, the King, crown prince and the other members of the Iraqi Royal Family were executed as they were leaving the palace. [Ibid] With their demise, the Iraqi Hashemite dynasty ended. Meanwhile, Said was able to temporarily slip the net of his would be captors, by escaping across the Tigris after being alerted by the sound of gunfire.

By noon, Qasim had arrived in Baghdad with his forces and set up headquarters in the Ministry of Defence building. The conspirator’s attention now shifted towards locating al-Said, lest he escape and undermine the coup’s early success. A reward of 10,000 Iraqi dinar was offered for his capture [Ibid, page 157] , and a large scale search began. On July 15th he was spotted in a street in the al-Battawin quarter of Baghdad attempting to escape disguised in a woman’s abaya. [Simons, Geoff; “Iraq: From Sumer to Saddam”, page 218] Said and his accomplice were both shot, and his body was buried in the cemetery at Bab al-Mu’azzam later that evening. [ Marr, Phebe; “The Modern History of Iraq”, page 156]

Mob violence was to continue even in the wake of Said’s death. Spurred by Arif’s urges to liquidate traitors [Ibid] , uncontrollable mobs took to the streets of Baghdad. The body of 'Abd al-Ilah was taken from the palace, mutilated and dragged through the streets, finally being hung outside the Ministry of Defence. Several foreign nationals (including Jordanian and American citizens) staying at the Baghdad Hotel were killed by the mob. Mass mob violence didn’t begin to die down until Qasim imposed a curfew, yet this did not prevent the disinterment, mutilation and parading of Said’s corpse through the streets of Baghdad the day after its burial. [ “At first he [Said] was buried in a shallow grave but later the body was dug up and repeatedly ran over by municipal buses ‘until in the words of a horror-struck eyewitness, it resembled bastourma, and Iraqi sausage meat.” Simons, Geoff; “Iraq: From Sumer to Saddam”, page 218]

Distribution of Power

In the wake of the successful coup, the new Iraqi Republic was to be headed by a Revolutionary Council [Ibid, page 220] . At its head was a three man sovereignty council, composed of members of Iraq’s three main communal/ethnic groups. Muhammad Mahdi Kubbah represented the Shi’a population; Khalid al-Naqshabandi the Kurds; and Najib al Rubay’i the Sunni population [ Marr, Phebe; “The Modern History of Iraq”, page 158] . This tripartite was to assume the role of the Presidency. A cabinet was created, composed of a broad spectrum of Iraqi political movements: this included two National Democratic Party representatives, one member of al-Istiqlal, one Ba’ath representative and one Marxist [Ibid] .

Qasim was to reap the greatest reward, being named Prime Minister and Minister of Defence. Arif was to become Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, as well as deputy Commander in Chief [Ibid] .

Thirteen days after the revolution, a temporary constitution was announced, pending a permanent organic law to be promulgated after a free referendum. According to the document, Iraq was a republic and a part of the Arab nation whilst the official state religion was listed as Islam. Powers of legislation were vested in the Council of Ministers, with the approval of the Sovereignty Council, whilst executive function was also vested in the Council of Ministers [Ibid]

Iraq under Qasim

Power Struggles

Despite the encouraging tones of the temporary constitution, the new government would quickly descend into an autocracy with Qasim at its head. The genesis of Qasim’s elevation to ‘Sole Leader’ began with a schism between himself and his fellow conspirator Arif. Despite one of the major goals of the revolution being to join the pan-Arabism movement and practice qawmiyah policies, the corrupting influence of power soon began to modify the views of Qasim. Qasim, reluctant to tie himself too closely to Nasser’s Egypt- and warned by various groups within Iraq (notably the communists) that such an action would be dangerous- instead found himself echoing the views of his predecessor, Said, by adopting a wataniyah policy of ‘Iraq First’ [Polk, William R.; “Understanding Iraq”, page 111] [Simons, Geoff; “Iraq: From Sumer to Saddam”, page 221]

Qasim’s change of policy aggravated his relationship with Arif. The latter, despite being the subordinate of Qasim, had gained great prestige as the perpetrator of the coup itself. Arif capitalised upon his newfound position by partaking in a series of widely publicised public orations, during which he strongly advocated union with the UAR, making numerous positive references to Nasser, while remain noticeably less full of praise for Qasim. Arif’s criticism of Qasim became gradually more profound leading the latter to take steps to counter his potential rivalry. Qasim began to foster relations with the Iraqi communist party, who attempted to mobilise support in favour of his policies. He also moved to counter Arif’s base of power by removing him from his position as deputy commander of the armed forces. On September 30th Qasim removed Arif’s status as Deputy Prime Minister and as Minister of the Interior [ Marr, Phebe; “The Modern History of Iraq”, page 160] . Qasim attempted to remove Arif’s disruptive influence by offering him a role as Iraqi ambassador to the FDR (West Germany) in Bonn. Arif refused, and in a confrontation with Qasim on October 11th, Arif is purported to have removed his pistol in the presence of Qasim; although whether it was to assassinate Qasim or commit suicide is a source of debate [Ibid] [Kedourie, Elie; “Politics in the Middle East”, page 318] . No blood was shed, and Arif agreed to depart for Bonn. However his sojourn to Germany was brief, as he attempted to return to Baghdad on November 4th amid rumours of an attempted coup against Qasim. He was promptly arrested, and charged on November 5th with attempted assassination of Qasim and attempts to overthrow the regime: he was sentenced to life imprisonment [ Marr, Phebe; “The Modern History of Iraq”, page 160] .

Although the threat of Arif had been negated, another took its place shortly afterwards in the unlikely form of Rashid Ali, the exiled former Prime Minister who had fled Iraq in 1941. Ali attempted to foster support amongst officers who were unhappy at Qasim’s policy reversals. A coup was planned for December 9th, but Qasim was prepared and instead had the conspirators arrested on the same date. Ali was imprisoned and sentenced to death, although this was never carried out [Ibid] .

The Mosul Uprising and Subsequent Unrest

Qasim’s growing ties with the communists served to provoke rebellion in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul by Arab nationalists in charge of military units. Qasim in an attempt to intimidate any potential coup had encouraged a communist backed Peace Partisans rally in Mosul on March 6th 1959. Some 250,000 Peace Partisans and communists thronged Mosul’s streets by March 6th [Ibid, page 163] , and although the rally passed peacefully, on March 7th, skirmishes broke out amongst communists and nationalists. This would degenerate into a miniature civil war in the following days. Although the rebellion was crushed by the military, it had a number of adverse affects that would effect Qasim’s position. Firstly it would greatly increase the power of the communists. It would also encourage the Ba’ath Party’s (which had been steadily growing since the July 14th coup) ideas that the only way of halting the engulfing tide of communism was to assassinate Qasim. Such an attempt was carried out on October 7th 1959 by a group of Ba’athists, including a young Saddam Hussein [Ibid, page 164] [Polk, William R.; “Understanding Iraq”, page 113] .

The growing influence of communism was to be felt throughout 1959. A communist sponsored purge of the armed forces was carried out in the wake of the Mosul revolt. The Iraqi cabinet began to shift towards the radical-left as several communist sympathisers gained posts in the cabinet. Iraq’s foreign policy began to reflect this communist influence, as Qasim removed Iraq from the Baghdad Pact on March 24th, and later fostered closer ties with the USSR, including extensive economic agreements [ Marr, Phebe; “The Modern History of Iraq”, page 164] . However communist successes encouraged attempts to expand on their position. The communists attempted to replicate their success at Mosul in similar fashion at Kirkuk. A rally was called for July 14th: intended to intimidate conservative elements, it instead resulted in widespread bloodshed. Qasim would consequently cool relations with the communists signalling a reduction (although by no means a cessation) of their influence in the Iraqi government.

Qasim’s position was to be further weakened in 1961, when Kurdish separatists under the leadership of Mustafa Barzani chose to wage war against the Iraqi establishment. Although relations between Qasim and the Kurds had initially proved successful, relations had deteriorated by 1961, with the Kurds becoming openly critical of Qasim’s regime. Barzani had delivered an ultimatum to Qasim in August 1961 demanding an end to authoritarian rule; recognition of Kurdish autonomy; and restoration of democratic liberties [Ibid, page 178] . Qasim’s response was to sanction a military campaign against Barzani’s peshmerga forces in September 1961. This would prove to be a grave mistake, as the anti-insurgency campaign would rapidly become a drain upon Iraqi resources as well as further undermining Qasim’s esteem within the officer classes [ Polk, William R.; “Understanding Iraq”, page 114]

Foreign Policy Failures

Qasim was to further undermine his rapidly deteriorating position with a series of foreign policy blunders. In 1959 Qasim was to antagonize Iran with a series of territory disputes, most notably over the Arabic speaking Khuzistan region of Iran [Ibid] , and the division of the Shatt al-Arab waterway between south eastern Iraq and western Iran [ Marr, Phebe; “The Modern History of Iraq”, page 180] .

In June of 1961, Qasim was to re-ignite the Iraqi claim over the state of Kuwait. On June 19th, Qasim announced in a press conference that Kuwait was a part of Iraq, and claimed its territory. Kuwait, however, had signed a recent defence treaty with the British, who came to her assistance with troops to stave off any attack on July 1. This would subsequently be replaced by an Arab force (assembled by the Arab League) in September, where they would remain until 1962 [Ibid, page 181] [Simons, Geoff; “Iraq: From Sumer to Saddam”, pages 223-225] .

The result of Qasim’s foreign policy blunders was to further weaken his position. Iraq was isolated from the Arab world for her part in the Kuwait incident, whilst she had antagonised her powerful neighbour Iran. Western attitudes towards Qasim had also cooled, due to these incidents and his implied communist sympathies. Iraq was isolated internationally, and Qasim became increasingly isolated domestically, to his considerable detriment.


Rise of the Ba’ath

Qasim’s position was fatally weakened by 1962, yet his overthrow would not take place until the following year. The perpetrators would be the Ba’ath party, an Arab nationalist movement with a close knit structure and ties within the military. The Ba’ath had initially benefited from the 1958 Revolution, gaining increased support in its wake. The group had suffered after 1959 however due to the failure of the assassination attempt upon Qasim weakening their membership as the perpetrators were either imprisoned or exiled. The group also became disillusioned with Nasser after the establishment of the UAR, leading to splits within the group.By 1962, however, the Ba’ath was once again on the rise as a new group of leaders under the tutelage of Ali Salih al-Sa’di began to re-invigorate the party. The Ba’ath Part was now able to plot Qasim’s removal.

The 8th February Coup

Qasim’s eventually removal would take place on February 8th 1963: the event is sometimes called the 14 Ramadan Coup, due to it falling on the 14th day of the Ramadan. The coup had been in its planning stages since 1962, and several attempts had been planned, only to be abandoned for fear of discovery. The coup itself had been initially planned for January 18th, but was moved first to January 25th, then February 8th, after Qasim gained knowledge of the proposed attempt and arrested some of the plotters.

The coup began in the early morning of February 8th 1963, when the communist air force chief, Jalal al-Awqati was assassinated and tank units occupied the Abu Ghrayb radio station. A bitter two day struggle unfolded with heavy fighting between the Ba’athist conspirators and pro-Qasim forces. Qasim took refuge in the Ministry of Defence, where fighting became particularly heavy. Communist sympathisers took to the streets to resist the coup adding to the high casualties.On February 9th, Qasim eventually offered his surrender in return for safe passage out of the country. His request was refused, and on the afternoon of the 9th, Qasim was executed on the orders of the newly formed National Council of the Revolutionary Command (NCRC) [Marr, Phebe; “The Modern History of Iraq”, pages 184-5] . His successor would be none other than his fellow July 14th conspirator, Arif.

Effects of Qasim’s Rule

The 1958 Revolution can be heralded as a watershed in Iraqi politics, not just because of its obvious political implications (e.g. the abolition of monarchy, republicanism, and paving the way for Ba’athist rule) but due to domestic reform. Despite its shortcomings, Qasim’s rule helped to implement a number of positive domestic changes that would benefit Iraqi society.

Land Reform

The revolution brought about sweeping changes in the Iraqi agrarian sector. Reformers dismantled the old feudal structure of rural Iraq: for example the 1933 'Law of Rights and Duties of Cultivators' and the Tribal Disputes Code were replaced, benefiting Iraq’s peasant population and ensuring a fairer process of law.The Agrarian Reform Law (September 30th 1958 [Ibid, page 170] ) attempted a large-scale redistribution of landholdings and placed ceilings on ground rents; the land was more evenly distributed amongst peasants who, due to the new rent laws, received around 55% to 70% of their crop [Ibid] .Despite the positive intentions of the Agrarian Reform Law, its implementation proved relatively unsuccessful due to disagreements between the lower classes and the landed middle classes, as well as a time consuming implementation.

Women’s Rights

Qasim attempted to bring about greater equality for women in Iraq. In December 1959 he promulgated a significant revision of the personal status code; particularly that regulating family relations [Ibid, page 172] . Polygamy was outlawed, and minimum ages for marriage were also outlined, with 18 being the minimum age (except for special dispensation when it could be lowered by the court to 16 [Ibid] ). Women were also protected from arbitrary divorce. The most revolutionary reform was a provision in article 74 giving women equal rights in matters of inheritance [Ibid] . The laws applied to Sunni and Shi’a alike, yet despite their liberal intent they received much opposition and did not survive Qasim’s government.

ocial Reform

Education was greatly expanded under the Qasim regime. The education budget was raised from approximately 13 million Dinars in 1958 to 24 million Dinar in 1960 and enrolment was increased.Attempts were also made in 1959 and 1961 to introduce economic planning to benefit social welfare; investing in housing, healthcare and education, whilst reforming the agrarian Iraqi economy along an industrial model. However these changes were not truly implemented before Qasim’s removal.

Qasim was also responsible for the nationalisation of the Iraqi oil industry. Public Law 80 dispossessed the IPC of 99.5% of its concession territory in Iraq and placed it in the hands of the newly formed Iraq National Oil Company taking many of Iraq’s oilfields out of foreign hands [Ibid, page 174] .


* Barnett, Michael N.; "Dialogues in Arab Politics" Columbia University Press 1998
* Choueiri, Youssef M.; "Arab Nationalism: A History" Blackwell 2000
* Cleveland, William L.; "A History of the Modern Middle East" Westview Press 1994
* Dawisha, Adeed: "Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century: From Triumph to Despair" Princeton University Press 2003
* Kedourie, Elie; "Politics in the Middle East" Oxford University Press 1997
* Lewis, Roger and Owen, Roger (editors); "A Revolutionary Year: The Middle East in 1958" I.B. Tauris 2002
* Marr, Phebe; "The Modern History of Iraq" Longman/ Westview 1985
* Polk, William R.; "Understanding Iraq" I.B. Tauris 2006
* Simons, Geoff; "Iraq: From Sumer to Saddam" Macmillan 1994


ee also

*1941 Iraqi coup d'état

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