Abdul-Rahman Aref’s Presidency (1966–1968)

Abdul-Rahman Aref’s Presidency (1966–1968)

After the obligatory period of mourning, Abdul-Salam’s older brother, Abdul-Rahman Aref (1916–2007), also an army offi cer, was elected to the presidency, edging out al-Bazzaz, who had become temporary president following the younger Aref’s death. By all accounts, AbdulRahman Aref was less competent and certainly less charismatic than his brother, but he epitomized continuity and a certain style of governing that relied heavily on the powerful personal and tribal networks that had sustained Abdul-Salam’s later rule. However, the Kurdish war was in full swing and negotiations with the IPC were at a delicate stage. The IPC was now in clear competition with the INOC, especially after the latter had signed “an agreement with a French group of companies to exploit areas from which the IPC had been excluded” (Tripp 2000, 189). Thus, Abdul-Rahman Aref’s new government faced a grim scenario at first.

Under al-Bazzaz, who had stayed on as prime minister, the Kurdish war ground to a halt after a 12-point program recognizing both Kurdish and Arab national aspirations to Iraq was promulgated. Al-Bazzaz offered an amnesty to the Kurds and recognized Kurdish as an officiallanguage of Iraq. This promising window of opportunity was dashed by Aref’s own military command, the leaders of which were suspicious of ethnic binationalism (Kurdish-Arab) in Iraq.

Al-Bazzaz resigned, and a new government under Naji Talib once again began to make threatening noises against the Kurdish leadership of Mulla Mustafa al-Barzani. Meanwhile, Aref’s reliance on the Republican Guard, with its core alJumayla constituency, and his diffi dent style of governing, created a vacuum that offi cer groups exploited with great agility.

Added to this was Aref’s less aggressive actions against the Baath Party (either out of a desire for reconciliation or the mistaken belief that the Baathists could no longer pose a problem to him), and his decision to maintain Iraqi neutrality during the Six-Day War in 1967 pitting Egypt, Syria, and Jordan against Israel left him in a precarious position. Street demonstrations, many of them violent, occurred in Baghdad and other cities and towns throughout Iraq in the wake of Israel’s victory in the brief war.

The Baathists, who generally vied with the Communists for control of the streets, did not seize the opportunity. Since 1966, a kinsman of Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr, Saddam Hussein (1937–2006), had been reorganizing the Baath Party militia. During the rioting of the summer of 1967, Hussein further capitalized to strengthen the Baath Party. In addition, the offi cer corps harbored numerous factions opposed to Aref’s policies, especially the neutrality during the Six-Day War, which many felt had humiliated the army and Iraq in the eyes of fellow Arabs. By 1968, familiar foes had come together to plot the demise of the Aref government, fi nally succeeding in dismantling an ineffectual government with virtually no bloodshed.