The 1936 Coup d’État in Iraq

The 1936 Coup d’État

In the 1930s, a number of disgruntled, mostly urban-based groups began to propagate ideas of social and economic reform of the Iraqi state, calling for a more equitable distribution of resources and more say for junior members of the bureaucracy, as well as the intelligentsia and workers’ movements. In particular, they railed against the strangulation of the economy by the reactionary class of tribal landlords in parliament.

Socialist-leaning factions, such as the Ahali group, competed for public attention alongside the newly reorganized Iraqi Communist Party. More important were the parties that held power or would soon hold it. In 1931, the al-Shaab (People’s) Party joined forces with the Watani Party to form Hizb al-Ikha al-Watani (Patriotic Brotherhood Party).

A mixture of Sunnis and Shiis, the Ikha Party was also close to the Nahda Party. This alliance would propel Ikha leader Yasin alHashimi to the premiership. Nevertheless, developing in a climate of heavy government repression against Shii-led movements in the tribal countryside as well as Kurdish rebellions in the north, they gave voice to antigovernment measures against both the disenfranchised urban and the rural populations of the country.

In October 1936, the fi rst of Iraq’s many coups took place against the reigning government of the day. General Bakr Sidqi (1890–1937) undertook the coup, which resulted in the naming of a new prime minister, Hikmat Suleyman (1889–1964), Sidqi’s ally. (Suleyman, as interior minister, had issued the order to attack the Assyrians; Sidqi was the general who had carried out the order.)

The ousted government of Yasin al-Hashimi had made so many enemies that it was said that even King Ghazi secretly approved of the changeover. Suleyman formed a government that brought in many Ahali members and a greater number of Shiis than had previously been the practice in Iraqi governments (Tripp 2000, 89); he also named General Sidqi chief of the general staff.

Suleyman was an Iraq nationalist who was eyed with suspicion by the more pan-Arab offi cer corps. When he embarked on modest attempts to redistribute Iraq’s land resources, he found himself the object of virulent hostility on the part of Iraq’s landholding elites. This, plus the growing resentment against the dictatorial tendencies of Sidqi, and Sidqi’s eventual murder by elements of the army, led Suleyman to resign in 1937. Subsequently, one of the ex-Sharifi an offi cers close to King Faisal I, Jamil al-Madfai, took the reins of power.