THE GROWTH OF THE REPUBLICAN REGIMES AND THE EMERGENCE OF BAATHIST IRAQ (1958–1979)
After the revolution of 1958 toppled the monarchy, Iraq went through several years of instability, as the early republican regimes struggled to maintain their hold on the country’s fractious population.
Abdul-Karim Qasim’s government was itself overthrown in 1962, and the political ideology that he had espoused—Iraqi nationalism—made way for pan-Arabism, the movement inspired by Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Eventually, an offshoot of Arab nationalism— Baathism—became the dominant party ideology of its day.
This chapter will discuss the tumultuous years of 1958–79, the social, political, and economic developments that marked those years; and the sociopolitical groundwork laid for the eventual rise to power of the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein.
The First Republican Regime (1958–1963)
When Brigadier General Abdul-Karim Qasim (1914–63) took power in 1958, his regime attempted to show that there was a fount of goodwill for the new government. While the royalists seethed at the massacre of the Hashemite family and Britain and Jordan made threatening noises about invading Iraq, a substantial majority of Iraqis came out in the streets in the ﬁrst few days of the revolution to voice hopes that Qasim’s coup augured better times.
According to political historian Charles Tripp, much of this public enthusiasm was stage-managed by the Communists and other national parties in Iraq (Tripp 2000, 149–150). Still, to the poor peasant and the city intellectual, no less the Kurdish laborer and the small Shii trader, Qasim’s coup d’état could not have come at a better moment.
Burdened by disproportionate taxes, oppressed by absentee landlords, and chaﬁ ng under discriminatory policies against ethnic and sectarian groups, many Iraqi individuals and communities hoped that the revolutionary fervor of the disparate factions in power would lift them out of their misery and provide them with a better life.
Qasim’s revolutionary government, which included representation by all of the major political blocs except the Communists, promised a national agenda in which feudal relations in the countryside would be dismantled; country-wide programs tackling poverty, health, and literacy would be promoted; ethnic and sectarian divisions abolished; and economic development, reenergized.
Furthermore, a three-man SunniShii-Kurd Sovereignty Council was to fulﬁ ll the ceremonial functions of the head of state. But from the very beginning, the revolution began to devour its children: The latent split between Iraqi nationalists and pan-Arabists became real; the jostling between parties relying on mass membership and the other more traditional political factions came out in the open; and Iraq’s fragile economy could not withstand the radical reorientations imposed on its agricultural, commercial, or industrial bases.