February 9th, 2008 Headsman
On this date in 1963, putschists captured Iraqi Prime Minister Abd al-Karim Qasim,* subjected to him to a snap tribunal, and had him immediately shot.
Qasim‘s five-year run as Iraq’s Prime Minister marks that country’s transition from the British-installed Hashemite monarchy to the secular dictatorship that persisted until America’s
2002 2003 invasion.
It was the heyday of postcolonialism, of the Cold War, of pan-Arab strivings — a political topography of the Middle East that seems unrecognizably different from the distance of a half-century’s evolution.
And yet … not so alien after all. For superpower intervention and oil politics were already defining and demarcating the oil-rich nation’s choices.
Qasim had come to power in a coup of his own, a recognizable exemplar of the young Turks genre: in 1958, a cadre of energetic young officers virtually without resistance disposed of the unwelcome royal family and seized the helm of the state.
Contention among interest blocs within Iraq and without during the Qasim years, leading the coup’s author to this day’s fate, is too complex** for a full examination in this space. Of greatest moment was the nationalist officer’s alliance with the robust Iraqi Communist Party against the youthful Ba’ath party, a marriage of convenience not supported by all his cohorts.
Qasim himself was not a communist, but the arrangement of players that made this partnership expedient tended to drive Iraq out of the American orbit — out, for instance, of the anti-Soviet Baghdad Pact — and towards that of the Soviet Union.
Washington looked askance at these developments, and it was well before 1963 that it took steps to abort them. Early in 1959, Qasim survived a coup attempt. Later that same year, a CIA asset botched an assassination attempt.
The 22-year-old would-be assassin escaped the country and laid up in American safehouses abroad, but young Saddam Hussein would have a part to play yet in his country’s future — and he would return to play it because on this date, the Agency got its man.
* Also rendered Qassim or Kassem.
Also on this date
- c. 415 B.C.E.: The men of Melos
- Podcast: One For Ten
- 2013: Afzal Guru, India parliament attack terrorist
- 1555: John Hooper
- 2011: Martin Link
- 1619: Lucilio Vanini, aka Giulio Cesare
- 1929: José de León Toral, assassin of Álvaro Obregón