1979: Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party coup

3 comments July 22nd, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1979, Saddam Hussein executed a terrifying purge of the Ba’ath party.

Hussein had come to power just six days before by forcing out his cousin Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr.

On this date, some 400-plus Ba’ath party leaders were summoned to a pavilion near the Iraqi presidential palace. The secret police locked the doors behind them.

As film rolled, a man named Muhyi Abdel-Hussein came to the stage. Until just days prior, he had been the general secretary of the Revolutionary Command Council, the executive committee that ran the state. For opposing Saddam Hussein’s accession, he’d been arrested and endured God knows what. It was enough to break him, and make him the star in a drama worthy of the old Soviet show trials.

Speaking deliberately, Muhyi Abdel-Hussein* stood at the podium and accused himself of involvement in a Syrian plot against the regime. He had, moreover, been joined in his treason by a number of men in that very room. And then as the names were read off to the stunned audience, Mukhabarat men arrested them and dragged them out of the hall. Colleagues gaped as their ranks were culled around them, each paralyzed with the same panicked thought: am I next? Realizing their vulnerability, some began to chant feverishly their loyalty: “Long live Saddam Hussein!”**

All the while, the emerging dictator — younger and trimmer than we remember him at the end — sat steps away at a simple little table, coolly puffing his cigar. He would be the unquestioned master of Iraq for the next 24 years.

In all, 68 people were hauled out of the room; they were tried immediately and sentenced within minutes: 22 to die, the rest to the dungeons.† The condemned were shot that very day: in a diabolical twist, a number of their former, as-yet-unpurged Ba’ath Party colleagues were detailed for firing squad duty.

Nor was this the end. A wider purge of potential rivals with potential influence — party members, union leaders, intelligentsia, businessmen — unfolded throughout that week; by August 1, several hundred (the exact figure will never be known) had been condemned to die. Muhyi Abdel-Hussein, whatever they promised him, was among them.

* “Al-Khalil gives the last name of Muhyi Abdel-Hussein as Rashid. Matar gives it as Mashhadi. Since Mashhad is a place in Iran, one can only assume that this name was bestowed on the unfortunate Abdel-Hussein posthumously, after it had been discovered that ‘he had reached his position through devious means and that he was originally Persian.'” (Source)

** The entire liturgy of terror was stage-managed by Taha Yasin Ramadan, who became Iraq’s vice president (and, like his president, was eventually hanged for his trouble). Also making an appearance: Barzan al-Tikriti, who was likewise destined to hang during the American occupation; on July 22, 1979, he was one of the judges on the kangaroo court that issued the death sentences.

† Different sources produce slight variations on the counts of 68 arrests and 22 executions.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Innocent Bystanders,Iraq,Mass Executions,Politicians,Power,Shot,Summary Executions,Treason

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1963: 21 Iraqi Communists

Add comment July 31st, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1963, Iraq’s infant Ba’ath government executed at least 21 soldiers — all Shi’a — who had participated in a Communist coup attempt on July 3.

The Ba’ath were newly in the saddle after overthrowing Qasim earlier that year, and would be ousted again a few months hence before their definitive seizure of power several years later.

For the moment, they were a fledgling government trying to tilt away from the Soviet bloc and towards the west while navigating a minefield of domestic politics. If the coup really occurred as described, it was the fruit of an Iraqi Communist Party with daggers drawn for the regime after the Ba’athists had massacred their membership with CIA help in the course of offing Qasim. (The name is also transliterated Qassim or Kassem.) If it was bogus, it was probably an official cover story to keep massacring Shi’a Communists.

The affair, in either guise, amounted to a minor hazard in the jagged path of the Ba’ath — but of course, we come by that judgment with benefit of hindsight. Far more interesting to follow, courtesy of this site‘s library of historic cables, the perceived unfolding of the situation through the anxious American diplomatic pouch:

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Iraq,Known But To God,Mass Executions,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Shot,Soldiers,Treason

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