Archive for February 9th, 2008

1963: Abd al-Karim Qasim, Iraqi Prime Minister

9 comments 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. And Qasim himself kept an open heart for Iraq’s poor, donating his salary to pensioners and, according to a friend in the officer corps,

liv[ing] very simply. Many poor people used to visit him frequently because he served the poor by sharing his salary with the needy. In return, they would come to clean and cook and serve him, although this was strictly a voluntary action on the part of the people who loved and respected him.

Qasim partly nationalized the oil industry — that job would be completed by a successor — and hosted the meetings where OPEC was born. He threatened to annex Kuwait.

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.

An excerpt from a U.S. State Department memorandum of a meeting with oil executives the week after Qasim’s fall. From one of several archival documents collected here. (Executed Today has also mirrored the site’s cable on Qasim’s execution page 1 | page 2).

* Also rendered Qassim or Kassem.

** A DailyKos diarist has very readable orientations to Qasim’s Iraq in History of Iraq: Oil, Commies, and Ba’ath and History of Iraq: 1947 – 1963.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Heads of State,Iraq,Politicians,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Treason


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