When The Last Iraqi Monarchy Finally Fell
When Colonel Abdul Salam Arif marched the 20th brigade into Baghdad on July 14, 1958, it wasn’t in a parade for the ruling monarchy. He aimed to overthrow them, kill them in fact, and send a message to the British that their presence was no longer needed in Iraq.
The coup succeed. The Iraqi royal family, the Hashemite monarchy, fell hard. So did anyone supporting them, but the British did not get the hint.
The political climate leading up to the 1958 Iraqi coup d’état was not unlike many other nations in the Middle East and Asia. They were under imperialist occupation. The local leadership remained in power as a puppet to those masters.
By 1958, the Iraqis had decided they’d had enough of the puppet show. The fallout from that day laid the foundations for much of what still affects Iraq today.
The Hashemite Dynasty
In 1958, King Faisal II carried on the dynasty begun by his grandfather, the first Faisal, a monarchy in the very British sense. Founded in 1921, with the help of the British, the Iraqis shook off the Ottoman Empire.
The Hashemite dynasty took the reins of the country, winning independence in 1932, at least on paper. The Hashemites were Sunni Muslims, which immediately created unrest with other Islamic faiths.
History captures the Sunnis of that time as oppressive, and arrogant. There were regular uprisings, attempted coups leading up to the 1958 success. Nonetheless, the Hashemites remained in power from 1932 until 1958.
King Faisal II ruled from ’39 to ’58. During his rule, Iraq had a Prime Minister, like Britain. His name was Nuri al-Said. Al Said carefully straddled political agendas, attempting to appease the British who still pulled the strings of the monarchy, but also with the Arab people of Iraq, who wanted the British to leave.
The school system of Iraq was set against the occupation, raising a generation of Iraqis discontent with the situation. The people wanted to join with other Arab nations in a Pan-Arab state.
Nuri al-Said wasn’t so into it, but he did bring Iraq into the Arab League in 1944, a concession, but not what the people wanted.
The Pot Boils
Leading to the ’58 coup, the nation of Iraq suffered an economic recession. The standard of living was a mess. There were still British imperialists lingering in Iraq. In fact, al-Said’s right-hand advisor, Lord Salter, was another British imperialist as far as the Iraqis cared.
To make matters worse, the British reoccupied the nation during World War II, in 1947. The Iraqis negotiated a timeline, that the Brits would leave by 1973, meanwhile supplying the Iraqis with military supplies and assistance. This only further embroiled the detractors within Iraq.
A pact with Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey in 1955, the Baghdad Pact, then a uniting of Iraq with Hashemite Jordan in May 1958, were two moves supported by Britain and the United States as anti-communist, but the Iraqi saw them differently.
It seemed more like the puppets were doing as the masters wanted.
The Coup D’état
A man by the name of Gamal Abdel Nasser, an Egyptian, had been promoting a Pan-Arab sentiment in Iraq and other Arab nations. Nasser opposed the imperialists in any nation.
The people of Iraq started to favor his ideology over their own leadership’s ideology. Within the ranks of Iraqi soldiers, opposition formed against the Prime Minister, al-Said. These opposition groups started to model themselves after the Free Officers Movement, the Egyptian revolutionary group who overthrew their monarchy in ’52.
When the dissenting Iraqis finally had enough, a group emerged identifying themselves as the Free Officers; a familiar name. Brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim led the Pan-Arab coup to overthrow the monarchy.
They marched on Baghdad on July 14, taking over the radio and storming the royal palace. Faisal II and his whole family died that day. So did al-Said and anyone else connected with the royal family.
In the background of the revolutionaries was a young man by the name of Saddam Hussein. He was already a leader within the Socialist Ba’ath party, but this was not his day.
That wouldn’t come until 1963, in another coup, but that’s a story for another blog.