Iraq’s Monarchy Is Toppled Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The military overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy led to the death of King Faisal II and Crown Prince ՙAbd al-Ilāh. Military general ՙAbd al-Karīm Qāsim took control of the government, which was immediately distanced from British and pro-Western influences, setting the stage for factionalism and further coups until the Baՙthists seized control in 1968.

Summary of Event

World War I’s wake included the dismembering of the Ottoman Empire’s non-Turkish possessions. The former Ottoman province of Mesopotamia became the British-administered Mandate of Iraq. In 1921, Emir Faisal of the Hashemite family was named king of Iraq. Because the Hashemite Dynasty Hashemite Dynasty claims descent from the Prophet Muhammad, King Faisal I (r. 1921-1933) was accordingly succeeded on the throne by his son Ghāzī I (r. 1933-1939). Upon Ghāzī’s untimely death in a motor accident, his four-year-old son Faisal II took the throne. Revolutions and coups;Iraq Iraqi revolution of 1958 [kw]Iraq’s Monarchy Is Toppled (July 14, 1958)[Iraqs Monarchy [kw]Monarchy Is Toppled, Iraq’s (July 14, 1958) [kw]Toppled, Iraq’s Monarchy Is (July 14, 1958) Revolutions and coups;Iraq Iraqi revolution of 1958 [g]Middle East;July 14, 1958: Iraq’s Monarchy Is Toppled[05880] [g]Iraq;July 14, 1958: Iraq’s Monarchy Is Toppled[05880] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;July 14, 1958: Iraq’s Monarchy Is Toppled[05880] [c]Atrocities and war crimes;July 14, 1958: Iraq’s Monarchy Is Toppled[05880] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;July 14, 1958: Iraq’s Monarchy Is Toppled[05880] [c]Government and politics;July 14, 1958: Iraq’s Monarchy Is Toppled[05880] Faisal II[Faisal 02] Q{amacr}sim, {ayn}Abd al-Kar{imacr}m[Qasim, AbdalKarim] Arif, Abdul Salam N{umacr}r{imacr} al-Sa{ayn}{imacr}d[Nuri alSaid] {ayn}Abd al-Il{amacr}h[Abd alIlah] Hussein I[Hussein 01] Dulles, John Foster [p]Dulles, John Foster;Middle East policy Macmillan, Harold Nasser, Gamal Abdel [p]Nasser, Gamal Abdel;Cold War

During the young king’s minority most of the power resided in his cousin and regent Crown Prince ՙAbd al-Ilāh, and with Nūrī al-Saՙīd, a multiple-tenure prime minister and the country’s most powerful politician. ՙAbd al-Ilāh and Nūrī al-Saՙīd followed a consistently pro-British, pro-Western policy of government and, even after Faisal II came of age on May 3, 1953, and the regency officially came to an end, both maintained their influence.

The youthful monarch was at first very popular, but he also proved to be introverted and reluctant to take the initiative in his country’s political life. His sheltered life without strong parental influence had made him an aloof figure, remote and out of harmony with the life and aspirations of his people and the turmoil of their politics. Consequently, when it appeared that there would be no reform of the system in the foreseeable future and that “business as usual” could drag on indefinitely, the popular mood became increasingly restive. Faisal II’s British education and his orientation for Euro-American style democracy also tended to further isolate him from the sentiments of the majority of his subjects.

By the 1950’s, the Cold War Cold War;Middle East was well under way. The Middle East, with its vast and seemingly limitless oil reserves, became a crucial battleground for the superpowers. In the mid-1950’s a concerted attempt was made by U.S. secretary of state John Foster Dulles and British prime ministers Anthony Eden Eden, Anthony and (after 1957) Harold Macmillan to forge a pro-Western bloc from among select Middle Eastern regimes to counter Soviet inroads into the region.

These initiatives and the aggressive manner in which they were pushed alarmed certain segments of the Arab middle and laboring classes, who feared that a variant of neocolonialism was at work in the region. These suspicions were exploited by some Arab nationalists, who advocated a position of Cold War neutrality, or nonalignment, and closer cooperation between the respective Arab governments.

The most visible spokesperson for this point of view was Gamal Abdel Nasser, a former Egyptian general who had been instrumental in the 1954 military coup that ousted the Egyptian monarchy and who would ultimately take control as the Egyptian strongman. Nasser opposed any alignment with the West as a sell-out to colonial powers, and he used Western support for the state of Israel as an argument in favor of his neutralist policies. By 1956-1958, Nasser’s ideas were secretly being adopted by some of the younger officers in the Iraqi army—among them Generals ՙAbd al-Karīm Qāsim and Abdul Salam Arif—who called themselves the “Free Officers.” Free Officers (Egypt)

Further evidence that the monarchy was unraveling was revealed in the growing rift between the crown prince and Nūrī al-Saՙīd, whose control over the Iraqi parliament consistently derailed ՙAbd al-Ilāh’s often grandiose projects, notably a proposed annexation of the Republic of Syria to be under the crown prince’s direct rule, administration, or both. Beginning in 1954, the United States and the United Kingdom made attempts to forge a pro-Western bloc in the Middle East. Iraq, as one of the dominant powers in the area, became one of this plan’s linchpins. Turkey and Pakistan signed a mutual aid-nonaggression agreement on April 2, which eventually led Nūrī al-Saՙīd to maneuvering Iraq into signing the Baghdad Pact of February 24, 1955. Iran and Britain would join Iraq, Turkey, and Pakistan before the end of the year. The Baghdad Pact Baghdad Pact , which provided for mutual defense in case of outside attack and which was aimed mainly at containing Soviet expansion, was diametrically at odds with and even threatened Nasser’s own vision of the creation of a greater nonaligned Pan-Arab state. His Radio Cairo Radio Cairo Propaganda;Egypt , a propaganda arm, inveighed and incited against the royal government. The stage had been set for an Iraqi-Egyptian rivalry for paramount influence in the Arab world.

On February 1, 1958, Syria and Egypt signed an agreement establishing the United Arab Republic (U.A.R.). At the insistence of King Hussein I of Jordan, Faisal II’s cousin, the two monarchs countered by signing the Iraq-Jordan Federation Iraq-Jordan Federation[Iraq Jordan Federation] on February 14. It was this agreement that would set into motion the events directly leading to Faisal’s overthrow precisely five months later. The fatal chain reaction began in May, when the government of Camille Chamoun Chamoun, Camille in Lebanon was overturned and civil war erupted. It was feared that neighboring Jordan might be engulfed, and so, in keeping with the federation agreement, Iraqi units were ordered to march into Jordan to assist Hussein I. However, Arif, joined a few hours later by Qāsim, took advantage of the situation to march their troops into Baghdad on July 14 to seize the royal palace. For reasons that have never been explained, Crown Prince ՙAbd al-Ilāh chose to surrender, though the forces at his disposal could probably have successfully resisted. Then, in an equally baffling series of events (because the coup leaders later adamantly denied that this had ever been their intent) the king, the crown prince, and other members of the Iraqi royal family were butchered by a hail of gunfire. Nūrī al-Saՙīd tried to escape but, even dressed as a woman, was apprehended the following day and immediately shot. The bodies of Nūrī al-Saՙīd, the crown prince, and others were soon dismembered and dragged through the streets. British prime minister Macmillan and U.S. secretary of state Dulles declined to call for intervention; governments of the region followed their example, and Qāsim took control of the leadership in Iraq.

Significance

Contrary to initial fears, the Communist Party did not take control in Iraq, nor did the Iraqi government elect to join the U.A.R. The coup did not destroy the Baghdad Pact, which survived under the name of CENTO (Central Treaty Organization) until 1979. Instead, for Iraq, the 1958 coup brought about a chaotic period of coup, counter-coup, assassination, and repression.

Qāsim was gunned down during a revolt in 1963, and Arif would die three years later in a helicopter crash. In the long term, the toppling of the monarchy would thus pave the way for the 1968 takeover by the Baՙth Party, whose dominance over Iraq would culminate in the brutal and deadly dictatorship of Saddam Hussein (1979-2003). Revolutions and coups;Iraq Iraqi revolution of 1958

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Anderson, Liam, and Gareth Stansfield. The Future of Iraq: Dictatorship, Democracy, or Division. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Though the primary focus of this work is post-2001, the Hashemite years and the 1958 coup are given a significant formative role in the retrospective chapter.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Black, Edwin. Banking on Baghdad: Inside Iraq’s Seven-Thousand-Year History of War, Profit, and Conquest. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, 2004. A sweeping history of Baghdad as a several-thousand-year center of profit and abuse of profit.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Helms, Christine Moss. Iraq: Eastern Flank of the Arab World. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1984. Though the events of 1958 are not covered at great length, there is much that is useful in this book on the background for those events as well as on Iraq’s strategic significance.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marr, Phebe. The Modern History of Iraq. 2d ed. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2004. A most detailed and scholarly account of the events leading up to, during, and following the 1958 coup. Refers to the monarchist government as the “Old Regime.”
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Polk, William R. Understanding Iraq. New York: Harper Perennial, 2006. The author argues that pressure by Dulles, and Nūrī al-Saՙīd’s excessively pro-British policies, alienated younger Iraqi officers and set the stage for the military coup.

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