The revolutionary struggle in Iraq, and its impact on the entire Middle East, is the subject of two articles in this issue: this analysis by Ray Alan, and the report by Johann Caspar which follows.
Iraq and Egypt celebrated the anniversaries of the coups which made them both military republics within eight days of one another. The Egyptians, only vaguely aware of what they are supposed to be celebrating, are by now broken to the routine; but the Iraqi republic is still something of a novelty, and Baghdad had never seen such a spectacle as was put on last July 14. There were carnival floats and clowns and unveiled girls with flowers in their hair and a pavement-shattering display of British and Soviet tanks. Banners celebrating the destruction of privilege and imperialism streamed by to the tune of such rousing revolutionary marches as “The British Grenadier.” The crowds were in uproarious good humor. Britons and Americans who might have been taken for a drag a year ago had they been available were grinned at and treated to “Bebsi-Cola.” General Kassem was cheered and lauded in poetry, song, and slogan as the strong man of the moment is always cheered and lauded in the Arabic-speaking Near East, without the cheers and flattery meaning very much or committing anyone very deeply.
Not that Kassem is not genuinely popular. At the moment, his government is probably the most popular Iraq has ever had. It enjoys the support of the army and the urban mob and the good will of the peasants, the Kurds, and the younger Shi’ites. (There are a million Kurds in Iraq, two and a half million Shi’ite Arabs and two million Sunni—orthodox Moslem—Arabs.) The Communists proclaim their devotion to Kassem and make great use of his name—so successfully that until recently many credulous folk believed him to be their leader—despite their resentment of recent government measures to reduce their nuisance value.
General Kassem’s followers are held together, for the time being, by the knowledge that a split in their alliance would at once benefit the “reactionary” camp—to which they relegate Nasserists as well as the sheikhly remnants of the Hashemite regime. But the Iraqi is as fickle in his political affections as he is tenacious in his religious hatreds; and much of the government’s support is conditional. Townsmen and peasants are avid for economic betterment and social reform, army officers for a new order based on merit, efficiency, and a more or less socialist economy: without clearly understanding what socialism implies, they are adamant that development funds derived from the country’s oil income must not enrich private industrialists and landlords. The Kurds want a measure of autonomy; pan-Arabists expect Kassem to advance the cause of Arab unity more effectively than Nasser. All are impatient, and all will readily acclaim some new hero if Kassem fails to deliver the goods. The government, realizing that even the most rapturous enthusiasm wears off, is reinforcing its security apparatus and making a great show of the strength and mobility of its armored division (whose commander is, however, stated to be pro-Communist). A full complement of police is on duty, and officials who up to a year ago just used to vanish from July to September (the Hashemites’ advisers were all agreed that it was too hot for anyone to make a revolution in summer) are stickily and peevishly at their desks.
Republican Baghdad is already an uneasy city. It is becoming, old acquaintances say, a city of fear. There is a certain amount of amateurish shadowing and wire-tapping, and Iraqis are less willing than they used to be to confide in Westerners—or in each other. Iraqis who have foreign friends are expected to report the fact to the Criminal Investigation Department. Western embassies have at times been cordoned off and visitors required to explain their business to an Iraqi officer. The few remaining Jews—anti-Zionists whose dearest desire is to be considered good Iraqis—are alarmed by sporadic anti-Jewish propaganda and discrimination and beginning to wonder whether they wouldn’t, after all, have been wiser to accompany the 100,000 who emigrated to Israel eight years ago.
But Hashemite Baghdad, too, was a city of fear for a great many people. Police spies, arbitrary arrest, rigged trials, and internment camp oblivion were features of the Hashemite scene, too. Of the two regimes, the present one is more to the taste of the average Iraqi, who, after all, is the man that matters. The British and American journalists, diplomats, and businessmen who find this fact so hard to take and profess to be shocked by the new government’s harshness were cushioned from the barbarities of its predecessor by their priviliged status as the friends of the ruling oligarchy. They cannot complain if the pendulum has swung against them and they are now subjected to bureaucratic and “security” vexations like everyone else: they had their day, and that they frittered it away propagating the cocktail party rather than the political party facet of the Western way of life is nobody’s fault but their own.
Egyptian diatribes against the Iraqi republic—six months ago a source of unease—no longer cause its leaders any concern. They have discredited Nasser more than Kassem. “We have no time for such nonsense,” Kassem says, “and if the Egyptians stop their stupid attacks and plots against us no more need be heard about it.” Cairo radio, after accusing Kassem of “murdering more Arab patriots than Nuri,” decided in July that he was not too bad after all and switched its efforts to trying to drive a wedge between him and his associates; but by the end of the month it was attacking him again.
In Beirut, Lebanese, Egyptian, and Iraqi officials and journalists insist that Nasser and Kassem cannot coexist. The Iraqis give two reasons for this. The first is Nasser’s personal resentment of the existence of a rival Arab strongman: while Kassem now occupies the center of Arab attention in Beirut and Damascus as well as Baghdad, Nasser has become a mere blowhard. The second derives, they believe, from the socio-political incompatibility of their regimes.
The Naguib-Nasser coup was a revolt, not a revolution. It brought the submissive Egyptian fellahin a new ruling class and little else: pashas-in-uniform whose chief concern was to serve themselves a substantial slice of the administrative cake and marry into the landowning class. A modicum of land reform was introduced, but on the same stopgap usury-promoting lines as Wafdists used to advocate a generation ago. Nasser stepped up the output of teachers, but primarily for export—for the glorification of his name and the expansion of his influence: Egyptian petty bourgeois “intellectuals” who are Angry Young Men at home tend, like their British and French counterparts, to become chauvinists abroad.
The Baghdad coup made a cleaner sweep of the old order. For the first time in the Near East, it opened the road to power to reformers and revolutionaries of the political left—men with a blueprint of a new economic order, for whom Nasser represents a fascist-type deviation from the path of progress. Whereas the Cairo regime has lacked the courage, or the will, to promote women’s rights and initiate the Kemalist reforms which the Arab world needs to liberate law, ethics, and education from the stranglehold of obscurantism, the Iraqi premier has appointed a woman minister, approved the principle of granting full political rights to women, and ordered government officials to observe strict neutrality toward all religious issues. While Nasser has sought to reinforce his personal dictatorship, conceding only farcical single-party “elections,” Kassem has announced that political parties will be allowed to resume their activities by next January 6 and promised free elections and a democratic constitution within a year.
Of course, the Iraqi republic is far from fulfilling its promises. The Iraqi officers’ corps, too, is becoming a privileged body, if less blatantly than in Egypt. Full citizenship rights for women have yet to be enacted and upheld. Civil service neutrality between rival Sunnis and Shi’ites is a necessity rather than a virtue in Iraq, and the religious sheikhs still exert immense power over the uneducated majority within each community. As for free elections and a democratic constitution, only time can show what meaning these currently ambiguous terms are to acquire in the Iraqi republic. The fact remains that Iraqi promise has begun to impress a great many Arabs rather more than Egyptian performance, despite Nasser’s superior propaganda resources. (In one respect, his inescapable “Voice of the Arabs” has become a liability: its sudden conversion to anti-Communism, after echoing Communist themes so vigorously for so long, has caused many of its listeners to conclude that Nasser must be in desperate need of American aid.) And while most of the Arab parties calling themselves “socialist” or reformist are now favorably disposed toward Kassem’s Iraq, Nasser has alienated his principal “progressive” supporters, the militants of the Syrian Ba’ath (Socialist Resurrection) party who, having delivered Syria into his grip, are now sulking in their tents, accusing him of betraying the revolution and leaning on the merchants and Moslem sheikhs just like any old-gang politician.
The Ba’ath was upset in the spring When it learned that, far from allowing it to take over the Syrian half of the National Union, the UAR’s only authorized party, as its leaders had expected, Nasser’s officials were encouraging personalities who had in independent Syria been anti-Ba’athist to stand for election to the Union’s local councils on July 8. The thirty-three provincial councils elected by the local councils will in turn elect a national council from which Nasser is to pick half the members of the UAR’s future “parliament”; moreover, in accordance with the practice of single-party regimes elsewhere, a good deal of patronage in the shape of official employment, permits, and even welfare grants is to be funneled through National Union branches. Membership may, therefore, bring material benefits as well as political credit.
On the morning after the July 8 vote the Ba’athists’ disillusionment was complete. The electorate had clearly wished to vent its dissatisfaction with Syria’s neo-colonial status by punishing the party primarily responsible for the Egyptian take-over. But the authorities had all too ostentatiously abstained from giving the Ba’ath that support which, under the electoral rules normally applied in the Levant, it might have expected: going to the opposite extreme, they had encouraged anti-Ba’athist coalitions, allowed influential officials to campaign against the Ba’ath, banned all political propaganda and canvassing (for which only the Ba’athists had the requisite resources and organization), and removed Damascus radio from Ba’athist control. Of 9,000 elected local councilors of the National Union, only about 100 were Ba’athists; more than 1,000 were formerly associated with the older Syrian nationalist, bourgeois, and Moslem-traditionalist parties and movements. Syrian politics had never been more utterly paradoxical. The Syrian branch of the monolithic party that was henceforth to strengthen the Syrian-Egyptian union and work for the edification of what official UAR propaganda had called “a cooperative socialist democracy” was a heterogeneous assemblage of coffee shop opportunists enamored neither of socialism nor of Egyptians. But, from Nasser’s point of view, it was a more serviceable instrument than a party with a clear-cut ideology could ever have been, and he lost no time in providing it with a more congenial rallying cry than “democracy.” In two wild speeches he stressed his desire for a showdown with Israel and the importance of building up an Egyptian arms industry capable of producing the tanks, guns, and aircraft needed to destroy Israel.
The Iraqi branch of the Ba’ath, under a cloud for its past subservience to Nasser,. suddenly proclaimed its devotion to Kassem as the “one true leader.” The Ba’athists have never been as influential in Iraq as their propagandists used to claim, but in Jordan they were until recently one of the two most important opposition groups. If the Jordanian Ba’athists now became pro-Kassem rather than pro-Nasser, King Hussein’s position might again deteriorate.
Jordanian government officials consider a pro-Nasser opposition less dangerous than a pro-Kassem one would be for three reasons: news from Syria has dimmed Nasser’s star in both leftist and business circles; intelligent Jordanians are aware that their country is bankrupt and that Nasser could not afford to subsidize it on the same scale as its present American protectors; and Nasser himself, who is not in the market for derelict properties, recently reopened diplomatic relations with Hussein, after months of bickering and border tension, and advised his Jordanian admirers to avoid precipitating a crisis, until he is ready to liquidate Israel. Pro-Iraqi Jordanians, meanwhile, are arguing that union with Jordan would inflict no burden on oil-rich Iraq and that the Iraqi army could defend Jordan more effectively than the distant, much-defeated Egyptians. These arguments cannot, of course, be advanced in public and it is impossible to know how popular they are, but they might fire the Jordanian imagination when economic discontent and political frustration next strike sparks in Nablus and Amman; and to combat them British firefighters are unlikely to be available.
The mutual back-patting in Anglo-American diplomatic circles over King Hussein’s extended lease on his throne “thanks to” the Western powers’ landings in the Levant one year ago is strictly for the gallery. British and American experts realize that Hussein now owes his survival primarily to his enemies’ belief that, if they sweep him aside and plunge Jordan into chaos, Israel will occupy its western half. Merely by sitting tight, Israel, it is now appreciated, can make a more effective contribution to the over-all stability of the Levant than either Eden’s Arab League or Dulles’s Baghdad Pact.
Similarly, thanks to Israel and General Kassem, Nasser no longer gives Western diplomats any headaches, though his capacity for mischief in connection with Israeli shipping and in Kuwait is recognized. His old-fashioned Levantine brand of selective neutralism is now understood to serve economic rather than ideological ends. Despite his propagandists’ tactical anti-Communism, he maintains closer economic and diplomatic relations with the Soviet bloc than with the West, though the prominence given by his press to largely fictitious reports of Western efforts to secure an understanding with him is taken by the British to mean that he would like one.
Iran is a graver problem:though its government is friendly, its Shi’ite people have been excited by events in Iraq and are now being subjected to an unprecedented barrage of Soviet radio propaganda (forty-nine hours a week). Kuwait, where Egyptian and Iraqi propagandists are competing for the affections of the oil workers and the new white collar and business class, worries the British who derive benefit from both its oil and its ruler’s investment capital.
But Iraq dominates Western thinking on the Near East. Iraq is an enigma even to the Western diplomats resident there—all the more disturbing an enigma because it was the one Arab state in which the West believed it had everything neatly sewn up. After being boosted for years by the more naive Western publicists as the West’s strongest ally in the Near East, it has become a looking-glass land in which the West’s fondest daydreams are apt to assume nightmarish shapes.
Nationalization of the British-managed, internationally owned (British-American-French-Dutch) Iraq Petroleum Company—“the safest Western investment in Asia,” Whitehall men used to say—is now an overnight possibility: its timing would be decided, without reference to Iraq’s economic needs, by internal political pressures and could be decreed by the Baghdad mob. A rash move by Western political warriors or Egyptian hotheads might even touch off Soviet air-borne landings to buttress the republican regime and, in the process, extend direct Soviet influence to the head of the Persian Gulf. Nothing could have summed up Iraq’s geopolitical girouette more vividly than the presence at the West’s lost base at Habbaniya recently of a group of Russian technicians and liaison officers with U.S. jeeps at their disposal—their mission to inspect modern Western radar and communications equipment priority-supplied to Iraq under the Baghdad Pact.
Years of Western-approved Hashemite repression had left only two substantial political forces in the country when, on July 14, 1958, the old regime was swept away: the army, which had no agreed policy beyond the destruction of Hashemite and sheikhly privilege, and the underground Communists. One by one, other groups emerged: the socialistic National Democrats, who had been pro-British until the 1945 Labor government disillusioned them by its support of the Hashemites; the once influential Istiqlal (“Independence”) movement; and an Iraqi branch of the Syrian Ba’ath party. But the National Democrats were unsure of themselves and lacked mass support; and neither Istiqlal nor Ba’ath had any precise social or economic policy. For both, politics was synonymous with plotting, and both were rapidly caught up in Colonel Nasser’s intrigues to gain control of Iraqi oil.
The winter of 1958-59 was punctuated by a succession of plots and purges, each of which threw General Kassem and his entourage into ever closer alliance with the Communists. In March, the bloody Mosul revolt led by Colonel Shawaf, openly backed by the UAR and supported by a group of landowning sheikhs who had been pillars of the Hashemite regime, enabled the Communists (for whose support the army was grateful) to win acclaim as militant defenders of the republic. Thereafter Communist front organizations, labor unions and professional organizations began to assert themselves; Communists and fellow-travelers secured the posts of many purged officials; and the paramilitary People’s Resistance Forces passed under Communist control.
Few Iraqis appeared to see anything alarming in this. Nasserists in the army and administration had plotted against Kassem and at Mosul had joined forces with reactionary sheikhly elements; the Communists had stood by Kassem. It was logical, in Iraqi eyes, that he should reward them and even lean on them to some extent. A well-placed Iraqi officer told me: “Churchill was glad of Soviet help during the war and praised the Red Army, but that did not make him a Communist. General Kassem will accept the help of the Communists and give them responsible positions so long as they obey his orders, but he will never allow them to dominate him.”
American observers of the Iraqi scene object that after Budapest and Lhasa nobody could be that naive. In their view, Kassem is a fellow-traveler who flirted with the Reds in his youth, protected pro-Communist junior officers and denounced anti-Communists to Nuri (as Reds and Nasserists) in the last few years of the Hashemite regime, and joined a left-wing plot against the Hashemites. As recently as mid-July he appointed four more Communist sympathizers to his cabinet. If his illusions are now wearing thin, Communist ruthlessness rather than Kassem’s own common sense must take the credit.
British officials, disinclined to write Kassem off, stress the significance of the powers he has granted General Ahmed el-Abdi, military governor of the Baghdad region, thanks to whom civilians no longer carry arms or wear uniform. (Anti-Communist Iraqis have spoken of el-Abdi as a possible successor to Kassem.) The British point hopefully to Kassem’s retention of non-Communist, socialist (e.g., National Democrat) advisers, his disregard of Communist protests against the release of political prisoners, his authorization of stern measures to curb street demonstrations, his decision to dissolve Communist-controlled purge committees and the People’s Resistance Forces, and his project for an officers’ suburb on the edge of Baghdad to isolate officers from civilian political agitation. They argue that a moderately leftist government will anyway be more inclined to concentrate on Iraq’s pressing social problems, less dependent on foreign-policy diversions, and therefore easier to get along with, than a purely opportunistic dictatorship of the Nasser type. The keyword is “moderately,” of course. Moderation must be shown to pay—to yield Kassem greater dividends in terms of commercial credits, technical aid, oil income, and general good will, than he could obtain by following Communist advice.
Up to now Russophilia has paid the bigger dividends. The Russians have granted Iraq a 550-million-ruble credit (worth about $120 million) at 2½ per cent and are providing the technicians and equipment for the erection of a powerful radio center (four 100-kilowatt transmitters), a steelworks, a cannery, and sixteen factories that will make fertilizers, medical supplies, and light metal goods, including electrical equipment. The British have hit back, as they see it, by agreeing to supply General Kassem with military hardware (chiefly aircraft and tanks, for delivery in 1960, which leaves time for cancellation if Iraq lurches further to the left), and by being polite and cooperative about Iraq’s departure from the sterling area. Their attitude on both issues pleased the Iraqis and may have contributed to the easing of restrictions on the import of British goods that is now apparent.
The Iraqi and Cypriot uprisings jolted Whitehall out of its never impressive pretensions to Near Eastern expertise and its yen to be the West’s gendarme in the area. Britain’s interest in Iraq is now frankly economic: exports (menaced for the first time by Czech and East German competition) and the Iraq Petroleum Company.
The British are encouraging Kassem and his colleagues to think in terms of “Iraqization” rather than nationalization. This means, in the words of Dr. Ibrahim Kubbeh, the leftist minister in charge of petroleum affairs, that “no foreigner will be employed in the oil-fields to do a job for which a qualified Iraqi is available” and that “oil policy will be decided by the Iraqi government, not by IPC officials.” The Company has already agreed to install in its London head office an Iraqi director empowered to inspect all records and accounts; it is recruiting and training more Iraqi technicians and clerks; it is taking steps to comply with an Iraqi government request that production capacity be doubled within four years, but has politely reminded Dr. Kubbeh that this will not necessarily mean doubled sales. It has ceded exploration rights outside its main concession area to an Iraqi government company on whose behalf Russian oilmen are conducting a survey, but has resisted demands that it should add substantially to refining capacity inside Iraq.
Although a socialist and a nationalizer at heart, Dr. Kubbeh knows that the Iraqi oil industry needs Western markets even more than the West needs Iraqi oil. (Coffee-shop talk has it that Red China would gladly buy vast quantities of nationalized Iraqi oil, but no one has worked out how the Chinese would pay.) Whitehall knows that Kassem could wreck the IPC overnight by a Mossadegh-type coup which—although the blow might ultimately be softened by international arbitration, as in Persia—would destroy Britain’s privileged position in the Iraqi oilfields. This knowledge binds Britain and Iraq together, giving them a common interest in an accommodation that will secure a bigger stake in the industry for the Iraqi government while preserving the IPC in something like its present shape and barring the door to outsiders.
But the British are not alone: while they are willing to consider a reorganization of the IPC that would give the Iraqi government a 15 or 20 per cent share of the company and reduce the holdings of the present “big four” to a maximum of 20 per cent each, their partners are not. Such a reshuffle would knock the bottom out of existing fifty-fifty profit-sharing arrangements between the major companies and the Arab governments. Jersey Standard and Socony-Vacuum, who share the American 23.75 per cent of IPC, are fearful of creating precedents that might harm their more important Aramco interests. The Compagnie Française des Pétroles, part-owned by the French government, is content to stall until its Saharan investments bear fruit; and the French government, for domestic propaganda purposes, has whittled the whole issue down to a British plot to appease the Iraqis at the expense of France!
For the moment, the IPC feels safe. It paid the Iraqi government $235 million in 1958 and the 1959 figure will top this. The republican government, having cut indirect taxes and increased military and social expenditure, is heavily dependent on its oil income, which it is splitting evenly between the ordinary and development budgets. But emotion often outweighs economic commonsense in the Near East, and if the IPC’s parent companies failed to concede what articulate Iraqis would consider a more equitable distribution of shares and profits, General Kassem might be forced by public agitation to nationalize it, which would play right into the Communists’ hands. The West would almost certainly boycott nationalized Iraqi oil (as it did the Persian product during Dr. Mossadegh’s spree) and get all the blame for Iraq’s consequent economic difficulties; Russia, Baghdad leftists predict, would lend Iraq the funds needed to tide her over to a settlement. Iraq’s gravitation toward the Soviet system would be accelerated.
As things are, the Russians seem to be in no hurry for Iraq to become a satellite. By trying to force the pace they would obviously damage their cause in other Near Eastern countries and risk provoking a reaction inside Iraq. They are believed by Western diplomats to have advised against early nationalization of the IPC. Quietly and modestly, their numerous but discreet advisers and technicians have succeeded in creating the impression that their chief concern is to help the Iraqis make a success of their republic and reinforce it against the possibility of Western-sponsored counterrevolution or miliary attack. A Soviet economic attaché told an Iraqi gathering in June that his government wished Soviet-Iraqi cooperation to transform the country into a showcase to demonstrate to the entire region what such cooperation could achieve. Overpopulated Egypt could never become any kind of showpiece without massive economic aid and a long-term program of emigration and birth control, and the Kremlin’s Near Eastern experts must have been grateful that Nasser’s seesawing gave them an opportunity of reducing their commitments to him. Not only is Iraq richer than Egypt in material resources (oil, water, under-cultivated land) and blessed with a more vigorous, less diseased population (especially in the north); she already has a sufficient number of basic development projects completed or in the works for quite impressive progress to be attainable for a minimum Russian outlay.
But the good will won for Russia by her technicians and diplomats is apt to be cancelled out by the capers of the Iraqi Communist party, an ally as embarrassing as the Hashemites were for the West. No one is more expert at alienating friends and offending people than the dedicated Communist; and just as Communists lost Russia the good will of European socialists in the late 1930’s and 1940’s, and of the Syrian Ba’athists in the middle 1950’s, so the arrogance and dogmatism of the Iraqi CP are ruffling its National Democrat and military allies. The situation has been further complicated for the Russians by the existence within the leadership of the Iraqi CP of an impulsive “Chinese” wing displeased by the embourgeoisement of Soviet politics and diplomacy and more responsive to Chinese than Russian guidance and example. It was this wing of the party, working through the People’s Resistance Forces, that was responsible in July for transforming a communal clash in Kirkuk into a pogrom in which about 120 members of the staid, conservative Turkoman community were massacred by Kurds. The government avoided a breach with the CP as such by laying the blame on “anarchists” but revealed that it had discovered plans for similar outrages in Baghdad and Basra and pointedly warned the CP and trade unions to free themselves from “anarchist” influence. The Communists protested when the police searched and closed the offices of the General Labor Confederation but knuckled under, disowning “certain irresponsible leaders” and reaffirming their loyalty to Kassem; a number of Communist-influenced organizations announced that henceforth they would keep themselves free from “political infiltration.”
By late August the Iraqi Communist party was tamer, less assertive, than at any time since the Mosul uprising. The discomfiture of its “Chinese” wing was undoubtedly welcome to the Russians and would help those of its leaders who toe the Kremlin line to reestablish the party in the public mind as a “national” force loyal to Kassem. But the climb back would be hard, and Kassem and his friends had received a salutary warning. In the spring Kassem had stressed his desire for close friendship with the Soviet bloc and had seemed to consider the Communists a misunderstood, unjustly maligned group of patriots. Now he assured a party of Lebanese journalists: “We owe Russia nothing. On the contrary, she is in our debt, for we destroyed the Baghdad Pact, the instrument of a conspiracy against her.” His enlightenment would not lead Iraq back into the Western camp but it might keep her out of Russia’s and insure that Iraqi neutralism was the genuine article.