14 July Revolution

Not to be confused with the French revolution, which also broke out on 14 July.
14 July Revolution
Part of the Arab Cold War

Abdul Salam Arif and Abd al-Karim Qasim, the leaders of the revolution.
Date14 July 1958

Overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy Assassination of King Faisal II and his family
Assassination of crown Prince 'Abd al-Ilah
Assassination of Prime minister Nuri al-Said
End of the Hashemite dynasty in Iraq
End of the Arab Federation

Establishment of the Republic of Iraq

Arab Federation Arab Federation

Iraq Free Officers
Commanders and leaders

Arab Federation King Faisal II  
King of Iraq
Arab Federation 'Abd al-Ilah  
Crown Prince of Iraq

Arab Federation Nuri al-Said  
Prime Minister of Iraq
Iraq Abd al-Karim Qasim
Iraq Abdul Salam Arif
Iraq Muhammad Najib ar-Ruba'i
15,000 troops
Casualties and losses

United States 3 US citizens killed[1]
Jordan Number of Jordanian officials killed

Total: ~100 killed

The 14 July Revolution or the 1958 Iraqi coup d'état took place on 14 July 1958 in Iraq, resulting in the overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy established by King Faisal I in 1921 under the auspices of the British. King Faisal II, the regent and Crown Prince 'Abd al-Ilah, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Said were assassinated during this coup.

A result of several different grievances with Hashemite Iraqi policies, the coup d'état established the Republic of Iraq. From 14 July 1958 until 2003, Iraq remained a de facto Arab nationalist and socialist one-party state.

Pre-coup grievances

Regional (Middle East) agitations

During World War II, Iraq housed a growing presence of Arab nationalist sympathizers. The Arab nationalists aimed, in part, to remove British imperial influence in Iraq.[2] This sentiment grew from a politicized educational system in Iraq and an increasingly assertive and educated middle class.[3] Schools served as instruments to internalize Pan-Arab nationalist identity because the leaders and the designers of the Iraqi educational system in the 1920s and 1930s were Pan-Arab nationalists who made a significant contribution in the expansion of that ideology in Iraq as well as the rest of the Arab world.[3] The two nationalist directors of the educational system in Iraq, Sami Shawkat and Fadhil al-Jamal, employed teachers who were political refugees from Palestine and Syria.[3] These exiles fled to Iraq because of their roles in the anti-British and anti-French contentions, and subsequently fostered nationalist consciousness in their Iraqi students.[3] Institutions like school added to the general awareness of Arab identity and generated criticism of imperialism.

Similarly, Pan-Arab sentiment circulated in the Middle East and was proliferated by Egypt's Gamel Abdel Nasser, a rising politician and staunch opponent of imperialism. As such, Hashemite Iraq confronted and cradled those sentiments as well. At the same time, Nuri al-Said, Iraqi Prime Minister, was interested in pursuing the idea of a federation of Arab States of the Fertile Crescent, but reserved his enthusiasm about a pan-Arab state. Al-Said joined the Arab League in 1944 on Iraq's behalf seeing it as providing a forum for bringing together the Arab states, leaving the door open for a possible future federation.[4] The charter of the League enshrined the principle of the autonomy for each Arab state and referenced pan-Arabism only rhetorically.

Economic climate

The Iraqi economy fell into a recession and then a depression following World War II; inflation was uncontrolled and the Iraqi standard of living was dropping.[5] Al-Said and the Arab Nationalist regent, Abd al-Ilah, were continually in opposition to each other. Instead of cooperating to improve the quality of life among the Iraqi citizens, the regent and al-Said did not agree on a cohesive economic policy, infrastructure improvements, and other internal undertakings.[5]

In 1950, Nuri al-Said persuaded Iraqi Petroleum Company to increase the royalties paid to the Iraqi government. Al-Said looked to Iraq's growing oil revenues to fund and propel development.[6] Al-Said determined that 70 percent of Iraq's revenue from oil was to be set aside for infrastructure development by a Development Board, which consisted of three foreign advisors, out of six members in total. This foreign presence provoked popular disapproval on al-Said's policy because of its reliance on decision-making by foreigners.[7] Despite anti-Western sentiments toward oil and development, al-Said hired economist Lord Salter to investigate the prospects for development in Iraq because al-Said's oil revenue reallocation seemed to be ineffective.[8] Salter continued to make suggestions[9] as to how to implement development projects regardless of massive Iraqi dislike of his presence.

Political grievances

During World War II, the British reoccupied Iraq and in 1947, through the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1948 (also known as the Portsmouth Treaty) on 15 January, Salih Jabr negotiated British withdrawal from Iraq. However, this agreement consisted of a joint British and Iraqi joint defense board that oversaw Iraqi military planning. Additionally, the British continued control of Iraqi foreign affairs.[10] Iraq would still be tied to Great Britain for military supplies and training. This treaty was to last until 1973—a 25-year period that Arab nationalists in Iraq could not accept.[11] As a staunch reaction to the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1948, Arab nationalists led the Wathbah Rebellion a year later in protest of a continued British presence in Iraq.[8] Al-Said repudiated the Portsmouth Treaty as a concession offered to the Iraqi and Arab nationalists who rebelled.[8]

In 1955, Iraq entered into the Baghdad Pact with Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey. The pact was a defense agreement between the four nations and endorsed by the UK and the United States as anti-communist Cold War strategy, but was greatly resented by Iraqis in general.[12] Egypt saw the Baghdad Pact as a provocation and a challenge against its regional dominance. In 1956, when Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, Iraqi-Egyptian relations were further exacerbated. The British, French, and Israelis invaded Egypt. Iraq, as a British ally, had to support the invasion.[12] The fact that imperial ties dragged Iraq into supporting invasion of Arab lands led to wide disapproval within the Iraqi populace, which largely sympathized with Egypt and responded to pan-Arab ideology. They felt that the invasion of Egypt was another sign of Western aggression and dominance in the region.[12]

Similarly, when Egypt and Syria united to form the United Arab Republic (UAR) under the banner of pan-Arabism in 1958, Iraqi politicians found themselves in a vulnerable position. Iraqi leaders had no interest in uniting with Egypt and instead proposed and ratified their own pan-Arab union with Hashemite Jordan in May 1958.[12] Great Britain and the United States openly supported this union. Many Iraqis however were suspicious of the purpose of this union, and regarded the Arab Union of Iraq and Jordan as another "tool of their Western overlord".[12]


The primary goal of the coup was to liberate Iraq from its imperial ties with the British and the United States. The Western powers dominated all sectors of Iraqi governance: national politics and reform, regional politics with its Arab and non-Arab neighbors, and economic policies. As a general rule, many Iraqis were resentful of the presence of Western powers in the region, especially the British. Furthermore, Hashemite monarchic rule could not be divorced from the image of imperial masters behind the monarchy. The monarchy had struggled to maintain power during the Al-Wathbah uprising in 1948 and the Iraqi Intifada of 1952.

Discord mounts

A growing number of educated elites in Iraq were becoming enamored with the ideals espoused by Nasser's pan-Arabism movement. The ideas of qawmiyah found many willing adherents, particularly within the officer classes of the Iraqi military. The policies of Said were considered anathema by certain individuals within the Iraqi armed forces, and opposition groups began to form, modeled upon the Egyptian Free Officers Movement which had overthrown the Egyptian monarchy in 1952. Despite efforts by Said to quell growing unrest with the military ranks (such as economic benefits designed to benefit the officer class, and brokering deals with the U.S. to supply the Iraqi military)[13] his position was significantly weakened by the events of the Suez Crisis. Said was to suffer for his association with Britain; the latter's role in the Crisis seeming a damning indictment of his wataniyah policies[14] Despite Said's efforts to distance himself from the crisis, the damage had been done to his position. Iraq was to become isolated within the Arab world; a fact highlighted by her exclusion from the "Treaty of Arab Solidarity" in January 1957.[15] The Suez Crisis benefited the Nasser's pan-Arabism cause, whilst simultaneously undermining those Arab leaders who held a pro-Western policy. Said's fell firmly within the latter camp, and covert opposition to his governance steadily grew in the wake of Suez.

Building to a crisis

On 1 February 1958, Egypt and Syria were to boost the pan-Arabian movement immeasurably with the announcement that they had united as the United Arab Republic (UAR).[16] The move was a catalyst for a series of events that culminated in revolution in Iraq. The formation of the UAR and Nasser's lofty rhetoric calling for a united Arab world was to galvanize the pan-Arabism movement within Iraq and Jordan. The governments in Iraq and Jordan attempted something of a riposte with the creation of the Arab Federation on 14 February[17]—a union of the two states—yet few were impressed by the knee-jerk reaction to the UAR.

The UAR was joined by North Yemen soon after its formation: attention was soon to shift to Lebanon where Syria was to sponsor the Arab nationalist movement in its civil war campaign against the pro-Western government of Camille Chamoun.[18] Said recognised that defeat for Chamoun would leave Iraq and Jordan isolated. He bolstered Chamoun's government with aid throughout May and June.[18] More fatefully he attempted to bolster Jordan with units from the Iraqi army, a move that was a direct catalyst for the coup d'état.

14 July revolution

Leaders of the 14 July 1958 revolution in Iraq, including Khaled al-Naqshabendi (front row, left), Abd as-Salam Arif (back row, second from left), Abd al-Karim Qasim (back row, third from left) and Muhammad Najib ar-Ruba'i (back row, fifth from left). Also included is Michel Aflaq (front row, first from right).

On 14 July 1958, a group that identified as the Free Officers, a secret military group led by Brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim, overthrew the monarchy. This group was markedly Pan-Arab in character. King Faisal II, the Regent and Crown Prince Abd al-Ilah, and Nuri al-Said were all killed.[19]

The mutilated corpses of Crown Prince 'Abd al-Ilah of Hejaz (left) and Prime Minister Nuri al-Said (right).

The Free Officers were inspired by and modeled after the Egyptian Free Officers who overthrew the Egyptian Monarchy in 1952.[12] The Free Officers represented all parties and cut across political factions and were led by Brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim.[20] Qasim was a member of the generation that had launched the revolution in Egypt, and had grown up in an era where radicalism and Pan-Arabism were circulating in schools, including high schools and military academies.[21] As a group, most of the Free officers were Sunni Arabs who came from a modern middle class.[22] Iraqi Free Officers were inspired by a number of events in the Middle East the decade before 1952. The 1948 War against Israel was an experience that intensified the Egyptian Free Officers' sense of duty.[21] They understood their mission as deposing the corrupt regimes that weakened a unified Arab nation and thrown their countries into distress.[21] The success of the Free Officers in overthrowing the Egyptians monarchy and seizing power in 1952 made Nassir into a source of inspiration for the Iraqi Officers.[21]

The Iraqi Free Officer group was, in fact, an underground organization and so much of the planning and timing rested in the hands of Qasim and his associate, Colonel Abdul Salam Arif.[22] The Free Officers sought to ensure Nasser's support and the assistance of the UAR to implement the overthrow, because they feared the members of the Baghdad Pact would subsequently overthrow the Free Officers as a reaction to the Coup.[21] Nasser only offered moral support, whose material significance remained vague and so Egypt had no practical role in the Iraqi revolution.[21]

The dispatching of Iraqi army units to Jordan played into the hands of two of the key members of the Iraqi Free Officers movement: Arif and the movement's leader, Brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim. The Iraqi 19th and 20th Brigades of the 3rd Division (Iraq) (the former under the command of Qasim and the latter including Arif's battalion) were dispatched to march to Jordan, along a route that passed Baghdad. The opportunity for a coup was thus presented to, and seized upon, by the conspirators.

Arif was to march on Baghdad with the 20th Brigade—which he had seized control of with the help of Colonel Abd al-Latif al-Darraji—while Qasim would remain in reserve with the 19th at Jalawla.[23]

In the early hours of 14 July 1958, Arif seized control of Baghdad's broadcasting station, which was soon to become headquarters, and broadcast the first announcement of the revolution by radio. Arif "denounced imperialism and the clique in office; proclaimed a new republic and the end of the old regime...announced a temporary sovereignty council of three members to assume the duties of the presidency; and promised a future election for a new president".[23]

Arif then despatched two detachments from his regiment; one to al-Rahab Palace to deal with King Faisal II and the Crown Prince 'Abd al-Ilah, the other to Nuri al-Said's residence. Despite the presence of the crack Royal Guard at the Palace, no resistance was offered by order of the Crown Prince. It is uncertain what orders were given to the palace detachment, and what level of force they detailed.

However, at approximately 8:00 am the King, Crown Prince, Princess Hiyam ('Abd al-Ilah's wife), Princess Nafeesa ('Abd al-Ilah's mother), Princess Abadiya (Faisal's aunt), other members of the Iraqi Royal Family, and several servants were killed as they were leaving the palace.[24] With their demise, the Iraqi Hashemite dynasty ended. Meanwhile, Said was able to temporarily slip the net of his would-be captors, by escaping across the Tigris after being alerted by the sound of gunfire.

By noon, Qasim had arrived in Baghdad with his forces and set up headquarters in the Ministry of Defence building. The conspirator's attention now shifted towards locating al-Said, lest he escape and undermine the coup's early success. A reward of 10,000 Iraqi dinar was offered for his capture,[25] and a large-scale search began. On 15 July he was spotted in a street in the al-Battawin quarter of Baghdad attempting to escape disguised in a woman's abaya.[26] Said and his accomplice were both shot, and his body was buried in the cemetery at Bab al-Mu'azzam later that evening.[23]

Mob violence was to continue even in the wake of Said's death. Spurred by Arif's urges to liquidate traitors,[24] uncontrollable mobs took to the streets of Baghdad. The body of 'Abd al-Ilah was taken from the palace, mutilated and dragged through the streets, finally being hung outside the Ministry of Defence. Several foreign nationals (including Jordanian and American citizens) staying at the Baghdad Hotel were killed by the mob. Mass mob violence did not die down until Qasim imposed a curfew, yet this did not prevent the disinterment, mutilation, and parading of Said's corpse through the streets of Baghdad the day after its burial.[27]


Immediate effects

Abd al-Karim Qasim's sudden coup took the U.S. government aback. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Allen Dulles told President Dwight D. Eisenhower that he believed it was the hand of Nasser that implemented this coup. Additionally, Dulles feared that a chain reaction would occur throughout the Middle East, where the governments of Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran would be doomed.[28] The Hashemite monarchy represented a reliable ally that the Western world could rely on thwarting Soviet advances. As such, the coup in Iraq, which was in part inspired by Nasser, compromised Washington's position in the Middle East.[28] Indeed, the Americans saw developments in Iraq in epidemiological terms.[29]

Qasim was to reap the greatest reward, being named Prime Minister and Minister of Defense. Arif was to become Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, as well as deputy Commander in Chief.[28]

Thirteen days after the revolution, a temporary constitution was announced, pending a permanent organic law to be promulgated after a free referendum. According to the document, Iraq was a republic and a part of the Arab nation whilst the official state religion was listed as Islam. Powers of legislation were vested in the Council of Ministers, with the approval of the Sovereignty Council, whilst executive function was also vested in the Council of Ministers.[28]

1959 instability

Main article: 1959 Mosul uprising

On 9 March 1959, the New York Times reported that the situation in Iraq was initially "confused and unstable, with rival groups competing for control. Cross currents of communism, Arab and Iraqi nationalism, anti-Westernism and the 'positive neutrality' of President Gamal Abdel Nasser of the United Arab Republic have been affecting the country."[30]

In the wake of the successful coup, the new Iraqi Republic was to be headed by a Revolutionary Council.[31] At its head was a three-man sovereignty council, composed of members of Iraq's three main communal/ethnic groups. Muhammad Mahdi Kubbah represented the Shi'a population; Khalid al-Naqshabandi the Kurds; and Najib al Rubay’i the Sunni population.[32] This tripartite was to assume the role of the Presidency. A cabinet was created, composed of a broad spectrum of Iraqi political movements: this included two National Democratic Party representatives, one member of al-Istiqlal, one Ba'ath representative and one Marxist.[32]

By March 1959, Iraq withdrew from the Baghdad Pact and created alliances with left-leaning countries and communist countries, including the Soviet Union.[33] Because of their agreement with the USSR, Qasim's government allowed the formation of an Iraqi Communist Party.[33]

Human rights violations and mass exodus

The 1958 military coup that overthrew the Hashemite monarchy brought to power members of "rural groups that lacked the cosmopolitan thinking found among Iraqi elites". Iraq's new leaders had an "exclusivist mentality [that] produced tribal conflict and rivalry, which in turn called forth internal oppression [...]"[34]

According to Shafeeq N. Ghabra, a professor of political science at Kuwait University, and, in 2001, director of the Kuwait Information Office in Washington D.C.:[34]

After the 1958 revolution, Iraq's ruling establishment created a state devoid of political compromise. Its leaders liquidated those holding opposing views, confiscated property without notice, trumped up charges against its enemies, and fought battles with imaginary domestic foes. This state of affairs reinforced an absolute leader and a militarized Iraqi society totally different from the one that existed during the monarchy.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fled the country within four years of the 1958 revolution.[34]

See also


  1. Romero 2011, p. 112.
  2. Hunt 2005, p. 72.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Eppel 1998, p. 233.
  4. Tripp 2007, p. 115.
  5. 1 2 Hunt 2005, p. 73.
  6. Tripp 2007, p. 124.
  7. Tripp 2007, p. 125.
  8. 1 2 3 Tripp 2007, p. 134.
  9. Salter, A., and S. W. Payton. The development of Iraq; a plan of action by Lord Salter, assisted by S.W. Payton. 1955. London: Caxton, for the Iraq Development Board
  10. Eppel 2004, p. 74.
  11. Tripp 2007, p. 117.
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Hunt 2005, p. 75.
  13. Hunt 2005, p. 108.
  14. Hunt 2005, p. 109; Barnett 1998, p. 127.
  15. Barnett 1998, p. 128.
  16. Barnett 1998, p. 129.
  17. Barnett 1998, p. 131.
  18. 1 2 Simons 2003, pp. 249–51.
  19. Tripp 2007, p. 142.
  20. Tripp 2007, p. 142; Hunt 2005, p. 76.
  21. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Eppel 2004, p. 151.
  22. 1 2 Eppel 2004, p. 152.
  23. 1 2 3 Marr 2003, p. 156.
  24. 1 2 Marr 2003, p. ?.
  25. Marr 2003, p. 157.
  26. Simons 2003, p. 252.
  27. Simons 2003, p. 252: "At first he [Said] was buried in a shallow grave but later the body was dug up and repeatedly ran over by municipal buses, 'until, in the words of a horror-struck eyewitness, it resembled bastourma, an Iraqi [pressed] sausage meat'."
  28. 1 2 3 4 Mufti 2003, p. 173.
  29. As in Kuwait for example: "The situation in Kuwait is very shaky as a result of the coup in Iraq, and there is a strong possibility that the revolutionary infection will spread there." See Keefer, Edward C.; LaFantasie, Glenn W., eds. (1993). "Special National Intelligence Estimate: The Middle East Crisis. Washington, July 22, 1958". Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958–1960, Volume XII: Near East Region; Iraq; Iran; Arabian Peninsula. Washington, DC: Department of State. p. 90.

    The frantic Anglo-American reaction to the developments in Iraq, which Allen Dulles asserted was "primarily a UK responsibility", makes for an interesting read, beginning here.

  30. Hailey, Foster (9 March 1959). "Iraqi Army Units Opposing Kassim Rebel in Oil Area". New York Times. L3.
  31. Simons 2003, p. 220
  32. 1 2 Marr 2003, p. 158.
  33. 1 2 Hunt 2005, p. 76.
  34. 1 2 3 Ghabra, Shafeeq N., "Iraq's Culture of Violence", article in Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2001, accessed 16 October 2013; in a footnote at the end of the first sentence ("... political compromise."), Ghabra cites Sa‘d al-Bazzaz, Ramad al-Hurub: Asrar ma Ba‘d Hurub al-Khalij, 2d ed. (Beirut: al-Mu'assasa al-Ahliya li'n-Nashr wa't-Tawzi‘, 1995), p. 22.

Further reading

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