The Iraqi revolution of 1958 and the search for security in the Middle East



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This dissertation contends that a revolutionary situation built up in Iraq during the last decade of the monarchic system. Opposition to constraints on civil rights, close ties with Britain, accession to the Baghdad Pact, the semi-feudal economic system in rural areas, and the plight of the unemployed in the slums of the big cities fanned revolutionary sentiments in Iraq during the monarchic era. The ambitious development program financed with Iraq’s considerable oil revenues did not address these problems, however, since the program focused on large-scale and long-term projects which did not rapidly improve the situation of the poorer strata of the population. Furthermore, external events such as the formation of the Baghdad Pact in 1955 and the Suez Crisis of 1956 directly fueled anti-regime sentiments in Iraq, since students and intellectuals contended that the monarchy’s foreign policy had contributed to these events and isolated Iraq from its Arabs neighbors. The regime managed to remain in power, however, through heavyhanded suppression of any public manifestation of political opposition. This left the army the only force in Iraqi society capable of effectuating change. The regime was convinced of the army’s complete loyalty and therefore made the mistake to dismiss intelligence on coup plans. This dissertation further argues that the Free Officers coup of July 14, 1958, was the initial phase of a social, economic, political, and psychological revolution. The fact that Baghdadis took to the streets in massive numbers on the morning of July 14 shows strong popular support for and participation in the Free Officers coup. The foreign and economic policies of the new regimes also constituted a revolutionary departure from those of the monarchy. Furthermore, the new government declared that Iraq’s foreign policy would be based on the principle of neutralism, and that its economic policy would eliminate the semi-feudal system in the rural areas to build an equitable society. Iraq’s decision not to withdraw from the Baghdad Pact and not to nationalize the Iraq Petroleum Company was made for security reasons, and did not signify a continuation of the policies of the previous regime.