the early years of the united states and iraq -- 11/14/16

Today's selection -- from Ike's Gamble by Michael Doran. In 1958, Iraq, ruled by the Hashemite royal family, was one of the close allies of the United States. The U.S. had begun to lose confidence in Egypt and its ruler, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and was looking to countries like Iraq as a counterbalance in the region. But in a Baathist military coup on July 13 of that year, the ruling family was overthrown. It was yet another misstep in navigating the always shifting complexities of the postwar Arab world:

"When Eisenhower went to bed on July 13, 1958, Iraq was an ally -- 'the country,' he wrote in his memoirs, 'that we were counting on heavily as a bulwark of stability and progress in the region.' When he awoke the following morning, the bulwark was gone.

"Under cover of darkness, two Iraqi army officers, Brigadier Abdel Karim Qasim and Colonel Salim Arif, launched a coup that eliminated the Hashemite monarchy. Detachments under their command quickly took control of the palace, the ministry of de­fense, and the broadcasting authority. At the palace, rebel soldiers corralled the royal family and its attendants into the garden, and then mowed them down with submachine guns. Afterward, the killers released the body of Crown Prince Abdel Ilah into a crowd, which had gathered near the palace. Someone tied the corpse to the back of a vehicle and then proceeded to drag it through the streets of Baghdad. A mob trailed behind. Men with knives and clippers emerged and cut off Abdel Ilahs hands, feet, and genitalia.

"The macabre parade came to a halt at the ministry of defense, where the crowd hung the carcass from a balcony, like a side of beef in a butcher's shop. A young man with a knife climbed a lamp­post standing in reach of the dangling corpse; he stabbed it repeat­edly in the back, and then sliced flesh from its buttocks. While he busied himself with carving, men on the street took a long white stick and inserted it up into what remained of the man, who just hours before had been the most powerful figure in Iraq.

The mutilated corpse of Crown Prince 'Abd al-Ilah of Hejaz

"Eisenhower did not know all of these details, but he knew enough to realize that the monarchy was finished. He recognized, further, that the coup counted as a triumph for Nasser. In Bagh­dad, Waldemar Gallman, the American ambassador, translated the broadcasts of the new regime and streamed the transcripts to Washington. Qasim and Arif identified themselves as 'Free Offi­cers,' cast in the Nasser mold, and proclaiming the rise of an Arab nationalist republic in emulation of the Egyptian regime. Mean­while in Cairo, Voice of the Arabs, which had saturated Iraq with seditious propaganda for years, was now howling with joy, dancing on the corpses of the royal family.

"The blow to the United States was enormous -- a strategic victory for Nasser. For the last year and a half, the United States had been working in vain to isolate Egypt, and the coup in Baghdad marked the definitive failure of the effort. In actual fact, Nasser had outsmarted the Americans at every turn. In the process, he racked up a long series of victories, the greatest of which was the formation of the United Arab Republic (UAR), the political union of Egypt and Syria. Founded six months earlier, in February, the UAR sent a jolt of electricity through the Arab world. In the view of his followers, Nasser was erasing the borders drawn by the im­perialists. He was announcing the dawn of a new era of unity and power. Across the Arab world, his admirers watched the events in Baghdad with rapt attention. 'Would Iraq merge with the UAR?' they asked. 'Would Nasser create an Arab superstate?' 'Would a pan-Arab flood wash away the pro-Western governments of Lebanon and Jordan?'"

In Washington, Eisenhower asked himself the same questions."


Michael Doran


Ike's Gamble: America's Rise to Dominance in the Middle East


Free Press


Copyright 2016 by Michael Doran


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