Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Iraq's Post-December 1963 History Revisited: Part 1

The history of Iraq is still being influenced by 150,000 U.S. occupation troops and 200,000 private contractors. Yet the mainstream "educational television" stations of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) often appear more eager to broadcast programs about the history of rock music since 1960 than programs about the history of Iraq.

But as Rashid Khalidi observed in the introduction to the 2005 edition of his Resurrecting Empire, "the hubris that allowed Pentagon planners to think that they were somehow immune to the lessons of history produced a grossly mismanaged occupation that has become hated by most Iraqis and has engendered fierce resistance." U.S. anti-war activists, however, may find some knowledge of post-December 1963 Iraqi people's history of use in debating with U.S. opponents of an immediate U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq in 2009.

The first post-Ba'th regime in Iraq was headed by Abdel Salem Aref from November 18, 1963 until his death in a helicopter crash on April 13, 1966. At first, the anti-communist, but pro-Nasserist, pan-Arab nationalist Iraqi activists exercised a special influence on the post-Ba'th regime's policies; and Aref's government nationalized all Iraqi banks, all Iraqi insurance companies and 32 large Iraqi industrial and commercial firms on May 26, 1964.

But by July 1965, the political influence of the pro-Nasserist Iraqi activists had declined; and following their failed attempt to seize political power in Iraq in September 1965, the leading pro-Nasserist, pan-Arab nationalists fled the country.

The Iraqi activists who were leaders of the Iraq Communist Party branch in Kurdistan managed to escape execution or imprisonment between February and November 1963, during the first anti-communist Ba'th regime. And, initially, these surviving party leaders in Kurdistan expressed support for the anti-communist, but pro-Nasserist Aref regime--especially, in light of the 1964 improvement in relations between Nasser's government in Egypt and the USSR government (which the Iraq Communist Party considered to be its international political ally).

But after the Aref regime ordered the Iraqi military to continue to wage war in Kurdistan in opposition to Kurdish self-determination demands and began pursuing a less pro-Nasserist policy, the surviving Iraq Communist Party leaders began to characterize the Aref regime as dictatatorial. So on April 5, 1965, the Iraq Communist Party then called for the overthrow of the Aref regime.

By the spring of 1965, two-thirds of the Iraqi Army was bogged down in the Iraqi government's attempt to militarily suppress the Kurdish campaign for self-determination in Iraq. The membership of the Iraq Communist Party, meanwhile, was still about 5,000 at this time--despite the executions during the February 1963-November 1963 first era of of Ba'th Party rule in Iraq.

After Abdel Salem Aref's death in the 1966 helicopter crash, his brother--Major Abdel Rahman-Aref--succeeded him as Iraq's president. The following year, the Iraqi military only suffered casualties of 10 killed and 30 wounded, when it ineffectively supported the unsuccessful attempt by the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armies to block the Israeli government's seizure of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, during the June 1967 "Six-Day War". And on July 10, 1967, an Iraqi politician named Taher Yahaya was chosen as the Rahman-Aref government's premier and asked to form a new cabinet.

Between April 1966 and June 1967, meanwhile, the Iraq Communist Party opposed Rahman-Aref's anti-communist and anti-Nasserist regime in Iraq; and--influenced by Che Guevara's writings on the Cuban Revolution--apparently considered adopting a political strategy of guerrilla warfare in Iraq. And by September 17, 1967 a faction within the Iraq Communist Party, the "Iraq Communist Party -Central Command," had split from the main party and was calling for armed struggle in Iraq, a unitary Arab-Jewish democratic state in Palestine and an Arab people's liberation war against all the other undemocratic, repressive Arab states.

Yet on December 24, 1967, the Rahman-Aref regime in Iraq, under Taher Yahaya's premiership, seemed to be seeking closer economic ties to the Soviet Union. And an agreement was reached for the Soviet Union to furnish Iraq with oil drilling machines for use in its North Ramallah oil field and to help the Iraqi government market the oil of Iraq's state-controlled Iraq National Oil Company--despite the fact that the Iraq Communist Party regarded the Rahman-Aref regime that the Soviet Union was doing business with as an oppressive government (end of part 1).

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