|Iraqi Police||* Student Cooperation Committee (communists)|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Nuri al-Said||Yusuf Salman Yusuf (Fahd)|
|Casualties and losses|
Al-Wathbah uprising (Arabic language: انتفاضة الوثبة) or simply Al-Wathbah (Arabic language: الوثبة), which means The Leap in Arabic, was the term that came to be used for the urban unrest in Baghdad in January 1948. The protests were sparked by the monarchy’s plans to renew the 1930 Anglo-Iraqi Treaty that effectively made Iraq a British protectorate. Nuri al-Said, the Prime Minister of Iraq, was planning on renewing, albeit in a revised form, this 1930 treaty that tied Iraq to British interests, allowed for the unrestricted movement of British troops on Iraqi soil, and provided significant protection to the British-installed Iraqi monarchy.
In 1947, the Iraqi monarchy entered into secret negotiations with the British government. The various political parties in Iraq were not informed of the negotiations and instead, heard about them on the radio or read about them in the newspapers the following day. Although the news on the treaty sparked the al-Wathbah protests, it soon became clear that there were elements of unrest that went beyond the opposition to the treaty. The participants in the demonstrations included workers, students, and the urban poor, living in the outskirts of Baghdad. Many of the protests were orchestrated by the Iraqi Communist Party. The al-Wathbah “sprang from the same conditions of existence that had since the first years of the forties been making for the advance of communism.” The rigid boundaries of class in Iraqi society, widespread poverty in the urban centers, a growing student population, all these factors contributed to the events of January 1948. In addition the purchasing power of workers was at a historic low, thus contributing to growing frustrations among salaried workers.
On January 3, the Iraqi foreign minister, Fāḍil al-Jamālī, was reported to have said that the Iraqi people were “sensitive to the merits” of the 1930 Anglo-Iraqi treaty. That night, The Independence Party held a secret meeting in its headquarters. They planned a public protest against the government. They understodd that they may have to use force against the police.
On the January 4, students from al-Karkh and Al Adhamiya secondary schools joined up to protest the statements of al-Jamālī. They marched toward the School of Law, with the intent on continuing on toward the Royal Palace. When they arrived in the vicinity of the School of Law, police attempted to break up the protest. Students from the School of Law left their classrooms to join the protest (548). The police used clubs and fired shots to disperse the protest. Many students were wounded and thirty-nine were arrested (Six of whom were members of the Iraqi Communist Party or the related party The National Liberation Party), and the School of Law was closed down.
On January 6, students from all colleges went on strike.
On January 8, the authorities released the arrested students. The strike ceased.
On January 16, it was announced that the Iraqi government had signed a treaty in Portsmouth, effectively renewing its alliance with Britain. At the announcement of the treaty a three-day strike of college students began during which they protested in the streets.
On January 16-16, there were large-scale student protests. Although the protests were somewhat spontaneous in nature, they coalesced through the organizing of several political organizations: The communist “Student Cooperation Committee,” the Progressive Democrats, the Populists, the Kurdish Democrats, and the student wings of the National Democratic Party and the Independence Party.
On January 20 there was a large-scale student march. For the first time since the beginning of the unrest, other social groups joined the students: The Schalchiyyah workers and the poor shantytown dwelling migrants from South-Eastern Iraq known as the Shargāwiyyīn. The police responded by firing directly at the demonstrators. The demonstrators, however, did not disperse.
On January 21, the demonstrations escalated. The police fired on students who were transporting those who had been killed the day before. Members of the faculty at the School of pharmacy and medicine resigned from their posts. Protests spread in the streets including non-students and many Communists. “An atmosphere redolent of social revolution enveloped Baghdad.” That night, the king of Iraq annulled the treaty. The king’s disavowal of the treaty split the opposition in two camps: those, like the Independence Party and the National Democrats called on a cease of protests. The Communists called on protesters to continue, seeing that they were close to overthrowing the government.
On January 23, new demonstrations convened, combining students, members of the Independence Party, workers, and Scuffles broke out between members of the Independence party and Communists.
On January 26, Jabr and Nūri returned to Baghdad from London. In a radio address that very night, Jabr asked that the people remain calm and stated that details of the treaty would soon be provided. Immediately, a great number of people went out on the streets. Many reported hearing machine-gun fire in the night.
January 27: In the morning the Central Committee of the Communist Party released and distributed a manifesto that called for continued protests. It claimed that imperialists had infiltrated the demonstrations and acted in such a way as to justify the government’s violent intervention. The manifesto called on the protesters to continue their struggle until the government was toppled and a democratic government established in its wake.
Students and workers, coming from the popular areas of Baghdad, gathered to protest. A large group attempted to cross the bridge into West Baghdad where they would meet with students and the Schalchiyyah rail workers. In Al-Rasafa, the police opened fire on a group of Communists, killing four. Despite their losses, they kept marching forward and arriving in Amīn square, they were stopped by new police reinforcement. On the other side of the river, new clashed broke out between protesters. They moved onto the Ma’mūn Bridge and the police fired directly onto the crowd with machine-guns, killing scores. Many fell into the river. Meanwhile demonstrations in Amīn square escalated and again, police fired directly onto the crowds. While the demonstrators regrouped in various locations, the police withdrew.
It is estimated that 300 – 400 demonstrators had been killed.
On the evening of January 26, Salih Jabr fled to England. The king asked a Shi’ī religious scholar who had been involved in the 1920 uprisings with forming a new government. The Iraqi government looked to blame foreign agitators for the January uprisings. They looked at the Saudi support of the Independence Party and the Soviet links to the Communist party. They claimed that the Communist party received major donations from Jewish communists. However, records indicate that the Communist party spent very little money in January 1948, supporting the idea that the demonstrations were spontaneous and enjoyed large-scale popular support.
The al-Wathbah uprising strengthened the Communist party. However, the new recruits were not trained and Fahd and 125 other senior communists were in the prison of Kut. The Communist Party more or fused ideologically with the National Liberation Party and literally with the National Revolutionary Committee.
After the al-Wathbah the Communist party’s ideology was radicalized. One of the major questions that came to the fore was whether the party should cooperate strategically with the national bourgeoisie against the monarchy.
However, the spring of 1948 offered a number of protests and strikes.
- Rail-way strikes on March 18, April 14, and May 12.
- Strikes at the Port: April 4, April 6, May 2 and May 18
- The K3 oil pump was immobilized by workers from April 23 to May 15
- In April, the Communist Party organized the first national student congress, forming the General Union of Iraqi Students.
- In April, peasants led an uprising in the village of Arbat. “The workers demanded wage increases, ‘bread and shoes,’ democratic rights. The release of political prisoners, and national independence”
In May, the demonstrations were ended by the government’s declaration of martial law, following the outbreak of war in Palestine.
Although many different factions came together for the al-Wathbah, and the Liberal and National Democrats cooperated with the Communist party, there was no further collaboration on their respective opposition to the monarchy. By the end of 1948, the Communist party was in shambles, many of its leaders in prison. It was ideologically discredited after it had followed the Soviet line of accepting the partition of Palestine and the establishment of Israel in the summer. However, another effect of the al-Wathbah was that “the opposition parties responsible for organizing the demonstrations were discovering new, immediate forms of power, denied to them both by their small numbers and by the rigging of the parliamentary system. The al-Wathbah uprising helped pave the way for the 1958 overthrow of the monarchy, The 14 July Revolution and the creation of a republic.
- Batatu, Hanna. The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq: A Study of Iraq’s Old Landed Classes and of its Communists, Ba’thists, and Free Officers. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978.
- Salucci, Ilario. A People’s History of Iraq: The Iraqi Communist Party, Worker’s Movements, and the Left 1924-2004. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2005.
- Tripp, Charles. A History of Iraq 3rd Ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University
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