The Ramadan Revolution, also referred to as the 8 February Revolution and the February 1963 Coup d'état in Iraq, was a military coup by the Ba'ath Party's Iraqi-wing which overthrew the Prime Minister of Iraq, Abd al-Karim Qasim in 1963. General Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr became the new Prime Minister and Colonel Abdul Salam Arif became President. Revolutionary leaders and supporters of the coup referred to it as a movement, rather than a coup.
History[edit | edit source]
Background[edit | edit source]
Some time after the Homeland Officers' Organization, or "Al-Ahrar" ("The Free") succeeded in toppling the monarchy and transforming the Iraqi regime into a republic in 1958, signs of differences between political parties and forces and the Homeland Officers' Organization began when Pan-Arab nationalist forces led by Abdul Salam Arif and the Ba'ath Party called for immediate unification with the United Arab Republic (UAR). In an attempt to create a state of political equilibrium, the Iraqi Communist Party, which opposed unity, tried to discount cooperation with the UAR in economics, culture, and science rather than political and military agreements.
Gradually Abd al-Karim Qasim's relations with some of his fellow members of Al-Ahrar worsened, and his relationship with the unionist and nationalist currents, which had played an active role in supporting the 1958 movement, became strained. As for conflicting currents in the Iraqi Communist Party, they were aspiring for a coalition with General Qasim, and had long been extending their relationship with him, since Qasim thought that some of his allies in the Communist party were coming close to leapfrogging the proposition, especially after the increasing influence of the Communist party in the use of the slogan, proclaimed by many Communists and government supporters during marches: "Long live leader Abd al-Karim and the Communist Party in governing great demand!" This made him from that time begin to minimize the Communist movement, which was poised to overthrow the regime. He ordered the party to be disarmed and most of the party leaders to be arrested. However, the party retained Air Commander Celalettin Alaoqati and Lt. Col. Fadhil Abbas Mahdawi, Qasim's cousin.
An overlapping set of both internal and regional factors created conditions conducive to the overthrow of Prime Minister Abd al-Karim Qasim and his staff. Some believe that it can be attributed to the blundering individualism of Qasim and the errors committed in the execution of leaders and locals as well as acts of violence which arose from the Communist militias allied with Qasim. Also to blame may be an increasingly forceful disagreement with Field Marshal Abdul Salam Aref, who was under house arrest. All of this as well as statements Qasim made reiterating his support for Syrian General Abdel-Karim and Colonel Alnhlaoi Mowaffaq Asasa, with a view to executing a coup to divide Syria, which was alone with Egypt as part of the United Arab Republic. This was because of the game of international politics and its role in the promotion of or endorsement of Qasim's political opposition.
Qasim was aspiring to reach out in a friendly way to the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact to try socialism and develop a strategic defense treaty.
Coup[edit | edit source]
Qasim's removal took place on 8 February 1963, the fourteenth day of Ramadan and therefore called the 14 Ramadan Coup. The coup had been in its planning stages since 1962, and several attempts had been planned, only to be abandoned for fear of discovery. The coup had been initially planned for January 18, but was moved to 25 January, then 8 February after Qasim gained knowledge of the proposed attempt and arrested some of the plotters.
The coup began in the early morning of 8 February 1963, when the communist air force chief, Jalal al-Awqati was assassinated and tank units occupied the Abu Ghrayb radio station. A bitter two day struggle unfolded with heavy fighting between the Ba’athist conspirators and pro-Qasim forces. Qasim took refuge in the Ministry of Defence, where fighting became particularly heavy. Communist sympathisers took to the streets to resist the coup adding to the high casualties.
On 9 February Qasim eventually offered his surrender in return for safe passage out of the country. His request was refused, and on the afternoon of the 9th, Qasim was executed on the orders of the newly formed National Council of the Revolutionary Command (NCRC). Qasim was given a mock trial over Baghdad radio and then killed. His dead body was displayed on television by leaders of the coup soon after his death.
At least 5,000 Iraqis were killed in the fighting from 8–10 February 1963, and in the house-to-house hunt for "communists" that immediately followed. Ba'athists put the losses of their own party at around 80.
Aftermath[edit | edit source]
The Ba'athist regime was overthrown on 10 November 1963, following internal struggle within the party.
U.S. knowledge of coup[edit | edit source]
Writing in his memoirs of the 1963 coup, long time OSS and CIA intelligence analyst Harry Rositzke presented it as an example of one on which they had good intelligence in contrast to others that caught the agency by surprise. The overthrow "was forecast in exact detail by CIA agents." "Agents in the Ba’th Party headquarters in Baghdad had for years kept Washington au courant on the party’s personnel and organization, its secret communications and sources of funds, and its penetrations of military and civilian hierarchies in several countries....CIA sources were in a perfect position to follow each step of Ba’th preparations for the Iraqi coup, which focused on making contacts with military and civilian leaders in Baghdad. The CIA’s major source, in an ideal catbird seat, reported the exact time of the coup and provided a list of the new cabinet members....To call an upcoming coup requires the CIA to have sources within the group of plotters. Yet, from a diplomatic point of view, having secret contacts with plotters implies at least unofficial complicity in the plot."
Qasim was aware of U.S. complicity in the plot and continually denounced the U.S. in public. The Department of State was worried that Qasim would harass American diplomats in Iraq because of this.
The best direct evidence that the U.S. was complicit is the memo from NSC staff member Bob Komer to President John F. Kennedy on the night of the coup, February 8, 1963. The last paragraph reads:
"We will make informal friendly noises as soon as we can find out whom to talk with, and ought to recognize as soon as we’re sure these guys are firmly in the saddle. CIA had excellent reports on the plotting, but I doubt either they or UK should claim much credit for it.
Documents show that the CIA was well aware of many plots within Iraq throughout 1962, not just the Ba'athist one.
The new government used lists, allegedly provided by the CIA, to systematically murder unknown numbers of suspected communists. The victims included hundreds of doctors, teachers, technicians, lawyers and other professionals as well as military and political figures.
According to former CIA Near East Division Chief James Chritchfield, the CIA took interest in the Ba'ath Party around 1961-2, and "was better informed on the 1963 coup in Baghdad than on any other major event or change of government that took place in the whole region in those years;" however, it did not "actively support" the coup. "Several months later," the Ba'ath "staged a kind of counter-coup," which led Arif to purge the party in the November 1963 Iraqi coup d'état. The CIA "did not identify a radical movement within the Ba'ath," and was "surprised" by the power struggles that followed the Ramadan Revolution. After al-Bakr and Vice President Saddam Hussein seized power in 1968, "America slowly developed, not a hostility, but enormous reservations about the ability of the Ba'ath to constructively bring Iraq along." 
Influence on Syria[edit | edit source]
That same year, the Syrian party’s military committee succeeded in persuading Nasserist and independent officers to make common cause with it, and successfully carried out a military coup on 8 March. A National Revolutionary Command Council took control and assigned itself legislative power; it appointed Salah al-Din al-Bitar as head of a "national front" government. The Ba'th participated in this government along with the Arab Nationalist Movement, the United Arab Front and the Socialist Unity Movement.
As historian Hanna Batatu notes, this took place without the fundamental disagreement over immediate or "considered" reunification having been resolved. The Ba'ath moved to consolidate its power within the new regime, purging Nasserist officers in April. Subsequent disturbances led to the fall of the al-Bitar government, and in the aftermath of Jasim Alwan’s failed Nasserist coup in July, the Ba'th monopolized power.
See also[edit | edit source]
- 1963 Syrian coup d'état
- 14 July Revolution
- November 1963 Iraqi coup d'état
- 17 July Revolution
- List of modern conflicts in the Middle East
References[edit | edit source]
- Monsour, Ahmed and Aaraf Abd Alrazaq. 2002. Interview. "Witnessing the Age." Al-Jazeera Television.
- Pachachi, D. Adnan. Recorded Program. Al-Sharqiya Satellite Channel.
- Marr, Phebe; "The Modern History of Iraq", p. 184-185
- Harry Rositzke, The CIA’s Secret Operations: Espionage, Counterespionage, and Covert Action (Boulder, CO: 1977), 109–110.
- Kennedy Library, "Telegram from Department of State to Embassy Baghdad of February 5, 1963," National Security Files, Countries, Box 117, Iraq 1/63-2/63.
- JFK Library, Memorandum for The President from Robert W. Komer, February 8, 1963 (JFK, NSF, Countries, Iraq, Box 117, "Iraq 1/63-2/63", document 18), p. 1.
- Batatu, Hanna. "CIA Lists Provide Basis for Iraqi Bloodbath". http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/issues/iraq/history/1963cialist.htm. Excerpt from The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978.
- Peter and Marion Sluglett, "Iraq Since 1958" London, I.B. Taurus, 1990, p. 86. "Although individual leftists had been murdered intermittently over the previous years, the scale on which the killings and arrests took place in the spring and summer of 1963 indicates a closely coordinated campaign, and it is almost certain that those who carried out the raid on suspects' homes were working from lists supplied to them. Precisely how these lists had been compiled is a matter of conjecture, but it is certain that some of the Ba'athist leaders were in touch with American intelligence networks, and it is also undeniable that a variety of different groups in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East had a strong vested interest in breaking what was probably the strongest and most popular Communist Party in the region."
- Frontline. "James Chritchfield Interview." 1995. PBS.
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