Abdul Karim Qassim

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Early Life

Qassim on a 1962 propaganda poster

Abdul Karim Qassim (in arabic: عبد الكريم قاسم) was born in Baghdaad in 1914, but the exact day is not known. He graduated by Baghdad Military College at age twenty two, and in 1955 became a general. Following with interest the political situation in Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser’s rule he created a Nasserist movement in 1957, hoping to turn Iraaq in the same political direction.

Prime Minister and Regent

On 14th July 1958 he lead a coup which deposed King Faisal II. He proclaimed himself prime minister and regent of the kingdom of Iraaq dropping the Hashemite name from the official kingdom's name. This was followed by the execution of all Hashemite royal members who were at the time in the country so as several of their close associates. Worldwide royal houses were in shock.

Qassim (supported by his new political party, Congress of Iraaq or al-Muttamar al-Iraqiyya) started nationalist policies much influenced by Nasser in all ways: He also nationalised oil industry (but gave compensations to the nationalised companies), started a large program of alphabetisation directed to adults with free, compulsory schooling to all children, made land reforms and distributed agricultural machines among peasants which gave him much popularity among countrymen, gave women the right to vote (Iraaq was the third arab country to do so, after Egypt in 1952 and Syria in 1958), started an industrialisation program and promoted a cult of personality around himself. He began to be known as az-Za’im (in Arabic: الزعيم ), The Leader. Qassim also confiscated the wealth of many pro-monarchy families which was used for social purposes, and freed the political prisoners of monarchist regime. But the political prisons didn’t stay empty.

On the 26th July 1958 he adopted an interim constitution which granted the equality of all Iraaqi citizens under the law no matter their race, ethnicity, religion or language.

In 1959 Qassim visited the United Arab Rebublic (more properly Egypt) and met Nasser personally. Qassim was much impressed with Nasser’s achievements and promised that he would follow his policies. Nasser saw in Qassim a valuable ally. Later on an interview Qassim said that this meeting was one of the most important moments of his own life and a photo with both leaders would be very used by Iraaqi propaganda. In 1961 the United Arab Republic was dissolved when Syria withdrew from this federation. Qassim was rumored to have offered Nasser military help to overthrow the new syrian government but this was never confirmed.

With the demission of Nasser, Qassim hoped to be the new great pan-arabist leader and began to support several arab nationalist movements, especially the National Liberation Front (FLN) which was fighting for the independence of Algeria so as became a strong opponent to colonial military presence in the Middle East sending troops to fight in the Yemens War. Also supported the National Republicans Party in Egypt, which caused some hostility against him in post-Nasser Egypt.

Qassim claimed Iraaq as a natural leader among the Arab countries due to the historical importance of Baghdaad for centuries.

Iraaq under Qassim rule wasn’t as secular as Nasser's Egypt. Muslim clerics had much power but in general they were tolerant to other religions, except to Zoroatrians who were considered to put Persian interests over Iraaq. Of course this improved hostile diplomatic relations between Persia and Iraaq.

Despite all the reforms, Qassim was somewhat conservative. He didn’t consider himself head of state but regent of the kingdom while he was looking for a new iraaqi born king to replace the deposed Faisal II of the Hashemite royal house (from Hijaaz). But he abandoned this search in 1968 when he finally proclaimed the Republic of Iraaq and assumed the office of president.

Political anomaly

See main article: Iraaqi Government in Exile

Few days later of Qassim's coup Hussayn I was crowned new king of both Hijaaz and Iraaq, the two Hashemite realms, so as became new Grand Sharif of Mecca. Hussayn I claimed iraaqi throne and didn't give recognition to the new iraaqi government. He nominated an exiled iraaqi monarchist polititian (Abdullah Aziz) as new prime minister of Iraaq. Qassim recognised Hussein I as King of Hijaaz but not as King of Iraaq so as didn't recognise Aziz as prime minister.

At first only two arab countries recognised Qassim's government: the United Arab Republic (due to his pan-arabist tendencies so as considered the Hashemite power over Iraaq as non legitimous) and Saudi Arabia (due to its longlasting bad relations with the Hijaazi royal house). Also the Arab Community preferred to recognise Aziz's exiled government which only had a virtual power over Iraaq and represented the country internationally. As most of the member states were monarchies they couldn't accept the slaughter of the Hashemite in Iraaq.

But with time more and more countries recognised the new political power of Baghdaad. Finally Hussayn I considered Iraaq had reached a no turning back point when republic was proclaimed (1968) and gave up to his claims. As result all countries finally recognised Qassim as ruler of Iraaq and the exiled government was replaced in all international representations.

The Oil Crisis of Hijra 1393

See main article: Oil Crisis of Hijra 1393

By the time Qassim took the political power Iraaq was just the 8th biggest producer of oil after (from first) Saudi Arabia, Persia, SNORist Russia, Tejas, Venezola, Gold Coast and Kuwayt. Since then iraaqi oil production increased a lot and in 1973 Iraaq was placed at an impressive third position. Iraaq was producing too much oil and on the 17th October 1973 (20th Ramadan 1393 for Moslem) oil prices felt almost 20% in a single day. This was the so-called Oil Crisis of Hijra 1393 which was almost unknown outside oil producing countries as for the importing oil countries it wasn't a crisis at all. As result the oil producing countries went to a serious economical crisis due to the massive loss of profits. The COPEN member countries were in panic and their heads of state met in emergency in Teheran to debate the crisis. Qassim was one of them. COPEN advised Iraaq to reduce in a substantial way its own oil production so the prices could go to normal. Qassim simply refused and in his speech he declared:

It’s time to our partners of COPEN understand that high profits from oil extraction does not mean development. You can buy your fancy luxury cars, private jet planes and heavy armed armies, but you always buy to foreigners. Development can only be achieved when you produce what you need and never when you use the profits from oil to buy it.

Such unexpected reaction left the COPEN member states in shock and they promptly suspended Iraaq from the organisation. This caused much sympathy to Qassim’s regime among the most industrialised countries and animosity among the oil producing nations. Until the end of 1973 oil prices decreased 50% which was an historical minimum and caused major economic problems among the oil producers. It was also a time of prosperity among the industrialised countries as well as many poorer non-oil producing countries. To recover the prices COPEN countries were forced to decrease their production but the oil price stayed reasonably low during the next six years.

At the same time Qassim had won sympathies both from the industrialised world and from many poor countries, among them some arab. European, North American and some Far East countries became close to Iraaq while some of its neighbours became quite hostile, especially Persia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwayt. Qassim felt threatened and soon Iraaq became one of the best weapons customers in the entire world so as started a local developed biochemical weapons production programme.

Countries such as FK, France or NAL helped Iraaq in its many public works including the rebuilding of the city of Babylon, which was made as a major regime celebration for the twentieth anniversary of Qassim’s rule in 1978.

But by this time the regime was already facing economic crisis. Consecutive years of oil low prices didn’t help Iraaq's development. Despite efforts at industrialisation the country remained mostly another oil producer among all others. The oil crisis since 1973 was affecting Iraaq as was the massive buying of weapons and the fast demographic increase. Several sectors of the iraaqi government, including the military, grew worried.

The fall

On the 16th July 1979 Qassim was deposed on a coup d’etat led by his prime minister, Saddaam Hussayn. The president was arrested by rebel military units while he was trying to reach the French embassy by car to ask for political exile. Soon after he was sent to a kangaroo court where he was sentenced to death. On that same day Qassim was executed.

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