Iraq: A Political History from Independence to Occupation

By Adeed Dawisha | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN
The State Rules without Rules, 1968–2003

On the morning of July 17, 1968, Iraqis woke up to martial music and the by now familiar Communiqué Number One announcing the removal of the government of ‘Abd al-Rahman ‘Aref. If the population showed little more than cursory interest, it was because this was the seventh announcement over the last decade heralding a military coup. Three of its predecessors had succeeded, the other three had failed. People had learned to wait a few days before even bothering to find out the new list of who is who in the power hierarchy. What they had not anticipated was a second “corrective” coup two weeks later that would usher in the Ba‘thist/ Saddamist era.

The July 17 putsch against ‘Aref had been planned by a few veteran officer conspirators who had been involved in some capacity in military coups and plots since the 1950s. The most senior officer was Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr who had been a key figure in the 1963 Ba‘thist coup, and who had been eased out of power by the first ‘Aref. In retirement he had become the Secretary-General of the Regional Command of the clandestine Ba‘th Party, and had begun plotting to grab political power during the two years of weak central control and officer infighting that characterized the rule of the second ‘Aref. At Bakr’s side was the ferociously ambitious and ruthless Saddam Husayn, who at 31 was second only to Bakr in the Party’s power hierarchy.

In planning the coup against President ‘Aref, Bakr and Husayn realized that ‘Aref loyalists controlled pivotal military units and organizations, particularly in Baghdad, that would make a successful execution of a coup difficult. But given the military’s sharpened appetite for political power and all its attendant privileges, it proved easy for the Ba‘thists to seduce away from ‘Aref his two most trusted loyalists, ‘Abd al-Razzaq Nayef, Head

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