By Hanna Batatu
In this excerpt, Hanna Batatu describes the ferocious violence of the Ba`athists when they came to power in their first coup in Iraq in early 1963. Of special interest is his mention of the lists, which he believes U.S. intelligence provided to the coup-makers. Evidently, the CIA helped bring Saddam Hussein's thuggish party to power and fatally weakened the prospects for Iraqi democracy. Some reliable sources believe that more than ten thousand were killed and more than a hundred thousand arrested in the coup and the bloody weeks that followed, described by historians Peter and Marion Sluglett as "some of the most terrible violence hitherto experienced in the postwar Middle East."
On the reckoning of the Communists, no fewer than 5,000 "citizens" were killed in the fighting from 8 to 10 February, and in the relentless house-to-house hunt for Communists that immediately followed. Ba`athists put the losses of their own party at around 80. A source in the First Branch of Iraq's Directorate of Security told this writer in 1967 that some 340 Communists died at the time. A well-placed foreign diplomatic observer, who does not wish to be identified, set the total death toll in the neighborhood of 1,500. The figure includes the more than one hundred soldiers who fell inside the Ministry of Defense and "a good lot of Communists."
At any rate, the wound to the Community party was severe and, insofar as its members were concerned, proved to be only the prelude of a seemingly unending year of horror. The new rulers had a past score to settle and, in their revengeful ardor, went to unfortunate extremes. This districts that had risen against them were treated as enemy country, Nationalist Guardsmen and units of the armed forces spread through them combing houses and mud huts. Upon the slightest resistance or on mere suspicion of an interest to resist, Communists – real or hypothetical – were felled out of hand. The number of those seized so taxed the existing prisons that sports clubs, movie theaters, private houses, an-Nihayah Palace and, in the first days, even a section of Kifah Street, were turned into places of confinement. The arrests were made in accordance with lists prepared beforehand. It cannot be unerringly established where these lists came from or who compiled them, but in this connection something that King Husain of Jordan affirmed seven months later in a tíªte-í -tíªte with Muhammad Hasanein Haikal, chief editor of Al-Ahram, at the Hotel Crillon in Paris, is well worth quoting:
You tell me that American Intelligence was behind the 1957 events in Jordan. Permit me to tell you that I know for a certainty that what happened in Iraq on 8 February had the support of American Intelligence. Some of those who now rule in Baghdad do not know of this thing but I am aware of the truth. Numerous meetings were held between the Ba`ath party and American Intelligence, the more important in Kuwait. Do you know that . . . on 8 February a secret radio beamed to Iraq was supplying the men who pulled the coup with the names and addresses of the Communists there so that they could be arrested an executed. [Al-Ahram, 27 September 1963]
It is not clear what prompted Husain to say these things. He had, of course, never been a friend of the Ba`ath party. But his observations should be read in the light of the recent revelation that he has been since 1957 in the pay of the C.I.A. It is perhaps pertiment to add that a member of the 1963 Iraqi Ba`ath Command, who asked anonymity, asserted in a conversation with this writer that the Yugoslav embassy in Beirut had warned certain Ba`athi leaders that some Iraqi Ba`athists were maintaining surreptitious contacts with representatives of American power. The majority of the command in Iraq was, it would appear, unaware of what was said to have gone on. Be that as it may, it is necessary, in the interest of truth, to bring out that, insofar as the names and addresses of Communists are concerned, the Ba`athists had ample opportunity to gather such particulars in 1958-1959, when the Communists came wholly into the open, and earlier, during the Front of National Unity Years – 1957-1958 – when they had frequent dealings with them on all levels. Besides, the lists in question proved to be in part out of date. They at least did not lead the Ba`ath immediately to the Communists of senior standing. Some of the latter were, anyhow, out of the country. â€˜Abd-us-Salam an-Nasiri was in Moscow on an undisclosed mission. â€˜Aziz al-Hajj in Prague on the staff of the World Marxist Review. Zaki Khatiri had been in People's China and, returning at this juncture, sought refuse with Tudeh. â€˜Amer â€˜Abdullah lived in exile in Bulgaria, by order of the party. Baha-ud-Din Nuri was recuperating from an illness somewhere in Eastern Europe. Other Communist leaers had slipped into Kurdistan or had changed their addresses. However, Hamdi Ayyub al-â€˜Ani, a member of the Baghdad Local Committee, fell into the net that the Ba`ath had cast. Losing courage under examination, he gave away party secretary Hadi Hashim al-A`dhami, from whose lips more secrets were forced, but only after he had been laid limp with a broken back. Ultimately, on 20 February, First Secretary Husain ar-Radi himself was taken. Although various means were employed to make him speak, he did not yield. Four days later he died under torture. When eventually the new government gave notice of his death, it circumstanced the facts after its own manner: on 9 March it announced that ar-Radi, together with Muhammad Husain Abu-l-`Iss, an ex-member of the Politbureau, and Hasan `Uwainah, a worker and a liaison member of the Central Committee, had been condemned on the firth to be handed until they were dead for bearing arms "in the face of authority" and inciting "anarchist elements to resist the revolution" and that the sentences had been carried out on the morning of the seventh.
One adversity after another now pounded the party. It was the 1949 ordeal reenfacted, but on a wider and more intense scale. The hurt to the cadre went this time very deep. Not a single organization in the Arab part of Iraq remained intact. Violence was perpetrated even upon the women. Executions by summary judgment grew rife. Sympathizers were paralyzed by despondency. The influence of fear became extreme.
Peter and Marion Sluglett, in their authoritative book Iraq Since 1958 (London, I.B. Taurus, 1990) have this to say about these events:
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 or 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.
The Communists . . . were astonished to find themselves offered three ministerial portfolios at the beginning of August . This was all the more remarkable, as [Le Monde correspondent] Eric Rouleau comments, since al-Bakr, who was now 'extending the hand of friendship to them, was the same man who, in 1963, had presided over a government responsible for the death of tens of thousands of sympathisers or militants of the extreme left and the arrest of more than a hundred thousands other.' The Communists refused to participate unless full civil liberaties were restored, political parties legalised and democratic elections held, demands to which the Ba`ath was either unable or unwilling to respond.
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