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Really interesting archive footage shows the 1958 revolution in Iraq

Ian Smith

The 14 July Revolution or the 1958 Iraqi coup d’état took place on 14 July 1958 in Iraq, resulting in the overthrow of theHashemite monarchy established by King Faisal I in 1921 under the auspices of the British. King Faisal II, the regent and Crown Prince ‘Abd al-Ilah, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Said were assassinated during this coup. A result of several different grievances with Hashemite Iraqi policies, the coup d’état established the Republic of Iraq. From 14 July 1958 until 2003, Iraq remained a de facto Arab nationalist and socialist one-party state.

On 14 July 1958, a group that identified as the Free Officers, a secret military group led by Brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim, overthrew the monarchy. This group was markedly Pan-Arab in character. King Faisal II, the Regent and Crown Prince Abd al-Ilah, and Nuri al-Said were all killed.


The Free Officers were inspired by and modeled after the Egyptian Free Officers who overthrew the Egyptian Monarchy in 1952. The Free Officers represented all parties and cut across political factions and were led by Brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim. Qasim was a member of the generation that had launched the revolution in Egypt, and had grown up in an era where radicalism and Pan-Arabism were circulating in schools, including high schools and military academies. As a group, most of the Free officers were Sunni Arabs who came from a modern middle class. Iraqi Free Officers were inspired by a number of events in the Middle East the decade before 1952. The 1948 War against Israel was an experience that intensified the Egyptian Free Officers’ sense of duty. They understood their mission as deposing the corrupt regimes that weakened a unified Arab nation and thrown their countries into distress. The success of the Free Officers in overthrowing the Egyptians monarchy and seizing power in 1952 made Nassir into a source of inspiration for the Iraqi Officers.

The Iraqi Free Officer group was, in fact, an underground organization and so much of the planning and timing rested in the hands of Qasim and his associate, Colonel Abdul Salam Arif. The Free Officers sought to ensure Nasser’s support and the assistance of the UAR to implement the overthrow, because they feared the members of the Baghdad Pact would subsequently overthrow the Free Officers as a reaction to the Coup. Nasser only offered moral support, whose material significance remained vague and so Egypt had no practical role in the Iraqi revolution.

The dispatching of Iraqi army units to Jordan played into the hands of two of the key members of the Iraqi Free Officers movement: Arif and the movement’s leader, Brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim. The Iraqi 19th and 20th Brigades of the 3rd Division (Iraq) (the former under the command of Qasim and the latter including Arif’s battalion) were dispatched to march to Jordan, along a route that passed Baghdad. The opportunity for a coup was thus presented to, and seized upon, by the conspirators.

Arif was to march on Baghdad with the 20th Brigade—which he had seized control of with the help of Colonel Abd al-Latif al-Darraji—while Qasim would remain in reserve with the 19th at Jalawla.

In the early hours of 14 July 1958, Arif seized control of Baghdad’s broadcasting station, which was soon to become headquarters, and broadcast the first announcement of the revolution by radio. Arif “denounced imperialism and the clique in office; proclaimed a new republic and the end of the old regime…announced a temporary sovereignty council of three members to assume the duties of the presidency; and promised a future election for a new president”.

Arif then despatched two detachments from his regiment; one to al-Rahab Palace to deal with King Faisal II and the Crown Prince ‘Abd al-Ilah, the other to Nuri al-Said’s residence. Despite the presence of the crack Royal Guard at the Palace, no resistance was offered by order of the Crown Prince. It is uncertain what orders were given to the palace detachment, and what level of force they detailed.

However, at approximately 8:00 am the King, Crown Prince, Princess Hiyam (‘Abd al-Ilah’s wife), Princess Nafeesa (‘Abd al-Ilah’s mother), Princess Abadiya (Faisal’s aunt), other members of the Iraqi Royal Family, and several servants were killed as they were leaving the palace. With their demise, the Iraqi Hashemite dynasty ended. Meanwhile, Said was able to temporarily slip the net of his would-be captors, by escaping across the Tigris after being alerted by the sound of gunfire.

By noon, Qasim had arrived in Baghdad with his forces and set up headquarters in the Ministry of Defence building. The conspirator’s attention now shifted towards locating al-Said, lest he escape and undermine the coup’s early success. A reward of 10,000 Iraqi dinar was offered for his capture, and a large-scale search began. On 15 July he was spotted in a street in the al-Battawin quarter of Baghdad attempting to escape disguised in a woman’s abaya. Said and his accomplice were both shot, and his body was buried in the cemetery at Bab al-Mu’azzam later that evening.

Mob violence was to continue even in the wake of Said’s death. Spurred by Arif’s urges to liquidate traitors, uncontrollable mobs took to the streets of Baghdad. The body of’Abd al-Ilah was taken from the palace, mutilated and dragged through the streets, finally being hung outside the Ministry of Defence. Several foreign nationals (including Jordanian and American citizens) staying at the Baghdad Hotel were killed by the mob. Mass mob violence did not die down until Qasim imposed a curfew, yet this did not prevent the disinterment, mutilation, and parading of Said’s corpse through the streets of Baghdad the day after its burial.


Ian Smith

Ian Smith is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News