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Abdul Karim Qasim and the Difficult Path of Patriotism in Iraq

Abdul Karim Qasim and the Difficult Path of Patriotism in Iraq

Wednesday, 11 December, 2019 - 14:45

When Saddam Hussein’s regime fell in 2003, photos of leaders and clerics killed by Saddam rose in Baghdad. But another image, from an earlier era, rose higher than the others. It is the photo of Abdul Karim Qasim, who ruled Iraq between 1958 and 1963.

Qasim, despite his military and arbitrary dictatorship, remained the most prominent symbol of Iraqi patriotism in the country’s modern history: As a result of the coup that he led on July 14, 1958, Iraq emerged from the policy of alliances, of which Baghdad was the most important capital. In his struggle with the Arab nationalists and the Baathists, he was establishing the Iraqi patriotism that is not affiliated with Nasserite Egypt.

Qasim - the son of a Sunni father and a Shiite mother – has always remained sensitive to the issue of national unity that transcends all confessions.

This attachment to Qasim the “leader” was the first source of thirst for stable patriotism. The ownership of Iraq was given to non-Iraqi Faisal bin Hussein. As for the new Iraqis - the Kurds, they were bombed by the British Mandate Air Force because they revolted, under the leadership of Mahmoud Hafid.

In 1932, a quarter of a century before the “decolonization”, the country became nominally independent, but the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty had predated independence two years earlier. Thus, independence was limited and formal, preserving most of the colonial force’s privileges.

However, the British were not the worst cause of the Iraqis’ sufferings. The year 1933 witnessed the massacre of the Assyrians of Iraq, and in 1941, the Farhud was carried out against the country’s Jews.

Before these two dates, there were enough signs of disintegration among the most prominent components of the country: This happened with the publication of Anis Nsouli’s book in 1927 on the Umayyad State in the Levant; when Sateh al-Husari took over the directorate of higher education between 1923 and 1927; and when Poet Muhammad Mahdi Al-Jawahiri was dismissed from the education corps and his nationality was withdrawn; in addition to the famous controversy between Al-Husari and Fadel Al-Jamali.

In the summer of 1927 specifically, the security forces collided with the worshippers taking part in Ashura.

Moreover, in 1934, under the government of Arab nationalist Yassin al-Hashemi, Muharram processions were banned, and a Shiite rebellion resulted in the bombing of the Diwaniyah Brigade…

Confessional conflict was fostered by a firm and powerful tribal foundation in the center, the South as well as in the North, along with a worsening social situation.

All of this affected political stability: between 1932 and the proclamation of the Republic in 1958, Iraq knew 45 governments, an average of eight months for one government, and eight of these governments were formed under the pressure of the army.

Iraq also witnessed two coups: The Bakr Sidqi in 1936, and Rashid Ali al-Kilani and the officers of the “Golden Square” in 1941. The country also saw three disturbances and uprisings: in 1948, 1952 and 1956.

The era of Abdul Karim Qasim was like a promise of a homeland, stability, and justice. But the promise was never fulfilled.

In addition to Qasim’s dictatorship and tremendous errors, especially his clash with the Kurds of the North, the new regime found itself confronting those insisting on preventing national formation.

Those were an extension of the Arab nationalist tradition influenced by fascism, prioritizing Arabism over the question of Iraq.

This tradition, which started with al-Kilani and al-Hashemi, passing through the "Independence Party" and reaching the “Baath Party”, has succeeded, through a military coup, in overthrowing and executing Qasim.

For months, during which much blood was shed, the Baathists dominated the country, before being toppled by less bloody and ideological nationalist partners.

However, the era of Abdul Salam Arif al-Nasiri did not succeed in establishing unity with Egypt, while his brother Abdul Rahman failed in almost everything.

As for the rule of the Baath Party, which returned to power after the 1968 coup, its internal violence instigated a number of external wars that weakened the country as much as it undermined its internal unity.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein at the hands of the Americans, the American era soon diminished, paving the way for the Iranian rule.

But in the meantime, and in the shadow of the two eras, finding a unified slogan has become absurd: De-Baathification, Nuri al-Maliki, and the Popular Mobilization are anti-Sunni slogans; while the resistance and "ISIS" are anti-Shiite titles.

Amid a sea of names and slogans, a civil war breaks out in 2006. As for the Kurds, they remained the sons of a separate history, especially after the eruption of a dispute over Kirkuk.

But if the path of patriotism in Iraq is difficult and long - perhaps more difficult and longer than in Syria and Lebanon - the current revolution raised this question again.

The question was brought up when the Iraqi Shiites rose up against Iran. It was also brought up when the Sunni Iraqis responded to calls in Fallujah, Tikrit, Mosul, and Ramadi in solidarity with Al-Najaf.

It is, of course, just the beginning of a difficult and long road. It is a path that requires the expansion of the common areas between the components of the country and the end of the Sunnis’ marginalization complex. A democratic and civil version of Abdul Karim Qasim is also needed this time.

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