60 years on, Iraqis reflect on the coup that killed King Faisal II

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Iraq’s King Faisal II in 1952, a year before taking the throne. (AFP)
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Faisal takes the oath in Parliament in 1953, watched over by his uncle, Crown Prince Abdallah. (AFP)
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Faisal takes the oath in Parliament in 1953. (AFP)
Updated 15 July 2018

60 years on, Iraqis reflect on the coup that killed King Faisal II

  • Iraq's monarchy came to a bloody end on July 14, 1958
  • Many look back at the era with a sense of nostalgia

BAGHDAD/LONDON: With Iraq facing its latest security challenge amid growing protests over unemployment, Iraqis could be forgiven for harking back nostalgically to an era of rising prosperity when the country appeared to be on the cusp of a gilded age.

Sixty years ago, Iraq’s monarchy came to an end with a bloody coup that killed the young King Faisal II. Many Iraqis still believe it was the start of a catastrophic slide downhill.

While it lasted less than four decades, the constitutional monarchy is viewed by many as a golden period in the country’s history. That the king’s execution gave way to a tumultuous republic and, ultimately, the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, only adds to the sense of nostalgia.

On the anniversary of the July 14 revolution, Iraqis on Saturday reflected on what might have been had the king managed to survive the swirling and explosive political forces tearing through the Middle East at the time. 

But some also said the era of the monarchy is too often seen through rose-tinted spectacles, and that the reality was a deeply polarized country divided between the elites and the mostly rural poor.

Sadaih Khalid, 45, a Baghdad businessman, described Brig. Abdul Karim Qassim, the nationalist Iraqi army officer who led the coup, as a “crazy man” who killed the king and other royal family members in “cold blood.”

Qassim “opened the gates of blood and released the killing, torturing and looting, since the dawn of that black July 14 until now,” Khalid told Arab News.

“We wouldn’t have passed through all these tragedies if the royal family was still here.”




The king’s tomb in Baghdad. (AFP)

This sentiment is common in Baghdad, even among those born decades after the dynasty ended. It is not only that the demise of the monarchy was the start of the country’s descent toward dictatorship and years of war, but also that the coup — with no mercy shown toward the royal family — set a precedent for how the country’s most powerful figures would come to deal with political opponents. 

That precedent came back to haunt Qassim less than five years later when he, too, was killed during a 1963 coup by the Baath party during Ramadan.

The kingdom of Iraq was founded in 1932 under Faisal I after the fall of the Ottoman empire. Faisal, who was born in Saudi Arabia, was a member of the Hashemite dynasty and fought alongside T.E. Lawrence during World War I.

Faisal ruled for 12 years under a constitutional monarchy imposed by the British until his death from a heart attack, aged 48.

Faisal’s son, King Ghazi, took the throne, but died six years later in a car crash in Baghdad. The title of king fell to Faisal II, who was just 3 years old, and his reign began under the regency of his uncle Crown Prince Abdallah. 

Faisal II was educated in Britain at Harrow, along with his cousin, King Hussein of Jordan.

Highly intelligent, and leading a country blessed with a wealth of natural resources, Faisal seemed destined to build on his father and grandfather’s foundations when he took the throne, aged 18, in 1953.

Iraq at the time was prospering. Oil revenues were flowing in and the country was undergoing rapid industrialization. 

The kingdom was also gaining prominence on the world stage.

Iraq then was “more democratic and cleaner than today,” Saad Mohsen, a professor of modern history at the University of Baghdad, told AFP recently.

“We were far from the blood and fighting that we have come to know,” he said.

But it was also a country of social polarization. While the wealthy and well-connected enjoyed the good life in a thriving capital, resentment was building among the country’s poor, who were more conservative and receptive to complaints that the monarchy was too compliant to the needs of the West.

“The royal system was not as good as people think,” Abdallah Jawad, 53, told Arab News in Baghdad on Sunday. “People are just tired (of insecurity) and because of this they are willing to go back and live under the royal system. 

“They don’t know that most policies adopted by the royal family at that time were sectarian and discriminatory.”

The tide would soon start to turn against the kingdom. Iraq’s close relationship with Britain — a policy Faisal II continued from his grandfather — became the source of increasing hostility that was exacerbated by the Suez crisis in 1956.

On July 13, 1958, when two army brigades were ordered to go to Jordan to help quell a crisis in Lebanon, Qassim, a disaffected officer leading one of the units, saw his chance and sent troops to the Qasr Al Rihab palace. By early the following morning, they had surrounded the palace with tanks and opened fire. 

Shortly after 8 a.m., King Faisal II, his uncle the crown prince, and other members of the royal family and their staff were ordered from the rear entrance and killed.

The 23-year-old king was engaged to marry.

Saddam Hussein, who became president in 1979, setting the country on its calamitous course of foreign wars and brutal dictatorship, was fascinated by the young king.

He even restored the royal mausoleum where Faisal II’s marble tomb is located next to his father’s.

Their resting place has survived some of the darkest episodes of the nation’s history. But as Iraq looks to recover from its latest calamity — Daesh’s occupation of large parts of the country — many Iraqis will quietly mourn the 60 years since the monarchy’s downfall.




 An Iraqi banknote issued in 1947 and bearing the image of King Faisal II. (AFP)

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Born to rule against a backdrop of turmoil

Faisal II was born as the world prepared for a devastating war, lived through an era of Middle East turmoil and growing pan-Arab nationalism, and died in a revolution that also ended Iraq’s monarchy. 

He became king of Iraq when he was only 3 years old, in April 1939, after his father, King Ghazi, died in a car crash. Faisal’s lineage crossed borders — his mother, Queen Aliya, was the daughter of Ali bin Hussein, King of the Hijaz and Grand Sharif of Makkah, who had fled to Iraq when he was deposed by Ibn Saud in 1925.

During World War II, when Iraq was allied with Britain and the US, the young Faisal lived with his mother in Berkshire. Later, as a teenager, he was educated at Harrow school, along with the future King Hussein of Jordan, his cousin. The two became close friends, and may have considered merging their kingdoms. Before he became king, Faisal also visited the US in 1952, and met President Harry Truman.  

Until Faisal reached the age of 18 in 1953, Iraq was ruled by a regent — his uncle, Abd Al-Ilah. Faisal was an inexperienced boy, plagued by poor health — he suffered from asthma — and his uncle continued to advise him from the sidelines. His advice was that Iraq should continue to have a close relationship with the UK, which resulted in the Baghdad Pact of 1955 — an ill-fated military alliance of Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and the UK, which the US joined in 1958. 

Faisal’s turbulent life came to an end on July 14, 1958, during the revolution that deposed the monarchy. He and other members of his family were rounded up in the palace courtyard in Baghdad, and ordered to face a wall as a machinegun opened fire. The king died on the way to hospital and his body was strung from a lamppost. 

As if that were not undignified enough, Faisal attained an immortality of sorts; he was the model for Prince Abdullah of Khemed, a character in “The Adventures of Tintin” by the Belgian comic writer Herge.  


Biden renews offer to ‘return to full’ nuclear deal ‘if Iran does the same’

Updated 21 September 2021

Biden renews offer to ‘return to full’ nuclear deal ‘if Iran does the same’

  • US president uses first UNGA speech to say a sovereign and democratic Palestinian state is the “best way” to ensure Israel’s future

NEW YORK: President Joe Biden told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday that the United States would return to the Iranian nuclear deal in “full” if Tehran does the same.
He said the US was “working” with China, France, Russia, Britain and Germany to “engage Iran diplomatically and to seek a return to” the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which America left in 2018.
“We’re prepared to return to full compliance if Iran does the same,” he added.

Earlier, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said negotiations between Iran and world powers should resume in the coming weeks.

During his first speech to the General Assembly, Biden said a sovereign and democratic Palestinian state is the “best way” to ensure Israel’s future.
“We must seek a future of greater peace and security for all people of the Middle East,” Biden said.
“The commitment of the United States to Israel’s security is without question and our support for an independent Jewish state is unequivocal,” he said.
“But I continue to believe that a two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state, living in peace alongside a viable, sovereign and democratic Palestinian state,” he said.
“We’re a long way from that goal at this moment but we should never allow ourselves to give up on the possibility of progress.”
More broadly, Biden said the US is not seeking a new Cold War with China as he vowed to pivot from post-9/11 conflicts and take a global leadership role on crises from climate to COVID-19.
He promised to work to advance democracy and alliances, despite friction with Europe over France’s loss of a mega-contract.
The Biden administration has identified a rising and authoritarian China as the paramount challenge of the 21st century, but he made clear he was not trying to sow divisions.
“We are not seeking a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocs,” Biden said.


French FM applauds Middle East diplomacy, warns of Iranian transgressions

Updated 21 September 2021

French FM applauds Middle East diplomacy, warns of Iranian transgressions

  • Le Drian lauds August’s Baghdad Convention but warns Iran has repeatedly breached its nuclear commitments under the JCPOA
  • Minister laments ‘breach of trust’ by the UK and US over scuppering of a French submarine deal with Australia

NEW YORK: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has celebrated progress in diplomacy in the Middle East and promised that France will continue to take an active role in ensuring the region remains stable.

In a wide-ranging press conference held on Monday and attended by Arab News, Le Drian also lamented the recent “breach of trust” by the UK and US over the sale of submarines to Australia.

France had originally been slated to supply submarines to Australia as part of that deal, but Canberra did a U-turn in favor of an agreement with the US and UK, in what some have called an embarrassment for the French.

“In the Middle East, stability and security shall be the heart of our priorities. These require a regional dialogue, including in the unprecedented format of the Baghdad Conference on Aug. 28,” Le Drian said.

The Baghdad Conference for Cooperation and Partnership brought together many of the key powers in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Qatar, and Iran for dialogue aimed at easing security tensions in the region. France also attended the summit and has taken an active role in mediating conflict and disputes in the Middle East, in some form, for centuries.

“It was an exceptional meeting because those who attended were not used to sitting at the same table,” said Le Drian, who is currently in New York for the UN General Assembly’s week of high-level meetings.

“We managed to launch some sort of new spirit and to gather some support for a willingness to reduce regional tensions in an unprecedented format.”

Iran’s presence at the conference, he continued, may be seen as a “positive signal,” but he said that he would convene a meeting of the joint commission of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) because, “regarding Iran, we note that the negotiations were interrupted at the request of Iran and we need to make sure that, this week, we try to launch some positive momentum or negotiations to resume.”

The JCPOA, widely referred to as the Iran nuclear deal, saw heavy restrictions and monitoring placed on Tehran’s nascent nuclear program in return for much-needed sanctions relief. Iran and the US, which also left the deal, have been in negotiations for years over a bilateral return to the deal, but those have stalled in recent months.

“In the meantime, Iran keeps breaching some commitments that they made within the JCPOA,” said Le Drian, who also warned that “time is playing against the potential (nuclear) agreement because, as time goes by, the Iranian authorities are speeding up their nuclear activities.”

The minister also addressed the latest developments in Afghanistan, recently seized by the Taliban after 20 years of US presence in the country.

He said that France and its European partners had sent across a number of “very clear requirements” of the Taliban. Those include allowing people to leave the country if they wish, preventing the country from becoming a haven for terrorists, facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the country, and ensuring the rights of minorities, women, and journalists are upheld.

“Should the Taliban fail to meet these requirements, they will ban themselves from the international community,” Le Drian said.

He also supported the allocation by the UN of €100 million ($117,289,000) to Afghanistan and pointed out that the Europeans had already pledged over €600 million in humanitarian aid for Afghans.

Much of Le Drian’s attention throughout the conference, however, was focused on the recent news that Australia would scrap a lucrative deal with France to buy French-made submarines, and instead form a pact with the UK and US to purchase nuclear submarines.

That deal has proved highly controversial in France and across mainland Europe, and resulted in a diplomatic row between the longtime allies.

Le Drian said that Presidents Macron and Biden will “discuss the matter very frankly” when they speak.


Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor

Updated 21 September 2021

Syrian migrants allowed in by Merkel vote to choose her successor

  • Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open the door to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in 2015 was a defining issue of Germany’s last federal election campaign in 2017

BERLIN: Tarek Saad is keen to help other Syrian refugees who have fled the war in their homeland to make a new home in Germany and he sees the federal election on Sept. 26 as an opportunity to do just that.

Saad is campaigning in his adopted state of Schleswig-Holstein on the Baltic coast for the Social Democrats (SPD), a party he joined in 2016, just two years after he arrived in Germany bearing two gunshot wounds he had survived in Syria.

“I thought the things making my life difficult must be tormenting others as well. To overcome them as quickly as possible, one should be in a political party,” said the 28-year-old student of political science.

“Our parents lived under a different political system for long years (in Syria) ... This is an opportunity to develop a new generation (in Germany),” said Saad, who like many refugees will vote for the first time as a German citizen.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open the door to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in 2015 was a defining issue of Germany’s last federal election campaign in 2017.

Not all newly naturalized refugees are as clear as Saad about their voting intentions.

“I am happy to have this opportunity but I am being cautious and maybe I won’t vote,” said Maher Obaid, 29, who lives in the town of Singen near the Swiss border.

Obaid, naturalized in 2019, said a lack of clarity among the parties on foreign policy issues, especially Syria, was behind his hesitation.

The number of Syrians who have acquired German citizenship rose by 74 percent in 2020 to 6,700, federal statistics show. The total number of Syrian refugees is estimated to be much higher, at over 700,000, but getting citizenship requires time and effort.

A 2020 study by the Expert Council on Integration and Migration (SVR) found that only 65 percent of Germans with a migration background voted in 2017, against 86 percent of native-born Germans.

Language fluency and socio-economic situation were two factors determining migrants’ participation, along with the length of their stay, the study found.

“The longer a person stays in Germany ... the more likely they are to feel they understand and can participate in political life,” it said.

Historically, migrants from southern Europe and Turkey who came as guest workers saw the Social Democrats as the party that best represented their interests, a study by the DIW research institute showed.

By contrast, Syrians were more likely to support Merkel’s conservatives who shaped the migration policy from 2013 to 2016 when the majority of them arrived in Germany, the study found.

But with Merkel bowing out of politics after 16 years at the helm, many Syrians are now making different calculations.

“Syrians should be very smart ... What Merkel did was right but what is her successor doing?” asked Abdulaziz Ramadan, head of a migrant integration organization in Leipzig who was naturalized in 2019.

An informal poll among members of a Syrian migrants’ group on Facebook showed most would now vote for the SPD, followed by the Greens, if they were entitled to vote. The option “I don’t care” was the third choice.

Mahmoud Al Kutaifan, a doctor living in the south-western city of Freiburg, is among the few Syrians who were naturalized in time to vote in the 2017 election.

“Out of emotion, I voted then for the party of Mrs. Merkel because she supported refugees,” he said.

While he has not regretted that decision, he, like many other German voters pondering the post-Merkel era, is unsure how to cast his ballot this time round.

“The election date is approaching but I honestly haven’t decided yet.”


EU joins outcry over Houthis’ execution of nine men

Updated 21 September 2021

EU joins outcry over Houthis’ execution of nine men

  • Britain said the executions demonstrated “indifference to human dignity & blatant disregard for fair trial & due process.”
  • The Houthis’ Foreign Ministry dismissed the criticism as “interference in domestic affairs” and accused the United Nations and the West of turning a blind eye to the “coalition’s crimes.”

ADEN: The European Union joined a chorus of international criticism on Monday over the execution of nine men by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen following their conviction for involvement in the killing of the group’s top civilian leader.
Saleh Al-Samad, who held the post of president in the Houthi-controlled administration which runs most of northern Yemen, was killed in April 2018 by a Saudi-led coalition airstrike in the port city of Hodeidah on Yemen’s west coast.
A Houthi court found the nine men, including one who was a minor when he was arrested, guilty of spying and sharing sensitive information with the Saudi-led coalition. They were executed on Saturday by firing squad.
Pictures and videos of the executions have been widely shared on social media, which showed military officers shooting the nine men in the back in Sanaa’s central public square.
In a statement condemning the executions, an EU spokesperson said there had also been reports of irregularities in the judicial process and allegations of mistreatment.
“The European Union strongly opposes the death penalty at all times and in all circumstances. It is a cruel and inhumane punishment ...” said the statement.
Earlier, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a similar statement in which he also called for a moratorium on use of the death penalty in Yemen and for a peaceful negotiated settlement of the conflict there.
The US Embassy in Yemen condemned what it called “a sham trial following years of torture and abuse” by the Houthis. Britain said the executions demonstrated “indifference to human dignity & blatant disregard for fair trial & due process.”
The Houthis’ Foreign Ministry dismissed the criticism as “interference in domestic affairs” and accused the United Nations and the West of turning a blind eye to the “coalition’s crimes.”
Samad was the most senior official to be killed by the coalition in the years-long war in which the Houthis are fighting forces loyal to the internationally-recognized government based in the southern port city of Aden.

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Two militant commanders killed in Syria drone strikes

Updated 21 September 2021

Two militant commanders killed in Syria drone strikes

  • The strikes targeted a vehicle on the road leading from Idlib city to Binnish further north

BEIRUT: Drone strikes Monday killed two militant commanders close to Al-Qaeda in the Idlib region of northwest Syria, a war monitor said.
The raids were carried out by the US-led international coalition battling militants in Syria and Iraq, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
But the coalition told AFP it had not carried out any strikes in Idlib province on Monday.
The strikes targeted a vehicle on the road leading from Idlib city to Binnish further north, the observatory said.
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that one of the commanders killed was Tunisian while the other was from Yemen or Saudi Arabia, without identifying the group they belonged to.
The Idlib region is dominated by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, but rebels and other militants are also present.
Militant factions have been the target of Syrian, Russian, US and international coalition strikes in the past. Nine militants were killed in October 2019 in Russian airstrikes on Idlib province, while a US strike a month earlier killed at least 40 militant leaders.
Syria’s war has killed around half a million people since starting in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests, spiralling into a complex battlefield involving foreign armies and militants.