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.  


Iran now has ‘international criminal’ as president: Panel

Updated 1 min 11 sec ago

Iran now has ‘international criminal’ as president: Panel

  • Ex-UN appeal judge: Ebrahim Raisi ‘guilty of crimes against humanity’
  • ‘If ever he ventures out of Iran, any democratic country would be entitled to arrest him and put him on trial’

LONDON: Iran now has an “international criminal” as its president, according to a panel of experts who warned that this could mean he faces arrest if he leaves the country and may be unable to attend the UN.

At an event on Thursday hosted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran and attended by Arab News, a panel of diplomats and human rights experts said Ebrahim Raisi’s role in the 1988 massacres of political prisoners means he is guilty of crimes against humanity — a label that could seriously harm his global diplomatic standing.

“We now have an international criminal as president ... He’s guilty of crimes against humanity, committed in late 1988 by the slaughter of thousands of prisoners,” said Geoffrey Robertson, a former UN appeal judge and former president of the war crimes court in Sierra Leone.

Robertson, who has conducted an extensive investigation into the 1988 massacres, added that Raisi and his Justice Department henchmen sent prisoners to their deaths in “two waves.”

First killed, Robertson said, were members, allies and sympathizers of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a political group that participated in the 1979 revolution but was later turned upon by the regime following a political disagreement.

“Most of them had actually already completed their sentences. They were executed without pity,” said Robertson.

“The second wave was of theocratic dissidents: Communists, atheists, left-wingers. They were executed for being opposed to the theocratic state of Ayatollah (Ruhollah) Khomeini. There we have a crime against humanity.”

Most of the people killed were detained for participating in protests in the early 1980s, said Robertson. They were then subjected to what Amnesty International has called “death commissions,” in which judiciary officials led by Raisi, who was then a prosecutor in Tehran, asked them apparently innocuous questions.

“They didn’t know it, but on their answers their lives depended,” said Robertson. Those who gave answers indicating an MEK or atheist affiliation were blindfolded and “ordered to join a conga line that led straight to the gallows,” he added.

“They were hung from cranes four at a time … Some were taken to army barracks at night, directed to make their wills and then shot by firing squad.”

Raisi’s direct involvement in these crimes could come back to bite Iran in an unexpected way, Robertson said.

“The UN will have to grapple with the fact that one of its members is led by an international criminal,” he added.

“If ever he ventures out of Iran, any democratic country would be entitled under its law — universal jurisdiction as we call it — to arrest him and put him on trial,” said Robertson

Nick Fluck, president emeritus of the law society of England and Wales, pointed out that Raisi has said in press conferences that he is “proud” of his role in the 1988 massacres.

This “serves as an important wakeup call that we can’t just sit silently on the sidelines. Silence and inaction don’t produce change, and in this case it’s clear that change is radically needed,” Fluck said.

“This is a leader who’ll be widely, I hope, shunned. There will be a lack of credibility about anything he may say.”

Fluck said Raisi’s domestic legitimacy is also seriously lacking, following an election that saw heavy state involvement, with hundreds of candidates barred from running and millions of Iranians boycotting the poll.

“Dissidents and reformists urged voters to boycott the poll. That’s perhaps why, although he inevitably won the election, he did so with a very low turnout,” Fluck added.


Critic of Palestinian Authority dies after violent arrest

Updated 24 June 2021

Critic of Palestinian Authority dies after violent arrest

  • Nizar Banat was a harsh critic of the PA, which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank

JERUSALEM: An outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority who was a candidate in parliamentary elections called off earlier this year died after Palestinian security forces arrested him and beat him with an iron rod on Thursday, his family said.
Nizar Banat was a harsh critic of the PA, which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and had called on Western nations to cut off aid to it because of its authoritarianism and human rights violations. Earlier this week, another prominent activist was detained by the PA and held overnight after criticizing it on Facebook.
The crackdown on dissent comes as the internationally-backed PA faces a growing backlash from Palestinians who view it as corrupt and increasingly autocratic, a manifestation of a three-decade-old peace process that has yet to deliver an independent state.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who was elected to a four-year term in 2005, has little to show after more than a decade of close security coordination with Israel. The 85-year-old leader has been powerless to stop the expansion of Jewish settlements, home demolitions, evictions in Jerusalem and deadly Israeli military raids, and was largely ignored during the recent unrest in Jerusalem and the 11-day Gaza war.
Western nations nevertheless view the PA as a key partner for rebuilding Gaza, which is ruled by the militant Hamas group, and eventually reviving the moribund peace process.
Ammar Banat, a cousin of the deceased, said around 25 Palestinian security forces stormed the home where Nizar was staying, blowing out doors and windows. They beat Nizar with an iron bar and sprayed pepper spray in his eyes before undressing him and dragging him away, Ammar told a local radio station, citing two other cousins who were present during the arrest.
In a brief statement, the Hebron governorate said Nizar’s “health deteriorated” when Palestinian forces went to arrest him early Thursday. It said he was taken to a hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
Representatives of the European Union and the United Nations called for an independent investigation, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh later announced the formation of an investigative committee. He said a doctor chosen by the family would participate in the autopsy and the family would be invited to provide testimony.
Around 100 protesters gathered in the West Bank city of Ramallah and tried to march to the PA’s headquarters. Palestinian security forces halted them and fired tear gas as scuffles broke out.
In early May, gunmen fired bullets, stun grenades and tear gas at Nizar Banat’s home near the West Bank city of Hebron, where his wife was inside with their children. He blamed the attack on Abbas’ Fatah party, which dominates the security forces, saying only they would have access to tear gas and stun grenades.
“The Europeans need to know that they are indirectly funding this organization,” he told The Associated Press in May in an interview at a home where he was hiding out. “They fire their guns into the air at Fatah celebrations, they fire their guns in the air when Fatah leaders fight each other and they fire their guns at people who oppose Fatah.”
He said prominent Fatah supporters were waging an incitement campaign against him on social media in which they accused him of collaborating with Israel, which most Palestinians view as treason. He denied the accusation, and Hamas and another militant group condemned what they referred to as his “assassination” by PA forces.
More recently, he had criticized the Palestinian leadership over an agreement in which Israel sent the PA a shipment of coronavirus vaccines that were soon to expire in exchange for fresh doses the Palestinians expect to receive later this year. The PA called off the agreement after it faced a wave of criticism on social media. Israel said the doses it sent were safe and effective.
The European Union’s delegation to the Palestinians wrote on Twitter that it was “shocked and saddened” by Banat’s death and called for a “full, independent, and transparent investigation.” The United Nation’s Mideast envoy, Tor Wennesland, also called for an investigation into the incident, saying that the “perpetrators must be brought to justice.”
Earlier this week, Palestinian security forces detained a prominent activist and held him overnight after he took to Facebook to criticize the PA’s arrest of another individual. Issa Amro is an outspoken critic of both Israel and the PA, and has been detained by both in the past. he also criticized the PA over the vaccine exchange.
A recent poll showed plummeting support for Abbas, who canceled the first elections in 15 years in April when it looked like his fractured Fatah party would suffer another humiliating defeat to Hamas. The militant group drove out forces loyal to Abbas when it seized power in Gaza in 2007.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Abbas when he visited the region after the Gaza war last month, and the Biden administration is working to improve US relations with the PA after they fell to an all-time low under President Donald Trump.
The European Union has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in direct aid to the PA over the years. Earlier this week, the EU signed an agreement to provide $425 million in loans to the PA and Palestinian banks to help them cope with an economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

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Libya sees progress on removal of foreign mercenaries at Berlin talks

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomes Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah in Berlin on June 23, 2021, on the sidelines of a new round of Libya peace talks. (AFP / Tobias Schwarz)
Updated 24 June 2021

Libya sees progress on removal of foreign mercenaries at Berlin talks

  • Premier urges parliament to approve election law to allow December election to go ahead

BERLIN: Libya’s foreign minister said on Wednesday international powers had made progress at talks in Berlin on the removal of foreign fighters from the country, although a final communique from the UN-backed conference specified no concrete new measures.

Libya has had little stability since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising against then-head of state Muammar Qaddafi, but a UN-led peace process brought a ceasefire last summer after fighting between rival factions paused.

Wednesday’s meeting in Berlin aimed to make progress on removing mercenaries and other foreign forces from Libya, months after the ceasefire called for their withdrawal, as well as on steps toward securing a December election.

“Hopefully within coming days mercenaries (on) both sides will be withdrawn,” Libya’s Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush told a news conference following the talks.

A senior official at the US State Department said Turkey and Russia, which back opposing sides in Libya, had reached an initial understanding to work toward a target of pulling out 300 Syrian mercenaries from each side of the conflict.

HIGHLIGHT

A US State Department official said it was unrealistic to think a full withdrawal of foreign fighters would come overnight and that it would be a phased approach.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also said he believed there was an understanding between Russia and Turkey on a step-by-step withdrawal of their fighters.

“This will not mean that everybody will take their mercenaries back overnight,” he said. The talks were also attended by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

A second State Department official said it was unrealistic to think a full withdrawal of foreign fighters would come overnight and that it would be a phased approach.

“Getting at what we think is one of the key de-stabilizing elements, the presence of these foreign fighters, Syrians, Chadians, Sudanese, that is an important first step and it’s not something we had before,” the official said.

Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeiba called on Libya’s parliament to approve an election law to allow the December election to go ahead and to pass his government’s budget.

“Unfortunately, we have not yet seen the necessary seriousness from the legislative bodies,” he said.


Israel army chief says cooperation with US against Iran ‘unprecedented’

Updated 23 June 2021

Israel army chief says cooperation with US against Iran ‘unprecedented’

  • Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi's remarks came the same day as Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building
  • Israel staunchly opposes the deal, which it fears could enable its arch-nemesis to obtain nuclear weapons.

JERUSALEM: Israel’s army chief on Wednesday hailed “unprecedented” cooperation with the US, as he wrapped up a US visit focused on preventing Tehran from obtaining military nuclear capabilities.
Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi’s remarks came the same day as Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building, as talks continue in Vienna between Tehran and world powers aimed at reviving their 2015 nuclear deal.
Israel staunchly opposes the deal, which it fears could enable its arch-nemesis to obtain nuclear weapons.
Kohavi’s visit, which began on Sunday, also came four weeks since Israel and Gaza’s Palestinian Islamist rulers Hamas agreed a cease-fire ending 11 days of heavy fighting.
At the US military’s Central Command in Florida, Kohavi met Centcom commander General Frank McKenzie, where he discussed the Gaza war, the Syrian arena and coordination between the countries.
“The IDF’s operational cooperation with the US military is unprecedented in its scope and has reached new heights,” Kohavi said in a statement, using the acronym for Israel defense forces.
“The mutual and main goal of action for the two armies is thwarting Iranian aggression,” he added.
“Iran seeks to establish and entrench terrorists in many countries (and) continues to pose a regional threat in terms of nuclear proliferation, advanced weapons systems including ballistic missile capabilities, and the financing of terrorist armies,” the Israeli general said.
Kohavi was also meeting with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on “Iran’s regional entrenchment throughout the Middle East and the flaws” of the nuclear deal with Iran, a statement from the military said.
In meetings with Sullivan and CIA head William Burns, Kohavi was “presenting multiple ways to prevent Iran from acquiring military nuclear capabilities,” the army said.
Kohavi was due to return to Israel on Friday.


More blackouts ahead as Lebanon generators starved of fuel

Updated 23 June 2021

More blackouts ahead as Lebanon generators starved of fuel

  • National network run by Electricité du Liban is prone to blackouts as some areas only gets provided power for 2 hours a day
  • Many Lebanese pay a separate bill for a backup from neighbourhood generators run by private firms

BEIRUT: The owners of private generators that provide a vital backup to Lebanon’s decrepit power grid warned Wednesday of their own cuts due to lack of fuel as the country’s economic crisis deepens.
The national network run by Electricité du Liban is prone to blackouts and in some areas only manages to provide power for two hours a day.
That forces many Lebanese to pay a separate bill for a backup from neighborhood generators run by private firms.
With the Lebanese economy facing its worst crisis in a generation and the currency in freefall, private suppliers have warned they are struggling to secure enough fuel to keep running.
The crisis is so acute that on Wednesday the lights went out in a building belonging to the foreign ministry, forcing employees to stop work, Lebanese media reported.
“Generator owners in several regions started telling customers on Wednesday that they would not be able to provide electricity for lack of mazout,” a widely used petrol derivative, said Abdu Saadeh, head of a syndicate for generator owners.
“We had warned late last week that the stocks would start running dry... and so far we haven’t found a solution.”
Lebanon has been roiled since autumn 2019 by an economic crisis the World Bank says is likely to rank among the world’s worst financial crises since the mid-19th century.
The collapse has sparked outrage at Lebanon’s political class, seen as woefully corrupt and unable to tackle the country’s many difficulties.
Officials have blamed the current fuel shortages on stockpiling by traders and a surge of fuel smuggling into Syria.
Several people have been arrested on suspicion of smuggling in recent weeks, according to the police.
The central bank has set up a mechanism to subsidise fuels by up to 85 percent, but fuel importers have accused it of failing to implement the program.
The head of public Internet provider Ogero has warned that electricity cuts could also threaten Lebanon’s access to the web.

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