Friday, February 8, 2013


February 8, 2013


Baghdad, Iraq (JFK+50) Abdul Karim el-Kassem*, Premier of Iraq, was overthrown in a B'athist coup 50 years ago today, February 8, 1963.

                   Abdul Karim el-Kassem
                         Premier of Iraq

*Kassem (1914-1963), born in Baghdad, graduated from military college in 1934.  He served in the Anglo-Iraq War, the Kurdistan War & the Arab-Israeli War.  

The Premier was shot & killed the day following the coup.  Colonel Abdul Salam Muhammad Arif became provisional president of the National Revolutionary Council.

Kassem, who came to power in 1958,ruled Iraq at a time when Arab unity was a major issue.  Accused of heading an autocratic regime, he resisted joining the United Arab Republic, a union of Egypt & Syria.

Apparently, most of Kassem's cabinet were B'athists & wanted Iraq to join the UAR.

The Premier authorized formation of the People's Resistance Force, a communist-controlled militia & lifted a ban on the communist party in Iraq.

He also called for the annexation of Kuwait.

A law was passed during his tenure as premier which allowed seizure of most Iraqi land owned by the British-owned Iraq Petroleum Company.

On the night of the coup, President Kennedy received the following memo from NSC adviser Robert Komer...**

"We will make informal friendly noises as soon as we can find out whom to talk with & ought to recognize as soon as we're sure these guys are firmly in the saddle.  CIA had excellent reporting on the plotting, but I doubt either they or UK should claim much credit."

**Robert Komer (1922-2000) was born in Chicago & grew up in St. Louis.  He graduated from Harvard, served in WWII & joined the CIA in 1947.  He served as LBJ's National Security adviser & directed CIA operations in the Vietnam War.

                      Robert Komer & LBJ
                          The Oval Office
                       November 16, 1967
             Photo by Yoichi R. Okamoto
                      LBJ Library Image

It is clear that United States intelligence saw the overthrow of Kassem as a positive outcome in the struggle against the communists in the Cold War.

Despite criticisms of autocratic rule, however, Abdul Karim el-Kassem was a humble man.

According to Sami Moubayed,  a Syrian political writer, on the eve of Ramadan in 1959, the Premier "toured...Baghdad by night inspecting preparations" when he entered a bakery & saw a "huge portrait of himself surrounded by much smaller loafs of bread."

Kassem ordered the baker to take down the portrait & said:

'It is inconceivable that my photo would be larger than a loaf of Iraqi bread--the daily fuel of ordinary Iraqis.'

There has been some discussion that the CIA was involved in the coup, but Brian Gibson says "the CIA was...plotting against Kassem at the time he was overthrown (but)...was not responsible for the coup."

                                  Flag of Iraq


"Iraq," The World Book Encyclopedia Year Book, Field Enterprises, Chicago, 1964.

"Questioning Complicity:  The National Security File, The CIA & Iraq's 1963 Ramadan Revolution," October 9, 2012 by Bryan R. Gibson,