19 April 2008

Iraq in 1958

Someone sent me a link, not long ago, to an article that first appeared in The Atlantic in 1958 about turmoil in Iraq.

Here is the link.

Apparently the article is circulating through the blogosphere these days in a spirit of "the more things change, the more they stay the same."

But that wasn't the lesson I drew from it. The lesson I drew was that I'm rather humbled by the extent of my ignorance of recent Iraqi history. And, yes, I call 1958 "recent" because, after all, history in Iraq goes back to Hammurabi.

Anyway, in 1958, William Polk wrote: "The keystone of the Iraqi arch of power was Nuri as-Said. Observers had long realized that if he should be removed, the whole structure would crumble. Nuri ranked as one of the more able politicians in the Middle East, and perhaps his last great compliment came from the rebel leaders when they announced to their followers that the revolt would fail if Nuri were allowed to escape. But a man who is bitterly hated by a large proportion of his people is always in danger of assassination. Nuri was more than seventy years of age, in bad health, and would probably have been forced to retire soon. In case of his retirement, which Washington should have foreseen, upon whom or what were we planning to rely?"

Until I received this link, I don't believe I had ever encountered the name Nuri as-Said.

Now that I have, it is of course easy enough to look it up in wikipedia, or in some more traditional sort of reference work. What Polk there called "the revolt" was it appears more of a military coup. But the coup was made possible, in fact it was made easy, by the popular discontent with the monarchy that Nuri was serving as prime minister -- discontent that swelled as it repeatedly lashed itself to the mast of British policy in the area.

Two years before the 1958 Iraq crisis, in Egypt, Nasser (with some help from Eisenhower) had forced the Brits and French to back down and accede to the nationalization of the Suez canal. As a result, the Brits were seen as vulnerable by the "Arab street," and Nuri was in the untenable position of acting as the local representative of an imperialism in retreat.

I really should give myself a primer on such points, to try to get a broad overview of the history of Iraq from, say, 1945 to the present.

But, hey ... I'm an American, filled with the traditional presumption of my people that it is our God-given right to ignore the rest of the globe, while demanding that it attend to our whims.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.