Iraq 1960-1965:
Oil, Kuwait and Saddam (Episode I)


In retrospect, Abdel Qassim, is one of the luckiest Iraqis in the country's history; so far, the 1959 assassination attempt is the only recorded instance of Saddam Hussein failing to murder someone he wanted to murder. So, with the CIA-sponsored thugs licking their wounds in Egypt, Abdel Qassim went about doing what all post-imperial Persian Gulf leaders do — he announced plans to nationalize the nation's oil resources.

Sure, it sounds easy to nationalize the oil fields in a country that you are running, but there can be some unexpected problems. A subject-matter expert on what the worst of these pitfalls was conveniently located in neighboring Iran, where he was under house arrest. Sadly, Qassim seems to have forgotten to ask Dr. Mossadeq for any advice.

In 1960, the extant corporate parasite was the Iraqi Petroleum Company (IPC). Basically, IPC is polite way of saying "Extortion." In 1920, IPC was chartered and 95% of its shares were granted to British, American, and French oil interests. Everything was spelled out in a treaty that was signed by the governing authority of Iraq — since Iraq didn't really exist until 1922, that governing authority was the British. I don't know what's weirder, that a country was expected to abide by a treaty that was put in place before the country existed, or that the French got in on the deal.

In short, Qassim's talk of "nationalizing Iraqi oil," raised the ire of the medalists in the Intenational Kill Brown People and Take Their Stuff competition. And yes, that includes France. People like to pick on the French for being quick to surrender, but if you look at French history, you'll see that the French very rarely surrender. The last big war they fought was the Vietnam War, and we surrendered — er... I mean, "called and end to hostilities with the opposing side having gotten what they wanted."


Qassim was also irritating the British with more of that crazy talk about annexing Kuwait. I say "the British," because the Americans had already agreed to let them have it in 1958.

In 1955, the forces of democracy and capitalism coerced the Middle Eastern nations to join the "Baghdad Pact," an anti-Soviet coalition. The Arabs had no beef with the Soviets, so this was interpreted as yet more Anglo-American meddling. The US and UK attempted to calm the Iraqis by secretly negotiating the granting of Iraq's request to annex Kuwait.[1]

In 1958, just prior to Qassim's coup, Iraq made a public appeal for this demand, and all the members of the Baghdad Pact approved it — well, all the members except the British. When the Iraqi monarchy threatened to publish the proceedings of the secret talks, the Brits approved the annexation "in principle."

Abdel Qassim also approved it "in principle," and kept on about it. The Brits, however, declared that the agreement had died with the monarchy (a logic that didn't seem to apply to the IPC treaty), so they vocally opposed Iraq's demand, as did the US. Qassim didn't seem to realize that the agreement to allow the annexation was made by the US and UK to maintain the vestiges of their hegemony over Royal Iraq. Neither the US or UK liked Qassim and had no interest in making him happy — they wanted to make him history.

In 1961, Britain granted Kuwait its independence. Qassim immediately announced plans to annex it, and Britain came back. They also brought US Naval support — well, US Naval support had pretty much been a fixture in the Persian Gulf since 1953.

(First, We Screw the Kurds)

The CIA was looking for another way to put pressure on Qassim's government, so they seized on the idea of giving support to the Kurds. Using Israeli agents as front-men, the Kurds were contacted and offered this support. The Kurds were more than happy to take it and started a series of attacks in Northern Iraq.

Remember how I said that the 1932 Iraq plan was a Godlike fuckup? And you know the ongoing fighting and killing centering on the Iraqi Kurds? All this misery is inescapble, ubiquitous, and severe thanks to a degree of ineptitude that usually requires the application of advanced computing resources.

Shown here is a map of Kurdistan, which I'm sure you'll also recognize as having roughly the same borders as the Medean Empire. I know, it looks like someone spilled ink on Turkey and messed up Iraq and Iran. But pretty big area, huh? It stretches all the way from Jordan to the edge Trans-Caucas region and from deep into Turkey down to northern Iraq. In the middle is a range of low mountains.

Kurdistan was first identified in the 12th century as the realm of an Indo-European tribe call the Aryans. They had decended from the Caucasus mountains, which meant that the Aryans were a caucasian tribe. Contrary to beliefs held dear by white trash the world over, The Aryans didn't move to Germany — some aryans did, but not The Aryans — they move South and eventually became the Kurds.

The Aryans/Kurds also brought the Indo-Aryan language family with them. Their tounge eventually became Farsi (Persian), which is a parent language to dozens of languages from Jordan to Pakistan. Although the Persians are not of aryan origin, their nation was eventually named for the origin of their language: Aryan — or, Iran, as we spell it.

Anyway, in the 16th century, the coherence of Kurdish society was frayed as they became caught in the Otto-Perso war. When the dust settled, the southeast corner of their lands was in Persia and the rest were under Ottoman rule.

Naturally, when the Ottoman empire became one of the losers in World War I, the Kurds were excited about the possibility of re-uniting most of the Kurdish population into a single nation. This just makes it that much more hilarious that when the British finished their masterpiece, the Kurds were now spread across four different countries — each of which considered them a contentious ethnic minority. And the Turks actually tried to help the British to prevent that exact screwup.

The Turks are probably happy that the British ignored them. Former Kurdistan covers most of Southeast Turkey, and the Kurds might have been able to claim 20%-30% of what is now Turkey, had they not busied themselves with vicious infighting.

If you've ever found yourself wondering why the hell the mess in Iraq wasn't cleaned up a decade ago, realize that Turkey, our "close ally" is pertinaciously opposed to anything that might legitimize some kind of Kurdish state. The need to satisfy Turkey's paranoia explains a lot.


The year 1963 was chock full of political assassinations. The murder of Vietnam's Ngô Ðình Diệm, helped ignite the Vietnam war. The subsequent death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy made sure it would last a good long time. Finally, the shooting of Abdel Qassim promoted Saddam Hussein from a mere murderer to a state-sponsored murderer.

The coup in Iraq had no effect on the Vietnam War, although it initiated a sequence of events resulting in a war that the people born during the Vietnam War could compare to it.

Actually the CIA admits that the 1958 coup was their operation and that Hussein was under their care while in exile. Supposedly, the 1963 coup took them by surprise. Yeah, who could have predicted a Ba'th party attempt to assassinate Qassim?
"We were absolutely stunned. We had guys running around asking what the hell had happened." [ref]

OK, maybe Sidney Gottlieb wasn't calling the shots. Dr. Gottlieb was head of the CIA's Technical Services Division (TDS) in 1963.

Under Gottlieb, TDS pursued project like MKULTRA, where test subjects were given LSD without their knowledge or consent. TDS is reported to have been preparing a poisoned hankerchief to kill Qassim.

This suggests to me that the CIA might not have been involved in the coup. TDS's cartoonish James Bond gadgetry wasn't in evidence; the Ba'th party member just shot him — and not with a gun that looked like a baklava or a pack of chewing gum, but just a regular gun.

Anyway, the American Dr. Mengele, Sidney Gottlieb, died in 1999. Several lawsuits, filed by former test victims — er, "subjects" — are still pending against the US government and the Gottlieb estate.

Dr. Sidney Gottlieb was a complete dick.

The Ba'thist coup of 1963 has also not been the subject of an Oliver Stone film. There isn't any question that the CIA backed the overthrow of Qassim, so what would Stone's movie be about, anyway? Maybe Oliver could speculate on the mysterious identity of exact CIA guy who ran the operation.

It was Sidney Gottlieb.

After spending at least four years getting to know Saddam Hussein, the CIA must have developed a pretty clear picture of what kind of governance he was likely to provide. So — skipping right to the inescapable question — who did the CIA want killed?

Communists! Duh!

As noted in the sidebar, the CIA claims that the 1963 assassination took them by surprise, but after they figured out "what the hell had happened," agents brought the new rulers a list of about three thousand Iraqi "communists," and requested that they be "dealt with."

Reports vary. Some claim that list members were rounded up and summarily executed under the expert supervision of Saddam Hussein. Others imply that there were farcical trials followed by summary execution under the expert supervision of Saddam Hussein.

Whatever the details were, the Ba'th party was clearly quite eager to exterminate a few thousand of their countrymen at the urging of a foreign intelligence agency. If the CIA wasn't involved in the coup, why the big favor? Maybe the CIA offered to look after Iraq's pets and water the plants when it went on vacation.

But seriously, who cares?

I speculate that Saddam Hussein didn't really care why any of the people on the list were on it. No one had to explain the political benefit of an irrational state killing spree to Saddam "You had me at 'deathsquad'" Hussein.

Saddam wanted to be just like Josef Stalin — that explains the mustache. Of course, Saddam Hussein was happy to kill a few thousand communists. After all, Stalin killed millions of communists.

I know, I know. It seems grandiose to compare Saddam's 1963 body count — a few thousand — with Stalin's millions, but the world had become more efficient since Stalin's day. Thanks to another Joseph — Joseph Goebbles — modern brutality could be amplified with German-engineered media magic. Summer re-runs and syndication allow a pre-recorded Show Trial to foment ten times the nationalist madness than a live Show Trial.

In a country of twenty million, three thousand people may not sound like a lot. But consider the amount of panic generated by the senseless murder of 3000 people in the United States; a population fiteen times Iraq's has willingly — and sometimes eagerly — jettisoned Constitutional rights that America's founders considered "inalienable."

The Reform Agenda

As every schoolchild knows, mass murder is just the first item on a hefty agenda facing any incipient New Regime. The number two item is — this is so obvious I hardly need to say it — smoothing over conflict with regional Imperial powers.

Many Americans would assert that "tax cuts for the wealthy" or "government contracts for friends and family of the new leadership," is the next item. This is because America is in the unique position that its Imperial overlords aren't technically foreigners; Texas became part of the United States in 1848.

The new leadership settled the dispute over Kuwait by signing a decree recognizing its borders in October 1963. This was always something that Anglo-American interests wanted to enforce, but Iraqis never seemed to commit to, despite any number of agreements.

Nasty, Brutish and Short

Nine months after it took power, the Ba'th party was back to square one. Either the opposition was driven by outrage over the Kuwaiti border agreement, or the campaign of terror that resulted in thousands of political murders — who knows? — but the Ba'ths were ousted in — need I say it? — a bloody coup. Wouldn't you know it, but it took the Ba'th party another four years to finally get back in power. The CIA was confused because their plans usually went more smoothly, but there was just something about this region that ruined perfectly good plans — and made bad plans fail in unforeseeable ways.

Coming Soon: Iraq 1966-1969
1. Klein, David. Mechanisms of Western Domination: A Short History of Iraq and Kuwait,
California State University, Northridge, 2003.
[View Here] Scroll down to "US Domination."
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