Al-Ahram Weekly Online   10 - 16 July 2008
Issue No. 905
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Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Iraq indivisible

Fifty years on, the 14 July revolution still evokes among Iraqis the virtues of patriotism and unity, writes Salah Hemeid

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Praying in front of the statue of Abdul-Karim Qassem, Iraq's first prime minister after the 1958 revolution

Fifty years after the Iraqi army toppled the pro-West monarchy on 14 July 1958, Iraqis who live in their now terror- stricken nation are too preoccupied with survival to celebrate what many of them esteem as a revolution of national liberation against the colonial power of the time, Great Britain.

The episode is not forgotten, however. If there is a lesson to be drawn, especially by Iraq's new rulers, it is that winning public support and confidence cannot be substituted for dependency on foreign occupiers and their protection. On the other hand, the anniversary raises questions about how much US colonial officials know Iraq's history and the memory Iraqis still have of their former occupiers.

On that day, nationalist army officers, disgruntled by then existing corrupt and repressive regime and its blind loyalty to Britain, overthrew the Hashemite monarchy and declared Iraq a free and independent republic. It wasn't just a military coup, but rather a vast social revolt from below, supported by nationalists who were trying to build a modern state in Iraq while steering it away from Western influence.

Iraqis now may lament the fact that the 14 July revolution failed to achieve its national goals, but that does not stop them from looking at events since then through the same lens, especially the nation's current crisis, awakening them from nostalgia to deal with foreign occupation and sectarianism today that threaten to tear their nation apart.

Two of the main goals of the 14 July revolution, which had deep roots in the Iraqi people's struggle, were liberating Iraq from foreign domination and restoring sovereignty over its vast oil wealth that was plundered by British, French and US monopolies. Nothing better summed up that stance than the decision by the revolutionary government to pull out of the Baghdad Pact, a military alliance with Britain and the United States, as well as limiting energy exploitation by foreign oil companies to 0.5 per cent of the original oil concessions they received from the pre- revolution regime.

Today, history seems to be repeating itself, as if the clock in Iraq has come full circle to 50 years ago. Iraqis now have to fight for the same old goals: liberating their country and their national resources from both foreign occupiers and their divided, corrupt protégés and stooges who had carved Iraq into sectarian fiefdoms.

One of the most daunting challenges Iraqis face now is the strategic agreement that the Bush administration and Nuri Al-Maliki's government are negotiating that would allow for a long-term presence of the American forces in Iraq. Regardless of controversy over the nature and terms of the agreement, the two governments have been committed to establish an "enduring relationship" under a November 2007 US-Iraqi "Declaration of Principles" President George W Bush and Al-Maliki signed.

Indeed, one cannot miss the alarming parallel between the proposed pact between the United States and Iraq and the failed treaty that the British government tried to impose on Iraq in 1948 and that prompted a nationalist uprising in Baghdad, which many regarded as the trail run of the revolution that toppled the monarchy a decade later.

Obviously the deals that Iraq announced last month with three major American oil companies, including Exxon Mobil and Chevron, to develop some of its largest fields will affirm suspicions that Iraqi oil was the point of war, especially with the disclosure that US government lawyers and private-sector consultants provided template contracts and detailed suggestions on drafting contracts. With its proven 112 billion barrel oil reserve, the second largest in the world, along with roughly 220 billion barrels of probable and possible resources, Iraq's oil seems destined -- if foreign colonial powers get their way -- to be under foreign control, some 34 years after its nationalisation.

In historical terms, the 14 July revolution suffered a setback because it failed to build a democratic state for all its citizens. Eventually Iraq stagnated and degenerated under the autocratic rule of Saddam Hussein's one party system, becoming easy prey for its new colonisers. Despite its failure, however, the revolution is of profound historical significance because it rekindled in Iraqis the twin spirits of unity and patriotism. Combined emerges a virtue that expresses itself now in the Iraqis' awakening to their present national plight, demonstrated when many Iraqis braved violence in recent years to celebrate the revolution's anniversary in Baghdad's squares.

There is nothing more important now than reviving that spirit of patriotism and freedom of the 14 July revolution by which united Iraqis can reshape their destiny in an independent, democratic, strong and modern state. If US occupiers are oblivious to these Iraqi ideals, and certainly they are, the question is why the ruling clique of local puppets is so inept at gauging the anti-occupation and anti-sectarian mood of the people.

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