Iraq: Two Revolutionaries
By DESMON D STEWART Faom 1941, for seventeen doleful years, the name of Rashid All was only whisp- ered in Baghdad. His house was shuttered, his books and property confiscated, himself in Saudi Arabia, the guest, it almost seemed the prisoner, of King Ibn Saud. Today he is back in Baghdad. He was greeted by 50,000 people at the airport, his revolt was endorsed as a truly national one by the Prime Minister, Abdul Karim Qassim. At least 300 chairs were arranged on his relative's lawn, where day after day visitors called on the returned exile. 'All the numafiqin in Bagh- dad,' a friend told me, 'hypocrites who when he was in disgrace did what they could to harm him.'
Rashid Ali is a surprisingly spry, energetic aristocrat, something rare in nouveau riche Iraq; he is the fortieth descendant of Sheikh Abdul Qadr al-Gailani, the Sunni saint whose mosque is a, place of pilgrimage. His son tells me, while his father skips out to greet sonic more notables, that so great was the Sheikh's reputation in North Africa that Goebbels asked his descendant to broadcast an appeal for support. Rashid. Ali de- manded that Germany should first recognise freedom for Maghreb; this was refused, ,and the broadcast was never made.
When he speaks, Rashid All is fervently alive, at the same time dated. His eloquence is torren- tial, lucid, and as remote as d'Annunzio. Grievances, glories, imperialism, plots, exploita- tion, rudeness, Arab union fount in an impas- sioned spurt of protest.
I interrupt with two questions : 'If the basis of your "total Union" is Arab nationalism, can you legitimately deny the claims of Kurdish nationalism to some recog- nition?'
His answer is ready ; what the Kurds want
Baghdad is money for development; Kurdish separatism is merely an imperialist trick; the Kurdish notables have assured him that they want a strong union with Egypt at once.
My second question : 'Have the English left anything good• in the Arab East?' In my mind was Gertrude Bell, salvaging Iraqi antiquities in a Baghdad summer, then dying; her plaque has been removed from the Iraq Museum. 'In forty years, nothing,' he says positively—though not, I feel, with the total concurrence of those around.
Rashid Ali has never been lucky; his revolt of 1941 was hastily planned and ill-starred* it unnecessarily entangled Iraqi nationalism with Hitler's imperialism. At the moment, he has committed himself to the most total union be- tween Iraq and the United Arab Republic, a union more intimate, I am reliably told, than Abdul Nasser himself would welcome. Public opinion, so far as I could assess it, is not with Rashid Ali. The Baath slogan is mesmeric and vapid : hiya hiya 'arabiyah: literally, she, she Arabic, 'union' being feminine. The more general desire is for immediate solidarity with Egypt, with an eventual federation rather than union. The Leftist slogan is: ihtihad federali, sadaqa sovietiya. Without an exclusive Soviet friendship (friendship instead for all friendly nations) this slogan is believed to approximate to the views of Abdul Karim Qassim.
Qassim rules Iraq. from the Ministry of De- fence, a fine, recessed building which no one can enter without being frisked and, more important, without an appointment. There is none of the time-wasting that is endemic in other Ministries, where appointments drag on and on, while queues form outside. You approach Qassim through the stamping heels of soldiers, past earnest young men with sub-machine guns. In * He is now reported to be in prison following another ill-starred revolt. his ante-room I am introduced to a young officer who arrested General Dagistani on July 14.
Qassim looks more alive and more delicate than in his pictures, and quite unlike the photo- graphs that show him with a forage cap, as his distinctive feature is his open, frail-boned face, surmounted by the stiff backward surge of his greying hair. He is shy, evidently sincere, with a beautiful smile. For no reason that I can place, he reminds me of Nelson. He is my first student to have made good quite so spectacularly. 'Have your forgotten English?' I ask, and he changes to English to say that he has not. I tell him how pleased I was by the Revolution, particularly in that it was so quick; the common view among those foreigners who expected a -revolution being that it might drag on, as the Lebanese revolution had done. 'By the way, I have heard that the moment of the Revolution was chosen because of the situation in Lebanon?'
'Our Revolution was made first because of Iraq, and only then because of other Arabic countries.'
'But the date?' ' 'There were many factors, all was a question of timing,' and the last word is in English.
'When did you decide on the exact timing?'
'Two days before. But the plan was long ready. It needed certain things to be appropriate. 1 gave the orders at 19 hours on July 13.'
Sadiq Shensel, the civilian Minister of Guid- ance, who is also present, says : 'I waited up till after midnight. All was quiet in the city, so I went to bed, thinking nothing will happen, after all.'
'For how many years had you planned the coup?'
'Five, six. . .
'When I knew you, eight years ago, were you thinking of it, even then?'
He pauses, a gentle, almost puckish, smile lights his tired face, 'Yes, even then it was in my mind.'
'You remember X,' and I mention an officer friend of Qassim's in those days, now head of the Military Police and very visible at the trial of Dr. Jamali, 'did he know?'
'He was my good friend, but only I knew.'
I speak of Nuri es-Said, rather critically, since in a language not one's own it is hard to achieve nuance, and he interrupts : 'No, no, Nuri was my friend, but . . .' It is the language of Brutus, Shakespeare's rough copy for Hamlet.
A man comes in with a giant portrait of Qassim from an admirer in Damascus. 'Hang it wherever you like,' says the Prime Minister. The picture does not show the fatigue that lines his face, that his smile can barely banish.
Shenshel tells me later that this deliberate man, whose voice is as gentle as his face, is a true democrat, a good listener in Cabinet meetings who does not browbeat. He does not wish to penalise the wealthy, only to help the poor. He is not against foreigners who wish to be sincere friends. In the street outside the Ministry I buy a copy of the Iraq Times. Its format is the same as when it used to enrage me; its advertisements have not changed, not its strip-cartoon (the Gambols). On page two there is a long speech by Qassim to a delegation of Kurds : friendship between Kurds and Arabs is the basis of the new Iraq. In the shops of Baghdad, and the taxis, Qassim's face is more popular than any other Iraqi's : only Nasser is his equal.