The Baathist regime in Iraq carried out mass arrests in the later months of 1968 and in 1969 of its political opponents of all shades of opinion, including Communists, Socialists, left-wing Baathists, Arab nationalists and right-wing elements. The Government's political isolation was intensified by an open split between the regime and the Kurdish autonomists led by Mullah Mustafa Barzail, against whom the Army launched an offensive in January 1969. During the later months of 1969, however, the Government attempted to broaden its basis of support by coming to terms both with the Kurds, with whom peace negotiations were opened, and with the Communists, who were granted representation in the Cabinet on Dec. 81. An attempted coup by a section of the officer corps who were opposed to this policy was suppressed on Jan. 21, 1970, and in the next four days 87 soldiers and civilians accused of participation in the plot were executed, together with seven other persons previously condemned on charges of espionage. Relations between Iraq and Persia, which were already strained, deteriorated further after the discovery of the conspiracy, which was alleged to have received Persian support, the Persian Ambassador being expelled from Baghdad and the Iraqi Ambassador from Teheran. Details of these and related developments are given below.
The first wave of arrests occurred at the beginning of October 1968; according to reports reaching Beirut on Oct. 6, over 80 officers were arrested after an attempted military coup led by General Abdul Hadi al Rawi, a retired officer and a monarchist. General Aref Abdul Razzak, a former Prime Minister and a Nasserist, was reported to have been among those arrested. In December 1968 Dr. Abdul Rahman al Bazzaz (Prime Minister in 1965-66) and Major-General Abdul Aziz al Okelli (Defence Minister in his Government) were arrested [see page 28282], and the Chief of Staff, Major-General Ibrahim Faisal al Ansari, was removed from his post. A Revolutionary Court was set up on Dec. 18, 1968, and conducted the series of trials which resulted in the execution of 51 people on charges of espionage between January and August 1969 [see 28281 A; 28374 A; 28543 B].
It was officially announced on May 19, 1969, that a large number of people had been arrested on charges of conspiracy and espionage on behalf of the United States, Britain, Israel and Persia, and a Government decree issued on May 20 confiscated the property of 25 persons, many of them Ministers under ex-President Aref's regime. The property of 46 more people, including civil servants, businessmen, officers and Journalists, was reported on May 29 to have been confiscated.
Among those named in the decree of May 20, most of whom were reported to have been arrested, were Mr. Ismail Khairallah (Foreign Minister in 1967-68), Mr. Shukri Saleh Zaki (Finance Minister In 1966), Major-General Rashid Mosleh (Minister of the Interior in 1968-65), Mr. Fuad Rikabi (Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs in 1964-65), Mr. Salman Abdul Razzak al Aswad (Finance Minister in 1965-66), and Brigadier Midhat al Haj Sirri, a leader of the 1958 revolution and a former mayor of Baghdad.
The radio and television service broadcast in June 1969 a series of sensational programmes in which alleged spies made "confessions" implicating themselves and prominent political figures. Among those said to have made such "confessions" were General Mosleh and Brigadier Sirri, whilst the list of those named as agents of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) included the late President Abdul Salam Aref, Colonel Abdul Razzak al Nayef (the first Prime Minister after the coup of July 1968), Dr. Bazzaz, General Okeili, Mr. Zaki, Mr. Rikabi, Mullah Barzani and Mr. Mahdi al Hakim (son of the spiritual leader of the Shi'lte Moslems). The allegations made against Mr. Hakim were reported. on June 28 to have provoked protest demonstrations in the southern provinces, resulting in several deaths.
The Beirut correspondent of The Guardian reported on June 90 that President Bakr had "tried to stand against the spy mania. A few months ago he told an audience of medical students that, in his opinion, a man like General Okelli could not possibly be guilty of treason. . . . Bakr's apparent helplessness is evidence, for Iraqi observers, of the growing strength of the younger Beath Party cadres. . . . They are the backbone of the Baathists' autonomous security apparatus, which, if it owes allegiance to anyone, owes it to the Minister of the Interior. Saleh Ammash. He is the representative of the extremist, mainly civilian wing of the regime and potentially at odds with Bakr and the Army. . . . It is these younger elements, probably with the backing of an extremist leadership, who are believed to be the driving force behind the spy mania…."
Baghdad Radio announced on July 8, 1969, that Dr. Bazzaz, General Ansari, and 18 other persons would be brought to trial on a charge of taking part in a plot allegedly organized by the C.I.A. to overthrow the regime and replace it by one prepared to make peace with Israel. The trial was held in secret, no details being published in the Iraqi press. It was reported from Kuwait on Oct. 4, however, that Dr. Bazzaz had been sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment, and this was confirmed on Nov. 27 by Al Sayyad (a Beirut weekly regarded as an unofficial mouthpiece for the Iraqi regime), which stated that he had been found guilty of conspiracy but acquitted of charges of spying for Israel. Al Sayyad also reported on the same day that General Mosleh, Brigadier Sirri, and five other men, one of them a Jew, had been condemned to death in a separate trial on charges of spying for the C.I.A., and that eight others, including Mr. Rikabi, had been sentenced to terms of imprisonment.
Further measures against alleged opponents were taken in August and September 1969. Seven privately-owned newspapers and magazines were closed down on Aug. 28, the only newspaper not controlled by the Government which was not suppressed being Al Nour, the organ of the pro-Government section of the Kurds. A new wave of arrests was launched in September against left-wing Baathists sympathetic to the Syrian regime.
Two civilians, one of them a Persian, were hanged and a soldier shot on Sept. 8 after being convicted of spying for Israel and the United States. Their deaths brought the number of executions for espionage since January to 54.
Although the Baathist regime had undertaken shortly after seizing power in July 1968 to settle the Kurdish question on the basis of the agreement of June 1966 [see page 21539], the situation in Kurdistan rapidly degenerated and led to open fighting from the autumn of 1968 onwards.
Fighting broke out in October 1968 between the followers of Mullah Barzani and the dissident left-wing section of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan led by Mr. Jalal Talabani [see 20953 Al, which had established friendly relations with the Government. After the Talabani group had suffered setbacks, troops come to their assistance and the Air Force began raids on villages controlled by Mullah Barzani'g followers. It was confirmed at U.N. headquarters in New York on Nov. 18, 1968, that Emir Bedir Khan, Mullah Barsani's representative, had presented a memorandum to the U.N. Secretary-General, U Thant, accusing the Iraqi Government of genocide, and requesting him to nominate a mediator to settle the conflict.
Nearly 60,000 troops took the offensive on Jan. 3, 1969, along a 200-mile front, but at the beginning of March the insurgents launched a counter-offensive, which, opened with the shelling on March 1-of the Iraq Petroleum Company's installations at Kirkuk. An unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Mullah Baranl was made on April 9 by supporters of Mr. Talabeni, who ambushed and opened fire on his jeep. A communiqué issued by the insurgent headquarters at the end of June 1969 claimed that the insurgents had occupied the towns of Penjwin and Qala-Diza, near the Persian border, and that all the Army's attacks had been repulsed with a loss of about 1,000 killed and wounded, against fewer than 150 killed and wounded on the insurgent side. The communiqué also alleged that Government aircraft had dropped napalm and nitric acid bombs on 57 Kurdish villages, killing 730 civilians.
The Army again took the offensive on five main fronts in August 1969, with four regular divisions and about 30,000 Kurdish irregulars against about 15,000 guerrillas. Some of the heartiest fighting took place in the Persian frontier area, where the Army attempted to close the border; Kurdish sources claimed that the guerrillas had made a successful attack in this sector on the Army camp at Dokan on the night of Sept. 20-21, destroying 30 tanks and other equipment, and had repulsed on Sept. 24 an offensive by a force of irregulars led by Mr. Talabani. The Air Force was reported to have made 120 attacks on Kurdish villages in September, forcing about 200,000 of that to take refuge in the mountains.
Kurdish sources alleged, in reports reaching London on Oct. 3, 1969, that Government troops had massacred the entire population of two hamlets, killing 99 old men, women and children in one and 67 in the other. In the second incident it was alleged that troops had entered the hamlet of Dakan (north-east of Mosul) on Aug. 16, and on finding that the inhabitants had taken refuge in a cave had piled up wood and straw in the entrance, soaked it with petrol and set it on fire, all but three of the 70 people in the cave being burnt alive. The Iraqi Embassy in Paris denied the story on Oct. 6.
Baghdad Radio announced on Sept. 18 that 30 Persian soldiers had been killed and 14 others captured by Iraqi forces while trying to cross the frontier near the area controlled by the insurgents, and that these captured had confessed to being members of the Persian armed forces who had been sent to infiltrate into Iraq. The Persian Foreign Minister denied the report on the following day, but suggested that "certain elements of the population of the frontier regions, whose families are the object of almost daily bombing and napalm attacks by the Iraqi forces engaged against Mullah Barzani's troops, may have been driven to participate in the fighting without the Persian Government's knowledge".
Iraq had long accused Persia of sending arms and supplies to the Kurds. The Persian Government insisted that it was only sending food and medical aid, but British correspondents reported that there was little-doubt that some of the Kurdish arms supply routes ran through Persian territory.
As stated above, the Government made repeated attempts during 1969 to broaden its basis by securing the co-operation of other socialist and Arab nationalist parties, including the Communists. In a broadcast on July 18 President Bakr admitted that "all attempts to form a progressive national front have so far failed", as "all the patriotic and nationalist forces of Iraq have refused to collaborate with us, for reasons which are their own concern", and appealed to the other parties to "modify their attitude towards the revolution and its achievements".
Baghdad Radio announced on Nov. 9, 1969, a number of amendments to the provisional Constitution. These laid down that the President of the Republic would in future also be Head of the Government, Supreme Commander of the armed forces, and President of the Revolutionary Command Council; that the Vice-President of that Council would discharge the duties of the President of the Republic in his absence; and that the Council would be enlarged by the addition of a number of persons who had taken an active part in the "revolution of July 17, 1968". Under this amendment all the members of the Iraqi Baath Party leadership and the Iraqi members of the pan- Arab command of the faction of the party led by Mr. Michael Aflaq were appointed to the Council on Nov. 10, the membership of the enlarged Revolutionary Command Council being as follows: