Sooner or later, the situation in Iraq was bound to explode. All the inflammatory ingredients were there: increasing Communist control of the streets, continuing dissatisfaction in the country, restlessness in the army over the course Iraqi Soldier-Dictator Karim Kassem was taking. Last week the explosion cameand it was premature.
Arab nationalism in Iraq centers around the northern oil city of Mosul, on the banks of the Tigris. Surrounded by the powerful and hostile Kurds, whom the Communists have been busy infiltrating, Arab zealots in Mosul wanted to join Nasser's one big Arab nation, and blamed Kassem for keeping them out. Mosul hardly seemed the place to stage a Communist rally, unless Iraq's wily and wiry strongman wanted to provoke trouble.
Last week, in special trains from Baghdad and in buses from the countryside, thousands of Kassem's supporters, members of the Communist-led "Peace Partisans" movement, converged on Mosul (pop. 200,000), near the ancient Biblical city of Nineveh. Seeing them, the local army commander, stocky, swarthy Colonel Abdel Wahab Shawaf, 40, member of a prominent Iraqi family (his brother is Kassem's Minister of Health) and himself an ardent Arab nationalist, began to fret. After last July's revolution Shawaf had proclaimed: "Naturally, Iraq will become part of the Arab Union." That was not Kassem's desire, nor that of the Communists who supported him.
"Rise & Kill." In the streets of Mosul, the Peace Partisans, toting rifles as members of the Communist-led "Popular Resistance" militia, began scuffling with local Nasser supporters and burned down a Nasserite restaurant. Colonel Shawaf telephoned Kassem in Baghdad, asking permission to use troops to keep order. Kassem hedged. At this point, apparently on impulse, Shawaf decided to put into effect a revolt that was only half-formed in his mind. His fifth brigade, loyal to him, rounded up 300 Peace Partisans. He ordered the leader of the parading Communists, Kamil Kazanchi, a well-known Baghdad politico and lawyer, shot.
To give himself more supporters. Shawaf flashed word to brother northern commanders to join him; he sent troops to kidnap a British technician and his portable radio transmitter from the Iraq Petroleum Co.'s nearby camp so that his countrymen could be summoned to his side. "O great people," cried the new voice of Radio Mosul, "rise and kill the dictator who has betrayed the revolution's aims!" Knowing which tribesmen in the vicinity could be counted on, Shawaf sent word to the Shammar tribesmen, Bedouins who roam the countryside near the Syrian border. In thousands, the Shammars, clad in long woollen skirts and white headdress bound in black, drifted into Mosul.