IRAQ: In One Swift Hour

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Only a handful of officers hatched the plot, only an hour was necessary to carry it out, and only three key assassinations made it complete. So swiftly last week fell Iraq, long celebrated as the West's strongest Arab bastion in the Middle East. The details of this remarkable coup, whose success surprised even the plotters, became clear only little by little last week, as the facts were slowly disentangled from impassioned propaganda and confused accounts.

The revolt burst on Iraq at 5 o'clock Monday morning. Major General Abdul Kareem el-Kassim, 42, who had been ordered to lead his men into Jordan to bolster King Hussein against a coup, led them instead into sleeping Baghdad. Silently, and without firing a shot, his soldiers took over the key points of the city. One by one the railroad station, the main intersections, the post and telegraph offices and the radio station were surrounded. By the time the troops began heading for the palace of 23-year-old King Feisal, an excited mob was at their heels.

The unsuspecting young King and his uncle, Crown Prince Abdul Illah, 46, were getting ready to fly to Istanbul for an emergency meeting of the Moslem members of the Baghdad Pact. Seeing the gathering crowd, they went outside the palace. According to the rebels, the palace guard fired into the crowd, killed 14. The soldiers returned the fire. Feisal was killed, along with Crown Prince Abdul Illah, the Crown Prince's mother, two nurses and two palace guardsmen.

The Republic Is Here! The rebels later said they had not wanted to kill the young Hashemite King, descendant of the Prophet. Fearing public revulsion against his murder, the killers kept his death a secret, wrapped him in a carpet and smuggled his body away to be buried. But the Crown Prince, who had ruled the country for 14 years as Regent, and was widely disliked, was another matter. His assassins threw his body out a window, let the mobs drag him through the streets and string his body up in public. Then the plotters began systematically rounding up government ministers.

They proclaimed a three-man Council of State and a 13-man Cabinet (nine of them civilians), with the whole show headed by El-Kassim, a tough and idealistic soldier who became Premier as well as Minister of Defense and the Interior. The man who became President of the Council of State, General Najeeb el-Rubaiya, was out of the country at the time; he was Iraq's Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. By 6 a.m. the radio was trumpeting: "Citizens of Baghdad, the Monarchy is dead! The Republic is here!" Only one thing remained to be done: find Iraq's old strongman, pro-Western Nuri asSaid, 70, who had lived up to his nickname of "The Fox" by managing to escape.

"The Man Has Yet to Be Born." Next day, in the suburbs of Baghdad, the rebels caught Premier Nuri asSaid, accompanied by two women, and himself veiled and disguised as a woman. The old man, veteran of dozens of battles and revolutionary skirmishes, fired on an Iraqi air force sergeant who seemed to recognize him. Then, according to the former chef of the royal household, who escaped to Ankara with the story, Nuri was stripped of his disguise, impaled alive, and left on public view in the rotting sunlight.

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