Author, Amir Iskander
A Break in the Clouds
Who was the winner? Who had anything to gain from this bloody contest? The nationalists were intended to be the sacrificial lambs, to be offered to’ Abdul-Kareem Qasim on the altar of his personal dictatorship, so that the communists alone should be the keepers of the temple and its high priest. But it did not escape the “Sole Leader” who, at that stage, was an adept at the game of “divide and rule”, that the communists imagined themselves capable of manipulating him just as he imagined himself capable of manipulating them. Although he had supported them in their attack on and their attempt to liquidate the Baathists, there was a limit beyond which he would not allow them to go, since he was determined to retain in his hands the balance of power. Despite all their efforts, the communists were unable to obtain a formal share of power. It is true that, but for them, the political arena was empty after the Patriotic Democratic Party had declared its political activity suspended in protest at their improper conduct. But this vacuum did not turn out to be in their interests, because it made them alone seem responsible for the state of political and economic collapse in the country.
This moment represented, for the nationalist forces, a political low water mark. They were to a wait in vain a genuine turn of the tide. The peacock, inflated with his own conceit strutted alone on the summit of his power, while the masses of the people, at every level, continued to suffer their everlasting pains, rendered more acute by the anarchy prevailing throughout the land.
About this time, a man called Sa’dun an-Nasiri was killed in Tikrit. He was one of the most enthusiastic and devoted henchmen of’ Abdul-Kareem Qasim, and the security organs could find no one on whom to pin the responsibility for his murder other than that quiet and level-headed young man who used to go back to his village at the end of term to share the life of a peasant with his relatives: Saddam Hussein. It was not that there was any real case against him, but merely. that he was a Baathist militant, well known in the neighbourhood.
He now entered prison for the first time in his life, the Sarai Prison, where he, as a young member of the Arab Baath Socialist Party, was to welcome successive batches of his comrades. The prison had become the only place in which militants were safe from random acts of murder and terrorism on the streets. The prisoners would even plead with the wardens to let their fellow militants come in with them behind bars. They would spend the day in safety and then creep off home under cover of darkness, until sunrise when they would again seek asylum behind bars.
One day he was told that his case had been transferred from the court martial to the revolutionary tribunal, i. e. al-Mahdawi’s court. He was certain that they would execute him along with his relatives and friends who were accused with him. Saddam’s first reaction was to try to escape by force from the trap that had been set for him. He arranged with a man called’ Awni Rifa’i to bring him revolvers while they were going for questioning. With the help of these they would try to escape before the trial began, and he, with his comrades became tasty fodder for al Mahdawi’s guillotine. He explained to his fellow accused what he was planning. One was his mother’s cousin and the other his own cousin, both young men like himself. He did not take into his confidence his two uncles, who were also accused. But, on consideration, he -postponed carrying out his plan, since he feared that the authorities would deal with his uncles separately and that they would be unable to get away. A short while after, when the nationalist tide had again begun to flow, the papers in the case were returned to the first court martial and he gave up his plan to escape trial by the use of force. He remained in prison for six months after which the court released him, having found him innocent of the charges made against him. He went back to his village, and every evening he would go out and write Baathist slogans on the walls of houses and company buildings. Every morning people going from al’ Aujah to Tikrit could read fresh slogans written by some unknown hand. Some of these graffiti are still to be seen on the walls of Tikrit.
One day a party comrade named’ Ata Hussein as-Samarra’i, from’ Aujah (where he still lives with his uncle and his mother) came to him and said: “The party wants you in Baghdad.”
The next day he set out for Baghdad where he went to the house of his party superior, at that time’ Abdul-Khaliq as-Samarra’i. But the latter had no clear idea of what the party wanted of him, nor of the task which it wished to entrust to him. As-Samarra’i told him: ” Ahmad Taha al ‘ Azuz will call on you. All I know is that he will take you to the party organization, which has asked for you. They will tell you what you will have to do.” An hour later, Ahmad Taha al’ Azuz knocked at his door and took him to see another man called Iyad Sa’id Thabit. Ayad looked at him intently and said in a quiet, serious, but clear voice: “Your task is to kill’ Abdul-Kareem Qasim. Are you ready?” Saddam Hussein replied at once, a ring of gladness in his voice: “Of course I am ready.” He regarded it as an honour to be entrusted with this task. For such an important assignment, entrusted to so recent a recruit to the ranks of the party’s militants, could only mean that he was held in especial esteem.
Abdul-Kareem Qasim was in the habit of passing along Rasheed Street on his way to and from his home in al Alawiya and his office in the Ministry of Defence. Therefore Rasheed Street had to be the scene of operations. The party hired an apartment in Rasheed Street in which it installed Saddam Hussein along with his comrades who were to help him in carrying out the plan.
Another man was to be stationed outside to watch the road and find out which route Qasim was to take. If he came from the direction of al-Bab ash-Sharqi the code word was “Shukri” and if from the Ministry of Defence it was to be “Mahmud”. The difference between the two was the side of the road along which the “Sole Leader’s” limousine would pass, in order to pass directly under the trajectory of the shots from the automatic rifles.
On the seventh of October 1959 a group of young men were standing on the pavement in Rasheed Street, along which traffic passes in the direction of al-Bab ash-Sharqi, their eyes fixed on the passing vehicles, their fingers on their triggers. Among them, one might have picked out a slender young man wearing a long jacket, which looked as though it did not belong to him (which indeed it did not). It was his uncle’s jacket, which he had borrowed from his wardrobe without even knowing whether it would be long enough to conceal the sub-machine gun he was carrying at his side. This young man’s task was to give covering fire to his comrades who were to open fire on the “Leader’s” car, and to cover their retreat after they had carried out their task. He himself would be the last to leave.
But when he found himself face to face with the dictator, he was unable to restrain himself. He forgot all his instructions and immediately opened fire. Bullets rained down on the car from the other sub-machine guns and automatic rifles. There were five of them. But two of the sub-machine guns jammed. The other three spewed out on to the “Sole Leader’s” car all the venom stored up in the hearts of the masses. “This for the martyrs of Mosul! This for the martyrs of Basra! This for Kerkuk, this for Baghdad! This for the old men, women and children who died a gratuitous death, sacrifices to the lust for power! And this for the terror which stalks the land, making it unfit for human beings to live in! And this finally for the re-awakening of this nation, for its freedom, its unity, and for a better future, so that ordinary people may live lives unblighted by poverty, fear and humiliation!”
Did he die? He was riddled with bullets from the young men’s machine guns so he must have met his end. The firing party got away, Saddam after them, pursued by shots. One of the traffic policemen guarding the car fired at them. He turned round, but before he had time to fire the policeman fired and hit him in the leg. But at the time he did not feel it. He was concerned only with ensuring the safe withdrawal of the group to the car, which awaited them in a side road, which cuts across Rasheed Street and al-Kifah Street. One member of the party had been hit and was bleeding from a wound in his chest and hardly able to walk.
When they reached the spot where the car was supposed to be waiting for them, they found the car but no driver. They waited a moment, which seemed like eternity, with them Sameer an-Najm, bleeding from the chest. Saddam Hussein looked at one of the group, Kareem Ash-Shaikhli, and said: “We can’t wait any longer. We must take one of these cars. ” So he pointed his sub-machine gun at one of the drivers who stopped, terrified. Just then their own driver, Ali Hassun, arrived. They quickly lifted Sameer an-Najm into the car. Kareem Ash-Shaikhli got into the front seat and Saddam Hussein took the seat behind the driver.
They did not know where to go. ‘ Ali Hassun knew a hideout where, according to instructions from the leadership, they would be able to hide. But Samir, who was in great pain, said, “I am dying. Take me to the hospital. ” His companions seemed inclined to agree. The driver himself began to turn off the road as though he too agreed to make for the hospital. Suddenly Saddam realized what they were doing. “Where are you going?” He asked. “To the hospital”, said’ Ali Hassun. Saddam struck him sharply on the back and said: “Drive straight to the hide-out or I’ll shoot you in the back.”
To have gone to the hospital would have been sheer madness. They would have been discovered immediately, which would have been a disaster not only for them, as individuals, but for the whole party organization. Even if death awaited them, or some of them, at the hideout, they would certainly all have died if they had gone to the hospital. For that reason Saddam decided to go straight to the hideout and to ignore his comrade’s pain, lest the whole party should be endangered.
The car stopped in front of a house surrounded by a wall, number 721 al-Karradah ash-Sharqiyah in a suburb of Baghdad and its occupants got out. They entered the house, which was a two-storey building with four rooms on the ground floor and one room on the upper floor. On the left hand side of the house, where one entered the garden, there was a cellar in which weapons were hidden: a collection of machine guns, Thomson Weston and Stirling. As they entered the hall they found a member of the Arab Baath Socialist Party leadership, Khalid ‘ Ali Saleh, waiting for them. After a short while they were joined by two more who had taken part in the operation with them, but had not come with them in the car, Hatim Hamdan al’ Azzawi and Ahmad Taha al’ Azuz.
Sameer an-Najm’s condition had become worse. He was bleeding from the chest and the doctor who was supposed to join them had not yet arrived, and, in fact, never did. There was nothing for it but to face the situation bravely and, as it is sometimes necessary in such circumstances, with a granite-like hardness. This isolated house in a side street in this quiet district now held five young men who had faced death at the roadside. It had missed them but here it was again, pursuing them into every corner of this numbed city. What were they to do now? Supposing their operation had failed and not one out of all those bullets had delivered the fatal blow to the body of the “Sole Leader”. The dark night would not be over and the first glimmers of dawn would still be far beyond the horizon. In an atmosphere of hysteria charged with anxiety the radio stations would announce that. the “Leader” had escaped the attempt on his life. The Military Governor-General would impose an absolute curfew until further notice.
The eyes of both the overt and secret police would probe every wall in every street, lane and alley, seeking the authors of the “great conspiracy” to assassinate the “beloved leader”. And tomorrow all the Government papers would say: “The dastardly assassins’ bullets aimed yesterday by traitorous conspirators, agents of colonialism, at the faithful son of the people, the leader Abdel-Kareem Qasim, were but a warning of the plot now being hatched against the Republic (27).” They would then add this advice: “The frontiers must be closed to the fleeing conspirators. The nationalist front is a gang of traitors in the service of the colonialists and the covetous, nationalists and enemies. The crime of the Baath Party and its conspiratorial plans. The Baath and the rulers in Cairo are tools in the hands of the conspirators…” etc., etc.
They would, of course, ignore the thousands of crimes committed against the masses of this people by its “faithful son ” and those around him who nourished in him the lust for absolute and personal power; the gallows at Mosul; the victims at Basra; the martyrs of Kerkuk and Baghdad; the thousands tortured in prison; the arrests; the ugly scenes of gratuitous killing on the streets. Who now remembers the fires of hell by which the whole people warmed itself?
These young men, in the springtime of their lives, were they really reckless conspirators, set on a path of personal terrorism? Not one of them thought, or was capable of imagining for an instant, that he was wresting power from the hands of the dictator to bestow it on himself.
They were deeply conscious of the enormity of the tyranny, which had overtaken them. They imagined only that they were creating a new dawn for their country. But above all, they were a disciplined band of comrades, committed to the party, the supreme leadership of which had given them its orders and they saw the order as being more important than the reality behind it.
Whenever al-Mahdawi’s tribunal sat and the curtain went up on the tyrant’s court poets, vying’ with each other in their panegyrics to their “sole” dictator and in hurling insults at his adversaries, the voice of the Baath would not hesitate to take responsibility for the operation, irrespective of the points of view of those who advocated something better.
“It is through the people’s struggle that the party works, and this struggle may entail acts of revolutionary violence, even murder. This goes without saying. But naked murder, as in the case of a political assassination, is contrary to the beliefs of the party and threatens to divert it from its proper course. The party, whenever an assassination attempt miscarries, nevertheless expresses its appreciation of the heroism of the comrades who have courageously taken part in it, especially if their comportment during the trial does not prevent them from showing their tenacious adherence to the party’s beliefs and their loyalty to its objectives (28).”
Nevertheless, and however one may assess that operation from the general political point of view or from the particular ideological standpoint of the Baath Party, there is one thing that cannot be denied, namely that the attempt carried out so heroically by these young men shook to its foundations this dictatorial regime which had imposed its yoke on the necks of the people, and was to be the first nail in its coffin. It raised, once again, hopes long frustrated in the possibility of deliverance. It pulled the cork out of the bottle, releasing the demon imprisoned inside. It created, at the very least, a yawning fissure in the wall “‘of fear, allowing the first radiance of the coming day to filter through.
To be continued
Source, Al-Moharer. Prepared by Ibrahim Ebeid