Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2111

Voices from Iraq’s 1958 revolution

This article is over 13 years, 6 months old
Sabah Jawad and Hani Lazim are Iraqi exiles living in Britain and members of Iraqi Democrats Against Occupation. Anne Alexander spoke to them about their memories of Iraq during the 1950s, before and after the 1958 revolution.
Issue 2111

Sabah Jawad

“I remember the revolution of 1958 very well. A lot of people were excited because the king and his regent were very unpopular and were closely associated with the British.

“So those were exciting times – not just for politicians and people active in politics, but on the social level as well. People thought that it’s about time we had change – political change and social change.

“I remember my mother was a housewife. Education was not considered that important for women back in those days. She could read, but only with difficulty.

“Then she became a member of the League of Iraqi Women. It was an arm of the Communist Party, but it had the blessing of many forces.

“She joined immediately after the revolution and started attending meetings once or twice a week. They would talk about social issues, women’s rights and literacy programmes.

“Where I lived there was group of Communist activists, including my brother and uncle. They opened a bookshop in a disused garage manned by local people. It was more of a library than a bookshop though – they didn’t sell books, they just lent them.

“You’d have all the classic socialist books, Karl Marx, Stalin, Lenin. People would come in for a chat, ask questions and start a discussion.”

Hani Lazim

“I was born in the south of Iraq in the countryside of Maysan province on the edges of the marshes. I lived there until I was about ten when I moved to Baghdad.

“But during that time we moved a lot. We moved to the city of Amara and we moved to various villages as well. This was because my father was a political activist, so whenever we had to ‘disappear’ from the police and the state, the whole family went underground.

“We assumed different names sometimes. So even though I was very young, I saw and knew what was going on. I remember a demonstration in Amara city in 1952. I was kid, about six years old. I was throwing stones at the police and they shot at us – I got a bullet in my leg.

“My father was an agitator, a left wing activist basically. When we were living underground we would always get in touch with the local schools and the teachers, the parents. My brother was involved with the local teachers. They organised political theatre to expose the landlords.

“A lot of the peasant farmers hadn’t been exposed to theatre before, especially in the south. When they saw people imitating their feudal landlords they found it hilarious. And then you’d be agitating through the actors’ speeches.

“Of course they changed the names of the landlords in the play – otherwise else that would have been the end of them. Some of those feudal lords could shoot you without any punishment – they were really vicious bastards.

“This is really how the Communist Party struck roots in society, not just with the peasants, but also you’d with students and workers.

“I remember 14 July 1958 very clearly. It was a Monday. We were sleeping. It was something like 6am when we heard the news. My father just rushed to the city. I remember I went to al-Rashid Street. By about 10am the whole street was full up with people – absolutely packed.

“I don’t remember seeing any banners at first – they came later. People just came out with sticks and date palm branches. Everybody was happy, laughing and shouting.”

“Most were shouting slogans against colonialism – ‘Down with Britain’, ‘Down with America’, ‘Down with the King’.”

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