by Max Sawdayee




Wednesday July 17, 1968

Last night was one of the sweetest nights we have had this summer.  It was not so hot.  The air was fresh.  A very light and nice smell of the Tigris river brushed smoothly along.  As usual in summer, we slept on the roof.  Sleeping on the roof through summer nights is indeed wonderful.  Iraqis have their ‘bedrooms’ directly under the clear sky, for several months, when one can flirt with the moon and the stars, and be in unity with the vast universe.

Last night the moon was not full, but lovely nevertheless, its halo fascinating.  Innumerable stars flooded the vault of heaven, lending an incomprehensible meaning to the infinity of the cosmos.  I gazed at its vastness through the narrowness of my understanding, until the profundity of thoughtful imagination lulled me to a deep, sound sleep.  I dreamed of my next swim in the Tigris, when I was awakened at two-thirty in the morning by two different sounds coming one right after the other.  The first was a burst of heavy machine-gun, the second a cock’s crow.   I jumped from bed.  ‘Oh heavens, what’s happening in this peaceful night?!’ I exclaimed.  I turned on my mini-transistor, which is my companion around the clock.  It was silent.  Then many bursts of machine guns followed.  They persisted.

Later I heard cannon shots.  My wife awoke. We took the children in their sleep and hurried downstairs.  The sound of machine guns continued, with some cannon shots from time to time, till five-thirty, when all the noise suddenly stopped.  The quiet that followed was no less ominous than the sounds of the fire which had preceded it.  It was a sort of quiet that conveyed something grim, something macabre.

At last, at six o’clock, our radio announcer read communiqué No. 1 and gave the people of this country the ‘good’ news that ‘the revolution has succeeded!’.  The first-hand information we got is that some elements in the army, from the right, had the upper hand in the coup, with the backing of the Ba’athist Party, whose leader Ahmed Hassan Al-Bakr was named President of the State.  This piece of information was confirmed one hour later.  The news bulletin of ten o’clock claimed that ‘the revolution was bloodless’.  This is a false statement, as we know from the various sources that many soldiers fell victim on both sides during the clash in the Presidential Palace.  The number of the fallen has not been disclosed.

Former President Aref was bundled into a plane and despatched to London, where his wife and children are waiting for him.  The fate of his Prime Minister Yahya is still unknown. 

A 24-hour curfew is imposed on the country, as the newcomers sorely need this time to arrest their potential enemies or opponents who have not yet had a chance to flee the country.

Later in the afternoon it seemed as though everybody was happy at the upheaval.  Everyone wanted a fundamental change, however vague the outcome. And, at long last, it came!

Commentary on the past 14 months, and conclusion

The period that had just preceded the Six-Day War of June 5-10 1967 and ended today, July 17 1968 has been one of preparation for war and provocation to it.  Of war itself.  Of defeat in it.  Of chaos.  Of disorder.  Of demonstrations.  Of intrigues.  And of indecision.

To put it in a nutshell, it has been a negative period in all respects.  Yet one cannot see how it could be better.  An unfair, impotent political system without a parliament, without adequate backing by the army, with an abundance of major internal problems left pending for a considerable time.  A system whose exponents blindly followed Nasser and Co to a reckless war and lost it, ought to have realised that sooner or later it must pay for its errors, and pay hard.

The fallen regime is the first one in the Arab World to topple since the war, in which it took an active role.  Its downfall is a logical consequence of its feeble performance.  The Arab Nationalist Movements went bankrupt.  So it should, and in fact did, hand the keys of the State over to others. But, as usual in this area, the transfer of power could only be effected by force. 

I am not yet sure what kind of reign we shall have in the weeks or months or years to come.  Of one thing, however, I am rock sure:  the Arab Nationalist Movement shall not return to power before long.

As for us Iraqi Jews, we’ve had enough miseries. It is vitally important that we have so far endured our lot more or less without extreme physical damages.  More than a hundred of our men, and two women, were thrown into jail, of whom some forty have been released.  Our property has been frozen.  We have been under rigid restrictions to utilise our bank deposits.  Most of us are jobless.  On the whole, the Jew here has been getting used to the harsh methods of living to which he was sentenced.  By force of necessity he has adapted himself to the way of life he has been subjected to.  He is to try his chance now with the new regime; and though the sky is bleak, he’s looking behind the gloom to find a ray of sunshine.

Wednesday July 24, 1968

Nobody appears to know what is actually going on in this country.  News bulletins are vague, the new President is mute, and everything looks pregnant with frightening suspicion.  We do know that there are misunderstandings between the two partners in power, but we do not know how acute those misunderstandings are or whether they will be squared up. Nor can we measure the degree of reaction they will impose on our disturbed country afterwards.

Tuesday July 30, 1968

A new word in the language of political upheavals is coined in Iraq today.  I means tremor!  The Ba’athists have kicked their partners out of power this afternoon and called this kick a ‘tremor’ (in Arabic, ‘intifada’).  Premier al-Nayef, Defence Minister Al-Dawoud and several other high officials in the new Revolutionary Council have been thrown away in a very typical and ironic way.  Rumours circulate that the Prime Minister even had a good beating before he was bundled and flown to Morocco.

Tonight, after its coup partners are out, the Ba’athist Party is the sole party in power.  Iraq’s destiny lies in its hands.  The Ba’athist Party was itself kicked out of power in November 1963, by its then partners.  So it must have taken or will take all the necessary steps in order to remain in power this time as long as it can.

Today’s ‘tremor’ leaves the Jewish community indifferent, as none has the slightest idea who is better than whom – not say who is worse than whom.  There is nothing to say or do but wait and see what follows next.

Thursday August 8, 1968

Another big shake-up in our army is taking place.  All division commanders are replaced by others who sympathise with the regime.  Many officers are transferred to the reserve or sent outside the country to hold assignments abroad.

Thursday August 15, 1968

In the last few days the current of incidents takes a new turn in Iraq.

The Coca-Cola Company has been unexpectedly raided and searched by army officers. Its owner and president and his manager (both Muslims) are both taken away.  Nobody knows where they are.  Their families are deeply concerned.

The second biggest show factory in the country, ‘Zablook’, has also been raided and searched.  Its owner and president (a Christian) is taken away and there is no news as to his whereabouts.

The owner of a big soap factory (A Muslim) is taken away by Party agents after raiding and searching his factory at two o’clock in the morning.

These incidents are a new phenomenon since the arrival of the Ba’athists to power.  They may have far reaching consequences in the social and economic life of the country if no explanation is given for them by the government soon.

High Muslim and Christian families are extremely worried by these incidents.  And they let it be known that they will no stay idle concerning the arbitrary attitude of the new rulers.