Co-editors: Seán Mac Mathúna • John Heathcote
Consulting editor: Themistocles Hoetis
Field Correspondent: Allen Hougland

CIA coups in Iraq in 1963 & 1968 helped put Saddam Hussein in power

Sean Mac Mathuna

Shaking Hands with Saddam Hussein: The U.S. Tilts toward Iraq, 1980-1984

The Saddam in Rumsfeld's Closet

Rumsfeld's Account Book - Who Armed Saddam?

Exclusive: Saddam key in early CIA plot By Richard Sale United Press Intelligence Correspondent, 4th October 2003

A history of Iraq, the cradle of Western civilization by Eric Black, Star Tribune February 2, 2003

Saddam Hussein: Taking Out the CIA's Trash by Kurt Nimmo Dissident Voice August 2, 2003


Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein greets Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of U.S. President Ronald Reagan, in Baghdad on December 20, 1983. He gave him a pair of golden cowboy spurs - a present from Reagan.

This meeting took place before one of the most shocking war crimes since the second world war - Iraq's 1988 gassing of the Kurds in Halabjah. This meeting took place at a time when Iraq was first alleged to have used chemical weapons, and it paved the way for an official restoration of relations between Iraq and the US, which had been severed since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

In March 1984, with the Iran-Iraq war was in full swing, Rumsfeld was back in Baghdad for meetings with the Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz. On the day of his visit, March 24th 1984, UPI reported from the United Nations that mustard gas laced with a nerve agent has been used on Iranian soldiers.

Furthermore, in the same year, the Reagan administration played a key role in the genocide of the Kurd's and supplied the helicopters that Iraq used to drop chemical weapons on them. In 1984, according to The LA Times, the State Department in the name of increased American penetration of the extremely competitive civilian aircraft market pushed through the sale of 45 Bell helicopters to Iraq. The New York Times later reported that Saddam transferred many, if not all [of these helicopters] to his military.

It was Rumsfeld's trip to Baghdad which opened of the floodgates during 1985-90 for lucrative US weapons exports to Iraqi dictatorship - some $1.5 billion worth - including chemical/biological and nuclear weapons equipment and technology, along with critical components for missile delivery systems.

In 1988, When Iraq attacked Kurdish civilians with poisonous gas from Iraqi helicopters and planes. US intelligence sources told The LA Times in 1991, they believe that the American-built helicopters were among those dropping the deadly bombs".

In the same year, the Chicago Tribune Magazine listed among Rumsfeld's achievements helping to reopen US relations with Iraq. The Tribune failed to mention that this help came at a time when, according to the US State Department, Iraq was actively using chemical weapons. How did the U.S. end up so close to the Baathists in Iraq ? They backed them in two coups in Iraq in 1963 and 1968.


There are many reasons why the US occupation forces in Iraq do not want the deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hassu to have a fair trial - and will seek to delay any such event for as long as possible - especially until after the next US Presidential elections. Many commentators believe that the main reason for this is the fact that not only did the CIA first help install his Baath Party in power in 1963, it separated Saddam right up until he turned against his former masters with the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

In 1957 at the age of 20 Hussein joined the Baath Party - a movement founded by two Syrians in the early 1940s. It's ideology combined elements of Arab nationalism, anti-imperialism and socialism and were strongly opposed to the Iraqi Communist Party - which was largest in the Arab world. Evidence suggests that Hussein was already working as a CIA agent in 1958, and that he may well have recruited by them in the previous year. There was no way the the US or the U.K. was ever going to allow a popular and secular Communist party to come to power - or allow any leftist government in Iraq. 4 years earlier, in August 1953, the CIA and MI6 in operation TPAJAX deposed the moderate Iranian government of Mohammad Mossadeq and installed the brutal Shah dictatorship.According to The Secret of the Iranian Coup, 1953:

The CIA extensively stage-managed the entire coup, not only carrying it out but also preparing the groundwork for it by subordinating various important Iranian political actors and using propaganda and other instruments to influence public opinion against Mossadeq.

If the CIA did this Iran in 1953 it makes sense to me that they also did this in Iraq in 1963 - when they helped the Baathists to power - the only difference being that they subordinated various important Iraqi political actors - in this case the Baathists - a right-wing political movement that was both anti-Communist and anti-monarchist.

A military coup in 1958 coup brought to power Abd al Karim Qassim. Hussein participated in a 1959 attempt to assassinate Qassim. The assassins killed Qassim's driver and wounded Qassim, but not fatally. One of the assassins was killed, and Hussein was shot in the leg and got away.

After the botched assassination, Hussein had to flee Iraq. He spent the next four years in the Lebanon, Egypt and Syria, the only period he has lived outside Iraq. While Hussein was in Beirut, the CIA paid for his apartment and put him through a brief training course, former CIA officials said according to Richard Sale writing for the United Press. The agency then helped him get to Cairo, where he attended law school in Cairo and is believed to have made frequent visits to the U.S. embassy there, according to Eric Star writing in Star Tribune on February 2nd 2003 (A history of Iraq, the cradle of Western civilization). Star writes that:

The Iraqi Baathists and the CIA had a common interest in getting rid of pro-Soviet Qassim. Several authors believe that Saddam was helping the CIA and the Baathists coordinate a coup.

The CIA's role in 1963 coup was "substantial."

The CIA were also closely involved when in 1963, the Baathists overthrew Qassim. This time Qassim was killed him, but the Baathists held power only briefly, setting off a period of coups more instability in Iraq. Said K. Aburish, who worked with Hussein in the 1970s, an author of "Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge," has said that the CIA's role in the coup against Qassim was "substantial." The coup resulted in the return of Hussein to Iraq - he was immediately assigned to head the Al-Jihaz al-Khas, the clandestine Ba'athist Intelligence organisation. As such, he was soon involved in the killing of some 5,000 communists.

CIA agents were in touch with army officers who helped in the coup, operated an electronic command center in Kuwait to guide the anti-Qassim forces, and like in Indonesia in 1965, supplied the conspirators with lists of people to be killed. A former senior CIA official said: "It was a bit like the mysterious killings of Iran's communists just after Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979. All 4,000 of his communists suddenly got killed." Aburish confirms this saying that

"The relationship between the Americans and the Baath Party at that moment in time was very close indeed".

This is supported by Miles Copeland, a veteran CIA operative, reported in the United Press that the CIA had enjoyed "close ties" with Qasim's ruling Baath Party, just as it had close connections with the intelligence service of Egyptian leader Gamel Abd Nassar. In a recent public statement, Roger Morris, a former National Security Council staff member in the 1970s, confirmed this claim, saying that the CIA had chosen the authoritarian and anti-Communist Baath Party "as its instrument."

Qassim had ignored warnings about the impending coup. It was the involvement of the United States that secured his downfall - he had taken Iraq out of the anti-Soviet Baghdad Pact, threatened to occupy Kuwait and nationalized part of the foreign owned Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC). We really had the wires crossed on what was happening, James Critchfield, then head of the CIA in the Middle East was reported as saying on The Age website in Australia. We regarded it as a great victory. Iraqi participants later confirmed American involvement.

We came to power on a CIA train, admitted Ali Saleh Sa'adi, the Baath Party secretary general. CIA assistance also reportedly included coordination of the coup from the inside the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as well as a clandestine radio station in Kuwait and "solicitation of advice from around the Middle East on who on the left should be eliminated once the coup was successful".

But the success for the Baathists was short-lived - they were soon ousted and prominent Baathists were jailed. Hussein went underground again, but was arrested and spent portions of 1964-66 as a political prisoner. He escaped and went back underground to help plot the Baath Party's return to power.


Due to splits in the Baath party, and Hussein rose quickly to the No. 2 position, behind his relative Ahmed Hassan Bakr. In 1968, the Baathists seized power again - Hussein became vice president and head of security services in the new regime, serving under Bakr, and soon emerged as the real power behind the throne.

Some writers claim that the CIA played a role in the 1968 coup, as well. Roger Morris, a former State Department foreign service officer who was on the NSC staff during the Johnson and Nixon administrations, says the CIA had a hand in two coups in Iraq during 1963 and 1968. According to David Morgan in his article Ex-U.S. Official Says CIA Aided Baathists CIA. First, Morris said that Saddam Hussein was first recruited by the CIA in 1958 -" There's no question - It was there in Cairo that (Saddam) and others were first contacted by the agency." In 1968, Morris says, the CIA encouraged a palace revolt among Baath party elements led by Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, who would turn over the reins of power to Hussein in 1979. "It's a regime that was unquestionably midwived by the United States, and the (CIA's) involvement there was really primary," Morris says.

King Hussein of Jordan attributed the success of the Iraqi Baath Party in the late 60s entirely to the support it received from the CIA, at the time heavily involved in fighting communism on all fronts - especially in the Arab world.

Iraq's Deputy Chief of Army Intelligence Col. Abdel Razaq Al Nayyef later said, "for the 1968 coup you must look to Washington." Looking at the wider picture for why the CIA helped the Baathists to power Anthony LoBaido observed:

"Working with Saddam made sense to the CIA on two important levels. Number one, he was not an Islamic fundamentalist along the lines of the Iranian ayatollahs. Secondly, he was not a communist and perhaps was an anti-communist."

There can be no doubt that the CIA and Baathists shared common aims - and the evidence seems pretty conclusive that the CIA were involved in the 1963 and 1968 coups. After backing Iraq during the war against Iran (1980-88) - whilst also secretly supplying Iran with arms what became know as the Iran Contra affair - the U.S. would finally fall out with Hussein following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. In 2003, after waging a relentess air war on Iraq - and a brutal sanctions regime - the U.S. and the U.K. invaded Iraq - and captured Hussein later that year - on the run, just like he had been in the 1950's and 60's. The former CIA stooge is now believed to be held in U.S. custody awaiting a show-trial in Bagdhad within the next two years.