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Iraq and Iran’s Revolutions History and Causes Research Paper

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Updated: May 30th, 2020


Iran’s revolution was marked by popularization of movements that were advocating for democracy. The aftermath was the declaration of Iran as an Islamic state. The 1979 Iran revolution was “one of the epochal events of the twentieth century inaugurating a period of Islamic revivalism and struggles against modernization in many nations where Islam was the predominant religion” (Satya Para.1). The circumstances leading to the revolution were instigated by political regression against the political systems of Mohammad Reza.

This system was ideally a monarchy. It perpetrated violence through state machineries such as SAVAK, a police force that operated in secret. In Iran, there was also a “widespread corruption by individual public officials and members of the oligarchic economic elite, as well as official favoritism besides a rising income inequality” (Satya Para.2). Compliance to the authority was also a key dominant feature of the Mohammad Reza system of administration. In Iraq, an outbreak of the revolution was experienced in 1958. At this period, Iraq had been experiencing a tremendous material growth due to rapid exploitation of its oil reserves. However, its monarchy system failed to continue acting as a political system that would deliver public good. Therefore, a revolution took off. Iraq was experiencing a gap in leadership in relation to the creation and inspiration of public confidence.

While the young generation had the capacity to seal this gap, “the older leaders resisted and embarked on an unpopular foreign policy including an alliance with Britain through participation in the Baghdad Pact and opposition to the establishment of the United Arab Republic (U.A.R.)” (Dawisha 38). The then authoritarian state of governance denied the young people who often served in the military an opportunity to gain power because they were not permitted to engage in politics. However, they organized themselves in groups and initiated attempts to design plans of revolution. By 14 July 1958, “these forces of revolution captured the capital of Iraq and declared the sudden fall of the monarchy” (Dawisha 38).

In the due process, royal house members falling in the first rank of the monarchy (crown prince, the prime minister, and the king) were killed. Through consideration of both Iraq and Iran’s political systems prior to the revolutions, it is evident that both countries had similar political system designs. However, there was a difference in their authoritarian rules. Iraq was a kingdom while Iran was a partial monarchy with a parliament. The focus of this paper is to explain the difference in their authoritarian rules from an analytical approach. However, before this is accomplished, a foundation is laid on the meaning and the characteristics of an authoritarian political system.

Authoritarian political system

In an authoritarian political system, power is centered on a single group of politicians who impose strict measures that are deemed appropriate to enhance compliance to the authority. Compliance is pushed by political repression coupled with an open exclusion of various potential challengers to the administration system. “Political parties are deployed to mass organize people besides mobilizing them around the regime” (Duckitt 65). Bureaucracy and application of arbitrary command as opposed to ruling of law is the order of the day. As evidenced by the circumstances leading to cases of Iran and Iraq revolutions, authoritarian systems are weakened in case they fail to meet the demands placed on them by the citizens. Another crucial trait of an authoritarian system of political governance is that the ruler has an indefinite tenure.

Therefore, “an authoritarian government is based on the principle of requiring obedience to the authority of one person or a small group of people” (Sondrol 557) who have unlimited time of holding an office. All the other people are required to obey the government’s will with minimal or absolutely no capacity to influence the decisions taken by the government. In the execution of the government’s will, top-down structures of administration are deployed. These structures often have a military dictatorship. People are also deprived of their freedom of speech and freedom to convene meetings or gatherings without prior authority from the authoritarian government. They also have limitations of movement across the borders of a nation. These characteristics of authoritarian political system were deployed to different extents in both Iraq and Iran. This introduces the differences in the authoritarian administration in the two nations, which are discussed in the next section.

Differences in the Authoritarian political system of Iran and Iraq

The revolution of the July 14 1958 in Iraq involved a military coup. It brought the Hashemite monarchy to an end that was in operation since 1921. King Faisal established this monarchy. During the coup, Faisal II, Nauri al-Said (prime minister), and Abd al-llah (the crown prince) were overthrown from power. These Iraqi figures operated in collaboration with Britain. In fact, the monarchy system of governance was adopted from the British regime, which had been in control of Iraq since early 1920’s (De Gaur 23). The1958 revolution had both positive and negative impacts on the political situation of Iraq. On the positive side, it ended the authoritarian rule in which the king was the supreme and the key law-enforcing person.

This means all the members of his kingship were supposed to follow precisely his directions failure to which amounted to negligence and disobedience to the king and his monarchy system commands. Compared to Iran, which had also an authoritarian approach of governance under the command of monarchy system of rule, the Iraq authoritarian rule was the worst because Iran had a parliament that presented some of the concerns of the public to monarchy. Theoretically, this meant that, through the partial influence of the parliament, the Iranians were able to present and influence some public policies, which, in case of Iraq, the king and his crown prince had a full control without the public contributions. However, the extent to which the public would influence the practical decisions made by the authoritarian monarchy regime in Iran is still questionable.

From the context of the above dilemma, prior to Iran’s 1979 revolution, there was the imposition of Islamic fundamentalism by the state. Political repressions were dominant coupled with embracement of the western imperialism (Cohen 12). Arguably, this move gave productive breeding grounds for the power of command to be centered on one key and influential national figure (king). For this reason, Satya argues that the discussions of the implications of the 1979 revolution in Iran negate considering “the role of internecine conflict within the ranks of capitalist appropriators and the importance of ancient (or self-exploiting) direct producers and their allied agents in the collapse of the monarchist regime” (Para.2). Opposed to the Iraqi monarchy system that openly misrepresented public demands, the authoritarian regime of Iran was indebted to establish oligarchic capitalism as a tool for propelling the economic growth of the monarchy in a rapid manner.

As usual, in the case of authoritarian political system, the monarchy system of the Iran endeavored to impose this capitalism with anticipation that it would produce the anticipated results. Unfortunately, as Satya informs, oligarchic capitalism “created a range of social crises that threatened the survival of ancientism (or self-exploitation) and non-oligarchic capitalism” (Para.2). Consequently, the class processes of the Iranians were vastly influenced in a negative way to the extent that the existing social crisis got deeper. The repercussion was the threatening of surplus appropriation configurations that pre-existed before the authoritative enforcement of oligarchic capitalism. Precisely, there was “prevalence of self-exploitation in the rural villages and urban bazaars resulting to complex forms of resistance” (Cohen 12).

Among the groups of people who showed immense resistance to the monarchist regime’s policies were capitalistic appropriators who subscribed to the ideologies of non-oligarchic and people who wanted the ending of the social crisis brought about by the authoritative imposition of the modernization program policies. Interestingly, in Iran, the fact that the nation had a partial parliamentary system made it possible for the forces of change to operate without the brutal state’s interference. In case of Iraq, the forces of change (the free officers) operated in great secrecy since recognition of the fact that there were groups of people disloyal to the monarchy would attract serious consequences. Understanding the odds of the authoritative rule that the free officers wanted to counter requires a thorough investigation of the fruits of the revolution under the leadership of Qasim.

British realized that indirect rule was the only way of ensuring that their interests were well served by Iraq especially upon bearing mind the aftermaths of the of 1920 revolution. Consequently, they used the system of indirect rule to ensure that they had full gains from the Iranian oilfields. Through indirect rule, “British exerted their power besides consolidating the tribal leaders’ rights to land and power over their subjects as an initial step in eventually merging Britain’s supremacy over Iraq” (Eppel 222). The Sheikhs (tribal leaders) ended up being the legally accepted owners of the land that was priory owned by the community. The repercussion was to make only 2% of the population of Iraqi proprietors to control more than 75% of all the agricultural land belonging to Iraq (Eppel 227).

This means that the largest percentage of the population had no land, was poor, and served as slaves within their homeland. Unfortunately, the monarchy system served to protect the oppressive rights of the high-class people in an authoritative manner. In support of this argument, Fernea and Louis shed light, “the monarchic system was very oppressive with political activities that relied solely on the army and security forces to suppress opponents and dissenters” (p.119). On the other hand, in Iran, authoritarian regime took away democratic rights of Iranian people. Non-compliance to the directions of the regime resulted to severe sentences especially in case of persons who attempted to advocate for certain opinions that were in violation to the opinions advocated for by the government rule.

Opposed to the authoritative regime of Iran, in Iraq, numerous leaders of the opposition parties were killed while thousands of the followers were jailed (Eppel 221). The authoritative command was so strong in Iraq that, in 1954, the monarch banned political parties that were moderate in nature. Somewhat analogous to the case of Iran’s authoritative rule, in Iraq, elections were always flawed. The idea was to ensure that nationals who were in support of the regime always assumed and maintained their offices. Unfortunately, as Kriwacze posits, “despite irregularities in the election, Iraqi nationalists were still elected though they were not enough to take over the monarchic regime” (33).

Unfortunately, they had no place in influencing the formulation of public policies. The only source of public voice was through the uprisings of Kurdish. Nevertheless, the uprisings were also intensively oppressed by the policies put in place by the authoritative regime. All these hostilities made revolution concerns incredibly welcomed by many Iraqis. Arguably, the objective of revolutionists explains well the authoritative nature of the monarch regime before the 1958 revolution. According to Escriba-Folch and Wright, the main objective of the revolutionists was to “liberate Iraq from the oligarchic monarchy and British imperialism to rebuild and reconstruct Iraq by adapting social and economic measures to improve peoples’ living standards” (p.335). The main question is whether these objectives were attained upon the revolution.

The achievements of the Iranian revolution introduce yet another difference between the Iranian and Iraqi authoritative regimes before the revolutions that restored the force of command to the people in each nation at least in the short run. Following the revolution, a distinction was made in Iraq between criminal and political prisoners. Political prisoners were set free while the unfair sentences given to the criminal prisoners were reviewed (Dawisha 91). Teachers who were denied the freedom for engaging in political partisanism were also given the freedom to go back to schools. Additionally, according to Dawisha, it was for the first time in the history of Iraqi that ordinary citizens were drawn into politics (93).

The Iraqi masses were free to engage in public meetings and forums to celebrate the realized achievements of the revolution. In the meetings, discussions were also made on the ways of pushing the revolution to deliver the demands of the people. Considering these freedoms granted to people, it is evident that the Iraqi monarch regime qualifies to be an authoritative political system of rule as argued by Authoritarian political system section of this paper. In particular, the freedoms and the rights that were conferred to people are the rights and freedoms that are eroded by authoritarian political systems of rule.

Opposed to the traits of the authoritative regime of Iraq discussed above, in Iran’s authoritative rule, the monarchy initiated mechanisms of enforcing self- exploitation of masses through the oligarchic capitalism. Consequently, opposed to the Iraq revolution, the Iranian revolution may be looked from the perspective of beings “a change in the political relationships constituting the state designed to avert a gradually progressing economic revolution” (Satya Para.5). In this line of reasoning, the Iranian authoritative regime may be argued as imposing social formations with particular emphasis on self-exploitation. Indeed, even after the 1979 revolution, Iran remained as a social formation despite the fact that the change trajectory altered the manner in which social formations were governed.

The monarchy regime of Iran had put incredible efforts in an authoritative manner to ensure that the political power possessed by bazaars was neutralized. This was done by “pursuing economic and political policies that undermined the viability of the bazaars” (Satya Para.6). These bazaars had enacted political organizations coupled with various power relations. They also had their own normality discourses and vocabularies. This implies that they were well-organized social organizations. Bazaar was a collective term for storefront enterprises that were established in spatially segregated areas of a city. They were made up of merchants, restaurants, ancient artisans, and moneylenders. In addition, they were a mega threat to the survival of the authoritative regime since they had political guides that were powerful and amply financed.

The bazaars were highly opposed to the ideologies of the authoritative monarch often preaching theories of democratic organizations. With regard to Satya, these ideologies included “resolution of internecine disputes by consensus, and mobilizing financial resources to satisfy common objectives” (Para.6). Arguably, this represents an immense departure from the will of the monarch. Surprisingly, this disobedience did not receive intensive consequences in Iran in comparison to the consequences that followed disobedience to the monarch will in Iraq. Under the authoritative regime in Iraq, this could have amounted to imprisonment and execution. However, in Iran, the monarch intervened to influence the ideologies of the bazaars negatively by putting in place policies that rendered their power neutralized. Nevertheless, analogous to the authoritative approaches of Iraq to ensure that political interest groups remained loyal to the ruling monarch, in Iran, the situation of deployment of authoritative rule’s machineries was experienced. For instance, SAVAK was deployed to enhance infiltration of High Council of the Asnaf (Satya Para.7).

The above discussion provides a major point of contention about the purpose of the Iranian and the Iraqi revolution. Arguably, in both nations, the revolution served the purpose of bettering the economic condition of various peasant people within the nations because, in both nations, the authoritarian regimes narrowed the means of the peasants to better their economic status. In Iraq, the few capitalistic individuals who were loyal to the monarch engulfed all agriculture as a major economic driver. On the other hand, in Iran, the bazaars were economically oppressed since the authoritative regime only concentrated on developing policies that enabled the large capitalism organizations to dominate the economic growth process. Hence, these policies made it practically impossible for the bazaars to develop.

In the case of Iran, the 1979 revolution served as an incredible solution to many problems of people. These problems were articulated to the authoritative regime of the monarch political system. For instance, Iraqi revolution resulted to “restricting the landlord’s power to evict tenants besides placing a ceiling for how much could be charged to rent a dwelling place” (Cohen 13). Therefore, the revolution government took charge of control and protection of the common citizens from exploitation by the capitalistic persons given accommodation by the monarch authoritative regime. There were also measures to ensure that people who never owned land got their right of land use and ownership.

For instance, the revolution government enacted a policy that ensured that peasants acquired 7 to 15 hectares of land based on whether the land was to be irrigated or whether it would rely on rainfall (Dawisha 45). The 1958 revolution of Iraq ensured that people acquired the power to influence the national polices denied by the authoritarian monarch regime. Unfortunately, in 1979, President Saddam Hussein took over the leadership of Iraq through a military coup. Apart from playing pivotal roles in Iran and Iraq war in 1980’s, he introduced dictatorship. Arguably, this reveals why political analysts regard the Iraqi revolution of 1958 as a transition from an authoritative monarch form of political rule to a dictatorship structure of political rule. On the other hand, Iran is today accused of eroding the spirit of democracy to instill a strong authoritative system of rule (Escriba-Folch and Wright 352).


Both Iran and Iraq underwent through a revolution aimed at overthrowing the authoritative systems of political rule, which were similar since they were acerbated by a monarchy. However, the authoritative nature of the monarch was different in both nations in some ways. The paper has claimed that one of the key differences is that the authoritative rule in Iran was milder than in the case of Iraq. This position has been held due to the argument that, in Iran, the monarch regime essentially exercised its authority to influence the forces of change negatively through the creation of policies that made them encounter political and economic challenges while attempting to spread their ideologies.

On the other hand, in the case of Iraq, the forces of changes met harsh punishments including execution and imprisonment. However, it is maintained that this argument does not imply that, in Iran, brutality was not used to counter the anti-monarch forces of change since SAVAK was used to enhance infiltration of High Council of the Asnaf. The differences in the exercising of the authoritative political form of rule in Iran and Iraq, which was the focus of the paper, have been attributed to the argument that Iran was a partial monarchy while Iraq was a full monarchy.

Works Cited

Cohen, Roger. 1979: Iran’s Islamic Revolution. New York: New York Times, 2009, Print.

Dawisha, Adeed. Iraq: A Political History from Independence to Occupation. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009. Print.

De Gaur, Gerald. Three Kings in Baghdad: The Tragedy of Iraq’s Monarchy. London: I B Taurus, 2008. Print.

Duckitt, Johnston. “Authoritarianism and Group Identification: A New View of an Old Construct.” Political Psychology 10.1(1989): 63–84. Print.

Eppel, Michael. “The Elite, the Effendiyya, and the Growth of Nationalism and Pan-Arabism in Hashemite Iraq, 1921–1958.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 30.2(1998): 220-239. Print.

Escriba-Folch, Abel, and Joseph Wright. “Dealing with tyranny: international sanctions and the survival of authoritarian rulers.” International Studies Quarterly 54.2(2010): 335 -359. Print.

Fernea, Robert, and William Louis. The Iraqi Revolution Of 1958: The Old Social Classes Revisited. London: I B Tauris, 1991. Print.

Kriwacze, Paul. Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization. Berkeley, CA: Atlantic Books, 2010. Print.

Satya, Gabriel. , 2001. Web.

Sondrol, Peterson. “Totalitarian and Authoritarian Dictators: A Comparison of Fidel Castro and Alfredo Stroessner.” Journal of Latin American Studies 23.3(2009): 553-599. Print.

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