Republic Day in Iraq is celebrated on 14 July each year. The public holiday commemorates the day when Abd al-Karim Qasim overthrew the Hashemite monarchy in 1958.
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Iraq was founded as a state in 1920 under a League of Nations mandate that placed it under British control. The 1920 Iraqi revolt eliminated the original mandate and created a semi-independent kingdom led by the Hashemites who were British allies. Iraq was granted full independence in 1932, but there was significant political unrest. Between 1936 and 1941, there were as many as seven coup attempts.
The Hashemite monarchy was placed in Iraq by Britain and was headed by King Faisal I. The king had been born in Saudi Arabia and had never even visited Iraq before being named its leader. He had little knowledge of the cultural differences between Iraqi tribes and spoke a form of Arabic most Iraqi’s did not understand. The stress of balancing British interests with his country’s needs were too much for King Faisal and he died of a heart attack at the age of 48, within his first week in Iraq.
King Ghazi, the 21-year old son of King Faisal I, inherited the throne in 1933. King Ghazi resented how Britain dominated his country and began taking steps to move Iraq away from British control. In 1939, King Ghazi died behind the wheel of his sports car after a night of heavy drinking. The crown then fell to his son, four-year old King Faisal II. Prince Abdullah acted as regent for the child-king until he came of age at 18, but was wildly unpopular due to his repressive decisions.
Both King Faisal II and his cousin, King Hussein of Jordan, were enthroned as monarchs in their respective countries. King Faisal II was committed to continuing the legacy of his grandfather, supporting pro-British policies. In 1958, King Husseini asked for Iraqi military support due to an escalating crisis. Brigadier Abdul Karim Qassim was ordered to march two brigades to Jordan for assistance. However, he saw this as an opportunity to overthrow the monarchy, and he turned his troops toward Baghdad instead of Jordan.
On 14 July 1958, the Iraqi Army arrived at the palace. King Faisal II ordered the royal guard not to resist and surrendered, flying a white flag above the palace. The King, his uncle, Crown Prince Abdullah and his wife, Princess Abadiya, the king’s aunt, Princess Hyam, as well as Prince Abdullah’s six-year old nephew, palace maidservants and cooks were ordered to a palace courtyard, told to turn and face the wall and then machine-gunned. King Faisal, who did not die immediately, was transported to a hospital where he succumbed to his injuries. His body was strung from a lamp post and displayed throughout the city. Princess Hyam survived and was able to escape the country.
The leaders of the new government declared Iraq a republic after the assassination of King Faisal II and the 14th of July was declared a national holiday in 2005.