Iraqis in the Soviet Press, 1954-1959

By Elizabeth Bishop
Submitted to Session P4359 (From Arab-Russian to Arab-Soviet Cultural Encounters: Are There Continuities?, 2016 Annual Meeting
This paper introduces a previously-overlooked group of primary sources which, engaging with one of the panel’s guiding premises (that “Soviet cultural diplomacy build on a long history of Arab curiosity about and travel to Russia”), asserting that Iraqi activists were free to articulate some of their own political priorities in the USSR. In addition to describing late Hashemite Iraq’s public affairs for Soviet readers, these materials suggest a new and potentially fertile direction of analysis that promises to augment the qawmi/watani binary.
While article 51 of Iraq’s penal code (1938) specified seven years’ imprisonment for propagation of communism, anarchism, or immorality (and a 1948 amendment added “Zionism” to this list), more stringent regulations required all non-governmental organizations to re-register with the Ministry of the Interior; members of organizations, “whether direct or … under the screen of any name, such as the Partisans of Peace, the Democratic Youth, and so forth” were threatened with seven years’ imprisonment (Decree 16, 22 August 1954); decrees 17 and 18 further authorized the cabinet to revoke the citizenship of any person convicted under article 51.
The immediate effects of these new laws are well-documented in the periodical press, as well as documents from Soviet archives. The Ministry of the Interior uncovered a number of communist cells; the government of Iraq published lists of more than 100 names of arrested persons; and Iraqi activists were forced into exile. Subsequently, Iraqi activists documented their experiences of a crucial Cold War period in Russian-language publications for Soviet readers.