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Ahali Group

AHALI GROUP

Political group in Iraq, 19301958.

At the Ahali group's forefront in early 1930 were several young intellectuals imbued with liberal ideals and a strong desire to reform the economic, political, and social conditions of Iraq. Four of them stand out: Husayn Jamil, Abd al-Qadir Ismaʿil, Muhammad Hadid, and Fatah Ibrahim. The first two were Sunni Muslims from Baghdad who were classmates in high school and briefly at Baghdad Law College. Both were active in the opposition politics of the 1920s and were suspended from school. Muhammad Hadid was a Sunni Muslim who belonged to a wealthy conservative family from Mosul. He studied at the American University of Beirut and did a year of graduate work at Columbia University. Both Hadid and Ibrahim were influenced by liberal and socialist thought while studying abroad.

These four young men and other individuals decided to publish a newspaper to express their ideas and philosophy. They chose the name Ahali to stress their ties and unity with the peoplethis name has since been applied to the whole group. The first issue of the newspaper, dated 2 January 1932, appeared under the slogan "People's Benefit Is Above All Benefits." Al-Ahali quickly gained popularity and became the most influential paper in Baghdad. It served as a mouthpiece for the most constructive, the most modern, and the most progressive minds in Iraq. Al-Ahali was distinguished for its coverage and analysis of the social and economic conditions of the country and for its sharp attack on government policies. Consequently, it had difficulties with government officials and publication was repeatedly suspended.


Initially, the members of the Ahali Group were united by their anti-British sentiment, their critical stand against the government, and their desire for reform. They advocated ideas of the French Revolution and called for a strengthening of the parliamentary system. In 1933, Kamil Chadirchi, a young liberal lawyer from an aristocratic family in Baghdad, joined the group. Chadirchi was a member of the opposition group who in the 1920s became disenchanted with the Ikha al-Watani Party headed by Yasin al-Hashimi. In 1934, the Ahali Group adopted a more socialist agenda. They called their new emphasis "Shaʿbiyya " (populism) to avoid the misunderstanding surrounding the word Ishtirakiyya (socialism). Shaʿbiyya, a doctrine that seeks welfare for all people regardless of gender, class, race, or religion, stresses the importance of human rights, equal opportunity, and freedom from tyranny. It emphasizes the state as provider of health care and education for its people, and recognizes the importance of religion, family, and the parliamentary system.

In 1933 the Ahali Group established the Baghdad Club and the Campaign Against Illiteracy Association. Both organizations had cultural objectives but were designed to broaden popular support for the Ahali Group. In 1934, under the leadership of Chadirchi, the group was able to influence and recruit Jaʿfar Abu al-Timman to head the Campaign Against Illiteracy Association and later to join the Ahali Group. Al-Timman was formerly the leader of the national al-Watani Party. He was a well-respected national figure in Iraq and a believer in democratic institutions. His accession to Ahali enhanced the status of the group. Moreover, Chadirchi was able to recruit Hikmat Sulayman, a former member of the Ikha Party who left because of disagreements with its leader.

In 1935 the Ikha came to power and inspired the Ahali Group to work more actively toward achieving power. At this juncture it was decided to de-emphasize the Shaʿbiyya ideas and adopt a broader program of liberal reform to gain wider support. Through Sulayman's influence the Ahali Group recruited a few army officers; chief among them was General Bakr Sidqi. Sulayman persuaded Sidqi to conduct a coup against the Ikha government. On 29 October 1936 the coup was successfully executed, the first in the modern history of Iraq and in the Arab world. The Ahali Group was a reluctant participant. Abu al-Timman, Chadirchi, and Hadid opposed the idea, fearing it could lead to tyranny and military dictatorship. However, Sulayman's opinion prevailed. Ahali received the lion's share of cabinet positions in the new government and organized the Popular Reform Society to propagate the group's reform ideals. The group, however, soon discovered that the real power was in the hands of Sidqi and Sulayman. Even though Su-layman was a member of Ahali, he abandoned its ideas in favor of "politics as usual." Unable to push for reform, the Ahali ministers resigned from the government on 19 June 1937. The Popular Reform Society and al-Ahali ceased to exist. The members of the group were scattered, exiled, or imprisoned.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Ahali's members and supporters continued to play an active role in Iraq's national politics. In 1946 three influential members of the groupChadirchi, Hadid, Jamilformed the National Democratic Party, which advocated democracy and moderate socialism. It functioned both openly and secretly, taking an active part in opposition politics of the 1940s and 1950s. It participated in the uprisings against the government in 1948, 1952, and 1956, and supported the revolution of 1958. The party eventually split into two factions because of internal disagreement over the regime of Abd al-Karim Qasim. In the 1960s and 1970s, Ahali's influence faded as other ideologies and groups, such as the Baʿth party, replaced it in the political spot-light.

see also abu al-timman, jaʿfar; baʿth, al-; hashimi, yasin al-; ikha al-watani party; national democratic party (iraq); sidqi, bakr.

Bibliography

Batatu, Hanna. The Old Social Classes and Revolutionary Movements of Iraq. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Khadduri, Majid. Independent Iraq, 19321958: A Study in Iraqi Politics. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1960.

Khadduri, Majid. Republican Iraq: A Study in Iraqi Politics Since the Revolution of 1958. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1969.

Ayad al-Qazzaz

Updated by Michael R. Fischbach

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