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Prof. Juan Romero, alumnus, receives best 2009 United States dissertation prize

The award is presented by The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq (TAARII) bi-annually.

Posted: March 24, 2010
Juan Romero, recipient of TAARII best U.S. dissertation prize; Map produced by U.S. Central Intelligence Agency

Juan Romero, recipient of TAARII best U.S. dissertation prize; Map produced by U.S. Central Intelligence Agency

In her notification letter, Executive Director and Professor Stephanie Platz of TAARII wrote, "Your dissertation was reviewed very favorably and we are glad to be able to recognize your contribution to the history of modern Iraq in this way." Romero's dissertation was entitled The Iraqi Revolution of 1958: A Revolutionary Quest for Unity and Security and will be published in early fall 2010.

The TAARII is a consortium of American universities and museums. Its primary purpose is to establish a multidisciplinary American scholarly research center in Iraq as soon as conditions permit. It is presently located in Chicago, Ill. and promotes research on Iraq by raising funds for fellowships, initiating research projects, and fostering collaborative projects between American and Iraqi academics.

Romero's research gives new insight into the West's attempt to form a Middle Eastern defense organization in 1955 commonly known as the Baghdad Pact and for being pro-western. The countries involved were Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. While never an actual member of the Pact, the U.S. was involved in sponsoring its formation.

However, this alliance proved to be one of the more unsuccessful ones of the Cold War era. Romero's dissertation explored the social and political fallout of these efforts in the the Middle East, particularly in Iraq.

His research showed that the Iraqi monarchy’s pro-British policy, close military ties with Britain, and support for the formation of the West-sponsored Baghdad Pact aroused strong anti-regime sentiments among students, opposition parties, and the intelligentsia. And this eventually proved to be its undoing.

Nuri al-Sa‘id was Iraq’s foremost statesman between 1932, the year the League of Nations recognized the country’s independence, and 1958, when Iraqis overthrew the hated regime. Nuri’s claim to this position is substantiated by the fact that he headed 14 Iraqi governments during a period of 26 years.

Due to his close cooperation with Britain, Iraqis regarded the prime minister as a British puppet. Romero argues, "that was an unfair accusation, since Nuri was an Arab nationalist and a pan-Arabist to a certain extent. His agenda differed radically from that of President Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasir, which is why the two leaders became mortal enemies."

Romero's research concluded, that the reason for Iraq’s close ties with Britain under Nuri’s government was his conviction that the Arabs were too weak and divided to defend themselves against a Soviet attack. This was a plausible scenario if one accepted the Cold War mindset that dictated Western foreign policy in the 1950s.

"An overwhelming majority of Iraqis happened to disagree with this position, arguing that the Arabs should stay out of the East-West conflict," Romero said. "As a result, the former toppled the monarchical regime and physically eliminated the three pillars of the regime, namely the king, the crown prince, and the prime minister."

The question of the nature of this regime change is still a disputed issue in the scholarly community. Was it a mere military coup? Was it a revolution? Or was it something else?

Romero argues in his dissertation that the events of the Iraqi Revolution on July 14, 1958—which coincidentally occurred on Bastille Day—constituted both a coup and a revolution for a number of reasons.

To summarize:

  1. the Free Officers Movement (clandestine revolutionary group consisting primarily of young military officers) executed a coup against the old elite,
  2. it also carried out a coup against the majority of its own members, the reason being that only a few officers, were privy to the plans of the coup leader ‘Abd al-Karim Qasim,
  3. the coup enjoyed strong popular support,
  4. it was a joint venture between Qasim and the political opposition,
  5. Baghdadis took to the streets in massive numbers, preventing the ancien régime, loyalist troops, and Britain and the U.S. from launching a countercoup,
  6. protesters took an active part in the overthrow of the monarchy, and
  7. Baghdadis controlled the streets of the capital due to the small number of military conspirators.

As a result of the successful defense of his dissertation under the supervision of History Professor Wm. Roger Louis, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. invited him to teach Middle East history for the academic year 2008-09 and conduct research at the Library of Congress. While in Washington, he focused on Arabic-language Lebanese newspapers for his new book project on the Lebanese civil war of 1958.

Romero will be traveling to Moscow, Russia this summer for more archival research on a scholarship from Western Kentucky University, where he is currently an assistant professor teaching Middle East history. He anticipates this research project will take another two years to complete, as he also needs to conduct research in Egypt, Lebanon, Berlin, and the National Achives at College Park, Maryland next year.

His research in Russia and Germany will focus on, to what degree the Soviet Union was involved in the Lebanese civil war. And in Cairo and Beirut, he hopes to find out to what extent religious organizations in Lebanon attempted to find a solution to the conflict.

Related Links:

Assistant Prof. Juan Romero
TAARII

Prof. Wm. Roger Louis

History Dept. Graduate Program
History Dept. Middle East area faculty

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