*** modern Iraqi Iraq history

Modern Iraqi History

Figure 1.--

The Ottoman Empire sides with Germany and the Central Powers in Wotld War I. Their primary focus was on Russia to the North. The War, however, brought them into conflict with the British and resulted in the loss of their Arab provinces, including Iraq. Modern Iraq was created when the British at the end of the World War seized what is now Iraq from the collapsing Ottomon Empire. The British mandate for Iraq was established at the 1919 Paris Peace Talks. An Arab insurection in 1920 convinced the British to permit the establishment of a monarchy under Emir Feisal (1921). He was the leader of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the War. He was a member of the Sunni Hashimite family from Mecca. This was the first Iraqi state in what is now Iraq since the Islamic Caliphate. Feisal manage to obtained the Iraqi throne in part because of his close association T. E. Lawrence, the famed British officer who helped organized the Arab Revolt. The Britis were granted a mandate by the League of Nations. The Iraqi monarchy was legitimized by a plebiscite (1921). The British retained control for several years as a Protectorate (1920-32). Iraq was admitted to the League of Nations as an independent country (1932). When Iraqi leaders began to show signs of siding with the NAZIs during World War II, the British seized the country (1941). Iraq was the major source of oil for the British Royal Navy and 8th Army in the Western Desert. A pipelin ran from Iraq to Haifa in British-controled Palestine. Faisal's grandson Fisal II proved to be a moderate, moderizing ruler. The Hashimite monarchy was overthrown in 1958 in a bloody military coup. The country became a republic which persued an alliance with the Soviet Union. The Bath Party seized power in 1968. Saddam was important in the securrity service of the Bath Party. By 1979 he became the Bath Party Chairman and had achieved total control. One year later he ordered the invasion of Iran.

World War I (1914-18)

The primary power attempting to destroy the Ottomans was Tsarist Russia. As Europe began to divide into rival alliances in the late-19th century, the Ottomns sided with the Germans. Not only did the Germans court them, but Russia joined with France in an alliance against Germany. Thus the Ottoman Empire entered World war I on the side of the Central Powers. The Ottomans attacked the British from Palestine, attempting to seize the Suez Canal. The British struck back with a four-pronged stragegy. The Galipoli invasion to seize the Dardeneles failed (1915). The British supported the Arab Revolt. Here T.E. Lawrence, the famed Larence of Arabia, and Emir Fisel were key figures. They also invaded Ottoman Palestine (1917-18). Another prong was a British invasion of Ottoman Iraq. The first British invasion force was defeated at Kut (1915–16). British forces invaded again and seized Baghdad (1917). The British were planning a drive into Anatolia, but the Ottomans after the British success in Palestine and the seizure of Damascus, signed an armistice (1918).

League of Nations Mandate (1920)

The British and French during World War I conducted secret negotiations on how to divide Ottoman provinces seized in the War--Sykes-Picot Agreement (February 1916). The League of Nations basically implemented the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The provinces did not, however, become colonies. Rather the Lague issued mandates. The colonial power was to move the different privinces toward independence. Iraq two years after the end of World war I became a League of Nations mandate under British control with the name "State of Iraq" (November 11, 1920).

Britain Creates Iraq (1918-31)

Britain created modern Iraq. It took a series of decesions that still have repersusions today. Many of the decisions were taken by Winston Churchill, serving at the time as Colonial Secretary. The British decided to impose a Hāshimite monarchy on Iraq. The British appear to have made no attempt to create a Middle east based on borders that took into account ethnic and regional differences. The Iraq they created was a badly fractured state. The north was populated with Kurds who along with Kurds in Turkey and Persia (Iran), wanted their own state. There was also a smaller population of Assyrians. The Arabs in Iraq were split along religious grounds, primarily between Shi'a and Sunnis. The Shi'a were probably a majority, but the lack of statistical data under Ottoman rule makes this difficult to assess with any precesion. The new Hāshimite Monarchy was Sunni. Thus after thecWar, both the Shi'a and Kurds fought for independence. The British were further compromised by the fact that many Iraqi Sunnis were extremely conservative abnd offened by British miderizing efforts. And moderate elements, especially the growing urban population, objected to the British presence as a result if rising nationalist sentiment. Administering Iraq proved expensive for the British. The Government was also criticized by T. E. Lawrence in The Times. The British Government replaced Arnold Wilson with Civil Commissioner Sir Percy Cox (October 1920). Cox managed to put down the insurgency and restore order. He did this in part by siding with the traditional Sunni leadership. This meant the rural based and very conservative tribal shieks. The British did this because the modern modern. urban based forces were increasingly nationalistic and demanding independence. A series of laws confirmed the powers and influence of the rural sheiks. The Land Settlement Act gave the tribal shieks the right to register communal tribal lands in their own names. The Tribal Disputes Regulations gave the sheiks judiciary powers. The Peasants' Rights and Duties Act (1933) severely affected tenants' rights. They were prohibited from leaving the land they were working until they had fulfilled all debts to the land owner. This effectively turned many into serfs.


The British discovered huge oil fields near Kirkuk (1927). Iraq under Ottoman rule had been a poor, backwater province. The oil significantly changed the new country's economic prospects. It provided funds to finance economic development and modernization. The Government granted exploration rights to the Iraqi Petroleum Company, a British-owned oil company.

Monarchy (1921-58)

The British after World War I helped set up Emir Faisal as king of Iraq. He was the leader of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the War. He was a member of the Sunni Hashimite family from Mecca. He was the first king of the new state of Iraq. This was the first independent state in what is now Iraq since the Islamic Caliphate. Faisal manage to obtained the Iraqi throne in part because of his close association T. E. Lawrence, the famed British officer who helped organize the Arab Revolt. The British drive the Ottomans out of Iraq at the end of the War and were granted a mandate by the League of Nations. The Iraqi monarchy was legitimized by a plebiscite (1921). The British Mandate ended (1932). The Iraqi Army moved toward the NAZIs during World War II and the British reoccupied the country (1941). It was the major source of oil for the British Royal Navy and 8th Army in the Werstern Desert Faisal I proved to be a moderate, moderizing ruler. His gandson son, Faisal II, was overthrown and brutally murdered in a military coup (1958). This was the first step in Saddam Husein's rise to power.

World War II (1939-45)

Iraq was a backwater of the war, but a very important backwater. Iraq was an imprtant in maintaining comminication lines between India and the British position in Egypt protecting the Suez Canal. Even more importantly, Iraq was the principle source of oil for the Desert Army and the Royal Navy Eastern Mediterranean Squadron. Iraq had been a Turkish Province until seized by the British during World war I. The Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1930 provided for a major British stake in Iraq. The British obtained a stake in the developing Mosul and Kirkuk oil fields and air bases near Baghdad in central Iraq and Basra in the south. To help protect the bases the British had a mixed force which included Iraqis recruited for this purpose. The British were also given transit rights. Britain with these guarantees granted independence to Iraq (1932). Nationalists criticized the treaty, but the Nuri es-Sa'id Governent was pro-British. The royal governent created a small army consisting of of five divisions, a navy consisting of river patrol craft, and a small airforce with obsolete aircraft. When war broke out in Europe (September 1939) Sa'id wanted to support Britain and declare war on Germany, but Iraqi nationalists oppsosed this. Sa'id Government did break off relations. A new Government led by Rashid Ali took power (March 1940). Ali was backed by the pro-Axis Golden Square. The fall of France (June 1940) dramatically changed the military ballance in the Mediterranean and thus the Middle East. Ali initiated various intrigues against Britain. British military successes in the Western Desert caused Ali to resign. The next primeminister acted to breakup the e Golden Square. A military coup placed Ali back in power (April 3, 1941). At the same time, spectacular German successes in Yugoslavia, Greece, and Crete convinced the Iraqi nationalists that the Germans would quickly defeat the British. Ali tore up the 1930 Treaty and struck at the British air base at Habbaniya. The French Vichy authorities controlling Syria assisted Ali by allowing the German and Italians to deliver some assistance. General Wavell, the British Middle East commander was hard pressed at the time. He had to contend with Rommel in the Wester Dessert and the disaterous intervention in Greece. He was reluctant to commit forces to Iraq, but Churchill insisted. An Indian division struck from the south landing at Basara. The Habforce (a British brigade and the Arab Legion) struck west from Jordan.

Post-War Developments

Iraq joined the United Nations (1945). It was also a founding member of the Arab League. Kurdish leader Mustafā Barzānī with Soviet support led a rebellion to estanlish an independent Kurdistan. When the revolt failed, Barzānī and his fighters fled north to the Soviet Union.

Arab-Israeli Conflict (1948-49)

Iraq was one of the Arab countries affected by the growing conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. There was considerable support for the NAZIs during the War, in parr because of anti-Semitism and in part because of anti-British senitment. Thus there was considerable support for the Palestinians as cinditions in Palestine deteriorated. After the United Nations partitioned the British Mandate of Palestine, the British withdrew. Israel declared independence (1948). The Paestinians at the time were already waging a guetilla war against the Jews. The neighboring or front-line Arab states launched a poorly coordinated invasion of Israel. Iraq entered the Arab-Israeli War along with other members of the Arab League. Iraq did noy have a border on Israel, but did border Jordan. Iraq was not a party to the cease-fire agreement signed by the major conbatabts (Jordan and Egypt) (1949). Iraq was not a major combatant, but the Iraqi economy was damaged by the War. The war had a substantial negative impact on Iraq's economy. The government had to substantially increase military spending. Huge quantities were diverted to both the Iraqi Army abd to Palestinian refugees. In addition, oil royalties paid to the Goverment were cut in half when Haifa, the Mediterranean termiunus of the pipeline, became part of Israel. The Iraqis were shocked that their and other Arab armies were stopped by thge poorly armed Israelis.

Arab Politics

Iraq signed the Baghdad Pact (1956). It was an alliance which included Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom. The name was due to the location of headquarters in Baghdad. The Pact was an effort to contain the challenge of anti-Westerm Arab nationalism mixed with socialism posed by Egyptian president Gamal Abdal Nasser. Nasser responded with a media campaign that questioned the the legitimacy of the Iraqi monarchy. Thiswas damaging because Nasser had a growing following in the Arab world. His emotional radio speeches appealed to Arabs both within and outside of Egypt. And his seizure of the Suez Canal from Britain and France brought great creditability. Egypt and Syria announced the creation of the Uniated Arab Republic as a first step toward Arab unity. King Hussein of Jordan and King Faisal's uncle Abd al-Ilāh proposed a union of the Hāshimite monarchies to counter Nasser's United Arab Republic (1958). Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri as-Said wanted Kuwait to be included in the Arab-Hāshimite Union. The Iraqi Government invited Shiek Abd-Allāh as-Salīm, the ruler of Kuwait, to Baghdad to discuss Kuwait's future. This initiative, however, created a rift in the Baghdad Pact. Britain still controlled Kuwait and was unwilling to grant independence. This not only wrecked the Baghdad Pact, but under cut the Iraqi Government which now found it diffucult to justify its pre-British stance. Prime Minister Nuri as-Said was faced with rising oposition to its pro-Westrern policies and was forced to turn to oppresive measures.

Iraqi Republic (1958-80)

Nasser's appeal proved to strong for King Faisal who for many Iraquis had a Brirish taint. The officers of the 19th Brigade, organized the 'Free Officers'. Led by Brigadier Abd al-Karīm Qāsim (1914-63) and Colonel Abdul Salam Arif, the Free Officers overthrew the Hashimite monarchy in an outpooring of violence (1958). The King and his family was shot as was Prime Minister Nuri as-Said. Most were killed. Qāsim headed the new Republic of Iraq. Qāsim had attended the Iraqi Military Academy and advanced through the ranks had become a general officer. Many Iraquis were moved by the appel of Nsser and Pan-Arabism. Some supported theCommunists and the Societs in the Cold War. There were few advocates of Westen liberal denocracy or capitalism. Qāsim affected by the political winds of the day disapproved of socially conservative and pro-Western policies of the Hashemite monarchy. Qāsim gradually assumed leadership of the dispeate opposition groups in the Army. The King and Prime Minister approved troop movemnts to supporg the neifgbring Hasemite Kigsom of Jordan. Instead, Qāsim and his loyalists move the troops into Bagdad and over threwthe monarchy (Juky 14, 1958). The King and his family were hot and a repunlic declared. Qāsim became prime minister. The majoe issue at the time was Arab unity. And as Qāsim opposed joining the Egyptian-Syrian United Arab Republic, he incurred Nassar's disfavor. Qāsim proved to be a poor politican. He supresse abn Nassarite Army revolt in Mossul, but this began his loss of support from the Army. He ad little popular suppot ecept among the Communists, but he soon was forced to suppress Communists in the Army and Police. . Qāsim instead of building support continued to narrow it. He noved to suspend all organized political activity (1960). He supressed both right- and left-wing civilian and military elements. His only sourceof support was the Army and he had lost considrable support there. The Kurds in te north orgnized a revoly (spring 1961). Qāsim had failed to implement autonomy measures. The Kurdish revolt undermined what support Qāsim’s still commanded within the Army. The Army became bogged down in a bloody nd inconsluvice campaign against the Kurds. This and futher purges fed the formation of resistance groups. Former ally Abdul Salām Ārif organized a coup (February 1963) They overthre the Qāsim regime and executed Qāsim. While not an accomplushed politican, Qāsim did carry out some important reforms. ,

Saddam's Iraq (1980-2003)

Iraqi President Sadam Hussain has been at the center of two major Middle Eastern wars. He launched an invasion of Iran bringing about the largest war between Muslim states in history and resulting in hundreds of thousands of casualties. Next he invaded neighboring Kuwaut, launching a reign of terror in that country until expelled by an international coalition in Opperation Desert Storm. As a result of Iraq's defeat in Desert Storm, Sadam agreed to dismantle its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It had clearly not done so. Sanctions impossed upon Iraq by the United Nations have stayed in place because of Sadam's continued work on WMD. The Iaqui economy has been crippled by those sanctions and the people of Iraq, including the children, have undeniably suffered. The question of course rises, who is responsible for that suffering. Is it the United Nations for imposing the embargoes because of Sadam's definace? Or is in Sadam for insisting on persuing WMD and siphoning off oil revenue to support WMD program. Now a third war looms with U.S. President Gerorge Bush demanding that Sadam end programs to develop and deploy WMD. This has resulted in an impassioned debate, especially in Europe and the Arab world.


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Created: 1:42 AM 8/18/2008
Last updated: 1:55 AM 2/17/2012