Friday, July 01, 2005

Seeds of Insurgency Part II: The British Mandate

Posted by AmishThrasher at 2:20 pm
British Mandate Flat
British Mandate Flag:
You mean this isn't the first time
westerners have tried to
impose democracy in Iraq?
This is part 2 of an ongoing series I'm running here looking at the factors behind the insurgency in Iraq. Yesterday, I examined the impact of sanctions on ordinary Iraqi civilians. These sanctions, when coupled with bombs being dropped on the livestock of Iraqi farmers and dilluted uranium munitions left in the country after the first Gulf War, caused a lot of hardship for ordinary Iraqis in many different ways. These included a scarcity of drugs and medical equiptment to treat preventable disease, food schortages, a rise in the cancer rate, and declining standards of education from under-resourced Iraqi schools. 500,000 Iraqi children - and perhaps many more adults - died as a result. Given this, it seems unsurprising that the USA and UK - two countries who pushed for those sanctions - would not be greeted as 'liberators', even amongst Iraqi citizens who utterly dispised the reigime of Saddam Hussein.

However, to truely understand current events in Iraq, we have to go back even further. It may come as a surprise to some people, but 2003 does not mark the first time that British troops have set foot in Iraq. Nor, for that matter, does it mark the first time that an attempt has been made by western powers to, following a period of occupation, create democratic insitutions in Iraq, or to create an Iraqi state whose oil resources are freely exploited by the west, and where a pseudo-independent client state acts as a military base for a western state in the Middle East. Indeed, the modern state of Iraq was created and shaped by the British doing precisely this in the aftermath of World War I.

As we are about to see, the following decades were marked by groups - which could broadly be described as insurgent groups - making attempts to overthrow these institutions. The essential problem of these institutions was that they were percieved as being illegitimate by Iraqis. Fast-forward to 2003, when the US, with their British allies, promise to 'liberate' the Iraqis by re-imposing a similar situation on Iraq, and the rest of the Middle East. Should we be surprised that such an act was greeted by many Iraqis with - at the very least - skepticism, and open hostility, rather than greeting the invaders (and their insitutions) as 'liberation'?

From the Wikipedia:
During World War I, British forces invaded Mesopotamia in 1917 and occupied Baghdad. Before they succeeded, they suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Turkish army, the siege and surrender of Kut. At the end of the war, the Ottoman empire collapsed and an armistice was signed with Turkey in 1918.

The British Mandate Period
Iraq was carved out of the old Ottoman Empire by direction of the UK government on January 10, 1919, and on November 11, 1920 it became a League of Nations mandate under British control with the name "State of Iraq".

At the end of the war, ownership of and access to Iraq's petroleum was split five ways: 23.75% each to the UK, France, The Netherlands and the USA, with the remaining 5% going to a private oil corporation headed by Calouste Gulbenkian. The Iraqi government got none of the nation's oil. This remained the situation until the revolution of 1958.

The British government laid out the institutional framework for Iraqi government and politics; the Iraqi political system suffered from a severe legitimacy crisis; Britain imposed a Hashemite monarchy, defined the territorial limits of Iraq with little correspondence to natural frontiers or traditional tribal and ethnic settlements, and influenced the writing of a constitution and the structure of parliament. Britain also had to put down a major revolt ( also known as the Arab revolt) against foreign rule between 1920 and 1922, resorting to aerial bombardment of Iraqi villages before control was established. These operations, in which it is alleged poison gas was used, were led by the future prime minister W.Churchill.

The Kurds in the north, wavering between adherence to the new Turkish state of Kemal Atatürk and the newly created Iraqi state, were lured by a British promise of autonomy within Iraq, a promise that was broken as soon as their incorporation was a fact. The British also supported narrowly based groups -- such as the tribal shaykhs over the growing, urban-based nationalist movement. The Land Settlement Act gave the tribal shaykhs the right to register the communal tribal lands in their own name. The Tribal Disputes Regulations gave them judiciary rights, whereas the Peasants Rights and Duties Act of 1933 reduced the tenants to virtual serfdom, forbidding them to leave the land unless all their debts to the landlord had been settled. The British resorted to military force when British interests were threatened, as in the 1941 Rashid Ali Al-Gaylani coup. This coup led to a British invasion of Iraq using forces from the British Indian Army under General Sir Edward Quinan, combined with an attack by the British controlled Arab Legion based in Jordan. This led to a very rapid defeat for the Iraqi army in May 1941.

The Iraqi Monarchy
The British designated Iraq as a kingdom and placed the country under the rule of Emir Faisal ibn Husayn, leader of the so-called Arab Revolt against the Ottoman sultan, brother of the new ruler of neighboring Trans-Jordan, Abdullah ibn Husayn, and member of the Sunni Hashemite family from Mecca (Makkah). Chased by the French out of Syria, of which he had been proclaimed king, Feisal obtained the throne of Iraq by the influence of T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) and Miss Getrude Bell, a romatically inclined English writer who lived in Baghdad, during a conference in Cairo, presided by the British minister of Colonial Affairs, Winston Churchill. Although the monarch was elected and proclaimed King by plebiscite in 1921, boycotted by the shi'ite majority, full independence was not achieved until 1932, when the British Mandate officially terminated. In 1927, discovery of huge oil fields near Kirkuk brought many improvements to Iraq. The Iraqis granted oil rights to the Iraqi Petroleum Company, a British-dominated, multinational firm.

King Faisal I was succeeded by his son, Ghazi, after the death of his father in December 1933. King Ghazi's reign lasted for some five and a half years, during which he claimed Iraqi sovereignty over Kuwait, as part of the former Ottoman province of Basra. An avid amateur of fast cars, the king drove into a lamppost and died instantly on April 3, 1939.

King Faisal II (1935-1958) was the only son of King Ghazi I and Queen Alya. King Faisal II was about four when his father died. For that reason the regency was assumed by his uncle Abdul Illah (April 1939 - May 1953), who after the accession to the throne of his nephew became crown prince.

In 1945, Iraq joined the United Nations and became a founding member of the Arab League.

At the end of the Second World War the Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani led a rebellion against the central government in Baghdad. The Kurds had caused trouble earlier, insisting on their promised autonomy, and had never accepted the monarchy. After the failure of the uprising Barzani and his followers fled to Stalin's Soviet Union.

After the establishment of Israel a war with Israel followed in 1948, in which Iraqi forces were allied with those of Transjordan, in accordance with a treaty signed by the two countries during the previous year. Fighting continued until the signing of a cease-fire agreement in May 1949. The war also had a negative impact on the Iraqi economy. The government allocated 40 percent of available funds for the army and for Palestinian refugees. Oil royalties paid to Iraq were halved when the pipeline to Haifa was cut off in 1948. The war and the hanging of a Jewish businessman led to the departure of most of Iraq's prosperous Jewish community. Although emigration was prohibited, many Jews made their way to Israel during this period with the aid of an underground movement. In 1950 the Iraqi parliament finally legalised emigration to Israel, and between May 1950 and August 1951, the Jewish Agency and the Israeli government succeeded in airlifting approximately 110,000 Jews to Israel.

In 1956, the Baghdad Pact allied Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, United States and the United Kingdom, and established its headquarters in Baghdad. The Baghdad Pact constituted a direct challenge to Egyptian president Gamal Abdal Nasser. In response, Nasser launched a vituperative media campaign that challenged the legitimacy of the Iraqi monarchy and called on the officer corps to overthrow it. The 1956 British-French-Israeli attack on Sinai further alienated Nuri as-Said's government from the growing ranks of the opposition. In February 1958 King Hussein of Jordan and Abdul Illah proposed a union of Hashemite monarchies to counter the recently formed Egyptian-Syrian union, opening its doors for any Arab state to join if they wished. Nuri as-Said concentrated on the participation of Kuwait as a third country in the proposed Arab-Hashemite Union, Shaikh Abdullah Al-Salim, ruler of Kuwait, was invited to Baghdad to discuss Kuwait's liberation from British protection, and the subject of tri-unity. Britain opposed declaring Kuwait independent at that time. At this point, the monarchy found itself completely isolated. Nuri as-Said was able to contain the rising discontent only by resorting to even greater oppression and to tighter control over the political process.

The End of the Monarchy
Inspired by the example of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, a swift, predawn coup executed by officers of the Nineteenth Brigade known as "Free Officers", under the leadership of Brigadier Abdul-Karim Qassem (known as "il-Za`im") and Colonel Abdul Salam Arif overthrew the Hashemite monarchy on July 14, 1958. King Faisal II and Abd al Ilah were executed in the gardens of al-Rihab Palace, a large villa in Baghdad. Their bodies (and those of many others in the royal family) were displayed in public. Hysterical crowds dragged Abd al Ilah's remains through the streets of Baghdad, where it was butchered into pieces. Nuri as-Said evaded capture for one day, but after attempting to escape disguised as a veiled woman he was caught and shot on the spot. His mutilated body was burned on the steps of the ministry of Defence. Egypt's ruler, Gamal Abd el-Nasser, obtained a finger of Nuri as gift, but, disgusted by this token of esteem, ordered it to be buried. Iraq was proclaimed a republic, and the union with Jordan dissolved. Iraq's activity in the Baghdad Pact ceased. At the same time the new government declared the agreement by which foreign powers controlled the nation's oil reserves to be null and void, but that the government was willing to negotiate with western companies to continue their exploitation of Iraqi petroleum with appropriate payment.

When Qassem distanced himself from Nasser he faced growing opposition from pro-Egypt officers in the Iraqi army. Arif who wanted closer cooperation with Egypt was stripped of his responsibilities and after a convenient trial, thrown in prison.

When the garrison in Mosul rebelled against Qassem's policies he allowed the Kurdish leader Barzani to return from exile in the Soviet Union to help suppress the pro-Nasser rebels.

In 1961, Kuwait gained its independence from Britain. Abdul-Karim Qassem immediately claimed sovereignty over it, like king Ghazi I before him, based on the former status of the Emirate as originally part of the Ottoman province of Basra. Britain reacted strongly to this threat to its ex-protectorate, dispatching a brigade to the country to deter Iraq. Qassem backed down, and in October 1963, Iraq recognised the sovereignty and borders of Kuwait.


Looking in more depth, there are eerie parallels between the early US occupation (in the period between 2003 and 2005) and this earlier British Mandate:

The civil government of postwar Iraq was headed originally by the high commissioner, Sir Percy Cox, and his deputy, Colonel Arnold Talbot Wilson. British reprisals after the murder of a British officer in An Najaf failed to restore order. British administration had yet to be established in the mountains of Kurdistan. From the Hakkari Mountains beyond Iraq's northern frontier and from the plains of Urmia in Iran, thousands of Assyrians began to pour into Iraqi territory seeking refuge from Turkish savagery. The most striking problem facing the British was the growing anger of the nationalists, who felt betrayed at being accorded mandate status. The nationalists soon came to view the mandate as a flimsy disguise for colonialism.

Three important anticolonial secret societies had been formed in Iraq during 1918 and 1919. At An Najaf, Jamiyat an Nahda al Islamiya (The League of the Islamic Awakening) was organized. Al Jamiya al Wataniya al Islamiya (The Muslim National League) was formed with the object of organizing and mobilizing the population for major resistance. In February 1919, in Baghdad, a coalition of Shia merchants, Sunni teachers and civil servants, Sunni and Shia ulama, and Iraqi officers formed the Haras al Istiqlal (The Guardians of Independence). The Istiqlal had member groups in Karbala, An Najaf, Al Kut, and Al Hillah.

The grand mujtahid of Karbala, Imam Shirazi, and his son, Mirza Muhammad Riza, began to organize the insurgent effort. Shirazi then issued a fatwa (religious ruling), pointing out that it was against Islamic law for Muslims to countenance being ruled by non-Muslims, and he called for a jihad against the British. By July 1920, Mosul was in rebellion against British rule, and the insurrection moved south down the Euphrates River valley. The southern tribes, who cherished their long-held political autonomy, needed little inducement to join in the fray. They did not cooperate in an organized effort against the British, however, which limited the effect of the revolt. The country was in a state of anarchy for three months; the British restored order only with great difficulty and with the assistance of Royal Air Force bombers

Ath Thawra al Iraqiyya al Kubra, or The Great Iraqi Revolution (as the 1920 rebellion is called), was a watershed event in contemporary Iraqi history. For the first time, Sunnis and Shias, tribes and cities, were brought together in a common effort. In the opinion of Hanna Batatu, author of a seminal work on Iraq, the building of a nation-state in Iraq depended upon two major factors: the integration of Shias and Sunnis into the new body politic and the successful resolution of the age-old conflicts between the tribes and the riverine cities and among the tribes themselves over the food-producing flatlands of the Tigris and the Euphrates. The 1920 rebellion brought these groups together, if only briefly; this constituted an important first step in the long and arduous process of forging a nation-state out of Iraq's conflict-ridden social structure.

At the Cairo Conference of 1921, the British set the parameters for Iraqi political life that were to continue until the 1958 revolution; they chose a Hashemite, Faisal ibn Husayn, son of Sherif Hussein ibn Ali former Sharif of Mecca as Iraq's first King; they established an indigenous Iraqi army; and they proposed a new treaty. To confirm Faisal as Iraq's first monarch, a one-question plebiscite was carefully arranged that had a return of 96 percent in his favor. The British saw in Faisal a leader who possessed sufficient nationalist and Islamic credentials to have broad appeal, but who also was vulnerable enough to remain dependent on their support. Faisal traced his descent from the family of the Prophet Muhammad. His ancestors held political authority in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina since the tenth century. The British believed these credentials would satisfy traditional Arab standards of political legitimacy; moreover, the British thought Faisal would be accepted by the growing Iraqi nationalist movement because of his role in the 1916 Arab Revolt against the Turks, his achievements as a leader of the Arab emancipation movement, and his general leadership qualities.


As I have suggested a number of times in thsi article, beyond the geopolitical advantage that Iraq would give a foreign power, a key motivator in the earlier British Mandate was clearly oil:

The Iraq Petroleum Company was set up in 1920 as the Turkish Petroleum Company following the defeat and break-up of the Ottoman Empire after World War I and with the shares held by three oil companies, Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, Shell Oil Company and a French oil company, Compagnie Française des Petroles and one individual, Calouste Gulbenkian, who held 5% of the shares. It was renamed the Iraq Petroleum Company in 1929.

A concession to explore for oil in Iraq was obtained in 1925 and oil was first struck by the company in 1927. Oilfields were discovered and developed in the north of Iraq near Kirkuk and on the southern borders with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Oil pipelines were built to carry oil to the Mediterranean Sea at Haifa, Baniyas, Syria and Tripoli, Lebanon. The former pipeline was no longer used following the creation of Israel in 1948.

During the 1940s and 1950s, the company also obtained concessions to explore for oil in Dubai and other Gulf states. It retained a monopoly of exploration and development in Iraq until 1961, though it set up wholly owned subsidiaries such as the Basra Petroleum Company to operate in some areas.

In 1961, the revolutionary government of General Qassem nationalised 99.5 % of its concession areas in Iraq, leaving only the producing oilfields in the company's control. In 1971, the Iraqi government nationalised the remaining interests. This resulted in major increases in revenues for the Baath party government under Saddam Hussein to pursue massive infrastructure projects.

The Kirkuk field, originally brought online by the Iraq Petroleum Company in 1934, still forms the basis for northern Iraqi oil production. Kirkuk has over 10 billion barrels (1.6 km³) of remaining proven oil reserves. The Jambur, Bai Hassan, and Khabbaz fields are the only other currently producing oil fields in northern Iraq. While Iraq's northern oil industry remained relatively unscathed during the Iran-Iraq War, an estimated 60% of Northern Oil Company's facilities in northern and central Iraq were damaged in the Gulf War. Also, post-1991 fighting between Kurdish and Iraqi forces in northern Iraq resulted in temporary sabotage of the Kirkuk field's facilities. In 1996, production capacity in northern and central Iraq was estimated at between 0.7 to 1 million barrels (110,000 to 160,000 m³) per day, down from around 1.2 million barrels (190,000 m³) per day before the Gulf War.


When we talk about the Insurgency, and how Iraqis have reacted to both the Iraq War, the occupation, and the new 'democratic' institutions, it is important to remember that these events are taking place against this historical background. Similarly, many of the challenges facing the British are also being, and will be, faced by the Americans. Perhaps more importantly, it is against this historical backdrop that the current insurgency has grown in Iraq, and the history of the west in Iraq - often under-reported by the Western media - shaped many of the attitudes of Iraqis today. When combined with the impact that sanctions have had, we can begin to trace out why the current insurgency came about.