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Iraq in History; Part Four: The Turbulent Century PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 12 January 2005 14:07
Britain invaded Iraq at the beginning of the first world war which they justified it as a necessity to protect their oil interests in neighboring Iran and their access to the Gulf’s shipping lanes to their colonies in far east especially India.  Many Iraqis welcomed the British in the beginning with open hands who vowed to end five centuries of Ottoman rule which has grown very corrupt and economically stifling, “our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies but as liberators proclaimed General Stanley Maude the commander of the British forces as his troops marched into Baghdad in 1917”.
From the start of the war the British were courting the Arabs and encouraging them to revolt against the oppressive rule of the Ottoman Empire which they finally did in 1916 after very solemn promises to the leader of the revolt al-Husayn ibn-Ali the Shareef of Mecca that when the war ends they will be granted self rule and independence.

The Ottoman Empire was a dynastic state centered in what is now Turkey, it was founded at the end of the 13th century, and at its height in the mid 1500s it controlled a vast area in Europe, north Africa and the Middle East with three proveniences [villayats] south of Turkey which make up nowadays Iraq, but the Ottomans have allied themselves during that conflict with the Germans who lost the war and dragged their allies with them when the empire was dismembered and its colonies distributed amongst the victors, mainly the British and the French, the three separate provinces [villayats] went to the British who joined them together and fashioned modern Iraq.  The Ottoman Empire has lasted almost five centuries.  

The British never intended to leave Iraq, oil was figuring very significantly in their strategic and long term planning they have already changed the fueling of their fleet to oil instead of coal and Iraq was already smelling of a lot of oil, so they insisted in the their machinations with the French on having that country and were able to acquire from the recently formed league of nations a mandate to administer it.  The mandate was a kind of trusteeship a very clever disguise to maintain their old colonial rule which allowed them to control the most important aspects of the state, so under the mandate they proclaimed the country a monarchy and crowned Faisal one of the sons of the Shareef of Mecca king in 1921, this was followed by giving the Iraqis a constitution and a parliament, but the whole system was nothing but a great charade, Britain was the real power and no Iraqi government was able to carry out any policy in opposition to those of the British.  But Britain’s stay in  Iraq was not a picnic it has been marred by nationalist fervor, ethnic uprisings, tribal conflicts treacherous warfare and deadly oppression all of which finally led to kicking the British out of the country at the hands of small group of middle ranking middle class officers under the command of Brigadier Abdul Kareem Qassem who led a military coup in the early hours of 14th of July, 1958, with Colonel Abdul Salam Aref as his second in command.  Qassem dissolved the Monarchy and the constitution and declared the country a republic and organized a three man ceremonial committee on the top with real power in his hands as prime minister.  Britain’s experiment in nation building in Iraq failed, due amongst many other reasons to Iraq’s turbulent history to its ethnic, religious and cultural diversity which created the plethora of groups inside it vying for power the influence and the privileges it brings.

But the fall of the monarchy did not bring better stability or progress, in fact the decade which followed the demise of the monarchy was extremely turbulent and bloody. The new leader, Qassem was very simple and modest with an extremely clean record but was a romantic and politically naïve and couldn’t grasp the complexities of the situation in post Britain Iraq.  He dreamt of great achievements and rapid progress for his country which put him immediately in conflict with some of the important Arab leaders of the those days and their the followers who had their own agendas for the newly liberated country like his second in command Aref who was a very strong Nasserite and started a very ugly quarrel which ended by demoting the colonel and banishing him to Germany as an ambassador, what followed was five years of incredible instability with Qassem who was now a general relying mostly on the Communists and their supporters who clashed viciously with the other major faction in the country, the nationalists, a clash which caused a great loss of life and very severe polarization of the country. Amongst the nationalists were the budding and recently created Ba’ath party. But the Ba’athists were playing their own game and succeeded on the 8th 0f February 1963 in toppling Qassem, capture the poor fellow and executed him after a summary trial. But the Ba’athists in their effort to gain some acceptance from the other nationalist groups brought colonel Aref from his post in Germany and made him president evidently as a figurehead.  After the Ba’athists gained power they unleashed an unprecedented reign of terror against their Communist adversaries and their allies which was a real blood  bath very reminiscent of the Mongols few centuries ago, they were also very new to government, young and inexperienced so they were immediately engaged in very severe intraparty squabbles and competition for power and influence all of which created a great revulsion against their rule which was utilized by colonel Aref who was finally able to topple them on September of the same year, dismantled their organization and sent them into the wilderness after only six months and started another very uncertain five years in the already very confused situation.  The Aref regime began with the first Aref who was later on killed in a helicopter crash in April 1966 and was replaced by his brother Abdul-Rahman. The Aref regime was a bit more humane but ineffective and pretty useless.

Now someone was waiting in the corridors of power, a young man who was trained during his stay in Cairo, who had reorganized the party according to his own personal and tribal principles arranged a blood less transfer of power from the hands of the second Aref on the 17th of July 1968 and ascended to supreme authority in the country, he was 31 years old his name was Saddam Hussein.

Dr. Najeeb Hanoudi
Baghdad, Jan., 12, 2004
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