Selecting the right monarch for the transitional government would be vitally important. Conveniently, the 1925 constitution provides that the people of Iraq are deemed to have "confided ...a trust" to "King Faisal, son of Hussain, and to his heirs ...." If the allies who liberated Iraq recognized an heir of this Hashemite line as its constitutional monarch, and this monarch agreed to help bring about a modern democracy under the rule of law, such a structure could well be the framework for a much smoother transition to democracy than now seems at hand.
The respect enjoyed by the Hashemites has been earned. They have had a generally deserved reputation for tolerance and coexistence with other faiths and other branches of Islam. Many Iraqis look back on the era of Hashemite rule from the 1920s to the 1950s as a golden age.
At the Umm al-Qura Mosque, the Sunnis held up placards asserting the governing council had been appointed by dictators. Chillingly, some chanted: "O Baghdad, revolutionary. Let (American civil administrator Paul) Bremer's fate be that of Nuri."The Nuri the crowd was referring to was former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Said, and even today some Iraqis consider him worse than Saddam. Nuri was also the leader of the last of the Hashemites governments to rule in Iraq.
Those neocon "geniuses" that got us into Iraq seem determined to commit every mistake the British made, but in a much smaller amount of time. The neocons privatized agriculture, something the British did in 1932 which eventually led to the downfall of the Hashemites. They told the Iraqis that we are "liberators" and then disrespected the arabs ability to govern themself, something the British did that led to the 1920 Revolution. And then the neocons did something even the British didn't do - they disbanded the strongest institution in Iraq - the army.
But the true gem is this "plan" to reinstall the monarchy.
This is the fourth part of my ongoing series about the history of Iraq. Please read parts One, Two, and Three. I left off Part Three just as Nuri conspired to take power in a military coup, and then (as many believe) conspired to kill King Ghazi in 1939.
The British Ambassador Maurice Peterson tells King Ghazi's brother-in-law Prince Abdul Ilah (brother of the estranged Queen), that the king "must either be controlled or deposed". British Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs R. A. Butler (later a Conservative Foreign Secretary & British Deputy Prime Minister), tells Iraqi Prime Minister Tawfiq as-Suwaidi that the king is" playing with fire and might get his fingers burned".
About a week later the young King is found dead in an "automobile accident", in a virtually undamaged car. Two others originally in the car have disappeared without trace. Anti-British riots erupt, & the British Consul is assassinated in Mosul.
The apparent regicide is widely believed to have been organized in the interests of the British by the perennial Iraqi politician, Nuri al Said. Corrupt and generally detested, Nuri is reputed to have plotted with Prince Abdul Ilah and the prince's sister, the King's estranged wife Queen Aliyah. The latter is the mother of the small child now proclaimed king as Faisal II.
Abdul Ilah is appointed regent, but the royal family is tainted in the public eye. A Nuri al Said government is later described by the British Intelligence service as an "oligarchy of racketeers".
This presented a dramatic shift in Iraqi politics. While kings Faisal and Ghazi were Pan-Arab nationalists like most Iraqis were, Nuri and Abd were Iraqi nationalists. The difference being that Pan-Arab's were bitterly anti-British. It was during this time that the Free Officer's Movement, an anti-monarchy group within the military, was first created in Iraq.
Nuri had a dilemma. Nuri was pro-British, and the 1930 treaty with Britain that Nuri had helped push through required Iraq to side with the British during times of war, and give the British military unrestricted access. However, the rest of the Iraqi government was hostile to the British, which still maintained large military bases around Iraq.
So when the war started, instead of declaring war on Germany, Iraq cut all diplomatic ties with Germany (the minimum required). By the time Italy entered the war Nuri was no longer Prime Minister, Rashid 'Ali al-Gaylani, a Pan-Arab nationalist, was. His government refused to declare war on Italy, thus breaking the 1930 treaty with Britain. The seething hatred in the Pan-Arab group led them to secret negotiations with Germany. The natural resources of Iraq were promised to the Nazis in exchange for German recognition of Arab rights...and to "deal with" the Jews in Iraq.
However, Britain's fortunes in the war changed for the better by early 1941, and under pressure from the Regent, Ali was forced to resign as PM January 31, 1941. Neither Rashid Ali, nor the anti-British forces in the army would stand for that. So on April 3, Rashid Ali led what was to be known as the Golden Square Coup. The regent, Prince Abdul Ilah, & Prime Minister Nuri al Said fled to a British warship. Britain was alarmed and responded by landing troops at Basra. Rashid Ali saw the act as an invasion and sent troops to the large RAF base at Habbaniya, west of Baghdad, on the night of April 29th.
In May 1941, in the midst of a World War, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered his reluctant Commander-in-Chief Middle East, General Sir Archibald Wavell, to march on Baghdad to effect a "regime change." The British Prime Minister's arguments reflected many of those same concerns expressed today by members of the George W. Bush administration: British intervention would "pre-empt" Axis support for Rachid Ali, a violently anti-British Arab nationalist whose government threatened Britain's strategic position in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. It would strike a blow at a terrorist challenge orchestrated by a charismatic Islamic cleric. British intervention also would protect oil reserves vital to the British war effort. Furthermore, Churchill was willing to wave aside offers of third-party mediation in favor of a "unilateralist" approach. Conversely, Wavell's arguments against an invasion of Iraq mirrored contemporary objections--he simply lacked the resources to add Iraq to an impossibly extensive list of military commitments. A military attack, Wavell believed, would make Britain's position in the Middle East less, not more, secure.While the overwhelming Iraqi forces outside of Habbaniya made threats, they never launched a ground offensive. On May 2nd the British commander took the initiative. He instructed his complement of antiquated aircraft to attack the Iraqi positions. The Iraqi air force was even more pitiful and by the following day the British controlled the skies above Iraq. By May 7th the siege had ended.
So, what did Britain gain from its "preventive war" policies in the Middle East? The short answer is that it solidified their position in the Middle East by pre-empting Axis intervention, and bought time to bring a major ally on line, to reverse the tide of war in the Mediterranean theater that in the spring of 1941 was running strongly in the Axis favor, and ultimately emerge among the victors of World War II. But even before the war ended, Britain's primacy in the Middle East had begun to unravel, beginning in Palestine. By the 1950s, Iraq, Iran and Egypt were in turmoil. Therefore, the prevailing historical verdict on Britain's interaction with the Arab world during World War II is that, in its effort to preserve its political base through the invasions of Iraq and Persia, the exile of the Grand Mufti and sponsorship of Zionist counter-terror groups like the Haganah, and heavy handed tactics against the young King Farouk in Egypt, Britain fanned the flames of Arab nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism that ultimately compromised its long term interests in the Middle East. At least one writer argues that Wavell was correct, that a combination of Turkish mediation and the threat of British force could have produced a compromise with Rachid Ali that would have reserved British forces for more pressing operations and mitigated the legacy of bitterness and resentment felt in Iraq for the West.
There were two effects from the British re-occupation of Iraq.
The first effect concerned the Iraqis. The British wasted no time re-installing Nuri al-Said as Prime Minister and Prince Abdul Ilah as regent.
Nothing contributed more to nationalist sentiment in Iraq, especially in the military, than the British invasion of 1941 and the reimposition of the monarchy. From then on, the monarchy was completely divorced from the powerful nationalist trend. Widely viewed as an anachronism that lacked popular legitimacy, the monarchy was perceived to be aligned with social forces that were retarding the country's development.The other effect concerned the British. The Iraq scare convinced them to be more proactive in the arab world. Needing to secure access to their oil fields in Iran, and fearings their contacts with Germany, the British used Iraq as a base to invade Iran on August 25, 1941. The Soviets invade from the north at the same time. Iran did not expect the invasion, and therefore had no time to prepare. The two forces met in Tehran on September 17th.
Mustafa Barzani escaped from exile in 1942, and by July 1943 he was engaged in his third revolt against the British. However, this one didn't have any more success than the others did. By October the RAF had bombed the villages of Kurdistan to the point that the rebellion ended.
This didn't last long though. On August 10, 1945, Barzani launched his fourth revolt against the British (the fifth Kurdish revolt overall in 26 years). Once again it was a failed effort, and by October Barzani and his forces were in retreat. Barzani and 1,000 of his followers managed to elude the newly reorganized Iraqi army and the RAF, break through the enemy lines, and fight their way into Soviet-controlled Iran. Once there they set up the Republic of Mahabad. Barzani was Minister of Defense. To make a long story short, the Soviets pulled out of Iran the following year and the Iranian army crushed the new republic, and hanged the Prime Minister.
Barzani was on the run again.
He retreated to Iraq on May 27, 1947, but Iraq had no intention of allowing him to stay. Therefore, in his fifth revolt against Iraq, Barzani and 496 of his followers fought a running battle from Iraqi-controlled Kurdistan, through Turkey, back into Iran, and all the way to the Soviet-controlled Azerbaijan. They were pursued by the Iranian army all the way up to the border. In the Soviet Union they were interned in a prison camp for several years.
Occupied Iraq declared war on the Axis powers in January 1943. In 1945 iraq entered the League of Arab States (Arab League). Almost all of these nations were either occupied by Britain, or under their thumb.
But all of these events made little difference to the man on the Iraqi street.
World War II exacerbated Iraq's social and economic problems. The spiraling prices and shortages brought on by the war increased the opportunity for exploitation and significantly widened the gap between rich and poor; thus, while wealthy landowners were enriching themselves through corruption, the salaried middle class, including teachers, civil servants, and army officers, saw their incomes depreciate daily. Even worse off were the peasants, who lived under the heavy burden of the 1932 land reform that permitted their landlords (shaykhs) to make huge profits selling cash crops to the British occupying force. The worsening economic situation of the mass of Iraqis during the 1950s and the 1960s enabled the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) to establish deep roots during this period.All those economic privations were bad enough. To make things worse, there were heavy restrictions on personal liberty and freedom of the press during WWII, no opposition political parties were allowed, so there was no peaceful outlet for this frustration.