The Recent History of Iraq

During the First World War, Turkey became a German ally and its empire collapsed when British forces invaded Mesopotamia in 1917 and occupied Baghdad.

The country became a British Mandate - due, in no small part, to the British interest in Iraqi oil fields, and because they wanted to build a transcontinental railroad from Europe, across Turkey, and down through Iraq to Kuwait on the Persian Gulf. This railroad would allow a direct trade route with India without having to skirt Africa. - and an armistice was signed with Turkey in 1918. Local unrest (Thawrah), however, resulted in an Iraqi uprising in 1920, and after costly attempts to quell this, the British government decided to draw up a new plan for the state of Iraq. It was to be a kingdom, under the rule of Emir Faisal ibn Hussain, brother of the new ruler of neighbouring Jordan, Abdallah, a member of the Hashemite family, and although the monarch was elected and proclaimed King by plebiscite in 1921, full independence was not achieved until 1932, when the British Mandate was officially terminated. Iraq joined the League of Nations in the October of that year, and was officially recognized as an independent sovereign state. On Faisal's death in 1933, he was succeeded by his son, King Ghazi I. Iraq joined the UN in 1945 and became a founding member of the Arab League.

After the collapse of the ottoman empire, a mandate from the league of nations gave the administration of Iraq to Britain. In 1921, Britain adopted a policy of devolving responsabilities to an Iraqi government. This arrangement was formalized by the Anglo-Iraqi treaty of 1922 modified by a supplementary military agreement in 1924. Britain controlled Iraq's foreign and defence policies and was able to exercise influence over Iraq's internal affairs through advisers and through ultimate financial control. In practice Britain quickly reduced her interference in the internal affairs; the number of advisers was cut from nearly 3000 in 1920 to 100 in 1932 when the advisers became employees of the Iraqi government. Britain thus paved the way for a new treaty in 1930 which further restricted British powerrs and led to the independance of Iraq and her admission to the league of nations in 1932. The remarkable pace at which Briain quitted her mandate responsabilities was due to a desire to reduce her financial commitments and wish to avoid becoming involved in any possible internal disturbances comparable to the 1920 Uprising. Britain safeguarded her strartigic interests in communications and oil by the 1930 treaty of alliance which gave her sovereign rights in two bases and the right to use Iraqi facilities in the case of war. The consequances of Britains's decision to terminate her mandate responsabilities so quickly was that the Iraqi state had to create hastily the institutions required to sustain itself.

In 1936 King Ghazi I formed an alliance with other Arab nations, known as the Pan-Arab movement. This was, in effect, a non-aggression treaty, and promising kinship between Arab countries. Three years later, Ghazi was killed in a road accident and was succeeded by his three-year-old son, Faisal II, under a regency. Faisal, the cousin of Jordan's present King Hussein, did not assume the throne formally until his eighteenth birthday, in May 1953.

During the earlier part of World War II, Iraq's government was strongly pro-British, but a military revolt in 1941 resulted in British troops landing at Basra in 1941. The ensuing war between Britain and Iraq lasted less than a month, before Iraq conceded defeat, and a new, pro-British government was established. In the following year Iraq became an important Middle Eastern supply centre for American and British forces, particularly with regard to the trans-shipment of arms to the USSR.


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.

During the early 1950s, in the reign of the new young King Faisal II, various pro-Western pacts were signed, but Arab factions, bitterly opposed to union with the west, inspired by the example of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, staged a military coup on 14th July 1958, led by General Abdul-Karim Qassim (known as "il-Za`im"). King Faisal and the premier, Nuri as-Said were both executed in the uprising and the country was proclaimed a republic.

A period of considerable instability followed, with one military coup swiftly succeeding another, and leaders came and went throughout the 60s and early 70s. Qassim was assassinated in February 1963, when Ba'ath Arab Socialist Party members took power. Nine months later, President Abdul Salam Mohammad Arif led a successful coup against the Ba'athists, and in April 13 1966 President Abdul Salam Arif dies in a helicopter crash! and is followed by his brother Abdul Rahman Arif. The Ba'athists overthrow Arif and regained power in July 1968 coup. Ahmed Hassan Al-Bakr became president and chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) following the Ba'athists return to power. Iraq's general policy during these years was one of Arab National. Iraq was on the head of the other Arab troops during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, and in the liberation war of 1973, gave material aid to Syria. Iraq was heavily opposed to the cease-fire, which ended the conflict.

Relations with Iran were fast deteriorating in the early 70s. Iranian arms supplies to the Kurd leader, Mustafa al-Barzani, now fueled the ongoing Kurdish situation, which had first emerged in a 1961 Kurdish rebellion. Problems were compounded by border disputes with Iran, but these were partially settled in 1975, whereupon Iran withdrew aid from the Kurdish revolt and effectively halted it.

By the end of 1977, the Kurdish people had been granted greater autonomy and Kurdish was recognized as an official language. Politically, Iraq seemed to be stabilizing, and the oil boom of the late 70s contributed dramatically to an upsurge in the economy.