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Types of land in Iraq

Types of Ottoman land tenure,

  • Mulk

  • Jiftlik

  • Mahlul

  • Matruka

  • Mawat

  • Miri

  • Musha

  • Waqf


The Economic development of Iraq :
report of a mission organized by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development at the request of the Government of Iraq.

World Bank. (1952). The Economic development of Iraq: report of a mission organized by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development at the request of the Government of Iraq. Washington, D.C.: International Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Forms of Land Tenure

Land is held under a complicated system of tenure which has given rise to much confusion and conflict. In accordance with traditional legal concepts the state has retained the ultimate legal title to nearly all the available land. Absolute private ownership, known as mamloukah or mulk, is confined to urban property and orchards. Rights to the permanent usufructuary possession of a large proportion of state or miri land have been acquired by private individuals, however, under conditions which are virtually indistinguishable from full private ownership, since the holdings may be sold, mortgaged or transferred to successors. In the past, claims to land were established in most cases quite informally without the benefit of full legal sanction, i.e., by simply occupying the land. Tribal lands were generally regarded as being held in common. As, however, the tribes were converted from nomadic pursuits to settled agriculture, the sheikhs and sub-sheikhs of the tribe gradually established a claim to such lands as their own property and thus became landlords, with their tribesmen as sharecropping tenants.

In the 19th century the Turkish government sought to establish a single legal system of tenure, known as tapu, but in the end this effort only compounded the confusion. There were no systematic grants of tapu tenure. Grants were generally made without any examination of conflicting claims and were used as a means of rewarding the favored few. The grants that were made at that time to the Sadun clan and a few other influential persons in Muntafiq province remain contested to this day by the actual occupiers of the land. With the introduction of tapu tenure many village areas in the North apparently were registered in whole or in part as the personal possession of local notables or aghas who in the past had acted as tax farmers and served generally as intermediaries between the government and the cultivators. In the twentieth century a further complication was added by the rapid introduction of pump irrigation. City merchants financially able to buy pumps entered into arrangements with occupiers of miri land for the supply of water against specified shares in the crop, thus creating new claims to land without resolving the fate of any preexisting claims.

Following a study of this question by Sir Ernest Dowson, a British land expert, the government decided in 1932 to end the confusion by inaugurating a cadastral survey to be carried out by a number of so-called Land Settlement Committees. The law of 1932 as well as the law which replaced it in 1938 recognized the following types of land tenure:

Mamloukah or mulk — land held in absolute private ownership.

Matroukah — land reserved for public purposes.

Mazgufa or waqf — land which is administered in trust (1) for the benefit of religious institutions by the state Awqaf Administration, or (2) for the benefit of private persons by mutawallis appointed by religious courts. This type of waqf must be distinguished from so-called untrue waqf, namely property from which the taxes or revenue were in the past assigned to religious institutions by the Turkish government.

Miri tapu — land held in permanent tenure from the state under conditions enabling the holder to sell or mortgage it and leave it to his successors. Proof of such tenure may be supplied by documentary evidence or by factual evidence that the land has been used productively by the holder or his predecessor for 10 years during which no land rent was paid or that it has been planted with trees meeting specified conditions.

Miri lazmah — land held under generally the same conditions as miri tapu, but with the stipulation that the government may veto the transfer of such land if it tends to disturb the peace, a precaution designed to prevent, where necessary, the transfer of tribal lands to people outside the tribe. Lasmah grants are made upon proof that a person has made productive use of the land within the preceding 15 years.

Miri sirf — land, particularly vacant or idle land, definitely acknowledged as belonging de facto and de jure to the state.

Although tapu and lazmah land are still recognized as miri or state land, they are in fact hardly distinguishable from full private ownership. In theory, possession of these lands may lapse if they are not productively used for three successive years in the case of lazmah and for four years in the case of tapu, but this apparently happens rarely, if at all. Prior to 1939 holders of such land were generally required to make to the state a payment for rent and water rights which was lower for tapu than for lazmah land, but in that year these assessments were abolished in return for amortization of their capitalized value over a period of 10 years. With the abolition of these payments there now remains very little distinction between tapu and lazmah.

The cadastral survey has now been completed for about half
of the land in the 14 provinces in Iraq. The progress achieved
is set forth in the table below. It will be noted that 61 percent of
the total land surveyed and 51 percent of the cultivable land sur-

Mulk was land owned in a manner similar to western ownership, that is, it was private property owned in complete freehold, and was not subject to the tithe tax. Such ownership was very rare in many countries. The land could be transferred to others without state interference, and owners could mortgage it or bequeath it.

Miri was a form of land ownership in the Ottoman Empire, perhaps the most common. Unlike Mulk land, which was owned outright, Miri was agricultural land that was leased from the government on condition of use. Individuals could purchase a deed to cultivate this land and pay a tithe to the government plus an additional small tax. Ownership could be transferred only with the approval of the state. Miri rights could be transferred to heirs, and the land could be sub-let to tenants. If the owner died without an heir or the land was not cultivated for three years, the land would in theory revert to the government.