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British Mandate of Mesopotamia




Mandate for Iraq

The Mandate for Iraq was awarded to Great Britain at the San Remo Conference in April 1920. This justified Iraqi fears of European imperial rule, no matter how indirect, as well as pride concerns of their own administrative and political leaders being belittled.

Denouncing the Mandate

Coalitions began to form against Iraq's incorporation into the British Empire. In the Shi'i city of Karbala, Ayatollah al-Shirazi issued a fatwa declaring it unlawful to serve in the British administration. The Shi'i 'ulama and tribal Shaikhs of the mid-Euphrates as well as the Independence Guard all met and agreed to form a coordinated network of action. The Independence Guard branched into provincial towns. The strategy was to peacefully protest in Baghdad, the seat of British power, and pursue more violent resistance should these protests fail.

Downfall of al-'Ahd al-'Iraqi

Jamil al-Midfa'i led regular soldiers and tribal allies to capture Tall 'Afar. They intended to capture Mosul at the same time as a planned revolt, but the British dispersed the troops and the revolt never occurred. Thus ended the organized activities of al-'Ahd al-'Iraqi.

Protests Begin

Increasingly large mass-meetings occurred at Sunny and Shi'i moques in Baghdad to denounce the Mandate. There was significant cooperation for Iraqi independence between the two sects. At one meeting, fifteen representatives were nominated to present the case for Iraqi independence to the British authorities. Arnold WIlson agreed to meet the representatives (mandubin, aka delegates), but only in the company of twenty-five Baghdad notables who he would select himself.

Armed Revolt Murmurs

As early as , there had been discussions among shaikhs of the mid-Euphrates aout acting against the British. Their concerns varied from general dislike of the notion of British hegemony to specific concern about British interference in land tenure. Misgivings in London about occupying Iraq had become public knowledge, giving rise to the perception that armed rebellion might accelerate Britain's retreat.

Self-Rule Gains Traction

Wilson and the mandubin had a fruitless meeting. However, suggestions from London (encouraged by Bell in Baghdad) impelled the British to pursue a policy of limited Iraqi self-rule. As the notion of a state of Iraq gained momentum and seemed unavoidable, persons at all level oriented themselves towards it and even pursued an advantageous niche in the forming government.

Constituent Assembly

It was announced that elections would be held for a Constituent Assembly. The task of devising the electoral machinery was appointed to former Ottoman deputies headed by Sayyid Talib al-Naqib, who had returned from exile to seize upon the opportunities that were arising with the creation of a new state.

Armed Revolt Erupts

Armed revolt erupted at the end of . The arrest of his son prompted Ayatollah al-Shirazi (the leading Shi'i mjtahid in Iraq upon Ayatollah Yazdi's death) to issue a fatwa that encouraged armed revolt. The British authorities attempted to quash this by arrested various mid-Euphrates tribal chiefs. The arrests gave momentum to the revolt, which thrived on weak and thin British garrisons, strong links between the Shi'i spiritual centers of Najaf Karbala, and powerful armed tribes. Tribal shaikhs in Kut and 'Arma worked against the revolt as their extensive landholdings had been recognized by British authorities.

Armed Revolt Succeeds

The rebels captured much of the mid-Euphrates, giving heart to others and causing the revolt to spread to the lower Euphrates as well as districts to the north, east and west of Baghdad. However, the rebels were limited due to decreasing support the further they went from their home areas.

Kurdish Uprising

Kurds seized the chance to opportunistically seize towns near the Persian border, but were limited by a decrease in support like rebels to the south.

Collapse of Revolt

The revolt of Shi'i tribes began to flag, much to the relief of the British and Sunni notables in Baghdad. Also, organized public opposition in Baghdad became virtually impossible due to British security and intelligence forces. By late October the British had re-exerted hegemony over lands seized by the rebels and the rebellion was over with the surrender of Najaf and Karbala. In total, the Iraqi revolt cost about 6,000 Iraqi lives and 500 British and Indian soldiers' lives. What had begun as general protests had become a mid-Euphrates revolt. The revolt became the founding myth of Iraqi nationalism, regardless of what the revolt's actual intentions were. Ideas began to form about the meaning, identity and interests of a new Iraqi state. In London, the revolt and the costs of its suppression made clear the need for a form of government in Iraq other than the controversial direct rule that was attempted.

Preparing A Government

Sir Percy Cox arrived in Baghdad to take up his post as first high commissioner under the Mandate. Great Britain realized that direct rule was much too costly, prompting Cox to persuade the elderly naqib al-ashraf of Baghdad, Sayyid 'Abd al-Rahman al-Kailani, to accept the presidency of an appointed council of ministers working under British supervision.

First Iraqi Government

Sayyid 'Abd al-Rahman al-Kailani forms first Iraqi government, becoming the first Prime Minister of Iraq. The government was headed by the naqib al-ashrad Sayyid 'Abd al-Rahman al-Kailani and included 21 eminent Iraqis from all three of the old Ottoman provinces. Sunni Arabs predominated and help the most important posts, but the council of ministers also included a few Shi'a and Christians as well as a prominent Jew. Before long, the Ottoman administrative units were restored, as were municipal councils, and Iraqi officials began to replace Brits in the provinces (except in Sulaymaniyah). However, Iraqis in charge of the provinces were assisted by a British adviser; and British advisers were attached to the new ministries.

Immediately apparent was the absence of any Shi'i appointees to senior administrative positions, save in the 'Atabat. The old Sunni-dominated order of Ottoman times was apparently being re-established. Indeed it could hardly have been otherwise. The Shi'a had largely been excluded from the Ottoman administration and consequently there were few amongst them with any administrative experience. Furthermore, the attitude of the naqib [Sayyid 'Abd al-Rahman al-Kailani] and other Baghdad notables to the Shi'a in general and the wariness of the British towards the Shi'a following the recent revolt gave them common ground for looking elsewhere for the officials of the new state. They did not have far to look. Large numbers of predominantly Sunni Arab ex-Ottoman officials, hitherto excluded by the British, were now looking to the new government to restore them to the place that they regarded as rightfully theirs. Tripp 2002, p 45; bold added

Iraqi Army Formed

Cairo Conference

Cairo Conference decides on Prince Faisal bin Husain al-Hashemi as king of Iraq.

King Faisal Enthroned

King Faisal enthroned in Baghdad.

Constituent Assembly

Constituent Assembly opens.

Anglo-Iraqi Treaty

Anglo-Iraqi Treaty passed.

Geneva Protocol Signed

The Iraqi regime signed the 1925 protocol of Geneva of the prohibition of the deployment of the chemical and biological weapons in wars in .