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The "sovereign" Iraqi Monarchy and British Colonialism

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The "Sovereign" Iraqi Monarchy and British Colonialism

In 1932, the League of Nations admitted Iraq as a sovereign state fully aware that British influence continued in Iraqi political, economic and military areas through a new 25-year treaty. Britain's aim was for indirect control of Iraq through advisors, military bases and access to Iraq's tax collections. In this way, it avoided the high cost of large troop deployment on foreign soil. Yet, the fiction of indirect control failed to convince Iraqis.

As boundaries became fixed for this new nation, internal power struggles flared up between the different religious factions, pitting one ethnic group against another. Further, the new borders resulted in frequent border disputes with Iraq's mainly new neighbors in addition to widespread ethnic and economic dislocation. While trying to strike a balance between nationalist and British influences, King Faisal's Hashemite monarchy struggled to mold a political community under these overwhelming pressures.

Rebellion among the ethnic groups was a constant problem, particularly from the Kurds and Assyrians. Although previously bestowing favor on one or the other, Britain now employed the brutal force of the Iraqi military to suppress dissent. These actions forebode future patterns for Iraq where dissent provoked heavy handed military repression. Into this arena came General Bakr Sidqi, an ambitious and powerful Kurdish commander, who had not only military but growing political aspirations.

In September 1933, when King Faisal died, Iraq lost the main stabilizing force in Iraqi politics. Despite the challenges to the monarchy's legitimacy, the King alone was able to unite the various political personalities in support of Iraqi nationalism. His 21-year old son, Ghazi, was western educated and knew little of Iraqi tribal society when he became monarch. During his reign, Iraqi politics degenerated into strife between urban elites and tribal sheikhs that further undermined the newly established political institutions and constitution.

General Bakr Sidqi led a coup d'etat in 1936, the first military coup that the modern Arab world was to experience. The British did not intervene as their policy of indirect control was yielding results and the coup threatened only the parliament. However, Sidqi was to last only one year. There was yet a second coup in 1937 by other military officers, called "the Circle of Seven", who managed to rule Iraq with King Ghazi as figurehead until 1941. This group dealt with dissent harshly, imposing martial law, press censorship and establishing a detention camp. Provincial and nationalist groups went underground in their resistance to the government.

As the Second World War unfolded, Britain again began to intervene in Iraqi politics with heavy demands for Iraq to side with Allied powers, to grant unimpeded access to air bases and supplies, and to allow troop transfers across Iraqi soil. These demands reopened festering resentment of British colonial control and ultimately sparked a third coup in 1941, this time against the monarchy. Although the new government assured Britain that all treaty rights would be upheld, the British landed forces in Iraq and marched to Baghdad with surprisingly little resistance. Britain reestablished its military occupation to ensure the regent's return to Iraq. With this presence, Britain put an end to the series of military coups that had plagued the country. Yet, with each successive coup, establishing political control by armed force was becoming ingrained in Iraqi society. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Sa'id emerged as the nation's preeminent political figure and strongman in exercising military might to suppress his opposition.

In early 1948, the Iraqi government attempted to renegotiate in secrecy a treaty with Britain, concerned that any overt discussion could inflame those who bitterly



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