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Iraq has changed from being a western ally to an arch enemy in two decades. As troops gather at its borders once again, Derek Hopwood reflects on the fact that Britain and Iraq share a much longer history, with a very modern legacy.
An ancient civilisation
The present state of Iraq was founded by Great Britain in 1920, on land of great historical antiquity, then known as Mesopotamia. The country lay between two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates - and was the birthplace of the ancient civilisations of Sumeria, Babylon and Nineveh. 'This was the glittering city of the Arabian nights and of Harun al-Rashid.'
The present capital of Iraq, Baghdad, lies near the site of Babylon and was founded by the Arab Abbasid dynasty in the eighth century AD. This was the glittering city of the Arabian nights and of Harun al-Rashid, which in 1258 was destroyed by the invading Mongols and became a rather provincial backwater until it was conquered again, this time in 1534 by the Ottomans, who made it the chief city of the province of Baghdad.
Eventually, separate provinces of Mosul to the north and Basra to the south were created. These three provinces looked out in different directions. Mosul - a mountainous region largely inhabited by fiercely independent-minded Kurds - looked north to neighbouring Turkish Anatolia. Baghdad faced across the deserts to Syria and east to Persia. Finally Basra, at the head of the Persian Gulf, looked seaward as far as India.
'...by 1914 there was growing anxiety about the security of the Persian oilfields...'
In the 19th century Europeans (largely the British) began to take an interest in exploring, surveying, spying and trading in Mesopotamia, as well as in navigating its rivers. And by 1914 there was growing anxiety about the security of the Persian oilfields on the other side of the Gulf - these were the fields that supplied the Royal Navy.
World War One
The Ottoman Empire, which included the provinces of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul, entered World War One on the side of the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary), and immediately became a target for British imperial ambitions.
Winston Churchill conceived the disastrous campaign in Gallipoli as means of occupying Constantinople, while others, largely in India, favoured sending invading Allied forces via a longer route through Basra to Baghdad. They believed the area was suitable for colonisation, and thought an invasion would meet little resistance.
In India a substantial Anglo-Indian army was raised, which landed in Basra in November 1914. The local defending forces soon fled, and the British decided to push on towards Baghdad. They totally miscalculated the strength and determination of the Turkish (Ottoman) forces, however, who trapped them in a terrible siege in Kut al-Amara on the Tigris. The Anglo-Indian force surrendered in April 1916 and many of the soldiers perished in prisoner-of-war camps. New British forces eventually arrived in Basra in greater numbers, and by March 1917 were able to capture Baghdad.
The foundation of Iraq
By the end of World War One, British forces were more or less in control of the three provinces and a shaky British administration in Baghdad had to decide on their future. The Ottoman Empire had collapsed, leaving the former Arab provinces in limbo, and the colonial powers of Britain and France aimed to absorb them into their empires; however, the Arab and other inhabitants felt strongly that they had been promised independence.
'The Arabs claimed this was a veiled colonialism...'
Under strong pressure from the United States, a sort of compromise was evolved whereby Britain and France were given mandates for the administration of these provinces, under international supervision, by the League of Nations. The Arabs claimed this was a veiled colonialism, because there was only an indefinite promise of independence.
Iraq (the old Arabic name for part of the region) was to become a British mandate, carved out of the three former Ottoman provinces. France took control of Syria and Lebanon. There was immediate resentment amongst Iraq's inhabitants at what they saw as a charade, and in 1920 a strong revolt spread through the country - a revolt that was put down only with great difficulty and by methods that do not bear close scrutiny. The situation was so bad that the British commander, General Sir Aylmer Haldane, at one time called for supplies of poisonous gas. Indiscriminate air power was used to quell the revolt of the region's tribesmen, methods the British admitted did not win them friends and, as one of them said, implanted undying hatred of the British among the people of the area, and a desire for revenge.
The mandate united the three disparate provinces under the imported Hashimite King Faisal, from the Hijaz region of Arabia. Apart from its natural geographical differences, the new Iraq was a complex mix of ethnic and religious groups. In particular the rebellious Kurds in the north had little wish to be ruled from Baghdad, while in the south the tribesmen and shi'is had a similar abhorrence of central control. In implementing their mandate, the British had certainly sown the seeds of future unrest.
'The British imposed a monarchy and a form of democracy...'
There were other contentious issues. The Iraqis deeply resented the borders imposed on them that cut them off from Kuwait, a mini-state that they believed to be a part of their country. These borders also meant that Iraq had only limited access to the waters of the Gulf. The British imposed a monarchy and a form of democracy but, even after the grant of formal independence in 1930, most Iraqis believed that the British really ruled the country.
The rise of the army
In fact Iraq remained a satellite of Britain for the next three decades, under the terms of a treaty signed the same year (1930), which included the retention of British military bases and an agreement to train the Iraqi army. Ironically, this army became a breeding ground of resentment against the British presence, particularly amongst new nationalist officers. They deeply resented both the British policies in Palestine and the local civilian politicians, who were seen as British puppets. After the death of King Faisal in 1933 the country was virtually ruled by a group of colonels who saw themselves as the future liberators of an oppressed Iraq.
'They deeply resented both the British policies in Palestine and the local civilian politicians...'
During World War Two the British were once again dragged into Iraq - to protect the oil fields in the north and to put down a pro-Nazi coup amongst the army officers. Some 3,000 Iraqi troops were killed, and 3,000 nationalist officers were purged. The British remained to support the monarchy, and a pro-British prime minister, Nuri al-Said, was in place until, in 1958, monarch and politicians were swept away in a vicious nationalist army revolt.
The leaders of the coup were the Free Officers, young Arab nationalists of the type of Gamal Abd al-Nasser in Egypt, who were determined to right all the wrongs of imperialism and in particular to expel the Zionists from Palestine. Other grievances included the position of borders between Kuwait and Iran. In 1961, after Kuwait had gained independence from Britain, the Iraqi leader, General Kassem, claimed it as an integral part of Iraq and concentrated his troops on the frontier, with the intention of taking it by force. Britain was ready, however, and dispatched troops stationed in the Gulf region to dissuade the Iraqis from armed conflict. The crisis was settled temporarily by a coup in Baghdad that overthrew Kassem, and was organised - it would seem - with the help of the United States. Iraq agreed to recognise Kuwait, but continued to make claims for an adjustment of the borders - claims that were to be the cause of further trouble in the future.
'...Saddam Hussein seized power in Iraq in the name of the Arab nationalist Ba'ath Party...'
In 1979 the most aggressive and tyrannical of the Iraqi officers, Saddam Hussein, seized power in Iraq in the name of the Arab nationalist Ba'ath Party, a secular organisation devoted to achieving the unity of all Arabs. Saddam's aims included the elimination of Israel, Arab unity under Iraqi leadership, and the rectification of previous wrongs - and he was a man with sufficient fire to try to put these aims into practice. Saddam Hussein sees Iraq as the successor of the ancient empires of Mesopotamia and himself as another Nebuchadnezzar, fit to assume the mantle of leader of the Arabs and of the strongest power in the region. His energetic policies have included building up a large army equipped with an array of conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction. One aim has been to try to equal the strength of Israel, and one use of the army's weapons was in the attempt to defeat the rebellious Kurds in the north of the territory, who were gassed by Iraqi forces.
'...he sees Iraq as the successor of the ancient empires of Mesopotamia...'
The 1979 Islamic revolution in neighbouring Iran offered Saddam, so he believed, the opportunity to invade Iran when the country was in a weakened state. This invasion would stifle the potential threat of revolutionary Islam, assert Iraqi hegemony and readjust the borders between the two countries. In September 1980 Iraqi troops crossed into Iran, but the quick success Saddam had hoped for turned into a bloody conflict that lasted eight years. During this period the west, Germany, Britain, France and the United States all armed Iraq - in an effort to create a bulwark against the spread of the Islamic threat. Help was given to develop all kinds of weapons.
The invasion of Kuwait
The Iranians finally cracked, after terrible losses and when faced with weapons of mass destruction (poison gas) and missiles. Iraq had become the major power in the region, although after much suffering. Saddam's ambitions widened. He called for the elimination of the American presence in the Gulf, and for the extinction of Israel. To finance his aims he needed greater wealth and once again Iraqi eyes turned to Kuwait. This time, in 1990, Iraqi troops occupied and annexed the emirate - before the outside world could stop them. Meanwhile Iraqi historians expended much effort in trying to prove that Kuwait had always been an integral part of Iraq.
'He called for the elimination of the American presence in the Gulf...'
It took an enormous effort by United Nations forces, led by America, to expel the invaders. From being an ally of the world, Iraq became an outcast and every effort has been made by the United Nations to force Saddam to give up the weapons originally supplied by the west. Another invasion seems likely. Will British troops be seen once again in Mesopotamia?
182,000 Iraqis were killed during the Anfal. 300,000 Iraqis were killed during the uprising. 600,000 Iraqis were killed during the Iraq/Iran war. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died and continue to die as a result of both the internal sanctions imposed by the regime and the external economic sanctions.
Here is small sample of real people who lost their lives on the hands of the Iraqi regime since 1963.
Abbass Ali al-Wa'ili Abbass Fa'iq Mukhtar Abd al-Rahman al-Bazzaz Abdul Alim Ali Albaghdadi Abdul fatah Mahmood Ubaid Abdul Husain Hassan Alshamy Abdul Salam Zahra Sufar Abdul Satar Hikma Nasir Abdul Wahab Dhari Faleh Abdulah Awni Diham Aldury Abdulah Husham Naji Aljubouri Abdulhadi Hussain Ne'ma Abid Abdulah Omar Suq Abid Awad Nihad Ahmad Hassan Mohammad Ahmad Nuriddeen Kayachi Ahmed Muhammad Al-Sammaeri Akram Abdulrahman Aldulaimi Akram Sultan Mahdi Akram Sultan Mahdi Alewi Shentaf Ali Hassan Hussain Ali Jassem Al-Ashram Ali Kadhem 'Alewi Ali Kathim Salman Ali Mohammad Redhr Du'aibel Ali Yaychili (Afthal Abdollah) Allawi Mohsin Hussain Alwan Yassin Ghaleb Amir Eshaq Oraha Amir Kareem Ali Amir Mohammed Merdan Alalwiyya Alsayida Amina Al-Sadr (Bint Al Huda) Anwar Saber Mahmood Anwar Shahen Dawwod Aqeel Faysel Jassem Arjan Yawoz Mohammed Arkan Ma'ad Ali Alsamaraie Asaad Mohammed Jabar Asaad Omar Ashur Odisho Awad Saleem Shakir Aymen Abdul Mun'm Dhari Aymen Hamza Kati' Azad Abdulah Fakhuldeen Baito Yousif Mikhael Bakhtiar Sulaiman Mohammed Bakir Yaseen Mohammed Beplo Warda Daniel Bishko Najim Rashid Burhan Tawfiq Ali Burhan Tawfiq Ali Captain Awad Mutleq Ayed Captain Awed Hussein Hayder Captain Ramadhan Sabah Al-Rwi Captain Sabir Khalil Al-Tikriti Chebeh David Yousif Daniel Juna Juna Dawood Oshana Dayekh Hassoun Al-Jubouri Dr. Derwish Al-Haydari Dheidan Mohammed Hamed Dhiauldeen Mahmoud Ali Dia Malah Jabar Aldulaimi Dia'a Saifulah Hussain Edward Gewargis Emad Giliana Emad Salim Ali Eshaq Adam Eshaya Warda Shlemon Esho Oraha Shela Esho Qeryaqous Hanna Eskharia Aziz Yacoub Fadel Ali Hussain Fadhel Ahmed Mehdi Fadhil Mohammed Rahim Fadi Wisam Ali Alshamkhi Fadil Abdulah Najim Fadil Mohammed Rahim Fadly Mohammed Kareem Aldury Faidey Hamad Nawaf Faisal Mohammad Hussain Faisal Mohammed Hussain Falah Humadi Dia'a Alnu'aimy Faqil Alawi Nasrullah Faraidon Hama Ali Faraj Ali Noori Farhad Nasruldin Ali Farhad Nasruldin Ali Farhad Rasheed Jafar Farhan Noori Kareem Farida Esa Oraha Farqad Hilmi Fawaz Amir Ali Fawzi Mahmoud Al-Sammaraei Fayez Hassan Taleb Firsan Saleem Yaser First Lieutenant Abid Mohammed Al-Samarraei First Lieutenant Hassan Thabit Al-Douri Dr. Fatima Hameed Al-Khirsan Francis Shabo Fu'ad Izat Jalil Fu'ad Kadhem Nadem Fu'ad Kadum Nadum Fu'ad Ramadan Kareem Fu'ad Ramadhan Kareem Fu'at Izzat Jalil/Kirkuk Ghanem Saleh Mehdi Goriel Aziz Abdal Goriel Youkhana Kasha Hadi Rasoul Amin Hakem Kadhem Abed Zayd Halo Mohammed Baban Hamama Polous Hamaneh Mikhael Hamid Sabry Ismail Alubaidy Hamood Salah Husham Hana Polis Luqa Hani Radhi Abdul Hassan Hasheem Mohammed Albayati Hashem Ali Qassem Hash?m Mohammed Albayati Hassan Abdulsadeh Alnua'imy Hassan Hameed Hussein Hassan Nasroldin Kareem Hassoun Mehdi Abbass Hayder Mekki Abbass Helaneh Dawood Hirmiz Nicola Hormiz Kena Giliana Hormiz ShmooYousif Humeiza Jassoum Al-Yasseri Husham Mohanned Hussei Husni Ali Al-Sammarei Hussain Ali Mohammed Hussein Abbas Rasoul Hussein Baqer Ismael Idan Falih Kareem Aljubouri Imad Mohammed Mardan Islam Madhi Kadhem Ismail David Yoykhana Jabr Kandouh Mayyal Ja'far Llli Muhannad Ja'far Muhalhal Hantoush Jalil Hussain Mahdi Jamal Abdul Wahab Aldury Jamal Mohammed Kareem Jamal Mohammed Kareem Jameel Abdul Kamel Jameel Nasir Daham Jameel Nuruldin Allawi Jangiz Qahraman Waly Jangiz Qara Man Waly Jarjes Mohammed Nuruldin Jarjes Mohammed Nuruldin Jasam Alawi Mathlum Jasim Hamad N'uman Altimimi Jasim Widad Tu'ma Jawad Abdulsada Hassan Jawad Kathum Badie Alrifaie Jawdat Kamal Dai Ali Jawdat Kamal Dai Ali Jawhar Mahdi Hussain Jihad ala'a Mohammed Albasry Jihad Fakhruldin Mohammed Jihal Fakhruldin Mohammed Julia Leon Kadhem Khunyab Mer'ish Kameran Mohammed Noori Kameran Nasruldin Fatah Kamil Mehdawy Saeed Ali Kareem Mahdi Hassawy Kathum Jabar Hussain Kena Giliana Khalil Ahmed Nashwan Khalil Hussain Miaqanie Khawa Sawa Khinzada Youkhana Khudher Ali Nader Labib Salih Noruldin Albayaty Labib Salih Noruldin Albayaty Labib Tu'msh Hassan Lamie Nawaf Jawad Lieutenant Abdul Wahab Salih Al-Darwish Lieutenant Colonel Futyaan Hamad Al-Rawi Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Hassan Ali Lieutenant Farhan Hadi Yassin Mahdi Hussain Jabur Mahdi Younis Kamel Mahir Abdul Aziz Majed Hassan Jawad Majeed Ubaid Faiad Aldury Majid Alawi Abu Alawda Majid Sarhan Sha'lan Major Abdul Karim Talal Al-Yaghmi Major Ahmed Jasim Abdul Razzaq Major Hashim Abdulla Al-Ubaidi Major Mohammed Mizban Khalaf Major Muzahim Ni'ma Al-Dulaimi Major Shaalan Abbess Maki Ali Nasir Maki Omar Fahad Alubaidy Marbina David Youkhana Mar'ie Abas Nihad Alrubai'ie Mariwan Khalifa Najim Talib Marwan Taha Namaan Mdher Saheb Ali Melo Marogel Mesho Melo Sada Mikhae Meska Wardina Sheba Mgawi Nadheef Lateef Milad Alawi Naseer Miran Kareem Saeed Mithaal Alil Younis Grand Ayatollah Sayid Mohammed Baqir Al-Sadr Mohammad Harbi Al-Jubouri Mohammed Noor Aldin Sabar Grand Ayatollah Sayid Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr Moner Elia Yousif Monera Marogel Mesho Mousa bdul-Haq Abed Sayyid Mu'ammal Al-Sadr Muhsin Uda Kareem Alshawy Mukaram Abdulellah Alnasiry Murad Salih Mohammed Murad Salih Mohammed Mursheed Saood Falih Musa Nu'man Falih Aljubouri Muslih Nasih Falah Aldury Mussadaq Muslim Sayyid Mustafa Al-Sadr Nabil Yousif Youkhana Naf'e Yasin Aldugramachi Naf'e Yasin Doghramaji Najim Awad Hamdi Aldulaimy Napleon Yousif Youkhana Nariman Shuker Sufie Narsa Warda Shlemon Nasir Mujahid Naf'e Nasirallah Hussain Hassan Nasrullah Hadi Mohammed Nasrullah Hadi Mohammed Nawfal Abdul Hadi Hassan Nawfal Humady Abood Alhashimy Nazeh Youkhana Nimrod Dinkha Gewargis Nuhad Mukaram Abadie Nu'man Kareem Alqaisy Nuraldin Mohammed Rustam Nuraldin Sabir Waly Nur-el-Deen Ayed Hamdan Polous Aziz Sheba Qader Abbass Abdul Rahman Qa'ed Adil Issa Qara Man Jabar Rasheed Radi Ahmed Husham Rahi Abbas Al-Janabi Ra'id Talal Shaalan Ramadan Jamal Kareem Ramadhan Jamal Kareem Riad Husham Hamod Aldulaimy Riad Juma Muslih Aljubouri Riad Mahmood Abid Alqazaly Saad Abdullah Mohammed Alyousefy Sabah Hashim Allawi Sabiha Polous Sabour Ufan Mohammed Aldouri Sadruldin Hamood Al Buriash Saffar Mahmoud Hussein Safwat Abdulhussain Hamood Saheel Karam Hadi Sahib Kareem Najmuldin Saifuldin Ali Hashim Saifuldin Ali Hashim Sajid Mahmood Flaih Alrawy Saleem Khalid Aldury Salih Mohsin Jaseem Salman Dawood Hamadi Salman Mahdi Younis Alsab'awy Sami Abdul Wahab Albayaty Sami Abdul Wahab Albayaty Samir Naji Hilal Saqar Ali Hussain Sermed Hussain Abdul Jabar Shabo Shmoel Yousif Shaikh Abdulaziz Flaih Sherenh Khoshaba Audisho Shihab Waisy Ismail Shlemon Youkhana Sirwan Salih Hama Noori Sudad Ali Nasih Sudad Ali Nasih Sultan Hisham Safwat Taha Nu'man Muslim Taha Nu'man Muslim Taha Yassin 'Alewi Al-Salami Talal Ahmed Al-Hassoon Talal Alawi Mohammed Talal La'eq Abid Mohsin Aldulaimy Talal Mghawish Al Nassiri Tarek R. Al-Hillawi Tariq Ahmad Tariq Kareem Haj Majeed Wa'ad Imad Mugeer Wajdy Sultan Naf'ie Waleed Daham Aljubouri Waleed Shihab Alzawba'ie Warda Badreh Khnano Warda Esho Warda Warda Ismaeil Zaka Yasin Faqi Mohammed Yasin Taha Mohammed Aljubouri Yasin Taha Nu'man Yasmeh Youkhana Yassin Jalil Abbass Youbert Shlemon Youkhana David Youkana Youkhanna Jajjo Yousef Majeed Shamel Yousip
-------------------- Be all and you'll be to end all
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