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The 1920 Revolt in Iraq Reconsidered:The Role of Tribes in National Politics1

  • Amal Vinogradov (a1)

It is well known that the Hashemite Dynasty in Iraq was the creation of the British in 1921. Less well known are the circumstances that led to the hasty installation of Faisal as king and the emergence of ‘Independent Modern Iraq’.The 1920 revolt forced the hesitant British to enact a solution which for thirtyseven years was maintained by force. During this time, the British were obliged to force-feed an artificial and outmoded system that was barely capable of holding primordial sentiments in check. The state apparatus that the British set up as a means of containing these sentiments was not a genuine structure developed to meet expressed needs, nor did it serve to forge the various segments of the society into an organic nation.

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page 123 note 2 The substantive material on which this paper is based is drawn largely from Arabic books published in Iraq and Lebanon. These include historical studies, individual memoirs and poetry collections. The most important of these are: 'Abdel Razzaq al-Hasani, Al-Thawrah al-Iraqiya al-Kubra (Saidon, 1952); 'Abdallah al-Fayyad, al-Thawrah al-Iraqiya al-Kubra (Baghdad, 1963); ‘Ali al-Bazergan, Waqai’ tarikhiya fi al-Thawrah al-Iraqiya (Baghdad, 1954); Fariq al-Mizhar al-Fir'aun, al-Haqa'iq al-Nasi'a (Baghdad, 1952); Sayigh, Anis, al-Hashimyûn wal Thawarah al-'Arabiya al-Kubra (Beirut, 1966);U. al-Ghulami, Thawratuna fi Shammal al-Iraq (Baghdad, 1966); A. al-Nadwani, Tarikh al-'Umarah via 'ashairuha, M. T. 'Umari, Tarikh Muqadarat al-Iraq Al-siyasiyah, 3 vols. (Baghdad, 1952); M. M. al-Basir, Tarikh al-Qadiyah al-'Arabiya, 2 vols. (Baghdad,1924); Shukri Mahmud Nadim Harb al-Iraq, igi4~igi8 (Baghdad, 1954).English sources used are: Abdul-Wahab Abbas al-Qaysi, ‘The Impact of ModernizationIraqi Society During the Ottoman Era: a Study of Intellectual Development in Iraq, 1869-1917’ (unpubl. Ph.D. Diss. University of Michigan, 1958); Lady D. B. E.Bell (ed.), The Letters of Gertrude Bell, vol. 11 (London, 1927); P. W. Ireland, Iraq:a study in Political Development (London, 1937); Sir A. L. Haldane, The Insurrection in Mesopotamia, ig20 (Edinburgh, 1922); P. M. Holt, Egypt and the Fertile Crescent: 1516-ig22 (Cornell University Press, i960); S. H. Longrigg, Iraq, igoo to igjo: a Political,Social and Economic History (Oxford, 1953); A.Wilson, Mesopotamia igij-ig20:a Clash of Loyalties (Oxford, 1931).

page 124 note 1 Arnold T., Wilson, Mesopotamia, igi/-iQ20: a Clash of Loyalties (London, 1931), pp. 273-6.

page 124 note 2 See Fariq, al-Mizhar al-Fir'aun, al-Haqa'iq, al-Nasi'a (Baghdâd, 1952).

page 124 note 3 See Elie, Kedouri, ‘Reflexions sur Phistoire du Royaume d'Irak (1921-1958)’, Orient,no. 11, 3 trim. (1959), PP- 55~79-

page 125 note 1 For details of Midhat Pasha's reign in Iraq, see P. M., Holt, Egypt and the Fertile Crescent: 1516-1922, pp. 250-1.

page 125 note 2 E., Dawson, An Inquiry into hand Tenure and Related Questions (Arabic trans.)(Baghdad, 1932), p. 9.

page 125 note 3 Tribal confederations (known in some areas of southern Iraq as silif, were found among both nomadic and cultivating tribesmen. Their size and composition varied in time and place, but some have shown great tenacity. These are often referred to in terms of the leading clan, e.g. Mashiakhet al-Fir'aun (Khaza'il) or Mashiakhet al-Sa'dun (Muntafiq). These confederations are often wrongly referred to as Emirates. The people themselves recognize them as highly fragile political alliances activated usually for defense purposes.

page 126 note 1 A dira is a tribal territory used communally by all members of the tribe. Its effective boundaries vary with the ability of the tribe to defend it.

page 126 note 2 ‘asha’ir is the lural form of 'ashtra, the commonly used term in Iraq referring to a tribe or any large section thereof.

page 126 note 3 The population of the Muntafiq was estimated to be 200,000 (S. Fa'iq, Tarikh Baghdad, p. 149). As a result of Midhat Pasha's policy of sedentarization and registration of private property, Sheikh Nasir al-Sa'dun had large tracts of tribal land registered in his name near Basra. His status then changed from a tribal chief who led tribes in war to protect their dira to a landlord collecting rent from the tribesmen reduced to tenant farmers. In time, the Sa'dun family grew too powerful for the Ottomans who had them exiled in 1881 and replaced them with a compliant and docile family.

page 126 note 4 ma'dani is a southern Iraqi dialect used mainly by the marsh dwellers.

page 127 note 1 Sayyids in Iraq are those people who claim descent from the Prophet through his daughter Fatima.

page 127 note 2 In reality, land tenure and usage was highly complex and chaotic. This paper does not pretend to describe it in full.

page 128 note 1 In the Nasiriya region, around 200,000 donums were granted by the Ottomans to the Sarkis family of Baghdad; likewise in Shamiva. large areas were bought by Manahim Danial and al Milli family of Istanbul (Fayyad, p. 27). Sultan Abd ul-Hamid had large areas in the Khaza'il territory. In fact, the total area of Sultan's holdings was estimated at one-third of the cultivable land of Iraq. A special bureau was created to handle it called ‘Sania Administrative Bureau’ where land was rented for one-third of the produce. In 1908, Sania land was converted to miri.

page 129 note 1 The term ‘ Euphrates region’ is used in Iraq to refer to an area that stretches from the Persian Gulf to Deir el-Zor. Culturally it is distinct with its own dialects and traditions.The majority of the tribes are Shi'a.

page 129 note 2 See the introductions to Diwan al Kazemi (Cairo, 1948), R. Butti (ed.).

page 129 note 3 The Zawra in Baghdad, Mosul and Basra.

page 129 note 4 G., Kirk, A Short History of the Middle East, p. 122.

page 129 note 5 The newspapers generally called for use of Arabic language in schools, took administrative policies to task, reported on Arab Nationalists' activities in Syria and Egypt and criticized the unchecked inflation in prices of grain and sheep. For details see A. Al-Hasani, Tarikh al Sahafa al-Iraqiya (Baghdad, 1957).

page 130 note 2 At the end of the nineteenth century, several Arabs were thinking of solving political problems within a religious framework. For example 'Abdul Rahman al-Kawakibi doubted the legitimacy of Ottoman Sultans to the Caliphate and called for an Arab Caliph to rule over Arabs. N. Azouri called for a federation of Arab lands with Hijaz staying independent as the seat of an Arab Caliph.

page 130 note 3 al, Fayyad, op. cit. p. 73; M. M., Basir, op. cit. pp. 26-33.

page 130 note 4 al, Hasani, op. cit. pp. 47-9. Includes details on the split in the 'Ahd party and the subsequent development of the Iraqi branch.

page 131 note 1 al–Fayyad, op. cit.pp. 75-6.

page 131 note 2 Earlier, letters had been sent to several other Arab leaders, both Sunni and Shi'a.Among those approached were the Imam Yahia of Yemen and Abdul 'Aziz ibn Saud of Arabia. For details, see al-Fayyad, op. cit. pp. 98-100.

page 131 note 3 The Imami Shi'a consider their mujtahidin to be the spokesmen for the Hidden Imam.

page 131 note 4 Mullah Kazim al-Khurasani had declared the jihad against the Russians who invaded Iran in 1911.

page 131 note 5 Soon after, two modern schools were started in Najaf. This constituted a remarkable departure from the traditional pattern of education. Perhaps of symbolic value is the fact that students were required to wear modern dress

page 132 note 1 It is outside the scope of this paper to discuss the reasons for the British occupation of Iraq.

page 132 note 2 It is the Muslim's duty (both the Sunni and the Shi'a) to defend the Islamic ports thughur against the infidels. ‘Any war between a mOslem and non-moslems must be a jihad with its incitements and rewards’ (Shorter Ency. of Islam, p. 89).

page 132 note 3 al-Fayyad, op. cit. pp. 108–9.

page 132 note 4 Al-Fir'aun, op. cit. pp. 39–41

page 133 note 1 Iraq, or as it was called then by the British, Mesopotamia,:fell under the jurisdiction of the India Office whose policy was to isolate it from the other Arab countries and administer it from India. There were plans to encourage Indian immigration and settlement to Iraq. The Hashemite Revolt was thus deliberately played down by -the British administrators in Iraq, and T. E. Lawrence reported on the official hostility shown to him when he sojoumed briefly in the area (1916) with the idea of inciting the tribes to revolt against the Turks. In fact, at rio time did the British utilize Iraqi tribes in their fight against the Ottomans.

page 133 note 2 Longrigg, op. cit. pp. 92–3.

page 133 note 3 For details on these secret organizations, their composition and programs see al-Hasani, op. cit. pp. 56–9 and al-Fayyad, op.cit. pp. 153–5. The jim'yat al-Nahda al-Islamiya played a very active role in recruiting many of the tribal leaders around the Najaf and getting them to commit themselves and their people to the cause of independence.The assassination of Captain Marshall in April 1918 was premature since the Army was able to surroimd the city and cut off its water supply. Nevertheless, the arrest and hanging of eleven Najafi leaders and deportation of many to India left a very bad impression on the population and no doubt contributed to the Revolt.

page 134 note 1 See Appendix III in Arnold Wilson's Mesopotamia, 1917–1920: A Clash of Loyalties, pp. 330–41.

page 134 note 2 The manner of the administration of the plebiscite and its final results are highly controversial. For details see Wilson, A., op. cit. pp. 111–13;al-Hasani, op. cit. pp. 32–46;al-Fayyad, op. cit. pp. 167–74.

page 134 note 3 al-Hasani, op. cit. p. 37.

page 135 note 1 G. Bell expressed extreme surprise at this rapprochement and saw in it a bad omen for the British in Iraq.

page 135 note 2 Bell, G., op. cit. p. 397.

page 135 note 3 Ali ‘Abbas, Za'im al-Thawrah al-Iraqiya, p. 54.

page 135 note 4 Imam Shirazi has been called ‘The Spiritual Leader of the Revolt’.

page 135 note 5 The arrest and deportation of Mirza Mohammad Riza served to add to the breach between tha administration and the tribesmen. The population had great respect for the charismatic Imam Shirazi and all members of this family. Mirza Riza was accused by G.Bell of being a Bolshevik agent. He denied the accusation (see al-Fayyad, p. 250).

page 136 note 1 Wilson, A., op. cit. p. 311.

page 136 note 2 Bell, G., op. cit. p. 595.

page 136 note 3 al-Fir'aun, op. cit. pp. 457–62.

page 136 note 4 The Iraqi historians agree that there were around thirteen Iraqi officers who were volunteers and were helping the tribal forces specifically in the use of captured cannons.

page 137 note 1 al-Hasani, op. cit. pp. 114–16al-Fayyad, op. cit. pp. 275–8.

page 137 note 2 Haldane, op. cit. p. 31.

page 137 note 3 In general, number of casualties is very difficult to establish specially on the rebels’ side. The brunt of the fighting on the British side was borne by the Gurkha and Sikh troops.

page 138 note 1 It has been claimed that the rebels received money from Damascus and from the Bolsheviks. Both al-Hasani and al-Fayyad investigated this matter with survivors of the revolt, who all denied any outside financial help.

page 138 note 2 al-Hasani, op. cit. p. 196;al-Fayyad, op. cit. p. 317.

page 138 note 3 The only tribes that did not surrender unconditionally were those of the Rumaytha and Samawa. The British were forced to negotiate the cessation of hostilities with them. Some of the conditions that they demanded were: to grant Iraq an independent Arab government and to cancel their back taxes for the year 1920 since the revolt had left them bankrupt. al-Fayyad, op. cit. p. 321.

page 138 note 4 ‘Istiqial’, no. I, 18 Muharram 1920. Quoted in al-Fayyad, op. cit. p. 319.

page 138 note 5 Antonius, G., The Arab Awakeming, p. 315.

page 139 note 1 Bell, G., op. cit. p. 575.

page 139 note 2 Bell, G., op. cit. p. 621.

page 139 note 3 Nuri al-Sa'id was called by some Iraqis ‘The New Hajaj’, in reference to al-Hajaj hen Yûsef, the tyrannical governor of Iraq under the Umayyads.

1 This paper was originally prepared for delivery at the Annual Meeting of the Middle East Studies Association, Toronto, Canada, 1969.

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