Intrigues in Baghdad
22 December 1921
Deja vu in Baghdad
The news item captures a poignant moment in Twentieth Century Muslim history. It portrays the dissatisfaction of people in Baghdad in December 1921 to the imposition of a ruler and the resistance in some quarters to the new world order of regime change.
The piece refers to the Ottoman “H.I.M. Sultan Khalifa Wahiduddin Muhammad VI, the Khalifah of Islam”, who was soon to be deposed by Mustafa Kamal (November 1922). ‘Feisul’ is Prince Faisal, son of Sherif Hussein of the Hejaz. Appointed King of Iraq, he died in 1933, and was succeeded by his son Ghazi.
In the aftermath of World War I (1914-1918) and the Paris Peace Conferences (1919-1920), the Ottoman Caliphate had been deprived of its provinces in the jazirat-ul Arab – the Arab Peninsula. Sherif Hussein of Mecca had been encouraged by Britain to rebel against the Ottomans, and in return was promised kingship of the jazirat-ul Arab. However at the same time, under the terms of the secret Sykes-Picot agreement, Britain and France had decided to partition the region and retain their spheres of influence, legitimized by the mandates accorded by the League of Nations. Thus Britain administered Palestine and Iraq while France was ‘given’ the Levant, including Syria. Abdul Aziz ibn Saud was aided and abbetted in consolidating his hold in Central Arabia and the Hejaz. In a sop to Sherif Hussein, one son was appointed king of Transjordan, while another, Prince Faisal, was installed on the throne in Syria. This proved indigestible to the Syrians, and Britain next lodged him in a palace in Baghdad in August 1921, as King of Iraq. Notwithstanding the public dissent in 1921, his reign was relatively humane and Iraq made significant developments in health and education.
The Western powers’ experiments in Mesopotamia continue in our own times.