HISTORY OF IRAQ (13th century-1914)


Chinggis Genghis KhanIn the early years of the thirteenth century, a powerful Mongol leader named Temujin brought together a majority of the Mongol tribes, whome were nomadic people, and led them on a devastating sweep through China. At about this time, he changed his name to Chinggis (Genghis) Khan(picture left), meaning "World Conqueror." In 1219 he turned his force of 700,000 west and quickly devastated Bokhara, Samarkand (in Uzbekistan), Balkh (in Afghanistan), Merv capital of the great Seljuk Empire (in Turkmenistan), and Neyshabur (in present-day Iran), where he slaughtered every living thing. Before his death in 1227, Chinggis Khan, pillaging and burning cities along the way, had reached western Azarbaijan in Iran. After Chinggis's death, the area enjoyed a brief respite that ended with the arrival of Hulagu Khan (1217-65), Chinggis's grandson. The Mongols under the leadership of Hulagu, the Mongol ruler, from the far east swept west and gained control of the land, he marched on Baghdad with two hundred thousand Tartars. Al-Musta`sim Billah's army and the people of Baghdad jointly faced them, but it was not in their power to stop this torrent of calamity. The result was that the Tartars entered Baghdad on the day of "Ashura" in AD1258 carrying with them bloodshed and ruin. They remained busy in killing for forty days. Rivers of blood flowed in the streets and all the alleys were filled with dead bodies. Hundred of thousands of people were put to the sword while al-Musta`sim Billah, the last Abbasid caliph, was murdered, trampled to death under foot. The Mongol (Tartar) left the countryside the way they left many other countryside's, totally ruined. While in Baghdad, Hulagu deliberately destroyed what remained of Iraq's canal headworks. The material and artistic production of centuries was swept away. Iraq became a neglected frontier province ruled from the Mongol capital of Tabriz in Iran.

After the death in 1335 of the last great Mongol khan, Abu Said (also known as Bahadur the Brave), a period of political confusion ensued in Iraq until a local petty dynasty, the Jalayirids, seized power. The Jalayirids ruled until the beginning of the fifteenth century. Jalayirid rule was abruptly checked by the rising power of a Mongol, Tamerlane(or Timur the Lame, 1336-1405), who had been atabeg of the reigning prince of the capital Samarkand (Uzbekistan). In 1401 he sacked Baghdad and massacred many of its inhabitants. Tamerlane killed thousands of Iraqis and devastated hundreds of towns.

In Iraq, political chaos, severe economic depression, and social disintegration followed in the wake of the Mongol invasions. Baghdad, long a center of trade, rapidly lost its commercial importance. Basrah, which had been a key transit point for seaborne commerce, was circumvented after the Portuguese discovered a shorter route around the Cape of Good Hope. In agriculture, Iraq's once-extensive irrigation system fell into disrepair, creating swamps and marshes at the edge of the delta and dry, uncultivated steppes farther out. The rapid deterioration of settled agriculture led to the growth of tribally based pastoral nomadism. By the end of the Mongol period, the focus of Iraqi history had shifted from the urbanbased Abbasid culture to the tribes of the river valleys, where it would remain until well into the twentieth century.

The Ottoman Empire

From the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, the course of Iraqi history was affected by the continuing conflicts between the Safavid Empire in Iran and the Ottoman Turks. The Safavids, who were the first to declare Shi'a Islam the official religion of Iran, sought to control Iraq both because of the Shi'a holy places at An Najaf and Karbala and because Baghdad, the seat of the old Abbasid Empire, had great symbolic value. The Ottomans, fearing that Shi'a Islam would spread to Anatolia (Asia Minor), sought to maintain Iraq as a Sunni-controlled buffer state. In 1509 the Safavids, led by Ismail Shah (1502-24), conquered Iraq, thereby initiating a series of protracted battles with the Ottomans.

Sultan Selim the Grim In 1514 Sultan Selim the Grim (picture left top)attacked Ismail's forces and in 1535 the Ottomans, led by Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent (1520-66), conquered Baghdad from the Safavids. The Safavids reconquered Baghdad in 1623 under the leadership of Shah Abbas (1587-1629), but they were expelled in 1638 after a series of brilliant military maneuvers by the dynamic Ottoman sultan, Murad IV(picture left bottom), and became part of the Ottoman Empire. It had become a frontier outpost of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans conquered much of eastern Europe and nearly the whole of the Arab world, only Morocco and Mauritania in the West and Yemen, Hadramaut and parts of the Arabian peninsula remaining beyond their control. The Ottomans brought the Arab Middle East under strong central rule.

By the seventeenth century, the frequent conflicts with the Safavids had sapped the strength of the Ottoman Empire and had weakened its control over its provinces. Between 1625 and 1668, and from 1694 to 1701, local sheikhs ruled Al Basrah and the marshlands, home of the Madan (Marsh Arabs). The powerful sheikhs basically ignored the Ottoman governor of Baghdad.

Murad IV

The cycle of tribal warfare and of deteriorating urban life that began in the thirteenth century with the Mongol invasions was temporarily reversed with the reemergence of the Mamluks. In the early eighteenth century, the Mamluks began asserting authority apart from the Ottomans. Extending their rule first over Basrah, the Mamluks eventually controlled the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys from the Arabian (Persian) Gulf to the foothills of Kurdistan. For the most part, the Mamluks were able administrators, and their rule was marked by political stability and by economic revival. The greatest of the Mamluk leaders, Suleyman the II (1780-1802), made great strides in imposing the rule of law. The last Mamluk leader, Daud (1816-31), initiated important modernization programs that included clearing canals, establishing industries, training a 20,000-man army, and starting a printing press.

The Mamluk period ended in 1831, when a severe flood and plague devastated Baghdad, enabling the Ottoman sultan, Mahmud II, to reassert Ottoman sovereignity over Iraq. Ottoman rule was unstable. Baghdad, for example, had more than ten governors between 1831 and 1869. In 1869, however, the Ottomans regained authority when the reform-minded Midhat Pasha was appointed governor of Baghdad. Midhat immediately set out to modernize Iraq on the Western model. The primary objectives of Midhat's reforms, called the tanzimat, were to reorganize the army, to create codes of criminal and commercial law, to secularize the school system, and to improve provincial administration. He created provincial representative assemblies to assist the governor, and he set up elected municipal councils in the major cities. In 1858 TAPU land law (named after the initials of the government office issuing it) was introduced. The new land reform replaced the feudal system of land holdings and tax farms with legally sanctioned property rights. The emergence of private property, and the tying of Iraq to the world capitalist market severely altered Iraq's social structure. Tribal shaikhs traditionally had provided both spiritual leadership and tribal security. Land reform and increasing links with the West transformed many shaikhs into profit-seeking landlords, whose tribesmen became impoverished sharecroppers.

In 1908 a new ruling clique, the Young Turks (Turkia Al-Fata), took power in Istanbul. The Young Turks aimed at making the Ottoman Empire a unified nation-state based on Western models. They stressed secular politics and patriotism over the pan-Islamic ideology preached by Sultan Abd al Hamid.

Most important to the history of Iraq, the Young Turks aggressively pursued a "Turkification" policy that alienated the nascent Iraqi intelligentsia and set in motion a fledgling Arab nationalist movement. Encouraged by the Young Turks' Revolution of 1908, nationalists in Iraq stepped up their political activity. Iraqi nationalists met in Cairo with the Ottoman Decentralization Party, and some Iraqis joined the Young Arab Society, which moved to Beirut in 1913. Because of its greater exposure to Westerners who encouraged the nationalists, Basrah became the center from which Iraqi nationalists began to demand a measure of autonomy. After nearly 400 years under Ottoman rule, Iraq was ill prepared to form a nation-state. The Ottomans had failed to control Iraq's rebellious tribal domains, and even in the cities their authority was tenuous. The Ottomans' inability to provide security led to the growth of autonomous, self- contained communities. As a result, Iraq entered the twentieth century beset by a complex web of social conflicts that seriously impeded the process of building a modern state.

The final Ottoman legacy in Iraq is related to the policies of the Young Turks and to the creation of a small but vocal Iraqi intelligentsia. Faced with the rapidly encroaching West, the Young Turks attempted to centralize the empire by imposing upon it the Turkish language and culture and by clamping down on newly won political freedoms. These Turkification policies alienated many of the Ottoman-trained intellectuals who had originally aligned themselves with the Young Turks in the hope of obtaining greater Arab autonomy.

Turkish rule continued unchecked, and with very little development, until the end of the 19th century, on the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War.

(Source: History of Iraq, Saleh home achilles)