HISTORY OF IRAQ (1936- 1945)


In 1936 King Ghazi I formed an alliance with other Arab nations, known as the Pan-Arab movement. This was, in effect, a non-aggression treaty, and promising kinship between Arab countries. Also in 1936 Iraq experienced its first military coup d'etat, the first coup d'etat in the modern Arab world, led by General Bakr Sidqi. The Sidqi coup (29th of October, 1936) marked a major turning point in Iraqi history. It made a crucial breach in the constitution, and it opened the door to further military involvement in politics. Ghazi sanctioned Sulayman's government (Hikmat Sulayman was one of the agents of the coup along with General Bakr Sidqi) even though it had achieved power unconstitutionally, overthrowing Yasin al-Hashimi's government, killing Ja'afar al-Askari its Minister of Defense. Eventually, Sidqi's excesses alienated both his civilian and his military supporters, and he was murdered by a military group in August 1937.

King GhaziIn 1938 King Ghazi (picture left) decided to attempt to realize his ambition of annexing Kuwait, part of his dream to lead the Fertile Crescent movement. With a combination of propaganda, and military intimidation, he began to foment dissent in Kuwait, exploiting the aspirations of sections of the Kuwaiti middle class, which sought greater participation in government. But, at a critical moment, when Iraqi troops had massed near Kuwait's northern border, Ghazi's obsession with fast motor cars proved his undoing. The King drove his car into a lamppost and died instantly on the 3rd of April 1939.

King Hussein bin TalalKing Ghazi was succeeded by his three-year-old son, Faisal II, under a regency. Ghazi's first cousin, Amir Abd al Ilah, was made regent. Faisal, the cousin of Jordan's late King Hussein bin Talal (picture right), did not assume the throne formally until his eighteenth birthday, in May 1953. Whereas Faisal and Ghazi had been strong Arab nationalists and had opposed the British-supported tribal shaykhs, Abd al Ilah and Nuri as-Said were Iraqi nationalists who relied on the tribal shaykhs as a counterforce against the growing urban nationalist movement. By the end of the 1930s, Pan-Arabism had become a powerful ideological force in the Iraqi military, especially among younger officers who hailed from the northern provinces and who had suffered economically from the partition of the Ottoman Empire. The British role in quelling the Palestine revolt of 1936 to 1939 further intensified anti-British sentiments in the military and led a group of disgruntled officers to form the Free Officers' Movement, which aimed at overthrowing the monarchy.

During the earlier part of World War II, Iraq's government was strongly pro-British, however, the Iraqi nationalist, and ardent Anglophobe Rashid Ali Al-Gaylani succeeded Nuri as-Said as Prime Minister. The new Prime Minister sought close ties with Nazi Germany in hope to release Iraq from British domination. Rashid Ali proposed restrictions on British troops movements in Iraq. Abd al Ilah and Nuri as-Said both were proponents of close cooperation with Britain. They opposed Rashid Ali's policies and pressed him to resign. In response, the army surrounded The Royal palace in Baghdad on April 1,1941. The regent and his entourage escaped to Habbaniyah, from there to Basrah and thence to Amman in Transjordan. Rashid Ali and four generals dubbed the "Golden Square", led a military coup, on April 3, 1941, that ousted Nuri as-Said and the regent; and announced that the temporarily absent regent was deposed.

Backed by the German embassy in Baghdad headed by Dr F. Grobba, which generously supplied money, books and films, the sentiments against the Jews were fuelled. There were demonstrations against the British and Jews by hoodlums and students who had taken to the streets.

Shortly after seizing power in 1941, Rashid Ali Al-Gaylani appointed an ultranationalist civilian cabinet, which gave only conditional consent to British requests in April 1941 for troop landings in Iraq. The British quickly retaliated by landing forces at Basrah on April 19, justifying this second occupation of Iraq by citing Rashid Ali's violation of the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1930. Many Iraqis regarded the move as an attempt to restore British rule. Iraqi troops were then concentrated around the British air base at Habbaniyah, west of Baghdad, and on May 2 the British commander there opened hostilities, lest the Iraqis should attack first. Having won the upper hand at Habbaniyah and been reinforced from Palestine, the British troops from the air base marched on Baghdad. The ensuing war between Britain and Iraq lasted less than a month, as the British steadily advanced, and on May 30th Rashid Ali Al-Gaylani and his government fled the country.

On the same day an evil conspiracy carried out by Yunis Al Sabawi, head of Nazi groups, who declared himself governor of central southern Iraq. He ordered Jews through Hakham Sasson Khedouri, to remain in their homes from Saturday, May 31 until Monday, June 2 (Shabu'oth)with the intention of slaughtering the Jews that weekend using the Nazi youth organizations he was heading. However, miraculously, Sabawi was deported to the Iranian border that same day. On May 31,1941 it was announced that the Regent with his entourage would be returning to Baghdad next day. The Farhud took place Sunday and Monday, June 1st and 2nd 1941, the two days of Shabu'oth. The word Farhud denotes the breakdown of law and order, where life and property are in peril.

June 1, 1941, the first day of Shabu'oth: A delegation of Jews went to the airport to welcome the Regent. On their way back they were attacked on Al Khurr Bridge by soldiers and civilians. One Jew was killed, and many injured who were taken to the hospital. Terror continued until 10 p.m.

June 2,1941: at 5 p.m., curfew was declared and anyone who showed himself in the streets was shot on the spot. Official Iraqi reports mention 187 killed in both days of the Farhud. During those difficult times, many Iraqi Moslems opened their homes and fed and protected the Jews.

Rashid Ali Al-Gaylani and his government fled to Iran on his way to Germany, as a guest of the Fuehrer, he spent the remainder of the war broadcasting to the Arab world and planning to regain power when German pincers from Egypt and the Caucasus finally met at the Persian Gulf. He survived the war and escaped to Saudi Arabia where he was granted asylum, returning to Iraq after the 1958 revolution. A new, pro-British government was established. Abd al Ilah was reinstated as regent; Nuri became prime minister; and the British military presence remained to uphold them. In the following year Iraq became an important Middle Eastern supply centre for American and British forces, particularly with regard to the trans-shipment of arms to the USSR.

(Source: History of Iraq, Saleh home achilles)