BECK index

Arabia, Yemen, and Iraq 1700-1950

by Sanderson Beck

Wahhabis and Saudi Arabia 1744-1810
Arabia 1810-1906
Arabia 1907-21
Saudi Arabia 1922-50
Yemen and the Persian Gulf
Iraq 1700-1930
Iraq 1931-50

This chapter has been published in the book Mideast & Africa 1700-1950.
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Wahhabis and Saudi Arabia 1744-1810

Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab was born at ‘Uyayna in 1703, the son of a judge (qadi). The boy memorized the Qur’an by the time he was ten and studied the hadith, the sayings of Muhammad. He was educated in Medina, traveled, and taught for four years in Basra. He married a wealthy woman in Baghdad and inherited her property. When his father died in 1740, he replaced him as judge in Huraimala. He published his Book of Unity (Kitab al-Tawhid) and began preaching a strict monotheism; but his denouncing of debauchery provoked threats, and he fled to ‘Uyayna.

Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab taught that any innovation (bid‘a) beyond the Qur’an or accepted hadith was the worst sin and found support for this in the Hanbali legal doctrine. He criticized magic, sorcery, fortune-telling, invocations, amulets, talismans, and even the shrines of local saints. Others called his followers Wahhabis, but they considered themselves the true Muslims or unitarians (al-muwahhidun). He taught that the zakat (alms-tax) was mandatory rather than voluntary. He denounced greed and usury, believing that the poor are blessed. Al-Wahhab taught equality and objected to servile hand-kissing. His ethical values included keeping promises, being patient, not lying, not slandering, not gossiping, not being indiscreet, and helping the blind. He particularly condemned meanness, envy, perjury, and cowardice. In his Book of Marriage he wrote that a daughter cannot be forced to marry against her will and that a woman has the right to divorce her husband. He believed that women have a right to be educated, and he condemned marriage before puberty. Women do not have to hide their face in public as long as they cover their hair. He wrote that a man who has sex with a servant or slave violates his marriage.

Al-Wahhab was rather intolerant of Muslims who did not agree with him and considered them infidels, treating them worse than Jews or Christians. He criticized Christians for worshipping Jesus as the Son of God and Jews for claiming they are the chosen people, but he allowed them to practice their religion inside their homes as long as they paid taxes. His followers destroyed the gravestones and monuments to saints, cut down sacred trees, and burned the books of their adversaries. He banned all pilgrimages except to the Ka‘ba in Mecca. Al-Wahhab forbade the use of tobacco, hashish, rosaries, music, and dancing even as practiced in devotion by the Sufis. He rejected the Hanafi doctrine of the Ottoman Sunnis and promoted Arabian nationalism against the Turks. He criticized the Shi’a for being idolaters.

When he arrived at ‘Uyayna, Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab won over the emir Uthman ibn Hamad to spreading his unitarian doctrine by force. Uthman made shari’a (Islamic law based on the Qur’an and traditions of Muhammad) the law in his town. They demolished local shrines, and 600 armed men destroyed the gravestone of one of the prophet’s companions while many pilgrims were there. A woman confessed four times to having committed adultery many times. He determined that she was sane and ordered her stoned to death. Such a public execution for adultery had not occurred for several generations and became famous. Hearing of this, the al-Hasa ruler Sulayman al-Humaidi ordered Uthman to kill al-Wahhab.

Uthman made him go into exile, and al-Wahhab moved to Ad Diriya in 1744. There he formed an alliance with the Saudi founder Muhammad ibn Saud (r. 1726-65) and made him stop collecting taxes. Lacking even basic provisions, they began raiding neighbors with one-fifth going to Ibn Saud and equal shares to the warriors with mounted men getting double. Property thus taken from “polytheists” went to the “real Muslims.” Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab borrowed money during this time for his school and did not use money from their military conquests to pay his debts until Riyadh was taken in 1773.

Almost everyone in Ad Diriya became Wahhabis, and four families who objected were persuaded to leave. Muhammad ibn Saud sent clerks into the desert to collect one-fortieth in taxes from the Bedouins’ camels or sheep. Al-Wahhab believed that harsh punishments deter sin. They revived amputating a hand for theft and punished smoking tobacco by forty lashes and drinking wine by eighty. Thirty Wahhabi ‘ulama went to Mecca to ask permission to participate in the pilgrimage, but the Hijazis considered their doctrines heresy.

‘Uyayna’s Emir Uthman commanded the united forces until he was killed by Wahhabis suspecting him of plotting with al-Hasa’s ruler Muhammad ibn Afaliq in 1750. ‘Uyayna became dependent on Ad Diriya and the Saudis. Sulayman ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab opposed his brother’s teachings and wrote Divine Thunderbolts in Refutation of Wahhabism. He led a revolt at Huraimala; but Muhammad ibn Saud’s son Abd al-Aziz took over Huraimala with 820 men as Sulayman fled to Sudair. Ad Diriya soldiers built a fortress at Riyadh, and in the 1760s they invaded al-Hasa territory. In 1764 Bedouin tribes from Najram killed 500 of Abd al-Aziz’s men and captured 200. Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab quickly negotiated their release during an armistice. The next year al-Hasa’s Arayar besieged Ad Diriya unsuccessfully. Muhammad ibn Saud died and was succeeded by his son Abd al-Aziz ibn Muhammad (r. 1765-1803). He encouraged learning and forbade the Bedouins to collect protection money, and each tribe was responsible for thefts in their territory. In 1769 Cairo’s ruler Ali Bey proclaimed Egypt independent and annexed Hijaz, but he fled to Acre two years later.

By 1770 most of Qasim had joined the new religion, and in 1773 Riyadh was abandoned to the Wahhabis. By then the Wahhabis had killed about 5,000 people. The next decade was spent conquering all of Najd. Sulayman ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab and his family were taken to Ad Diriya, where he was not allowed to preach. The Wahhabis expanded in all directions to Lower Iraq, Hijaz, Yemen, Oman, and Syria. Their ally Thuwaini seized Basra and sent a delegation to Istanbul asking to make him governor; but in 1787 Baghdad’s independent ruler Buyuk Sulayman attacked and defeated Thuwaini, who fled. In 1788 Saud ibn Abd al-Aziz was proclaimed the crown prince. Mecca’s sharif Ghalib ibn Musaid attacked al-Qasim in 1790, and he besieged a Wahhabi town but failed. In 1791 Saud led raids that punished the Shammar and Mutair Bedouins who had supported him by taking 11,000 camels and 100,000 sheep. Wahhabi territory was expanded east to the Persian Gulf. The Wahhabis raided al-Hasa annually; but after Sulayman ibn Ufaisan raided Qatar, al-Hasan was subjugated in 1792.

Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab died in July 1792. According to The Brilliance of the Meteor he taught the people of Ad Diriya how to make and use firearms. He had twenty wives and 18 children. Five of his sons and many of his grandsons became renowned ‘ulama (religious scholars). In his Book of Jihad al-Wahhab wrote that only a legitimate ruler can proclaim a holy war, and the soldiers must be careful not to kill women, children, and the elderly. ‘Abd al-Wahhab’s descendants are called the Family of the Sheikh, and they are one of four families that can marry into the House of Saud.

Mecca’s sharif Ghalib fought back in 1795, but the Wahhabis routed his force and gained twice as many livestock. Thuwaini ibn Abdallah led attacks against the Wahhabis until his black slave, a fanatical Wahhabi, murdered him in 1797. The next year Ghalib’s army with Turkish, Egyptian, and Maghribi mercenaries was defeated again, and during a truce the sharif gave the Wahhabis permission to perform the hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca. The Wahhabis stopped pilgrims who were prostitutes, beardless, or those carrying alcohol, hashish, musical instruments, or gem-studded Qur'ans. Ali Kahya led a force from Baghdad, but he met resistance and agreed to a truce with Saud. When Oman’s Sultan ibn Ahmad attacked Bahrain in 1801, they appealed to Ad Diriya. The Wahhabis defeated the Muscatis and made Bahrain a vassal state. A Wahhabi army also attacked Oman and won over the port of Ras al-Khaima. In 1802 the rulers of Ad Diriya captured Karbala in Iraq, and 12,000 Wahhabis destroyed Shi‘i holy places, killing about 2,000 and plundering. The Wahhabis continued to raid Iraq in the next few years but met with many defeats.

Ghalib’s despotic rule in Mecca was resented, and the Wahhabis captured towns in Hijaz easily. In 1802 Saud’s troops killed hundreds of people in Taif outside of Mecca. In April 1803 the Wahhabis performed the hajj but then destroyed all the mausoleums and mosques with domes in Mecca. They appointed Ghalib’s brother Abd al-Muhsin governor of Mecca and replaced the Turkish qadi with one from Ad Diriya. The Baghdad pasha informed Istanbul that he was sending an army, and the Wahhabi army, suffering from disease, withdrew from Hijaz to Ad Diriya. In the fall of 1803 Emir Abd al-Aziz ibn Muhammad ibn Saud was stabbed to death by a Shi‘a Kurd in the Turaif mosque during prayer. His son Saud came to Ad Diriya and was acclaimed as the new ruler. The Wahhabis invaded Hijaz again with a confederation of tribes and defeated Ghalib’s army of 10,000, seizing 2,500 fire-arms. Medina surrendered in the summer of 1805, and the Wahhabis removed the jewels and gold plaiting from Muhammad’s tomb. In November the Wahhabis entered Mecca again. The Wahhabis stopped Ottoman caravans from reaching Mecca even though they offered more money. The number of pilgrims greatly decreased, affecting the economies of Mecca and Medina.

After Oman’s Sultan ibn Ahmad was killed in a battle with the Ras al-Khaim fleet in 1804, his son Said eventually won a succession struggle with his brothers. After losing men fighting the Saudis, he agreed to pay them tribute. The Saudi fleet also imposed duties on East India Company ships sailing between Bombay and Basra; but in 1809 a British squadron defeated the Saudis’ Omani allies and destroyed Ras al-Khaima. The Wahhabis sent missionaries to Yemen but had little success there. In 1810 Saud led a raid into Syria but did not reach Damascus. The Saudis collected taxes in al-Hasa, and according to Ibn Bishr about a third of them were spent on maintaining their palace, the Wahhab family, and their entourage. Saud had hundreds of male and female slaves. Burckhardt reported that of the revenues collected about a quarter was sent to the Ad Diriya treasury, a quarter went to help paupers and public services, and half provided for the soldiers. While promoting jihad to conquer more territory, the Saudi rulers also settled intertribal conflicts in person by punishing offenders. The Saudis took notable hostages to Ad Diriya. All men between the ages of 16 and 60 were liable for military service, but only about one in ten was in the army.

After the Karbala raid of 1802 the Wahhabis were not able to capture any fortified towns in Iraq or Syria. Their cruelty stimulated determined resistance, and several campaigns had to be waged every year against rebelling tribes within their state. Despite their doctrine of helping the poor, most of the spoils of war went to the nobility in central Arabia. Ending the Ottoman pilgrimages devastated the economy in Hijaz, and in 1810 commerce with Syria and Iraq was prohibited.

Arabia 1810-1906

Ottoman sultans Mustafa IV and Mahmud II turned to Egypt’s Muhammad ‘Ali to reconquer the valued Hijaz. In 1811 he sent his youngest son Tusun with a well trained army. The Egyptians quickly took Yanbu, but their army of 8,000 was defeated by a Wahhabi force more than twice as large. Money helped Tusun win over local nomads, and his reinforced army the next year was able to capture Medina; he allowed its garrison of 7,000 to depart. In January 1813 the Egyptians captured Jidda, and Abdallah ibn Saud withdrew the Wahhabi garrison from Mecca. The Turks celebrated for a week in Istanbul. Muhammad ‘Ali went to Jidda, seized the custom-house assets, and arrested his ally Ghalib. This caused sharifian families and Bedouin to flee to the Wahhabis, and Egyptian troops were defeated. So Muhammad ‘Ali reduced taxes, distributed money to the poor, repaired holy monuments, and patronized the ‘ulama.

Resuming the hajj brought money from a Syrian caravan. Saud died of fever in 1814; his son Abdallah succeeded him while another son Faisal commanded the army. In January 1815 the Egyptians won a major battle, and Muhammad ‘Ali had hundreds of prisoners executed in Mecca. Muhammad ‘Ali went back to Egypt, and the Wahhabis forced Tusun’s army to withdraw from Qasim. Muhammad ‘Ali sent his oldest son Ibrahim, who led the conquest of Najd. He hired Bedouins and arrived at Medina in 1816, and by the end of the next year he had won over Qasim. In April 1818 Ibrahim surrounded Ad Diriya with 7,600 men to shell the town, and Abdallah surrendered in September. Muhammad ‘Ali had the Wahhabi capital destroyed. Abdallah was sent to Istanbul, where the Sultan had him beheaded.

Ibrahim rejected an offer of assistance from George Sadlier and ejected the British from Jidda in 1819. The Egyptian soldiers destroyed fortresses and defenses, drove off livestock, cut down palm trees, and devastated fields. Ibrahim left, and Muhammad ‘Ali’s nephew Ahmad Shukri became governor of Arabia. Tribal anarchy broke out, and Ibn Muammar was put in charge of Najd. He tried to rebuild Ad Diriya but was driven out in 1820 by Abdallah’s son Turki, who moved on to Riyadh. Muhammad ‘Ali sent Husain Bey, and he captured the Riyadh garrison. As the Egyptians were treacherously killing the prisoners, Turki escaped. The next year Husain Bey offered land to Ad Diriya’s citizens and then had his soldiers slaughter the 230 people gathered. Turki returned and raised enough forces in 1824 to besiege Riyadh and force the Egyptians to retreat to Hijaz. Turki governed the Saudi kingdom until a cousin assassinated him in 1834. He told his soldiers he would punish them if they took things from the people, and he presided over an Islamic state emphasizing personal responsibility for oneself and to the community. He required that all agreements be respected even those with dhimmis (Jews, Christians, and Zarathustrians). Turki was succeeded by his son Faisal, whose soldiers captured and executed his father’s assassin Mishari.

In 1835 Muhammad ‘Ali sent more Egyptian troops to try to conquer resistant Asir, but they were defeated too. Cairo’s former police chief Ismail Bey led out more troops. Faisal offered to provide 5,000 camels to prevent an invasion, but the Egyptians wanted 15,000. Ismail Bey entered Riyadh with Khalid ibn Saud, a brother of the late Abdullah. When the people of Najd realized that their submission had not stopped the violence and plunder, they rebelled. Ismail’s force of 7,000 was defeated at al-Hilwa in July 1837. Faisal besieged Riyadh for two months. In 1838 the Egyptians agreed to recognize Faisal’s control over eastern Arabia; but Khurshid Pasha arrived and recognized Jabal Shammar’s ruler Abdallah ibn Rashid. Khurshid with 4,000 soldiers besieged Dilam and captured Faisal, who was sent to Egypt. Egyptian advances toward Asir and Yemen caused the British to seize Aden in 1839. Finally the next year British power persuaded Muhammad ‘Ali to withdraw Egyptian forces from Arabia.

After Khurshid’s forces departed, Emir Khalil was able to govern for only a year because he was hated as an Egyptian puppet. In 1841 Ibn Thunayyan seized Riyadh, and the last Egyptian garrison left. Ibn Thunayyan executed many adversaries and was unpopular. In 1843 Faisal was allowed to escape from Egypt and gradually won over Najd, taking Riyadh that summer. Ibn Thunayyan was arrested and died in jail. Najdi forces took over Bahrain in 1844, and it continued to pay Riyadhi tribute even after it became a British protectorate in 1861. Faisal paid a little tribute to the Ottoman sultan, and he did not interfere with the holy cities or British trade in the Persian Gulf. He declared his son Abdallah his heir, and by the time he was 70 in 1865 Faisal had gone blind and could no longer govern. Bedouin rebellions continued during this era, especially in Qasim.

After Faisal ibn Turki died in 1865, Abdallah ibn Faisal was supported by his brother Muhammad but was challenged by his brother Saud. In 1870 Saud appealed to the Al Khalifa family in Bahrain for an attack on Qatar. By allying with Ajman and Al Murra tribes, Saud ibn Faisal was able to conquer al-Hasa. Abdallah sent Muhammad ibn Faisal; but he was captured when the Subai nomads deserted to Saud. In 1871 Saud marched on Riyadh and defeated Abdallah; yet his Bedouin troops aroused tremendous resentment. This began a civil war between the brothers who exchanged the power seven times in the five years. After Midhat sent the steamer Asur on an inspection tour of al-Hasa and Bahrain, in March 1871 Turks sent their navy with 3,000 men and with 1,500 Arabs they conquered al-Hasa. Midhat himself came in November and declared that Najd was now an Ottoman possession. Abdallah fled from the Turks when he learned they were going to take him to Baghdad. He returned to Riyadh during a terrible famine and could not forge an alliance with his brother Saud against the Turks. However, the Turks gave up al-Hasa in 1874 as too expensive to govern. Saud was unable to control the tribes; he was wounded in battle but died of smallpox or was poisoned in January 1875. His brother Abd al-Rahman ibn Faisal became the ruler at Riyadh but only for one year until he was overthrown by Saud’s sons. Meanwhile the state of Jabal Shammar was gaining strength.

Tribes stopped paying taxes to the al-Saud family, and some turned to Muhammad ibn Abdullah al-Rashid (r. 1872-97) to restore order. By 1884 the house of Saud ruled only Riyadh and nearby oases. Challenged by nephews, Abdallah ibn Faisal (r. 1865-69, 1874-84) finally turned to al-Rashid, who then captured Riyadh in 1887, ending the second Saudi state. In 1885 and 1886 the Qatari ruler Shaikh Qasim ibn Muhammad (r. 1876-1913) was accused of numerous abuses and oppression. He submitted his resignation, but it was refused. Occasionally he would retreat to Doha. Once in February 1893 Hafiz Mehmet, the vali of Basra, brought a garrison to reinforce Doha and restored peace by investigating the situation. In 1889-90 the Al Murra, Bani Hajir, and Manasir Bedouins rebelled and attacked caravans crossing the Najd interior. The Ottoman government reappointed Said Pasha mutasarrif in 1891, and he made a truce that lasted until May 1892 when three tribes plundered another caravan. In the next four years only well-armed caravans were safe in the Najd.

Abdul Aziz ibn Abd al-Rahman ibn Faisal al-Saud was born in 1876 or 1880. By age eleven he had memorized most of the Qur'an and had studied the lives of Muhammad and the first four caliphs. His father taught him to ride a horse, use a sword, and shoot a rifle. After Abdallah died in 1889, Abd al-Rahman ibn Faisal became the unchallenged head of the family. In 1890 he rebelled against al-Rashid, and the Saudi men captured and killed Governor Salim, taking Riyadh but only for a short time. Al-Rashid’s army surrounded Riyadh, cut down the palm trees, destroyed water channels, and poisoned wells. After hundreds were killed in a nearby oasis, Abd al-Rahman quietly led his family out of Riyadh. They found refuge for the women and children on the island of Bahrain, and the men traveled through the desert protected by the Murra clan. In 1893 they were given protection and hospitality in Kuwait by the al-Sabah family.

On May 8, 1896 the womanizing Shaikh Mubarak ibn Subah al-Sabah and his men killed his two brothers Muhammad and Jarrah. Within two days Basra’s vali Hamdi Pasha urged the Ottomans to occupy Kuwait. Hamdi was replaced by Arif Pasha in September, and his reports also criticized Mubarak, who became the emir of Kuwait until his death in 1915. On January 18, 1899 British Major M. J. Meade offered Mubarak money for a secret alliance with Britain. In March 1901 he led a raid against al-Rashid’s southern territory, and his Kuwaiti army lost hundreds of men as the rest fled. At the same time young Abdul Aziz ibn Saud’s force attacked Riyadh. Abdul Aziz, though welcomed in Riyadh, had to retreat to Kuwait also.

Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud led about forty men on camels borrowed from Mubarak, and on the way they were joined by twenty more. On the night of January 14, 1902 Abdul Aziz led a stealthy operation, climbing into the home of an old friend. The next morning he attacked Governor Ajlan as he was coming out of the fortress, and he was killed by Abdul Aziz’s cousin Abdallah ibn Jiluwi. They also killed about ten of the Governor’s men, and the rest accepted the Saudi family as their rulers again. Abdul Aziz sent for his wife and two sons, and he took Tarfah, a descendant of ‘Abd al-Wahhab, as a second wife. She would give birth to Faisal in 1905. The Saudi family quickly began repairing the long walls, and Abdul Rahman abdicated in favor of his son Abdul Aziz ibn Abdul Rahman ibn Saud (r. 1902-53), giving him the honored family sword. They were ready by the time Ibn Rashid attacked in November 1902. When they tried to cut off their supplies from the Persian Gulf, Abdul Aziz led two thousand men and ambushed the al-Rashid at Dilam, killing dozens.

Abdul Aziz ibn Saud never had more than four wives at a time, but he divorced many women after a very short time. He also had four concubines and four slave girls that changed even more frequently. As a result he had 22 wives and more than two hundred concubines who bore him 45 sons.

India’s Viceroy Curzon visited Kuwait in 1903, and the next year Mubarak agreed to let the British set up an exclusive post office in Kuwait, though it did not open until 1915. In 1910 the Muntafiq chief Sa’dun Pasha defeated Mubarak’s Kuwaitis at Hadiyya.

Riyadh was not attacked again, and by the summer of 1903 the Saudi territory had been expanded by about a hundred miles in each direction. Abdul Aziz captured Anaiza in March 1904, killing 370 while losing only two men. The Ottoman Turks sent 2,400 soldiers to protect the railroad they were building from Damascus to Medina, which was begun in 1901 and finished in 1908. The Saudis harassed the Ottoman supply lines, and in September 1904 they defeated the Turks in the battle of al-Bukhairiyya by hand-to-hand fighting, capturing camels, sheep, gold coins, and six field guns. The Saudis in 1905 negotiated an arrangement that allowed Turkish troops to occupy al-Qasim, and the Ottoman government recognized Ibn Saud as the governor of Najd. In 1906 Abdul Aziz ibn Mithab al-Rashid (r. 1897-1906) received 200 Ottoman pounds a month, but Ibn Saud got only 90. Mithab al-Rashid raised an army of more than 20,000 men, including 2,500 Shammar horsemen, and he challenged Ibn Saud to a personal duel to decide the war; but Ibn Saud said he would not fight a man who wanted to die. The Saudis had only two hundred men, but on April 14 they made a surprise attack at night and killed Mithab al-Rashid at Rawdat Muhanna. Yet the Shammar stayed loyal to al-Rashid, and their capital of Ha’il refused to surrender to the Saudi siege.

Arabia 1907-21

Abdul Aziz ibn Saud still had to put down occasional revolts by the tribes. In May 1907 the Mutair tribe was defeated at Majma’a and pardoned. They rebelled again and were defeated at Buraida. Buraida’s Governor Muhammad Aba al-Kehil rebelled in 1908, and after his defeat the Saudi prince restored him. In 1909 Zamil ibn Subhan of the al-Rashid house was overcome at Asha’alan. In February 1910 the Harb shaikhs promised to stop robbing people on the Jeddah-Mecca road. Sharif Hussein of Mecca sent a force into the Saudi portion of the Utaiba territory, and in November most of the Harba tribe submitted to Hussein. In 1911 with 4,000 Bedouins they captured Abdul Aziz’s brother Sa’ad, who was ransomed for their recognition of Ottoman sovereignty over Al-Qasim. Asir’s ruler al-Idrisi tried to collect tax in Sharif Hussein’s territory in 1910, and the next year he rebelled against Ottoman rule. The Ottomans appointed Hussein commander of a Turkish-Arab force with 5,000 Bedouins to suppress Asir’s revolt. Khalid ibn Lu’ay ruled Khurma on the border of Najd and Hijaz, and he enjoyed good relations with Ibn Saud.

In 1912 a religious fraternity called the Ikhwan movement of the Harb and Mutair began in al-Artawiyya, and it quickly began to spread throughout Najd. One of their cardinal doctrines was to abolish internal warfare. Abdul Aziz ibn Saud revived the Wahhabi religious movement, and he tried to get the tribes to serve God in unity. He sent out missionaries, copies of the Qur’an, seeds, agricultural tools, building materials, and ammunition. While the Turks were fighting a war against the Greeks, in May 1913 Ibn Saud led three hundred warriors against the al-Rashid capital at Hufuf, and the al-Hasa merchants accepted the Saudis. Ibn Saud sent his cousin Abdallah ibn Jiluwi there as governor. He ruled strictly, cutting off the hands and even the heads of hundreds of thieves. Saudi territory had doubled, and they began collecting the annual zakat (2.5%) tax. The Saudis now had access to the Arabian Gulf south of Kuwait, and they had ended the Ottoman province of al-Hasa.

Also in May 1913 the Ottomans and the British agreed on a treaty in which Istanbul renounced its claims to Qatar and Bahrain; Kuwait became an autonomous kaza in the Ottoman empire; and the British recognized Hasa as Ottoman. However, the agreement was not ratified by the British before the Great War began. In April 1914 Hussein sent his son Abdallah to ask for British support in an uprising against the Ottoman empire, and the next month Ibn Saud signed a treaty with the Ottoman Empire. Abdallah accepted British support to the Hashemites in September with conditions that they protect their rights and independent Emir Hussein against foreign aggression. The British sent a telegram agreeing on October 31.

When the Great War began in August 1914, the British put an embargo on pilgrim traffic and food supplies, causing great distress at Jeddah. Sharif Hussein began secretly communicating with Syrian nationalists in Egypt in November. In 1915 the Young Arab Party centered in Cairo asked the British for support. On July 14 the Sharif wrote his first letter to Henry McMahon proposing an alliance with Britain. On July 8, 1916 Sharif Hussein proclaimed a revolt against the Ottoman empire and blamed the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) for changing Islamic law, disrespecting the words of Muhammad, and shelling the Mecca Haram. They replaced him with Ali Heidar, who went to Medina, and in September he converted several tribes and gained the support of Emir Rabigh, delaying British supplies to the Hashemite forces. That summer Hussein’s warriors captured the Turkish forts in Mecca and Jeddah, and they cut off the railroad that supplied the Turks at Medina. In October the ulama in Mecca proclaimed Hussein “king of the Arab nation and religious chief,” but the British only recognized him as King of the Hijaz.

In 1916 and 1917 Hussein had more money to hire warriors than Ibn Saud. British intelligence officer T. E. Lawrence arranged for Hussein to receive weapons and a monthly subsidy of £100,000 for the revolt. In 1917 many tribes joined the Hashemite army for pay, and with Lawrence they captured Aqaba in July. Khalid ibn Lu’ay and the people of Khurma rejected a judge and new emir sent by Hussein, and they resisted his tax collectors and a force led by Sharif Hamud in June 1918. Khalid had converted to Wahhabism and appealed to Ibn Saud, who declined to intervene. On August 15 the British cabinet decided that Hussein should occupy Khurma pending a final settlement after the war. Hussein sent ‘Abdullah with 5,000 men to Khurma, and they recaptured Turaba on May 19; but one week later 1,500 Ikhwan from the Qahtan tribe led by Hamud bin ‘Umar and 4,000 men led by Khalid defeated them in Turaba, killing 1,350 of ‘Abdullah soldiers. Ibn Saud sent a force of 1,500 men who joined Khalid after the battle. However, the British sent him a telegram saying they would stop his subsidy if he stayed there. He in turn asked the British to restrain Hussein. Ibn Saud managed to persuade the Ikhwan warriors to go home. Faisal told Lawrence that eight out of ten Najd Bedouins followed Ikhwan, and the Ta’if branch was converting tribes in northern Yemen.

Sayyid Muhammad ibn ‘Ali, known as Idrisi, arose in the province of ‘Asir north of Yemen. He had lived in Cairo and with the Sanusi chief in Cyrenaica. After Imam Yahya of North Yemen helped the Turks attack Aden, the British made a treaty with Idrisi on April 30, 1915, promising him £2,000 a month if he would fight against Imam Yahya.

In January 1915 the ‘Ujman refused to support Ibn Saud, and in the indecisive battle of Jarab between al-Rashid and the Saudis the English political advisor, Captain Shakespear, was killed. The ‘Ujman allied with Ibn Rashid and took refuge in British Kuwait. In a treaty signed on December 26, 1915 Ibn Saud promised not to attack the British protectorates of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Muscat, and the British recognized his sovereignty over Najd and al-Hasa. That year he received £20,000 and a thousand rifles. The British hoped he would keep al-Rashid from attacking Iraq. On November 20, 1916 the government of India honored Ibn Saud as Knight Commander of the Indian Empire, and in December the British agreed to send him a £5,000 monthly subsidy and a thousand rifles.

Ibn Saud used the Wahhabi faith to win over influential men in Ha’il. In the summer of 1917 he began his campaign to take Ha’il by sending 4,000 men to stop the smuggling between Kuwait and Ha’il. Salim took power in Kuwait and revived the smuggling and the asylum for the ‘Ujman. Ibn Saud used a tax on the ‘Awazim tribe and diplomacy, and on March 6, 1918 the ‘Ujman agreed to return to Kuwait only for trade which Ibn Saud would permit. Ibn Rashid attacked Tyma’ without Ottoman support in April and was defeated. The British had sent St. John Philby as head of their mission to Ibn Saud, and in June he promised him £20,000 for the campaign to take Ha’il. He attacked Ibn Rashid at Ya’thab in September and took hundreds of animals while Ibn Rashid fled from Ha’il to a fort. In 1919 the influenza epidemic killed one tenth of the people in Riyadh, including Ibn Saud’s favorite wife and his oldest son Turki. His third son Faisal went on a diplomatic mission to England and France, and as the first member of his family to travel west of Turkey he knew more about modern civilization. Saud ibn Rashid ruled the al-Rashid from 1910 until he was murdered by his cousin Abdullah ibn Talal in 1919. By 1920 Percy Cox estimated that most of the Shammar and two-thirds of Ha’il supported Ibn Saud.

In December 1917 D. G. Hogarth told Hussein not to invade Ibn Saud’s territory because he was Britain’s ally. Hussein quarreled with his sons, and in August 1918 he refused to recognize Faisal’s appointment of Jaafar Pasha as commander of the northern army. Lawrence tried to mediate, but Faisal resigned. Zaid was not up to the job, and he asked Abdallah to take over. The Bedouins were demoralized, and Zaid stopped all military actions in August 1918. The British intercepted the wires, and the commander Edmund Allenby persuaded Faisal to withdraw his resignation. Hussein followed a protectionist policy, and merchants were dissatisfied. Ibn Saud wrote to Hussein asking for a loan of £6,000, but he sent only £2,000. Hussein made an alliance with Ibn Rashid, and they acknowledged his sovereignty. In October 1919 Ibn Rashid recaptured al-Jawf northwest of Ha’il by taking it from Ibn Saud’s ally Nuri Sha’lan, the Ruwalla chief.

In 1919 Hussein blocked the Najdis from attending the pilgrimage to Mecca. Hussein objected to the British post-war mandate policies and lost his lucrative subsidies in 1920. In September he forced Jeddah merchants to loan him £10,000. That summer more bribery and robbery were reported than under Ottoman rule. In March 1921 Winston Churchill became British secretary of state for the colonies and met administrators at Cairo. He named Mesopotamia Iraq and appointed Hussein’s son Faisal king there. Churchill and Lawrence named the land west of Iraq and east of Palestine Transjordan, and they named Hussein’s son Abdullah the monarch. Lawrence came to the Hijaz, but Hussein missed the opportunity for forming an alliance with the British. Hussein objected to the mandates for Syria and Palestine, and he did not join the League of Nations.

Thomas Edward Lawrence was born on August 16, 1888 in Wales. He was brought up as a devout Christian and taught Sunday school before attending Jesus College in Oxford. His brother Bob went to China as a medical missionary. T. E. Lawrence excelled in history, and during his summer holidays in 1907 and 1908 he bicycled in France visiting medieval castles and drawing them. In the summer of 1909 he went on a walking tour of Syria and began learning Arabic. In addition to his native English and Arabic, he learned French, German, Latin, Greek, Turkish, and Syriac. He worked as an archaeologist under D. G. Hogarth in the Mideast, and in 1911 he was with Leonard Woolley at Carchemish. In 1914 the Palestine Exploration Fund sent them to survey from Gaza to Beersheba and south to make maps for Field Marshal Kitchener. After the Great War started, Lawrence went to work for the War Office in the map department, making a map of the Sinai. In December he was commissioned a lieutenant at Cairo, and he became a link between the Military Intelligence Service, the Arab Bureau, and the Survey of Egypt. He communicated with agents behind enemy lines to get information. In 1915 his brothers Will and Frank were killed in France.

After Hussein bin ‘Ali of Mecca declared the Arab revolt against the Turks, Lawrence went to Arabia in October 1916 with the diplomat Ronald Storrs. They consulted with Hussein’s son Faisal, who was commanding the Arab force south of Medina. Lawrence went back to Cairo and urged the British commanders to help the Arab rebellion, and he was assigned to Faisal’s army as political and liaison officer. They engaged in guerrilla actions and kept the railway from running between Damascus and Medina. The Bedouins called him Emir Dynamite, and he bribed them with promised booty and English gold. He persuaded them to bypass Medina and take the coastal city of Wejh to use as a base for attacking the railway.

On January 3, 1917 Faisal began a northern advance with 5,100 men on camels and 5,300 infantry, and they captured Wejh three weeks later. Lawrence arranged for the Navy ship Hardinge to keep them supplied. The Arab force grew to 70,000 with 28,000 rifles. Lawrence and Auda Abu Ta‘yi left Wejh in May with forty men and recruited the Western Howeitat Bedouins for the land attack on the port of ‘Aqaba, which fell on July 6. Lawrence then rode a camel 150 miles to Suez and arranged for the Royal Navy to bring supplies to the 2,500 Arabs and 700 Turkish prisoners at ‘Aqaba. This enabled General Allenby to march British forces through Gaza and Beersheba and capture Jerusalem by Christmas. Lawrence led more attacks on the Hijaz railway to keep Turkish troops from getting to Medina. In February 1918 Arab forces with Lawrence defeated a large Turkish force at Tafileh, inflicting more than a thousand casualties while losing only forty men.

Lawrence participated in the Damascus campaign and entered the Syrian capital on October 1. He had been wounded several times, captured and tortured by the Turks, and suffered from hunger and disease; he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel. The correspondent Lowell Thomas made him famous in his program “With Lawrence in Arabia.” Lawrence helped Faisal set up a provisional government; but this ended when the French forces took over Damascus in 1920. Lawrence felt betrayed by the secret Sykes-Picot agreement. He went back to England and left the army, refusing to meet King George V. Lawrence wore his Arab robes at the Paris Peace Conference and did more than translate for his Arab friends. He argued against the French mandate over Syria and Lebanon.

Lawrence wrote about his experiences in the long Seven Pillars of Wisdom, but only eight copies in an expensive edition were published in 1922. He became close friends with George Bernard Shaw, who helped him edit the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, taking out controversial passages before publishing it in 1926. In March 1927 Lawrence published the abridgement, Revolt in the Desert, to make money, and that year he adopted Shaw’s name. He wrote a memoir about the inhumanity of Royal Air Force recruiting that was published as The Mint after his death, which was caused by a motorcycle accident on May 13, 1935.

Saudi Arabia 1922-50

Abdul Aziz ibn Saud complained that the English had surrounded him with Hashemite kings on three sides in Iraq, Jordan, and the Hijaz. He decided he had better take Ha’il before Iraq did, and he mobilized the Ikhwan in April 1921. In May he began the siege of Ha’il, and the British recognized Ibn Saud as Sultan of Najd. In August ten thousand men joined the siege. That month Lawrence reported that the defense forces of the Hijaz were weak and could be taken by a thousand Wahhabis. In October the deputy governor of Ha’il opened the gates to the Saudis. The magnanimous Ibn Saud invited al-Rashid princes to be his honored guests, and he accepted their soldiers as equals. He married Fahada, the widow of an al-Rashid prince. In July 1922 some Ikhwan warriors attacked and plundered two towns near Amman in Jordan, killing women and children. The British chased them away with airplanes and armored cars. Ibn Saud had not approved the raid, and he put the leaders in jail.

Ibn Saud refused to ratify the Muhammara Treaty that had been signed in May which defined the borders of Iraq and Kuwait with Najd. Percy Cox created a large diamond-shaped neutral zone between Iraq and Arabia so that nomads from both sides could use the wells. Ibn Saud complained he lost much of his territory, but Cox gave Arabia two-thirds of Kuwait and part of eastern Jordan. Ibn Saud came to an agreement with Kuwait on May 15, 1923. That year he tried to make Najdi tribes shift their trade away from Kuwait to the port of al-Hasa. Shaikh Ahmed ruled Kuwait from 1921 to 1950. In the summer of 1923 Ibn Saud gave Major Frank Holmes the right to drill for oil in eastern Arabia for £2,000 in gold a year, but after two years of not finding oil, he gave up his contract. By 1925 diplomacy had settled the northern borders of Najd, and Ibn Saud’s territory was secure.

In 1921 about 800 men in Mecca had fled to Yemen and the Sudan to avoid conscription. In 1922 border skirmishes convinced Hussein to prohibit Najdi entry to Hijaz overland, but the British persuaded him to allow 1,800 Najdi pilgrims to enter Mecca in July. Yet in 1923 he banned them again. Tax increases provoked protests in November 1922 by the Medina mayor, governor, and merchants. Roads were unsafe; food prices were high; and customs were corrupt. By 1924 tribal unrest in the Hijaz had been growing for several years. Hussein’s punitive economic policy was alienating merchants and urban centers while Wahhabism had converted many of his half million Bedouins. The Turkish National Assembly abolished the caliphate office, and two days later Hussein claimed it for himself on March 5, 1924. His arrogance was denounced throughout the Muslim world, and the Ikhwan believed it was sacrilege.

Ibn Saud retained good relations with the British, who maintained his subsidy until 1924 when they ended them for all Arab leaders. On June 4, 1924 Ibn Saud convened a meeting of tribal, military, and religious leaders in Riyadh to discuss an Ikhwan petition to mount a campaign to purge the corruption in Mecca and Medina. That summer he circulated a Green Book to explain his decision to Muslims. In July about 3,000 Ikhwan raided Ta’if and massacred people. Ibn Saud did not order the attack, and he threatened to execute any soldier who murdered an unarmed civilian. He also promised the Ta’if inhabitants safety. In August the Hijazi commander Sabri foolishly left Ta’if’s fortifications and ordered his 500 soldiers to fight the stronger Najdi force at Wadi Muharram. The Ikhwan forces entered Taif on September 24.

Hussein abdicated on October 3 and fled to Aqaba, leaving his son Ali to govern under Ibn Saud. Hussein sailed from Jeddah on October 16 with £800,000 in gold to exile on Cyprus. The next day 2,000 Ikhwan entered Mecca and began destroying art, musical instruments, water pipes, and domes on the tombs of saints. Prince Faisal was there to prevent violence, and no one was killed; but they looted the royal palaces. Ibn Saud announced that no one was prohibited from attending the pilgrimage. Strict laws were enforced in Mecca, and people were punished for doing business during prayers or for drinking alcohol. Ibn Saud named the religious police force the Society for the Advancement of Virtue and the Elimination of Sin. The Caliphate Committee in India sent him a telegram saying that Hussein and his sons must depart from the Hijaz, and the entire Islamic community should draw up a democratic constitution for the Holy Land. About 15,000 merchants left Mecca and went to Jeddah, but heavy taxes were imposed on them.

On January 1, 1925 the Saudis held a conference and decided to besiege Jeddah instead of attacking it as Khalid ibn Lu’ay and other tribal leaders wanted. More than 5,000 Ikhwan surrounded the city, and in February a peace party tried to replace Ali. His troops made four sorties from Hijaz in March, but Ibn Saud did not counter-attack. By June 22 Jeddah was under control, and most of the Saudis withdrew for the pilgrimage. Ali abdicated on December 8 and later went to Iraq. Ibn Saud used diplomacy and entered Jeddah on December 26. The Saudis also besieged Medina in 1925. When they opened the gates on December 6, Ibn Saud’s son brought in hundreds of sacks of rice for the starving people.

On January 8, 1926 the imam in Mecca’s Grand Mosque proclaimed Ibn Saud king of the Hijaz. Ibn Saud appointed his oldest son Saud to be viceroy of Najd and his second son Faisal viceroy of Hijaz. Ibn Saud convened an Islamic Congress at Mecca on June 7. He kept the Ikhwan away from the holy cities and made the pilgrimages to Mecca safer, cleaner, and less expensive. Ibn Saud governed the Hijaz himself, improving security, hospitals, sanitation, water supplies, and deporting prostitutes. Bedouins were not allowed to take protection money from pilgrims. In 1925 only a few thousand Indians had come to Mecca; but news of the changes spread, and the next year more than 126,000 Muslims visited Mecca, paying £5 each. During an incident at the Kaaba in the summer of 1926 Prince Faisal stopped Ikhwan troops from killing more Egyptians after an Egyptian soldier blew a bugle. Faisal made his second trip to England in the fall. Ibn Saud went back to Riyadh, and on May 20, 1927 he signed a seven-year friendship treaty with the British. The Ikhwan believed that the Shi‘a in Iraq were idolaters worshipping tombs in a land protected by English infidels, and they occasionally still raided villages. In September 1927 Captain John Bagot Glubb decided to build a police station 72 miles from the border at the Busayyah well. On November 5 Ikhwan warriors attacked it and killed eleven workmen. The British retaliated by sending airplanes to bomb Saudi territory, and they rebuilt the fort with army protection. Ibn Saud apologized and said the raid was unauthorized.

In 1928 Ibn Saud held a conference in Riyadh with eight hundred leaders, but the three most powerful Ikhwan commanders refused to come. They were planning to overthrow the Saudis in Hijaz, Najd, and al-Hasa. At the large meeting Ibn Saud offered to resign; but instead everyone pledged their loyalty to him. Ibn Bijad led 3,000 Ikhwan warriors in a raid into Iraq. Seeing British planes, they turned south and attacked an Arabian village and killed unarmed Wahhabi merchants. This infamous incident started a civil war. Ibn Saud doubled the quota of soldiers from each tribe, paid each soldier £3, and bought 1,500 more rifles from the British. The armies met at Sabillah on March 30, 1929. The Ikhwan did not know that Ibn Saud had a dozen machine guns. When he called back his soldiers for a meal, the Ikhwan thought they were retreating and ran after them. The machine guns began firing and killed hundreds. The Ikhwan had never lost a pitched battle, and this was the last Arabian battle fought on camels. The Ikhwan general Faisal al-Dawish was wounded in the stomach, and Ibn Saud pardoned him. General ibn Bijad came to the Saudi camp and asked Ibn Saud if he could take his men home; but he was arrested, and Ibn Saud ordered his town of Ghotghot destroyed.

Faisal al-Dawish recovered and continued the rebellion, and the Ikhwan poisoned many wells between Riyadh and Mecca. Ibn Saud led a convoy of dozens of American automobiles to Riyadh in July. In the north sharpshooters prevented the Ikhwan from drinking at wells, and 450 men died of thirst. In the east two tribes had 4,000 British rifles and cars with machine guns operated by Ibn Saud’s sons Muhammad and Khalid. Al-Dawish and his soldiers fled to Kuwait and surrendered to the British on January 10, 1930.

Ibn Saud’s closest advisors were his political secretary Yusuf Yassin and the Minister of Finance Abdullah Suleiman. In 1930 Suleiman arranged for a contract with the Marconi Company for a dozen shortwave radio stations and four mobile transmitters to go with Ibn Saud and his oldest sons. The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) began broadcasting news in Arabic. Ibn Saud listened to the news, questioned foreigners, and financed scholarships for several hundred boys to prep schools in Syria and Egypt. A few went to universities in United States and Europe. Yet in all of Arabia less than ten thousand children attended elementary schools, and only five hundred went to high school. Ibn Saud signed a friendship treaty with Iraq in 1930 and with Transjordan in 1933.

The Great Depression came to Arabia in 1931 as the number of pilgrims decreased to under 40,000 from 85,000 in 1930 and more before that. Ibn Saud owed £30,000 to India, £90,000 to Arabian merchants, and £10,000 for foreign companies, and he went months at times without paying salaries or creditors. In February 1932 the Saudis signed a friendship treaty with Italy, and in 1936 they received six Italian airplanes. In the spring of 1932 Ibn Rifada led men from Egypt joined by dissatisfied warriors from Hijazi tribes where their force grew to 1,500 men. Ibn Saud sent a force at the end of July, and they defeated them near Jabal Shar’, killing 370. In September 1932 Ibn Saud announced that his two kingdoms of Najd and Hijaz were being merged into one country, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The next year he chose his oldest son Saud as crown prince, though Faisal was foreign minister and viceroy of Hijaz. In 1932 Faisal had visited the Soviet Union and persuaded Stalin to let Muslims go on the pilgrimage to Mecca. Faisal sent his sons to be educated at Princeton, Cambridge, Georgetown and to the military academies of Sandhurst and Cranwell. Saud had 107 children, but less than six even went to high school.

In 1933 Ibn Saud gave the Standard Oil Company of California (SOCAL) a lease to drill for oil in eastern Saudi Arabia in exchange for £50,000 and £5,000 per month, plus £100,000 if they discovered oil in commercial quantities. Asir rebelled against Saudi rule, and its ruler Hassan el-Idrisi was forced to flee to Yemen. In 1934 Yemen’s ruler Imam Yahya captured two towns across the border. Ibn Saud proposed a neutral zone and demanded a reply by April 5. When no response came by that day, his troops invaded Yemen and headed for the capital Sana. Yahya agreed to pay £100,000 for the Saudis’ war expenses, and Ibn Saud ordered his army to withdraw from Yemen.

By 1935 Ibn Saud was using a fleet of 250 cars to transport his entourage on the road. In 1936 SOCAL formed a company with Texaco called Caltex, and after 1944 they were known as the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco). In 1937 Ibn Saud refused to grant oil rights to Japan and Germany. On March 4, 1938 Caltex drilled nearly a mile below the surface, and the well produced more than two thousand barrels a day. Operations expanded, and on May 31, 1939 Ibn Saud extended their concession to the borders of Kuwait and Iraq for $700,000 and $100,000 per year, plus $500,000 if more oil was discovered. Finally Ibn Saud could pay off his debts. In early 1939 Faisal was one of six Arab foreign ministers who went to London to argue against Jewish immigration to Palestine.

At the beginning of World War II Ibn Saud declared a policy of “benevolent neutrality” while his sympathies were with the Allies. That winter Arabia was affected by a severe drought, and during the war the number of pilgrims to Mecca was very small. Caltex gave King Ibn Saud an advance of $3 million on his royalties. In October 1940 Italian planes bombed Bahrain and Dhahran oil fields, and foreign minister Faisal protested to the Italian minister in Jeddah. Chaim Weizmann offered Ibn Saud through the British £20 million if he would let Palestinian refugees live in his kingdom; but the King called it a bribe and declined. Britain gave Saudi Arabia £400,000 for one year, and these annual payments increased to about £2.5 billion in 1945. In 1942 Ibn Saud’s son Mansur addressed Indian troops in Egypt before the battle of El-Alamein. On February 18, 1943 US President Franklin Roosevelt declared Saudi Arabia “vital to the defense of the United States,” qualifying it for $33 million in food, equipment, dollars, and gold. Ibn Saud’s sons Faisal and Khalid visited Washington in September and dined with President Roosevelt. In 1944 Saudi Arabia’s oil production increased 58%, and in 1945 it nearly tripled. Construction on the Dhahran air base for the Americans began in 1944 and was completed in 1946.

Ibn Saud spent most of the kingdom’s increased income buying palaces and other things for his relatives. Finance minister Suleiman usually worked for an hour or two in the morning and drank the rest of the day; he did not use proper accounting methods nor any investment strategies. On February 14, 1945 Ibn Saud met with President Roosevelt on a ship, and they talked for more than three hours. Abdul Aziz suggested that the Jews be given land in Germany so that they would not be displacing Palestinians. Roosevelt gave the King a DC-3 airplane with a crew for a year. A few days later Ibn Saud met with Winston Churchill at a hotel in Egypt, and he emphasized that a Jewish state on Arab land was an issue of honor, not finances. On March 1, 1945 Saudi Arabia declared war on Germany and broke off diplomatic relations with Italy. In 1946 he began sending Egypt’s King Farouk $5 million a year, and he sent thousands of Egyptian teachers, technicians, and military advisers to Saudi Arabia. Yet that year the Saudi government spent $10 million on cars and drivers for the royal family but only $750,000 on kingdom’s schools. Ibn Saud still spent $21 million more than he received and asked for loans.

In 1946 the Export-Import Bank granted Saudi Arabia a loan of $10 million. On July 17, 1947 the minister of development Fuad Bey Hamza announced that Saudi Arabia would spend $270 million on transportation, electrification, agriculture, water, schools, and hospitals. The American Bechtel Corporation built airports, roads, and electric power plants in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dhahran, a highway from Mecca to Medina, a railroad between Riyadh and Dhahran, harbor buildings at Jeddah and Dammam, and the Trans-Arabian Pipeline from the oil fields to the Mediterranean Sea at Saida in Lebanon. Muhammad bin Laden from Yemen was a real estate commissioner at Jeddah in the 1930s. He made money as a bricklayer for Aramco at Dharan and then developed a successful contracting business that grew into a multi-billion-dollar company. Aramco hired Shi‘a Muslims and created towns for their employees. After a thief had his hand amputated and died of gangrene, the Americans stopped reporting thefts.

In 1947 Prince Faisal spoke at the United Nations in New York against the partition of Palestine. Secretary of State George Marshall promised him that the United States would not vote for it; but President Harry Truman over-ruled Marshall. Faisal asked his father to break off relations with the United States, but he declined to do so. When war broke out over the new state of Israel in May 1948, Saudi Arabia sent one brigade to join Egypt’s army. To get more money for drilling and refining in 1948 Aramco sold 30% of its business to Standard Oil of New Jersey and 10% to Mobil. Oil production continued to multiply, and by 1949 Ibn Saud’s share was more than $100 million. Abdul Rahman was the only son of Ibn Saud who studied abroad. About 95% of Saudi Arabians were illiterate in 1950. Saudi Arabia did not have one school for girls, and not one girl studied abroad. On December 27, 1950 Aramco agreed to pay a 50% income tax on its net profits.

Yemen and the Persian Gulf

Yemen is on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula and gets rainfall that supports a larger population. In 1837 Muhammad Ali’s Egyptian troops took over Ta‘izz in the south. The British warned the Egyptians and forced them out of the region and back into the Ottoman empire. In 1839 Captain S. B. Haines captured Aden for the East India Company’s Bombay Presidency. The Turks returned to the Red Sea coast in 1849; but their attempt to invade Sanaa was defeated as many were killed. The Suez Canal opened in 1869, and in 1872 Ottoman forces captured Sanaa and Ta‘izz. Imam al-Mutawakkil Muhsin fled to the north. In 1886 Yemen signed a Treaty of Protection with the British. In 1904 Yahya Muhammad Hamid al-Din succeeded his father who had been Imam since 1890. During a famine in 1905 the Zaydis rose up to take back Sanaa, and in the fighting that ensued many Turkish soldiers were killed. Ottoman forces also lost many men fighting the Idrisi ruler of Asir. A border was established between North and South Yemen. Yemenis rebelled against the Turks again in 1911, and Yahya helped broker a truce. Muhammad ‘Ali al-Idrisi of Asir did not recognize their treaty, and he allied with the Italians against the Turks.

When the Great War began in 1914, Imam Yahya remained loyal to the Ottoman empire, but not all Yemenis did the same. In December 1918 British troops landed and forced out the Turkish garrison. Then they turned the port of Loheia over to their Idrisi allies while keeping the port of Hodeida. In late 1919 Yahya invaded Dhala and other frontiers of the British Aden Protectorate, and by 1920 he had conquered Lower Yemen. That year Ibn Saud made a pact with the Idrisi. The British evacuated Hodeida in January 1921, and they turned that over to the Idrisi princes of Asir also. The Idrisis held the coastal plain of Tihama for five years. In March 1925 Yahya captured Hodeida and Loheia, and the Asir principality was divided between Yemen and the Hijaz. The Idrisi rulers accepted Ibn Saud’s sovereignty in October 1926.

Italy was interested in the region, and on September 2, 1926 they made a ten-year friendship and commercial treaty with Yemen. Yahya began calling himself king of Yemen and raided the Protectorate in 1927 and 1928, when they made a treaty with the Soviet Union. By then Yahya had gained control of Hashid. Yemen’s crown prince Ahmad conquered Tihamah by 1929. In 1930 internal market taxes were abolished, but customs dues were increased to eight percent on most things with 15% on tobacco, wool, and spices. The British used their Royal Air Force to drive the Yemenis back to their original borders, and they accepted a truce. Long negotiations resulted in the British-Yemeni Treaty of Sanaa on February 11, 1934. The Idrisi drove Yahya’s forces out of Najran and established a border south of there in the Treaty of Tayif in May. Imam Yahya also made treaties with Holland and France in 1933. Italy signed a new 25-year treaty with Yemen on October 15, 1937. Britain and Italy came to a temporary understanding in regard to the Mideast on April 16, 1938. Imam Yahya often took hostages to control local rulers, and in the 1930s he held as many as 4,000. In 1940 Muhammad Luqman began publishing the Youth of the Peninsula newspaper.

After the British won a victory at El-Alamein, Yahya had forty Italians and two Germans arrested on February 26, 1943 to stop their radio broadcasts. That year there was a smallpox epidemic. Yemen joined the Arab League in March 1945, but they did not declare war on Germany and Japan. Many people were sent to prison, and Imam Yahya became more unpopular. Ahmad in Ta‘izz was accused of exploiting Lower Yemen. In 1946 the Sanaa appeal judge called for the zakat tax to be voluntary rather than extorted by force, for pardoning political exiles, and for prohibiting public officials from exploiting people in trade. In 1947 Yemen was admitted to the United Nations.

Sayyid Husayn al-Kibsi issued a fatwa justifying the assassination of Imam Yahya, and ‘Ali Nasir al-Qarda‘i agreed to kill the elderly leader. On February 17, 1948 Sayyid Abdullah ibn Ahmed al-Wazir, the former governor of Hodeida, led the coup d’état which assassinated Imam Yahya, his prime minister Qadi Abdullah Amri, Yahya’s sons Hussein and Mohsen, and a few others. Abdullah al-Wazir appointed Yahya’s sixth son, Emir Seif el-Haqq Ibrahim, his prime minister. He led the Free Yemeni Party of the landowners and merchants. The coup caused a civil war to break out as the crown prince and the Ta‘izz governor Emir Seif el-Islam Ahmad proclaimed himself Imam of Yemen. He conquered the capital of Sanaa on March 13, and tribesmen looted the city for several weeks. The Arab League appointed a commission to study the situation, and they found that Prince Ahmad appointed Yahya’s former foreign minister Muhammad Raghib Bey to the same position. On March 21 at Beirut the commission recognized Ahmad as the Imam of Yemen in Ta‘izz.

The Persians invaded Oman in 1741, but three years later Muscat-Oman became independent under the Al Bu Said dynasty. Imam Saud ben Sultan ruled Oman 1804-56 and extended his domain to Zanzibar in Africa. Muscat-Oman made a treaty with the United States in 1833, with Britain in 1839, with France in 1844, and with the Netherlands in 1877. The British were dominant in Oman and commanded their army and established air bases. Sultan Said ben Taimur ruled Oman from 1932 to 1970.

In 1507 the Portuguese went to the island of Bahrain and controlled it until the Persians drove them out in 1602. The Persian empire held Bahrain from 1601 until 1783 when tribal rulers became independent. In 1820 the British East India Company agreed to a treaty with the shaikhs on the lower Persian Gulf. In 1835 a Maritime Truce was made to suppress piracy. In 1853 India signed the Treaty of Maritime Peace in Perpetuity. The rulers of Trucial Oman made an agreement with the British in 1869.

In 1916 Qatar’s ruler signed a treaty with the British, and this protection was extended in 1934 when Petroleum Development Ltd. was granted a concession. Oil was discovered in Dukhan and began producing in 1949.

Iraq 1700-1930

As the home of the ancient Sumerians and Babylonians the land between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers has been called the cradle of civilization. The Greeks called it Mesopotamia, and the Arabic name is Iraq. Since 1500 CE Iraq has been on the frontiers of the Safavid Persian empire and the Ottoman empire. In 1534 the Ottoman sultan Sulayman took Baghdad away from the Persians. The three provinces were centered around the cities of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra. In the 18th century Georgian mamluks ruled Baghdad and sometimes Basra as well. The Jalali dynasty became entrenched in Mosul, and in the Kurdish mountains the Baban dynasty of Sulaimaniyya dominated for a while. The governor (vali) of each province would acknowledge the Ottoman overlord on coins and in the Friday prayer services, but they often had local autonomy. There were Shi‘a from the east and Sunnis from the west, and the Sufi orders of the Qadiri and the Naqshabandi were also prominent. Yazidis spoke Kurdish, and there were some Christians. In Baghdad the al-Kailani were prominent, and there was a Jewish community making up about a fifth of the population. South of Baghdad were the Shi‘i holy cities of Karbala and Najaf. Basra was also mostly Shi‘a.

In 1831 Da‘ud Pasha, the mamluk governor of Baghdad, refused to surrender his office to the Ottoman sultan, and Governor ‘Ali Rida Pasha of Aleppo marched his army into Baghdad and captured Da‘ud, ending the dynasty of the mamluks. ‘Ali Rida also marched to Basra, and in 1834 Ottoman authority also took control over Mosul, terminating the governorship of the Jalili family. The three Iraqi provinces were affected by the Tanzimat reforms. Midhat Pasha became governor of Baghdad in 1869 and implemented the Land Law of 1858 and the Vilayet Law of 1864 which subdivided land. His reforms took effect before he was recalled in 1872. Collective ownership was banned, and land had to be in the name of an individual. Thus tribal cultivators became tenant farmers. Baghdad began printing its first newspaper, Al-Zawra’, in 1869. Irrigation projects, new factories, and schools brought major improvements. The great tribal confederation of the Muntafiq in the Basra province lost influence, and the al-Sa‘dun family could not control people as well.

In Baghdad the Liberal Unionist Party (LUP) was founded to oppose the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). The National Scientific Club was started in 1912 by Muzahim al-Pachachi with support from the al-Suwaidi family; but by the end of 1913 their newspaper was shut down, and Muzahim and others had fled to Basra, where they were protected by Sayyid Talib al-Naqib. He opposed the CUP and founded the Reform Society of Basra in 1913 to demand provincial autonomy. Al-‘Ahd (the Covenant) was founded in Istanbul by Arab officers and spread to the three provinces of Iraq. Tala al-Hashimi began the Baghdad branch, and his brother Yasin al-Hashimi led it in Mosul. In October 1914 the Ottoman empire went to war on the side of the Central Powers. The governor of Baghdad was ordered to arrest Talib, and he asked the British to make him shaikh or emir of Basra. However, they decided to send him to India, where he remained until 1920.

In October 1914 the British landed a Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force at the head of the Persian Gulf, and in November they occupied Basra. In April 1915 they defeated the Ottoman forces at Shu‘aiba, and they moved toward Baghdad. The Turks counter-attacked and drove the British forces back to Kut, where after a siege of five months, more than 13,000 British troops surrendered in April 1916. On May 15 diplomats Mark Sykes and Georges Picot made a secret agreement in which Britain was given “southern Mesopotamia with Baghdad.” British forces led by General Stanley Maude managed to take Baghdad on March 11, 1917 and then Karbala and Najaf. In the summer of 1918 they destroyed the Ottoman 6th Army and captured Kirkuk. The Ottoman government agreed to the Armistice of Mudros in October, surrendering all their garrisons in Mesopotamia and withdrawing in November. When French Prime Minister Clemenceau visited London in December, he and Prime Minister Lloyd George agreed that Mosul, which had been assigned to the French zone, would be in the British sphere.

The port of Basra had developed mercantile relations with the British over many years, and they accepted British rule readily. During the Arab revolt that began in 1916, many Iraqi officers in the Ottoman army joined the army led by Sharif Hussein and his son Faisal. The Society of Islamic Revival was founded in Najaf in 1918. After a British official was assassinated, the British blockaded Najaf. Kurdish tribal leaders welcomed the British in the north, and in December the British appointed Shaikh Mahmud Barzinji governor of Lower Kurdistan. He came into conflict with other tribal leaders and the British, and in May 1919 he proclaimed Kurdistan independent. British officers in Baghdad sent an army that captured Mahmud and established British administration at Sulaimaniyya. Despite the secret Sykes-Picot agreement, in November 1918 an Anglo-French declaration promised the provinces self-government. Many in al-‘Ahd were serving in the administration of Emir Faisal in Damascus, and in 1918 they founded al-‘Ahd al-‘Iraqi.

The British abolished the elected municipal councils and used their own officers working through a few notables to maintain order. Arnold Wilson took a survey of notables he called a “plebiscite” in the three provinces in early 1919. Most wanted a state that included the three provinces under an Arab government, but Wilson claimed there was general acquiescence to British rule. However, Wilson’s secretary Gertrude Bell advocated Iraqi self-government under British guidance. Al-‘Ahd al-‘Iraqi convened a congress at Damascus in March 1920, and they proclaimed the independence of Iraq under Faisal’s brother ‘Abdullah. Some leaders moved to Dair al-Zur in eastern Syria, and from there Jamil al-Midfa‘i led a force that captured Tall ‘Afar in May and then marched on Mosul. A British force stopped them, and they turned back. Within weeks the French, who had been given the Mandate by the League of Nations, occupied Syria. The British had blocked a delegation of Iraqis at the Versailles Peace Conference. The secret Independence Guard (Haras al-Istiqlal) was organized with civilians as well as military officers. They were led by Muhammad al-Sadr, son of the Shi‘i Ayatollah Hasan al-Sadr of al-Kazimiyya.

On April 25, 1920 a peace conference at San Remo awarded the Mandate for Iraq to the British. They formed a Council of State with mostly British officers and a few subordinate Iraqi leaders. The Shi‘i Ayatollah al-Shirazi at Karbala issued a fatwa (decree) that serving the British was unlawful. This led to a series of meetings in Baghdad that denounced the Mandate in May. A large meeting nominated fifteen delegates to take the case for Iraqi independence to the British. Arnold Wilson agreed to meet them in June along with 25 Baghdadi notables he selected. Most of the notables were Sunnis, though they only were about one-fifth of the population. In June they announced an election for a Constituent Assembly, and a committee of former Ottoman deputies were appointed to manage the election with Talib al-Naqib as the chairman.

The British suppressed the demonstrations in the streets of Baghdad, but rebellion was spreading in the countryside. Shaikhs of major tribes met in May to discuss challenging British rule. After his son was arrested, Ayatollah al-Shirazi issued another fatwa, this one calling for armed revolt. By the end of June the armed rebellion had begun. A month later the rebels had taken control of the mid-Euphrates region, inspiring other tribes to revolt in the lower Euphrates area. Kurdish chiefs rose up and captured towns near the Persian border. The British had superior military weapons, and by October they had defeated the rebellion in Najaf and Karbala and ended the rebellion in Iraq that killed about 6,000 Iraqis and 500 British and Indian soldiers.

In early October 1920 Percy Cox arrived in Baghdad as the first high commissioner of the Mandate. He got Sayyid ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Kailani to be president of the appointed council of ministers that worked under British authority. By November the government of Iraq was formed under him and 21 eminent Iraqis from all three provinces. They restored the Ottoman administration and the municipal councils, but they were all guided by British advisors. Ja‘far al-‘Askari, who had been in the Arab Revolt, was appointed minister of defense. He formed the officer corps of the Iraqi army from 600 former Ottoman officers who were mostly from Sunni families. In February 1921 his brother-in-law Nuri al-Sa‘id was made chief of the general staff of the Iraqi army. In March the new colonial secretary Winston Churchill convened a conference at Cairo that was attended by a large Iraqi delegation of British officials but only two Iraqi ministers. The Conference decided to establish the kingdom of Iraq with the Hashemite Faisal as king. He was welcomed in Iraq in June and was crowned on August 23.

The Iraq Council of Ministers agreed to a treaty with the British in June 1922, but they decided it also had to be ratified by the Constituent Assembly after its formation. Ja‘far Abu al-Timman resigned in protest over the treaty, and he was one of the Shi‘a who helped to organize the first two political parties—the Watani (Patriotic) Party and the Nahda (Awakening) Party. King Faisal was also concerned about domination by the British, and he encouraged the opposition. Prime Minister al-Kailani resigned. When Faisal got appendicitis, Cox took control. He suppressed the radical parties and newspapers and ordered the Royal Air Force (RAF) to bomb the insurgent tribes in the mid-Euphrates region. King Faisal recovered in September, reinstated al-Kailani, and supported the treaty that was signed in October. The elderly al-Kailani resigned again in November and was succeeded by ‘Abd al-Muhsin al-Sa‘dun, a ruling landowner from the Muntafiq confederation. Sati ‘al Husri was Director General for Iraqi education 1921-27, and he was dean of the Law College in the 1930s.

Also in 1922 Mustafa Kemal claimed Mosul, and Turkish forces had invaded Kurdish areas where tribal leaders rose in revolt. The British abandoned Sulaimaniyya to a council led by Shaikh Mahmud’s brother while Cox released Mahmud from detention and installed him as governor. By February 1923 Mahmud was establishing an autonomous Kurdistan with himself as king. In March the British sent the RAF against the Turks and rebellious Kurdish tribal leaders. British forces returned to Sulaimaniyya in May but withdrew again in July, allowing Mahmud to go back in triumph. The RAF attacked the city many times in the next year, and Sulaimaniyya was occupied again by British and Iraqi forces in July 1924. Shaikh Mahmud fled to Persia and continued to lead guerrilla forces until he was captured in 1931.

In April 1923 the British and Prime Minister al-Sa‘dun agreed that the new treaty would only be in effect for four years after signing a peace treaty with Turkey. In June the Ayatollah Mahdi al-Khalisi and other Shi‘i leaders renewed their decrees against participating with the British. King Faisal had al-Khalisi arrested and taken to Basra and on the pilgrimage to Mecca, after which he went to Persia. About forty percent of the Constituent Assembly were tribal shaikhs who benefited by position and patronage, and secular Shi‘a also found electoral politics a way for their majority to participate with the powerful Sunnis. The religious mujtahids came to realize that their boycott of politics was not working. Prime Minister al-Sa‘dun resigned in November, and the King appointed his friend Ja‘far al’Askari. The Constituent Assembly began meeting in March 1924. Henry Dobbs replaced Cox as high commissioner in May and warned the Assembly they had better ratify the treaty which they did by passing the Organic Law. Then the Assembly dissolved, and Ja‘far al’Askari resigned.

King Faisal appointed Yasin al-Hashimi to be premier and confront Turkey, which agreed to accept a League of Nations commission to decide on Mosul. ‘Abd al-Muhsin al Sa‘dun became prime minister in June 1925, and he presided over the first general elections in Iraq. In July the commission recommended that Mosul remain part of Iraq with its old northern border. The League required Britain to submit a new treaty with Iraq by December for 25 years unless Iraq was admitted to the League as a nation. The British promised to consider recommending Iraq for League membership every four years, and the Assembly passed the new treaty in January 1926. A law promoting mechanical pumps enabled urban capitalists to expand their interests in the country. When the Assembly did not elect al Sa‘dun’s candidate for speaker in November, he resigned. King Faisal appointed Ja‘far al’Askari again. The 1924 Military Agreements called for Iraq defending itself by 1928, and military conscription was unpopular in the Kurdish and Shi‘i tribal areas. A Sunni employee of the government published a book criticizing Shi‘a, increasing tension, and in July 1927 the Iraq army shot at a Shi‘i procession in al-Kazimiyya, killing several people. Widespread protests erupted by the renewed Nahda Party. Acting Prime Minister Yasin al-Hashimi ordered the Party suppressed, and complaints led to his resignation.

Shi‘i turmoil continued, and Prime Minister al’Askari quit in January 1928. ‘Abd al-Muhsin al Sa‘dun was appointed again; but when he was not able to renegotiate the Military and Financial Agreements, he resigned in January 1929. Gilbert Clayton replaced Dobbs as high commissioner, and he persuaded Tawfiq al-Suwaidi to be premier in April. However, he was undermined by the King and resigned in August. ‘Abd al-Muhsin al Sa‘dun returned. When a Labor government was elected in England in September, they announced that they would recommend League membership for Iraq in 1932. In the summer Kurdish deputies petitioned for funding to form a Kurdish province that would include Dohuk, Irbil, Sulaimaniyya, and Kirkuk, but the Kurdish party also wanted the Mandate to continue for 25 years. Clayton died in September 1929. Prime Minister al Sa‘dun felt so helpless without him that he committed suicide in November. Tawfiq’s brother Naji al-Suwaidi became premier, but street demonstrations and a critical press caused him to resign in March 1930.

Iraq 1931-50

King Faisal’s confidential advisor Nuri al-Sa‘id became prime minister, and he was able to negotiate a new Anglo-Iraqi Treaty which was signed on June 30 and formed the basis for Iraq’s independence in 1932. It called for military equipment and advisors to be supplied by Britain, and the RAF would maintain two bases near Baghdad and Basra. Nuri al-Sa‘id called a general election, and the treaty supporters won and ratified it in November. Shaikh Mahmud called for a Kurdistan separate from Iraq and protected by Britain. The Kurdish tribes were aroused and isolated some of the Iraqi army. The RAF was sent to quell the revolt, and in May 1931 Mahmud surrendered and was sent to Nasiriyya in southern Iraq.

In March 1931 Yasin al-Hashim of the People’s Party and Ja‘far Abu al-Timman of the Watani Party formed the Patriotic Brotherhood Party (Hizb al-Ikha al-Watani). Abu al-Timma was connected to a trade union called the Artisans’ Society. Security forces prevented them from holding mass meetings or engaging in demonstrations. So they refused to pay taxes and sent petitions for the King to dismiss the cabinet. After Faisal left for Europe in July, they began a general strike in Baghdad that spread south to Basra. Tribal disturbances broke out in the mid-Euphrates region, and the government sent the RAF to suppress them. The government disbanded the Artisans’ Society in August.

That summer Kurds also rebelled in the north. When Shaikh Ahmad’s guerrilla fighters trapped the Iraqi army, Nuri al-Sa‘id sent in the Air Force again. In the spring of 1932 Ahmad fled to Turkey, where he was detained. A report issued by Ernest Dowson criticized the vast landholdings in southern Iraq and recommended direct contact with more landowners. Independent courts were to resolve disputes between pump-owners and indebted farmers. However, the Land Settlement Law favored the powerful landowners by enabling them to acquire more land. They managed to keep their share of the tax burden to less than ten percent of the government revenues.

The new Assembly in 1925 ratified the oil concession granted to the Turkish Petroleum Company, which in 1929 became the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC). The four companies Anglo-Persian Oil Company, Royal Dutch Shell, Compagnie Française des Pétrole, and the American consortium of Standard Oil and Mobil each had an equal share of 95% of the company. Rich oil deposits were discovered near Kirkuk in 1927. In March 1931 the IPC was granted access to the oil in northeastern Iraq with tax exemptions in exchange for annual payments in gold until exports began. By 1932 oil brought in 20% of government revenues, and they began exporting oil in 1934.

In June 1931 the League Mandates Commission asked Iraq to give guarantees for the rights of minorities that included Kurds, Assyrians, Turkomans, and Yazidis. The Iraqi government declared their guarantee of the rights on May 30, 1932. Assyrians met at a general conference at Mosul in October and petitioned the League for permission to migrate to Syria or somewhere else, but this was denied. On October 3, 1932 the League of Nations Assembly admitted Iraq as a member by a unanimous vote.

King Faisal asked Nuri al-Sa‘id to resign and appointed Naji Shawkat prime minister. Elections were held in February 1933. The government had support, but within a month the Ikha Party’s criticism forced Shawkat to resign. Al-Kailani became prime minister. In May the Assyrian leader Mar Shimun went to Baghdad for talks; but they broke down, and he was detained. In July many Assyrians tried to flee to Syria, but the French authorities sent them back. The Iraqi army tried to disarm them, and clashes led to dozens of Assyrians and Iraqis being killed. In August forces led by Col. Bakr Sidqi massacred hundreds of Assyrian villagers. Then Kurdish tribesmen looted their villages.

King Faisal became very ill and went to Berne, Switzerland for treatment, but he died on September 8. His 21-year-old son Ghazi succeeded him as king. Two Shi‘i ministers resigned, and funds that had been authorized for the Gharraf dam were shifted to the Iraqi army. Muhammad Saslih al-Qazzaz led the Workers’ Federation of Iraq’s strike at the British electric power company in Baghdad, but the Government suppressed the Federation. The new Prime Minister Jamil al-Midfa‘i presented the National Defense Bill that was passed in February 1934. This called for conscription and the expansion of the army. Al-Midfa‘i was replaced by ‘Ali Jawdat in August, and he persuaded King Ghazi to dissolve the Assembly. In the suspicious elections the Ikha Party held only twelve seats, and many Shi‘i shaikhs were excluded. The National Service Law imposed military conscription, which was opposed by the Shi‘a and minorities. The nationalists appointed Muhammad Fadel al Jamali director of education in 1934. After studying religion at Najaf, he had attended the American University of Beirut and the Teachers’ College at Columbia University in New York.

In January 1935 an uprising began in the mid-Euphrates region. Some of the Shi‘i issues were included in the People’s Charter (Mithaq al-Sha‘b) submitted to the government in March. Mainly they complained that the Shi‘a were not fairly represented in the Assembly. After Ikha leader Hikmat Sulaiman persuaded the commander Bark Sidqi not to suppress the tribal unrest, ‘Ali Jawdat resigned. Jamil al-Midfa‘i came back but could not get the shaikhs Yasin al-Hashimi and Taha al-Hashimi to fight the revolt either, and he quit too. So Yasin al-Hashimi formed a government and stopped the tribal rebellion a week later. In April two rebel shaikhs came to Baghdad. The government arrested followers of Kashif al-Ghita in May, provoking more uprisings. Bakr Sidqi declared martial law in Diwaniyya and used the Iraqi air force and army to end the revolt. Another Kurdish revolt began in August 1935 and was crushed by March 1936. An uprising in the Gharraf region was also put down.

A group formed around the Al-Ahali newspaper that began in 1932 favored al-Sha‘biyya (populism). The Iraqi Communist Party began in May 1935; but by the end of the year many members had been arrested, and the newspaper was shut down. Those in the Ahali group were also accused of being Communists because they were not enthusiastic about Arab nationalism. Ja‘far Abu al-Timman, Kamil al-Chadirchi, and Hikmat Sulaiman formed a central committee, and they joined Hikmat Sulaiman and General Bakr Sidqi, who would bring off a coup. On October 29, 1936 eleven military airplanes dropped leaflets over Baghdad calling for King Ghazi to replace Yasin al Hashimi’s cabinet, and use of force by the army was threatened. The Iraqi Air force had been sent away on maneuvers with ground forces, and the RAF was on the Iranian border. The Arab nationalists implemented compulsory military training in the schools. They closed down Al-Ahali and stopped protesting in Baghdad. The Ahali group formed the Popular Reform Association, which advocated more democracy, land reform, legal trade unions, progressive taxes, a minimum wage, and a maximum working day. In 1935 a compromise over the Shatt al-‘Arab waterway was worked out by negotiation, and the Sa’adabad Pact was signed by Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan on July 9, 1937.

However, the 1937 elections were won by Bakr Sidqi’s nominees, conservatives, nationalists, and tribal shaikhs who opposed them. Hikmat Sulaiman used the police to end strikes and arrest organizers. In May they arrested shaikh leaders in the mid-Euphrates region to prevent another rebellion. Ja‘far Abu al-Timman, Kamil al-Chadirchi, and two other reformers resigned in June and criticized Sulaiman of nepotism and favoritism. Those replacing them backed Bakr Sidqi, and the Popular Reform Association was suppressed. Bakr Sadiq and the Iraqi air force commander were assassinated on August 11 while traveling through Mosul to Turkey. Hikmat Sulaiman ordered conspirators arrested, but the northern army command refused to obey. Hikmat Sulaiman resigned, and the King asked Jamil al-Midfa‘i to replace him. He was approve by the seven Sunni officers involved in the conspiracy who took over the government. Elections were held in December, and the officers gained control. When al-Midfa‘i learned about the coup in December 1938, he resigned.

In March 1939 Nuri al-Sa‘id claimed he discovered a plot to kill King Ghazi and senior political leaders. He charged Hikmat Suleiman and his associates and declared martial law at the Rashid military camp. Ghazi died in a car crash on April 4. His 3-year-old son was proclaimed King Faisal II, and 26-year-old Prince ‘Abd al-Ilah was appointed regent and governed until 1953. An angry mob also murdered the British consul Monckton in Mosul. Nuri supervised the election in May and got an Assembly he liked.

When World War II broke out in September 1939, the British persuaded Iraq to break diplomatic relations with Germany; but the Italian minister Gabrielli was allowed to stay in Baghdad for nearly a year after Italy entered the war. Amin al-Husaini led the Palestinian revolt that was defeated, and he came to Baghdad in October. Nuri’s associate, Minister of Finance Rustum Haidar, was assassinated in January 1940 by a disgruntled civil servant. The Regent asked Nuri to form a government, but he resigned two months later. Rashid ‘Ali became prime minister, but in January 1941 the Regent himself asked him to resign. The Regent appointed Tatha al-Hashimi to form a government, and he was supported by the four colonels called the Golden Square. When he and others tried to break up the Golden Square, General Amin Zaki and Rashid ‘Ali forced al-Hashimi to write a letter of resignation. The Regent escaped to Basra and Transjordan as the army took control of Baghdad.

Rashid ‘Ali al-Kailani presided over a Government of National Defense, and he got the Assembly to depose Regent ‘Abd al-Ilah, replacing him with the King’s cousin, Sharif Sharaf. Rashid ‘Ali led a strongly nationalist government, but the British, following the treaty, landed troops at Basra on April 17 and refused to withdraw from the air base. The British commander at Habbaniyya ordered an attack on May 1, and the Iraqi troops fell back to Falluja. Defense Minister Naji Shawkat was sent to Ankara to ask for German military aid. As many as 23 German planes arrived in Iraq, and for a while Mosul was under German control. The British advanced to Baghdad, and Rashid ‘Ali and the Government negotiated an armistice with the British at the end of May. Regent ‘Abd al-Ilah came back to Baghdad with Nuri al-Sa‘id and others who had fled from the military coup. Jamil al-Midfa‘i became premier and purged the supporters of Rashid ‘Ali, but he resigned in October 1941.

Nuri al-Sa‘id became prime minister and served until 1944. He promoted the idea of a unified Arab state with Syria and Transjordan. A court martial sentenced three absent coup leaders to death, others to long sentences, and put hundreds in an internment camp at al-Faw. The Shi‘i minister of the interior Salih Jabr helped him suppress protests under martial law. The purges created openings to appoint their supporters. Iraq declared war on Germany, Italy, and Japan on January 16, 1943. The Kurds had formed the organization Hiwa (Hope) in 1939 and were concerned about domination by Baghdad and deteriorating conditions in the north. Nuri negotiated with the Barzani leader Majid Mustafa, who escaped from detention and asserted his local power by 1943. The next year he was allowed to go to Baghdad and made peace with Nuri’s government. Nuri passed a series of constitutional amendments in October 1943, increasing the power of the King. Conflicts developed with the Regent, and Nuri resigned in June 1944.

Prime Minister Hamdi al-Pachachi released many who had been detained in 1941, but he had to face the growing Kurdish rebellion led by Mulla Mustafa. Al-Pachachi rejected their terms, and they revolted in mid-1945 but had to flee to Iran in October. Al-Pachachi’s victory over the Kurds made him more popular with others, and in December he called for greater political freedom for political parties with free elections. However, he lost the support of the Regent and resigned in February 1946. He was succeeded by Tawfiq al-Suwaidi, who ended martial law and press censorship, closed the detention camp at al-Faw, and reformed the election law. The new parties that formed were the National Democratic Party (NDP) and the Independence Party. Kamil al-Chadirchi and Muhammad Hadid of the NDP criticized the British occupation and domination. The Independence Party promoted pan-Arabism and nationalism. The Iraqi Communist Party was not allowed to form the National Liberation Party. During the war the Communists supported the British allies of the Soviet Union, but attitudes toward the Soviet Union changed radically after the war. Some Communists supported Kurdish Liberation. Railway workers went on strike in Basra in April 1945, but their union was banned the next year. Al-Suwaidi resigned in May 1946.

Arshad al-‘Umari was a repressive prime minister, and in July 1946 the police fired at a crowd of oil workers, killing many. The Iraqi Kurdish Democratic Party was founded in Baghdad in August by Barzani’s allies. Al-‘Umari imposed martial law prior to elections, but he had to resign in November. Regent ‘Abd al-Ilah chose Nuri al-Sa‘id again, and the March 1947 elections confirmed those in power. Nuri declined to form the government and recommended Salih Jabr, who became Iraq’s first Shi‘i prime minister. He renegotiated the treaty with Britain that was signed on January 15, 1948. However, the opposition was so strong that the Regent refused to ratify the treaty. Large demonstrations continued, and the police fired on marchers. Two ministers and more than twenty legislators resigned in protest. Salih Jabr resigned and fled to Transjordan. The Regent appointed the Shi‘i Muhammad al-Sadr. His cabinet was filled with rivals of Nuri and Salih Jabr. A financial crisis and a poor harvest caused food shortages in Baghdad. At Iraq’s request the British advising the Iraqi army withdrew on May 16, 1948. When war in Palestine began that month, the Iraqi government proclaimed martial law. Active Zionism was made a capital crime, and the Jewish merchant Ades was sentenced to death for supplying arms to Israel. In the June elections during martial law the three opposition parties won only seven seats out of 138.

Al-Sadr resigned, and the Regent appointed Muzahim al-Pachachi. Iraq had sent 3,000 soldiers to Palestine in May 1948, and then they sent 15,000 more troops, making them the largest Arab force there. The Jewish community in Iraq had 117,000 people, and many migrated to Israel. Stopping the oil in the pipeline from Kirkuk to Haifa in Israel cost Iraq £1,000,000 a year in lost revenue. The Iraqi defeats in Palestine brought down al-Pachiachi’s government in January 1949. The Regent chose Nuri al-Sa‘id once again, and he used court martials to restore order by imprisoning hundreds. Many Communists were arrested, and three were executed. A law passed on March 3, 1950 allowed the Jews to renounce their Iraqi citizenship and leave the country. Nuri resigned in November and was succeeded by ‘Ali Jawdat. The effort to unite Iraq with Syria collapsed in December when a coup d’état overthrew the government in Damascus. After his foreign minister Muzahim al-Pachachi tried to improve relations with Egypt instead of Syria, many Iraqis were alienated. The Regent agreed with them, and Jawdat resigned in February 1950. Tawfiq al-Suwaidi became prime minister, and he looked to Nuri for advice. In November 1949 Nuri had helped organize the Constitutional Union Party. Salih Jabr broke with Nuri, and conflicts in the cabinet caused al-Suwaidi to resign in September.

Copyright © 2009-10 by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book Mideast & Africa 1700-1950.
For ordering information, please click here.

Ottoman Empire 1600-1907
Ottoman Fall and Turkey 1908-1950
Persia (Iran) and Afghanistan 1600-1950
Arabia, Yemen, and Iraq 1600-1950
Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan 1600-1950
Palestine and Zionism 1600-1950
Egypt, Sudan, and Libya 1600-1950
Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco 1600-1950
West Africa and the French 1600-1950
West Africa and the British 1600-1950
Ethiopia and Somaliland 1600-1950
East Africa 1600-1950
Congo, Angola, and Mozambique 1600-1950
Southern Africa 1700-1950
Summary and Evaluation

Bibliography

ETHICS OF CIVILIZATION Index

World Chronological Index
Chronology of Asia & Africa to 1800
Chronology of Asia & Africa 1800-1950
Mideast & Africa to 1950

BECK index