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The Rise of Yasin al-Hashimi and the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty

Yasin al-Hashimi quickly rehabilitated his professional prospects in Baghdad. By 1923 he had passed from ex-officer exile to prominent civilian politician, a transformation many surely sought and very few managed in the wake of Ottoman collapse. In May 1922 he had accepted Faysal’s appointment as governor of the Muntafiq province. The middle Euphrates district surrounding the city of al-Nasiriyya had played a central role in the 1920 Revolt and was still not fully pacified. A number of tribal shaykhs continued to oppose the mandate and Faysal’s monarchy and periodically raided government garrisons. Meanwhile, British political officers had been busily signing over vast land grants and tax-collecting concessions to tribal shaykhs willing to declare their allegiance to Britain.34 Hashimi immediately ran afoul of the British political agents when he revoked the grants to pro-British shaykhs and forged ties with those still in revolt. By August 1922, the High Commissioner Percy Cox had forced Faysal to demand Yasin’s resignation.35 His punishment was short-lived.

Yasin al-Hashimi won his way to power and influence in Iraq by talent and cunning. In November 1922 he was appointed Minister of Works and Communications in the cabinet of Prime Minister cAbd al-Muhsin al-Sacdun. Like Sacdun, Hashimi was a relentless critic of the mandate, and like Sacdun, resigned his office in November 1923 and dissolved the cabinet over its refusal to support ratification of the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty.36 While his government tenure had been short, and he had earned the distrust of the High Commissioner’s office, which inevitably referred to Hashimi as an “extremist nationalist leader,” he had also learned much about the contours of British Mandate governance. If tribal shaykhs in the countryside could become wildly wealthy by the British transfer of state lands, there was no reason sincere patriots should not benefit as well. As governor of Muntafiq, and Minister of Works, Hashimi observed ways in which the allocation of agricultural concessions, irrigation rights, control of former Ottoman State agricultural land, and public works projects could benefit him personally, and he proceeded to make the most of these opportunities, becoming enormously wealthy in short order, and in contrast to his penniless return to the city of his birth in 1922.

Capitalist self-interest did not make Hashimi a supporter of the mandate or monarchy, and British intelligence continually accused him of working to subvert both the mandate and the king and convert Iraq into a republic aligned with the Turkish Republic.37 British intelligence claimed he was in continual contact with Mustafa Kemal, which, given the vexing negotiation over Mosul and its oil resources, made Hashimi an enemy of the mandate. Mandate officials worried ceaselessly about Hashimi and considered him the most dangerous and most talented politician in the country. Hashimi won a seat in the 100-member- elected Constituent Assembly for Baghdad in the election of March 1924, and in that position continued his opposition and criticism of the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty. The Constituent Assembly had as its task the ratification of the Iraqi constitution and electoral law and the Anglo- Iraqi Treaty.

In March 1922, Major Hubert Young, a wartime comrade of Lawrence, and colonial official, wrote a constitution for the Iraq Mandate. Young believed that the enemy “Turk” had ruled Iraq by an age-old mix of violence and corruption, and resolved to endow the Iraq Mandate with a liberal constitution, which would help to bolster British claims of altruism and enlightenment in London, with the Mandates Commission in Geneva, and in the negotiations over Mosul at Lausanne. Young appointed two distinguished ex-Ottoman statesmen, Sasoon Eskell, a Jewish Baghdadi educated at the Mulkiye Academy, who had been an elected member of the Ottoman parliament from 1908 till 1920, when he returned to Baghdad, and Naji al-Suwaydi, an Istanbul-trained lawyer. While the constitution established a constitutional monarchy, and a dual parliamentary system, it placed the balance of power in the king, and left the elected bodies in a subordinate position. Left out from the constitution was the obvious fact that the king would be subordinate to the High Commissioner. Sasson and al-Suwaydi caused Young a serious problem when they complained that the new constitution was less liberal and less representative than the 1908 Ottoman constitution it was meant to supplant. Foreign Minister Lord Curzon deflected this in predictable fashion by claiming the mandate would honor its constitutions; the Turks had failed to honor anything.38

The assembly barely ratified the treaty in the face of opposition in March 1924. The cabinet of Prime Minister Jacfar al-cAskari had been so damaged by its support of the unpopular treaty that it fell from power in July 1924. This time Yasin al-Hashimi accepted the brief as prime minister and minister of defense a positively meteoric rise in the space of two years. His first premiership lasted less than a year, but it signaled his arrival, and permanent occupation, at the highest reaches of Iraqi politics. It also placed him in a difficult position; he had been the most prominent critic of the treaty, and now he was at the head of the government charged with enacting the treaty he had opposed. His opposition to the mandate never waned, however, and British officials remained obsessed with his surveillance, but he accepted his place within the world of Iraqi Mandate politics, and he did not return to the field of armed opposition to the colonial settlement.39

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