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Constitutions and Colonial Treaties: Iraq

Iraq had already received a constitution, electoral law, and treaty governing the relationship with Britain. By early 1924, the 100-member elected Constituent Assembly had ratified the three laws, but the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty had been barely passed with a series of shady parliamentary maneuvers, and the government of Prime Minister Jacfar al-cAskari fell immediately after passage. The constitution gave the king the right to select the prime minister, and dissolve the assembly, among other powers. And while the constitution placed the king in a position of power above the assembly, the treaty placed the High Commissioner above the king, who was required to consult whenever summoned. Britain maintained the right to intervene to protect British interests, however defined, and British subjects were immune from Iraqi law and taxation. King Faysal selected Yasin al-Hashim as prime minister in July 1924 and asked him to form the next government. When the treaty’s greatest critic became its servant, British colonial officials congratulated themselves on their wisdom. The apparent success of the Iraqi constitution and treaty provoked similar moves in the other mandates.

Faysal served at the pleasure of the British government. In Baghdad there was a small group of about thirty ex-Ottoman officer and civilian officials. These men ran the government. Those who had been with Faysal during the Arab Revolt and in Syria comprised what was sometimes called the “King’s party.” Nuri al-Sacid and Jacfar al-cAskari were the most prominent in this group, but it included civilian politician Rustum Haydar, and a dozen other variable individuals. They stood for, along with Faysal, a pragmatic politics of cooperation with Britain. When Faysal needed to get some bit of controversial business transacted with Britain, in the form of the treaty, oil concessions, or entry into the League of Nations, he appointed Nuri or Jacfar to lead the government. Yasin al-Hashimi led another group, generally called the opposition, which was made up of men who had mostly joined Faysal’s government after the war, and generally rejected compromise with Britain. Nationalist lawyer Rashid cAli al-Kaylani was probably the next most prominent, after Yasin, among this group. Yasin and his brother Taha had been higher-ranking Ottoman officers than Nuri or Jacfar, or any of Faysal’s other ex-Ottoman officers had been at the time they joined him. Those who had not joined the Arab Revolt had enjoyed more distinguished Ottoman careers, than those who had.

The leading Iraqi politicians were all products of the Ottoman system, and all were comfortable with, and probably committed to, an authoritarian, militaristic and elitist system. Some, like Faysal and Nuri, thought working with Britain would best serve their ends. Some, like Yasin, looked to Ankara, and argued an enlightened authoritarianism could serve Iraq only when it no longer had to serve Britain first. Faysal established a pattern of appointing Nuri to lead governments when he needed to satisfy the British, and appointing Yasin to lead governments when he needed to satisfy Iraqis. Kemal and the Anatolian republic were still the model.

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