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Independent Iraq

The League of Nations admitted Iraq as a member state and independent country in October 1932. Independence was neither surprising nor especially welcomed. Britain had renounced the ability to intervene in purely domestic affairs, but the 1930 Anglo-Iraqi Treaty left the Iraqi government little scope for independent action. Iraq retained a large British administration in the ambassador and advisors who could, in practical terms, still force the king to act on their advice. The Embassy controlled defense, in the form of the RAF and its bases, which operated completely outside Iraqi control. In the event of conflict, Britain was permitted to reoccupy the country. Finally, there was oil, which was completely under the direct control of the Foreign Office.41

King Faysal, the League of Nations, and the British Foreign Office had long been committed to some form of independence, and there were many discussions and reports prepared for the Mandate Commission in Geneva. A secret report prepared in 1930 sought to synchronize exactly how much “independence” the Mandates Commission would expect, and exactly how much control the British government would relinquish. Iraqi aspirations were of peripheral concern, based mostly on preventing the Iraqi government from dismissing British advisors, which was claimed to be “contrary to the interests of Iraq.”42 A related, undisclosed, worry was the continued salaries of British functionaries in Iraq. British officials in every Iraqi bureaucracy were paid well, with higher salaries than the Colonial Office paid for similar postings elsewhere. There was some effort, ultimately abandoned, to try to force the “independent” Iraqi government to keep such people on the Iraqi payroll at their mandate government salaries. Yasin al-Hashimi, always willing to make British enemies, was the main obstacle, since as former finance minister he made the sensible argument that the new state could not afford to pay such salaries when Iraqi state employees were available at a fraction of the cost.

For Faysal, independence was the symbolic acknowledgement he had sought since the days of the war and the Arab Revolt. Independence would bring a slight loosening of British control, but the difference was mostly cosmetic. Faysal considered it a victory all the same, and he had obviously reconciled himself to life as British-appointed king more than a decade earlier. Independence had eluded him in Syria in 1920, but to have achieved it in Iraq was a vindication. For the League of Nations, Iraq’s emergence as an independent state after twelve years as a League of Nations Mandate was powerfully affirmative, and a rejoinder to the many critics who found the Mandate Commission an apologist for colonialism and injustice. For the British government, Iraqi independence secured important and long-standing imperial priorities at the lowest cost possible, and seemed a significant triumph of patient diplomacy.

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