A Concise 20th Century History of Iraq


Executive Summary

20th Century History of Iraq

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The land area now known as Iraq
was almost equivalent to
the world's first civilization.

Baghdad was devastated by the Mongols in 1258. During the late 14th and early 15th centuries, the Black Sheep Turkmen ruled the area now known as Iraq. In 1466, the White Sheep Turkmen defeated the Black Sheep and took control.

Later, most of Iraq would become part of the Safavid Empire that arose in Iran in 1501. In the 16th century Iraq became a part of the Ottoman Empire, although the Safavids temporarily recaptured much of Iraq during the first part of the 17th century.

Executive Summary
History of Iraq.

 Interest in Iraqi oil began in the 19th century.

1916  Britain and France created Iraq from the Ottoman Empire a with
secret understanding known as Sykes-Picot Agreement.

1920  Britain gained control of Iraq using a 1920 League of Nations mandate and ruled until 1932.
1921  The Hashimite Iraqi Monarchy was formed in 1921, West gained control of Iraqi oil in 1925,
oil was discovered in 1927

A coup d'etat unchained Iraq of foreign control and formed a Republic.
The Ba'ath Party Coup resulted in Iraq taking control of her oil.
1961 Kuwait gained independence from Britain, Iraq immediately claimed sovereignty over Kuwait and a war will eventially follow .
1979  Saddam Hussein took over and begins to spend his oil riches on armaments bought from East and West to fight Iran, the Kurds, and Kuwait.
1990  Children of Iraq and Saddam's enemies suffer under UN sanction.
2003  United States and Great Britain, with help from other nations, invaded Iraq in 2003.
2003  Coalition occupation of Iraq.

20th Century History of Iraq

Interest in Iraqi Oil began in the 19th century.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Ottoman Empire planned to construct a Baghdad Railway that would be under German control. It became a source of international tension and played some role in the origins of the First World War. A railway that would link Berlin to the Persian Gulf would provide Germany with a connection to her colonies in Africa, i.e. with German East Africa and German South-West Africa (present-day Namibia), unfettered from the British navy. Even more threatening to British interests was the linkage of Germany industry to oil from Iraq. The Chester concession, approved by the congress of the newly founded Republic of Turkey in 1923, allowed for American development of oil and railways. It was an importance award and marked the introduction of American capital on a large scale into the Near East.

Ottoman rule over Iraq lasted until the end of World War I when the Ottomans sided with the Central Powers. British forces invaded the country and suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Turkish army during the Siege of Kut (1915–16). British forces regrouped and captured Baghdad in 1917. An armistice was signed in 1918.

Britain and France created Iraq from the Ottoman Empire in 1916 with secret understanding known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

In 1915, as the British were moving troops from India into Mesopotamia through the Persian Gulf and Basra, Arnold Wilson was designated as the assistant, and then deputy to Sir Percy Cox, the British Political Officer for the region.  Based in Baghdad, he became the acting Civil Commissioner for Iraq. He worked to improve Iraq's administration according to the principles he learned in India. In doing so, he was nicknamed The Despot of Mess-Pot". 




An Iraqi revolt against the British started in the summer of 1920 with mass demonstrations by both Sunni and Shia. It included protests by embittered officers from the old Ottoman army against the policies of Sir Arnold Wilson. The revolt gained momentum when it spread to the largely Shia regions of the middle and lower Euphrates.

Sheikh Mehdi al-Khalasi was a prominent Shia leader of the revolt. Largely over by the end of 1920, the revolt dragged on until 1922. British forces used phosphorus bombs against Kurdish villagers. The number of Iraqi casualties from these riots was estimated at 10,000 people.

During the 1919 Paris international conference which followed WWI, Wilson was among the few who successfully recommended adopting the Arab name Iraq instead of the Greek name Mesopotamia. This name change was intended to cover the planned northern expansion of the newly created country to include the oil rich Mosul region of Kurdistan, in addition to the Mesopotamian provinces of Baghdad and Basra. In April of 1920 at the Conference of San Remo, the League of Nations agreed to a British mandate over Iraq. 

Britain gained control of Iraq using a
1921 League of Nations mandate
and ruled until 1932

Many British officials believed Arab countries like Iraq should be granted independence under British supervision. In the summer of 1920, Arnold Wilson proposed a compromise, suggesting that Faysal, the former King of Syria, be offered the Iraqi throne. This proposal was intended to obtain support from the Iraqi population as well as by the British officials who favored a controlled Arab independence. It was eventually accepted by the British Government and by Faysal, but Wilson would not be there to participate in its implementation. The British government decided not to follow Wilson's views, and instead, granted independence to Iraq. The British government removed Wilson from his position in Iraq, and knighted him.

Deeply disappointed by the turn of events, he left the public service and joined Anglo-Persian Oil Company, later named British Petroleum, as manager of their Middle Eastern operations.  Wilson involvement in oil began when he was a

Lieutenant in a Bengal Lancers group that guarded  British consulate in Ahwaz, Iran and to protected the work of the D’Arcy Oil Company. It had obtained a sixty-year oil concession in Iran and was pursuing oil exp

loration in partnership with the Burma Oil Company

The British supported the traditional Sunni leadership (such as the tribal shaykhs) over the growing urban-based nationalist movement. The Land Settlement Act gave the tribal shaykhs the right to register the communal tribal lands in their own name. The Tribal Disputes Regulations gave them judiciary rights whereas the Peasants' Rights and Duties Act of 1933 severely reduced the tenants, forbidding them to leave the land unless all their debts to the landlord had been settled.

The Hashimite Iraqi Monarchy was formed in 1921,
West gained control of Iraqi oil in 1925, oil was discovered in 1927

Emir Faisal, leader of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman sultan during the World War I was a a  member of the Sunni Hashimite family from Mecca.  He obtained the throne partly by the influence of T. E. Lawrence, famously known as Lawrence of Arabia.  Although the monarch was legitimized and he was proclaimed King by a plebiscite in 1921, nominal independence was only achieved in 1932, when the British mandate officially ended.

In 1927, huge oil fields were discovered near Kirkuk. Exploration rights were granted to the Turkish Petroleum Company (TPC) later known as the  Iraq Petroleum Company. Jointly owned by some of the world's largest oil companies, it had a virtual monopoly on all oil exploration in Iraq from 1925 to 1961.   

King Faisal I was succeeded by his son King Ghazi in who claimed Iraqi sovereignty over Kuwait. An avid amateur racer, the king drove his car into a lamppost and died in 1939. His four-year old son King Faisal II followed him to the throne. Ghazi brother 'Abd al-Ilah became regent until 1953 when Faisal came of age.

In 1945, Iraq joined the United Nations and became a founding member of the Arab League. At the same time, the Kurdish leader Mustafā Barzānī led a rebellion against the central government in Baghdad. After the failure of the uprising Barzānī and his followers fled to the Soviet Union.

In 1948, Iraq and five other Arab countries fought a war against the newly-declared State of Israel. The fighting continued till May 1949 when a cease-fire agreement, of which Iraq was not a part, was signed. The cost of the war had a negative impact on Iraq's economy. The government had to allocate 40 percent of available funds to the army and for the Palestinian refugees. Oil royalties paid to Iraq were halved when the pipeline to Haifa was cut. The war and the hanging of several Jewish businessmen led to the departure of most of Iraq's Jewish community. Jews had lived in Mesopotamia for at least 2,500 years.
Iraq signed the 1956 Baghdad Pact which allied Iraq, Turket, Iran, Pakistan, Britan, and the United States. Headquartered in Baghdad, the pact constituted a direct challenge to Egyptian president Gamal Abdal Nasser. In response, Nasser launched a media campaign that challenged the legitimacy of the Iraqi monarchy.

In February 1958, King Hussein of Jordan and `Abd al-Ilāh proposed a union of Hāshimite monarchies to counter the recently formed Egyptian-Syrian union. The prime minister Nuri as-Said wanted Kuwait to be part of the proposed Arab-Hāshimite Union. Shaykh `Abd-Allāh as-Salīm, the ruler of Kuwait, was invited to Baghdad to discuss Kuwait's future. This policy brought the government of Iraq into direct conflict with Britain, which did not want to grant independence to Kuwait. At that point, the monarchy found itself completely isolated.

 Nuri as-Said was able to contain the rising discontent only by resorting to ever greater political oppression.

A 1958 coup d'etat to unchained Iraq from foreign control and form a Republic.

Uunder the leadership of Brigadier Abdul-Karim Qassem  and Colonel Abdul Salam Arif, King Faisal II and `Abd al-Ilāh were executed in the gardens of ar-Rihāb Palace. Their bodies and those of many others in the royal family were displayed in public. Nuri as-Said evaded capture for one day, but after attempting to escape disguised as a veiled woman, he was caught and shot.

The new government proclaimed Iraq to be a republic and rejected the idea of a union with Jordan. In July, the Interim Constitution was adopted. It proclaimed equality of all Iraqi citizens under the law and granting them freedom without regard to race, nationality, language or religion.[citation needed]
Qassem was also involved in the 1958 Agrarian Reform modeled after the Egyptian experiment. The government freed political prisoners and granted amnesty to the Kurds who participated in the 1943-45 Kurdish uprisings. The exiled Kurds returned home and were welcomed by the republican regime.

Qassem soon withdrew Iraq from the pro-Western Baghdad Pact. He established friendly relations with the Soviet Union, lifted a ban on the Iraqi Communist Party, and demanded the annexation of Kuwait.  Iraq also abolished its Treaty of mutual security and bilateral relations with Britain and withdrew from a 1954-55 the agreement with the United States that was signed by the monarchy regarding the military, arms, and equipment.

In May of 1959, the British military departed the al-Habbāniyya base in Iraq. By 1959 Qassem had moved against the Communist Party by removing its supporters from government and purging its activists from the Army. He also suppressed the party's mass organizations of students, workers and women and prevented the printing and distribution of its newspapers. The Iraqi Communist Party championed Qassem throughout his rule, despite the steps he took against it.

He is also blamed to have paved the ground for the Iran-Iraq war. In 1959 Qassem declared: We do not wish to refer (submitt) to the history of Arab tribes residing in Al-Ahwaz and Mohammareh [Khorramshahr]. The Ottomans handed over Mohammareh, which was part of Iraqi territory, to Iran.[citation needed] After this, Iraq started supporting secessionist movements in Khuzesta, Iran and even raised the issue of its territorial claims in the next meeting of the Arab League, without any success.

It was also during Qassem's rule as Prime Minister that confrontation with the Kurdish minority started. The new Government declared Kurdistan, which is part of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, “one of the two nations of Iraq.” During his rule, the Kurdish groups selected Mustafa Barzani to negotiate with the government, seeking a solution to the Kurdish issue. After a period of relative calm, the issue of Kurdish autonomy (or self-rule) went unfulfilled and caused discontent and eventual a 1961 a rebellion among the Kurds. Beginning in 1963, the Syrian Army and Air Force units assisted the Iraqi military in fighting against the Kurds.

Kuwait gained independence from Britain in 1961,
Iraq immediately claimed sovereignty over Kuwait
and a war eventially followed .

Britain reacted strongly to Iraq's claim on Kuwait and sent troops to deter Iraq. Qāssem was forced to back down and in October 1963, Iraq recognized the sovereignty of Kuwait.

Prior to WWI, under the Anglo-Ottoman Convention of 1913, Kuwait was considered to be an autonomous territorial subdivision within Ottoman Iraq. But when WW I broke out in 1914, the Ottomans and the British became enemies of war, and the convention was declared null and void. Eventially Britain declared Kuwait an independent sheikhdom under British protection.

During the 1970s, border disputes between Iraq and Kuwait caused many problems. Kuwait's refusal to allow Iraq to build a harbor in the Shatt al-Arab delta strengthened Iraq's belief that conservative powers in the region were trying to control the Persian Gulf. Iran's occupation of numerous islands in the Strait of Hormuz didn't help alter Iraq's fears. The border disputes between Iraq and Iran were temporarily resolved with the signing of the Algiers Accord on March 6, 1975.

The Ba'th Party Coup resulted in Iraq
Taking Control of Her Oil .

A period of considerable instability followed Qāssem failed confrontation with the British over Kuwait. Shortly thereafter Qāssem was assassinated and the Ba'th Party took power. Nine months later `Abd as-Salam Muhammad `Arif led a successful coup against the Ba`th government.  About five years later the Ba'th Party again took power in a 1968 revolution. Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr became president and chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC).

Iraq's economy recovered sharply after the 1968 revolution. The Arif brothers had spent close to 90% of the national budget on the army but the Ba'th government gave priority to agriculture and industry. The British Iraq Petroleum Company monopoly was broken when a new contract was signed with ERAP, a major French oil company. Later the IPC was nationalized. As a result of these policies Iraq experienced fast economic growth.

Massaud Barzānī and the Kurds, who had rebelled in 1961, were still causing problems in 1969. The secretary-general of the Ba`th party, Saddam Hussein, was given responsibility to find a solution. It was clear that it was impossible to defeat the Kurds by military means and in 1970, a political agreement was reached between the rebels and the Iraqi government.

In 1972 an Iraqi delegation visited Moscow. The same year diplomatic relations with the US were restored. Relations with Jordan and Syria were good. Iraqi troops were stationed in both countries. During the 1973 October War, Iraqi divisions engaged Israeli forces.

In retrospect, the 1970s can be seen as a high point in Iraq's modern history. A new, young, technocratic elite was governing the country and the fast growing economy brought prosperity and stability. Many Arabs outside Iraq considered it an example. However, the following decades would not be as favorable for the fledgling country

Saddam Hussein took over and begins to spend his oil riches on armaments bought from East and West to fight Iran, the Kurds, and Kuwait.
In July of 1979, Bakr resigned and Saddam Hussein, assumed the offices of both President and Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council.

Territorial disputes with Iran led to an inconclusive and costly 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War which devastated the economy. The war left Iraq with the largest military establishment in the Persian Gulf region but with huge debts and an ongoing rebellion by Kurdish elements in the northern mountains. The government suppressed the rebellion by using weapons on civilian targets. A mass chemical weapons attack on the city of Halabja in March 1988 during the Iran-Iraq War is usually attributed to Saddam's regime, although responsibility for the attack is a matter of some dispute [1] (Saddam maintains his innocence in this matter). The Iraqi government continued to be supported by a broad international community including most of the West, the Russia, and China which continued sending sending arms shipments to combat Iran. Indeed, shipments from the US (though always a minority) increased after this date, and the UK awarded £400 million in trade credits to Iraq ten days after condemning the massacre

In the late 1980s, Saddam Hussein's regime launched the al-Anfal campaign (Spoils of War), which led to the alleged gassing of tens of thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq when the military razed villages, launched poison gas attacks and rounded up men, women and children before shooting them in mass graves in northern and southern Iraq. Saddam's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majid, known as Chemical Ali, and five other former commanders are currently on trial in Baghdad for the attacks. Saddam and his six co-accused face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but he and his cousin face the additional, graver charge of genocide, which also carries the death penalty. They are likely to argue that their crackdown on the villages along the Iranian border was justified because Kurdish rebels and their leaders had committed treason by forming alliances with arch-enemy Iran.

In the late 1970s, Iraq purchased a French nuclear reactor, dubbed Osirak or Tammuz 1. Construction began in 1979. In 1980, the reactor site suffered minor damage due to an Iranian air strike, and in 1981, before the reactor could be completed, it was destroyed by the Israeli Air Force (see Operation Opera), greatly setting back Iraq's nuclear weapons program.

In 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait resulting in the Gulf War which was quickly lost.
United Nations economic sanctions were imposed at the urging of the U.S.

Children of Iraq and Saddam's enemies suffer Under UN sanction
During the time of the UN sanctions, internal and external opposition to the Ba'ath government was weak and divided. In May 1995, Saddam sacked his half-brother, Wathban, as Interior Minister and in July demoted his Defense Minister, Ali Hassan al-Majid. These personnel changes were the result of the growth in power of Saddām Hussein's two sons, Uday Hussein and Qusay Hussein, who were given effective vice-presidential authority in May 1995.

In August Major General Husayn Kāmil Hasan al-Majīd, Minister of Military Industries and a political ally of Saddam, defected to Jordan, together with his wife (one of Saddam's daughters) and his brother, Saddam, who was married to another of the president's daughters; both called for the overthrow of the Iraqi government. After a few weeks in Jordan, being given promises for their safety, the two brothers returned to Iraq where they were killed.

The United States, citing a need to prevent the genocide of the Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq and the Kurds to the north, declared "air exclusion zones" north of the 36th parallel and south of the 32nd parallel. The Clinton administration judged an alleged 1993 assassination attempt on former President George H. W. Bush by Iraqi secret agents to be worthy of a military response and the Iraqi Intelligence Headquarters in Baghdad was targeted by Tomahawk cruise missiles.

During the latter part of the 1990s the UN considered relaxing the sanctions imposed because of the hardships suffered by ordinary Iraqis. According to UN estimates, between 500,000 and 1.2 million children died during the years of the sanctions. The Unites States used its veto in the UN Security Council to block the proposal to lift the sanctions because of the continued failure of Iraq to verify disarmament. However, an oil for food program was established in 1996 to ease the effects of sanctions.

Iraqi cooperation with UN weapons inspection teams was questioned on several occasions during the 1990s. UNSCOM chief weapons inspector Richard Butler withdrew his team from Iraq in November 1998 because of Iraq's lack of cooperation. The team returned in December. Butler prepared a report for the UN Security Council afterwards in which he expressed dissatisfaction with the level of compliance. The same month, US President Bill Clinton authorized air strikes on government targets and military facilities. Air strikes against military facilities and alleged WMD sites continued

United States and Great Britain with help from other nations invaded Iraq in 2003.
After the terrorist attacks by the group formed by the multi-millionaire Saudi Osama bin Laden on New York and Washington in the United States in 2001, American foreign policy began to call for the removal of the Ba'ath government in Iraq. Conservative think-tanks in Washington had for years been urging regime change in Baghdad, but until the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, official US policy was to simply keep Iraq complying with UN sanctions. In addition, unofficial US policies, including a CIA backed coup attempt, were aimed at removing Saddam Hussein from power. After the terrorist attacks of September 11th, regime change became official policy. The occupation of Iraq later was identified by the George W. Bush administration as a part of the global War on Terrorism.

The US urged the United Nations to take military action against Iraq. The American president George Bush stated that Saddām had repeatedly violated 16 UN Security Council resolutions. The Iraqi government rejected Bush's assertions. A team of U.N. inspectors, led by Swedish diplomat Hans Blix, was admitted into the country. Their final report stated that Iraqis capability in  producing "weapons

of mass destruction" was not significantly different from 1992 when the country dismantled the bulk of their remaining arsenals under terms of the ceasefire agreement with U.N. forces. But, he did not completely rule out the possibility that Saddam still had Weapons of Mass Destruction. The United States and the United Kingdom charged that Iraq was hiding Weapons and opposed the team's requests for more time to further investigate the matter. Resolution 1441 was passed unanimously by the UN Security Council on November 8, 2002, offering Iraq "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations" that had been set out in several previous UN resolutions, threatening "serious consequences" if the obligations were not fulfilled. The UN Security Council did not issue a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq.

In March 2003, the United States and the United Kingdom, with military aid from other nations, invaded Iraq.


Coalition occupation of Iraq
In 2003, after the American and British invasion, Iraq was occupied by Coalition forces. On May 23, 2003, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution lifting all economic sanctions against Iraq.

As the country struggled to rebuild after 3 wars and a decade of sanctions, it was racked by violence between a growing Iraqi insurgency and occupation forces. Saddām Husayn, who vanished in April, was captured on December 13, 2003.

The initial US interim civil administrator, Jay Garner, was replaced in May 2003 by L. Paul Bremer, who was himself replaced by John Negroponte on April 19, 2004 who left Iraq in 2005. Negroponte was the last US interim administrator.

Terrorism emerged as a threat to Iraq's people not long after the invasion of 2003. Al Qaeda now has a presence in the country, in the form of several terrorist groups formerly led by Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. Many foreign fighters and former Ba'ath Party officials have also joined the insurgency, which is mainly aimed at attacking American forces and Iraqis who work with them. The most dangerous insurgent area is the Sunni Triangle, a mostly Sunni-Muslim area just north of Baghdad.

A few days after the March 11, 2004 Madrid terrorists attacks, the pro-war government of Spain was voted out of office. The War had been deeply unpopular and the incoming Socialist government followed through on its manifesto commitment to withdraw troops from Iraq. Following on the heels of this, several other nations that

once formed the Coalition of the Willing began to reconsider their role. The Dutch refused a US offer to commit their troops to Iraq past 30 June. South Korea kept its troops deployed.

Soon after the decisions to withdrawal in the Spring of 2004, the Dominican Republic, Honduran, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Singapore, Thailand, Portugal, Philippines, Bulgaria, Nicaragua and Italy left or planned to leave as well. Other nations (such as Australia, Denmark and Poland) continued their commitment in Iraq.

On June 28, 2004, the occupation was formally ended by the U.S.-led coalition, which transferred power to an interim Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. On July 16, 2004, the Philippines ordered the withdrawal of all of its troops in Iraq in order to comply with the demands of terrorists holding Filipino citizen Angelo de la Cruz as a hostage. Many nations that have announced withdrawal plans or are considering them have stated that they may reconsider if there is a new UN resolution that grants the UN more authority in Iraq.

The Iraqi government has officially requested the assistance of (at least) American troops until further notice.

On January 30, 2005, the transitional parliamentary elections took place. S