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History, British Mandate

British consent, mandate system, Al Basrah, Paris Peace Conference, Hejaz

Early in the war, in order to ensure the interest of the Arabs in a military uprising against the Ottoman Turks, the British government promised a group of Arab leaders that their people would receive independence if a revolt proved successful. In June 1916 an uprising occurred in Al ?ijaz (the Hejaz), led by Faisal al-Husein, later Faisal I, first king of Iraq. Under the leadership of British general Edmund Allenby and the tactical direction of British colonel T. E. Lawrence, the Arab and British forces achieved dramatic successes against the Ottoman army and succeeded in liberating much Arabian territory. After signing the armistice with the Ottoman government in 1918, the British and French governments issued a joint declaration stating their intention to assist in establishing independent Arab nations in the Arab areas formerly controlled by the Ottoman Empire.

At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, the Allies (the coalition of the victorious nations in World War I, including Britain and France) made Iraq (the territory encompassing the three former Ottoman vilayets of Mosul, Baghdad, and Al Basrah) a Class A mandate entrusted to Britain. Under the mandate system, a territory that had formerly been held by Germany or the Ottoman Empire was placed nominally under the supervision of the League of Nations, and the administration of the mandate was delegated to one of the victorious nations until the territory could govern itself. Class A mandates were expected to achieve independence in a few years. In April 1920 the Allied governments confirmed the creation of the British mandate in Iraq at a conference in San Remo, Italy. In July 1920, when the Iraqi Arabs learned of the decision, they began an armed uprising against the British, then still occupying Iraq. The British were forced to spend huge amounts of money to quell the revolt, and the government of Britain concluded that it would be expedient to terminate its mandate in Mesopotamia. The British civil commissioner, their top administrator in Iraq, thereupon drew up a plan for a provisional government of the new state of Iraq: It was to be a kingdom, with a government directed by a council of Arab ministers under the supervision of a British high commissioner. Faisal was invited to become the ruler of the new state. In August 1921 a plebiscite elected Faisal king of Iraq; he won 96 percent of the votes cast in the election.

The new king had to build a local power base in Iraq. He accomplished this task primarily by winning the support of Iraqi-born military officers who had served in the Ottoman army and of Sunni Arab business and religious leaders in Baghdad, Al Basrah, and Mosul. To win support in the Shia south, in the center-north among the Sunni Arab tribes, and among the Kurds, the king with British support gave tribal chieftains wide powers over their tribes, including judicial powers and responsibility for tax collection in their tribal domains. The Sunni Arab urban leaders and some Kurdish chieftains came to dominate the government and the army, while the Shia Arab chieftains and, to a lesser extent, the Sunni Arab chieftains came to dominate the parliament, enacting laws that benefited themselves. The lower classes had no say in the affairs of the state. They included poor peasants and, in the towns, a growing layer of Western-educated young men who were economically vulnerable and depended on the government for jobs. This latter group, known as the efendiyya, grew more and more restive. Both the ruling elite and the efendiyya embraced the ideas of the pan-Arab movement, which sought to join all the Arab lands into one powerful state. Pan-Arabism was seen as a way of uniting most of the diverse Iraqi population through a common Arab identity. The elite advocated achieving pan-Arabism through diplomacy with British consent, while the efendiyya developed a revolutionary and radically anti-British ideology.

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