The capital of Iraq, Baghdad, is in the center-east of the country. Iraq is also called as "the Land between Two Rivers" (Ancient Greek: Μεσοποταμία Mesopotamia; Arabic: بِلَاد ٱلرَّافِدَيْن Bilād ar-Rāfidayn), as two major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, run through the center of Iraq, flowing from northwest to southeast. These provide Iraq with agriculturally capable land in contrast with the steppe and desert landscape that covers most of Western Asia.
Ottoman Mesopotamia (1514–1918)
The Ottomans under Murad IV secured their control over Mesopotamia in the first half of the 17th century following the Ottoman–Safavid War (1623–39). The Ottomans reorganized Mesopotamia into the Eyalets of Baghdad, Mosul, Basra, Shahrizor and Lahsa. The Safavid dynasty of Iran briefly asserted their hegemony over Mesopotamia in the periods of 1508–1533 and 1622–1638. In 1639, under the Treaty of Zuhab, all of Mesopotamia, including modern territories of Iraq and Assyria, were irreversibly ceded by the Safavids to the Ottomans.
In 1670, the Bani Khalid ousted the Ottomans from the Lahsa Eyalet in eastern Arabia. The families of the Bani Utbah from Najd then settled in Kuwait with the permission from the Khalidis in 1713. In 1718, Sabah I bin Jaber was chosen by the Utbi families to reign as the Sheikh of Kuwait under the nominal rule of the Khalidis. The descendants of al-Sabah will eventually ruled the city of Kuwait for next two centuries. In 1871, the Ottomans reasserted its rule in Lahsa, including Kuwait, which included into the Basra Vilayet in 1875. Nevertheless, the Ottoman rule on Kuwait was mainly nominal and the Subahites maintained their independence over their realms.
In 1747, Sulayman Abu Layla Pasha led the Mamluk officers of Georgian origin in ousting the Ottomans from Baghdad and established himself the autonomous ruler of Iraq. The Ottomans recognized the Mamluk regime which extended into Basra and Sharizor. In 1779, Sulayman Pasha the Great assumed the powers over Iraq; he suppressed tribal revolts, curbed the power of the Janissaries, restored order and introduced a program of modernization of economy and military. Under the Mamluks, Baghdad saw relative revival in the latter part of the 18th century. In 1831, the Ottomans managed to overthrow the Mamluk regime and again imposed their direct control by Ali Ridha Pasha over Iraq.During World War I, the Ottomans sided with the Central Powers. Mesopotamia was a low priority area for the Ottomans and they did not expect any major action in the region during the war. However, the British launched the Mesopotamian Campaign in 1914 in which them suffered a defeat at the hands of the Turkish army during the Siege of Kut (1915–16). The British forces finally won in the campaign with the capture of Baghdad in March 1917. During the war, the British employed the help of a number of Assyrian, Armenian and Arab tribes against the Ottomans, who in turn employed the Kurds as allies.
The British government agreed in the Hussein–McMahon Correspondence that it would support Arab independence if they revolted against the Ottomans. The two sides, however, had different interpretations of this agreement. Under the secret Sykes–Picot Agreement of 1916, the British and the French divided each others' spheres of influences at the Middle East into several League of Nations mandates, which became the real cornerstone of the geopolitics structuring the entire region. The agreement gave Britain control over Southern Syria and Mesopotamia.
British Mandate for Mesopotamia (1918–1947)
British Indian regime (1918–1920)After the war, Mesopotamia was governed by the British military administration under the command of the India Office in London. The Indian Office administrators recommended the annexation of Mesopotamia to India. This stance led to a conflict of interests between the Colonial Office, that supported an Arab self-government in Mesopotamia, and the India Office. In 1917, the Colonial Office instructed Edwin Montagu, the High Commissioner for Mesopotamia and the former Under-Secretary of State for India, to create Arab government with a constitution, parliament and an Arab president.
However, Montagu and his deputy in Baghdad, Colonel Arnold Wilson, did not yield to the Colonial Office's memorandum. Like Montagu, Wilson was a former administrator in India and he held a distrust of local Arabs' self-governing abilities. Rather, between 1917 and 1920, Wilson modeled the country's administration after British India, implemented the Indian rupee as the medium of exchange, filled the army and civil service with the Indians and adopted Anglo-Indian laws for civil and criminal code. Anti-British sentiments and the desire for self-government among the locals therefore led to a growing opposition to the British military rule.
After an incident following the arrest of a tribal shaykh, the armed revolt occurred in June 1920. The Arabs, both the Sunnis and the Shias, joined by the Kurds came together for the first time to oppose the British. Although the revolt achieved some initial success, by the end of October 1920, the British and the Assyrian recruits had completely crushed it. In October 1920, Montagu arrived in Baghdad to formally assume his post. He softened his earlier stance on Mesopotamia and began to favor a gradual process toward a self-governed Mesopotamia. After the revolt ended, the British Mandate for Mesopotamia (الانتداب البريطاني على العراق al-Intidāb al-Brīṭānī ‘alá al-‘Irāq) was confirmed in 1922.Following the revolt, Montagu devised the self-government plan for Mesopotamia, which comprised of the autonomous wilayats of Baghdad and Basra and semi-independent Kuwait. This policy stood in contrast with the interest of the Colonial Office that wanted to install a descendant of Sharif of Mecca, Hussein ibn Ali al-Hashimi, to rule Mesopotamia as a proxy ruler. On November 14, 1920, Abd al-Rahman al-Gaylani, the naqib of Baghdad, and Talib al-Rifa'i, the naqib of Basra, were appointed as the governors (wali) of Baghdad and Basra, respectively. The British also had recognized the semi-independent rule of al-Sabah rulers in Kuwait.
Formation of modern Iraq (1920–1939)Mosul was initially under the joint British and French control and only became part of the Mandate in 1925 after the oil discovery. An autonomous rule for the Kurds in Mosul was also proposed by Montagu in 1920 to ensure the region as a part of future Mesopotamian state. However, the proposal was defeated during the Cairo Conference of 1921. In 1921, Mustafa Yamulki was appointed by the British as the wali of Mosul. Under Yamulki's government, Mosul was kept under the direct rule of the British mandate.
The failure to establish a Kurdish autonomy within Mesopotamia combined by the Assyrian nationalist movement in northern Mosul led to a continued Kurdish antagonisms toward the British during the Mandate era. Meanwhile, the Assyrians in northern Mosul also demanded an autonomous rule within the Mandatory Mesopotamia. Compared with the Arabs and the Kurds, the Assyrians were viewed as the British most loyal subjects. The Assyrians believed that only the British who can protect them from joint Arab-Kurdish attacks. Continued Assyrian immigration to northern Mosul forced the Kurds to demand the British on granting them an autonomy in 1929.
When the British granted Mosul the status of autonomous wilayat in 1930, Patriarch Eshai Shimun XXI demanded the Assyrians be given similar autonomy in the Assyrian homeland which also viewed by the Kurds as a part of their own homeland. When the British proposed for an Assyrian self-government, Ahmed Barzani initiated a Kurdish rebellion in 1931 to set up an independent Kurdish state, though the Kurds were defeated within several months. In 1933, anti-Assyrian sentiments among the Kurds led to the outbreak of Mosul riots. In aftermath, the Assyrians were forced into self-defense under the leadership of Freydun Atturaya after the British failure in protecting them.After the inauguration of Mesopotamia Legislative Council on February 14, 1930, the Shias found themselves controlling the body. Although they formed majority of the Mesopotamians, the Shias had been politically sidelined by the Sunni clans, such as the Gaylanis and the Rifais. Shia politicians, such as Mohammad Hassan al-Sadr and Salih Jabr, realized they at least should relying on an elected legislature to voice the Shia interests. In 1934, Ayatollah Haydar al-Sadr issued a fatwa which encouraged the Shias to participate in the legislative elections.
Meanwhile, Kuwait remained a separate administrative unit up until the 1930s. Prince Abdullah al-Salim al-Sabah, the cousin of ruling Sheikh Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, was a proponent for the Kuwaiti representation to the Legislative Council and its integration into the Mesopotamian society. When Kuwaiti representatives were included in the Council in 1939, Abdullah was among the first councilors from Kuwait. He assumed a moderate and reformist position among the Sunni Arab caucus, compared with a more radical Baghdadi, Rashid Ali al-Gaylani. Abdullah was also more cooperative with the British and more in friendly terms with the Shias and the Assyrians.
World War II (1939–1945)During World War II, the independence movement was split into two camps: radical and reformist. The radicals were mostly northerners who wanted complete independence from the British and rejected the proposed Assyrian state in the north. The reformists were mostly southerners who sought more gradual approach to achieve independence. In 1940, fifteen pro-reform councilors, including Abdullaah, Mohammad al-Sadr and Tawfiq al-Suwaidi, signed a petition to the British High Commissioner to appeal for the creation of an elected government.
In 1941, the radicals, led by al-Gaylani, revolted against the British, declaring the foundation of "United Arab State" (الدولة العربية المتحدة ad-Dawlat al-‘Arabīyah al-Muttaḥidah). Supported by the German arms and money, the revolts quickly spread throughout the country. The British and the Allied forces acted swiftly in subduing the rebellions, in fear of the Axis influence in the region. The reformists used the revolt as an opportunity to pressure the British to accept their own terms. They convinced High Commissioner Kinahan Cornwallis that the only solution for the British to not lose their faces before the population was to expand the powers of Legislative Council.
On December 1, 1943, the Sunni and Shia Arab leaders met in Basra; the meeting resulted to an agreement in which the Shias would support a Sunni Arab monarchy in Iraq and, in return, the Sunnis would agreed that the post of prime minister should be occupied either by a Shia Arab or a Kurdish. Another meeting was convened in Kuwait on January 13, 1944 by the Arab, Kurdish and Assyrian leaders. The Assyrians demanded they be given the self-determination right, but it was vehemently opposed by the Kurds. Mosul also became a central issue during the conference since both the Assyrians and the Kurds claimed the city should belong to them.
Prince Abdullah personally supported the Assyrians for self-determination rights. During his visit to Tel Keppe in March 1944, Abdullah expressed his desire to Freydun Atturaya to settle the Mosul issue. Atturaya reacted positively when Abdullah stated the Assyrians should be given the control of the eastern portion of Mosul if they became independent. However, by 1945 a consensus between the Arabs and the Kurds had been reached in which they agreed that whole Mosul should be included into an Iraqi state. The Kurds threatened they will resign their support to an Iraqi state and establish their own state in northern Mesopotamia if the Arabs still support the Assyrian independence.