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 Detailed Timeline of Iraq History
 
Ottoman Empire (1534-1917)  <<  British-Controlled Iraq  >>  Independent Iraq (1958-80)

British-Controlled Monarchy (1917-58)
United Kingdom Takes Control of Iraq After WWI.

Go to "History of Iraq" Interactive Map

Post-World War I Iraq - Middle East

Post-World War I Middle East Boundaries Drawn

Paris Peace Conference Determines Fate of Mid-East (1920): The British promised Arabs in Iraq, Syria and Palestine independence for their help in WWI. After providing their assistance, the promise was rescinded. The Allies redrew the boundaries in the Mid-East, establishing the modern borders of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. Iraq was awarded to the British (British Mandate of Mesopotamia). Syria and Lebanon were awarded to France. Palestine was also awarded to the British, which included Jordan.

Turkey War of Independence (1919-23): Allies attempt to maintain control over Turkey following WWI conquest of Ottoman Empire, but Young Turks lead successful fight for independence, establishing modern Turkey. This derails Allied plans to settle the Kurds and Assyrians inside modern Turkey borders, forcing them into Northern Iraq instead, a cause of ongoing conflict with the majority Arab population.

Kuwait: At British insistence, Kuwait was made an “independent sheikhdom” under the British Empire, separate from “Mesopotamia/Iraq”. Kuwait consisted of the best ports into the Persian Gulf, while Iraq’s access to the Persian Gulf was primarily via marshy coastlines, not suitable for maritime competence. Therefore, despite its access to the Persian Gulf, Iraq would never become a naval or commercial power.

Turbulence in British-Ruled Iraq: Initial British rule in Iraq was chaotic, as inhabitants were discontent with the broken British promise of independence. Shi'a-Sunni tensions inside Iraq continued to escalate, as Shi'a were suspicious of the disproportionate number of Sunni in administrative positions, and Sunni were suspicious that the Shi'a would push for expansion of Shi'a-Iran into Iraq.

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Kurds Settled in Northern Iraq: Originally, they were to be given their own nation within borders of SE Turkey. But when the Young Turks organized the Turkish War of Independence to evict the Allies, the Allies were forced to acknowledge the modern boundaries of Turkey, removing the possibility of a Kurdish nation. They were instead forced to settle within the borders of Northern Iraq, where they would continually remain at odds with the more numerous Iraqi Arabs to the south.

Assyrians Settled in Northern Iraq: Assyrians were also to be settled in a protected area inside modern Turkey. As was the case with the Kurds, this plan was derailed by the Turkish War of Independence. They were also settled in Northern Iraq as a result, facing continual persecution as a Christian people in a Muslim state.

(Timeline Continued Below)

King Faisal Installed and Upheld by British (1921-33): Faisal was seen by many Arabs as a legitimate ruler, with bloodlines leading to Muhammad, and his leadership role in the Arab revolt during WWI also added to his credibility. He was initially appointed king of Syria, but was ousted by the French when he attempted to drive them out and reclaim Lebanon. From the British perspective, he had enough legitimacy to pacify the majority Arab population, while also being viewed as a leader that could still be controlled. Although somewhat problematic based on his revolt in Syria, the British were desperate to achieve some semblance of order after a year marked by mayhem. Iraq was in deep debt to the UK, and Faisal also recognized his position was dependant upon the British. Therefore, he was forced to agree to keep British officials in his cabinet, and to submit to British demands as they arose. This balance would work for some time, yet nationalistic dissension would surge beneath the surface, as Iraqis recognized that they were essentially under British control. King Faisal sought greater relations and ties with Syria, inviting many skilled workers and professionals into Iraq. He was allowed to establish an army. He was fairly effective at stabilizing Iraq, which was given a fair amount of autonomy by the British. The UK carefully orchestrated a balance of power where Faisal held sufficient power to maintain stability, while the tribal chieftains were supported by the British to the extent that they could be used to overpower Faisal if necessary. Faisal ruled until his death in 1933. He was succeeded by his son, then grandson who ruled until the monarchy was overthrown in 1958.

Transjordan Granted Semi-Independence (1923): Granted semi-independence from UK in 1923. The rest of Palestine still ruled directly by the British, who allow the gradual settlement of European Jews in the territory.

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 Further Understanding:  Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC)

Originally formed in 1912 by large European oil companies to explore for oil fields in Iraq, under contract with the Ottoman Empire. After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in WWI, it primarily consisted of British, French & Dutch. At the insistence of the U.S., American companies were also let in. The IPC agreed to furnish the Iraqi government with 20% of the profits generated from oil fields it developed and operated. In 1927, the IPC discovered oil near Kirkuk (Northern Iraq). Since all partner companies had major sources of crude outside Iraq, they conspired to keep Iraqi oil off the market, keeping it in reserve instead, in order to maintain higher prices for existing sources of crude. In which case, these companies maintained higher profits, while the Iraqi government lost out on profits. This arrangement would be maintained until 1961, after a coup overthrew the British-controlled Kingdom of Iraq, establishing Iraqi independence. At this point in time, they would nationalize IPC holdings throughout Iraq, and begin to realize profit from their oil fields.


Iraqis Overthrow British-Puppet Monarchy (March 31, 1941): Mired in WWII, Iraqis capitalize and seize control of Iraq.

British invade from Transjordan (May 3-10, 1941).

British invade from India (May 3-10, 1941).

British reclaim Royal Air Force Base Habbaniya primarily through air strikes (May 10, 1941).

Germans attempt to attack British from German-controlled Syria (May 10-31, 1941).

British ground forces capture Baghdad, re-installing pro-British monarchy (May 31, 1941).

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Note: Aftermath of WWII Uprising. Iraq was forced to cooperate with the British in the region throughout the remainder of WWII, being used as a launching point for invasions into Syria, Lebanon and Iran. British forces continued to occupy Iraq until 1947. The occupation only further fueled anti-British sentiment, and pro-Iraqi nationalism, which would lead to the overthrow of the pro-British monarchy in 1958.

Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan Established (1946): Jordan is granted complete independence from UK.

Iraq Participation in Arab-Israeli War (1948): The Iraqi government actively opposed the partition of Palestine, in which the Israeli nation was created. The Iraqis performed poorly in the war, due to lack of training and being poorly-equipped. Jews in Iraq were persecuted during this time, leading to the migration of 120,000 Iraqi Jews (a fairly affluent group) to Israel. The war contributed to economic problems (military costs and financial aid given to Palestinian refugees) and demographic issues with the loss of the educated and affluent Jewish community.

Riots in Iraq (1952): The depressed economic situation in 1952 led to riots and widespread dissent, which was brutally suppressed by the Prime Minister (serving under the teenage King Faisal II). But in this same year, new pipelines were built, and new agreements drafted with western oil companies, netting Iraq 50% of profits instead of 20%. State revenues quadrupled as a result. However, the profits were narrowly distributed. Consequently, the general public was actually financially harmed, due to stagnant salaries in the inflationary economic environment as a result of the increased money infused into the system. Only the elite were monetarily benefited.

(Timeline Continued Below)

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Baghdad Pact (1956): Aligned Iraq with UK, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan, all at the support and behest of the US. The US saw it as an anti-communist organization, while the British were motivated in attempt to maintain control and influence in a region of the world slipping away from them. For the Arab monarchs, it served the purpose of resisting pro-Arab overtures from Egypt President Nasser, who espoused a united Arab political entity to resist western influence and minimize Islamic theocracies. It paved the way to the imminent overthrow of the Iraqi monarchy, as pro-Arabs were able to point to the obvious western control of the current regime. The Suez Canal Crisis in 1956-57 (pitting UK vs Egypt) compounded the problem for the Iraqi monarchy, as it exposed complicit support against the Arab cause in Egypt.

Iraqi Revolution (1958): Finally fed up with the British-controlled monarch, the Iraqi army moved into Baghdad, deposing the King and his Prime Minister. Both were executed along with many of their administration and members of the royal family, marking the beginning of the independent Iraqi Republic. The British embassy was also damaged. The coup met no opposition, as the Iraqi people were largely in favor of regime change.

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Next: Rise of Independent Iraq (1958 - 1980)

Previous: Ottoman Empire in Iraq (1534 - 1917)

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