Iran and Iraq
Analysis of the Impact of Imperialism on Iran and Iraq
The modern nation of Iraq was formed in 1932 when the Kingdom of Iraq gained independence from the United Kingdom. It had been placed under the authority of Great Britain as the British Mandate of Mesopotamia by the League of Nations in 1920. Prior to that, it was part of the Ottoman Empire. This delineates the history of imperialism in Iraq as beginning with the arrival of the Ottomans the 15th century, through independence from the Great Britain. These two stage of imperial rule had several different impacts on modern-day Iraq.
The first is the borders of the current state of Iraq were the direct result of British rule. The Ottomans had administered Iraq differently, with three main provinces. Under Ottoman rule, Baghdad, Mosul and Basra were all provinces within the Ottoman Empire. Iraq was not Iraq in the sense of a modern nation-state, but governed territories that were delineated largely along ethnic lines. In Basra, the population consists of Shia Arabs. In Baghdad, the population was more mixed, predominantly Sunni, but with one-quarter Jewish population and a sizeable Shia presence as well. In Mosul, the population has long been predominantly Sunni. All are Arabs across the country. The Ottomans recognized and respected the demographic split more, knowing that Shia holy sites, and therefore Shia population, are concentrated in the south of the country. There was no attempt made by the Ottomans to tie the different regions of modern Iraq together in any way -- they were simply Ottoman provinces, and not related to each other.
The British redrew the internal boundaries of the region. The Sykes-Picot Agreement between England and France was the first attempt at creating such boundaries. The San Remo Agreement redrew the boundaries of the modern nations of Iraq and Syria (Stansfield, 2014). This resulted in the creation of what would become the modern state of Iraq. The country ended up with a Shia majority, a large Sunni minority, a Kurdish region, and in the post-colonial years the entire country bled minorities, especially the Jewish and Christian communities, to the point where modern Iraq is 99% Muslim of some denomination (Stansfield, 2014).
The governance structure of Iraq, as the Kingdom of Iraq, was put into place by the British during their mandate. Stansfield (2014) argues that the British had greater trust in Sunni Arabs than they had in Shia Arabs at this time, and that is why they elected to put the Sunni in charge of the new country, even though they were in the minority. He also argued that the state of Iraq today would not exist without the British. They created the idea of it, and the Sunni who were put into power built up the national story along their own vision. But a unified Iraq only came about because the British invented it.
Governance in Iraq
The first question is why the British set up the new government in Iraq as a monarchy. The British enjoyed a more democratic form of government, but the Arab countries in the mandate inherited a series of monarchies, some of which still exist today. One theory is that the Hashemite family, to whom power over Iraq (among others) was awarded had assisted by way of the Arab Revolt the conditions under which the British were able to take the areas from the Ottomans in the first place. The family was well-respected among Sunnis, tracing from the Prophet (pbuh) and having been governors of Mecca for centuries (Dawson, 2014)..
The creation of the state of Iraq, comprising a mix of Sunni and Shia, and then conferring power to a Sunni family when that denomination was in the minority has had longlasting effects on Iraq. Through a succession of leadership, Iraq came to be ruled by the Baath Party, but was always under Sunni control. Privileges were often conveyed to Sunnis over Shiites, though this was less pronounced under Saddam Hussein's rule. The Sunni rulers built a narrative about the nation-state of Iraq in order to solidify their hold on the territory, which otherwise might have been prone to sectarian fracture (Stansfield, 2014). This narrative focused on the Sunni. However, this narrative created some alienation among the Shia, who under the Ottomans were...
Saddam Hussein projected as a leader with strong support, but that support was relatively thin, and mainly held by his own Baathist followers. Other ethnic groups, who had cowed out of fear of Hussein, left his the first chance they had. The rule that the Sunni had cultivated over decades since independence wilted very quickly, as other groups in Iraq never had particularly strong support for Sunni leadership, especially given the circumstances under which Sunni rule came to exist in the country -- a legacy of the British.
The arrival of the Americans in the 2000s is an example of new imperialism. In this case, oil was the primary driver for the invasion. The United States may have been content to operate with economic imperialism, but had been shut out of the market in favor of European companies. Hussein was known to use oil -- the main economic driver of Iraq -- as a political tool for years. The 2000s were no exception. The rich oil reserves of the country provided Iraq with the power to avert economic imperialism. Hussein, in the days before the U.S. invasion, reached out to European oil companies like TotalFinaElf and Repsol in order to sign extraction deals, as a means of maintaining the country's control over the critical resource, its internal finances, and the ability of the United States to influence Iraq's economic health (The Economist, 2002).
The moves did not work in the face of U.S. military invasion. The subsequent occupation of the country by American forces ushered in a new era of imperialism. If oil wealth and a strong military had allowed Sunni to rule Iraq since independence, that era was over and a new era of imperialism had begun. The new era was characterized by the United States government implementing its own leaders in the country, and then seeking to control the transition of Iraq to a more democratic state.
This fractured state, and fractured governance, is another new era in Iraq's history with imperialism. The U.S. decision to invade was based on an imperialistic agenda, as much was transparent from the outset. But it was this current imperialistic invasion that broke up the strong governance of the country that had been built by the Baathists. Once, again Iraq fell apart, and largely on sectarian lines. Nordland and Al-Salhy (2014) note that sectarian violence came in waves in post-invasion Iraq. The old hostilities that existed between Sunni and Shia in this artificially-created country were renewed in the absence of a strongman leader to enforce discipline.
The Kurdish Quasi-Independence
The area where the Kurds had lived under Ottoman rule was generally a singular area. At the end of the Ottoman Empire, the British, French and Turkish powers decided to split the Kurdish Territory. The Treaty of Sevres in 1920 was never ratified, but it contained the blueprint for the partition of Kurdish territory, ostensibly to weaken the Kurds politically. This treaty proposed the creation of Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia as kingdoms, as well as autonomous states for the Armenians and the Kurds. The final treaty on the region, the Treaty of Lausanne, left out the latter two states. The reason for the change has been attributed to the oil interests of the British and the French. The British were intent on controlling the major oil-producing areas. Knowing that they were going to control Iraq at that point, the British sought to extend Iraqi territory into Kurdistan. The result of this is that Kurdistan would be split between Iraq, Syria and Turkey (Malanczuk, 1991).
The Kurdistan issue remains unresolved to this day, and therefore continues to have resonance in the context of modern Iraq. The Kurds have been able to maintain their own political and cultural identity over the this period, for example winning some measure of autonomy within the Iraqi state in 1970. This autonomy continued when the Americans invaded Iraq, with the Kurds taking the side of the coalition against Saddam Hussein. While political issues kept the issue of an independent Kurdistan off the table after the conflict, Kurdish Iraq became a de facto independent nation anyway. Kurdistan became the only secure part of the Iraqi state, with its own governance, and its own territorial integrity. Observers are skeptical that Kurdistan will ever be allowed to achieve full de jure independence, but the region still enjoys de facto independence from the rest of…
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