Modern History of the Arab Countries. Vladimir Borisovich Lutsky 1969



Iraq, one of the most backward regions of the Ottoman Empire, was not under the control of Mohammed Ali and was not affected by his reforms. It continued to be a remote colony of the East India Company. In the period following Daud Pasha’s dethronement (1831) the Turkish governors of Iraq strove to consolidate the Porte’s authority and executed its orders to the letter. The situation in Iraq became very critical after the liquidation of the Kulemen dynasty. The country was ruined and in the grip of an unusually severe, even for Iraq, economic crisis. The plague of 1831 had carried off most of the population and dealt a crushing blow to Iraq’s productive forces. Out of the 150,000 inhabitants of Baghdad only 20,000 were left and in Basra, only 5,000 or 6,000 were left out of 80,000. Many towns and villages had died out completely. Homes were boarded up. Stores and workshops were closed. Fields and orchards were abandoned. The area under cultivation had shrunk and the fruit trees had perished. Trade had come to a standstill. Feudal anarchy returned with new force and deepened the crisis.

It took the country over twenty years to recover from the consequences of the plague.


Daud Pasha had forced the Kurdish beks and the Arab sheikhs into submission. He had known how to keep them under control. He had fought against the Porte, but united the whole of Iraq under his own authority. The new pashas of Iraq were appointed by the Sublime Porte and fulfilled its every wish. They destroyed the traces of Iraq’s former independence and placed it under the complete control of the central government. But actually their authority in Iraq was illusory. They were unable to cope with the tribes, who were reluctant to pay taxes, or with the opposition of the feudal lords who did not want to recognise the authority of the pashas. The country once again entered a period of feudal decline and became involved in continuous tribal uprisings and internecine wars.

The Arab tribes of Muntafik, Shammar, Anaiza and others either fought among themselves or formed alliances and fought against the Baghdad pashas. For three months in 1833 the warriors of the Shammar tribes besieged Baghdad.

An endless wave of uprisings of the Kurdish feudal lords swept the north. They were supported by the Shah of Iran on the one hand, and the Egyptian Pasha, Mohammed Ali, on the other. Striving to complete the unification of the “Arab Empire” and gain possession of the strategic trade route from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, Mohammed Ali pressed for the annexation of Iraq to his domains. Hence his readiness to support any movement in Iraq which would weaken the Porte’s authority. For its part, the Turkish Government began sending punitive expeditions to Kurdistan, which in the period between 1831 and 1842 committed repeated outrages against the local Kurdish rulers and liquidated a number of Kurdish principalities. But these partial victories did not reduce the Kurds to submission. In 1838, it looked as though the Kurdish regions had at last been subdued. But when the news reached them in 1839 of the Turks’ defeat at Nezib, the Kurds again rose in rebellion. The Kurdish feudal lords were supported in 1841 by the advance of Persian forces into Suleimaniye which almost led to a new Turkish war.

Russian-English mediation brought about a peaceful settlement of the conflict and led to the conclusion of the second Erzerum Treaty on May 31, 1847. It settled the boundary and pilgrimage disputes. According to the Treaty, Persia relinquished her claims to Suleimaniye and other regions. To compensate for this the Porte let her have Mohammerah (now called Khorramshahr) and the left bank of the Shatt-Al-Arab.

The Turco-Persian settlement, like the defeat of Mohammed Ali, did not change the general state of affairs in Kurdistan. Any attempts to establish direct Turkish rule in the Kurdish regions called forth new uprisings. The next Kurdish uprising took place in 1843 and lasted till 1846. No sooner had Turkey put it down than new disturbances broke out in 1848 and 1849. This went on year after year. From time to time the Turks gained ephemeral successes in a difficult war, but their authority in Kurdistan remained illusory.


The new, liberal ideas which inspired the Turkish reformers and were reflected in the hatti-sherif Gulhane were slow to penetrate into Iraq, gripped, as it was, by economic dislocation and shaken by feudal mutinies and tribal internecine wars. The Turkish pashas exercised full military, civilian and judicial power and continued to rule the country like real satraps. The reforms prescribed by the capital of the empire at first had no effect whatsoever on distant Iraq.

It was only after 1842, when the reforms of the first period of the tanzimat began to be applied in Iraq, that some changes occurred. Even these reforms, however, came too late. They were far from complete and often had the opposite result from what was intended. The law of universal conscription was not implemented in Lower Iraq until 1870. The division of military and civilian power took place only in 1848, when the sixth corps of the Turkish army was formed with its headquarters at Baghdad, thus separating the functions of the governor from those of the corps commander. Simultaneous reorganisation of state machinery brought a certain degree of centralisation and specialisation and the abolition of the tax-farming system. Special clerks were entrusted with the supervision of financial and tax questions. A slightly Europeanised Turkish bureaucracy came into being.

The reforms did not give rise to a social movement in Iraq and their practical results were nil. The new administration was not as despotic as it was corrupt. The people still suffered from the extortions and outrages of the officials, who often confused their personal interests with those of the state.


For a long time the economy of lraq remained in complete decline. It was only in the sixtiesof the 19th century that the first signs of economic progress appeared. Iraq began supplying the world market with grain and dates and purchasing foreign manufactured goods. To meet foreign demands for Iraqi agricultural products the country restored her fields and orchards and expanded the sowing area and the date plantations. Iran too was drawn into the world market. Moreover, a considerable part of its foreign trade passed through Baghdad and Basra. The liquidation of internal customs in Iraq in 1861 considerably increased the growth of this trade.

The growth of foreign trade and transit called for the, development of communications. As far back as the thirties of the 19th century, the British traveller Chesney had unsuccessfully attempted to organise regular shipping along the Euphrates; the route to India through Egypt and the Red Sea was more profitable. Iraqi trade at the time was too insignificant to justify spending so much money on the development of a new waterway, but in the sixties increased trade led to a revolution in the means of transport. In 1862, the Turkish Government established regular shipping lines along the Tigris between Baghdad and Basra. In the same year, the British Company of Lynch also established regular shipping lines along this route. Basra had regular sea communications with the ports of the Persian Gulf and India. In 1864, a telegraph was set up connecting Baghdad with Istanbul, Tehran, Basra and India.


The final reformation of Iraq was entrusted to the outstanding Turkish statesman, Midhat Pasha (1822-1883). Midhat Pasha was the leader of the Turkish constitutional movement and author of the Ottoman Constitution of 1876. The Turkish Government granted him full authority. In 1869, he was appointed governor of Baghdad and also Commander-in-Chief of the Sixth Corps, thus acquiring absolute military and civil authority in Iraq.

With characteristic energy Midhat Pasha set to work to carry out reforms and reorganise the entire life of Iraq. He gave considerable attention to the construction of transport routes. He expanded steam navigation on the Tigris and founded a state steamship company. After the opening of the Suez Canal, he organised shipping lines linking Basra with Istanbul and London. He drew up a project to extent navigation further upstream along the Tigris to Mosul ant along the Euphrates up to Aleppo, entailing considerable excavation work. On his initiative a dockyard was built it Basra. Midhat Pasha also intended to organise the extraction of oil in Mosul and build railways all over Iraq. He worked enthusiastically on the project of the “Euphrates railway,” but he was only able to complete the 12-kilometre Baghdad-El-Kazimiyah line, which was used for steam trams. He gave great consideration to the expansion of the sowing area and plantations.

Midhat Pasha also carried out a number of administrative and cultural reforms. As early as 1864, a law was passed in Turkey on the vilayets, which separated the judiciary from the administration, established elective courts and drew the population into local government. By 1868, the law had been applied to all the provinces with the exception of Iraq and the Yemen. Midhat Pasha implemented the law in Iraq. He created new courts, instituted municipal councils (baladiah) and founded new schools. Baghdad’s first newspaper appeared under Midhat Pasha.

Midhat Pasha considered it his chief duty to subordinate Iraq completely to the central government and liquidate tribal and feudal separatism. He introduced military conscription in Iraq and demanded recruits from the tribes. He also taxed them and insisted on regular payments. When his policy evoked a big uprising of the Arab tribes in 1869, it was ruthlessly suppressed.

Midhat Pasha realised, however, that repressions alone could not break the resistance of the tribes. He therefore decided to win over the feudal and tribal leaders, to his side by interesting them “in the peaceful exploitation” of the peasants. With this aim in view, following the example of some of his predecessors, he encouraged the tribes to settle on the land and began selling the state lands to the tribal sheikhs. As part of the plan to implement the land law of 1858, he sold state lands at a comparatively low price (officially without granting the right to private ownership) to the former holders of the timars and ziamets, to the merchants and, above all, to the tribal sheikhs. All these figures often became owners of large tracts of land called miri tapu. The state remained the supreme owner of these lands. Upon sale the state gave the new owners a document (tapu) granting them the right to use the land.

Midhat Pasha’s seizure of Kuwait and El-Hasa (1871) was aimed at consolidating Turkish authority in Iraq. These regions were formed into a special administrative unit (sanjaq Nejd), which was dependent on the Turkish rulers of Iraq.

The conquest of El-Hasa and Midhat Pasha’s brutal reprisals against the rebellious Bedouins showed that even the progressive representatives of the Turkish ruling class were the suppressors of the popular movements in the Arab countries. Even while carrying out reforms, the Turks acted as the oppressors of the people. The reforms of Midhat Pasha, like those of the first period of the tanzimat, strengthened the Turkish domination in Iraq. Arabs were removed from the government and. Turks placed in all the important posts. Iraqis were admitted only to minor positions. The highest position they could hope for was that of mutasarrif.

The reforms of Midhat Pasha completed the reorganisation of the administration of Iraq, which from then on became closely connected with the neighbouring provinces and the centre of the empire. Iraq’s former isolation became a thing of the past. The successors of Midhat Pasha, who was transferred in 1871 to Adrianople, attempted to follow in his footsteps, but most of their reforms remained unimplemented.