A few officials — for instance, the much-maligned Sir Arnold Wilson — warned that the Shia formed a majority of the population, and that the imposition of a foreign Sunni king over them was bound to lead to a revolt. In his writings, Lawrence does not pause for reflection on this stumbling block. Sure enough, Sir Arnold was right and the Shia rose. The British were not squeamish about suppressing them, pioneering the use of aircraft to kill desert tribesmen. A plebiscite was rigged to approve Faisal, who one hot August day in 1921 arrived for his coronation in Baghdad. ‘We swear allegiance to you,’ realistic tribal sheikhs declared, ‘because you are acceptable to the British’.
Faisal had to try to hold together the strange conglomeration that the British had bundled up for him. His main strategy was to become popular by intriguing against the British, who duly caved in and granted Iraq its independence in 1931, in effect leaving the Iraqis to make of it what they could. Shortly before his death in 1933, Faisal described with painful truth the people he had been jobbed in to rule over as ‘unimaginable masses of human beings, devoid of any patriotic idea, imbued with religious traditions and absurdities, connected by no common tie, giving ear to evil; prone to anarchy, and perpetually ready to rise against any government whatever’.
Pryce-Jones argues for a federal state for Iraq with some form of regional autonomy for the Kurds and Shias and a democratically elected government. I am not confident that this will work. It may just degenerate once again into brutal dictatorship. Whether it does will depend whether the US maintains a military presence for an extended period of times. The establishment of more or less permanent US military bases in Iraq does seem likely once it is conquered. This presence will serve to restrain the next government from becoming more than just moderately corrupt and should prevent it from becoming more than slightly brutal.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2002 September 30 12:31 PM|