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The governorship of Midhat Pasha (1869-1872)



The most dramatic and far-reaching changes in Iraq are associated with the introduction of the new Ottoman provincial system and the governorship of Midhat Pasha (1869-72). Midhat was one of the chief architects of the Ottoman Vilayet Law of 1864, and he had applied it with great success in the Tuna vilayet (Danubian province) before arriving in Baghdad in 1869 with a handpicked corps of advisers and assistants.

Midhat transformed the face of Baghdad by ordering the demolition of a section of the old city wall to allow room for rational urban expansion. He established a tramway to suburban Kazimayn, a public park, a water supply system, a hospital, textile mills, a savings bank, paved and lighted streets, and the only Tigris River bridge built in the city until the 20th century. Several new schools were opened, modern textbooks were printed on the press that Midhat founded, and Iraq's first newspaper, Az-Zawra', began publication. To develop the economy, he promoted regular steamer service on the Tigris and Euphrates and shipping in the Persian Gulf, set up ship repair yards at Basra, began dredging operations on the Shatt al-'Arab, made some minor improvements in the irrigation system, and expanded date production in the south. Municipalities and administrative councils were established in accordance with the new vilayet regulations, and military conscription was enforced.

But perhaps the most fundamental changes resulted from Midhat's attempt to apply the Ottoman Land Law of 1858, which aimed at classifying and regularizing land tenure and registering land titles to individuals who would be responsible for paying the applicable taxes. His objectives were to pacify and settle the tribes, encourage cultivation, and improve tax collection. However, the traditional system of tribal and communal landholding and the fear that land registration would lead to greater government control, heavier tax burdens, and extension of military conscription to the tribal areas--combined with inefficient and inequitable administration--limited the effectiveness of the reform and produced unintended results. Most land was registered not in the names of individual peasants and tribesmen but rather in the names of tribal sheikhs, urban-based merchants, and former tax farmers. Some tribal leaders became landlords, tying them more closely to the Ottoman administration and widening the gap between them and their tribesmen. Other sheikhs refused to cooperate. A combination of developments stemming from the reforms begun by Midhat Pasha resulted in a decline of nomadism in Iraq; the proportion of nomads fell from about 35 percent of the population in 1867 to approximately half that figure by the end of the Ottoman period.

As vali of Baghdad and commander of the Ottoman 6th Army, Midhat's authority extended north to include Mosul, Kirkuk, and As-Sulaymaniyah as well as Basra and Al-Hasa in the south. He personally led an inspection tour to Kuwait and Al-Hasa and, taking advantage of divisions within the Sa'udi family, sought to reassert Ottoman sovereignty over the Wahhabi dominions in Najd. His success in the latter effort was ephemeral, as were many of the projects begun by Midhat. Nevertheless, his brief rule set in motion developments that profoundly changed virtually every aspect of life in Iraq and tied it more closely to Istanbul than ever before.


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