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The end of Ottoman rule


In the last decades of Ottoman rule, changes in administrative boundaries once more split Ottoman Iraq into three parts. For most of this period, both Basra (together with the subprovince [sanjak] of Al-Hasa) and Mosul (and its dependent sanjaks of Kirkuk and As-Sulaymaniyah) were vilayets independent of the central province of Baghdad.

In spite of the European commercial and consular presence in Iraq, it remained more isolated from European influences than the Arab lands adjacent to the Mediterranean. Iraq had relatively few Christians, and those few had had little exposure to foreign ideas. The prosperous Jewish community usually avoided politics but tended to be favourably disposed toward the Ottoman government. The tribal sheikhs and Shi'ite notables still couched their opposition in traditional terms, and many Turkish and Caucasian families enjoyed official status and other rewards as provincial administrators. Finally, a great majority of the population was illiterate. Thus it is hardly surprising that Arab nationalism had made little impact upon Iraq before World War I. In Syria, Arab nationalist and separatist organizations appeared after the Young Turk Revolution of 1908. In Iraq, however, there was scant nationalist opposition to Ottoman rule, although some Iraqi Arab officers in the Ottoman army joined the secret Al-'Ahd society, which is reported to have advocated independence for the sultan's Arab provinces.

It was the British, whose interests in the Persian Gulf and the Tigris-Euphrates region had grown steadily since the late 18th century, who ultimately brought an end to the Ottoman presence in Iraq. In the years just before World War I, the close ties between the governments of the kaiser in Berlin and the Young Turks in Istanbul were particularly troublesome to Great Britain. When Germany was awarded a concession to extend its railway line through Anatolia to Baghdad and acquired mineral rights to the land on both sides of the proposed route, heightened fear of German competition in Iraq and the Persian Gulf evoked strong protests from London. Soon afterward, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company began production on the Iranian side of the gulf, and there were indications that oil might be found elsewhere in the area. In 1912 a group representing British, German, and Dutch interests formed the Turkish Petroleum Company which, on the eve of the war, was given a concession to explore for oil in the vilayets of Mosul and Baghdad. In view of these developments and because they feared that the Ottomans might be persuaded by the Germans to undertake military action against them, the British had already made plans to send an expedition from India to protect their interests in the Persian Gulf before the Ottoman Empire entered the war in early November 1914. After war was declared, a British expeditionary force landed at the head of the gulf and on Nov. 22, 1914, entered Basra. In a campaign aimed at taking Baghdad, the British suffered a defeat at Kut al-'Amarah in April 1916, but a reinforced British army marched into Baghdad on March 11, 1917. An administration staffed largely by British and Indian officials replaced the Ottoman provincial government in occupied Iraq, but Mosul remained in Ottoman hands until after the Armistice of Mudros (Oct. 30, 1918), which brought an end to the war in the Middle East.


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