Sunday, February 8, 2009

Iraq's Pre-1950 History Revisited: Part 2

(See below for part 1.)
Nearly 150,000 U.S. military troops and 200,000 private contractors are still in Iraq trying to exercise a special influence on Iraqi history, by waging an imperialist war on behalf of special U.S. corporate interests. Yet most people in the United States probably didn't learn very much about Iraqi history in their high school social studies courses. But some knowledge of pre-1950 Iraqi history may be of use to U.S. anti-war activists when arguing with U.S. opponents of immediate withdrawal from Iraq during the Obama Era.

By 1924, students at Baghdad's School of Law had formed a study circle, led by the first Iraqi Marxist, Husain ar-Rahhal, which published a journal on December 28, 1924 that called for both the liberation of Iraqi women and the overthrow of Iraq's traditional feudal landlord leadership. As late as 1958, 55% of all privately-owned land in Iraq was still owned by 1% of all Iraqi landholders and mullahs; and 17% of all privately-owned Iraqi land was held by only 49 Iraqi landlord families. So it was not surprising that Baghdad students in the 1920s saw that the democratization of a predominantly agrarian Iraqi society required the redistribution of land ownership in a more equitable way and the disempowerment of Iraq's feudal landlords, as well as the ouster of foreign imperialists like the British. Predictably, British colonial authorities in Iraq undemocratically shut down Husain ar-Rahhal's newspaper in the 1920s before it could make an impact on Iraqi public opinion.

UK imperialism's support for the Zionist movement's settler-colonization activity in Palestine during the 1920s also created fear among Iraqi students that their British rulers were planning to support the creation of another Zionist colony in Iraq. When Sir Alfred Mond visited Baghdad on February 8, 1928, students demonstrated against his visit and his support for Zionism and 20,000 protesters marched to Baghdad's railway station.

Despite the desire of people in Iraq to be free of foreign imperialist domination, the British imperialist government had, in 1921, set up a puppet Hashemite feudal monarchy in Iraq during the pre-1932 British Mandate period. The British imperialists next created the Iraq Petroleum Company, which was jointly owned by British, Dutch, French and U.S. oil companies. The Iraq Petroleum Company was then granted a lucrative 75-year concession of Iraq's oil resources by the UK imperialists' puppet monarchy.

The foreign oil company profits from Iraq's oil resources, however, were not used to minimize the effects of the Great Depression on Iraqis after 1929. By 1930, the decline in the value of Iraq's date and grain exports had dropped by 40% and Iraq puppet government revenues began to decline. Over the next few years, salaried employees were dismissed, salaries were reduced and the wage rates for unskilled workers in Basra's railways and oil fields were decreased. By March 8, 1935 an Association Against Imperialism had been founded in Baghdad which, in its March 11, 1935 manifesto, summarized the economic situation of Iraq at this time:

"Today, the English and the ruling class are partners in a compact that aims at perpetuating the oppression and exploitation from which we suffer…The oil and other raw materials of the country have become a preserve for the English and Iraq has been turned into an outlet for their goods and surplus capital and into a war base…The ruling class, for its part, plunders the proceeds of taxes, misappropriates lands, and builds palaces on the shores of the Tigris and Euphrates. The millions of peasants and workers, in the meantime, continue to starve, and bleed, and writhe in anguish."

The Association Against Imperialism's March 1935 manifesto ended by listing as its immediate goals the following demands:

"the cancellation of all debts owed by the peasants; their deliverance from all onerous taxes; the distribution to the poor of state lands; and the granting to them of the necessary credits;

"the guaranteeing to the workers of freedom of assembly and of speech; the reopening of their clubs and trade unions; the enactment of a law protecting the workers…against arbitrary dismissals and ensuring them against starvation in their old-age; and the realization of the eight-hour day in all Iraqi and foreign-owned places of work…

"Down with English imperialism!
"Down with all enslaving treaties!"
(end of part 2)

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