Saturday, February 7, 2009

Iraq's Pre-1950 History Revisited: 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.

Prior to the Zionist movement's 1947-49 expulsion of Palestinian Arabs and establishment of an undemocratic state of Israel, between 130,000 and 150,000 people of Jewish background lived in Iraq, including 30,000 Kurds of Jewish background. About 109,000 Iraqis of Jewish background, for example, lived in Baghdad in 1948. Prior to 1948, people of Jewish background had been living in Baghdad for over 2,500 years, many in a relatively prosperous way.

When Iraq was under Turkish rule in the 19th century as part of the Ottoman Empire, people of Jewish background in Iraq (unlike people of Jewish background in Russia in the 19th-century) apparently did not experience any special economic oppression. As the 1971 Encyclopedia Judaica recalled:

"The economic situation of the Jews during the 19th century was good. They controlled the country's commerce and exerted considerable influence in government circles. Some of them were appointed as high-ranking officials in Baghdad, Basra and Mosul…

"The Jewish merchants traded with Syria, India, Singapore, Persia, London, Vienna, and other commercial centers. They engaged in all branches of trade, especially in those of textiles, silk, indigo, precious stones and pearls, ironware, glassware and porcelain, gallnuts, foodstuffs and liquor,…and medicine."

In the early 20th century, several Iraqis of Jewish background were elected to the Turkish parliament as delegates of Iraq after the new Young Turk rulers of Turkey established equal legal rights and freedom of religion for non-Muslims within the Ottoman Empire. The economic situation of Iraqis of Jewish background also "improved greatly" between 1917 and 1932, after the UK imperialist government took control away from the Turkish government in 1917 and established a "British Mandate" in Iraq in 1921, according to the Encyclopedia Judaica.

Following the UK imperialist government's granting of formal independence to a puppet Hashemite monarchical government in Iraq in 1932, the economic situation of people of Jewish background in Iraq did not noticeably deteriorate prior to the Zionist movement's establishment of the undemocratic state of Israel. In 1947, for instance, Iraqis of Jewish background held top posts in Iraqi banking and commerce; and they handled 70% of Iraqi imports and 40% of Iraqi exports. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, immediately prior to the 1947-49 expulsion of Palestinian Arabs, "30% of Iraqi Jews were engaged in trade, 25% were official or professional men, 3% were farmers (almost all of them in Kurdistan), and the rest artisans, building workers and workers in services." Many Iraqi bank clerks, railway officials and postal officials were also of Jewish background in 1947.

Despite the relative affluence of about 55% of the Iraqis of Jewish background within pre-1948 Iraqi society, most people in Iraq did not prosper between the arrival of British imperialist troops in Baghdad on March 11, 1917 and the establishment of the undemocratic state of Israel in 1948. So, predictably, resistance to both UK imperialism and the domination of Iraqi society by the traditional Iraqi feudal landlords began as early as July 1920 with a failed Iraqi uprising against British imperialism. About 10,000 Iraqis, mostly rural tribesmen, were killed by the UK's occupation army of 101,000 troops (many of whom were colonized Indian soldiers from Britain's India colony) before the rebellion was finally suppressed in October 1920. Over 450 British soldiers were also killed while putting down the Iraqi insurgency of 1920. (end of part 1)