Iraq Then and Now — The Actors and Events


Then: 1930s and 1940s
Now: 2003-2006


Then: Iraqi oil
Now: Iraqi oil


Then: Great Britain (UK)
Now: United States


Then: United States
Now: Great Britain (UK)


Then: Jews in Palestine
Now: Israel


Iraq was separated from the Ottoman Empire and taken over by Great Britain in 1920. In 1927, vast reserves of oil were discovered and since then, Iraq has been (and still is) the victim of Western exploitation and aggression.

On June 30, 1930 Iraq was given nominal independence (on paper) and a puppet government was installed. It signed over favorable rights for oil to British companies and British army bases dotted the whole country. An oil pipeline was built between Iraq and Haifa, facilitated by Jews living in Palestine.

The now-public correspondence of Dennis Knabenshue, the U.S. representative in Iraq during the 1940s, suggests parallels with what is happening right now. Here are some examples:

1]. During the 1930s and 1940s, the U.S. supported the British occupation of Iraq. Today, the same actors occupy the same stage, but with reversed roles.

2]. With U.S. help, the British pressured Iraq to maintain only enough defense forces to protect oil production facilities.

3]. As World War II loomed, Great Britain pressured the Iraqi government to sever diplomatic relations with Germany and Italy. On May 5, 1939 Iraq broke ties with Germany even before Canada did. Today, the U.S. recommends to the Iraqi government which countries it should have diplomatic relations with, and which it should not.

4]. During the 1940s, Iraqi political leaders who opposed the British occupation, such as Rashid Kelany, were sacked; others, like King Faisal II and the Regent Abdul Ilah, were supported.

5]. From 1936 to 1941, Iraq went through no fewer than seven military takeovers, or takeover attempts, on the government. The British maintained a divide-and-rule policy and provoked political instability.

6]. To appease Jewish immigrants in Palestine, the British pressured the Iraqi government to mistreat Palestinians and their leaders who fled to Iraq as refugees.

7]. The British of the mid-20th century — like the Americans of today — were primarily interested in securing the main prize of Iraqi oil by acquiring Iranian oil as well and pressuring Syria not to be involved in Iraq.

8]. Pro-British Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri Pasha as-Said, was forced to resign in March 1940 when he became unpopular with the Iraqi army.

9]. Whenever the British were unable to influence Iraqi government policies to serve their interests, they turned to Knabenshue, Washington’s "man in Baghdad," to do the job.

10]. Knabenshue would order the Iraqi government to shut down any newspaper which seemed pro-Germany, or that advocated an end to the British occupation: the Iraqi government had to comply, or be replaced.

11]. In two stormy meetings between Knabenshue and Iraqi PM Rashid Kelany in May 1940, Knabenshue threatened Kelany with replacement if the security of Americans or Jews in Iraq was compromised; he even threatened to use force to ensure his demands were met.

12]. When meeting with Iraqi government officials, Knabenshue also tried to foment enmity between Iraq and Iran. In one such meeting with PM Kelany, he asserted that there was a large fifth column in Iran, working against the interests of both the U.S. and Great Britain.

13]. In his reports, Knabenshue made many racist comments regarding Iraqi officials, even those who fully co-operated with him.

14]. Knabenshue reported to the U.S. government every movement of any Iraqi official — including an unannounced trip by Prime Minister Nuri Pasha as- Said to Egypt, Syria, and Palestine in August, 1940.

15]. Knabenshue reported back to Washington that the Iraqi people hated the British because the Iraqi government asked the British more than 130 times to bomb tribal areas during the years 1921 to 1933.