Peace among kings (1945-1956): royal brothers and royal borders under British influence

Kuwait had been a British “protected state” since 1899. Kuwait’s autonomy and especially the demarcation of its borders and its identity as a separate state are quite recent in that tribal (semi-)nomadic lifestyle was the rule rather than the exception until well into the 20th century. The first delineation of its borders was conducted in the Anglo-Ottoman Convention signed on July 29, 1913, but never ratified (Khadduri and Ghareeb 2001, 14). Saudi-Iraqi and Saudi-Kuwaiti borders were drawn at a conference in ‘Uqayr in Saudi Arabia in November 1922, attended by a Saudi, Iraqi, and Kuwaiti delegation (the last one represented by a British agent). Two-thirds of, at the time, Kuwaiti territory was reassigned to Ibn Saud; the borders were drawn onto a map with a red pencil (Khadduri and Ghareeb 2001, 27-28; Zahlan 2002, 24-25).

Iraq became a Hashemite monarchy in 1921 under Faisal, but it continued to be under British protection as a Mandate (decided in April 1920 at the San Remo Conference) until 1932, when it declared independence. Notwithstanding, British influence remained crucial until the end of the monarchy, in 1958. Iraq reconfirmed the border with Kuwait for the third time (after 1913 and 1923), and it was informally delineated (but not demarcated) by Britain in 1932. However, as there was no formal agreement, claims to Kuwaiti sovereignty or territory were raised often over the decades. The main issues of contention between the two countries were territorial - the establishment of an Iraqi port aside from Basra and claim to the islands of Warba and Bubiyan - but also disputes over water and ownership of date gardens (Joyce 1998, 94).

Structural similarities

Especially at the beginning of bilateral relations, the two countries were highly dissimilar in institutional framework, political culture, and historical trajectory. The Iraqi monarchy covered a large territory and population, and its state institutions were comparably consolidated. Its system was, like the Egyptian, “of a more modern type, whose leaders tried to assimilate not just the royal title but also some of the other institutions of the European example”, i.e. constitutionalism and par-liamentarianism (Ayalon 2000, 24).

Kuwait, on the other hand, was a traditional dynastic shaikhdom and practically a city-state where the family (the Al Sabah) remains the ruling institution that practically monopolizes the state apparatus to this day - although since 1963 it has also had a parliament, the National Assembly, the most active and powerful legislative in the Gulf (Herb 1999, 2002, 41-45).

This uneven state development influenced not only Iraq's feelings of superiority but also the Kuwaiti self-image. Before the advent of oil, the Kuwaiti populace was not disinclined to unify with Iraq. Kuwaiti merchants visiting Iraq frequently saw its oil-financed social and economic development as a role model for the nep-otistic shaikhdom then ruled by Alunad Al Sabah (Khadduri and Ghareeb 2001, 5, 34-36).

Nonetheless, both shared cultural and cross-border tribal and family ties and both dynasties were Arab and Sunni Muslim ruling over a more heterogeneous population in terms of ethnicity and religious composition (more so in Iraq than in Kuwait). Both were also oil-exporting rentier states, though Kuwait was wealthier due to its smaller population but for the same reason also significantly weaker militarily. They also shared historically close ties with the British, who had a profound influence on the creation and development of the political entities and their ruling families (cf. Sunik 2015).

Salience: constraints and catalysts for ingroup identification

The salience of monarchy started to grow in the 1950s, mostly due to the rising republican threat. In the 1950s, the monarchies still constituted the majority of all states in the Middle East. At this time, monarchy was still the "default” category and therefore not a distinguishing feature of the states in the region.

Especially since the Egyptian Revolution in 1952. radical republicanism was identified as a common threat to monarchies (a fear proven true by the Iraqi Revolution in 1958). As it was still early in the period of the Arab Cold War when that dynamic became most pronounced, the common threat did not always come to the fore. After Nuri al-Sa’id's visit to Kuwait in June 1958, just three weeks before the revolution that toppled the Iraqi monarchy, the British Foreign Office dispatched a note to the shaikh of Kuwait warning that the “spread of radical republican nationalism will engulf hereditary regimes one after the other. Whether the ruler likes it or not, the fact is that if Nasir [sic] triumphs it will be the end of the ruling family of Kuwait” (Khadduri and Ghareeb 2001, 61, original emphasis). The phrasing of the latter sentence (“whether he likes it or not”) also shows that the Kuwaiti ruler did not always perceive the threat clearly. While the shaikh shared most concerns of the British and other Middle Eastern monarchs, he also allowed civil society more room to maneuver than many of his monarchic neighbors did, in part because of concerns for domestic stability. A confidential report from the Political Agency in Kuwait of January 9,1957, speaks of a “noticeably greater anti-British and pro-Egyptian feeling in Kuwait than in Iraq and Lebanon” (cited in: Assiri

1990, 8). Despite the perpetuation of territorial claims, there was no explicit hierarchic ideology that could have divided the countries or monarchies in general.

The only exception is found beyond the analyzed time period, under the rule of King Ghazi in the 1930s. Ghazi was a fervent proponent of pan-Arabism who succeeded his father Faisal to the throne at the age of 21. He adhered to the aim of Arab unity consisting of the "unification” or incorporation of countries - via military force, if need be. Because this presupposes Iraqi leadership as the incorporating entity, it hinders the formation of an ingroup identity, even though both regimes were monarchic. Notably, King Ghazi's rule was also the period of greatest tensions between the two countries (cf. Finnie 1992, 110-113; Khadduri and Ghareeb 2001, 40-45). This once again proves that it is not monarchy per se but rather joint identification as equals that fosters peaceful intergroup behavior.

Social processes of ingroup identification

When Kuwait became independent in 1961, the Iraqi monarchy had already vanished, and full formal diplomatic recognition could thus not be established. Nonetheless, political and cultural relations between the two countries existed early on.

There was, however, some question on the mutual recognition and acceptance as equals as especially the Kuwaiti state and nation had only just started developing before World War II, which was compounded by Kuwait's non-independence. Given the brevity of the states’ existence, the artificiality of the recently formed state institutions and the dependence as a British protected state of Kuwait, it was no surprise that Iraqi rulers looked down on its small neighbor.1 The novelty of Kuwait was not just a matter of alter perception as the emirate had not even developed its own national identity yet. The legitimation of the Al Sabah depended largely on their coalition with the merchant class and not on any "traditional” authority.

However, the situation was slowly changing, helped along by British preference for the establishment of monarchic systems "in its image” in the region. The first steps to the elevation of the status of the Kuwaiti ruler consisted in promoting the shaikh from "His Excellency” to "His Highness" in 1937. British alliance with the Al Sabah, to the exclusion of all other societal groups, made the Al Sabah "more royal” than their predecessors, who were primi inter pares rather than monarchs (Finnie 1992, 89, 95). It was still a long way to matching "His Majesty”, the king of Iraq.

The slow growth of acceptance of Kuwait as an independent entity was matched by the intensification of personal relations. Formal visits were infrequent before the 1950s, but they intensified in that period.2 Personalized links via shared socialization also increased due to the shared British connection. In 1952, Shaikh Abdallah al-Salim Al Sabah (Abdallah III), who had taken over from his cousin Ahmad in 1950, became the first Kuwaiti ruler to visit Iraq, after Nuri al-Said had visited Kuwait the year before. A second visit followed in 1956 (Joyce 1998, 99). These visits contributed to the normalization of relations and the reification of joint recognition as separate and equal entities.

The British monarchic connection was also important for the ties and socialization that it provided, because many among the royals in the protected territories and the mandates went to Britain for their education and visited Harrow School (like Iraqi King Faisal II) (Seale 1965, 228) or the Royal Military Academy of Sandhurst (like Fahad al-Ahmad Al Sabah, the brother of future Kuwaiti Emir Jabir al-Ahmad Al Sabah, who died in the Gulf War) (Batty 2011; Teller 2014).

In the early phase of state building in Kuwait before the Second World War, the identification as family existed mostly on the level of the populace, not the rulers (this as well was especially pronounced in the period of King Ghazi, who sympathized with the opposition more than with the regime): the family reference was reserved for the “sister people of Kuwait” instead of the brotherly shaikh or his allies (cited in Khadduri and Ghareeb 2001, 37), as we have seen was the case for Bahrain and Qatar. This slowly changed by the 1950s, when an ingroup developed on the regime level that was strengthened by both sides.

Over time, the relationship transformed. Ceremonies served to enhance the selfidentification as royals and the state as a monarchy, especially in Kuwait. This would later form the basis for ingroup identification between the two monarchies. A letter from the British ambassador to the residency in Bahrain in February 1960 describes Shaikh Abdallah Salim's impressions of the British monarchy, conveying both the self-identification as a monarch (and not a tribal shaikh) even before independence and the strong link between monarchism and regime stability:

I shall not forget his almost ecstatic descriptions of the scene he had witnessed in Westminster Abbey as we drove back from the Coronation in 1953 and his exclamations of wonder at the manifest affection felt for Her Majesty by the huge crowds on that pouring wet afternoon. The words he chose with which to greet The Queen at the State Banquet which he attended were “I congratulate Your Majesty on the love of your people” and as a monarch he would dearly love to discover the secret of the stability of the British throne.

(cited in: Joyce 1998, 71. emphasis added)

Foreign policy restraint

There were no military confrontations in the monarchic period. The only episode of acute hostility that might have resulted in military action is during the reign of King Ghazi before World War II. Ghazi's reign was seen as an aberration by contemporary observers and historians. The king did not see the Al Sabah as his equivalent counterparts and did not deeply identify with monarchism, instead propagating pan-Arabist ideology. There was thus no ingroup identification, although other Iraqi regime members acknowledged the monarchic character of Kuwait and its value as an ally and thus tried to prevent confrontation. Like in the case of Bahrain and Qatar, this shows the complicated relationship of regime and individual ruler-level identification.

In the late 1930s, tensions inside Kuwait and rising ideological calls for Arab unity led to an acute crisis that pitted King Ghazi against Shaikh Ahmad of Kuwait and even against his own members of government. Despite the joint efforts of Iraqi prime ministers Jamil al-Midfa’i and Nuri al-Said to stop it, King Ghazi continued to disseminate propaganda against Shaikh Ahmad via his own radio station. The Kuwaiti opposition grew increasingly vocal and even openly called for the overthrow of the regime, requesting Iraqi annexation, and Ghazi chimed in. At some point, the king responded to the demands by promising the Kuwaiti merchants to intervene militarily. Although the opposition could be silenced, the idea of unity with Iraq remained throughout the 1930s and 1940s (Khadduri and Ghareeb 2001. 37-41). He amassed troops on the shared border but stopped short of using them (Musallam 1996, 90).

Naji Shawkat, minister of interior and acting prime minister in Nuri al-Said’s absence, relates the séance with King Ghazi on February 19, 1939, in his memoirs. When the king asks him what he had done “about the occupation of Kuwait”, Shawkat advises the young king to refrain from such action and reminds him of what Britain, Iran, and Saudi Arabia would think of such behavior. He asked whether the king would be "prepared to go to war against three states at the same time”.3 Following this exchange, Ghazi relented and decided to wait for Nuri's return. When asked about Iraqi plans by the British ambassador, Shawkat felt confident enough to state that “nothing of this sort [the occupation of Kuwait] will ever happen” (Khadduri and Ghareeb 2001, 41-42).

Although deterrence by British reaction and the authority of more-senior members of state and government rather than monarchic solidarity have dissuaded Ghazi from putting his fiery radio rhetoric into action, it was unclear whether Ghazi's intention to annex Kuwait was genuine. Of a meeting with King Ghazi on March 8, 1939, British Ambassador Peterson reported to London, “His Majesty’s rather incoherent explanations were to the effect that he had no intention of attacking Koweit [ifc], but wished only to egg on its ruler to concede liberal institutions” (cited in: Finnie 1992, 110). Gerald de Gaury, the political agent in Kuwait, later described Ghazi's propaganda against the Kuwaiti regime as exhibiting “bizarre irregularities of behavior” (Finnie 1992, 112). Ultimately, military action against a country protected by the British was an impossibility for Iraq, despite its ruler's beliefs. At that time, however, the perception of the Iraqi ruler toward the Al Sabah, influenced by pan-Arabist ideology instead of by monarchic socialization, was far from equality.

The king was seen as an embarrassment and a loose cannon by the British as well as the Iraqi royal family and state apparatus. Neither his successors nor his father Faisal I shared his ideological inklings and disregard toward the legitimacy of the Kuwaiti rulers (cf. Finnie 1992, 106-113). Other members of the ruling family, such as Taha al-Hashemi. the defense minister, harbored no intentions of military incorporation of Kuwait and were sidelined by Ghazi in order to avoid interference (cf. Khadduri and Ghareeb 2001, 41).

Nuri al-Said, along with the British, saw Ghazi as unfit for the royal position anyway, and the king's obsession over Kuwait has been described as “the most crucial part in his failure to cope with his royal responsibilities” (Finnie 1992, 113). At the time, the development of a joint monarchic ingroup between the Kuwaiti and Iraqi ruling elites were hampered by Kuwait’s lack of sovereignty and Ghazi’s personality. While Prime Minister Nuri al-Sa'id and the British were discussing possible candidates for King Ghazi's replacements as he became increasingly untenable, he died in a car crash in 1939 at the age of 27. His cousin Abd al-Ilah succeeded him as regent until his son Faisal II came of age in 1953 (Khadduri and Ghareeb 2001. 45-53).

Although claims to Kuwaiti territory and frontier renegotiations did not disappear, there were no more calls for annexation or incorporation. Military means were taken off the table. Infrequent minor clashes serve as proof of a different behavior by Iraq under Abd al-Ilah and, later, Faisal II (Joyce 1998, 96).4

The 1940s and 1950s were also not characterized by delegitimization or subversion attempts of the monarchy or the ruling families. In fact, the border conflict was of so little consequence to Iraqi politics under the Hashemites that one of the staples on Iraqi history before the revolution, "Independent Iraq. 1932-1958” by Majid Khadduri, mentions Kuwait only once - when discussing King Ghazi's legacy (1960, 141).

Although monarchic Iraq did not attempt to occupy Kuwait before or after Ghazi, it was not out of general monarchic pacifism. During the height of interArab conflict in 1958, the Iraqi government considered invading Syria to prevent Egyptian takeover but failed to secure Western backing for it. The military restraint did apparently not apply to all states equally; instead, it exposed a monarchic preference that even led to monarchic solidarity. When Qasim’s revolutionary officers took control of Baghdad and launched their coup d’état, they were supposed to be on their way to Jordan, acting on the Iraqi government’s orders to buttress the Jordanians against the immediate threat by the United Arab Republic (UAR) (Eppel 2004, 146-147).

At the height of the Arab Cold War in the 1950s, Kuwait and Iraq moved closer together, as did the rest of the monarchies. There were attempts at formalizing their alliance, although they did not come to fruition before the fall of the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq. Demarcation negotiations dragged on until a British-sponsored draft agreement was almost agreed on in 1955. The nationalization of the Suez channel and the strong pan-Arab current sweeping the region led to the establishment of the UAR in 1958. Jordan and Iraq, reacting to the threat of militant pan-Arabism, formed the Arab Federal Union (AFU, see Chapter 4, especially section 4.2) to which they also invited Kuwait, which they perceived as sharing the Hashemites' pro-Western outlook (Khadduri and Ghareeb 2001, 48-54).

Shaikh Abdallah III was ceremonially invited to Baghdad to participate in a dinner with the two Hashemite kings. Kuwait was hesitant to join, and British reaction was disapproving because Kuwait was not yet fully independent. Earlier, Nuri al-Said had also unsuccessfully tried to integrate Kuwait into the ill-fated Baghdad Pact (Finnie 1992, 123-124).

Despite all obstacles, an ingroup that did not exist before was about to be constituted. Suwaidi, who was now the foreign minister of the AFU, drafted a memorandum for the British stating that should Kuwait choose not to join the AFU. the

From monarchy to republic 159 question of territory would be solved by a treaty of friendship and bon voisinage, a stark contrast to calls for military annexation in other periods and an indication of respect for Kuwaiti sovereignty (Khadduri and Ghareeb 2001, 60). After, Nuri al-Sa'id also promised to guarantee Kuwaiti territorial integrity in May if Kuwait joined (Joyce 1998, 100). Abdallah decided against joining any of the unions, instead choosing neutrality. The July revolution shook him profoundly, and his policy was abandoned by late 1960 (Assiri 1990, 8-9; Joyce 1998, 100).

Although the July revolution was one of the clearest instances of monarchic solidarity, the AFU lacked the capability to shield the monarchs against revolution and was quickly dismantled by the new republican regime. The revolution, as Khadduri and Ghareeb lament, "had virtually deprived Iraq of perhaps the most prospective attempt to settle peacefully the longstanding disputes between Iraq and Kuwait” (2001, 62).

Ingroup identification in the monarchic period

Although many differences and a slow pace of state building set the two monarchies of Iraq and Kuwait apart, they slowly developed an ingroup identity based on structural similarities and a shared threat by radical republicanism, especially from Egyptian and Syrian-led Arab nationalist movements.

Although Kuwait was not yet formally independent, it came to be accepted as a partner instead of as a subject or a subordinate by Iraq, as shown by frequent official visits and attempts to forge formal alliances and common socialization frequently through the British connection. This led to their mutual reliance on diplomacy and friendly ties, refraining from military action.

The only exception to the generally friendly relations was the period of King Ghazi's rule in Iraq. This period might best be characterized as a short-lived aberration under an exceptionally ideological ruler, regarded as "unfit” for the throne and its responsibilities by contemporary Arab elites and the British alike. This exception to the rule provides an important qualification for the causal model: monarchic institutions are not sufficient for the establishment of a monarchic ingroup identity. Instead, this identification relies on a multidimensional similarity as perceived by the ruler himself and other political elites.

 
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