Nuri al-Sacid Delivers: The Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1930

As Peter Sluglett pointed out decades ago, Britain’s interest in Iraq usually boiled down to oil. Sluglett also pointed out that it was long considered bad manners to say so. Publicly acknowledged or not, exclusive control of Middle Eastern oil was a British policy goal even before 1914. Mosul was expected to be as rich in oil as the southern Basra province, the region around Kuwait, and southern Iran, where the Anglo-Persian Oil Company owned the concession, and supplied fuel oil for the Royal Navy. Britain successfully managed to wrest the province of Mosul from the Turkish Republic with the help of the League of Nations in 1926. The League sent a commission to the region, which reached the somewhat predictable conclusion that the ethnic make-up of the region was insufficiently “Turkish” to find in favor of Turkey. Consequently, Mosul province, with its typically cosmopolitan Ottoman linguistic and sectarian demographics, including Kurds, Turkmen, and Assyrian Christians among others, was declared part of Iraq.

The Turkish Petroleum Company had been a consortium owned by Deutsche Bank, Royal Dutch Shell, and the British-controlled Ottoman Bank. After the war, the Deutsche Bank share became a seized enemy asset, and Britain and France divided up control of the concession. In early 1925, the Iraqi cabinet signed an oil-concession deal with the company that would become the Iraqi Petroleum Company, and which eventually became known as British Petroleum. The company was majority-owned by the British government until Iraq nationalized its oil in 1972. The British government remained the majority shareholder in British Petroleum until Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher privatized it in the 1980s.

In October 1927, massive quantities of oil were discovered near Kirkuk in Mosul province. The oil boom convinced British officials the existing Anglo-Iraqi Treaty was inadequate, but Britain could write a new treaty and “appear to relax control without actually doing so.”32 In summer 1929, British and Iraqi officials agreed on their mutual desires; Iraq would stop paying for the mandate administration, Iraq’s relations with Britain would concern the Foreign Office, rather than the Colonial Office, and Britain would support Iraqi entry into the League of Nations. In early 1930 King Faysal appointed Nuri al-Sacid to form a new government as prime minister, and Jacfar al-cAskari as defense minister. Nuri signed the treaty in June 1930. Britain would receive a new treaty guaranteeing Imperial communications, security of the oil concession, no foreign advisors apart from British and continued occupation of RAF airbases. During “wartime,” Britain reserved access to all Iraqi infrastructure. On the cusp of “independence,” Iraq was bound more closely to Britain than ever. Yasin al-Hashimi accused Nuri of “exchanging a temporary mandate for permanent occupation.”33

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