Nuri as-Said

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Emir Faisal's party at Versailles, during the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. At the center, from left to right: Rustum Haidar, Nuri as-Said, Prince Faisal, Captain Pisani (behind Faisal) T.E. Lawrence, Faisal's slave (name unknown), Captain Tahsin Qadri.

Nuri al-Said (1888July 15, 1958) (نوري السعيد) was an Iraqi politician during the British Mandate and monarchy, who served in various key cabinet positions, including fourteen terms as prime minister:

  1. March 23, 1930October 19, 1932
  2. October 20, 1932October 27, 1932
  3. December 25, 1938April 6, 1939
  4. April 7, 1939February 21, 1940
  5. February 22, 1940March 21, 1940
  6. October 9, 1941October 8, 1942
  7. October 9, 1942December 25, 1943
  8. December 26, 1943June 3, 1944
  9. November 21, 1946March 11, 1947
  10. January 6, 1949December 10, 1949
  11. September 15, 1950July 10, 1952
  12. August 2, 1954December 17, 1955
  13. December 18, 1955June 8, 1957
  14. March 3, 1958May 13, 1958

From his first appointment under the British colonial regime as prime minister in 1930, Nuri was a major political figure in Iraq under the monarchy. During his various terms in office, he was involved in some of the key policy decisions that shaped the modern Iraqi state. In 1930, during his first term, he signed the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty. In the name of progress toward independence, the treaty gave the British the unlimited right to station its armed forces in and transit military units through Iraq. It also gave legitimacy to British control of the oil industry in Iraq. It nominally reduced British involvement in Iraq's internal affairs, but only to the extent that Iraq's behavior did not conflict with British economic or military interests. The agreement led the way to nominal independence as the Mandate ended in 1932. Nuri throughout his career was a supporter of a continued and large British role within Iraq. His policies in this regard were always matters of great contention.

Nuri was a controversial figure, with many enemies, and had to flee Iraq twice in the aftermath of coups. By the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958, he was deeply unpopular, being seen as totally pro-British and having failed to adapt government policy to the country's changed social circumstances. Poverty and social injustice were widespread, and Nuri had become a symbol of the regime that, instead of addressing them, repressed protest and protected the interests of the well-off. On 15 July 1958, the day after the revolution, he was captured while trying to escape disguised as a woman and killed.


[edit] Early career

Nuri al-Sa'id was born into a lower middle class Sunni Muslim family in Baghdad, his father being a minor government accountant. He trained at the staff college in Constantinople as an officer in the Ottoman army, and was among the Ottoman officers dispatched to Libya in 1912 to raise resistance against the Italian occupation of that province. During the First World War he was converted to the Arab nationalist cause and fought in the Arab Revolt under Emir Faisal ibn Abd Allah of the Hijaz, who would later reign briefly as king of Syria before becoming king of Iraq. Along with other Iraqi officers who had served under Faisal, he would become part of a new political elite.

[edit] Initial positions under the new Iraqi monarchy

Nuri al-Sa'id headed the Arab troops who took Damascus for Faisal in the wake of the retreating Turkish forces in 1918. After the French deposed Faisal from the Syrian throne in 1920, Nuri followed him to Iraq, and in 1922 became first director general of the Iraqi police force. He used this position to fill the force with his placemen, a tactic he would repeat in subsequent positions and which was one of the bases of his considerable political power in later years.

He was a close and trusted ally of Faisal, who in 1924, feeling the need to keep the military under close and loyal control, appointed him deputy commander in chief of the army. Again Nuri used this position to build up his own power base. During the 1920s, he supported the King's policy, shared with his fellow ex-officers of the Arab revolt and to build up its armed forces.

[edit] Prime minister for the first time, 1930

In 1929 the King proposed appointing him as prime minister, but the British objected. In 1930, they were persuaded, and he took office as prime minister for the first time. As he had done in his previous appointments, he quickly exercised his powers to appoint supporters to government positions. But this resulted in a weakening of the King's own base in the civil service, and the previously close relationship between the two men began to suffer. One of his earlier acts was to sign the 1930 Anglo-Iraqi Treaty, an unpopular step since it essentially confirmed Britain's mandatory powers and gave them permanent military prerogatives in Iraq after independence. In 1932 he presented the Iraqi case for greater independence to the League of Nations.

In October 1932, Faisal dismissed Nuri as prime minister, replacing him with Naji Shawkat. His influence waned somewhat, and after the death of Faisal in September 1933 and accession of King Ghazi, his access to the palace was rather diminished. His influence was also counterbalanced by that of Yasin al-Hashimi, who would become prime minister for the first time in 1935. Nevertheless, Nuri's influence in the army and his position as a trusted ally of the British meant that he was never far from power, and in 1933 the British persuaded Ghazi to appoint him as foreign minister, a post he held until the Bakr Sidqi coup in 1936. However, the close links with Britain which helped him remain in important positions of state also destroyed any remaining popularity he might have hoped for.

[edit] Intriguing with the army, 1937 - 1940

The Bakr Sidqi coup showed the extent to which Nuri had tied his fate to that of the British role in Iraq: he was the only politician of the overthrown government to seek refuge in the British embassy, and his hosts sent him into exile in Egypt. He returned to Baghdad in August 1937 and began intriguing to return to power, discussing possible steps with Colonel Salah al-Din al-Sabbagh. This perturbed the then prime minister, Jamil al-Midfa'i, sufficiently that he persuaded the British that Nuri was a disruptive influence who would be better off abroad, and they obliged by persuading him to take up the position of Iraqi ambassador to Britain. Despairing perhaps of his relationship with Ghazi, he now began to secretly suggest co-operation with the Saudi royal family.

Back in Baghdad in October 1938, Nuri again contacted al-Sabbagh, and persuaded him to overthrow the al-Midfa'i government. Al-Sabbagh and his cohorts accordingly launched their coup on the 24 December 1938, and Nuri was reinstated as prime minister. In this position, he sought to sideline the king, and promote the position, and possible succession, of the latter's half-brother Prince Zaid. Meanwhile Ghazi was also annoying the British, with increasingly nationalistic broadcasts on his private radio station. In January 1939 the king further aggrieved Nuri by appointing Rashid `Ali al-Gailani head of the Royal Diwan. Nuri’s campaign against rivals continued in March that year, when he claimed to have unmasked a plot to murder Ghazi, and used it as an excuse to carry out a purge of the army officer corps.

King Ghazi died in a car crash on 4 April 1939. Nuri was widely suspected to have been involved in his death, and at the king’s funeral crowds chanted “You will answer for the blood of Ghazi, Nuri”. He supported the accession of `Abd al-Ilah as regent for Ghazi’s successor, Faisal II, who was still a minor. The new regent was initially susceptible to Nuri’s influence.

Affairs in Europe now began to add to the factors already troubling Iraq, with the Fall of France in June 1940 encouraging some patriotic elements to place their hopes in a German victory in Second World War. While Nuri remained loyal to Britain, al-Sabbagh moved into the pro-German camp. This loss of his main military ally meant that Nuri “quickly lost his ability to affect events” (Batatu, p. 345).

[edit] Coexistence with the regent in the 1940s

In April 1941, the pro-Axis elements seized power, installing Rashid `Ali as prime minister. Nuri fled to British-controlled Jordan; his protectors then sent him to Cairo, but after occupying Baghdad brought him back in October and he was installed as prime minister under the British occupation, a post he would on this occasion retain for over two and half years. However, from 1943 on, the regent gained more power in selecting ministers and started to act with greater independence. Iraq remained under British Military occupation until late in 1947.

The regent's brief flirtation with more liberal policies in 1946 did little to stave off the problems that the established order was facing. The social and economic structures of the country had changed considerably since the establishment of the monarchy, with an increased urban population, a rapidly growing middle class, and increasing political consciousness among the peasants and the working class, in which the Iraqi Communist Party was playing a growing role. However, the political elite, with its strong ties and shared interests with the dominant classes, were unable to take radical measures that might have preserved the monarchy (Batatu, pp. 350-351). In this elite's attempts to retain power over the last ten years of the monarchy, until it fell in 1958, Nuri rather than the regent would increasingly play the dominant role, thanks largely to his superior political skills.

[edit] The regime resists growing political unrest

In November 1946, an oil workers’ strike culminated in a massacre of the strikers by the police, and Nuri was brought back as premier. He briefly brought the Liberals and National Democrats into the cabinet, but soon reverted to the more repressive approach he generally favoured, ordering the arrest of numerous communists in January 1947. Those captured included party secretary Fahd. Meanwhile, no longer having the war as a justification, the British attempted to legalize a permanent military presence in Iraq beyond even the terms of the 1930 treaty. Both Nuri and the regent increasingly saw their unpopular links with Great Britain as the best guarantee of their own position, and accordingly set about cooperating in the creation of an Anglo-Iraqi Treaty. In early January 1948 Nuri himself joined the negotiating delegation in England, and on 15 January the new treaty was signed.

The response on the streets of Baghdad was immediate and furious. After six years of British occupation of the country, no single act could have been less popular than giving the British an even larger legal role in the affairs of Iraq. Demonstrations broke out the day after, with students playing a prominent part and the Communist Party taking advantage of the situation in guiding much of the protest activity. They built up over the following days and on the 20 January, a mass demonstration was fired on by the police with many casualties. On the 21st, `Abd al-Ilah disowned the new treaty. Nuri returned on the 26th, and insisted on a policy of repression; the following day, large demonstrations again took place and again the police killed protestors. In fighting so hard for such an unpopular treaty, Nuri had destroyed any credibility he had in Iraq. While he retained much power in the country, he was generally hated.

The next major political demarche with which Nuri's name would be associated was the Baghdad Pact. A series of agreements concluded between 1954 and 1955 which tied Iraq politically and militarily with the Western powers and their regional allies, notably Turkey, the pact was close to his heart as it was favored by the British and Americans. It was also contrary to all the political aspirations of most of the country. Taking advantage of the situation, he simultaneously stepped up political repression and censorship. However, there was less reaction than in 1948, something Batatu attributes to the slightly more favourable economic circumstances as well as the weakness of the Communist Party, damaged by police repression and internal division.

The political situation deteriorated in 1956, with uprisings in the cities of Najaf and Hayy, while the attack on Egypt by Israel, Britain and France in response to the nationalisation of the Suez Canal did not improve the light in which the Iraqi people saw the Baghdad Pact. Nuri’s political position was weakened, while the opposition began to coordinate its activities: in February 1957 a Front of National Union was established bringing together the National Democrats, the Independents, the Communists and the Ba'th Party. A similar process within the military officer corps followed, with the formation of the Supreme Committee of Free Officers.

The Iraqi monarchy and its Hashemite ally in Jordan reacted to the union between Egypt and Syria of February 1958 by forming the Arab Federation of Iraq and Jordan. Nuri was the first prime minister of the new federation, which was soon ended by the coup that toppled the Iraqi monarchy on July 14, 1958.

[edit] Fall of the monarchy and Nuri's death

On July 14, 1958, as the royal family descended: King Faisal II; the Prince 'Abd al-Ilah; Princess Hiyam, Abdul Ilah's wife; Princess Nafeesa, Abdul Ilah’s mother, Princess Abadiya, the king’s aunt; and several servants. When all of them arrived in the courtyard they were told to turn towards the palace wall, and were all shot down by Captain Abdus Sattar As Sab’ a member of the coup led by Colonel Abdul Karim Qassim.

Ali bin al-Hussein's mother Princess Badia the daughter of King Ali and aunt of King Faisal II, her husband Sharif AlHussein bin Ali and their three children. They spent a month in the embassy of Saudi Arabia in Baghdad, whereupon the coup leaders insisted that they leave Iraq and travel to Egypt on ordinary passports.

Nuri went into hiding, and was captured the next day as he sought to make his escape disguised as a woman. He was shot dead that same day, 15 July 1958, and buried, but an angry crowd disinterred his body and dragged it through the streets of the capital, where it was hung up, burned and mutilated.

[edit] Sources

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Nuri as-Said

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