'Independent Iraq’ offers a fresh interpretation of the political history of the Iraqi monarchy from 1941, when British forces overthrew the pro-German government of Rashid Ali al-Kailani, and the coup d'état of 1958. Although after 'Independence' Britain continued to enjoy certain political, administrative and military privileges, 1941 was a turning-point in two senses. Firstly, a period of political instability characterized by divisions inside the regime, a series of tribal insurrections, assassinations and coups d'état gave way to a period of greater internal cohesion and peaceful political competition. Secondly, the British abandoned their earlier passive conservatism to advance political, social and economic reform. Underlying this change, and providing its main impetus, was a recognition by Britain, and to some extent by the Iraqi regime, that a change in Iraqi society and attitudes - in particular the spread of education - now posed an increasing threat to both the Iraqi establishment and British influence.
This account begins with an examination of how government and politics operated in monarchical Iraq and concludes with a review of the different stages and methods of British influence. Releases of official documents have enabled Matthew Elliot to reassess the character of political opposition under the Iraqi monarchy and to reinterpret the significance of such public disturbances as the 1948 Wathba and the 1952 Intifada. In the process he disinters the neglected parliamentary traditions of Iraq and reaches some radical conclusions about the impact of British influence on the monarchy and British relations with Nuri al-Said. The book also concentrates on various forms of civil opposition and the efforts of the regime and the British to manage and address them and as such contributes to our understanding of the relative weight of domestic and external forces in the 1958 revolution.
Matthew Elliot is a Fellow of the Institute of Contemporary British History. He is currently writing a book on the role of defence in Middle Eastern politics and British influence during the 1940s and 1950s and researching a PhD thesis on headgear in the political history of the Middle East from 1600 to the present.