The 'Iraq of 1900
I. The Three Wilayas
'To the lover, Baghdad is not far off', 'A (false) account will come back even from Baghdad' ; by these and suchlike proverbs the Turk of Istanbul, half a century ago, confessed the remoteness of the sunbaked lands of Tigris and Euphrates. The three wilayas (vilayets) one day to become the 'Iraq Kingdom lay indeed upon the very borderland of Turkish possessions. At no time inhabited by Turks, they belonged rather to the northern extension of the Arabian peninsula, and formed the eastern half of its Fertile Crescent. The country had in older days formed the `Abbasid province of 'Iraq 'Arabi and part of Jazira. In the first three centuries of Turkish rule it had been united as the single eyalet of Baghdad, one of the great provinces of the Empire ruled by a three-tailed Pasha. Thanks to its ancient fame, its strategic position and present scale, Baghdad had always held easy primacy over the two other renowned cities of 'Iraq, Mosul and Basra; and even in 1900, after Mosul had emerged finally as a wilaya in 1879 and Basra in 1884, the Wali of Baghdad was by every standard the senior of the three governors.
The tripartite territory was bounded on the north, amid wild mountains, by the Hakkari sanjaq of Van wilaya: on the north-west, by a short facie of the Jazira-ibn-`Umar qadhā of Diyarbakr wilaya: on the west, by the newly created 'independent' sanjaq of Dayr al-Zur. Farther south the boundary lay at the mid-desert frontier of the wilaya of Damascus and, south again, crossed the deserts of north Arabia, beyond which lay the Arab oasis principalities. To the south also lay the waters of the Persian Gulf and, along its western shores, a stretch of maritime Arabia which was claimed as Turkish and grouped officially under the Basra wilaya. To the east, bordering all three provinces, lay Persia.
These boundaries were those of modern 'Iraq save in three particulars. The Persian frontier was still undemarcated; the line observed or flouted in 1900 was in places to be amended by the Commission of 1914. The boundary with the Turkish provinces of Van and Diyarbakr was to be fixed in 1926, that with later Syria in 192o and 1933, that with the Arabian rulers in 1922. The territories of al-Ahsā, Qatar, and Kuwayt ceased to be Turkish before or during the First World War, and do not concern the historian of 'Iraq.