The Creation of Iraq, 1914–1921
Edited by Reeva Spector Simon and Eleanor H. Tejirian
Shortly after World War I, the state we know today as Iraq was invented. Some eighty years later, the United States and a few other countries invaded Iraq with the declared objective of reinventing at least its system of government. The editors of this volume (who also organized the conference that gave birth to it) chose to explore the history of the creation of Iraq, but they also implicitly posed the question of whether the British experience in the early twentieth century had special meaning and lessons for the invaders and liberators of the twenty first.
In fact, while there were many parallels between the two, it was also striking how many differences there were. The Iraq of 1915–1925 was a much more primitive place. Iraq in 2003 had an efficient and functioning ureaucracy. Although that bureaucratic machinery was at times used for nefarious purposes, it nevertheless provided an invaluable base of expertise and experience that was almost entirely absent when the British marched north to Baghdad. By 2003 Iraq was no longer an illiterate society; mass education had penetrated almost every corner of the populace. By the twenty-first century, oil had become the centerpiece of the Iraqi economy. In the 1920s it was not. Oil changes things. It is typically regarded as a blessing, since it generates great revenue. But oil also has a perverse effect on countries that have it, since money goes directly into the central state coffers with little or none going directly to the people. It frees the government from dependence on the popular will, and thereby tends to discourage democratic behavior and accountability. It is as hard today to predict the effect oil wealth will have on the new Iraq as it would have been to predict the prospect of oil revenues in the 1920s.