The Making of Iraq, 1900-1963: Capital, Power and Ideology, by Samira Haj. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997. viii + 150 pages. Notes to p. 196. Gloss. to p. 198. Bibl. to p. 209. Index to p. 215. $18.95 paper. State-Making, Nation-Building and the Military: Iraq, 1941-1958, by Khaled Salih. Goteborg, Sweden: Grafikenna I Kungaliu, AB, 1996. 166 pages. Refs. to p. 177. n.p.
These two books meet their objectives in attempting to understand some aspects of the creation of the Iraqi state, the circumstances that influenced its institutions, its historical development, and, ultimately, what went wrong in this construction project. The two books, however, offer totally different perspectives and conclusions on Iraq.
Samira Haj provides a socio-economic interpretation of events in Iraq from 1900 until 1963. She divides her book into two parts. The first, which deals with the rise of Iraq's modern economy, is the more interesting. Haj studies the emergence of the feudal system as a consequence of the land tenure regime initiated under the Ottomans at the end of the 19th century, and encouraged by the British mandate and the monarchy. This regime contributed to the misery of the farmers, who rose more than once against their landlords. The inefficient agrarian system formed a barrier to industrial development because large inputs of labor were necessary to feed the population. This limited the availability of surplus population for industry and restricted the purchasing power of the population for industrial goods.
Haj does not see the oil industry as having played a positive role in modernizing the Iraqi economy. "Oil revenues accentuated, rather than alleviated, the social and economic conditions in modern Iraq," and the industry "barely engaged the domestic economy in its production process, and employed little domestic labor" (p. 55).
The second part of the book deals with the political developments that led to the fall of the monarchy in 1958 and with the subsequent rise of the Qasim regime and its fall in 1963. This section is strongly influenced by the perspective of the Iraqi Left, which has always seen the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) as the leading opposition force in Iraq. In Haj's view, the ICP played the dominant role in national uprisings and reform movements during and after World War II, including in the uprising against the unratified Anglo-Iraq Treaty of 1948 (the wathba) and the disturbances of 1952 (the Intifada). This interpretation exaggerates the role of the ICP, a small, underground party whose role in shaping the modern history of Iraq was marginal. The ICP manifested itself mainly through an underground press and through agitation in the streets and in schools. While this press affected a limited number of intellectuals, many Iraqis regarded its members as "heretics," or agents of the Soviet Union, with an ideology that was difficult to understand or to identify with. It was the Istiqlal (Independence) Party that played the primary role in the wathba, not the communists; but the failure of the Istiqlal to seize the initiative after the Intifada in 1952 caused many of the party's youth to leave, not for the ICP but for the Ba`th, which was then presenting itself as an Arab nationalist party with a vision of economic reform.
One can also take issue with the author's claim that the 1958 army revolt that toppled the monarchy was mainly a result of socio-economic imbalances in Iraq. It was far more directly related to the foreign policy of the regime, especially its adherence to the unpopular 1955 Baghdad Pact and to Jamal `Abd al-Nasir's calls for Arab unity and for the abrogation of that Pact. Finally, the author's conclusion that the 1958 revolt failed because other parties did not join the path charted by the ICP is flawed. The revolt was defeated by Qasim's dictatorship, his reign of terror and the atrocities he tolerated in Mosul and Kirkuk in which the ICP was complicitous. …