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VARIOUS TEXTS: BAGHDAD BETWEEN THE OTTOMANS AND THE BRITISH

Historical background:
Even long before 1920 teh British had established their influence in Iraq. Basra had long been a base of the East Indian Company. The British also funded the Arab rising against the Turks and so contributed teh the demise of the Ottoman Empire in 1917. Baghdad the became part of the British Empire.
But Iraq rebels were suspicious of the British dominance and revolted against them. Only with the support of Iranian forces did the British suppress the revolt and finally in October 1920 installed Faysal ibn Husayn as King of Iraq. Faysal had worked with the British before in the Arab Revolt during World War I and he enjoyed good relations with certain important officials. British officials also thought installing Faysal as king would prevent Faysal from fighting the French in Syria and damaging British-French relations.


Text:
To add to the British rank-and-file’s* disillusion, the retreating Turks had left hidden explosives throughout the city. The proud-walled citadel was sheathed in the black smoke of petrol-fed fires, ‘with trains ready laid [with explosives] to the ammunition stores’.4 Maude’s forces strug­gled throughout the day and following night to extinguish them.

Within the city in which British business had prospered for decades, ‘Not a single piece of British property was left standing except the Resi­dency, a rather imposing building on the river-front which reminds one forcefully of the days when Great Britain maintained a special and somewhat stately relationship with the Turkish Empire.’ Appropriated* as a military hospital, even that was ‘dirty and unkempt* beyond anybody’s power to describe’, wrote the horrified - and vigorously pro-British - American correspondent Eleanor Egan.5 This depressing picture is supported by the British Official History, which reported that the larger buildings that had been commandeered* by the Turks as medical facilities were ‘indescribably dirty and verminous*’. ‘Sanitation had to be taken in hand energetically’ before the city was ready for occupation, eluding* the provision of hospital beds for 7,000 sick and wounded. The narrow streets clattered to the sound of soldiers on patrol, conduct- house-to-house searches for weapons and policing the bazaars, most which had already been ransacked* and now lay gutted* and smouldering*. Baghdad’s mobs had been quick to exploit the few hours of lawlessness between the Turks’ departure and Maude’s arrival. Jewish merchants reported combined losses of two million francs between 2 a.m. and 9 a.m. on 11 March.

Crowds of Baghdadis - Arabs, Jews, Iranians, Armenians, Chaldeans* and the various Christian sects - came out to meet the new conquerors. They lined the streets, balconies and roofs, hurrahing and clapping their hands,’ Candler reported. ‘Groups of schoolchildren danced in front of us, shouting and cheering, and the women of the city turned out their holiday dresses.’ Less than a century later Baghdad would welcome American soldiers with an equally short-lived enthusiasm.

Despite the squalor and destruction, Egan, who had been put under wing of Maude and his command, found the conquered city utterly absorbing* and exotic. Through the crooked streets passed an unending procession of headwear: turbans, tarbushes, topees, straw hats, skull-caps*, traditional Arab agal headbands, elongated* felt tubes worn by the Lur and the Kurd, brimless top hats of the Bakhtiari*, the occasional astrakhan* from the north. There were bare-footed Bushir coolies in English frock-coats, Bengalis in wraparound dhotis*, Madras servants with rings in their ears, scholarly-looking Chinese with straw hats and spectacles. Green-turbaned sayids, descendants of the Prophet, rubbed shoulders with black-gowned Iranians, Parsees* and wild-looking Zanzibaris, Swahilis and Abyssinians, Greeks and Jews, Christians of all hues from Chaldaean and Armenian to Sabaean, Nestorian and Jacobite. She admired the ‘Persians and Arabs and Oriental Jews at their everlasting drowsing* over coffee and hubble-bubbles’, hundreds of unveiled women gorgeously coloured abayas*, ‘Kurd porters staggering under unbelievable burdens’, the ‘droves of coolie women all but lost to view under enormous bundles of twigs and desert grass roots’. Then there the ‘lordly turbaned Moslem elders’ in black flowing robes, red-fezzed Jews in misfit* European clothing’ and ‘handsome Persians in white lambswool caps and long silken coats of many colours’ that reminded her of Joseph. She was particularly struck by the ‘Christians of ancient Chaldean stock’, who wore Arab costume but had blue eyes and were ‘white skinned as a German’. The only dark note came from the East African slaves, men and women ‘black as ebony and with shifty* eyes full of inquiry* and resentment*’.

While his colleagues wrote letters home full of fond longing, dry military wit and the odd reference to Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves and Sinbad the Sailor, Bombardier George Coles of the 38th Brigade lost no time in seeking out the nearest dive*. He found one in which ‘About 100 Arabs were lounging on wooden settees yawning and drinking tots of mint tea while an Armenian girl was dancing the Salome on a raised platform to the music of a piano and two weird stringed instruments.’ The performance climaxed with the girl ‘in a frenzy - as naked as she was born ... the East with the lid off!’

In London, news of the fall of Baghdad was met with sabre-rattling relief. ‘The British Flag over Bagdad’, proclaimed The War Illustrated; ‘End to German Dreams of Eastern Empire.’ Maude’s capture of the city had dealt Germany ‘the heaviest blow it has suffered in the war and the Ottoman Empire the most damaging blow inflicted upon it in a quarter of a thousand years’.
765 words

From: Baghdad – City of Peace, City of Blood by Justin Marozzi, pp. 284-286, Penguin Books, 2015


Annotations:
* rank-and-file - das Fußvolk
* to sheathe - umgeben, überziehen von/mit
* appropriated as - beschlagnahmt als
* unkempt - ungepflegt
* commandeered - requiriert
* verminous - verlaust, ekelhaft
* to elude - umgehen, ausweichen
* to ransack - plündern
* gutted - ausgebrannt
* smouldering - schwelend
* Chaldean Christians - adherents of the Chaldean Catholic Church, originally called The Church of Assyria and Mosul, which was that part of the Church of the East which entered communion with the Catholic Church between the 16th and 18th centuries.
* absorbing - fesselnd, interessant
* skull-cap - Mütze
* elongated - länglich
* The Bakhtiari - The Bakhtiari is a southwestern Iranian tribe, and a subgroup of the Lurs. They speak the Bakhtiari dialect, a southwestern Iranian dialect, belonging to the Lurish language.
* Astrakhan - is a city in southern European Russia and the administrative center of Astrakhan Oblast.
* The dhoti - also known as vetti, mundu,mundh, pancha or mardani, is a traditional men's garment, worn in South Asia mainly by Nepalese and Indian peoples
* Parsi (or Parsee) - is one of two Zoroastrian communities (the other being Iranis) which are primarily located in South Asia.
* drowsing - schlummernd
* The abaya "cloak" - sometimes also called a cat furaba, is a simple, loose over-garment, essentially a robe-like dress, worn by some women in parts of the Muslim world including in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula
* misfit - nicht passend
* shifty - verschlagen, zwielichtig
* inquiry - Neugierde
* resentment - Feindseligkeit
* dive- Kneipe, Lokal


Assignments:
1. Go and find reason on the Internet for the presence of the British in Iraq around 1920.
2. The American war correspondent Eleanor Egan described the city of Baghdad as being "absorbing and exotic". What was she fascinated by?
3. Baghdad's history has been a matter of wars and violence, but also of incredible waelth. It has also been dubbed a the cradle of civilization. Find evidence of historical events for this statement.
4. During the centuries Iraq has not been able to develop democratic structures. Find reasons from the Internet why such development could not thrive?


amazon.de Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood
by
Justin Marozzi
amazon.de


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