IX. KING Ghazi Issue, 1934-1938

First issued: 11th June 1934
Currency: Iraqi dinar (1,000 fils = 1 dinar)
Production: Bradbury Wilkinson & Company, London

The below text went through a couple of drafts: you could basically sum up this period as "Ghazi was an ineffectual king and several coups took place", but I don't think something that concise would quite do justice to the complexity of the situation and the motivations of the various actors within it. So I now instead have a much longer history which, as I look over it now, reads essentially as a bunch of people walking on-stage, doing one thing and then exiting, which isn't totally satisfactory either, I appreciate. But overall I think this is a better approach.[1]

 King Ghazi, sometime. In addition to his other failings, Ghazi is an exceptionally difficult man to find public-domain photographs of. He seems to have been clean-shaven at the time of his accession to the throne (the specific photo the stamp portrait is based on is floating around Google images) but he grew a moustache subsequently. He wore a moustache on the coinage, which must have been confusing.   (Wikipedia)

King Ghazi, sometime. In addition to his other failings, Ghazi is an exceptionally difficult man to find public-domain photographs of. He seems to have been clean-shaven at the time of his accession to the throne (the specific photo the stamp portrait is based on is floating around Google images) but he grew a moustache subsequently. He wore a moustache on the coinage, which must have been confusing. (Wikipedia)

Anyway as we saw on the previous page, King Faisal died unexpectedly in 1933 and was succeeded by his son, who became King Ghazi. Ghazi was just twenty-one, and had had essentially no political experience, nor any training for being king. He took the throne of a country much in transition — the departure of the British in 1932 gave Iraq a freer hand in policy-making, but the death of King Faisal had robbed the country of its most skilled political operator. Ghazi had a markedly different outlook to his father: he was anti-British and Arab-nationalist in his sympathies. He however also lacked any of his father's adroitness: his political interventions were usually vague and half-hearted. On a more personal level his charm and energy were however frequently commented upon.

Up to now I haven't mentioned haven't met the country's politicians or political parties in any detail but, with the British and King Faisal gone, and King Ghazi proving to be fairly ineffectual, a great deal of space was cleared for ambitious politicians to assert themselves, and so we'll need to look at the political situation a little closer. The basic political setup at the time was that there was the dominant but loosely-organised pro-monarchy faction, and various small but better-organised opposition parties.

Chief opposition party at the time was the Patriotic Brotherhood (I'll follow what seems to be common practice and call it the Ikha Party — an abbreviation of its Arabic name). The Ikha Party was a mix of elements: it drew its support from a combination of better-educated urban Shias, Arab-nationalists and trade-unionists. At the time of King Faisal's death the prime minister was actually an Ikha member, Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, but he had managed to achieve the position only by some very complex manoeuvring. He failed to find favour with King Ghazi and he was sacked in November 1933, replaced with the solid, unexciting Jamil al-Midfai, of the court faction (but this isn't the last we'll see of Al-Gaylani).

Shia grievances had been slowly building throughout King Faisal's reign:  they had been coaxed into participation in Iraq's politics, but continued to be under-represented, especially at the higher levels. Finally, the departure of the British seems to have tipped Shia resentment over the edge into outright hostility, for a rather indirect reason. With the British gone, Iraq was to be responsible for its own defence, and many politicians of a centralising/modernising mindset (Al-Midfai chief among them) regarded this as the perfect opportunity to expand the small Iraqi army. To this end, a conscription bill was successfully passed in 1934. Iraq's army was, like its political class, heavily dominated by Sunni Arabs, and many Shias saw the expansion of the army as a vehicle for the Sunnis to consolidate their hold on the country yet further. To add insult to injury, the new army was to be funded in part by cancelling a planned agricultural improvement scheme in rural Shia areas.

Al-Midfai resigned in 1934, having made himself unpopular, and was succeeded by Ali Jawdat al-Aiyubi, who seems to have been fairly similar in disposition. Al-Aiyubi wanted to tighten up his hold on power a bit, and persuaded King Ghazi to dissolve parliament and call a fresh election. The election was heavily rigged and, naturally, delivered the court faction an increased majority. Biggest losers were the Ikha Party, who saw their seats cut dramatically. While in the short term the election helped shore up the government's position, in retrospect it seems to have been something of a tactical error. The Ikha Party was far from being a purely Shia vehicle — a significant amount of its members were Sunni, and the concerns of its urban-based, politically conscious Shia members were often remote from those of Iraq's rural Shia majority, which remained devout and closely tied to local tribal leaders. But the events of 1934 drew the Ikha Party closer to the Shia population at large — both groups had been provided with fresh reasons to feel disenfranchised by the political establishment.

 An imprint block of the 3 fils value. I wish I had some photographs of the various prime ministers to show but the ones on Wikipedia are of absolutely ambhominable quality and I can find no better ones elsewhere.

An imprint block of the 3 fils value. I wish I had some photographs of the various prime ministers to show but the ones on Wikipedia are of absolutely ambhominable quality and I can find no better ones elsewhere.

Shia resentment turned to outright rebellion in early 1935. With the tacit support of the Ikha Party, a large group of armed Shia tribesmen marched into Baghdad, bringing with them a long petition of grievances: while most of the petition addressed long-standing Shia concerns, it also included a demand that the King sack Al-Aiyubi and call a fresh election. Neither the King nor Al-Aiyubi had any intention of making concessions, and General Bakr Sidqi (presumably now considered the go-to guy for these matters after his efforts against the Assyrians in 1933) was ordered to suppress the rebelling Shias. But Sidqi now had higher aspirations than just being the government's muscle-man: he made a secret deal with the Ikha Party and refused to take action against the Shias. Sidqi's refusal to act against the Shias caused a crisis of confidence in Al-Aiyubi's leadership and he was forced to resign. Al-Midfai returned to office and, like Al-Aiyubi, resolved on a military solution. With Sidqi unavailable, Al-Aiyubi ordered general Taha al-Hashimi to put down the rebellion. Taha al-Hashimi was chief of the Iraqi general staff but, more importantly, he was the brother of Yasin al-Hashimi, one of the leaders of the Ikha Party. Unsurprisingly, he was also unwilling to take action. Al-Midfai realised he had been outmanoeuvred and resigned. It was clear that the only way to resolve the situation would be to appease the Ikha Party, and so King Ghazi appointed Yasin al-Hashimi prime minister on the 17th March 1935.

Having taken power, Al-Hashimi (a Sunni, it should be noted) sought to disentangle himself from the Shia rebellion as quickly as possible: the tribal leaders who agreed to put down their arms were compensated financially and given government positions, but those who continued to revolt were violently suppressed by General Sidqi.  Al-Hashimi also had no intention of interfering with the conscription law: fresh Shia revolts broke out against it fairly regularly and these were put down each time by the army. Naturally, many Shias felt like they had been betrayed by Al-Hashimi, but as long as he retained control of the army — and showed no hesitation in using it — his position seemed unshakable.

But would Al-Hashimi be able to retain control of the army? He had kept his brother on as chief of the general staff, much to the displeasure of Baqr Sidqi, who coveted the position for himself. Having spent the last three years massacring people at the government's command, Sidqi felt he was more deserving of the job than Taha al-Hashimi, who had been keeping rather a low profile. Sidqi reached out to Hikmat Sulayman (a prominent Ikha Party member, and the person who had recruited Sidqi to the Ikha/Shia conspiracy in the first place), and probably also to the King himself. Ghazi was becoming worried that Al-Hashimi's authoritarian tendencies were threatening his own position, and it is thought he gave his tacit approval to what followed.

Taha al-Hashimi left Iraq to visit Turkey in October 1936, and Sidqi and Sulayman took the opportunity to launch a coup in his absence. Elements of the Iraqi army, under the command of Sidqi, marched on Baghdad and politely asked the King to dismiss Yasin al-Hashimi and appoint Sulayman as prime minister. Ghazi duly complied, and Al-Hashimi fled into exile, never to return. Sulayman became prime minister and Sidqi, as well as becoming chief of the general staff, assumed an influential unofficial political role.

Sulayman and Sidqi's alliance was mainly one of convenience, and their political differences quickly became apparent. Although both men shared a relative lack of interest in Arab nationalism,[3] Sidqi was a fairly conventional authoritarian, while Sulayman had a reforming outlook. Sulayman's plans for land ownership reform and increased trades union freedom alarmed great cross-sections of society, and new elections in February 1937 saw pro-Sulayman candidates generally defeated by pro-Sidqi ones. The pro-Sidqi members then allied with other conservatives to block Sulayman's reforms. Sulayman, presumably realising that Sidqi was now the dominant force in Iraqi politics, decided not to break with him, even though this cost Sulayman the support of many of his reformist allies.

 Actual physical photograph purchased at auction — apparently unpublished (online, anyway). Excellent illustration of some of the key figures of the period (though unfortunately this was put up for sale totally unlabelled). We have, of course, King Ghazi centre-right (doing a passable imitation of his stamp portrait); left of him, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, future Shah of Iran; further left, in profile next to the pillar, I think must be Bakr Sidqi; opposite him I had guessed would be Hikmat Sulayman, but he in fact seems to be just some foreign ministry person or other:   see this video   where he seems to appear at 0:32. Prince Abdul Ilah hovers ominously behind King Ghazi. The occasion must, I assume, be connected with the signing of the Treaty of Saadabad. The Treaty — the centrepiece of Sidqi and Sulayman's overtures to Iran and Turkey — attempted to regularise relations between those three countries. I can't fix a date on this image, but the Treaty was signed on the 8th July 1937: if the scene here represents some sort of follow-up goodwill visit by the Crown Prince of Iran, it depicts Sidqi in the very final weeks of his life. 

Actual physical photograph purchased at auction — apparently unpublished (online, anyway). Excellent illustration of some of the key figures of the period (though unfortunately this was put up for sale totally unlabelled). We have, of course, King Ghazi centre-right (doing a passable imitation of his stamp portrait); left of him, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, future Shah of Iran; further left, in profile next to the pillar, I think must be Bakr Sidqi; opposite him I had guessed would be Hikmat Sulayman, but he in fact seems to be just some foreign ministry person or other: see this video where he seems to appear at 0:32. Prince Abdul Ilah hovers ominously behind King Ghazi. The occasion must, I assume, be connected with the signing of the Treaty of Saadabad. The Treaty — the centrepiece of Sidqi and Sulayman's overtures to Iran and Turkey — attempted to regularise relations between those three countries. I can't fix a date on this image, but the Treaty was signed on the 8th July 1937: if the scene here represents some sort of follow-up goodwill visit by the Crown Prince of Iran, it depicts Sidqi in the very final weeks of his life. 

Sidqi's position was however not as secure as it might have seemed. Although his control over civilian politics seemed complete, resentment against him was growing in the armed forces. Many officers looked unfavourably on his indifference to Arab nationalism (an overwhelmingly popular ideology within the armed forces), as well as the new spheres of influence he was creating. On the 12th August 1937 Sidqi was assassinated by rogue elements of the army. It seems to be unclear who exactly organised the killing, but at any rate it was widely endorsed by the military after it had happened: in the following days enough army commanders came out against Sidqi and Sulayman that Sulayman was forced to resign as prime minister.

The army was now unquestionably the dominant force in Iraqi politics. Sulayman having resigned, the King went back to the reliable Jamil al-Midfai, but al-Midfai refused to accept the prime ministership until he was satisfied he would be acceptable to the army. Yet another election in December 1937 saw supporters of Sidqi and Sulayman purged, and senior military figures given prominent positions. Al-Midfai still managed to lose the confidence of the army and resigned in December 1938.

 The usual service overprint.

The usual service overprint.

Nuri al-Said replaced al-Midfai. Al-Said was an old war comrade of King Faisal, and had held a succession of important posts in the 1920s, culminating in his being appointed prime minister in 1930. He oversaw the signing of the 1930 Anglo-Iraqi Treaty and then spent much of his time outside of Iraq in ambassadorial roles, allowing him to stay relatively clear of the convulsions within the country. He continued to have a pro-British outlook, at a time when such a position was less popular than ever, but his Arab nationalist credentials were beyond doubt: in the mid-1930s he had made very considerable effort to broker a durable peace agreement between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine. He failed, of course, but his attempt won him wide admiration in the Arab world. Al-Said quickly moved to consoidate his position: he called for fresh elections and had some leading opponents arrested for spurious reasons.

King Ghazi unexpectedly died in a car accident on the 4th April 1939. His death genuinely seems to have been by misadventure (he maintained a collection of expensive cars which he was fond of driving at high speeds) but, naturally, many saw the shadowy hand of Britain behind the king's death. Crown Prince Faisal (now King Faisal II), Ghazi's son and successor, was only three years old, and so his uncle Prince Abdul Ilah was named Regent of Iraq on Faisal's behalf. Abdul Ilah was solidly pro-British and so, with Al-Said being pro-British as well, it seemed like the country was going to return to the British sphere of influence after its wayward course in the mid-1930s — provided that the Regent and Al-Said could manage to put the army back in its place, of course. And we'll end the story here on this little cliffhanger.

Anyway if you've had the fortitude to actually read this far down the page you'll be relieved to hear there isn't much to say about the stamps themselves. Clearly these aren't a dramatic departure from the Faisal I definitives, which was probably to everybody's advantage: Bradbury Wilkinson was spared from having to come up with a totally new design, and the inexperienced Ghazi got the benefit of whatever sense of continuity and stability was created from his stamps looking like his father's. The frames of these stamps seem to be absolutely identical to the Faisal I ones, so it seems the late king's head was simply punched out of the dies and a new head inserted. I have absolutely no idea how long it normally took to create a new stamp issue, but this one appearing eight months after King Faisal's death seems to have been a relatively fast turnaround: quite a few of these stamps in my collection have noticeable ink smearing on them, which seems to suggest that these were run off in a hurry. The 8 fils and 30 fils on this page are the best examples. 

The whole set was issued on the 11th June 1934, save for the 1 fils which didn't appear until 7th August 1938. No idea why, of course: a make-up value for small increases in airmail rates would be my best guess.[4] I put the 1 fils with the rest of the issue (instead of separately below, where it properly belongs) for aesthetic reasons only). In contrast to the last few issues, this one is very easy to get hold of, even the high values. Sufficiently easy that I have no excuse for some of the ugly specimens I'm showing up there.[5] These stayed valid long after Ghazi's death, until at least the late 1940s.

The entire set was overprinted for revenue purposes, supplemented by a very pleasing-looking 5 dinar in the style of the dinar design and coloured purple like the old 25 rupees. This was inscribed "Iraq Revenue" in the top left and, correspondingly, not overprinted.


[1] Deep gratitude to Charles Tripp's history of Iraq, from where a good deal of the history here has been shamelessly culled.

[2] To add insult to injury, the new army was to be funded in part by cancelling a planned agricultural improvement scheme in rural Shia areas.

[3] They preferred to make nice with Turkey and Iran: many Iraqis (not just Arab-nationalist ones) regarded these countries as their main regional enemies, so this was a very controversial policy decision.

[4] My knowledge of rates runs out sometime in the mid-1930s. There's a book by the Rossiter Trust which could presumably fill me in in this regard but regrettably I don't own a copy.

[5] I weep for the alternative reality where King Faisal clung to life for a few more years and his high values became as common and inexpensive as Ghazi's.