X. & XI. World War II Issues, 1941-1943

Currency: Iraqi dinar (1,000 fils = 1 dinar)


First issued: 1st April 1941
Production: Thomas de la Rue & Company, London


First issued: February-June 1942
Production: Geological Survey Department, Ministry of Public Works, Cairo


First issued: April-June 1942
Production: Thomas de la Rue & Company, London


First issued: January-February 1943
Production: Thomas de la Rue & Company, London


 Nuri al-Said in the 1950s. Another difficult guy to get photographs of. (  Wikipedia  )

Nuri al-Said in the 1950s. Another difficult guy to get photographs of. (Wikipedia)

So when we stopped the story on the previous page, the veteran Nuri al-Said and new player Prince Abdul al-Ilah were attempting to consolidate their power in the face of the coup-prone Iraqi army. Now, Al-Said was smarter than the average bear and realised that trying to challenge the military directly would lead to him being gunned down at some quiet desert roadside, as had happened to Bakr Sidqi. So he resolved on a more subtle approach. Although the army was putting forward a monolithic facade, Al-Said knew there were tensions within the "Circle of Seven", as the group which managed the army's political interventions was known: divisions had arisen between the three senior members and the four younger ones, who called themselves the "Golden Square". Al-Said was on reasonable terms with the Golden Square and they formed an alliance which effectively marginalised the remainder of the Circle of Seven. 

World War II broke out in September and immediately changed the entire situation. As we saw a few pages ago, the 1932 Anglo-Iraqi treaty obligated Iraq to be in military alliance with Britain, and to make any wartime accommodations which Britain regarded as necessary. Britain declared war on Germany on the 3rd September 1939, effectively making Iraq a participant in the war on the British side. The outbreak of war initially strengthened Al-Said's position: he readily complied with all of Britain's demands, and took the opportunity to introduce a state of emergency, with him of course wielding the emergency powers. But developments began to turn against Al-Said. As the 1930s had progressed, an increasingly influential strand of nationalist thinking held that Germany was a natural ally for Iraq: the Nazis provided a model of dynamic, thrusting nationalism, they opposed the British, and they appeared to have no designs on the Middle East themselves. Germany's string of initial victories caused an increase in pro-German (and thus, anti-British) sentiment, which naturally put pressure on the notably pro-British Al-Said. The Golden Square, which was pro-German in outlook, made it known to Al-Said that they had lost confidence in him, and he resigned in March 1940. The initiative then shifted to Abdul al-Ilah: as regent, he was entitled to wield the king's power to appoint new prime ministers. As a concession to anti-British feeling, Al-Ilah chose the fairly pro-German Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, but put him at the head of a new coalition government which contained a number of staunchly pro-British figures, including Al-Said, who was now the foreign minister. 

Germany continued to enjoy great success in its military endeavours, and as the war began to spread to the Middle East the Al-Gaylani government leaned increasingly to the German side (as, indeed, did public opinion). Al-Said tried to stop the pro-German drift by having Al-Ilah sack Al-Gaylani and dissolve parliament. This was not achieved in the end but the affair caused Al-Gaylani to lose the confidence of the Golden Square and he resigned anyway. Next up in the prime minister's chair was Taha al-Hashimi, who had had a small walk-on role in the events of the previous page. Al-Hashimi initially had the support of the Golden Square but inevitably managed to lose it and was prodded into resigning. At this point the Golden Square decided they might as well just take power themselves, and launched a coup. Al-Ilah, Al-Said and Al-Hashimi all fled into British-controlled Transjordan, and the Golden Square assumed power on the 1st April 1941: Al-Gaylani resumed the prime ministership and an obscure member of the royal family, Sharaf al-Fawwaz, became the new regent.

The British naturally found all this rather disconcerting. The fate of North Africa hung in the balance and France's Middle Eastern territories had declared loyalty to the Vichy régime: the sudden appearance of a seemingly pro-Axis military government in Iraq was not a positive development under the circumstances. Post-coup Iraq was giving off very mixed signals: while Al-Gaylani was now firmly in the pro-German camp, the British nevertheless remained the local power in the area, and Al-Gaylani did not wish to provoke them. Al-Gaylani assured the British that Iraq would still comply with all of its obligations under their alliance, but meanwhile the Germans were launching a severe charm offensive against Iraq, making wide but vague promises of military assistance if Iraq went over to the Axis. 

 Prince Abdul al-Ilah, mid-1940s. ( Wikipedia )

Prince Abdul al-Ilah, mid-1940s. (Wikipedia)

Britain decided to force the issue and asked Al-Gaylani permission to land troops in Iraq — something which it was entitled to do under the terms of the Treaty. Al-Gaylani conceded this, knowing that a refusal would have been taken as an act of war, but the increasing buildup of British forces as April wore on led the Golden Square to believe war was inevitable. The Iraqi army was mobilised, but the British launched a pre-emptive strike on the 2nd May. Full-scale fighting immediately broke out and, long story short, the British were able to recover from an initially delicate strategic position and beat the Iraqi army.[1] Unfortunately for Al-Gaylani the promised German support largely failed to materialise — Germany having been somewhat surprised by the pace of events — although a small detachment of Luftwaffe aircraft made a useful contribution. With the military situation collapsing, Al-Gaylani and the Golden Square found they were left with little popular support and they fled the country. The British entered Baghdad on the 31st May and Al-Ilah returned on the 1st June.

Abdul Al-Ilah dug up Jamil al-Midfai (who we briefly met on the previous page) and appointed him as prime minister for a few months, but replaced him with Nuri al-Said in October. Al-Said naturally focused on revenging himself on his enemies and neutralising the army as a political force, and with a heavy British military presence in Iraq there was no effective opposition to him. Al-Said regarded Al-Ilah as a natural ally, and managed to pass some amendments to the constitution which concentrated more power in the crown. This however ended up backfiring: the two men began to separate politically — Al-Ilah became slightly more liberal in outlook and grew concerned with Al-Said's heavy-handed governing style — and Al-Ilah used his new powers to sack Al-Said in June 1944. Helpfully, Al-Said's popularity (such as it was) was beginning to wane: the war was of course still going on and the imposition of rationing, censorship and various other measures was widely resented. By the end of the war food shortages were widespread and in general people were having a bad time economically. Al-Ilah appointed Hamdi al-Pachachi as Al-Said's replacement. Al-Pachachi proved to basically be a safe pair of hands: he repealed some of the most oppressive laws of Al-Said's tenure and put down a brief Kurdish uprising in 1945.

Abdul Al-Ilah was in a very liberal mood by this point, and in December 1945 announced a dramatic series of reforms: the state of emergency was to be ended, political parties would be allowed to form again, and the electoral system would be reformed. This got everybody's hopes up but the great outpouring of radicalism caused by the freer political climate ended up startling the establishment and many of the reforms were reversed — a decision which, naturally, was poorly received in most quarters. In June 1946 workers of the Iraq Petroleum Company went on strike and certain of them ended up being killed by the police: this was followed by more repression which inevitably generated more opposition. The situation seemed like it was in danger of getting out of hand and Al-Ilah (having sacked Al-Pachachi in early 1946 and two other prime ministers subsequently) reluctantly went back to Al-Said in November 1946. Al-Said then resigned in early 1947 and was succeeded by a couple of nondescript Al-Said supporters. Law and order was duly restored and it seemed like Iraq was now on a stable footing as it faced the challenges and opportunities of the post-war world.... or was it?? We'll see what happened on the next page.

 The usual service overprint was applied to the De la Rue stamps (in red ink on the black values, as had been done for the 1923 issue). Gibbons lists a number of small varieties of this overprint, all in the Arabic typesetting: I have none of them so I'll pass over this discreetly. 

The usual service overprint was applied to the De la Rue stamps (in red ink on the black values, as had been done for the 1923 issue). Gibbons lists a number of small varieties of this overprint, all in the Arabic typesetting: I have none of them so I'll pass over this discreetly. 

Anyway, the stamps. I am greatly troubled to break with my usual pattern and put two separate series on a single page like this, but I do it in the belief that some increased understanding of the issues will be gained thereby. This period is, philatelically, a little more complicated than the last few, and in trying to write it up I am faced with an astounding dearth of information: Gibbons kindly supplies the dates of issue and the printers, but nothing else, so what follows is entirely my best guess, and nothing more.

So the first thing to note here is that none of the above stamps was produced by Bradbury Wilkinson. No idea why — they did a whole load of printing for the Crown Agents and so their services might have been in more demand during the war, on that basis (perhaps). After the war the contract went back to Bradbury Wilkinson so it doesn't seem to have been a deliberate choice on the part of the Iraqi postal authority to break with them. Anyway the 1941 set was printed by the very reputable De la Rue of London. We have an unusual set of values: basically it's all "middle" values with nothing very high or very low, for some mysterious reason. The most obvious answer would be simply that there was no need for high or low values (i.e. that there were enough stocks sitting around in Iraq and no more were needed), but this seems like it can't be the reason seeing as the 1942 Cairo printing is entirely low values, and the 1942 De la Rue issue is mostly lowest and highest values. 

I have frankly no idea what role the war played in all of this: the Mediterranean (the route by which the stamps were delivered, as I understand it) was of course a very unfriendly place in wartime, and of course Iraq was having its own issues, as described above. The 1941 De la Rue issue was issued on the 1st April 1941 (the same day of the Golden Square coup, although I think that must just be a coincidence) so logically the stamps must've been delivered in March 1941 or thereabouts. My absolute best guess would be to propose, very tentatively, that De la Rue intended to deliver a more complete issue in early 1941, including low and high values, but some wartime vicissitude or other prevented this. Things were fine initially, there being enough King Ghazi stamps still around to cope with shortages, but by 1942 the dearth of low values was beginning to become an issue. An urgent request was made to De la Rue but, for whatever reason, they were unable to attend to it fully. They supplied what they could — i.e. the 1942 issue, which stamps might perhaps have been originally intended to form part of the 1941 issue. But this still left a gap in the 3 fils-10 fils range (these stamps met the rates for most sorts of ordinary internal mail and so would've been in demand) which De la Rue could not immediately fill, and so the order was passed to the Geological Survey in Cairo. Despite its unpromising name, the Geological Survey in fact possessed an excellent photogravure works, which had produced the superb 1927 definitive issue of Egypt. So they ran off a quick, cheap issue, which had the added bonus of being able to be transported overland to Iraq, avoiding the dangers of sea transport. De la Rue then followed up with more stamps in 1943 (again, these might perhaps have been intended to have been issued at an earlier point), and there were now enough stamps in Iraq to last until the end of the war. Or so my wild speculation would go.

The war caused postal rates to rise: I have no detailed knowledge here but you can sort of work it out from looking at the stamps, which very helpfully seem to have adhered to the UPU colour scheme throughout the period. Evidently the rates were unchanged at the time the 1941 issue was ordered: the 8 fils is coloured red for internal mail and the 15 fils is blue for external surface mail, as had been the case with the King Ghazi issue. But we can see from the 1942 issues that the internal rate had risen to 10 fils (it now being coloured red) and by the time of the 1943 issue the external surface rate had risen to 20 fils (now blue). To compensate for these colour changes we see black and yellow shifting to make room on an essentially arbitrary basis (these colours don't seem to have had any fixed meaning — yellow goes down from 10 fils to 8 fils and black goes up from 15 fils to 20 fils).

 Service overprint on the Cairo issue. On these stamps the overprint seems to have been lithographed rather than typeset.

Service overprint on the Cairo issue. On these stamps the overprint seems to have been lithographed rather than typeset.

The De la Rue issue features some perforation varieties (presumably caused by wartime exigencies) which I don't propose to discuss here. Some of the De la Rue values were also reprinted in 1946-1947. The next issue for Iraq appeared in 1948 (see next page) but this does not seem to have affected the validity of the stamps on this page, which appear to have been used into the early 1950s.

Aesthetically I don't think much bad can be said about the De la Rue designs: they perhaps lack the charm of the 1923 pictorials but they're impeccably executed (although the very high relief they're printed in seems to attract dirt and stray ink quite readily, unless I just have terrible luck in the specimens I'm picking).[2] In the typical De la Rue fashion the stamps say what they're depicting, unlike the 1923 issue. That De la Rue chose not to depict the young Faisal II is intriguing: either they avoided him for reasons of taste (conferre the horrible "baby" stamps of late-1800s Spain) or they wanted to produce designs that would still be acceptable if Faisal ended up being replaced by something else (no doubt the tubulent 1930s had caused some to question the stability of the monarchy).

Meanwhile the Cairo designs are (surprisingly) appalling, although they were evidently produced under straitened circumstances. We see some novelty in technique, however: the frame was lithographed and the centre was printed by photogravure (why they didn't just photogravure the whole design in one operation is unaccountable). The stamps are very rudimentary, particularly the frame design which is just a rough tracing of the old portrait frame.[3] But no doubt these served their purpose at the time. There may also have been some propaganda value in getting stamps out there with the king's face on them (totally guessing here), seeing as the king was firmly in the pro-British camp, via his uncle the regent. 


[1] A notable event of the conflict was the successful defence of the RAF base at Habbaniya against a larger Iraqi force which was attempting to capture it. There exist stamps known as the "Habbaniya Provisionals" — purportedly stamps devised by the besieged British at Habbaniya and used when they ran out of regular ones. I don't have a picture to show but imagine some very crudely typeset Arabic words inside a rectangle, imperforated. I would be very inclined to dismiss these as a fantasy but the final word on these is probably yet to be written.

[2] Also as a minor nitpick, the ٤ on the De la Rue 4 fils feels very badly-positioned.

[3] A puzzle-piece which I list down here because I have no idea of its significance: there exists a design of revenue stamp which is basically a "proper" version of the Cairo design: it looks broadly the same but is engraved and recess-printed. I know nothing about Iraqi revenues but this was apparently a 1942 issue. Whether this stamp copied the Cairo design, or vice-versa, I have no idea.