From the 16th – 20th centuries, Iraqi history had been affected by the ongoing religious conflicts that had occurred between the Islamic Ottoman Turks and the Islamic Safavid Empire in Iran (Rogan, 2015; Globalsecurity.com, 2018). Shia Islam had first been declared by the Safavids as Iran’s official religion and with it, Iran had tried to control Iraq. This had been directly because of the Islamic holy places in Iran located at An Najaf and Karbala, as well as the significance of Baghdad having been where the symbolic value of the old Abbasid Empire was also located. The following further discusses this perspective on the Ottomans in Iraq.
The Ottoman Fear of Shia Islam
The interpretation of Islam under the Shia Law/rule had been the source of the Ottomans having feared its spread to Asia Minor (Anatolia) and the Ottomans had viewed that keeping Iraq under the traditional Sunni form of Islam by making it a Sunni-controlled. The Ottomans, fearing that Shia Islam would spread to Anatolia (Asia Minor), sought to maintain Iraq as a Sunni-controlled barrier state was the way to stop the Shiite conversion. The 1509 conquer of Iraq by the Iranian Safavids had meant the initiation of a series of long and drawn-out battles with the Ottomans. A deciding battle in 1535 gave control of Iraq to the Ottomans under the famous Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. While the Iranian forces had reconquered Iraq in 1623 via Baghdad, nonetheless, the Ottomans once again took control in 1638 (Globalsecurity.com, 2018).
The main effect of this ongoing conflict with Baghdad as the impetus for these battles, had directed the Ottoman period to give the Islamic tradition of the Sunnis a significant gain in administrative experience. This had allowed the Ottomans to have monopolized political power into the 20th century. This had meant taking advantage of both the new and educational opportunities that had arisen. As a result, the long-term effect on the Ottomans in Iraq had men the Shia element had become left out of the political process in Iraq that had made them politically powerless and economically depressed as a community within this nation. This rift had continued into the 1980s (Globalsecurity.com, 2018).
Tribal Authority Returns in Iraq
Significantly weakened by the numerous conflicts with the Safavids by the 19th century, the Ottomans had found that Iraqi tribal authority had once again came to dominate the nation. The influx of nomadic Muslims from Najd out of the Arabian Peninsula had found Bedouins raiding already settled areas in Iraq and there had been no way to curb the invasions. The powerful Muntafiq tribal confederation had taken shape under the Sunni Saadun family of Mecca has been explained by (Globalsecurity.com, 2018). Other tribal conflicts had taken place throughout the Ottoman Empire. This had been especially compounded by the rise of the Kurdish Baban Dynasty in the North of the Ottoman Empire and it had become impossible for this Ottomans to maintain any kind of control over the Iraqi Kurdistan. From 1625 and 1668 as well as 1694 and 1701, the Marsh Arabs had completely ignored the Ottoman rulers in Baghdad. Well into the 1800s the rule of the Ottomans in Iraq had ebb and flowed under different Ottoman Empire rulers (Globalsecurity.com, 2018).
The modernization of Iraq under the Ottomans had included bringing a greater political and economic influence of Western ideology to the nation. Britain had established a consulate in Baghdad by 1802. Interest in the commercialization by the West in Iraq had converged with Ottoman reforms. By 1908 what had been labeled as the Young Turks had taken control in Istanbul under the vestiges of the last days of the Ottoman Empire and its influence in the world including Iraq. This had meant a strong influence on Iraqi nationalists (Globalsecurity.com, 2018). The Ottoman Empire had sided against the West in the first world war and effectively had set the stage for its demise.
Conclusion -The Fall of the Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman forces that had become known as the Turkish army of WWI had fought to keep the Middle East free from the Western forces taking over the region. They had been defeated numbers of times with great loss of manpower. By the signing of the Armistice to end the war the undertaking of creating a new nation of Turkey had taken place. The fall of the Ottoman had influenced the outcome of the future of Iraq.
Despite its natural and human resources, Iraq has never known enduring peace and stability within its post-war boundaries, experiencing a coup and conflict with Britain in World War II, revolution in 1958, war with Iran between 1980 and 1988, and seemingly unending cycle of war since Saddam Hussein’s 1991 invasion of Kuwait and the 2003 American invasion … to topple Hussein. (Rogan, 2015, p. 405).
The Ottoman influence until its fall had been beneficial only to the extent that the Iraqi nationals had pragmatically lived within the reforms for education and economic advances. The ongoing strife exerted by tribal influences and the peripheral and direct issues connected to those Muslim communities following the Sharia Law had plagued the rule of the Ottomans throughout its presence in Iraq. The implications that can be associated with the Ottomans in Iraq have remained complex historically. As each generation of Iraqi people lived within the sphere of the Ottomans in their country the impact of their presence realistically had become attached to their religious and tribal influence –whether it had been positive or negative seems to have been a transcendent reality only understood within the community they had lived.
- Globalsecurity.org. (2018). 1534-1918 – Ottoman Iraq. Retrieved from https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/iraq/history-ottoman.htm
- Rogan, E. (2015). The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East. Basic Books. Copyright © 2015 by Eugene Rogan.