Whatever Happened to Iraq’s Royals?


WHILE THE WORLD discusses the future of Iraq after the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein, one possibility is certainly not on the agenda – the restoration of the Iraqi monarchy which was overthrown in a bloody massacre in 1958. Iraq as a country did not exist until after the First World War and the fall of the Ottoman Empire. As reward for Arab resistance – organised by the legendary “Lawrence of Arabia” – Iraq was created by the victorious Allies – but mainly by Britain and France determined to look after their own interests in the Middle East.

Iraq was declared an independent kingdom in 1932 and admitted to the League of Nations. Faisal died the following year to be succeeded by his son, Ghazi. He died as war broke out in 1939 and his son, three at Ghazi’s death, only succeeded to the throne in 1953 as Faisal II. Inspired by the example of Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, the Hashemite monarchy was overthrown in 1958, in a swift, predawn coup executed by officers of the Nineteenth Brigade.

The European powers decided that their interests would be best served by a monarchy and in 1921 Prince Faisal of Hijaz (now southwestern Saudi Arabia) won a popular election, with 96% of the ballots, and was declared king of Iraq on August 23. The new state did not get an easy birth, as the Shi’ites in the south and the Kurds in the north fought for their independence. And other forces, like Arabia in the south and Turkey in the north, tried to destabilise Iraq. That meant British forces stayed in the country at the request of King Faisal.

On July 14 the revolutionary forces captured the capital, declared the downfall of the monarchy, and proclaimed a republic. The leading members of the royal house, including the King and Crown Prince, were executed. King Faisal II and his Prime Minister Abd al Ilah were executed in al-Rihab Palace, and their bodies displayed in public, hanging them by their feet outside the palace, as were many others in the royal family. Iraq was proclaimed a republic.

In exile, there has been an Iraqi constitutional royal movement. One of its most prominent members, Al-Sharif Ali Bin al-Hussein, has said that 98% of the Iraqi people want the royal system because monarchy is the best system to settle the crisis caused by the era under the Republican government. Bin al-Hussein maintains that among the “conditions set by the Iraqi constitutional Royal movement is that the Iraqi people decide in a direct and free referendum the system they want.” He explained that the constitutional royal movement aims at giving a chance for the parties to work freely. He added that there is not even one Iraqi group that wants to partition Iraq.

Al-Sharif Ali Bin al-Hussein is 40. He has a connection to the Jordanian royal family. A survivor from the revolution of 1958 which brought down his cousin, King Faisal, since 1958 Al-Sharif Bin Hussein has been resident in London.

(First published in Royalty Magazine Volume 18-07.)

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