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The Big Question: Iraq - Is history repeating itself?

Updated Wednesday 1st December 2004

In a few days time, [on June 30th], the Coalition Provisional Authority will transfer power to the interim government in Iraq. It will mark the formal end of the occupation and a symbolic step towards transition to Iraqi self-government.

Saddam: depicted as a hero Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team

His philosophy has outlived many States which claimed to be based on it, but what inspired Marx?

It will not be the first time that a foreign power has pulled out of Iraq. In 1921, the British established a monarchy in this newly created state, but it was eleven years before Iraq gained its official independence. Even then, British military and economic interests maintained significant influence in Iraq for another quarter of a century. The Big Question: "Is history repeating itself?"

To explore the question, Emma Joseph is joined by Charles Tripp, author of A History of Iraq, Haifa Zangana, an Iraqi novelist living in London and a member of Act Together, a group of UK-based Iraqi and non-Iraqi women; and Amir Taheri, a Middle East expert.

The 600 year-old Turkish Ottoman empire had allied itself with Germany in The First World War. Defeat in 1918 spelt the end of one of the most influential and protracted periods in Islamic history. The League of Nations (the forerunner to the UN) divided the territories between two victors. Syria and Lebanon went to France, while Mesopotamia was given to Britain. It became known as Iraq.

The British were charged with guiding Iraq to its independence. The new state got a new king, Faisal I, crowned in 1921. But power largely resided with the British until official independence in 1932, when Iraq became the first modern Arab state. Even then though, Britain was not about to let Iraq fall out of its sphere of influence and retained significant military and economic interests there for another quarter of a century.

On the death of King Faisal I in 1933, his son Ghazi came to the throne, but his short reign was characterised by instability and saw no fewer than eight governments.

In 1941 a coup attempt was quelled by the British.

For some Iraqis, 1958 marks real independence for Iraq. An army unit that was supposed to be protecting Baghdad, took control of the palaces and government buildings, and seized members of the royal family and the prime minister. They were put to death, and a new government was established. The role of the British in Iraq had come to a violent and dramatic end. But, according to Iraqi novelist, Haifa Zangana, jubilation was short-lived. Within ten years the Baath party had come to power. For Middle East expert, Amir Taheri, the history of Iraq from 1958 till the end of Saddam Hussein is the history of the destruction of civil society there.

This edition of The Big Question was first broadcast on 26th June 2004

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