Hassan Pasha and Ahmad Pasha, however, are primarily remembered for a longer-lasting development that marked their tenure in power. As inheritors of a patrimonial Ottoman tradition that emphasized the conversion of Christian youths from the southern Caucus, who were either captured in battle or sold to Ottoman commanders by their kinfolk, Hassan Pasha and Ahmad Pasha began to import young Georgian boys by the hundreds to Baghdad to reproduce the same imperial system.
These “slaves of the sultan,” later called mamluk or mamalik (literally “owned,” in Arabic) were taught to read and write in several languages, follow the Islamic religion, and train in the martial arts at palace schools. They staffed the various regiments, households, and extended family networks of important army commanders, the ﬁ rst being those of Hassan Pasha and Ahmad Pasha themselves.
Eventually, this Mamluk elite (shorthand for a number of different military households that grouped the military commander’s immediate family and extended, nonfamily units in a patron-client relationship) became the law of the land. From 1750 to 1831, a dynasty of Mamluks ruled Baghdad, then Basra (making it a subsidiary of the former), and, later on, developed strong ties to Mosul, all the while ofﬁ cially representing the Ottoman sultan.
This Mamluk elite and the state that it created have variously been seen either as the vanguard of an independent Iraq, which was aborted by the renewed Ottoman push to recentralize the province, or the vestiges of a neopatrimonial state in which the Iraqi Mamluks tried to reproduce the institutions of the imperial household now under challenge in Istanbul itself (Nieuwenhuis 1982, 182).
The Mamluks tried to balance the two trends. For instance, the annual revenue demanded of the provincial governments of Baghdad and Basra by Istanbul was almost always sent on time. With the exception of the Mamluk governors Suleyman Abu Layla (r. 1748–62) and Umar Pasha (r. 1764–75), who sent little or no revenue to Istanbul, most of the Mamluks were circumspect in their accounts with the Porte. Had they been the advance guard of an independent state, the money would presumably have been spent at home.
On the other hand, certain Mamluk pashas divided into factions and led ﬁ erce battles against one another, all in the pursuit of an undiluted, quite possibly sovereign authority. Even as the Ottoman sultan sent diplomats to Baghdad to try to persuade the rebellious Mamluks of Istanbul’s prior claim to Iraq, or, at other times, launched military offensives against the Mamluks to abolish the pashalik once and for all, the Mamluk pashas were forging countrywide alliances with tribes, merchants (urban and rural), and religious leaders (ulama) both to remain in power and to advance their case against the Porte’s.
The bulk of their support rested on detachments of Janissaries and local militias composed of the Lawands and Kurds, even though in times of lax governmental supervision, they were often instigators of trouble in Baghdad or Basra. (The Janissaries were elite infantry soldiers educated and trained both in Istanbul and in Baghdad; even though they were known as the sultan’s “slaves,” they enjoyed many privileges and were also paid for their services.)
However, even though the Mamluks relied on government troops led by the heads of the Janissary contingents, they needed Arab tribal support, in part because they could not quite defeat the tribes and rule supreme on their own. During the 18th century, this increasing reliance on local support for the Mamluks became quite apparent. As Nieuwenhuis concluded:
During the 17th and increasingly so in the 18th centuries, provincial government changed in character. The ruling elite increasingly concentrated themselves in towns with control extended to small areas of the surrounding countryside. Governors and high ofﬁ cials were increasingly recruited locally, as were military forces. Provincial government became somewhat less dependent on the interests of the Empire, as more attention was given to local interests (Nieuwenhuis 1982, 171).
The most important Mamluks were Suleyman Abu Layla, Suleyman the Great (r. 1780–1802), and Dawud Pasha (r. 1817–31). The ﬁ rst is a signiﬁ cant ﬁ gure because he reconstituted the Mamluk system of military households by replenishing the supply of Georgian youths from their home region. As a result, he was able to force Ottoman acquiescence to his rule. The second and third, however, were the dynamic movers of a dynasty that had developed not only province-wide backing but the support of regional interests as well.
Suleyman the Great is so called because he was one of the best governors of his time and held in high esteem by Arabs as well as Europeans, a rare achievement (Abdullah 2001, 72). While still only a deputy governor in Basra, he staved off a Persian army for 13 months, only being forced to surrender the city when the promised reinforcements did not arrive from Baghdad.
One of the faults of Mamluk rule was its inability to establish a formal line of succession. As a result, factionalism and power plays within the Mamluk class in Baghdad often worked to Mamluk disadvantage elsewhere. Such was the case with Basra. After the Persian occupation of Basra in 1776–79, Suleyman was imprisoned, only to reemerge after the death of the Persian khan and the withdrawal of the Persian forces from Basra.
After taking over the leadership of Basra, Suleyman made a successful bid for the Baghdad governorate. It was under Suleyman the Great’s rule that the provinces of Basra (which included the port city that went by that name) and Shahrizor, only recently liberated from the Persian army, were joined to Baghdad. Henceforth, under new administrative arrangements, the Mamluks were to rule both Baghdad and Basra.
Suleyman the Great’s military entanglements were, for the most part, of an internal nature. He had to reconstruct his own palace guard to take control of Baghdad and then to defeat rebellious tribal chiefs who were threatening large areas of central and southern Iraq. For the ﬁ rst task, Suleyman Pasha set about reorganizing the Georgian guard that had provided the effective force for his Mamluk predecessors. The Janissary regiments (the “imperial” troops) had grown rebellious and were attempting to further weaken Mamluk sources of power.
In 1780, Suleyman imported about 1,000 Georgian youths, trained and equipped them, and gave them ultimate responsibility for the defense of the capital; the Janissaries, meanwhile, were banished to areas outside Baghdad. On the other hand, in 1787, when the Muntaﬁ q tribe allied itself with others and marched on Baghdad, Suleyman Pasha drew them down to southern Iraq and smashed their forces in a resounding victory.
Dawud Pasha, the last of the Mamluks, was extraordinary in another way. While also excelling in military pursuits and administrative method, he possessed the added gift of intellectual acuity. Under his rule, religious scholars, professors of law, and historians made the pilgrimage to Dawud’s court in Baghdad, where he sponsored an intellectual revival that was second only to that witnessed under the ﬁrst sipahi commanders of Iraq, Hassan and Ahmad Pasha (Fattah 1998, 71).
The latter had built mosques and schools and provided new employment opportunities for Sunni scholars from Baghdad and its periphery, inviting them to join in the cultural revitalization of the city. Dawud followed Ahmad’s example (it is estimated that he built more than 26 new mosques and schools); however, contrary to Ahmad, he joined in the deliberations of scholars and professors of law on an equal footing.
This is because he had completed all the stages of religious education incumbent upon a scholar and could discuss religious doctrine with the best of the Islamic clergy. After he was deposed in 1831, following a full-scale rebellion against the empire, Dawud was pardoned by the sultan and lived out the rest of his days as a pious Muslim in one of Islam’s holiest cities, Medina.
Dawud, however, is primarily important because he ruled Baghdad and Basra with an iron ﬁ st while also starting a reform movement in military and economic affairs. His reforms centered on creating a standing army of 20,000 troops, trained by a French adviser, who integrated the Janissaries and Palace Guard into one defense force. To complement this transformation, Dawud also established a munitions factory and other weapons-related plants (Abdullah 2003, 90). Dawud also carried out several systematic raids on Iraqi tribes that were impairing the government’s control over Iraq.