The Provinces of Baghdad and Basra

The Provinces of Baghdad and Basra

From 1702 to 1747, with one brief interruption, the sipahis assumed control of Baghdad and, much later on, of Basra on behalf of the Ottoman Porte. The governors of Baghdad in that period, Hassan Pasha and his son Ahmad Pasha, began their careers fi ghting off Persian offensives in the Iraqi provinces, while themselves attacking Persian forces deep in Persian-controlled territory, such as Kirmanshah and Hamadan.

By 1736, however, the Ottomans, and their representatives in Iraq, were in full retreat. Nadir Shah’s campaigns against Mosul and Baghdad threatened the entire edifi ce of Ottoman Iraq, and it was a great relief to Iraqis of all classes and backgrounds that a peace treaty was fi nally signed. In the uneasy conditions that persisted after the end of hostilities, Ahmad Pasha continued his father’s mission to pacify Iraq internally, if only to centralize “the more effi cient collection of provincial taxes” (Fattah 1997, 35) for the national treasury.

Paradoxically, by attacking the troublesome tribal shaykhs of the south and east, Ahmad Pasha not only attempted to rationalize revenue-gathering operations through the imposition of more government-friendly tribal leaders (who could act as tax collectors for their districts) but sought to enlist their support as allies of the government itself.

This was because one of the chief conundrums of Iraqi history throughout the centuries of Ottoman rule was that no local government—whether of Baghdad, Mosul, or Basra—could survive for long without tribal auxiliaries. Until the town became stronger than the countryside—a development that only occurred in the latter part of the 19th century, and this largely as a function of a better-trained army and the settlement of the nomadic tribes—no governor could hope to have eliminated the tribal threat completely unless through temporary alliances with the paramount shaykhs. This said, government attacks on refractory tribal elements were always a feature of the ongoing landscape of Iraq.