The Reform of the Army

The Reform of the Army

The principal reform associated with the Tanzimat era was the reorganization and reconstruction of the army. Internal transformation had been the rallying cry of Ottoman reformers for quite some time. Prior to the early 19th century, the Ottoman army consisted of imperial troops, the bulk of which were Janissary regiments.

The latter had infi ltrated the trade and industry of Istanbul as well as the European and Arab provinces, creating local alliances that often ran counter to the wishes of the central government that they were supposed to serve and obey. On a couple of occasions, the Janissaries had even staged coups and dislodged the sultan himself. The Janissary threat had become so great that their doom seemed almost foretold; when Sultan Mahmud II extinguished them through wholesale slaughter, he signaled the rise of a more centralized military force completely under his command.

This new force, the Ottoman standing army, was trained and advised by Westerners, who founded new military schools and pushed for European arms, tactics, and strategy (Inalcik and Quataert 1994, 766). While it took almost half a century to materialize, a tighter, leaner army was established that went on to win several major battles in the early phases of World War I.

In the provinces of Iraq, the army was reorganized, and new military and civilian schools were established as a result; the latter’s emphasis on languages and the hard sciences was somewhat of a radical departure from the traditional kuttab, or Islamic school, stress on religious and literary subjects and rote learning. But here again, the core principles of army discipline, effective training, and loyalty to the corps took a long time to materialize.

In the last quarter of the 19th century, the Sixth Army, based in Baghdad, was considered to be one of the empire’s least successful military units (Longrigg 1953, 38) simply because there was never enough money or matériel to hold it together. Composed of two divisions of infantry, a cavalry division, and artillery regiments, the army was made up of conscripts, many of whom could buy their way out of service through a military “tax.” Entire sectors of Iraqi society escaped the military in this way, while those soldiers who remained were often unruly and spelled trouble for the army command.

In 1910–11, however, a strong governor in Baghdad, Nazim Pasha (1848–1912), who had also been named the commander of the army, attempted to whip the army into shape. Nazim Pasha’s zeal in reforming the Sixth Army awakened British alarm. His emphasis that no expense be spared in this attempt to turn the ramshackle army into a fi ghting force made him a competitor to watch. Meanwhile, the British consul received disturbing reports of huge guns being brought in to revitalize Ottoman defenses and the daily and nightly training of troops.

To top it all off, Nazim Pasha embarked on furious campaigns against the Iraqi tribes, creating much dissension in Baghdad, particularly since he attempted to defeat the tribes in one fell swoop, strongly testing his unprepared troops. Eventually, he was recalled to Istanbul because of heavy British pressure. Still, Iraq’s Sixth Army performed very well in World War I, infl icting a huge defeat on the British in Kut in 1916, only to be routed at the end of the war.

Local Government Councils, Schools, New Printing Presses, and Newspapers

Prior to the mid-19th century, no local governing councils had existed in Iraq outside the shaykh’s tent or the Ottoman governor’s palace. After the Tanzimat edicts, an administrative council was established for each provincial capital. Headed by the vali, or provincial governor, it grouped appointed and elected members; for the fi rst time, the latter consisted of Christians and Jews.

Side by side with administrative reforms, civilian schools were created that taught a different curriculum, including military training, and followed novel philosophies. By introducing military training at an early stage and incorporating the hard sciences, geography, and foreign languages in its curriculum, the rushdiya (middle school) and idadiya (high school) school system in Iraq opened up different avenues for its student population.

Under Midhat Pasha (r. 1869–71), the fi rst printing press was introduced in Iraq. This made possible the fi rst state newspaper, al-Zawra, which was originally published in Ottoman Turkish but was later turned into a bilingual edition. Among its many editors was the sober Islamist intellectual Shaykh Mahmud Shukri al-Alusi (1857–1934), whose great reputation as a reformist scholar endowed the newspaper with a crusading ethos. Among his many editorials were those that castigated late Ottoman authorities for neglecting Islamic places of worship and pious foundations.

Forty years later, under less stringent censorship rules (brought on by the Constitutional Revolution in Turkey in 1908), a number of Iraqi as well as foreign-owned papers made their appearance. About 36 papers and magazines were published in Iraq by Iraqis before the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. For example, the outstanding weekly al-Riyadh began publication in 1910.

Owned by Suleyman al-Dakhil, who is considered to be the fi rst journalist-editor from Najd (central Arabia) to own and publish a newspaper, it was put together in Baghdad, due in no small part to the fact that Arabia and Iraq had long been linked by cultural, economic, and social ties. Although it only lasted four years, al-Riyadh published original and path-breaking reports on central Arabian tribes and dynasties and courted the Ottomans by openly appealing to them to intervene against British schemes in the Arabian Peninsula.

Al-Riyadh was only one of the many newspapers published at the turn of the 20th century. Other Iraqi-owned newspapers of note were al-Raqib, published by the crusading journalist Abdul-Latif Thunayan, and Sada Babil, owned and operated by the Christian intellectuals Dawud Sliwu and Yusif Ghanima. Echoes of those papers continue today. For instance, al-Nahda was established by Ibrahim Hilmi Umar and Muzahim Amin al-Pachachi in 1913. Al-Nahda lives on today because al-Pachachi’s son, Dr. Adnan al-Pachachi, established a paper under the same name in 2003. (It was one of the most sober and wellresearched papers published in Baghdad after 2003.)