"King Faisal II himself was beheaded by troops that stormed the palace. The Crown Prince was shot, and his hands and feet were hacked off and carried on spikes through the city. His mutilated body, along with those of a number of other officials, was dragged through the streets, and then hung from a balcony at the Ministry of Defense."
KINGS OF SAND
By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst
WASHINGTON, Aug. 16 (UPI) -- More than 30 years ago, the great scholar Elie Kedourie cited the British infatuation with the Hashemite rulers of Iraq as one of the most absurd, even bizarre adventures in modern Middle Eastern history. Winston Churchill, then British Colonial Secretary, foisted the weak-minded and pliable Emir Feisal on what became Iraq.
Churchill drew the original borders of the nation at the urging of two highly unbalanced and largely ignorant romantics, T.E. Lawrence -- Lawrence of Arabia -- and Gertrude Bell.
The Hashemite dynasty in Iraq only lasted 37 years and never put down any roots of legitimacy or popularity. It was maintained only by British power. Britain's infant Royal Air Force had to put down a popular revolt almost at once, bombing rebels against the new foreign-imposed monarchy into submission.
Little more than a decade later, the Hashemite monarchs presided over the massacre of the Assyrian people in the north of their country in 1933. The slaughter was so shocking that there were efforts in the League of Nations aimed at preventing the British from permitting Iraq to keep its titular independence granted under a British-designed 1932 treaty.
But even the British Empire could not keep the Hashemites on the fictional throne in Baghdad they had created forever -- or even for long. On 14 July, 1958, a military coup toppled the monarchy. The 24-year-old King Feisal II, his grandmother and aunt were slaughtered in exceptionally grisly circumstances.
As Daniel Yergin writes in "The Prize," his Pulitzer-winning history of the oil industry: "King Faisal II himself was beheaded by troops that stormed the palace. The Crown Prince was shot, and his hands and feet were hacked off and carried on spikes through the city. His mutilated body, along with those of a number of other officials, was dragged through the streets, and then hung from a balcony at the Ministry of Defense."
It was the most brutal massacre of any royal family in the 40 years since the former Imperial Russian Romanovs were slaughtered in their Ekaterinburg cellar.
Yet today, at the beginning of the 21st century, the restoration of a Hashemite monarchy to Iraq is being seriously propounded in American intellectual journals and it is strongly favored by some of the most influential and powerful policy makers in the U.S. government.
David Pryce-Jones, writing in the current issue of National Review, of which he is a senior editor, seriously advocates the restoration of the Hashemites. His favorite candidates are Prince Hassan of Jordan, uncle of the current King Abdullah II and Sharif Ali bin Feisal, a London-based banker. Pryce-Jones reflects major currents of U.S. government thinking.
David Wurmser, Middle East strategist for Undersecretary of State John Bolton, is an enthusiast for the idea. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith are eager champions of his strategies.
Pryce-Jones draws a parallel between the highly successful restoration of the constitutional monarchy in Spain under King Juan Carlos after the death of long-time dictator Francisco Franco in the mid-1970s.
But as my United Press International colleague Claude Salhani has already pointed out, the two cases could not be more dissimilar. Let us count the ways.
The Bourbon Dynasty of Spain had ruled the nation for 230 years before being peacefully and constitutionally abolished by democratic process in 1931.
The Republic that ruled for the next five years was highly unstable. A horrific civil war followed, at the end of which Franco emerged triumphant. But the royalists remained extremely strong and Franco always needed them and courted them in his ruling coalition.
It was long understood in Spain that Franco proposed to have the monarchy restored after he died. And this in fact occurred, to widespread and entirely anticipated popular acclaim.
In Romania and Bulgaria too, previous monarchies, though originally imposed by a concert of external European powers in the later 19th century, had enjoyed far longer periods of legitimizing rule.
In both cases, the monarchies were not toppled by internally generated and popular coups. They were instead toppled by Soviet Communist overlords after their countries had been physically conquered by the Red Army in 1944.
Consequently, the boy kings -- Michael of Romania and Simeon of Bulgaria -- like the Habsburg family in Austria and Hungary and the Karageorgevic family of Yugoslavia, especially Serbia, remained highly popular and respected symbols of national resistance to both communism as an ideology and to the foreign and bloody oppression that had been imposed from the outside.
By contrast, the Hashemites only ruled Iraq for 37 years and never showed the slightest hint of attracting any real popular support whatsoever. There was never the slightest hint of any yearning for them through either the years of revolutionary upheaval that followed or the establishment of the current Ba'ath Arab Socialist totalitarian regime in 1968.
They were identified throughout their time in power as entirely creatures of the Imperialist British, which they indeed were. National identity was expressed not by embracing the royal cause, but by fiercely rejecting it.
Nor did the Hashemite rulers of Iraq under the guidance of the British produce that moderate, civilizing and restrained influence which Pryce-Jones now fantasizes they will offer that country after Saddam Hussein.
Kedourie, no admirer of Saddam -- to put it mildly -- summed up their record thus: "Brief as it is, the record of the kingdom of Iraq is full of bloodshed, treason and rapine, and however pitiful its end, we may say that this was implicit in its beginning."
Nor did the Hashemite family ever have any of the "legitimacy which derives from Islam," that Pryce-Jones in his article claims.
During the Ottoman Empire, they carried the religious title of "Guardian of the Holy Places." But they never enjoyed any significant political following outside their own locations.
Early in World War I, Sharif Hussein of Mecca, the then-Guardian, persuaded the British to back his wildly romanticized, but militarily and politically insignificant Arab Revolt against the Turks. British apologists later vastly exaggerated the scale and significance of what in reality amounted to little more than mildly increased brigandage. And after the war, they confirmed the Sharif as -- they thought -- the effective ruler of Arabia.
But it was not to be.
Even with the support of the British Empire, the dominant nation in the Middle East and leading superpower of the world at the time, the Sharif was driven out of Arabia by a genuine Arab nationalist revolt from the heartland inspired by a revival of Islamic fundamentalist teachings.
It was led, of course, by the legendary King Abdul-Aziz ibn Saud. He swept the Hashemites out of Arabia and there was nothing the British could do about it.
Even -- or rather, especially -- in Sharif Hussein's home base of the Hijaz, support for him was non-existent. Far from becoming the King of all the Arabs with British backing, as he had seriously expected, he could not even hold on to his own home province.
Even the survival of the only Hashemite monarchy that has so far survived was because of the skill of its greatest leader in defying Britain and America at appropriate moments, rather than blindly doing their bidding.
The British did establish another son of Sharif Hussein, Emir Abdullah, as ruler of Transjordan in 1921. He was the brother of King Feisal of Iraq. He ruled with a British-officered and controlled Arab Legion behind him, and it conquered the West Bank territories for him when Britain pulled out of its Palestine Mandate in 1948.
The Palestinian Arabs of the West Bank themselves were not consulted or asked to register their approval in any way.
Three years later, Abdullah was assassinated by one of them while visiting the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. Once again, the Hashemite Family's supposed "legitimacy which derives from Islam," as Pryce-Jones put it, proved in the Real World to be no legitimacy at all.
Abdullah's grandson, King Hussein of Jordan, was the most successful, well-known of the Hashemites. It is instructive to see why.
In 1955, as revolutionary nationalist passions swept the Arab world, Hussein kicked out his British officers and advisers. In 1967, he joined with the other Arab nations in their war against Israel and lost East Jerusalem, the holy sites and the West Bank as a result. In 1991, he supported Saddam Hussein no less when he conquered Kuwait.
Pryce-Jones writes: "Mistakes at this level cost him dearly." On the contrary, they saved his throne and his life.
King Hussein, for all his genuinely pro-Western sympathies and decency, was no fool and recognized the fiercely anti-American and anti-Western sympathies of the people he ruled. Even so, he had to survive more than 30 attempts on his life during his long reign.
It should also be noted that on his death-bed he removed his brother, the far more Westernized Crown Prince Hassan from the succession, replacing him with his own eldest son, the current king. Now Hassan, who could not even maintain the confidence of his own brother, is being seriously touted as the man who can be the Konrad Adenauer of Iraq after Saddam is removed.
Yet this Arabian Nights pipe dream looks likely to become serious U.S. policy. My old teacher Kedourie was relentlessly, mercilessly scathing about such megalomaniac fantasies when they were pursued by untalented, uneducated obscure junior British officials. And he always knew it would happen again.
In the last dinner I ever had with him shortly before his death, he happily discussed the inanities of those policies and concluded: "Nothing changes, Martin. Nothing ever changes."
Copyright 2002 by United Press International.
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