History is not the strong point of commentators on the war in Iraq. For most, Iraqi history started in 1991. So, as we watch events unfold, the following bit of history might be helpful.
During the First World War the British invaded Mesopotamia, thinking that the Arabs would welcome their liberators with ecstatic cheers and flowers. They got a bloody nose. In April 1916 the Anglo-Indian army was forced to surrender to Turkish/Arab forces at Kut-al-Amhara on the Tigris. The Turks may have been bastards but they were bastards the Arabs were used to, and there was little support from local tribes.
As a result of Anglo-French perfidy (some claim that this was largely motivated by Clemenceau's demand for a pound of flesh for the French), the Middle East was carved up into French and British spheres, leaving most Arabs, who had fought against the Turks so bravely in the Hejaz revolt to the West, with a profound sense of grievance and betrayal. It took a lot of fighting and huge casualties before the Turks were ejected from what became Iraq. Incensed by the allied double-cross, there were serious riots and guerilla fighting against the British, who proceeded to install a colonial regime based upon the Indian raj, complete with District Officers and western style legal system. It was led by a Colonel Wilson, who relied heavily on Indian troops and who had a low opinion of Arabs in general ( I believe he later surfaced in the 30's as a member of the British National (fascist) party).
In June 1920 a British political officer arrested a prominent nationalist sheik for alleged tax evasion, and the whole area erupted in what amounted to revolution. It took 6 months to restore order. The intentions of the regime were no doubt well-intentioned, benevolent and humane, but nonetheless Wilson in Baghdad was so alarmed at the situation that he requested poison gas from England to subdue the population (the London government refused, by the way). It cost 40 million pounds to restore order.
The government in London concluded that the new Iraq was ungovernable in any military or colonial context, and under the leadership of Winston Churchill a conference was called in Cairo in 1921. At this conference it was decided that foreign direct rule would never work and that the British should step back and put Arab (puppet?) regimes into Baghdad and Amman. They chose the Hashemites, Feisal in Baghdad and Abdullah in Amman. (Feisal was Alec Guinness in Lawrence of Arabia).
That calmed the situation somewhat, but 'democracy' was an unmitigated tribal shambles. There were 47 different cabinets in Iraq between 1921 and 1952, and the fall of the Hashemite regime and rise of strongmen was probably inevitable, given the borders chosen for the country by armchair politicians in Versailles. On the one hand some good things were achieved: better administration, education, technical training , sanitation, reduction of inter-ethnic violence etc. On the other hand poverty was terrible and most of the land and wealth was owned by a tiny group, as it is today. Most importantly, the Arab pride was sorely wounded.
In 1930 Britain gave up its mandate, but retained the air facilities and base at Habbaniya, the training of the Iraqi army and extensive base and transport facilities in the event of war. But their hegemony was the object of intense resentment, and Lawrence of Arabia, a hero in Britain, was regarded as just another Westerner who wanted to rob the Arabs. A Time survey of 1952 concluded "The British position in the whole area is hopeless. They are hated and distrusted almost everywhere". The British were finally forced out in 1958, when the royal family were murdered and the British embassy burned down.
It seems odd that events such a short time-span away seem to be ignored by the current American and British governments. As a Brit I must say that to invade Iraq and help occupy it yet again seems the height of insensitivity. Iraqis don't have that short a memory
Draw your own conclusions!
Written in February 2003, this piece, distributed as an email, appeared on the notice board at the State Department in Washington D.C