Titled “Ageless Iraq” the short British film below presents an optimistic view of life in Iraq in the 1950s. Iraq was home to far fewer people in the 1950s, just five million compared to about thirty-three million today. Iraq had gained a semi-independence in 1932 with a British-installed monarchy, and then had a population of three and a half million. But long and involved British colonial conflicts with the Ottoman Empire during and following World War I created a complex and ethnically-mixed Iraq. Rapid population growth mixed with corruption, ethnic conflict and top-down economic planning turned the optimism of the 1950s to the nightmares of later decades.
These paragraphs offer a glimpse of early problems with Kurds and Assyrians who found themselves living in and under Arab Iraq:
Ethnic groups such as the Kurds and the Assyrians, who had hoped for their own autonomous states, rebelled against inclusion within the Iraqi state. The Kurds, the majority of whom lived in the area around Mosul, had long been noted for their fierce spirit of independence and separatism. During the 1922 to 1924 period, the Kurds had engaged in a series of revolts in response to British encroachment in areas of traditional Kurdish autonomy; moreover, the Kurds preferred Turkish to Arab rule. When the League of Nations awarded Mosul to Iraq in 1925, Kurdish hostility thus increased. The Iraqi government maintained an uneasy peace with the Kurds in the first year of independence, but Kurdish hostility would remain an intractable problem for future governments.
From the start, the relationship of the Iraqi government with the Assyrians was openly hostile. Britain had resettled 20,000 Assyrians in northern Iraq around Zakhu and Dahuk after Turkey violently quelled a British-inspired Assyrian rebellion in 1918. As a result, approximately three-fourths of the Assyrians who had sided with the British during World War I now found themselves citizens of Iraq. The Assyrians found this situation both objectionable and dangerous. Thousands of Assyrians had been incorporated into the Iraqi Levies, a British-paid and British-officered force separate from the regular Iraqi army. They had been encouraged by the British to consider themselves superior to the majority of Arab Iraqis by virtue of their profession of Christianity. The British also had used them for retaliatory operations against the Kurds, in whose lands most of the Assyrians had settled. Pro-British, they had been apprehensive of Iraqi independence. (Source: About.com: Iraq: Historical Setting, Library of Congress Country Study, Iraq as an Independent Monarchy)
Here is the short video of Iraq when the future looked much more stable and prosperous (at least to British documentary makers).
Across Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and India, enthusiasm for nationalism and socialism unfortunately accompanied the end of European colonialism. New presidents and prime ministers were usually children of elites with planning or economics degrees from Cambridge, Oxford, and elite universities in France or the U.S.. Most were eager to “modernize” backward colonial economies with national plans and socialist policies.
The Commanding Heights,
both the documentary
and the book
, tells the history of enthusiasm for planning after World Wars I and II, especially for planning the “commanding heights” of the economy. This six hour documentary is divided into three two-hour segments that are on YouTube. PBS separately maintains a website
with video clips and articles organized by country and topic.
The first segment includes the Hayek and Keynes debates over the role of markets versus government in managing modern economies.
The short segment below from The Commanding Heights, on India after independence illustrates the sad dynamics disrupting economic life in many former British colonies. Iraq, Egypt, and other African and Middle East governments, following advice of western-trained development economists, tried to manage their economies from the top down.