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IRAQ: In the Family

3 minute read

During World War I, Great Britain commissioned the proud Hashemites, an old Mecca family, to lead the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Turks. To reward the Hashemites at war’s end, the British carved up the Turkish empire, installed Hashemites as rulers over two vast chunks of it. Thus were Jordan and Iraq (formerly Mesopotamia) brought awkwardly into the world. The grateful Hashemites have remained loyal to Britain. Until 1948, they remained loyal to each other as well. Then Jordan’s Abdullah, warrior hero of World War I, defied the Arab League by annexing Arab Palestine for himself. Iraq, along with the rest of the Arab world, has been snubbing Jordan ever since.

Last week Iraq’s King Feisal II and his cousin, Jordan’s King Hussein, Abdullah’s grandson, got together in Baghdad to patch up the spat. Both are 18, and new to their thrones; they acceded on the same day last spring (TIME, May 11). Neither had anything to do with the bickerings; they were away studying at England’s Harrow during most of it. In the hot sun at Baghdad airport, they kissed in the Arab fashion, rode off together in a scarlet coach drawn by six white horses. Iraqi chieftains from far-flung oases came to Baghdad to pump the hand of the handsome visitor from Jordan. Feisal ordered a five-hour military show for his pistol-toting cousin. At European-style banquets, while diplomats and ministers drank wine, the cousins solemnly sipped Coca-Cola, decorated each other with the highest orders of their lands.

While the young kings appeared before cheering crowds together, their Premiers were hard at work, hammering out the principles of a new economic pact. Afterward, officials said that they had reached “full agreement” on all the major financial, economic and trade problems they discussed. Visas might be abolished, customs barriers might come down.

What would a real rapprochement mean? First of all, it could be the first step toward realizing an old Arab dream: unification of all the Arab lands on the “fertile crescent” between Iran and the Mediterranean. More immediate, perhaps, was a threat to British influence in the Middle East. Iraq relies on Britain for oil markets; Jordan relies on Britain for just about everything. If oil-wealthy Iraq lent money to impoverished Jordan, and overcrowded Jordan resettled Palestine refugees in Iraq, where they would speed Iraq’s own development, the two nations might find themselves less dependent on the British. That kind of decision is a long way off for two young Harrovians. They decided to meet again in August, this time on Hussein’s home grounds.

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