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Faisal I of Iraq

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Faisal I of Iraq

Faisal I
King Faisal of Iraq in 1933
King of Syria
Reign 8 March 1920 – 24 July 1920
Predecessor Military occupation
Successor Monarchy abolished
Prime Ministers
King of Iraq
Reign 23 August 1921 – 8 September 1933
Predecessor Military occupation
Successor Ghazi I
Prime Ministers
Born (1885-05-20)20 May 1885[1][2]
Mecca, Ottoman Empire[1][2]
Bern, Switzerland
Burial Royal Mausoleum, Adhamiyah[3]
Spouse Huzaima bint Nasser
Issue Princess Azza of Iraq
Princess Rajiha of Iraq
Princess Raifi'a of Iraq
King Ghazi I of Iraq
Full name
Faisal bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashimi
House Hashemite
Father Hussein bin Ali
Mother Abdliya bint Abdullah
Religion Sunni Islam[4]

Faisal I bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashimi, (Arabic: فيصل بن الحسين بن علي الهاشمي‎, Fayṣal al-Awwal ibn al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī al-Hāshimī; 20 May 1885[1][2] or 1883[5] – 8 September 1933) was King of the Arab Kingdom of Syria or Greater Syria in 1920, and was King of Iraq from 23 August 1921 to 1933. He was a member of the Hashemite dynasty.

Faisal fostered unity between Sunni and Shiite Muslims to encourage common loyalty and promote pan-Arabism in the goal of creating an Arab state that would include Iraq, Syria and the rest of the Fertile Crescent. While in power, Faisal tried to diversify his administration by including different ethnic and religious groups in offices. However, Faisal’s attempt at pan-Arab nationalism may have contributed to the isolation of certain religious groups.


  • Early life 1
  • First World War and Arab Revolt 2
  • Post World War I 3
    • Participation in peace conference 3.1
    • Greater Syria 3.2
    • Faisal–Weizmann Agreement 3.3
  • King of Syria and Iraq 4
  • Death 5
  • Marriage and children 6
  • Film 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10
  • Further reading 11

Early life

Faisal was born in Mecca, Ottoman Empire[2] (in present-day Saudi Arabia) in 1885,[2] the third son of Hussein bin Ali, the Grand Sharif of Mecca. He grew up in Istanbul and learned about leadership from his father. In 1913, he was elected as representative for the city of Jeddah for the Ottoman parliament.

In 1916, on a mission to Istanbul, Faisal visited Damascus twice. On one of these visits he received the Damascus Protocol, joined with the Al-Fatat group of Arab nationalists.

First World War and Arab Revolt

Emir Faisal's delegation at Versailles, during the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Left to right: Rustum Haidar, Nuri as-Said, Prince Faisal, Captain Pisani (behind Faisal), T. E. Lawrence, unknown person, Captain Tahsin Kadry.

On 23 October 1916 at Fakhri Pasha and looting the city.

Emir Faisal also worked with the Allies during World War I in their conquest of Greater Syria and the capture of Damascus in October 1918. Faisal became part of a new Arab government at Damascus, formed after the capture of that city in 1918.

Emir Faisal's role in the Arab Revolt was described by Lawrence in Seven Pillars of Wisdom. However the accuracy of that book, not least the importance given by the author to his own contribution during the Revolt, has been criticized by some historians, including David Fromkin.

Post World War I

Participation in peace conference

Kingdom of Syria in 1918

In 1919 Emir Faisal led the Arab delegation to the Paris Peace Conference and, with the support of the knowledgeable and influential Gertrude Bell, argued for the establishment of independent Arab emirates for the predominantly Arab areas previously held by the Ottoman Empire.

Greater Syria

British and Arab forces took Damascus in October 1918, which was followed by the Armistice of Mudros. With the end of Turkish rule that October, Faisal helped set up an Arab government, under British protection, in Arab controlled Greater Syria. In May 1919, elections were held for the Syrian National Congress, which met the following year.

Faisal–Weizmann Agreement

Faisal (right) with Chaim Weizmann in Syria, 1918.
Coronation of Prince Faisal as King of Iraq

On 4 January 1919, Emir Faisal and Dr. Balfour Declaration, a wartime document promising British support to the development of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, on which subject he made the following statement:

"We Arabs... look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. Our deputation here in Paris is fully acquainted with the proposals submitted yesterday by the Zionist Organisation to the Peace Conference, and we regard them as moderate and proper. We will do our best, insofar as we are concerned, to help them through; we will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home... I look forward, and my people with me look forward, to a future in which we will help you and you will help us, so that the countries in which we are mutually interested may once again take their places in the community of the civilised peoples of the world."

These promises were not immediately fulfilled, in some cases not until after the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel,[8][9] but once Arab states were granted autonomy from the European powers, years after the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement, and these new Arab nations were recognized by the Europeans and the U.N., Weizmann argued that since the fulfillment was kept eventually, the agreement for a Jewish homeland in Palestine still held.[9] In truth, however, this hoped-for partnership had little chance of success and was a dead letter by late 1920. Faisal had hoped that Zionist influence on British policy would be sufficient to forestall French designs on Syria, but Zionist influence could never compete with French interests. At the same time Faisal failed to enlist significant sympathy among his Arab elite supporters for the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, even under loose Arab suzerainty.

King of Syria and Iraq

On 7 March 1920, Faisal was proclaimed King of the Arab Kingdom of Syria (Greater Syria) by the Syrian National Congress government of Hashim al-Atassi. In April 1920, the San Remo conference gave France the mandate for Syria, which led to the Franco-Syrian War. In the Battle of Maysalun on 24 July 1920, the French were victorious and Faisal was expelled from Syria. He went to live in the United Kingdom in August of that year.

In March 1921, at the Cairo Conference, the British decided that Faisal was a good candidate for ruling the British Mandate of Iraq because of his apparent conciliatory attitude towards the Great Powers and based on advice from T. E. Lawrence, more commonly known as Lawrence of Arabia. But, in 1921, few people living in Iraq even knew who Faisal was or had ever heard his name. With help of British officials, including Gertrude Bell, he successfully campaigned among the Arabs of Iraq and won over popular support.

The British government, mandate holders in Iraq, were concerned at the unrest in the colony. They decided to step back from direct administration and create a monarchy to head Iraq while they maintained the mandate. Following a plebiscite showing 96% in favour, which was not really accurate, but created by a British council of ministers who wanted to put Faisal in power, Faisal agreed to become king. In August 1921 he was made king of Iraq.

King Faisal's statue at a square named after him at the end of Haifa Street in Baghdad.

He encouraged an influx of Syrian exiles and office-seekers to cultivate better Iraqi-Syrian relations. In order to improve education in the country Faisal employed doctors and teachers in the civil service and appointed Sati' al-Husri, the ex-Minister of Education in Damascus, as his director of the Ministry of Education. This influx resulted in much native resentment towards Syrians and Lebanese in Iraq.

Faisal also developed desert motor routes from Baghdad to Damascus, and Baghdad to Amman. This led to a great interest in the Mosul oilfield and eventually to his plan to build an oil pipeline to a Mediterranean port, which would help Iraq economically. This also led to an increase in Iraq’s desire for more influence in the Arab East. During his reign, Faisal made great effort to build Iraq’s army into a powerful force. He attempted to impose universal military service in order to achieve this, but this failed. Some see this as part of his plan to advance his pan-Arab agenda.

Royal Standard, as King of Syria.
Royal Standard, as King of Iraq.

In 1925, after the Syrian Druze uprising, the French government began consulting Faisal on Syrian matters. He advised the French to restore Hashemite power in Damascus. The French consulted Faisal because they were inspired by his success as an imposed leader in Iraq.

Faisal saw the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1930 as an obstacle to his pan-Arab agenda, although it provided Iraq with a degree of political independence. He wanted to make sure that the treaty had a built-in end date because the treaty further divided Syria and Iraq, the former which was under French control, and the latter under British rule. This prevented unity between two major Arab regions, which were important in Faisal’s pan-Arab agenda. Ironically, Arab nationalists in Iraq had a positive reception to the treaty because they saw this as progress, which seemed better than the Arab situation in Syria and Palestine.

Visit to Turkey, Mustafa Kemal

In 1932, the British mandate ended and Faisal was instrumental in making his country nominally independent. On 3 October, the Kingdom of Iraq joined the League of Nations.

In August 1933, incidents like the Simele massacre caused tension between the United Kingdom and Iraq. Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald ordered High Commissioner Francis Humphrys to Iraq immediately upon hearing of the killing of Assyrian Christians. The British government demanded that Faisal stay in Baghdad to punish the guilty – whether Christian or Muslim. In response, Faisal cabled to the Iraqi Legation in London: "Although everything is normal now in Iraq, and in spite of my broken health, I shall await the arrival of Sir Francis Humphrys in Bagdad, but there is no reason for further anxiety. Inform the British Government of the contents of my telegram."[10]

In July 1933, right before his death, Faisal went to London where he expressed his alarm at the current situation of Arabs that resulted from the Arab-Jewish conflict and the increased Jewish immigration to Palestine, as the Arab political, social, and economic situation was declining. He asked the British to limit Jewish immigration and land purchases.


King Faisal died on 8 September 1933, at the age of 48. The official cause of death was a heart attack while he was staying in Bern, Switzerland, for his general medical checkup. He was succeeded on the throne by his oldest son Ghazi. Many questions arose from his sudden death, as Swiss doctors assured that he was healthy and nothing serious was wrong with him. His private nurse also reported signs of arsenic poison before his death. Many of his companions noticed that day that he was suffering from pain in the abdomen (sign of poisoning) and not chest (a typical sign of heart attack). His body was quickly embalmed before performing a proper autopsy to find the exact result of death, a normal procedure in such situations.[11]

A square is named in his honour at the end of Haifa Street, Baghdad, where an equestrian statue of him stands. The statue was knocked down following the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958, but later restored.

Marriage and children

Faisal was married to Huzaima bint Nasser and had two sons and three daughters:[12]


He has been portrayed on film three times: in the 1951 film Sirocco (dealing with the Syrian insurrection against France), by Jeff Corey; David Lean's epic Lawrence of Arabia (1962), played by Alec Guinness, and in the unofficial sequel to Lawrence, A Dangerous Man: Lawrence After Arabia (1990) by Alexander Siddig. On video, he was portrayed in The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones: Chapter 19 The Winds of Change (1995) by Anthony Zaki.

See also


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^ a b c d e
  3. ^ Royal Ark
  4. ^ IRAQ – Resurgence In The Shiite World – Part 8 – Jordan & The Hashemite Factors , APS Diplomat Redrawing the Islamic Map, 14 Feb 2005
  5. ^
  6. ^ Lawrence, T.E. The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Wordworth Editions Limited, 1997. p. 76.
  7. ^ Faisal of Arabia, Jerusalem Post
  8. ^ Faisal's Acceptance of the Balfour Declaration Jewish Virtual Library
  9. ^ a b Official records of the Second Session of the General Assembly (A/364/Add.2 PV.21), United Nations, 8 July 1947
  10. ^ Time Magazine, 28 August 1933
  11. ^ 78 years after the murder of King Faisal the First, Al Janabi, K., Iraq Law Net, Iraq Al-Qanoun
  12. ^

External links

Further reading

Faisal I of Iraq
Born: 20 May 1883 Died: September 8 1933
Regnal titles
New creation
King of Syria
8 March 1920 – 24 July 1920
Kingdom abolished
French mandate established(Subhi Barakat as President of Syria)
New creation
King of Iraq
23 August 1921 – 8 September 1933
Succeeded by
Ġāzī I
Titles in pretence
New creation
Kingdom abolished
French mandate established
King of Syria
24 July 1920 - 8 September 1933
Reason for succession failure:
Kingdom abolished in 1920
Succeeded by
Ġāzī I
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