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The Arabs and the Axis: 1933-1940.

In his latest book, the Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years, Bernard Lewis has rekindled the debate over the Arabs' relations with the Axis powers during the 1930s. While it has been generally accepted that the Palestinian leader Hajj Amin al-Husayni turned toward Germany as a result of British intransigence in pursuing the Jewish national home (JNH) policy and the employment of brutal and harsh measures to suppress the Palestinian revolt of 1936-39, Lewis wrote that "as far back as 1933, immediately after Hitler's accession to power, the British-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husayni, made contact with the German consul to declare his support and offer his help."(1) Lewis explained the Arab enthusiasm for the Axis in terms of the deterioration of the Arab democratic institutions during the interwar period, the Arab ideological attraction to the German and Italian models of achieving national unity by force, and the Axis powers' opposition to Britain, France and the Jews. While paying little attention to many of the important details of that unfortunate episode in the Arab modern history and failing to verify other important facts upon which his generalizations were based, Prof. Lewis made no mention of the pro-Zionist policy of the Nazis between 1933 and 1939.

There is no doubt that certain Arab statesmen and activists, especially in the Eastern part of the Arab World, began to turn toward Germany after the outbreak of the Palestinian revolt, and the French refusal to ratify the Franco-Syrian treaty which was negotiated and initialed in Paris in 1936. The intensifying radical mood in the mashriq reached a climactic point during the Iraqi crisis in early 1941 and the subsequent Iraqi-British war, where the Arabs' siding with the Germans, or rather the Arabs' pursuit of German support, became unmistakably visible. Was this shift in Arab attitudes an expression of ideological conviction or a mere reflection of the old game of real politic? And is it true that the Palestinians initiated their first contacts with the Nazis in 1933? If so, why? Finally, what contribution, if any, did the Germans make to the Arab movement during the 1930s?

The development of the Arab radicals' relations with the Axis powers was in many respects the result of the deterioration of Arab ideological and political views of the West rather than the evolution of positive Arab views of the Axis. Germany was of course an ally of the Ottoman state during World War I, but only a few Arabists were still recalling this alliance with special sentiments in the 1930s. Among those who came to be known for their pro-German views were Shakib Arslan, who returned to his Swiss exile after a short sojourn in Syria in 1937, as well as 'Aziz All al-Misri and Muhammad Salih Harb, ministers of Ali Mahir's deposed government. A senior officer in the Ottoman army until 1915, al-Misri's fascination with Germany essentially had military roots. This fascination, however, posed no hindrance to the cultivation of amicable relations between him and the British when he was briefly appointed by Sharif Husayn to command forces of the Arab Revolt, or later during his military career in Egypt.(2) Salih Harb was a pro-Ottoman officer in the Egyptian Border Guards who defected to the Ottoman side in the Libyan liberated zone where the Germans were also active.(3) Upon the deterioration of relations between Mahir's government and the British after the outbreak of World War II, both Harb and al-Misri seemed predisposed to develop a pro-German outlook based on the belief that a German victory would lead to the freeing of Egypt from British domination. Arslan was perhaps a different case. Germany was his first exile after the Ottoman defeat, where he and his idol Anwar Pasha established ties with German Foreign Office officials.(4) But these ties were of little if any relevance to the Arab interwar movement, firstly for being on the margin of the German political machine, and secondly for the absence of a German Arab policy, even after the Nazi rise to power.

The expressions of admiration for the German model of the 1930s were equally limited to a small circle of Arab intellectuals.(5) For these Arabists, it was the efficiency of the Nazi state, its ability to free Germany from the constraints of the Versailles Peace Treaty, and to salvage the German spirit from the defeat and chaotic times of the 1920s, that had the greatest positive impact. The new Arab intellectuals, reacting to the endemic political instability of the Arab states, tended to believe that an Arab renaissance could not be accomplished without reassertion of the state power. Also related to the internalization of the German model by some Arab intellectuals was the rise of the exclusivist vision of Arab nationalism. Implicit in the over-Arabization of Arabism was a rising affirmation of an imagined absolute loyalty to the Arab umma, which reflected increasing suspicions on the part of the Arab radicals of the non-Arab minorities. The pan-Arabists' celebration of the Iraqi military's suppression of the Assyrian revolt in 1933 signaled the beginning of a trend that reached its climax in the Ba'th Party's covenant where founders of the party envisaged the expulsion of non-Arab minorities if they proved disloyal to the Arab umma.(6) But the Arab ideological scene was too complex to be translated solely in terms of fascination with German nationalism and the state model. Despite their deepening opposition to the imperialist powers, the new Arab intellectuals were by and large more exposed to Franco-British culture and political thought than to their German counterparts. What came to make a difference was the convergence of the Italo-German political encroachment, spearheaded by an aggressive propaganda campaign, with the deepening of Arab nationalist, anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist feelings. To be sure, the Italian penetration of the Arab World preceded the German interest by several years.

A late entrant to the arena, Italy's ambition to join the imperialist club was first expressed in a body of literature, journals, and imperialist cultural societies.(7) In her search for a share in the economic exploits of imperialism and for national aggrandizement, Fascist Italy saw herself as the reincarnation of the Roman empire and the inheritor of its domain.(8) Not surprisingly, the Mediterranean world would become the primary target for the Italian imperialist enterprise. In September 1930, Italy's campaign to consolidate and expand her domination of Libya reached a dramatic point with the capture of Shaykh 'Umar al-Mukhtar, the Libyan resistance leader. The subsequent execution of al-Mukhtar and the widespread Italian atrocities in Libya, generated strong Arab and Islamic reactions. The most active in the anti-Italian movement was Shakib Arslan.(9) Yet, a few years later, Arslan's desperate search for a Western ally would lead to a radical shift in his views of Italy.

From the beginning of the 1930s, the Italians adopted a visible Arab-Islamic policy, aiming at dislodging the influence of their main European opponents from the Mediterranean basin. L'Italia Musulman was a policy of "peaceful" and cheap expansion that envisioned an empire built with support and consent of the Mediterranean peoples, Arabs and Muslims. Inaugurating this novel imperialist approach, the Italian king, accompanied by his wife, paid a visit to Egypt in 1933, which was meant to signal Italy's friendship and respect for the Arabs and Muslims.(10) The following year, the Italian Foreign Ministry marked the advent of wireless broadcasting power by launching the Arabic service of Radio Bari.(11) The main themes of Radio Bari's propaganda were the glorification of modern Italy, support for the Arab national struggle against the French and the British, and highlighting Italy's readiness to assist the Arab liberation movement. In late 1934-early 1935, Rome was the site of an Italian-backed Eastern Student Conference through which Mussolini's government sought to penetrate and orchestrate Muslim and Arab youth nationalist movements. This classical game of imperialist rivalry attracted the attention of a few Arab-Islamist activists, most notably Shakib Arslan and his aide and friend Ihsan al-Jabiri. In a widely resonating and highly controversial move, Arslan and al-Jabiri met with Mussolini in February 1934.(12) Faced with angry reactions from Libyan nationalists and pro-British Arab circles, Arslan justified his step in terms of attempting to improve conditions in Libya and enlisting the Italian support for the Arab national struggle.

Although Arslan's reply to his critics was not particularly convincing, the Italian option was beginning to look more appealing for certain Arabs after the failure of Britain and the League of Nations to stop the Italian conquest of Abyssinia in 1935-36. Under these conditions, secret contacts were initiated between Hajj Amin al-Husayni and the Italian consul in Jerusalem in 1937, in the wake of the British crackdown on the Palestinian national movement and prior to the mufti's escape to Lebanon.(13) Another Arab leader who was suspected of establishing links with the Italians was the Muslim Brothers' leader Hasan al-Banna.(14) But the expediency and pragmatism which shaped some Arabs' view of Italy could not conceal the reality of Italy's threats to the Arab World. Italian forces were after all still occupying Libya and Abyssinia, while their ambitions in Egypt and Tunisia, together with their penetration of Yemen and the approaches to Saudi Arabia, were becoming too ominously conspicuous to be ignored. It was, therefore, to Germany that some Arab nationalists would look in their search for a Western ally in the struggle against the West. Primarily, Arab attempts at reaching out to Germany stemmed from their deepening concern at the rapid increase of German Jewish immigration to Palestine.

Shortly after the Nazi rise to power in Germany, the mufti met twice with Heinrich Wolf, the German consul in Jerusalem, in March and April 1933. The mufti spoke approvingly of the Nazi's Jewish policies, particularly of the anti-Jewish boycott in Germany. Yet, especially in the second meeting, the mufti, along with other Palestinian personalities present in the meeting, tried to impress upon the German consul the Palestinian demand for the termination of Jewish emigration from Germany to Palestine.(15) The mufti's approach to Wolf was most likely motivated by the mixed feelings that Nazi Germany elicited among the Palestinians. The Nazis, on the one hand, were known for their anti-Jewish ideology; on the other hand, however, their ascendance led to a significant increase in the German Jewish immigration to Palestine. Germany was not yet seen as a world power, nor as a possible anti-British ally. In 1933 and well until after the outbreak of the Palestinian general strike in April 1936, the mufti's relations with the British mandate authorities were maintained with a fair degree of normalcy. Although committed to the Palestinian national goals, the mufti was not particularly supportive of the Istiqlalists' call for noncooperation with the mandate government during the Palestinian general assembly on 26 March 1933, and played no role in the Palestinian protests seven months later.(16) At any rate, the mufti's approach to consul Wolf was to no avail.

The Nazi racist ideology coupled with a foreign policy based on the strategy of reaching an understanding with Britain made the Nazi regime largely disinterested in Arab affairs. Indeed, Hitler's Germany saw her vital sphere in the Soviet and East European steppes rather than the Arab East. This German disinterest in the Arab question was translated in a German pro-Zionist policy, leading to the signing of the Haavara (Transfer) agreement of August 1933 with the Zionists. The agreement regulated and facilitated Jewish emigration from Germany to Palestine and gave the Zionists a monopoly over the German-Palestinian trade.(17) And in the September 1936 understanding between Hitler and Mussolini, the Italians were granted a freehand in the Mediterranean basin and the Arab World.(18) No significant change would be effected in Germany's Arab policy until the summer of 1938.

Following the conflagration of the Palestinian general strike in 1936, the Arab Chamber of Commerce in Jerusalem submitted a petition to the German consul, urging a revision of the Haavara agreement and opening trade with Germany to the Arabs. In view of the Palestinian strike and the Arab nationalist attempts to impose an economic boycott on the Jews, the Palestinian petition warned that the continuation of the Zionist monopoly of trade with Germany would result in a Palestinian boycott of German goods.(19) But despite the support rendered to the Palestinian petition by consul Dohle, Berlin made no move to revise the terms of the Haavara agreement.

Intermittently, Berlin was to come under pressure from German diplomats in the Arab World, who were witnessing the increasing radicalization of the Arab political scene and what appeared as an opportunity for Germany to acquire a foothold in a region totally dominated by the British and the French. One highly active member of the German diplomatic corps in the Arab East was Fritz Grobba, the emissary in Baghdad. An Arabic-speaking career diplomat with "Lawrencian dreams", Grobba was posted to Iraq in 1932. After a short recall to Germany in 1935, Grobba returned to Iraq brain-washed, with apparent commitment to the Nazi enterprise.(20) His egalitarian demeanor, fondness of the Arab East, together with the dedicated support of a charming and energetic wife, attracted to his receptions Iraqis of various backgrounds - politicians, journalists, bureaucrats and army officers.

In January 1937, a Palestinian delegation including 'Izzat Darwaza, Mu'in al-Madi and 'Awni 'Abd al-Hadi met with Grobba in Baghdad.(21) The Palestinians presented once more their earlier appeal for the cessation of German Jewish immigration to Palestine and demanded German backing for their nationalist struggle and the establishment of an Arab state in Palestine. Grobba responded by pointing out that the issue of Jewish immigration was now being reconsidered in Berlin, but could not commit his government to more than moral support for the Palestinians. During the following months, Grobba was repeatedly approached by Hikmat Sulayman, the Iraqi prime minister, as well as by Shaykh Yusuf Yasin, the Saudi deputy foreign minister, reiterating the Palestinian demands.(22) Concurrently, Dohle, the German consul in Jerusalem, presented Berlin with a situation assessment that raised alarm over the projected British plan for establishing a Jewish state in Palestine.(23) Clearly sympathetic to the Palestinian side of the conflict, Dohle critically questioned the 1933 German agreement with the Zionists.

The Germans became aware of the British policy for the founding of a Jewish state in Palestine at least one month before the official declaration of the partition plan contained in the Peel Report of July 1937. Coupled with their realization of the enormous impact that the Palestinian question was leaving on Arab opinion, this development led to the crystallization of a new German position on Palestine. In a memorandum reflecting Nazi animosity toward world Jewry, rather than a real shift in attitude to the Arab cause, the German foreign minister expressed unequivocal objection to the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, mainly because such a state, while lacking the capacity to provide a home for all Jews, would provide a new center of power for world Jewry.(24) Since it was perceived to be in the German national interest to keep Jewish forces dispersed, strengthening of the Arab World was envisioned as a balancing factor to the increasing influence of international Jewry. Designed to be publicized in the Arab World, the new German position encouraged the mufti to meet with Consul Dohle, proposing to dispatch a personal envoy to Germany to discuss the German-Arab and Islamic interests in full.(25) Dohle, aware of his government's policy of avoiding intervention in Arab-British relations, was not receptive. Unable to see the fine line between the inherent Nazi obsession with the Jewish question and the real existence of a German Arab policy, the mufti's proposal marked the first step in a long, convoluted terrain that would take him all the way to Berlin. Yet, the mufti's friendly approach to Dohle, like his meeting with the Italian consul, came after the outbreak of the Palestinian revolt and in a period of drastic deterioration in Anglo-Arab relations.

After escaping the British crackdown in Lebanon in October 1937, the mufti resumed his attempts to establish links with Berlin. The man he chose to carry out this task was Sa'id 'Abd al-Fattah al-Imam, an active Syrian Arab nationalist. Al-Imam was trained as a dentist in Germany where he grew to admire, and in certain ways identify with, the German nationalist ideal. Upon returning to Syria, he founded the Arab Club of Damascus, a radical pan-Arabist forum which was regarded by British officials as a pro-Nazi organization.(26) Al-Imam reached Germany in November 1937, where he presented to German officials an Arab proposal which included demands for German propaganda, political and financial support for the Arab independence movement in exchange for Arab efforts to develop trade with Germany, the creation of a pro-German atmosphere in the Arab World, cooperation in the struggle against the spread of communism, and continuation of violent activities in the French-occupied Arab region.(27) Beside the incompatibility between the two sides, the Germans were not yet prepared to take a practical step in the Arab direction. Although German officials were coming to see the potential of the Arab movement for their country's imperial interests, the German Arab policy was still constrained by the policy of assuring the Italians while avoiding a rupture with the British. The Nazi attitude toward the Palestinian question at the time can be gauged from Hitler's intervention in the debate that had been raging between various German agencies over the Haavara agreement and the German Jewish emigration. Confident of the failure of the Partition Plan for Palestine and the British abandonment of the idea of establishing a Jewish state, Hitler re-affirmed in January 1938 Germany's commitment to the continuation of Jewish emigration from Germany to Palestine and to the Haavara agreement.(28)

Tension in Europe began to intensify from the early months of 1938, first after the German annexation of Austria, and then over the unmistakable German move toward Czechoslovakia. German-British relations did not develop as Berlin had wished, and Britain continued to oppose German hegemony in Europe. Bracing themselves for a possible confrontation with Britain, the Germans became more interested in encouraging instability in the British empire, and their policy toward Palestine was thus modified, but only slightly. Abwehr, the German Counter Intelligence, whose Admiral Canaris had met secretly with the mufti in Beirut earlier in 1938, began extending financial help to the mufti in August of the same year, and seems to have unsuccessfully attempted to smuggle arms to the Palestinian rebels.(29) One is, however, tempted to believe that German support had no marked impact on the course of the Palestinian revolt, since the revolt had already reached its height before Germany entered the arena. Where the Germans were really leaving their impact was in the course of Jewish emigration to Palestine. Throughout 1938 and well until the outbreak of World War II, the Gestapo and other German agencies cooperated with, assisted and encouraged Zionist agents in Germany and Austria, in order to speed up the emigration of German Jews and secure their entry to Palestine by legal as well as illegal means.(30) In the gap that separated the policy of extending support to the Palestinians from that which encouraged a Jewish influx into Palestine lay neither a belief in the Arab cause nor in Jewish rights, but rather German imperialist interests, as refined and immoral as imperialism could be.

Concurrently, negotiations were proceeding between Germany and Saudi Arabia over a Saudi request to purchase German arms and a German wish to establish diplomatic relations with the Saudis. Like most Arab politicians, the Saudi monarch was conscious of the power changes in Europe. In late 1937, perhaps out of his dissatisfaction with the quality and quantity of British-supplied arms to his country, or as a means of establishing relations with the German government, Ibn Sa'ud authorized Yusuf Yasin, his deputy foreign minister who was visiting Baghdad, to approach the agents of Otto Wolff's firm in order to purchase 1,500 German-made rifles.(31) Similar requests were made by Khalid al-Hud al-Qarqanni and Fu'ad Hamza, the king's advisors, during their separate visits to Berlin in early and mid 1938.(32) In both visits, the Saudi envoys broadened the discussion with their German interlocutors to cover other areas of possible German assistance to the Saudi state. Although not entirely explicit, Hamza gave an indication of the Saudi interest in establishing diplomatic ties with Berlin.

Ibn Sa'ud was not particularly a favorite of Nazi Germany. His close relations with Britain and what the Germans saw as insincerity in his dealing with the Palestinian question made him look unworthy of inviting British and Italian wrath, both of which regarded Saudi Arabia as within their sphere of influence. However, as the ominous signs of war loomed very large over Europe in late 1938, Germany became more interested in accommodating the Saudis. It was estimated in Berlin that the Saudi government would take a neutral position in case of a world war and Saudi Arabia would thus be an appropriate retreat for the German representative in Baghdad.(33) Consequently, Grobba was instructed to make an exploratory visit to Saudi Arabia, a journey he undertook on 17 January 1939. During his stay in Jedda, the Saudi distrust of the Italians looked unmistakably obvious to Grobba, and became more so after the Saudi government expelled the Italian air mission in February 1939. The positive impressions that Grobba got from his meetings with Ibn Sa'ud and his advisors, strengthened his belief in the necessity of an Arab policy for Germany.(34) Diplomatic relations were established between Saudi Arabia and Germany, and Grobba was accredited as the German representative in Jedda, in addition to his position in Baghdad, but the Saudi request for German arms lingered until June 1939.

Hamza, al-Qarqanni and Yasin were certainly closely connected to the wider Arab-Islamic interwar arena. Their allegiance to Ibn Sa'ud could not have precluded them from discussing the developments in the Saudi-German relations with other Arab Islamic figures such as the mufti of Jerusalem. In reality, the German policy toward the Arab movement was still largely unchanged, but the German signals were becoming too frequent to be ignored. On 28 April 1939, Hitler made a sharp attack on the Western powers' presence in the Arab World during a speech delivered to the Reichstag, singling out British policies in Palestine for the most violent expressions.(35) Although Hitler's remarks related to the German-British propaganda war in Europe, the speech left an electrifying impact on Arab opinion in general and the Palestinians in particular. Equally effective was the launching of Berlin Radio's Arabic service, for which the British-Zionist alliance was the favorite target.(36) The perception of a positively changing German Arab policy was reinforced by the warm reception that Hitler granted to Khalid al-Qarqanni when he visited Berlin in June 1939, and the German's belated approval of the Saudi request for arms? But the agreed deal was never concluded owing to the outbreak of war a few months later.(38) By year's end, Germany's unchallenged incursions in Europe precipitated an image of German invincibility among many Arabs, and seemed to turn the Arab nationalist vision of a West against the West into reality. Yet, despite the widely circulated belief of an Arab scramble and unreserved embrace of the Nazis, the Arab approaches to Germany after the outbreak of war were cautious and highly pragmatic.

In a strong letter to Iraqi P.M. Nuri al Sa'id in late 1939, Shakib Arslan, who was regarded as the most fervent pro-German Arab, wrote of his unequivocal preference for Arab neutrality.(39) While still uncompromising in his condemnation of the Western powers, Arslan believed that the Arabs had no particular interest in siding with Germany. The mufti too was circumspect in his assessment of the Arabs' approach to the war. His position was, however, more pragmatically defined and less determined to preserve neutrality than that of Arslan. According to Salah al-Din al-Sabbagh, the mufti believed that:

1. The Arabs, especially the Iraqis, while continuing to accommodate the British within the limits of the Anglo-Iraqi treaty, should avoid antagonizing the Axis. 2. The Iraqi army must be properly equipped and not be driven into unnecessary adventures. 3. The Arab forces should avoid entering the war and preserve their strength from being bled for the sake of Britain's victory. The victory of Britain is not in the Arabs' interest, for Britain would turn against the Arabs as she had done after World War I. 4. If Russia, Japan and Italy joined the war on the German side, and their armies were subsequently to reach Egypt and Iran, all the Arab countries must declare revolt against the British and their allies. . . ."(40)

Although uncommitted to the Axis, what was lacking in this analysis was a serious evaluation of the dangers that the Arabs might face if Germany emerged as the victorious side of the war, especially when the Third Reich was evolving-at least in Europe- as an imperialist power.

The mufti of Jerusalem arrived in Baghdad in October 1939, escaping what he believed to be an imminent Anglo-French understanding to arrest him in Lebanon. Upon his arrival, the mufti promised not to interfere in internal Iraqi politics or Iraqi-British relations.(41) In February 1940, Prime Minister Nuri al-Sa'id presented his resignation to 'Abd al-Ilah, the regent, after a series of political crises that seemed to have extremely weakened the government. 'Abd al-Ilah, upon a suggestion from Nuri - his political mentor - called on Rashid 'Ali al-Gaylani to take office, hoping that Nuri would become the foreign minister of the new government. With his unblemished and nationalist image, al-Gaylani was in fact sought as a cover for a pro-British, unpopular foreign policy during the critical war years.(42)

When news of the projected government reached the army, now a major party in Iraqi politics, its leading officers split into two blocs. Husayn Fawzi, the chief of staff, Amin al-'Umari and 'Aziz Yamulki objected to the inclusion of Nuri and his ally Taha al-Hashimi in the Cabinet, and to prove to the regent the seriousness of their message they put their troops on alert. Infuriated by Fawzi's demands, Colonels Salah al-Din al-Sabbagh, Fahmi Sa'id, Mahmud Salman and Kamil Shabib, four other influential officers whose principal loyalty was to al-Hashimi, decided to resist their chief of staff.(43) On the night of 21 February, the army troops in the Baghdad military area were divided into two opposing sides, the first at al-Washwash military camp and the second at al-Rashid. Conscious of the tragic consequences that a confrontation could bring about, and that his was the less likely side to win, Husayn Fawzi backed down. In the meantime, al-Gaylani rejected the offer presented to him, declaring to the regent that the mess created by Nuri should be cleared by no one but him. In the light of these developments, 'Abd al-Ilah had no choice but to re-nominate Nuri to form the government. But Nuri's highly untenable position could not sustain his government for more than five weeks in office. In the event, Fawzi, al-'Umari, and Yamulki were dismissed and the bloc of four Colonels, known in British and Iraqi circles as the "Golden Square," emerged as the most powerful "political" arbitrator in the country.

It is unclear why Fawzi and his followers opposed Nuri and al-Hashimi. One explanation was that besides their personal dislike of Nuri, their growing intolerance of al-Hashimi's influence with al-Sabbagh and his associates, their move was also encouraged by the mufti.(44) At the heart of this explanation was the assumption that the mufti had already resolved to take the German side of the war and was, therefore, keen to preclude Nuri, with his impeccable Britishness, from occupying the influential post of foreign minister. Amin al-'Umari was also an old friend and Ottoman army comrade of the mufti. This theory, logical as it sounds, invites one important question at least: had the mufti been an accomplice in Fawzi's mutiny, his involvement would not have escaped Nuri and would certainly have resulted in the deterioration of their relations. In contrast, immediately after the end of February crisis, the mufti was called upon by Nuri to support his last hour attempt to re-establish the state's integrity by proposing some fundamental constitutional and political reforms.(45) If one was to disregard the idea of his collusion with Fawzi, the mufti's entry into the Iraqi political entanglement appeared to have been initiated by none other than Nuri.

Upon the resignation of Nuri on 28 March 1940, the mufti was again asked to help facilitate the transition of government to Rashid 'Ali al-Gaylani. A strong and amicable understanding had evolved between the two since the spontaneously warm reception that al-Gaylani had afforded the mufti in October 1939. Their relations might have also been augmented by mutual, though disproportionate, distrust of the British. To ensure the success of his friend, the mufti arranged for a meeting between al-Gaylani and the four Colonels, during which the mufti's Islamic and Arabist moral authority was employed to the full for the sake of establishing trust between the two parties.(46) Confident of the army's support, al-Gaylani formed a powerful and highly representative government, involving Naji al-Swaydi, Naji Shawkat, Nuri al-Sa'id, Taha al-Hashimi, Sadiq al-Bassam and Ra'uf al-Bahrani. But though this government was the first to reach power in a constitutional and peaceful climate since Sidqi's coup of October 1936, it marked a period during which the state's legitimacy was substantially undermined by years of internal strife, coups and countercoups, and the unscrupulous manner in which Nuri al-Sa'id conducted the affairs of Iraq. It also coincided with rise of the "Golden Square," unchallenged inside the army and in alliance with al-Gaylani and the mufti.

Two extremist views have dominated the studies of the Four Colonels' role in Iraqi politics. One was a romantically-drawn picture of an idealist military group, pan-Arabist and Iraqi nationalist, that fell victim to an unholy alliance of profligate politicians and the British imperialist arrogance.(47) The tragic death of the four officers, and the subsequent publishing of al-Sabbagh's memoirs in 1956, reinforced the mythical perception of their contribution to the Arab movement. The other view, which was at least partially derived from the British diplomatic correspondence of the period, portrayed the Colonels as a radically rabid group which constituted a fifth column for the German grand designs in the Arab East. This perspective is fittingly represented by Reeva Simon's study of Iraq Between the Two World Wars. In her enthusiastic theorizing, Simon argued that Germanophilia was a deep-seated trait of the Iraqi military, rooted in the Ottoman-German alliance during World War I and the German influence in the Ottoman army.(48) The German military and nationalist spirit was therefore ingrained in the Iraqi army as it was in the state education and propaganda. Both views are essentially non-historical.

It is an undisputed fact that the officers held pan-Arabist convictions, tempered with Islamic outlook.(49) But their Arabism was not particularly unique in the Iraqi political climate of late 1930s. As Mustafa al-'Umari, the justice minister, once said to C.J. Edmonds, the British advisor of the Iraqi Interior Ministry, "the leading men of Iraq had made up their minds that in this modern world of force-politics a small state of under four million inhabitants had no prospect of survival, and their only hope lay in pushing a vigorous policy aiming at a pan-Arab League."(50) The Four Colonels were after all children of an era where ideas were greatly influenced by the Arab-Islamic reform movement. Their world was shaped by the modernization epoch, the technological developments, the discourse of progress and the belief in the power of the state. It is doubtful whether they ever had a close acquaintance with German officers during World War I, since they were rather young Ottoman Lieutenants who had little to do with high-ranking German advisors. What is certain is that throughout their military careers in Iraq until the outbreak of war with Britain in May 1941, none of the four Colonels took part or became involved in initiating relations with the Germans. In 1940-41, contacts with the Axis powers were handled by the mufti and the government, while the officers were mainly at the receiving end of this political imbroglio. If the Ottoman experience was to have any influence, it should have become more apparent in the political attitude of Jamil al-Madfa'i, All Jawdat al-Ayyubi, Mawlud Mukhlis, Taha al-Hashimi, Arshad al-'Umari, Nut al-Din Mahmud, and Isma'il Namiq, who were senior to al-Sabbagh and his friends in the Ottoman army and proved to be either strongly pro-British, or at least suspicious of the German enterprise.(51)

The idealistic image of the "Golden Square" is equally fictitious. In many respects, the four Colonels were soldiers-turned-politicians. During their alliance with Nuri al-Sa'id, they were fully aware of, and sometimes actively participating in, his plotting to silence opponents, the cover-up of his possible involvement in the "murder" of King Ghazi, and his contrivance to install 'Abd al-Ilah as Regent. They made no objection to the termination of relations with Germany in 1939, were witness to Nuri's attempt to declare war on the British side, and participated in the elimination of their Arabist Chief of Staff and other army colleagues who opposed Nuri.(52) In the end, what became unmistakably obvious was the destructive effect that their involvement in politics had on the morale of their troops, and the consequent neglect on the part of the senior officers of their military duties, a situation that contributed to the utter Iraqi defeat in May 1941.

Until the crucial meeting in which the mufti introduced al-Gaylani, the association between the mufti and the four Colonels was not yet consummated. They admired and respected his Arab nationalist role and position, but - like him - could not anticipate his involvement in Iraqi political affairs. Yet, the Iraqi journalist and Arab-nationalist, Yunis al-Sab'awi, the officers' close friend, was a frequent visitor to the mufti's house.(53) After the ascendance of al-Gaylani to power, relations between the officers, the mufti, and the prime minister developed rapidly, placing Rashid 'All al-Gaylani in the forefront of the events that led to the May 1941 war. In the background and in the complex character of al-Gaylani lay a significant portion of the ingredients which came to delineate the route to that war.

Rashid 'Ali al-Gaylani was born in 1892 to a family with distant relations to naqib al-ashraf.(54) The Gaylanis claimed descent from the founder of al-Gaylaniyya Sufi tariqa and were thus guardians of its immense waqf in Baghdad. But Rashid's immediate family was not among the privileged Gaylanis, since his grandfather lost the position of naqib al-ashraf in the Nineteenth Century. While a minister in Yasin al-Hashimi's government of 1935-36, Rashid 'Ali enforced his guardianship on the Gaylaniyya waqfthrough the power and influence of his position. From the highly religious environment of his childhood, al-Gaylani moved to the Law School, where his graduation in 1914 entitled him to join the Ottoman waqf bureaucracy. After the Ottoman withdrawal from Mosul, in which he was last posted, he returned to Baghdad where he practiced and taught law until appointed a judge in the Court of Appeal at the age of twenty-seven.(55) His debut in politics coincided with his appointment as a minister of justice in Yasin al-Hashimi's first government. He then joined al-Hashimi in founding al-Ikha' al-Watani Party, becoming one of its most prominent leaders. After several years in opposition, he formed his first government in 1933 with the encouragement and backing of Yasin al-Hashimi. Al-Gaylani, like his late ally al-Hashimi, was not particularly friendly to the British, but when in office he maintained good working relations with British officials and advisors.

Tawfiq al-Swaydi, a political opponent of al-Gaylani, wrote of his conservative attitude, traditionalism, support for law and order, and preference for a system based on the leadership of a just ruler rather than democracy.(56) In a British biography of him, his term as a judge in the Court of Appeal was noted positively.(57) Yet, in a disparaging report, written at the end of February 1941, C.J. Edmonds described al-Gaylani as a reckless, obstinate and unscrupulous politician "who would set fire to the bazaars in order to steal a handkerchief under cover of the smoke."(58) This image was, of course, the result of the turbulent times of early 1941 as British officials in Iraq recalled al-Gaylani's adventurous and conspiratorial activities with the tribal forces, as well as his support in crushing the Assyrian revolt in 1933. But reckless, obstinate, and unscrupulous as he may have been, al-Gaylani demonstrated on more than one occasion the political acumen of a skillful Iraqi ruler. After the sudden death of King Faysal in 1933, he conducted a smooth transition of the Crown, a difficult and unprecedented experience for an infant state.(59) Again, after the resignation of Nuri in late March 1940, al-Gaylani's awareness of the unstable conditions of the country made him request that the leading politicians agree in writing to render their support to his government and give him the freedom to restore unity and confidence in state and country.(60) His request was approvingly accepted.

By mid-summer of 1940, the Iraqi government of Rashid 'Ali al-Gaylani was struggling to cope with the deterioration in Anglo-Iraqi relations, and deepening Iraqi and Arab internal divisions. Together with the unexpected fall of France, the Italian entry in the war, and fears of Turkish ambitions in northern Syria and Iraq, this led Baghdad to make a secret decision to establish contacts with the Axis powers. The Italian diplomatic mission was still functioning in Iraq, but the Arab target was Germany rather than Italy. The first initiative in that direction came from Naji Shawkat, al-Gaylani's Minister of Justice.

Muhammad Naji Shawkat (1893-1980) was born to an Arabized family of Turkish and Caucasian origins in the Iraqi town of al-Kut where his father was stationed as provincial governor.(61) Concurrent with Naji's conclusion of his school education in Baghdad, his father was elected to the Ottoman parliament of 1909, thereby providing him with the opportunity to join the Ottoman Law School in Istanbul. Naji Shawkat was the assistant general prosecutor in the Iraqi city of al-Hila when World War I broke out, upon which he interrupted his legal career and joined the Ottoman army as a reserve officer. After two years of involvement in the Ottoman military defense of Iraq, Shawkat was captured by the advancing British troops in March 1917. He was subsequently taken to a British Indian prison camp where he, like many other detained Arab officers, was offered the choice of joining the Arab Revolt, an offer he promptly accepted.

After the cessation of hostilities, Shawkat was appointed as a legal advisor to Yasin al-Hashimi's Diwan al-Shura, the infant military command of the Damascus Arab government. Following the French occupation of Syria, he returned to Iraq where he took an administrative post until chosen for his first ministerial position in 1928. In 1932, Shawkat was called on by Faysal to head a non-partisan government that was intended to clear the political congestion which accompanied the signing of the Anglo-Iraqi treaty. Faced with strong opposition from within the Iraqi political establishment and the anti-treaty campaign, Shawkat's government lasted only five months. Thereafter, he was appointed as representative of Iraq in Ankara where he cultivated strong relations with the Turkish ruling circles and developed a sense of admiration for modern Turkey. Shortly after his return to government in 1938, he was forced to resign from the Ministry of Interior by Nuri al Sa'id over allegations of his involvement with the anti-British demonstrations that followed the suspicious death of King Ghazi. Shawkat was a late arrival to the Arab nationalist scene. Compared to his brother, Dr. Sami Shawkat, the ardent Arab nationalist and cofounder of the al-Muthanna Club, Naji was a statesman with little ideological concern. He was not exposed to European cultural influences, nor was he known for his interest in international affairs. In Iraq of the interwar period, his expertise was largely limited to affairs of local government. A typical ex-Ottoman Arabist and Iraqi nationalist, Shawkat saw no reason why Iraq should continue to be controlled and managed by the British. However, he was rather inadequately endowed, politically and intellectually, to provide a strategic judgment on the direction of the Iraqi state in the critical time of war.

In June 1940, the government of Rashid 'Ali al-Gaylani decided to send an Iraqi delegation, consisting of Nuri al-Sa'id and Naji Shawkat, to assess Turkey's position on the war.(62) Prior to his departure, and without consulting the Cabinet, Shawkat suggested to al-Gaylani the idea of holding confidential talks with the German representative in Turkey. Upon receiving the prime minister's agreement, Shawkat also discussed the idea with the mufti who provided him with a letter of introduction to Von Papen, the German minister in Ankara.(63) The letter, in which the mufti congratulated Hitler on his latest victories, urged the German leader to begin addressing the Arab question.(64) Meant to bestow Shawkat with a pan-Arab status rather than a limited Iraqi representation, the letter was signed on behalf of the Arab Higher Committee of Palestine (of which the mufti was president).

A week after their arrival in Ankara, Nuri al-Sa'id returned to Baghdad while Shawkat proceeded to Istanbul where he met with Von Papen on 5 July 1940. Shawkat, presenting the Arab case, inquired about German views on the Palestinian and Syrian questions and urged Germany to show its support for the independence of Syria.(65) In his reply, Von Papen made no secret of his government's lack of interest in Arab affairs nor of the fact that Germany had recognized the Arab World as a part of the Italian sphere of influence. Shawkat expressed the Arabs' distrust of Italy and their determination to liberate their countries from Western imperialism, alluding to the possibility of Iraq's siding with Germany at an opportune time. The discussions also covered the resumption of diplomatic ties between Iraq and Germany and Shawkat's request for an Italo-German declaration on Arab independence and unity.

A similar request for a declaration was made by Rashid 'Ali al-Gaylani to Luigi Gabrielli, the Italian minister in Baghdad. The Italian response was delivered to al-Gaylani in a form of a confidential letter that said:

His Excellency Count Ciano, the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, has instructed me to inform Your Excellency that coherently with the policy so far followed, Italy aims at ensuring the complete independence and territorial integrity of Syria and the Lebanon as well as of Iraq and the countries under British mandate. In consequence Italy will oppose any eventual British or Turkish pretensions for territorial occupation whether in Syria, Lebanon or Iraq.(66)

This statement seemed not to have been carefully deliberated in the Italian Foreign Ministry to the extent that a few months later, an Italian official would find it difficult to recall having issued it. Although phrased in an assertive manner with regard to the Arab East, the statement was meant to conceal Italy's ambitions in Egypt and North Africa.

Shawkat reported his mission to al-Gaylani, Naji al-Swaydi, Taha al-Hashimi and the mufti (but not to Nuri al-Sa'id). Reflecting the dominant feelings in Baghdad, they all approved the line that Shawkat followed in his talks with Von Pappen. At this juncture, as the Axis advances looked unstoppable, even Nuri al-Sa'id made a reluctant attempt to contact the Germans.(67) However, it seems that realizing how difficult it was for such a staunch friend of the British like him to change course, he stopped short from actually doing so. The mufti, capitalizing on Shawkat's mission, decided to send a special envoy to Berlin. This time, his choice was 'Uthman Kamal Haddad, a young intelligent Arab activist from the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. Haddad's mission was clearly agreed upon between the mufti and the Iraqi prime minister who provided Haddad with an Iraqi passport carrying an alias.(68) Haddad, who stayed in Berlin from late August until mid-October 1940, presented himself to Grobba and other senior functionaries of the German Foreign Office as a representative of the Arab leadership. He reported to his German interlocutors the formation of an Arab coordination committee led by the mufti, including al-Gaylani, Naji Shawkat, Naji al-Swaydi, the Golden Square Colonels and Yunis al-Sab'awi (Iraq); Shukri al-Quwwatli and Zaki al-Khatib (Syria); Yusuf Yasin and Khalid al-Qarqanni (Saudi Arabia), as members.(69) Although a much smaller Arab committee would later be established, it is doubtful whether Haddad's report reflected an existing reality. The only organized pan-Arabist body at the time was the Arab Nationalist Party of the radical Arab intellectuals who were still less known young activists than the prominent list provided by Haddad.(70) It is most likely that by reporting the existence of such an Arab leading committee, Haddad was trying to impress upon the Germans the representative nature of his mission.

The focal point of Haddad's talks in Germany was to obtain an Axis declaration in line with the Arab aspirations which he outlined as follows:

1. Recognition of the independence of the Arab countries, particularly those under French and British control. 2. Recognition of the Arabs' right to unite their countries. 3. Recognition of the Arabs' right to solve the Jewish problem in Palestine in a manner that conforms to the national interest of the Arabs. 4. An assertion to the effect that the Axis powers had no imperialist designs with respect to Egypt and the Sudan. . . . (71)

Haddad elaborated that the term "Arab countries" covered the North African countries as well as countries of the Arab East. From the Arab side, Haddad proposed that the projected Axis declaration would be met with the resumption of diplomatic ties between Iraq and Germany, a favorable position for the Axis powers in the Iraqi oil industry, and the resumption of the anti-British revolt in Palestine and Transjordan, for which Haddad requested German logistic and financial support. Concurrently, the same issues were being discussed between Von Papen and Naji Shawkat, as the latter returned to Istanbul in September for his second meeting with the German minister.(72)

The Germans, highly interested in the prospects of an anti-British Arab revolt and beginning to doubt the wisdom of allowing Italy a post-war exclusive influence in the Middle East, appeared willing to accommodate the Arab demands, a position that was not acceptable to the Italians. Both, however, were not prepared, in the light of their commitments to Vichy France, to support the Arab demands for full Syrian independence or Syrian-Iraqi unity.(73) It was not until 21 October that the Axis powers finalized a common declaration that read as follows:

Germany (Italy) which has always been animated by sentiments of friendship for the Arabs and cherishes the wish that they may prosper and be happy, and assume a place among the peoples of the earth in accordance with their historic and natural importance, has always watched with interest the struggles of the Arab countries to achieve their independence. In their effort to obtain this goal, the Arab countries can count upon Germany's (Italy's) full sympathy. In making this statement Germany (Italy) finds itself in full accord with her Italian (German) ally.(74)

This declaration was delivered to Haddad and Shawkat and broadcast on Bari and Berlin Arabic services, although it was not published in the Axis print media until December. The declaration was received with disappointment in the Arab camp where it was seen as inadequate for clarifying the ambiguity of the Axis powers' position on the Arab question.(75) But the Arab leaders in Baghdad had by then gone too far in their project to change course. In the atmosphere of crisis that enveloped Iraqi politics in late 1940, many were prepared to exonerate the Germans and lay the blame for hindering the Arab-Axis understanding at the Italians' door-step.

By December, as relations between al-Gaylani and the British deteriorated to the point of no return, the Iraqi prime minister made a formal request through the Italian minister in Baghdad for German weapons and military supplies.(76) Only days before the fall of al-Gaylani's government at the end of January 1941, Haddad was sent back to Berlin, carrying a letter and a new draft declaration from the mufti to Hitler.(77) The mufti's demarche, underlining mutual Arab-German concerns, focused on the Arabs' animosity toward Britain and their determination to revolt at the proper time against her domination of the Arab World. It also outlined in complete detail the Arab political demands with small, but important, differences from the earlier Arab draft declaration of Summer 1940. While demanding unequivocal recognition of the independence of Arab countries occupied by Britain (Palestine, Transjordan, Oman, Kuwait, etc.), the new draft declaration provided for a less binding statement in regard to Syria and Lebanon. Instead of making the independence of Syria central to the Arab agenda, the mufti's draft was phrased to ask for the least binding commitments from the Axis powers over the future of the French-occupied regions, at a time when Syrian independence was the most obvious test of Axis' intentions toward the Arab World. The French administration in Syria supported the Vichy government immediately after the fall of France, and Germany if willing was in a powerful position to affect a French reconsideration of the Syrian question. Similarly, while the draft demanded recognition of the independence of Egypt and the Sudan, it made no mention of the other North African countries.

Clearly, if a collective Arab committee did exist at the time, it had no role in preparing the mufti's demarche, since the independence of Syria was certainly not suggested as a point of compromise by any of the active Arab parties. What seemed to underline the accommodating approach to the German backing of Vichy France and the not-so-secret Italian ambitions in North Africa was a desperate desire on the part of the mufti to enlist German support. The radical Arabs, driven by their animosity to Britain, pursued the German option with little debate over the political or ideological costs involved in such an approach.

The Italians, after the failure of their offensive against Greece and Egypt, were reduced to a much weaker position in terms of their alliance with Germany. Subsequently, the Germans became more interested in interfering directly in the Mediterranean basin. These developments, however, left little impact on the German attitude toward the Arab question. The German response to Haddad's second visit was delivered as a confidential note - not a declaration - to the mufti from Weizsacker, the German Secretary of State. Issued in early April 1941, the warmly worded letter promised a prompt delivery of military supplies to Iraq, but did not contain any substantial addition to the Italo-German declaration.(78) In contrast to its specificity in underlining the Arab-German agreement against their common enemies, the English and the Jews, the German letter contained only a general statement in regard to the recognition of the Arab countries' independence. Neither the question of Arab unity, nor the particular issues of Egypt and the Sudan were alluded to. On this occasion, the German letter raised no questions, even within the inner circle of Baghdad's radical Arabists. As the political crisis in Iraq was reaching a climactic point, it was the German military aid which occupied the minds of the mufti and his partners in the Iraqi government of national defense.

It is perhaps fair to conclude that the Arabs' approaches to the Axis powers were pursued throughout the 1930s with a sense of pragmatism and apparent reluctance. Well until after the outbreak of World War II, relations with Germany and Italy were certainly not seen as a taboo, neither politically nor morally, and should not be judged by historians in light of the now known horrendous record of the Axis regimes. While the Zionist Jews, for example, saw in their co-operation with the Germans a way of increasing German Jewish immigration to Palestine, a few Arab leaders sought in the Axis powers an ally against the imperialist forces of France and Britain. To be sure, it was Berlin, rather than the Arabs or the Zionists who determined the volume, direction and nature of relations with the other two sides. Between 1933-1940, the Germans favored the Zionists, pursuing through them a policy of "peaceful" ethnic cleansing; and not until the escalation of the British-Iraqi crisis in May 1941 did the Germans began to pay serious attention to the Arab movement.

Almost all the Arab leaders who became involved in the Arab-Axis imbroglio were men of practical politics, with little affinity for ideological complexities. Shakib Arslan, the most ideologically-oriented amongst them, came to realize the futility of seeking an alliance with the Axis and advocated Arab neutrality in the war, despite his early flirtation with the Italians. Apart from its limited influence on a few young Arab ideologues, Nazi ideology seems to have had no deep impact on Arab cultural life.

For a moment it might seem logical to surmise that by turning toward the non-democratic Axis powers, the Arabs reflected a deterioration in their own democratic institutions. The reality, however, was more complex. During the interwar period, the Arab states were by and large under direct or indirect influence of the Anglo-French imperialist officials and administrations for whom fostering and protecting democracy and democratic traditions was not always a priority. Whether in Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, or in Palestine, neither the British nor the French imperialists behaved in accordance with even minimal democratic standards. Twice in 1940 and 1941, the Arab leaders and activists had to helplessly witness paranoid British officials force both the Egyptian Prime Minister 'Ali Mahir, and the Iraqi Rashid 'Ali al-Gaylani, out of office, despite their sound commitments to their countries' treaties with Britain. As for the Arabs, it was their independence and unity, rather than democracy, that largely defined their view of the European divide, however mistaken that view might have been.


1. Bernard Lewis, The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years (New York: Scribner, 1996), 348.

2. Eliezer Be'eri, Army Officers in Arab Politics and Society (New York: Praeger, 1970), 41-9; Majid Khadduri, Arab Contemporaries: The Role of Personalities in Politics (Baltimore and London : The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), 140-63; Ralph Moses Coury, 'Abd al-Rahman 'Azzam and the Development of Egyptian Arab Nationalism, Ph.D. dissertation (Princeton University, 1984), 472-5.

3. A full discussion of this episode in Harb's career is provided by Philip H. Stoddard, The Ottoman Government and the Arabs, 1911 to 1918: A Preliminary Study of the Teskilat-I-Mhususa, Ph.D. dissertation (Princeton University, 1963), 93-101, and pp. 206-7, note 178.

4. Ahmad al-Sharabasi, Shakib Arslan Da'iyat al-'Uruba wa al-Islam (Beirut: Dar al-Jil, 1978), 37; Fritz Grobba, Manner and Machte im Orient: 25 Jahre Diplomatischier Tatigkeit im Orient (Gottingen: Mussterschmitt, 1967), 270; William Cleveland, Islam Against the West: Shakib Arslan and the Campaign for Islamic Nationalism (Austin: Texas University Press, 1985), 40-3 and 139-44.

5. For the Nazi influences on the early Ba'thist formations see Nidal al-Ba'th, Volume One, al-Qutr al-Suri 1943-1949, Min Ma'rakat al-Istiqlal ila Nakbat Filastin wa al-Inqilab al-'Askari al-Awal (Beirut: Dar al-Tali'a, 1963), 169. Beginning from 21 October 1933, the Iraqi nationalist journalist, Yunis al-Sab'awi, introduced what might have been the first Arab translation of Hitler's Mein Kamfin a series of articles in the Iraqi daily al-'Alam al-'Arabi (Khayri al'Umari, Yunis al-Sab'awi: Sirat Siyasi 'Isami (Baghdad: Dar al-Shu'un alThaqafiyya al-'Ama, 1986), 41).

6. On the radical Arabists' celebration of the Iraqi suppression of the Assyrian revolt see Akram Zu'aytir, Min Mudhakkirat Akram Zu'aytir (Beirut: al-Mu'assassa al-Arabiyya li al-Dirasat wa al-Nashr, 1994), vol. 1,581-3. For the Ba'th Party's views of the non-Arab minorities see Jalal al-Sayyid, Hizb alBa'th al-Arabi (Beirut: Dar al-Nahar, 1973), 205.

7. Jon Louis Miege, L'Imperialisme Colonial Italian de 1870 a nose Jours (Paris: Societe d'Edition et d'Enseignement Superieur, 1968), 137-9.

8. Ibid., 130-1; Luigi Villari, Italian Foreign Policy Under Mussolini (New York: Devin-Adair Co., 1956), 71.

9. Al-Fath, 21 Dhu ai-Qa'da and 19 Dhu al-Hijja 1349 AH; Ali Muhafiza, Mawqif Faransa wa Italiya min al-Wahda al-Arabiyya, 1919-1945 (Beirut: Markaz Dirasat al-Wahda al-Arabiyya, 1985), 456; Cleveland, Islam Against the West, 100.

10. Juliette Bessis, La Mediterrannee Fasciste, L'Italie Mussolinienne et la Tunisie (Paris: Editions Karthala, Publications de Sorbonne, 1981), 89-90; Muhafiza, Mawqif Faransa wa Italiya, 453.

11. Daniel Grange, "Structure et Techniques d'une Propagande: Les Emissions Arabe de Radio Bari," Relations Internationales, 2 (1974), 166-9.

12. Midge, L'Imperialisme Colonial Italian, 170. On the Arabist protests of Arslan's rapprochement with the Italians see Muhafiza, Mawqif Faransa wa Italiya, 457; Cleveland, Islam Against the West, 146-8. Arslan's defense appeared in al-Jami'a al-'Arabiyya, 9 May 1935, and in Shakib Arslan, al-Sayyid Rashid Rida wa Ikha' Arba 'in Sana (Damascus: Matba'at Ibn Zaydun, 1937), 760-2, 764-6 and 791-2.

13. Statement of Mohamed Ibn Mustafa el Masakhar, 22 January 1938, Charles Tegart Papers, Box 1, file 3/c, St. Antony's Middle East Center, Oxford University, Oxford.

14. Great Britain, Public Record Office, Foreign Office Papers, Lampson to Eden, 24 December 1942, FO 371/35578/J245 (Enclosure, Appendix A).

15. Y. Porath, The Palestinian Arab National Movement (London: Frank Cass, 1977), vol. 2, 76; Francis Nicosia, The Third Reich and the Palestine Question (London, I. B. Tauris: 1985), 85-6. In this case, Germany was not only disinterested in supporting the Palestinian Arabs but Wolf himself was strongly pro-Zionist.

16. On the Palestinian National assembly in March 1933 see Great Britain, Public Record Office, Colonial Office Papers, Wauchope too Cunliff-Lister, 1 April 1933, CO 733/234, Enclosure III; al-Arab (the Istiqlalist mouthpiece), 1 April 1933. On the Palestinian disturbances in the autumn of the same year, see al-Jami'a al-Arabiyya, 17 October 1933; Wauchope to Cunliff-Lister, 2 November 1933, CO 733/239. The relations between Hajj Amin al-Husayni and the British authorities in Palestine, which continued to be friendly until 1936, have been studied in detail in Philip Mattar, The Mufti of Jerusalem: Al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni and the Palestinian National Movement (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988).

17. On the Nazi-Zionist cooperation that continued from 1933 until the eve of World War II see Lukasz Hirszowicz, The Third Reich and the Arab East (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966), 26; Klaus Polkehn, "The Secret Contacts: Zionist-Nazi Relations, 1933-1941", Journal of Palestine Studies, 5,19 & 20 (1976), 54-82; Edwin Black, The Transfer Agreement: The Untold Story of the Secret Pact between the Third Reich and Jewish Palestine (New York, Macmillan: 1984); Nicosia, The Third Reich and the Palestine Question, 27-84, 143-67.

18. Bessis, La Mediterrannee Fasciste, 330.

19. Nicosia, The Third Reich and the Palestine Question, 129.

20. Kerr to Eden, 4 January 1938, FO 406/76/E 436.

21. R. Melka, "Nazi Germany and the Palestine Question," Middle Eastern Studies, 5, 3 (1969), 221.

22. Grobba's reports of 17 July and 9 November 1937, Documents on German Foreign Policy: 1918-1945, Washington, United States Government Printing Office, (hereafter, DGFP), Series D, vol. V, pp. 756-7 and 769-72 respectively.

23. Melka, "Nazi Germany and the Palestine Question", 221-2.

24. Neurath's memorandum, 1 June 1937, DGFP, Series D, vol. V, pp. 746-7. Neurath's position had obviously its origin in Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1939), 447-8.

25. Dohle's report, 15 July 1937, DGFP, Series D, vol. V, pp. 755-6.

26. Gardener to Eden, 10 April 1941, FO 406/79/E 2840; Man Humfi al-'Alam al-'Arabi, volume 1, Suriyya (Damascus: Maktab al-Dirasat al-Suriyya wa al-Arabiyya, 1957), 53.

27. A memorandum by the Propaganda Ministry, 14 December 1937, DGFP, Series D, vol. V, pp. 778-9.

28. Nicosia, The Third Reich and the Palestine Question, 141.

29. Karl Heinz Abshagen, Canaris, translated by Alan Houghton Brodrick (London: Hutchinson, 1956), 208; Nicosia, The Third Reich and the Palestine Question, 185-6.

30. Jon Kimche and David Kimche, The Secret Roads: The Illegal Migration of a People, 1938-1948 (London, Secker and Warburg: 1954), 15-38 ff.; Ehud Avriel, Open the Gates (New York, Atheneum: 1975), 28-42 ff.; Nicosia, The Third Reich and the Palestine Question, 159-63.

31. Hirszowicz, The Third Reich, 47.

32. Ibid., 48; Minutes by Hentig, 27 August 1938, DGFP, Series D, vol. V, pp. 789-91.

33. Hentig to Ribbentrop, 22 May 1939, DGFP, Series D, vol. VI, pp. 555-6.

34. Grobba's report and Enclosure, 18 February 1939, DGFP, Series D, vol. V, pp. 800-10.

35. Norman H. Baynes (ed.), The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939 (London: Oxford University Press, 1942), 1648.

36. Translation from Munich Latest News, 22 March 1939, Tegart Papers, Box IV, file 5.

37. Minutes by Hentig, 20 June 1939, DGFP, Series D, vol. VI, pp. 743-4. For repercussions of this meeting see Muhafiza, Mawqif Faransa wa Italiya, 335-6.

38. According to Nicosia (The Third Reich and the Palestine Question, 190), the Germans might have never intended to fulfill the agreed weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, since the Saudis did not conceal the fact that in a situation of war they would certainly take the British side.

39. A full translation of Arslan's letter (Geneva, 17 November 1939) to Nuri al-Sa'id is included in Newton to Halifax, 27 December 1939, FO 371/24546/E 41.

40. Salah al-Din al-Sabbagh, Fursan al-'Uruba: Mudhakkirat al-Shahid Salah al-Din al-Sabbagh (Rabat: Tanit li al-Nashr, 1994), 131.

41. Newton to Halifax, 24 and 29 October 1939, CO 733/398/4/75156 (a copy); Newton to Halifax, 20 January 1940, FO 406/78/E500.

42. Be'eri, Army Officers in Arab Politics, 28-30.

43. Taha al-Hashimi, Mudhakkirat, 1919-1943, edited by K. S. al-Husri (Beirut, Dar al-Tali'a, 1967), 326-5; Mahmud al-Durra, al-Harb al-Iraqiyya al-Baritaniyya, 1941 (Beirut: Dar al-Tali'a, 1969), 111-2.

44. 'Abd al-Razzaq al-Hasani, al-Asrar al-Khafiyya fi Harakat al-Sana 1941 al-Taharuriyya (Baghdad: Dar al-Shu'un al-Thaqafiyya al-'Ama, 1990), 49.

45. Al-Hashimi, Mudhakkirat, 335-6; Zuhayr Mardini, Filastin wa al-Hajj Amin al-Husayni (Beirut: Dar Iqra', 1986), 128-9.

46. Al-Sabbagh, Fursan al-'Uruba, 165-6.

47. See for example, Isma'il Ahmad Yaghi, Harakat Rashid Ali al-Gaylani: Dirasa fi Tatawur al-Haraka al-Wataniyya al-Iraqiyya (Beirut: Dar al-Tali'a, 1974); Fadil al-Barrak, Dawr al-Jaysh al-Iraqi fi Hukumat al-Difa' al-Watani wa al-Harb ma' Baritaniyya 'Am 1941 (Beirut: al-Dar al-Arabiyya li al-Mawsu'at, 1987); al-Hasani, al-Asrar al-Khafiyya.

48. Reeva S. Simon, Iraq Between the Two World Wars: The Creation and Implementation of a National Ideology (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 7-43.

49. Al-Sabbagh, Fursan al-'Uruba, 16-21 and 35-42.

50. C.J. Edmonds, "Note on the Present Orientation of pan-Arab Policy in Iraq," 23 August 1938, Enclosure in Houstoun-Boswall to Halifax, 29 August 1938, FO 406/76/E 5393.

51. For their biographies see Clark Kerr to Eden, 4 January 1938, FO 371/21853/E 435; Mir Basri, A'lam al-Siyasa fi al-Iraq al-Hadith (London: Riad El-Rayys Books, 1987), passim; Tawfiq al-Swaydi, Wujuh Iraqiyya 'Abr al-Tarikh (London: Riad El-Rayys Books, 1987), passim; al-Sabbagh, Fursan al-'Uruba, 30-33.

52. Al-Sabbagh's memoirs (Fursan al-'Uruba), despite its emotional tune and being heavily on the side of self-justification, is a testimony to these facts.

53. Muhmmad Hasan Salman, Safahat rain Hayat Muhammad Hasan Salman (Beirut: al-Dar al-Arabiyya li al-Mawsu'at, 1985), 38.

54. Basri, A'lam al-Siyasa, 146-53.

55. Ibid.

56. Al-Swaydi, Wujuh Iraqiyya, 111.

57. Clark Kerr to Eden, 4 January 1938, FO 371/21853/E 435.

58. Edmonds to Newton, 15 February 1941, enclosure in Newton to Eden, 27 February 1941, FO 406/79/E 1317.

59. Humphreys to FO, 9 September 1933, FO 371/16924/E 5295.

60. Majid Khadduri, Independent Iraq: A Study in Iraqi Politics Since 1932 (London: Oxford University Press, 1951), 153-4; The memoirs of Rashid 'Ali al-Gaylani, Akhir Sa'a (magazine), 27 February 1957.

61. The following brief assessment of Shawkat is based on Kerr to Eden, 4 January 1938, FO 371/21853/E 435; Basri, A'lam al-Siyasa, 141-5; al-Swaydi, Wujuh Iraqiyya, 124-6.

62. Halifax to Newton, 5 June 1940, FO 406/78/E 2063; al-Hashimi, Mudhakkirat, 347.

63. Khadduri, Independent Iraq, 1932-1952: A Study in Iraqi Politics (London: Oxford University Press, 1960), 178-9.

64. An English translation of the letter is in DGFP, Series D, vol. X, pp. 143-4.

65. Von Pappen's report, 6 July 1940, ibid., 141-3 and Woermann's note, 21 July 1940, ibid., 261-2. Shawkat's side of his mission in Turkey is in Naji Shawkat, Sira wa Dhikrayat Thamanin 'Aman, 1894-1974 (Baghdad: Matba'at Sulayman al-A'zami, 1974), 392-400.

66. An English text (seems to be the original text that was delivered to the Iraqi government) of the letter, dated 7 July 1940, is in 'Uthman Kamal Haddad, Harakat Rashid Ali al-Gaylani (Sidon: al-Maktaba al-'Asriyya, 1950), 22.

67. Majid Khadduri, "General Nuri's Flirtation With the Axis Powers," Middle East Journal, 16 (1962), 328-36. Khadduri's conclusions of Nuri's flirtation with the Germans have recently been supported by the published memoirs of Musa al-Shabandar, a senior official in the Iraqi Foreign Ministry at the time, and later the foreign minister of the 1941 coup government. See Musa al-Shabandar, Dhikrayat Baghdadiyya: Al-Iraq Bayn al-Ihtilal wa al-Istiqlal (London: Riad El-Rayys Books, 1993), 246.

68. Haddad, Harakat Rashid Ali, 24-7 ff.

69. Grobba's note, 27 August 1940, DGFP, Series D, vol. X, pp. 556-559.

70. On the secretive Arab Nationalist Party see Gardener to Eden, 10 April 1940, FO 406/79/E2840; Munir al-Rayyis, al-Kitab al-Dhahabi li al-Thawrat al-Wataniyya fi al-Mashriq al-Arabi (Beirut: Dar al-Tali'a, 1969), vol. 1, 103-9; al-Sayyid, Hizb al-Ba'th, 25-7.

71. Haddad, Harakat Rashid Ali, 29-31. The English text of Haddad's draft declaration (DGFP, Series D, vol. X, pp. 559-60) refers to the recognition of the Arab countries' right to solve the problem of the Jews living in Palestine or elsewhere in the Arab World "in a manner that conforms to the national and ethnic interests of the Arabs and to the solution of the Jewish question in the countries of Germany and Italy." This formulation does not only appear differently in Haddad's version (Haddad, ibid.) but seems also to disagree with the draft declaration that Shawkat presented to Von Papen in Turkey during their meeting in September 1940. Shawkat's version is in fact identical to Haddad's in regards to the particular point of the Jewish question (al-Hasani, al-Asrar al-Khafiyya, 95-6).

72. It was this meeting between Shawkat and Von Papen which came to be discovered by the British and to subsequently precipitate the first British doubts toward al-Gaylani's government (Edmonds to Newton, 3 February 1941, enclosure of Newton to Baxter, 10 February 1941, FO 371/27062/E 815).

73. Haddad, Harakat Rashid Ali, 37-49; Hirszowicz, The Third Reich and the Arab East, 86-90.

74. DGFP, Series D, vol. X, pp. 320-1. A shorter version is included in "Declaration made by German Government on 21 October 1940, concerning the Arab Policy of the Axis Powers," FO 406/78/E 2837. The Arabic text as was broadcast on the Italian and German radios is in al-Durra, al-Harb al-Iraqiyya al-Baritaniyya, 146-7.

75. Experiencing a sense of frustration, Arslan said that the Arabs should not "rely on official declarations and promises" (Haddad, Harakat Rashid Ali, 58). For other expressions of the Arab disappointment see Hirszowicz, The Third Reich and the Arab East, 92-4; and al-Hasani, al-Asrar al-Khafiyya, 97.

76. Woermann's report, 9 December 1940, DGFP, Series D, vol. XI, pp. 829-31.

77. The letter's text, DGFP, ibid., pp. 1151-5. The letter was written in French, dated 20 January 1941 and addressed to "His Excellency, Fuhrer of Greater Germany, Adolf Hitler, Berlin." For Haddad's version of his second mission to Germany see Haddad, Harakat Rashid All, 85-97. For the new Arab draft declaration see Hirszowicz, The Third Reich and the Arab East, 109-11.

78. Text of Weizsacker's letter, 8 April 1941, DGFP, Series D, vol. XII, pp. 488-90. Arabic text is in Haddad, Harakat Rashid Ali, 106-8.

Basheer M. Nafi is a senior lecturer at the Hijaz College, United Kingdom.
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Author:Nafi, Basheer M.
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Date:Mar 22, 1997
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