Inside The Pro-Western Iraq Now All But Forgotten

Published September 21, 2016
Updated June 9, 2020

In the 1930s, long before Arab nationalism or radical Islam, Iraq was actually the darling of the Western world -- and these photos prove it.

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Inside The Pro-Western Iraq Now All But Forgotten
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When you ask the average American to think about Iraq, their mind will likely conjure up images of the war against ISIS or the Iraq War just before that, or even the Gulf War not long before that. The point is, in the eyes of many Americans and more broadly the West, Iraq has long been synonymous with the very notion of hostile territory.

Even before ISIS started making gruesome headlines in the country's northern region a few years ago, much of the world had written off Iraq as barbaric, backward, and belligerent to all things Western.

However, you needn't look back that far to discover an era in which Iraq was the quickly modernizing, pro-Western darling of the international community.

That era began in the fall of 1932, when Iraq became an independent country and joined the League of Nations (the precursor to the United Nations), which, at its peak, only ever allowed entry to less than a third of the world's countries.

And when the United Nations replaced the League of Nations in 1945, Iraq was a founding member. In that same year the nation also helped found the Arab League, a peacekeeping and economic development organization specific to Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

In the decades surrounding Iraq's acceptance into the League of Nations and the United Nations -- essentially, from 1932 to 1958 -- the country did grapple with its fair share of infighting yet held a good reputation with both the surrounding Arab nations and the Western powers that dominated the rest of the world.

Those Western powers, specifically the United Kingdom, certainly took kindly to Iraq largely because the country's monarchy allowed the West to tap into the country's extraordinarily profitable oil reserves. Furthermore, the U.K. did in fact maintain a military presence in Iraq -- even stepping in to put down a pro-Axis revolt during World War II -- that begs the question of just how independent the country truly was.

Nevertheless, Iraq likewise benefitted -- economically, from the Western-aided oil drilling, and otherwise -- from Western involvement and, if nothing else, certainly didn't count the Western powers as enemies in the way that future generations would, and in ways that would severely set back the economic and geopolitical promise the country held upon its founding back in 1932.

That promise took a major hit in 1958, when a military coup took power from the monarchy in large part because the latter had long allowed Western influence in the country's economic and political affairs, particularly concerning oil drilling.

The socialist regime that followed ushered in an era of perpetual militarism, Arab nationalism, and anti-Western sentiment. And, particularly when the new leaders began counting the communist Soviet Union as an ally, the United States and much of the West came to see Iraq as an enemy.

By 1959, when U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower formed the Special Committee on Iraq to prepare for the eventuality of a communist takeover there, the country was no longer one that the West could do business with, but a country that the West felt they had to keep tabs on.

And by the time the authoritarian, one-party, even more Arab nationalist Ba'ath Party, led in part by a young Saddam Hussein, took power in 1968, the West went from "keeping tabs" on Iraq to directly intervening there. Over the next two decades, the U.S. in particular spent tens of millions of dollars on covert operations inside Iraq to keep the status quo as pro-Western and anti-communist as possible.

Finally, after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the U.S. itself (along with support from France, the U.K., and Canada) directly intervened -- which catches us up to the point at which the widespread Western view of Iraq as a hostile nation took root.

But if we venture back to 1932 and the birth of the independent Iraq -- before the wars, before the 1958 revolution, before Memorial Day conjured images of fallen soldiers in Iraq -- we'll discover an Iraq far different from the one we think we know today.

Next, three stunning vintage photo collections will allow you to discover just how different Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran were in the decades before war and terror.

John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
Cite This Article
Kuroski, John. "Inside The Pro-Western Iraq Now All But Forgotten.", September 21, 2016, Accessed April 24, 2024.