A Soldier's Story: From Ottoman Rule to Independent Iraq - The Memoirs of Jafar Pasha Al-Askari

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Born in 1885, Jafar Pasha Al-Askari played a colourful part in the events that led to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, and in the foundation of modern Iraq in the 1920s and 1930s. Physically large and courageous, with a sharp intellect, a talent for languages, and a jovial and commanding personality, he was sent for military training in Germany before the 1914-18 War, and was rapidly recognised by the Young Turks as a gifted military commander. He was however also strongly drawn to the Arab nationalist ideas then current, and the consistent theme in a career of sensational twists and turns was his intense Arab patriotism. As one of the youngest generals in the Ottoman Army, he led the Sanusi regular forces in Cyrenaica in 1915-16. His capture by the British and incarceration in Cairo led to an abortive Chr(45) and comical Chr(45) escape attempt, and also to cordial relations with various British officers, among them T. E. Lawrence. In Cairo, he realised the Arab cause might best be served by Sharif Hussain of Makkah's revolt against Ottoman rule, then getting under way with British support. He was released in March 1917 to take command of the Arab regular forces fighting under the Amir Faisal bin Hussain (later King Faisal I of Iraq) in the Hijaz. Jafar describes his leading role in the Arab Revolt at length. At its end, in 1919, Faisal appointed him Military Governor of Aleppo. He became one of the first members of the new Iraqi government under the British Mandate, and spent the remainder of his life serving his King and country as Prime Minister (twice), Minister of Defence (five times), and Iraqi Minister in London, even finding time to be called to the Bar (at Gray's Inn). In 1936, he was assassinated outside Baghdad, on a doomed quest to forestall Iraq's first military coup. These memoirs, published here in English for the first time, shed a vivid light on the early days of Arab nationalism and on the creation of modern Iraq, as experienced by one of the prime movers of Iraqi independence. They provide a timely reminder of the all but insuperable obstacles to be overcome in building an open Iraqi state, and add much fuel to the ongoing debate about the Arabs' quest to shape their own political destiny.