King Faisal I – Iraq’s Warrior King

He spent most of his adult life fighting the enemies of his people in hopes of building a nation for Arabs.

The ancestry of the Hashimite Dynasty stretched back to Fatima, the only surviving daughter of the prophet Mohammed, through her eldest son, Hasan. The first of the dynasty to rule in 20th Century Iraq was Faisal ibn Hussein, known as Faisal I.

He was born in 1885 at Taif in present day Saudi Arabia, part of the Ottoman Empire, heir to the kingdom of the Hejaz. The first seven years of his life were spent, according to family custom, at Rahab Palace. When his father Hussein ibn Ali, Sharif of Mecca, was ordered to Constantinople in 1893, Faisal accompanied him and began his formal and private education in that city. In 1905, at the age of twenty, he married his cousin.

When his father was appointed Sharif of Hejaz in 1909, Faisal accompanied him back to Saudi Arabia. Here, in 1913, the young prince became deputy for Jeddah in the Ottoman Parliament and became involved in the Arab nationalist movement. In 1914 he was in command of his father’s army in Asir and when World War I broke out he was in Mecca.


Posted with the Turkish governor in Syria in 1915, Faisal left his position to support the Arab revolt in the Hejaz. In 1917 he crossed paths with T. E. Lawrence (later known as Lawrence of Arabia) and accepted the advice of the latter on things military. Faisal’s army fought its way north to Aqaba and captured that city in July. He was soon in command of the Arab forces attached to British General Edmund Allenby’s army with Lawrence as liaison. Using guerrilla tactics, the Arabs harassed Turkish supply and transportation lines in support of the British making possible the capture of Jerusalem in 1917 and Damascus the following year. It was here that Faisal learned the devastating truth that France would control Syria and not the Arabs.

Faisal was furious but his influence with the Arab tribes was such that he proclaimed the state of Syria and went to Europe to speak for the Arabs at the Paris peace conference in 1919. In February, before the Council of Ten that included the Prime Minister of England and the Presidents of the United States and France, Faisal argued his case for Arab self-rule. He was to be disappointed again.

Returning to Damascus, Faisal raised the country in revolt. In March 1920, the Syrian national congress declared Syria an independent state with Faisal as king. France and Britain refused to recognize the new state and in July the League of Nations mandated Syria to France. In the same month French troops captured Damascus and Faisal fled to England.


The deposed king spent the winter in England where he was put forward as a likely candidate for the throne of Iraq. Faisal entered Basra in June of 1921 and was proclaimed king after a plebiscite that had returned 96% in his favor.

Despite the overwhelming support, there were those who wanted independence from Iraq. In June 1922, the Kurds, under Sheik Mahmud rose in a revolt that would not be put down for two years. At the same time the tribes along the borders carried out constant raids despite the Treaty of Nejd which had attempted to define Iraq’s boundaries. In 1924 the Assembly adopted a new constitution giving Iraq a more liberal parliamentary system.


Faisal made a trip to London in November 1927 to gain support for Iraq’s entry into the League of Nations. The visit was successful and Britain recognized Iraq’s independence and agreed to support their bid to join the League. In return Faisal granted that British officers should train his army and gave Britain three more air bases.

In his efforts to maintain peace in the Arab world, Fasial I arranged for treaties of friendship with Iran and the Nejd. But he could not keep the peace with the Kurds within his own borders and in 1930 they rose in revolt again under Sheik Mahmud. This insurrection did not last long and Mahmud surrendered in April 1931.

A third Kurd rebellion occurred in early 1932. This time the Iraqi forces, aided by the British air force, drove the Kurds into Turkey. In the same year, Faisal’s dream of Iraq in the League of Nations was finally realized and with the aid of that body the long running border dispute with Syria was finally settled.

In 1933, Faisal made another trip to London and on his return stopped at Berne, Switzerland where he died suddenly of cancer on September 8, he was succeeded by his son, Ghazi.

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