On March 10, 1935, the Los Angeles Times lavished praise on the 22-year-old ‘go-getter monarch’ of Iraq. The west loved King Ghazi, at least until they didn’t. Following the death of a male lover in a shooting ‘accident’ in 1938, 27-year-old Ghazi died in an equally suspicious car accident in 1939.
Ghazi was a member of the Hashemite family, direct descendants of Muhammad. His grandfather reigned as King of the Hejaz and Emir of Mecca until deposed by the Sauds, the current ruling family of Saudi Arabia. Following WWI, the British installed Ghazi’s father, a friend of Lawrence of Arabia, as the first king of the new nation of Iraq.
Iraq comprised three formerly Ottoman provinces peopled by Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, Kurds, Jews, Assyrian Christians and more. The imported king had a hell of a job pulling it all together and keeping the British off his back. King Faisal did okay, all things considered. In 1932, the British granted Iraq independence though still exerting considerable control behind the scenes.
Faisal died the following year and Ghazi became king — as reported in New York’s Star-Gazette.
“The odour of oil lies over the land of Iraq today as modern British wells gush forth their ‘black gold’. Emir Ghazi wears the brown head-cloth tied with gold and red cord and wears at his belt a golden dagger inlaid with precious stones. Black Nubian slaves surround him, carrying silver swords, as he listens to Arabic poetry chanted to the low piping of a flute.”
Exotic as it all sounded, Ghazi went to school in England from the age of 13. He generally dressed in western suits and was a very modern king. The new king embarked on a program of modernisation and education, paid for by oil revenues.
King Ghazi felt less beholden to Iraq’s previous colonial overlords than his father. He felt no obligation to acquiesce to their every wish. He no longer jumped when British oil companies said jump. Nor did he obey directives from London regarding his relations with neighbouring states.
The British wanted a puppet, not an Iraqi nationalist. The British Ambassador sent a coded telegram to the Foreign Office, “King Ghazi must be controlled or deposed.”
Boon companion in debauchery
Spies in the palace reported on the king’s every move, so the British knew the king was gay. Although he married a first cousin in 1934 and fathered a child by her, he continued his affairs with male servants. The British regarded his retinue of young muscular Nubians with particular suspicion. Queen Aliya also became aware of her husband’s infidelity.
In 1938 a ‘Negro youth’ described by the British Ambassador as King Ghazi’s ‘boon companion in debauchery’, died in a shooting accident.
Officially, the young man lay down for a nap without taking off his revolver and it accidentally discharged as he slept, killing him. However, the ambassador reported to London his suspicion that a member of a faction aligned with the Queen murdered her husband’s lover.
The ambassador was in a good position to know. Besides his other spies, he cultivated the Queen’s brother who assured him he believed in continued close cooperation with Britain.
Following the death of his lover, King Ghazi believed himself targeted for assassination. He gave up the pretence of his marriage and lived apart from the Queen.
A motor accident
On April 5, 1929, the Birmingham Post reported his death.
“The 27-year-old King Ghazi of Irak was killed in a motor accident last night near Baghdad. The King, who was an enthusiastic motorist, was driving his car back to the Palace and ran at high speed into an electric pylon. He never recovered consciousness and died at 12.40 a.m. of a fractured skull and lacerated brain.
“The certificate of death was signed by five doctors.
“The late King’s son, Crown Prince Feisal, who will be four years old in May, was this morning proclaimed King. His uncle, the Emir Abdulilah, a brother-in-law of the late King Ghazi, has been appointed Regent.”
King Ghazi was not only an enthusiastic motorist. He was an accomplished driver who bought his first car as a 13-year-old schoolboy in England and competed in motor races. He was a good driver and the accident occurred only a stone’s throw from the palace, not outside of Baghdad.
Notably, the Queen’s brother took over as regent the day following Ghazi’s death and put Iraq back firmly in the British camp.
Over thirty years later, Ghazi’s personal physician, one of the five doctors who signed the death certificate, admitted he believed a blow to the back of the head with an iron rod killed the king.
It appears the accident was staged to cover up King Ghazi’s murder.
As for the new regime — it’s a long and complicated story but basically — they placed their own interests and those of the British ahead of those of the Iraqi people. That ended in a revolution that brought the Ba’ath Party to power, and eventually, Saddam Hussein.
This regime change shit never seems to end well.