45. Mawtini
Written by Ibrahim Touqan
Performed & arranged by Ilhamal Al Madfai
From the CD Ilham, Voice of Iraq (EMI Music Arabia/Virgin, EU 2005)



Our version excursion of Mawtini, the unofficial anthem of the Palestinian people, takes us through Algeria and Syria, who in keeping with the song’s status as an unofficial national anthem, adopted it as such in solidarity with Palestine. It also takes us to Iraq, where the song became the official national anthem in 2004 in rejection of the Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath regime, whose anthem Ardh Alforatain, composed by Walid Georges Gholmieh, had been Iraq’s national song between 1979 and 2003.

We wonder what Ibrahim Touqan would have thought of Iraq adopting his song and making it an official anthem. Here’s what we know about him, courtesy of Wikipedia; Ibrahim Abd al-Fattah Touqan (1905-May 2, 1941) was a Palestinian nationalist poet whose works rallied Arabs during their revolt against the British. Touqan was born in Nablus, Palestine during Ottoman rule. He published his first poem in 1923 while in Beirut. Most of his poems dealt with the Arab struggle against British rule of Palestine. Touqan’s poems became popular in the Arab world during the 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine.

Touqan died in 1941, the year Britain defeated Iraq and imposed a pro British government, which was pretty much the crowning moment of Britain’s relationship with Iraq. Britain had long been trying to establish a political and economic presence in the Middle East and the decline of the Ottoman Empire presented the perfect opportunity. The invasions of Iraq in 1914 and 1918 and the Sykes-Picot agreement between Britain and France in 1916 assured Britain and France of control of the Middle East. Britain would take Iraq, or Mesopotamia as it was then known. France would take Syria and Lebanon – or Tranjordan as it was called. By 1920 Iraq was a British colony. So was Palestine, and as with Palestine, the colonised responded with revolts. After an estimated body count of 8500 Iraqis and 2269 British, the British installed an Iraqi government in Baghdad in 1921 with Emir Faisal as King of Iraq, buttressed by British military and political protection. In 1927 oil was discovered in Iraq. The British government granted exploration rights to the British owned Iraqi Petroleum Company.

Britain demarcated Iraq’s internal and external borders with, perhaps, an eye on the conflicts it was fermenting and in some instances creating. The British government supported the Sunni leadership, which was comprised of tribal shaykhs, who in turn represented British interests, and were rewarded by law; the Land Settlement Act gave the tribal shaykhs the right to register communal tribal lands in their own name. The Tribal Disputes Regulations gave them judiciary rights, whereas the Peasants’ Rights and Duties Act of 1933 severely reduced such rights as the tenants had, forbidding them to leave the land unless all their debts to the landlord had been settled.

By the mid 1930s, when Mawtini was enjoying its first wave of popularity in Palestine as the underground anthem of anti British sentiment, Iraq, newly independent but now with its geographical and political boundaries shaped and defined by British interests, was undergoing the first of a succession of military coups. In 1958 after the violent overthrow of the monarchy led by General Abd al-Karim Qasim, Iraq became a republic. The following year Saddam Hussein, supported by the CIA, would join a six man team whose job it was to assassinate the Iraqi Prime Minister, General Qasim and keep Iraq free of any potential Soviet presence.

The following decades would be dominated by the Sunni backed Ba’ath party, and their leader, Saddam Hussein, whose career highlights would include the gassing in 1987 – 88 of an estimated 180,000 Kurds by way of weapons supplied by the American government – including, journalist Robert Fisk reported, ‘Bacillus anthracis, which produces anthrax; Clostridium botulinum; Histoplasma capsulatum; Brucella melitensis; Clostridium perfringens and Escherichia coli and materials which assisted in the development of chemical, biological and missile-system programmes, including chemical warfare agent production facility plant and technical drawings (provided as pesticide production facility plans) – and from the British government, £26,000 worth of thionyl chloride in 1988 and £200,000 worth of thiodiglycol, one of two components of mustard gas Britain exported to Baghdad, plus another £50,000 worth of thiodiglycol the following year.’ (This Was a Guilty Verdict on America as Well, by Robert Fisk, Independent, November 6, 2006)

In 2004 Iraq’s new government made Mawtini their national anthem:

‘BAGHDAD, Oct. 26 2003 — Iraq will soon have a new flag and national anthem, as part of efforts to sever all links with the era of Saddam Hussein and his Ba’ath party, a member of the US-installed Government Council said today. ‘We have created a committee within the council to chose between different proposals to change the flag and the national anthem,’ Mr Muwaffak al-Rubai said. ‘For the national anthem, there is a consensus to go back to the one which existed before the early 1980s and which was called: ‘My homeland, my homeland’ (Reported by Jan Oskar Engene, 27 October 2003, AFP, and sourced from Flags of the World website).

The following year the full horror of the American and British invasion of Iraq made itself known. For the full list of month by month reports, see Iraq timeline: February 1 2004 to December 31 2004. www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/page/0,12438,1151021,00.html from which we have compiled the following edited excerpts:

February 2 2004
The failure to find WMDs in Iraq has damaged the credibility of Britain and the US in their battle against terrorism, a committee of MPs warn.

February 3 2004
Tony Blair bows to intense pressure to agree to set up an inquiry to establish why Iraq appears to be devoid of weapons of mass destruction.

March 24 2004
Amec wins part of a $1bn (£550m) contract to rebuild water and sewerage networks in Iraq. The deal is the biggest so far by a UK company for reconstruction work in the war-torn country, but otherwise British firms lose out.

March 31 2004
Four US contractors are attacked in Falluja and their bodies burned, dragged by cars and strung up from a bridge by a mob. Five US soldiers are killed by a roadside bomb outside Falluja.

April 28 2004
US warplanes pound Falluja with 500lb laser-guided bombs and marines battle with insurgents on the ground while commanders in Baghdad insist a ceasefire is holding. Gunships pound Falluja despite ceasefire claims.

April 29 2004
Graphic photographs showing the torture and sexual abuse of Iraqi captives at Abu Ghraib prison are shown on CBS television news in America. The images emerge from a military inquiry that resulted in charges against six military policemen.

May 17 2004
The New Yorker magazine claims Donald Rumsfeld personally authorised the expansion of a special programme which ultimately led to the abuses in Abu Ghraib prison. The head of the Iraqi Governing Council is killed in a suicide car bombing as he waits in his vehicle at a US-controlled checkpoint.

June 16 2004
The commission investigating the 9/11 attacks finds ‘no credible evidence’ of a link between Iraq and al-Qaida, contradicting President George Bush’s assertion that such a connection justified the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Also, the political handover is dealt a blow as insurgents wreck pipelines and assassinate a top oil industry executive.

June 24 2004
Insurgents launch coordinated car bomb and grenade attacks in several Iraqi cities, killing at least 69 people and injuring 270 in one of the worst days of violence since George Bush declared the end of major combat, in May 2003.

July 9 2004
A Senate intelligence committee report blames the CIA for the Bush administration’s apparently unfounded claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. The report admonishes the outgoing director, George Tenet, and CIA analysts who, one Republican senator claimed yesterday, made ‘wholesale mistakes’ in the collection and processing of intelligence.

July 15 2004
Hans Blix, the head of the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq before the war, accuses Tony Blair of misleading the British people by failing to ‘think critically about the evidence at hand’. Mr Blix says he found Lord Butler’s 196-page report ‘surprisingly’ critical of the British government, even though the prime minister was personally exonerated of acting in bad faith.

July 22 2004
The Pentagon acknowledges in a long-awaited report that abuse of Iraqi and Afghan prisoners by their US army guards occurred on a far greater scale than previously disclosed, with at least 94 confirmed cases of death in custody, sexual and physical assault, and other mistreatment.

August 9, 2004
The price of crude on futures markets rises to record levels in both London and New York after the threat of sabotage by rebels forces Iraq to shut down production in its southern oilfields.

September 15 2004
The Ministry of Defence admits for the first time that senior British officers were working closely with American commanders at Abu Ghraib, the Baghdad prison where Iraqi prisoners were systematically abused and humiliated.

September 17 2004
The comprehensive 15-month search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq concludes that the only chemical or biological agents that Saddam’s regime was working on before last year’s invasion were small quantities of poisons, most likely for use in assassinations.

September 23 2004
Parliament has the power to impeach Tony Blair over his decision to invade Iraq, lawyers acting for an all-party campaign to use the ancient right say: ‘Impeachment is appropriate where there is no other means of calling a person to account, either legally or politically, for some serious wrong,’ according to lawyers from Matrix chambers, the firm of which the prime minister’s wife, Cherie Booth, is a member.

October 15 2004
US forces continue a wave of air and ground assaults on the rebel-held city of Falluja after local officials break off peace talks, saying US and Iraqi authorities are making impossible demands.

October 20 2004
A US soldier on trial for abusing Iraqi prisoners tells a Baghdad court martial that he hooked up wires around a hooded detainee in a mock electrocution at the behest of military and civilian intelligence officials.

October 29 2004
Study claims 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died in Iraq since the invasion, mostly as a result of air strikes by coalition forces.

November 30 2004
The US-led war in Iraq has created a healthcare disaster in a country where 20 years of war, mismanagement and sanctions had already left public health in a fragile state, according to Medact, a UK-based medical charity.

December 7 2004
The number of US troops killed in action in Iraq hits 1,000, after a soldier was shot dead on patrol in Baghdad. In all, 1,275 US service personnel have died since the invasion on March 20 2003. A total of 9,765 US troops have been wounded.

Looking back, these events suggest one reason why by the end the year the Iraq leadership might have welcomed Touqan’s poem – to stake a claim on the past as a way of blocking out the sheer awfulness of the present. Whether that’s the case or not, it seems strange that a song that had enjoyed outlaw status as a rallying call for a people fighting against British occupation of Palestine, should become the anthem of a government supported by America, a country that has for many years been the main supporter of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

We wonder what Ibrahim Touqan would have felt about this use of his song.

Sources consulted

Iraq timeline: February 1 2004 to December 31 2004

Full text of the Iraqi constitution

Iraq: 2004 Governing Council Proposal – Status of the Flag, posted by Jan Oskar Engene, 27 October 2003
Totalitarian pasts haunt new Iraqi, Afghan songs, August 20, 2007

Mawtini – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mawtini

Strange goings-on here in Lebanon … by Robert Fisk, The Independent, September 6, 2007

British Colonialism and the Kurds in Iraq: 1926-1930, by Peter Sluglett, excerpted from Britain in Iraq: 1914-1932 (London: Ithaca Press, 1976) via the Global Policy Forum

The Kurdish Problem and the Mosul Boundary: 1918-1925, by Peter Sluglett, excerpted from Britain in Iraq: 1914-1932 (London: Ithaca Press, 1976) via the Global Policy Forum

US and British Support for Hussein Regime, via the Global Policy Forum

This Was a Guilty Verdict on America as Well, by Robert Fisk, The Independent, November 6, 2006 via the Global Policy Forum
http://www.globalpolicy.org/intljustice/tribunals/iraq/2006/1106 sguilty.htm

Saddam Key in Early CIA Plot, by Richard Sale, United Press International April 10, 2003, via the Global Policy Forum

Iraq, 1917, by Robert Fisk, The Independent, June 17, 2004, via the Global Policy Forum

British Colonialism and Repression in Iraq, via the Global Policy Forum

History of Iraq

History of Iraq, by Borgna Brunner

The Sunday Herald, Jul 15, 2007

Iraq/History, by Tore Kjeilen

Iraq: Historical Setting. Library of Congress Country Study. Iraq as an Independent Monarchy via about.com: medieval history

British colonial rule definition of British colonial rule in the …

Mawtini – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia



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