Rashid ’Ali al-Kaylani

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Rashid 'Ali al-Kaylani also spelled Sayyad Rashid Ali al-Gillani, son of Sayyad Abdul Wahhab al-Gillani (18921965) served as prime minister of Iraq on three occasions:

March 20, 1933 October 29, 1933
March 31, 1940 January 31, 1941
April 3, 1941 May 29, 1941

He is chiefly remembered for his efforts to bring Iraq into the Axis sphere of influence during World War II.

Born to a prominent Baghdad family, he was related to Iraq's first prime minister, Abd ar-Rahman al-Haydari al-Gillani, though the two parts of the family were estranged. Rashid Ali al-Gillani began his career in politics in 1924 in the first government led by Yasin al-Hashimi, who appointed him Minister of Justice. The two men were ardent nationalists, opposed to any British involvement in the country's internal politics. They rejected the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty signed by Nuri as-Said's government in 1930 and formed their own Party of National Brotherhood to promote nationalist aims. He served as prime minister for the first time in 1933.

During the 1930s, Gillani was strongly influenced by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who had been exiled from the British Mandate of Palestine for his nationalist activities and found support in his campaign against Jewish immigration to the country with the Nazi regime in Germany.

When Gillani was again appointed prime minister in 1940, Iraq had just experienced the premature death of King Ghazi and a weakened regency for the new four-year-old King Faisal II of Iraq under his uncle, Emir Abdul-Illah. While Abdul-Illah supported Britain in the war, he was unable to control Gillani, who used the war to further his own nationalist goals by refusing to allow troops to cross through Iraq to the front. He also rejected calls that Iraq break its ties with Italy and sent his Justice Minister, Naji Shawkat, to meet with the then German ambassador to Turkey, Franz von Papen, to win German support for his government. At a later meeting, in which the Mufti's private secretary acted as the representative for the Iraqi government, Gillani assured Germany that his country's natural resources would be made available to the Axis in return for German recognition of the Arab states' right to independence and political unity, as well as the right to "deal with" the Jews living in Arab lands. Gillani, in his third and final term as prime minister, presided over the two months of mob action against Iraqi Jews that would later lead to the Farhud, the anti-Jewish riot in June 1941.

Britain responded with severe economic sanctions against Iraq. Meanwhile, news of British victories against Italian forces in North Africa dulled support for Gillani's government, and on January 31, 1941, under pressure from the regent, he resigned his post as prime minister. This only exacerbated his mistrust of Britain and its supporters in the government, and together with some of his pro-Axis colleagues, Gillani made plans to assassinate Abdul-Illah and seize power. Abdul Illah fled the country on March 31, and on April 3, Gillani returned to power. As one of his first acts, he sent an Iraqi artillery force to confront the RAF base situated in Habbaniya. Meanwhile other British forces landed at Basra initiating the Anglo-Iraqi War.

Iraq had been a major supplier of petroleum to the Allied war effort and an important landbridge between British forces in Egypt and India. To secure Iraq, Winston Churchill ordered General Archibald Wavell to protect the Habaniya base, (which had not only refused to accept the Iraqi demands for the cessation of its training activities, but in response to other Iraqi provocations had struck first and relieved the siege) and to head from there to Baghdad. Fearing a British onslaught, Gillani fled to Berlin and a new government was installed. In Berlin he was received by Hitler and recognized as the Iraqi government in exile. Upon Germany's defeat, Gillani found refuge in Saudi Arabia.

Gillani only returned from exile after the revolution that overthrew the Iraqi monarchy in 1958. Once again he attempted to seize power, and plotted a revolt against Abdul Karim Kassem's government. The revolt was foiled and Gillani was sentenced to death. Later pardoned, he returned to exile, where he died in 1965.

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