Nuri al-Said (1888 – July 15, 1958) (نوري السعيد) was an Iraqi politician during the British Mandate and the monarchy, who served in various key cabinet positions, including fourteen terms as prime minister of Iraq:
From his first appointment under the British colonial regime as prime minister in 1930, Nuri was a major political figure in Iraq under the monarchy. During his many terms in office, he was involved in some of the key policy decisions that shaped the modern Iraqi state. In 1930, during his first term, he signed the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty, which, as a step toward greater independence, granted Britain the unlimited right to station its armed forces in and transit military units through Iraq. It also gave legitimacy to British control of the country's oil industry. While the treaty nominally reduced British involvement in Iraq's internal affairs, this was only to the extent that Iraq's behavior did not conflict with British economic or military interests. This agreement led the way to nominal independence as the Mandate ended in 1932. Throughout his career Nuri was a supporter of a continued and extensive British role within Iraq. These policies were always matters of great contention.
Nuri was a controversial figure with many enemies, and had to flee Iraq twice in the aftermath of coups. By the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958, he was deeply unpopular—his policies, regarded as pro-British, were believed to have failed in adapting to the country's changed social circumstances. Poverty and social injustice were widespread, and Nuri had become a symbol of a regime that failed to address these issues, choosing a course of repression instead, to protect the interests of the well-off. On 15 July 1958, the day after the republican revolution, he attempted to flee the country disguised as a woman, but was captured and killed.
He was a trusted ally of Faisal who, in 1924, appointed him deputy commander in chief of the army so as to ensure the loyalty of the troops to the regime. Once again, Nuri used this position to build up his own power base. During the 1920s, he supported the king's policy to build up the nascent state's armed forces, based on the loyalty of Sharifian officers, the former Ottoman soldiers who formed the backbone of the regime.
In October 1932, Faisal dismissed Nuri as prime minister and replaced him with Naji Shawkat. This curbed Nuri's influence somewhat; after the death of Faisal the following year and the accession of King Ghazi, his access to the palace decreased. Further impeding his influence was the rise of Yasin al-Hashimi, who would become prime minister for the first time in 1935. Nevertheless, Nuri continued to hold sway among the military establishment, and his position as a trusted ally of the British meant that he was never far from power. In 1933 the British persuaded Ghazi to appoint him foreign minister, a post he held until the Bakr Sidqi coup in 1936. However, his close ties to the British, which helped him remain in important positions of state, also destroyed any remaining popularity he had.
Back in Baghdad in October 1938, Nuri re-established contact with al-Sabbagh, and persuaded him to overthrow the Midfai government. Al-Sabbagh and his cohorts launched their coup on the 24 December 1938, and Nuri was reinstated as prime minister. In this position, he sought to sideline the king by promoting the position—and possible succession—of the latter's half-brother Prince Zaid. Meanwhile Ghazi was also annoying the British with increasingly nationalistic broadcasts on his private radio station. In January 1939 the king further aggrieved Nuri by appointing Rashid Ali al-Kaylani head of the Royal divan. Nuri’s campaign against his rivals continued in March that year, when he claimed to have unmasked a plot to murder Ghazi, and used it as an excuse to carry out a purge of the army's officer corps.
When Ghazi died in a car crash on 4 April 1939, Nuri was widely suspected of being implicated in his death. At the royal funeral crowds chanted: “You will answer for the blood of Ghazi, Nuri.” He supported the accession of 'Abd al-Ilah as regent for Ghazi’s successor, Faisal II, who was still a minor. The new regent was initially susceptible to Nuri’s influence.
By this time, affairs in Europe had begun to have an impact on Iraq—the fall of France in June 1940 encouraged some patriotic elements to place their hopes in a German victory. While Nuri remained loyal to Britain, al-Sabbagh moved into the pro-German camp. This loss of his main military ally meant that Nuri “quickly lost his ability to affect events.”
The regent's brief flirtation with more liberal policies in 1947 did little to stave off the problems that the established order was facing. The social and economic structures of the country had changed considerably since the establishment of the monarchy, with an increased urban population, a rapidly growing middle class, and increasing political consciousness among the peasants and the working class, in which the Iraqi Communist Party was playing a growing role. However, the political elite, with its strong ties and shared interests with the dominant classes, was unable to take the radical steps that might have preserved the monarchy. In this attempt by the elite to retain power during the last ten years of the monarchy, Nuri, rather than the regent, would increasingly play the dominant role, thanks largely to his superior political skills.
The response on the streets of Baghdad was immediate and furious. After six years of British occupation, no single act could have been less popular than giving the British an even larger legal role in Iraq's affairs. Demonstrations broke out the following day, with students playing a prominent part and the Communist Party guiding much of the anti-government activity. The protests intensified over the following days, until the police fired on a mass demonstration (20 January), leaving many casualties. On the following dayt, `Abd al-Ilah disavowed the new treaty. Nuri returned to Baghdad on 26 January and immediately implemented a harsh policy of repression against the protesters. At mass demonstration the next day, police fired again at the protesters, leaving many more dead. In his struggle to implement the treaty, Nuri had destroyed any credibility he had left. Although he retained considerable power throughout the country, he was generally hated.
The next major political demarche with which Nuri's name would be associated was the Baghdad Pact, a series of agreements concluded between 1954 and 1955 which tied Iraq politically and militarily with the Western powers and their regional allies, notably Turkey. This pact was especially important to Nuri, as it was favored by the British and Americans. On the other hand, it was also contrary to the political aspirations of most of the country. Taking advantage of the situation, Nuri stepped up his policies of political repression and censorship. This time, however, the reaction was less fierce than it had been in 1948. According to historian Hanna Batatu, this can be attributed to slightly more favourable economic circumstances and the weakness of the Communist Party, damaged by police repression and internal division.
The political situation deteriorated in 1956, with uprisings in the cities of Najaf and Hayy, while Israel's attack on Egypt, coordinated with Britain and France in response to the nationalisation of the Suez Canal, only exacerbated popular mistrust of the Baghdad Pact. Nuri’s political position was weakened, while the opposition began to coordinate its activities: in February 1957 a Front of National Union was established, bringing together the National Democrats, the Independents, the Communists, and the Ba'th Party. A similar process within the military officer corps followed, with the formation of the Supreme Committee of Free Officers. However, Nuri's attempts to preserve the loyalty of the military through generous benefits failed.
The Iraqi monarchy and its Hashemite ally in Jordan reacted to the union between Egypt and Syria (February 1958) by forming the Arab Federation of Iraq and Jordan. (He tried to convince Kuwait to join too, but the British were opposed.) Nuri was the first prime minister of the new federation, which was soon ended with the coup that toppled the Iraqi monarchy.
Nuri went into hiding, but he was captured the next day as he sought to make his escape disguised as a woman (but with men's shoes). He was shot dead and buried that same day, but an angry mob disinterred his corpse and dragged it through the streets of Baghdad, where it was hung up, burned, and mutilated.