The Minister Resident in Iraq (Knabenshue) to the Secretary of State

No. 939

Sir: I have the honor to report that on January 14th the local press of Baghdad published a German Wireless news telegram to the effect that Nuri Pasha as-Said,15 then in Egypt, was about to proceed to London to negotiate with the British authorities a proposal for the amalgamation of Palestine and Trans-Jordan with Iraq.

In my telegram No. 3 of January 14, 1 p.m.,16 I communicated the opinion of the British Adviser to the Ministry of the Interior, Major C. J. Edmonds, one of the best politically informed persons in Iraq, that the reaction in Iraq to this proposal might be received favorably, but would, on maturer thought, become unfavorable. This same authority believed that the King and Prime Minister had been informed by Nuri of his intentions, but that in their anxiety to have him leave the country did not discourage him.

It has since been found that the news was received in Iraq with mingled feelings. Most editors appeared unwilling to commit themselves until after the Iraqi Government or prominent Iraqi personages should make public statements. The general tenor of the articles appearing in the press, however, lead one to believe that the proposed amalgamation would be generally acceptable were it not for the provision suggested in the original news item that under the scheme two million additional Jews would be permitted to enter Palestine. This feature of the proposal is definitely ruled out in all of the local articles on the subject.

It is common knowledge that the scheme was originally proposed by King Faisal17 during the latter years of the Great War, and probably in the early stages immediately after the War. I am informed by the British Adviser of the Ministry of the Interior that Nun Pasha flirted with the idea just a few years ago, and that even more recently, last year, Hikmet Suleiman, the Iraqi Prime Minister, unearthed the scheme and asked him to suggest it to the British Ambassador as a solution of the present Palestine problem. Major Edmonds told me that when Hikmet Suleiman mentioned it to him he immediately expressed the opinion that the world would not look with much favor upon Iraq’s assuming another minority problem, reminding him of world opinion in respect to Iraq’s treatment of the Assyrians. Major Edmonds mentioned the matter to the British [Page 895]Ambassador who immediately turned it down without first having asked his Government’s opinion.

Having waited a few days to observe local public opinion with regard to the proposal, I saw the Minister for Foreign Affairs18 on Wednesday, January 19th, in order to ascertain his reaction in the matter. The Minister was very frank and spoke to me at some length on the subject. He prefaced his remarks by saying that Nuri Pasha has denied having issued the proposal and that the Iraqi Government had no knowledge of it aside from what appeared in the press. In reply to my inquiry as to who, in his opinion, did send up the trial balloon, he, in this instance, appeared evasive. However, he said that the Iraqi Government was at the present moment formulating a scheme for the solution of the Palestine problem which they proposed to suggest to the British Government and to the League of Nations and which would be ready in time for consideration by the new British Royal Commission to be sent to Palestine in February. He outlined their proposed scheme something as follows:

Palestine to be divided into 21 cantonments [cantons?], 14 Arab and 7 Jewish; these cantonments to be formed into a federal state in the legislature of which would be representatives from each of the cantonments; that each cantonment would be permitted local autonomy in respect to its purely local affairs; that in the financial arrangements, the cantonments would be permitted to levy, collect and administer certain taxes, while the federal government would levy, collect and administer certain other taxes, including customs; that in respect to immigration, each cantonment would be permitted to fix its own quotas. In this latter connection, the Minister said that the Jewish cantonments would be permitted to allow Jewish immigration without limit; and that the Arab cantonments would be permitted to allow Jewish immigration or entirely restrict it. This, the Minister thought, would solve the problem, for obviously, the actual residents of the Jewish cantonments would themselves not wish to be flooded out by the immigration of an excessive number of new Jews.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs stated very emphatically that if the British Government or the League of Nations refused to accept their proposal or to otherwise solve the problem satisfactorily to the Arabs, the Iraqi Government would continually persist in lodging protests and in exerting its efforts to protect the interests of the Arabs in the matter.

In my conversations with Nuri Pasha before he left for Egypt, he likewise spoke freely to me on the subject of Palestine and made it [Page 896]clear that he was also in favor of the cantonment proposals, and that he was definitely opposed to the partition scheme as also is the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Consequently, I can but conclude that Nuri’s mission to London is, in fact, for the purpose of advocating the cantonment plan and not the amalgamation plan as alleged in the German Wireless news bulletin.

Respectfully yours,

P. Knabenshue
  1. Formerly Iraqi Minister for Foreign Affairs.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Emir Faisal ibn Hussein, first King of Iraq.
  4. Toufik Suwaidi.