The Shaikh who lost his Shaikhdom, Khaz’al al-Ka‘bī of Mohammerah
Mohammerah, now named Khorramshahr, is a city located at the confluence of the Karun and Shatt al-Arab Rivers in the Khuzestan region of Iran (formerly known as Arabistan). This area was nominally a part of the Persian Qajar Empire, but for much of the 19th and early 20th centuries it was ruled as a semi-independent Shaikhdom by the Arab al-Ka‘bī family.
Throughout Khaz’al’s reign (1897-1925), he was one of the most important political figures in the Gulf and a prominent supporter of Britain’s presence in the region. Although never formally a part of the British Empire, the Gulf had been effectively incorporated into the British imperial system since the early 19th century. The conclusion of treaties and agreements with the region’s various tribal rulers was one of the central means by which Britain enforced its hegemonic presence, and Khaz’al was no exception to this trend.
Indeed, Khaz’al actively fostered close relations with Britain in an attempt to gain their assurance that in the event of the Qajar Empire collapsing or being overthrown, Mohammerah would be formally recognised by Britain as an independent state, with him as its ruler.
After oil was discovered by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (the forerunner of BP) in Khuzestan in 1908, Britain strengthened its ties to Khaz’al further. In 1910, he was made a Knight Commander of the Indian Empire. Khaz’al sought to prove his loyalty to Britain in return and he acted as a key ally throughout the First World War during which – with British military assistance – he suppressed a pro-Ottoman tribal uprising in his domains.
However, Khaz’al’s efforts to gain formal British recognition of his suzerainty over Mohammerah and achieve independence failed. Unlike the ruling families of the other Shaikhdoms in the Gulf – who remain in power today – ultimately Britain did not guarantee his rule. After the rise to power of Reza Khan (Shah from December 1925 onwards) and the fall of the Qajar dynasty, Khaz’al came under increasing pressure. The centralising and modernising programme of the new government in Tehran could not tolerate Mohammerah’s relative independence.
After leading an unsuccessful uprising, Khaz’al was taken to Tehran by force and detained by Reza Khan in April 1925. He remained in the capital under house arrest until his death in May 1936. After his fall from power, many of Khaz’al’s family members, including his son Abdullah, fled to Kuwait – where the Shaikh owned property – and many of his descendants remain living there until the present day.
- London, British Library, ''File 29/6 British Relations with Khazal, Sheikh of Khorramshahr'' IOR/R/15/2/1747
- London, British Library, ''A Précis of the Relations of the British Government with the Tribes and Shaikhs of 'Arabistan By Lieutenant A T Wilson, Acting Consul for Arabistan'' IOR/L/PS/20/70
- London, British Library, ''File 26/185 V (F 96) Shaikh of Mohammerah'' IOR/R/15/1/388
- London, British Library, 'The Date Gardens in Iraq of the Sheikhs of Koweit [Kuwait] and Mohammerah. Scope of undertakings given by HM Government in 1914. Case for the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown and Opinion thereon T W H Inskip and F B Merriman, Law Officers' Department, 29 Mar 1933. inc The date gardens in Iraq of the Sheikhs of Koweit and Mohammerah. Historical summary [undated]' IOR/L/PS/18/B468
- London, British Library, ''File 3/8 Affairs of Sh. Khaz`als sons.'' IOR/R/15/5/178
- London, British Library, ''File 53/75 (D 156) Shaikh Khazal's Claim against Kuwaiti Merchants'' IOR/R/15/1/528
- London, British Library, ''Memorandum on British Commitments (during the War) to the Gulf Chiefs'' IOR/L/PS/18/B301
- London, British Library, 'File 2902/1916 ‘Treaties and Engagements between the British Government and the Chiefs of the Arabian Coast of the Persian Gulf’' IOR/L/PS/10/606
- London, British Library, 'File 1421/1908 Pt 3 'Persia: oil; negotiations between the Shaikh of Mohammerah and the Anglo-Persian Oil Co.'' IOR/L/PS/10/144/1
- London, British Library, 'File 345/1908 Pt 1 'Mohammerah: situation. British assurances to Sheikh.'' IOR/L/PS/10/132
- London, British Library, 'File 345/1908 Pt 2 'Mohammerah: situation. Sheikh's dispute with the Vali of Basra. decoration for Sheikh. renewed assurances to Sheikh.'' IOR/L/PS/10/133
- London, British Library, 'File 1247/1912 Pt 2 'Anglo-Turkish Agreement. Acceptance by Sheikhs of Koweit and Mohammerah.'' IOR/L/PS/10/262/2
- London, British Library, ''File 4/14 Property in Kuwait of Late Shaikh of Muhammarah (Khorramshahr)'' IOR/R/15/5/199