The Shaikh who lost his Shaikhdom, Khaz’al al-Ka‘bī of Mohammerah
The Qatar Digital Library has digitized a number of sources concerning the life and times of Shaikh Khaz’al bin Jābir bin Mirdāw al-Ka‘bī (1861-1936), the Emir of Mohammerah and chief of the Banu Ka’b tribe.
Detail from a 1908 War Office map of Persia and Afghanistan that shows Mohammerah. British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/10/332, f 77.
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.
Shaikh Khaz’al bin Jābir bin Mirdāw al-Ka‘bī wearing military uniform and honours bestowed on him by both the British and Persian Governments. Public Domain
Throughout Khaz’al’s reign (1897-1925), he was one of the most important political figures in the Persian 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.
Shaikh Khaz'al's palace, Qasr al-Failiyah in Mohammerah, 1921. Public Domain.
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.
Sheikh Khaz'al's yacht docked behind Qasr al-Failiyah, 1925 Public Domain
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.
A young Sheikh Abdullah seated (centre) and his elder brother Sheikh Chassib (third from right) with a number of their retainers, 1908. Public Domain
Those who wish to learn more about this intriguing historical figure and the broader political context in which he lived can do so using a number of India Office Records files about him that have recently been digitized and uploaded on to the Qatar Digital Library by the British Library-Qatar Foundation Partnership as detailed below.
Louis Allday, Gulf History/Arabic Language Specialist
British Library, India Office Records, IOR/R/15/2/1747: 'File 29/6 British Relations with Khazal, Sheikh of Khorramshahr'
British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/20/70: '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'
British Library, India Office Records, IOR/R/15/1/388 'File 26/185 V (F 96) Shaikh of Mohammerah'
British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/18/B468: The Date Gardens in Iraq of the Sheikhs of Koweit [Kuwait] and Mohammerah. Scope of undertakings given by HM Government in 1914
British Library, India Office Records, IOR/R/15/1/384: 'File 26/94 (F 26) Mohammerah; Shaikh Khazal's offer re: building of Ahwaz Consulate'
British Library, India Office Records, IOR/R/15/5/178: 'File 3/8 Affairs of Sh. Khaz`als sons.'
British Library, India Office Records, IOR/R/15/1/528: 'File 53/75 (D 156) Shaikh Khazal's Claim against Kuwaiti Merchants'
British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/10/332: File 240/1913 'Mohammerah - Khoremabad Railway; the Khor Musa agreement'
British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/18/B301: 'Memorandum on British Commitments (during the War) to the Gulf Chiefs'
British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/10/606: File 2902/1916 ‘Treaties and Engagements between the British Government and the Chiefs of the Arabian Coast of the Persian Gulf’
British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/10/144/1: File 1421/1908 Pt 3 'Persia: oil; negotiations between the Shaikh of Mohammerah and the Anglo-Persian Oil Co.'
British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/10/132: File 345/1908 Pt 1 'Mohammerah: situation. British assurances to Sheikh.'
British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/10/133: File 345/1908 Pt 2 'Mohammerah: situation. Sheikh's dispute with the Vali of Basra. decoration for Sheikh. renewed assurances to Sheikh.'
British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/18/B380: ‘Memorandum respecting the frontier between Mohammerah and Turkey.’
British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/10/262: File 1247/1912 Pts 1-2 'KOWEIT & MOHAMMERAH ANGLO-TURKISH AGREEMENT'
British Library, India Office Records, IOR/L/PS/10/262/2: File 1247/1912 Pt 2 'Anglo-Turkish Agreement. Acceptance by Sheikhs of Koweit and Mohammerah.'
British Library, India Office Records, IOR/R/15/5/199: 'File 4/14 Property in Kuwait of Late Shaikh of Muhammarah (Khorramshahr)'