Iraq exhibition looks at inaugural parliament 87 years ago
Iraqis wistful for a golden age in politics, often labelled divided and cynical now, have been able to harken back to such a time through an exhibition on their inaugural parliament 87 years ago.
During the exhibition at the modern Council of Representatives building in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, visitors strolled past historical documents, newspapers, books and photographs.
At the time of the National Assembly’s opening on December 28, 1925, it was only the second such parliament in the Middle East, after Egypt.
“We started collecting documents and photos three months ago and we went back to the Iraqi Documents Unit and the governorate of Baghdad to look up everything from this time period,” said Firas al-Jaberi, head of the parliamentary library.
This week’s exhibit focused on the opening session and the climate at the time, but also included documents and items from later years.
Among them were two photographs of the first session, the only two pictures in the entire exhibition, which organisers attributed to losses suffered due to periodic fires and the near-constant conflicts that have plagued Iraq for upwards of 30 years.
They also said they attempted to obtain documents via the British embassy in Baghdad but were unsuccessful.
Iraq only gained full independence from Britain in 1932, though the former colonial power still exercised major influence in the country in subsequent years.
The first parliament, which lasted three years, was made up of 88 representatives. The only available breakdown indicated 16 of them were Iraqi Kurds, and the house speaker was a Shiite cleric, Mohammed al-Sadr.
None were women, who were barred from voting or running for seats.
As Iraq was still under British rule, its inaugural budget was tabulated in Indian rupees, the currency in use at the time, and comprised a 53.9 million rupee spending programme.
By contrast, the modern parliament has 325 representatives, a quarter of them women, and the draft 2013 budget proposed in October is set to be $115 billion.
Among the items on display was the first issue of the official newspaper Al-Waqa Al-Iraqiya, published in 1922, and the inaugural issue of Al-Zawra, Iraq’s first independent newspaper which first came out in 1925.
Organisers also signed deals with various publishing houses in order to display publications illustrating Iraq in the 1920s.
The period is regarded by many to be a golden era in Iraqi political life, especially when compared with the current period with little in the way of landmark legislation passed, and much discord.
“Unfortunately, the current political process is difficult because of the big gap between the people and them tearing themselves apart over sectarian issues which have been fed by Iraq’s neighbours in the region,” said Wael Abdul Latif, a former minister and lawmaker attending the exhibition.
In some ways, the period following that initial parliament session in 1925 was among the most stable in Iraq’s modern history — its first constitution, for example, lasted until a military coup in 1958.
According to Abdul Latif, Iraq’s new constitution, passed after a US-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003, has established a new, and permanent, order.
“We hope that politicians here will… forget their disputes and go off and build their country,” he added, however, alluding to the many conflicts between Iraq’s political factions.