Medicine and Midan: Venereal Disease, Sex-Work, and the Establishment of the Royal Medical College of Baghdad

By Sara Farhan
Submitted to Session P4894 (Maintaining Body and Mind in Modern Iraq, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
As Mandated Iraq struggled with plague outbreaks spewing from numerous conflicts, rapid modernisation, and rural-urban migration, indigenous and foreign doctors alike demanded a localised medical school. Despite continuous outbreaks of the plague and cholera, Baghdadi doctors and British health advisors cited Venereal Disease as the leading cause for increased mortality rates. Venereal Disease eradication efforts acted as an impetus for establishing the Royal Medical College of Baghdad (RMCB). Venereal disease eradication campaigns are part of a larger formulaic colonial approach that is not necessarily particular for the Iraqi experience. Yet, the conditions that manifested before, during, and after these efforts are part of a larger narrative that is in fact specific for the Iraqi case. The road leading up to the construction of the RMCB provides a glimpse of this unique experience.
Drawing from Hashemitian canonical biographies, memoirs, and histories as well as preliminary archival research and interviews, this paper is a humble contribution to the study of the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq. This paper is interested in the conditions behind the establishment of RMCB, one of the biggest hegemonic projects in Iraq during the first half of the twentieth century. I examine how medicine in school and in practice approached the sex-worker throughout the early years of British occupation and until the inauguration of RMCB in 1927. I argue that despite numerous plague outbreaks and prevalent diseases, it was venereal diseases that occupied medical agendas. While venereal disease prevention campaigns justified British presence until the opening of a localised medical college, the RMCB necessitated the expertise of British advisors and instructors alike, thus further legitimising their presence in Iraq.