Conflict and Cooperation: American Trade in Late Ottoman Baghdad and Basra

By Jameel Haque
Submitted to Session P4674 (Ottoman Provinces: Commerce and Communities, 2016 Annual Meeting
Iraq; Ottoman Empire;
19th-21st Centuries; Globalization; Ottoman Studies; Trade/Investment; World History;
This paper examines the conflicts and cooperation surrounding the Ottoman export trade to the United States in the period 1900-1914. I place the export trade, which included a wide variety of agricultural products as well as carpets and antiquities, in a global and globalizing context. However, the main focus of my research delves into the date and licorice trade. The US firms of Hills Brothers (dates) and MacAndrews and Forbes (licorice) were the dominant Western firms trading in these commodities. During the first two decades of the twentieth centuries, these US businesses both cooperated with and came into conflict with a variety of Ottoman subjects. The Ottoman interests that worked with and against the Americans included date plantation owners, tax farmers, and regional government officials. The conflicts that arose over taxation, usufruct, and monopolistic practices demonstrate local conditions and the degree to which the centralizing reforms of the Ottoman state were effective in late Ottoman Baghdad and Basra. Analyzing these conflicts reveals the functioning of the Ottoman state in the area and reflects ways in which earlier reforms of the 19th century manifested in this period. The cooperation that occurred, likewise, suggests that even potentially separatist local nationalist factions like the Naqib of Basra operated within and utilized the Ottoman system. US merchants also operated within and prospered through the Ottoman system, as US interests utilized local practices like tax farming to further their own agendas. US businesses operated within the Ottoman system and their role can be interpreted as both imperialistic but also as that of partners within a working and vibrant economic system. The trade between the US and the Ottoman Empire is also reflective of growing US economic interest in the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, this paper details the export trade in order to support conclusions about internal Ottoman governance and economic practice; I also argue for a historiographic reconsideration of US interest in late Ottoman Iraq, specifically that the US deserves a larger role in the literature than it has previously been assigned.