Khaz'al al-Ka'bi

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Khaz'al Bin Jaber Bin Merdaw Al Ka'abi
Sheikh of Mohammerah
Photo of Al-Ka'bi, date unknown.
Monarchy June 1897 - April 1925
June 1897
Maz'al Jabir al-kaabi
Sheikhdom abolished
Father Jabir Bin Merdaw Al Ka'abi
Born (1863-06-24)24 June 1863
Died 24 May 1936(1936-05-24) (aged 72)
Tehran, Imperial State of Iran
Religion Islam
Occupation Emir of Mohammerah

Khaz'al bin Jabir bin Merdaw al-Ka'bi (Arabic: الشيخ خزعل بن جابر بن مرداو الكعبي‎) (18 August 1863 – 24 May 1936), GCIE, KCSI, Muaz us-Sultana, and Sardar-e-Aqdas (Most Sacred Officer of the Imperial Order of the Aqdas),[1] was the ruler of the semi-autonomous Sheikhdom of "Mohammerah" located in Khuzestan province of Iran.

Historical background[edit]

In early 1920s, the southern part of Khuzestan, with its large Arab population, was semi-autonomous under the rule of Sheikh Khaz'al.[citation needed] An ambitious local Arab leader, Khaz'al was nominally under the jurisdiction of the Qajar king. In reality, he was protected and controlled by the British, whose 10,000-man army, the South Persia Rifles, operated with immunity in southern Iran. The British, without notifying Iran, were also providing Khaz'al with meager shares of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company.[citation needed] They even considered Khazal as a possible king for Iraq or for an independent principality in southern Persia.[citation needed] Khaz'al was also the darling of many Sunnite Iraqi nationalists, who sought to foment dissent among Iran’s Arab population by referring to Khuzestan as Arabestān and glorifying Khaz'al as its independent “Sultan”.[2]

The tribal leaders of the Bani Kaab, an Arab tribe which had originally come from the area of what is now Kuwait in the 16th century, had often been the Imperial-appointed tax farmers for the entire province for many years after the fall of the Msha'sha'iya. The Bani Kaab were the largest and most powerful tribe in the province. In the early 19th century the Bani Kaab had dissolved into a number of rival clans that often clashed and feuded with each other.

Of these factions, the Muhaisin clan, led by Jabir al-Kaabi, became the strongest and under his leadership the Bani Kaab were reunified under a single authority, the capital of the tribe being moved from the village of Fallahiyah to the flourishing port city of Mohammerah. Unlike previous leaders of the Bani Kaab, Jabir maintained law and order, and established Mohammerah as a free port and sheikhdom, of which he was Sheikh. Jabir also became the Imperial-appointed governor-general of the province[citation needed].

Rise to power[edit]

After Jabir's death in 1881, his elder son, Maz'al, took over as tribal leader and Sheikh of Mohammerah, as well as the provincial governor-general, which was confirmed by an Imperial firman (executive order). However, in June 1897 Maz'al was killed. Some accounts state that he was assassinated by his younger brother, Khaz'al, while others state that this was done by a palace guard under orders from Khaz'al.

Thereafter Khaz'al assumed his position as Sheikh of Mohammerah, proclaiming himself not only the leader of the Bani Kaab, but also the ruler of the entire province. He then appointed his sons to the governorships of the various cities, towns and villages within his control, including Naseriyeh.[citation needed]

Relations with the Qajars and tribal leaders[edit]


Khaz'al established and maintained close relations with the Qajar court, who had accepted Khaz'al as the neighbour government. The rest of the province (the eastern and northern regions) remained under the domination of Bakhtiari Khans, Lur tribal leaders, and Persian groups. Several of the Bakhtiari Khans, in particular, had entered into alliances with Khaz'al. The Qajar Shah made him an Officer of the Nishan-e-Aqdas (Imperial Order of the Aqdas) in 1920.[citation needed]

The Anglo-Persian Oil Company[edit]

Following the discovery of oil in Mohammerah-controlled territory[citation needed], the British moved quickly to establish control over the vast oil resources in the province, which culminated in the foundation of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in 1909. The British established a treaty with Khaz'al, whereby in exchange for their guaranteed support and protection against any external attack[citation needed], he would also guarantee to maintain internal security and not interfere with the process of oil extraction. As part of the treaty they were given a monopoly of drilling in the province in return for an annual payment to both Khaz'al and the Shah, though the profits of the company vastly exceeded the annual payments.

British influence in southern Persia mainly derived from the relationships which had been established between the British government and various tribal leaderships, including especially Khaz'al and the Bakhtiari khans, and also, though less importantly, the Qawāmis of Shiraz and many of the minor khans of the Persian Gulf littoral.[3]

Khaz'al as an important tribal leader was a member of South Persia Rifles.[4] and when he asked for British support against central government of Iran, the answer was "... you remain faithful to the Shah and act in accordance with our advice".[5]

Conflict with Reza Khan[edit]

The palace of Khaz'al in Shadegan

In 1921, realizing the threat posed by Reza Khan Mirpanj (Reza Shah), who had just staged a coup d'etat with Seyyed Zia'eddin Tabatabaee, Khaz'al proceeded to take steps in order to protect himself. He attempted to form an alliance with all the Bakhtiari, Lur, and Khamseh tribes, in order to prevent Reza Khan from gaining too much power. His ultimate aim was that through this tribal alliance the Zagros Mountains would become a nearly impenetrable barrier against the forces of the central government. However, the various tribal groups often clashed with each other and were unable to come to agreements, and his proposal failed.

He then turned to Ahmad Shah Qajar and the Imperial Court of Tehran, presenting himself as a fiercely loyal defender and advocate of the Qajar dynasty, and calling upon the Court to take action against the ambitions of Reza Khan. This eventually came to nothing as well. Khaz'al then sought to ally himself with the Majles (Iranian Parliament) opposition to Reza Khan, writing a number of letters to the opposition leader, Ayatollah Seyyed Hassan Modarres. In these letters Khaz'al presented himself as a staunch constitutionalist from the very beginning of the movement, emphatic as an Iranian nationalist, and a liberal democrat who found Reza Khan's authoritarianism to be personally offensive. The opposition accepted Khaz'al's proposal cautiously and not without much deliberation, as they did not trust him. However, the parliamentary opposition to Reza Khan failed.

Khaz'al then turned to the British for help, and this time presented himself as a defender of Islam and Shari'a (Islamic law) against Reza Khan's Iranian secularism. He claimed that his people had only recently immigrated to the province and that they had no ties to the people of Iran. He proposed that because of this background, it would not be difficult to separate the Arabs of Khuzestan from Iran. Forced to choose between Khaz'al and Reza Khan, the British completely withdrew their support and protection for Khaz'al's rule, claiming that the only reason they had supported him to begin with was due to the central government's inability to properly enforce its rule in Khuzestan. The Qajar dynasty subsequently collapsed, and Ahmad Shah was deposed.

Final years[edit]

Indifference from the Qajar court and betrayal at the hands of the British ultimately led Khaz'al to go to the League of Nations in 1924 in an effort to gain international recognition of his sheikhdom and to gather support for the separation of his territory from Iran. This effort, however, ended in failure. Prior to the rise of Reza Khan, Khaz'al had never attempted to separate his sheikhdom from Qajar Persia, to which he had maintained staunch loyalty.

In January 1925 Reza Khan sent his military commanders to the province to assert the authority of the provisional government in Tehran. An Imperial farman (executive order) was issued restoring the old name of the province,Khuzestan instead of Arabistan, and Khaz'al lost his authority over the various tribes under his command.

Later that spring Reza Khan made two attempts to convince Khaz'al to meet him in Tehran to discuss his position in the new government. However, Khaz'al was suspicious of Reza Khan's motives and refused to go there himself, instead stating that he would send an emissary.

A few weeks later in April, Reza Khan ordered one of his commanders, who had a friendly relationship with Khaz'al, to meet Khaz'al, ostensibly to convince him to journey to Tehran. The commander, General Fazlollah Zahedi, accompanied by several government officials, met with Khaz'al and spent an evening with him onboard his yacht, anchored in the Shatt al-Arab river by his palace in the village of Fallahiyah near the city of Mohammerah.

Later that evening a gunboat, sent by Reza Khan, stealthily made its way next to the yacht, which was then immediately boarded by fifty Persian troops. The soldiers arrested Khaz'al and took him by motorboat down the river to Mohammerah, where a car was waiting to take him to the military base in Ahwaz. From there he was taken to Dezful, accompanied by his son, and then to the city of Khorramabad in Lorestan, and then eventually to Tehran.

Upon his arrival, Khaz'al was warmly greeted and well received by Reza Khan, who assured him that his problems would be quickly settled, and that in the meantime, he would be treated very well. However, many of his personal assets in Iran were quickly liquidated and his properties eventually came under the domain of the Imperial government after Reza Khan was crowned the new Shah. The sheikhdom was abolished and the provincial authority took full control of regional affairs.

Khaz'al spent the rest of his life under virtual house arrest, unable to travel beyond Tehran's city limits. He was able to retain ownership of his properties in Kuwait and Iraq, where he was exempted from taxation. He died in May 1936 while alone in his house, as earlier in the day his servants had been taken to court by the police. It is said that he did not die of natural causes, but that he was murdered by one of the guards stationed outside his house under direct orders from Reza Shah.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sardar Aghdas". Dehkhoda Dictionary. Retrieved 28 June 2012. 
  2. ^ MILANI, MOHSEN M. "IRAQ vi. PAHLAVI PERIOD, 1921-79". Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  3. ^ Cronin, Stephanie. "Great Britain v. British influence during the Reżā Shah period, 1921-41". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 2011-06-15. 
  4. ^ Safiri, Floreeda. "SOUTH PERSIA RIFLES". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 2011-06-15. 
  5. ^ Wright, Denis. "HARDINGE, ARTHUR". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 2011-06-15. 
  • Tarikh-e Pahnsad Saal-e Khuzestan (Five Hundred Year History of Khuzestan) by Ahmad Kasravi
  • Jang-e Iran va Britannia dar Mohammerah (The Iran-British War in Mohammerah) by Ahmad Kasravi
  • Tarikh-e Bist Saal-e Iran (Twenty Year History of Iran) by Hossein Maki (Tehran, 1945–47)
  • Hayat-e Yahya (The Life of Yahya) by Yahya Dolatabadi (Tehran, 1948–52)
  • Tarikh-e Ejtemai va Edari Doreieh Qajarieh (The Administrative and Social History of the Qajar Era) by Abdollah Mostofi (Tehran, 1945–49) ISBN 1-56859-041-5 (for the English translation)
  • Amin al-Rayhani, Muluk al-Arab, aw Rihlah fi al-bilad al-Arabiah (in two volumes, 1924–25), Vol 2, part 6 on Kuwait.
  • Ansari, Mostafa -- The History of Khuzistan, 1878-1925, unpublished PhD. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1974

External links[edit]