Sheikh Khazal rebellion
|Sheikh Khazal rebellion|
|Part of Arab separatism in Khuzestan|
The palace of Khaz'al in Shadegan
|Sublime State of Persia|| Sheikhdom of Mohammerah
United Kingdom (until mid-1924)
|Commanders and leaders|
| Reza Khan Mirpanj
|| Khaz'al ibn Jabir Al-Kaabi
Youssef Khan Mujahid
|274 soldiers (1922)
|Casualties and losses|
|115 killed (1922)|
Sheikh Khazal rebellion refers to the 1924 Arab nationalist uprising by the Sheikh of Mohammerah Khaz'al al-Ka'bi in Iranian Khuzestan. The rebellion was quickly and efficiently suppressed by Reza Khan with minimal casualties, subduing the Bakhtiari tribes allied with Sheikh Khazal and resulting in his surrender.
Khuzestan remained much out of the central Persian reach by 1923. He was supported by the British, who sent him some 3,000 arms and additional ammunition by 1919. Sheykh Khazal had been collecting taxes, but in fact paid a very small fraction to the central government.
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. In February 1922, the issue of taxation from tribal areas of Mohammerah was reopened by the Iranian government.
Shaykh Khazal and Bakhtiari Shaykhs met between April 29 and May 2, 1922, in Dar-i Khazinah to establish a cooperation; another meeting between the parties in Ahvaz produced a formal document that Khazal and Bakhtiaris would cooperate in every respect, although both would "continue to serve Iranian government faithfully and loyally". The agreement was an important step which paved the way to the establishment of the Southern League. The nucleus of the alliance, based on Shaykh Khazal and the Bakhtiaris, later tried to attract additional elements, including the Vali of Pusht-i Kuh, Qavam al-Mulk of Khamsah and possibly Sawlat al-Dawlah. The League however had no formal existence, being largely a temporary tribal confederation with common interests.
In July 1922, a column of 274 Iranian soldiers, including 12 officers under command of Colonel Hasan Agha, was sent to by Reza Khan Khuzestan through Bakhriari mountains to put pressure on Shaykh Khazal. The Bakhtiaris, unaware that the column was designated to Khuzestan and thinking their aim was to occupy their land, attacked them and destroyed the force. Only a handful of Iranian soldiers escaped the massacre. Enraged Reza Khan swore to take revenge on the incident; the Bakhtiaris however requested to be informed of such military operations in the future, in order to avoid misunderstandings. Reza Khan was however preoccupied with other troubles in Iranian frontier, most notably the Kurdish rebellion of Simko Shikak, preventing him from concentrating on retaliation towards the Bakhtiaris. The troubles with Bakhtiaris however continued in mid-September, when two minor Shaykhs of Bakhtiaris destroyed the village of Chughurt.
On 23 October 1923, Khazal was demanded to yield much of his possessions to the government, but the Shaykh rejected. 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 was mostly unanswered.
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.
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.
On November 1924, Reza Khan sent 3,000 soldiers to subdue the rebellious Sheikh. Two task forces were set, one for Dezful and another, under General Zahedi, was set from Isfahan through the Zagros mountains into Khuzestan plain. The force under General Zahedi defeated the Bakhtiari tribe who were Khazal's allies and submitted other Bakhtiaris into submission as well. Reza's arrival to Bushehr and concentration of Iranian soldiers around Ahwaz were enough to convince the Sheikh to seek a negotiated settlement.
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. 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. With British withdrawal of support, Sheikh Khazal disbanded his Arab forces and retired to Mohammerah.
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 1925, 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.
Further ethnic tensions
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.
- Price, M. Iran's Diverse Peoples: A Reference Sourcebook. p159
- Bakhtiary, A. M. The Last of the Khans: The Life of Morteza Quli Khan Samsam Bakhtiari. p155. 
- Cronin, S. Tribal Politics in Iran: Rural Conflict and the New State, 1921-1941. pp52-5. 
- Price, M. Iran`s diverse peoples: a reference sourcebook. p.159. "... and finally supporting a rebellion by Shaykh Khazal." 
- Ward Steven R. Immortal: A military history of Iran and its armed forces. p.138. 
- Ward Steven R. Immortal: A military history of Iran and its armed forces. p.139.