My dissertation uses a group of Ottoman and Iranian notables – tribal leaders, landowners, and entrepreneurs – as nodes through which to investigate the making of multi-imperial space in what is now southern Iraq. The Ottoman, British, and Qajar states all pursued imperial expansion and consolidation in the region roughly bounded by the Tigris-Euphrates-Karun river basin south of Baghdad. In addition to jockeying for political influence with local notables, all three states carried out projects of modernity, including remaking regional trade with steamships and linking the control of people and land with new land tenure regimes. Their existence alongside powerful local actors forced the three states to adjust both the goals and the application of these projects to fit the social, cultural, and environmental characteristics of southern Iraq. In the process, they created a unique configuration of modernity: a multi-imperial space of overlapping sovereignties and power brokers.
Southern Iraq has long been contested space. The Ottoman struggle to govern this distant land of rivers and marshes was compounded in the nineteenth century by the arrival of other imperial actors, and by the intensification of the imperial drive to monitor and control local social, economic, and political forms. The gaps created by the intersecting sovereignties of this multi-imperial space were filled by a distinct network of local capitalists and political leaders. Living on both sides of the Ottoman-Iranian border, they courted imperial officials of all three states while remaining rooted in local economies. They maintained social and economic relationships amongst themselves to form a social network of capital which they relied upon in both cooperating with and contesting imperial schemes, particularly through infrastructural and technological development. Their interventions were enabled by the environment of southern Iraq and by the technological nature of imperial modernity there. Building on this unique configuration, my work uses nineteenth-century Iraq as a case study to help us understand the nature of mixed imperial spaces and their role in molding the development of colonial modernity and inter-imperial relations, as well as providing insight into the role of technology as a main facilitator in the creation of multi-imperial space.