Ageless Iraq

Basra – The Venice of the Middle East

For the last few decades, holidaying in Iraq has, sadly, been almost impossible. The country has been synonymous with war, violence and oppression for such a long time that the idea of visiting seems very fanciful for anyone born after the 1960s. 40 years ago, Iraq was in fact a popular destination for tourists. But for now, we can only travel there through the medium of film.

We posted an article, “Iraq Before Saddam“, a few days ago, featuring ten films from the history of Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion. But one of them deserves special attention.

The Pathé documentary unit shot a two reel documentary called Ageless Iraq back in the 1950s. If you disregard that the film was probably made for propaganda reasons (the notes say the film was made for the Iraq Petroleum Co.) and instead just view it as a travelogue, it paints a fascinating and extremely appealing picture of this ancient land.

Afternoon sailing trip

It is easy to forget that Iraq is in fact a country steeped in rich history and culture and as the first reel tells us, the very beginnings of civilisation started here. This is a country where writing was conceived and where man began cultivating the land. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow through Iraq, fertilising the plains and during the 1950s agriculture production was thriving and self-sufficient. Iraq is also home to the ancient walls of Babylon and is the birthplace of the prophet Abraham.

Baghdad – this could be a resort in any other holiday hot spot

Both reels show images of a landscape, culture and society that we just don’t associate with Iraq anymore: art, horseracing, music, cuisine and boats leisurely sailing down a canal in Basra otherwise known as “The Venice of the Middle East”.

The narrator states at the end: “Ageless Iraq, a new country but one that hasn’t forgotten the glories of its history. A country that is now emerging from the shadows of it past to a future bright with promise.” Let’s hope that this will soon be true again and that perhaps, one day, we will be able to book a flight to explore this fascinating land.

View both reels of Ageless Iraq below:

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Iraq Before Saddam

During this time of turmoil in Iraq, it is interesting to look back at that country and its history prior to Saddam Hussein coming to power. In the British Pathé archive, there are some fascinating stories and images from that beautiful, if troubled, state. This selection of 10 films includes footage of King Feisal, the construction of Iraqi oil fields, and vintage looks at Iraqi culture.

For those wanting more recent footage from Iraq’s history, these short overviews by John Humphrys document Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991, Operation Desert Storm, the fall of Iraq during the 2003 invasion, and the capture of Saddam Hussein by US troops.

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1.  BAGHDAD AND BEYOND (c.1932)


The British mandate in Iraq came to an end in 1932 after twelve years. This film presents an intriguing picture of life in Iraq at around that time, including footage of the Iraqi army.

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2.  A ROYAL WELCOME (1933)


Full title reads: “Dover & London. A Royal Welcome. The King and Queen, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Duke of Gloucester, Prime Minister and Officers of State, greet King Feisal of Irak on State visit for first time.”

There is an interesting outdated spelling of Iraq used in the title card.

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3.  IRAQ (1942)


This short little film provides a glimpse of life in Baghdad during the 1940s.

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4.  BOY KING OF IRAQ (1943)


Six-year-old King Feisal II tours a British military camp in Baghdad, Iraq with his uncle and regent Emir Abdul Illah. From the Second World War.

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5.  NEW OIL WEALTH FOR IRAQ (1952)


This newsreel concerns the opening of a new desert oil field near Basra by the Iraq Petroleum Company. The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri Pasha al-Said, can be seen in the film.

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6.  AGELESS IRAQ – PARTS ONE AND TWO (1954)


This longer film, split across two reels, was made for the Iraq Petroleum Co. in the 1950s and documents life in Iraq – its political history, traditions, industry, and its religious life.

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7.  KING FEISAL ENTHRONED (1953)


The Duke of Gloucester attends the enthronement of Iraq’s young King Feisal in Baghdad, 1953.

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8.  IRAQ BOMBSHELL (1958)


A revolution in Iraq sweeps away King Feisal and his Prime Minister. This newsreel takes a quick look at the life of the monarch, including his state visit to England and the inaugurating of an oil well at Kirkuk.

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9.  BRITISH TROOPS DEFEND KUWAIT (1961)

Threatened by neighbouring Iraq, Abdullah III Al-Salim Al-Sabah of Kuwait seeks protection from British forces. News story with an American commentary.

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10.  FIRST PICTURES – REVOLT IN IRAQ (1963)

Prime Minister Kassem of Iraq is killed during a brief revolution in 1963. American commentary.

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Further Viewing
There are simply too many interesting films to list here. Additional films can be found by searching our YouTube channel or our website. But we’ve selected this “bonus” film. It features Ernest Bevin and the Iraqi Prime Minister Sayyid Salih Jabr in Portsmouth, England at the signing of a new treaty between Iraq and the United Kingdom in 1948.

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WWW.BRITISHPATHE.COM

WWW.YOUTUBE.COM/BRITISHPATHE

Welcome to Baghdad Madame!

Welcome to Baghdad Madame

Anyone up for a holiday in Iraq? It does seem a fairly fanciful idea when Iraq has been synonymous with war, violence and oppression for such a long time and for anyone born after the 1960s the idea of Iraq ever having been a holiday destination seems fantastically peculiar.  However, wind back 40 years and Iraq was in fact a popular destination for tourists and now there are signs, indeed very small, that international tour operators could be taking visitors back there one day.

The Pathé documentary unit shot a two reel documentary called Ageless Iraq back in the 1950s. If you disregard that the films were probably made for propaganda reasons (the notes say the film was made for the Iraq Petroleum Co.) and instead just view them as travelogue films; they paint a fascinating and extremely appealing picture of this ancient land.

Afternoon sailing trip

It is easy to forget that Iraq is in fact a country steeped in rich history and culture and as the first film tells us, the very beginnings of civilisation started here. This is a country where writing was conceived and where man began cultivating the land. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers flow through Iraq, fertilising the plains and during the 1950s agriculture production was thriving and self-sufficient. Iraq is also home to the ancient walls of Bablyon and is the birthplace of the prophet Abraham.

Baghdad – this could be a resort in any other holiday hot spot

Both films show images of a landscape, culture and society that we just don’t associate with Iraq: art, horseracing, music, cuisine and boats leisurely sailing down a canal in Basra otherwise known as “The Venice of the Middle East”.  

The narrator states at the end: “Ageless Iraq, a new country but one that hasn’t forgotten the glories of its history. A country that is now emerging from the shadows of it past to a future bright with promise.” Let’s hope that this time it is true and perhaps one day we will be able to book a flight to explore this fascinating land.

Ageless Iraq Reel 1

Ageless Iraq Reel 2

Basra - The Venice of the Middle East