Hajji War

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Wars of Ill Bethisad
War logo2.gif
Name(s):Hajji War
Start of hostilities:28th May 1959
End of hostilities:7th August 1959
Winning side:Losing side:
Hijaaz flag.gif
Saudi Arabia
Iraaq flag5.jpg
Iraaqi Government in Exile
Resulting treaty/treaties:Arab Community peace treaty
Major consequences:Return to pre-war borders and to pre-1958 status of the Muslim Holy Cities



The Hashemites

The ruling houses of Hijaaz and Saudi Arabia, the Hashemites and the Sauds respectively, had a long history of rivalry. The Hashemites were (and still are) the traditional keepers of the Moslem Holy Cities (Mecca and Medina) even during foreign (Ottoman Turk) occupation.

The Hashemites became the royal family of the Hijaaz by the hands of King Faisal I, and with European support (1918). In 1921, they also became the rulers of Iraaq as result of the retreat of the LoN mandate troops from the State of Iraaq after their disastrous peacekeeping campaign.

The Hashemites always maintained a moderate position about subjects of faith, which usually allowed all Moslems to perform the Hajj.

The Sauds

The Sauds were a nomadic Bedouin family of deep Arabian desert, which allied themselves with the al-Wahhab family during the 18th century. The al-Wahhab family followed a radical view of Islam, which became official among the Saudi realms since then, giving origin to the Wahhabi sect.

The Sauds always considered the Hashemites improper keepers of Mecca and Medina, as they accused them to be too close to non-arab occupiers (the Ottoman Turks), and too close to European Christian countries’ interests. They also considered the Hashemites to be too moderate.


The LoN peacekeeping forces withdrew from Iraaq in 1921, after one year of operations. They gave King Faisal I the rule of Iraaq, which, since then, came into personal union with the Hijaaz.

This rule wasn’t popular among local Iraaqi people, as they saw Hashemite rule as foreign occupation, oppressive and kleptocratic. They also considered Iraaqi resources were being used to benefit Hijaaz development instead of Iraaqi development.

Discontentment grew among the Iraaqi people, and on the 14th July 1958, a group of nationalists, led by General Abdul Karim Qassim, deposed the third Hashemite king, Faisal II.

Most of the royal family was killed on that coup, including the king, queen Noor and the crown prince, Ibrahim bin Hussayn, leaving royal families worldwide in shock.

A new king was chosen, Hussayn I, who was promptly crowned as king of both Hashemite kingdoms, the Hijaaz and Iraaq, and formed the Iraaqi Government in Exile. But, in Iraaq, general Qassim didn’t recognise Hussayn I’s pretensions, and declared himself as regent of Iraaq, while he started the search for a local born king.

The Arab Community held an emergency summit in Damascus to debate the recent events in Iraaq. Almost all member states recognized Hussayn I’s pretensions and the legitimacy of the Iraaqi Government in Exile, while the United Arab Rebublic (as it was ruled then by the pan-arabist and anti-monarchist Gamal Abdel Nasser, who considered the Hashemites as "foreign rulers of Iraaq and puppets of foreign interests" according to his own words on that summit) and Saudi Arabia (ruled by the al-Saud royal family, long-lasting rivals to the Hashemites) preferred to recognize the new political power in Baghdaad, led by General Qassim.

The Hashemite reaction

King Hussayn I reacted against the United Arab Republic and Saudi Arabia by closing diplomatic relations with those two countries, so prohibiting their citizens to enter Hijaazi territory. As such, this would not allow them to perform the Hajj.

The United Arab Republic solved this problem in a bureaucratic way. As this federation was very recent, most of its citizens still had documents considering them as Egyptians or Syrians and the new documents had their issue delayed, and as Hijaazi law was against the United Arab Republic, police weren't able to stop those pilgrims.

In Saudi Arabia, the Hijaazi reaction was seen as a tremendous insult by the population, and the wahhabi clerics organized a pilgrimage with common people who should perform the Hajj, even if the Hashemite wouldn’t allow them.

Casus belli

On the 15th Dhw al-Qi`dah 1378 (23rd May 1959, few weeks before the arrival to the Holy Cities), a large caravan of Saudi pilgrims reached the Hijaazi border. Many of them were promptly arrested by the Hijaazi border patrols, while others didn’t even enter into the Hijaaz. Among the arrested, things got confused and more than 200 pilgrims were killed by the Hijaazi forces.

Saudi Arabia and the Hijaaz then exchanged accusations. The Saudi government accused the Hijaaz of the murder of innocent pilgrims, whilst the Hijaazi government accused Saudi Arabia of sending invading troops disguised as pilgrims.


Blitzkrieg on the desert

Relations between both desert kingdoms reached an unsustainable point of pressure, and both countries moved their armies to their border. Instigated by the wahhabi clergy, King Said of Saudi Arabia declared war against the Hijaaz on the 28th May 1959. On that same day, the Saudi air-force, coordinated with armoured mobile artillery, invaded the Hijaaz.

Hijaazi troops were forced to retreat as the Saudi invading forces were much superior in number. On the next few days, the Saudi army was able to take positions within the Hijaaz about 150 km inside the Hashemite realm.

But soon the Hijaazi forces reacted, having the advantage of better knowing the battlefield, and having more modern weapons. Also troops from the Iraaqi Government in Exile, under the command of exiled pro-Hashemite iraaqi military leaders, helped on the defense of the Hijaaz.

Saudi weaponry

While the Hijaazi forces were armed with a good number of modern weapons (made in the FK, France and Scandinavian Realm), Saudi forces were armed mostly with outdated weapons, which were acquired from the disarming of the Holy Roman Empire during the aftermath of the Second Great War. These weapons might have been modern and efficient on European battlefields during the 1940’s, but in the desert, they proved to be inefficient, technologically inferior and inappropriate to desert battlefield conditions.

The Saudi air-force had some modern Oltenian-made airplanes, but it was also mostly composed by Second Great War German airplanes. All this could explain the following stage of the Hajji War.

The stalemate

On the third week of war, the Saudi forces weren’t able to advance deeper inside Hijaazi territory. But Hijaazi forces weren’t able to expel the invaders either, as Saudi forces were much more numerous.

After three weeks of successes, the Saudi forces were forced into a stalemate, which would last until the end of the war. Each side in the conflict bombed the other’s positions, but everything was becoming quite undecided and well balanced.

War on the Red Sea

To avoid Saudi attacks from the sea, the small Hijaazi navy, together with its air-force, attacked the only Saudi naval base on the Red Sea (located in the port of Jizan) on the fourth week of warfare. The port facilities were heavily damaged, and the entrance to the sea became mined. The small Saudi Red Sea Naval Fleet was completely decimated, both in Jizan naval base, and in small-scale sea battles at open sea.

Saudi Arabia then sent reinforcements by sea, coming from the Arabian Gulf, which had to travel around the Arabian Peninsula. This travel was always followed closely, and with some hostility, by the FK navy (based in Aden and Musandam), which indicated a certain support from the FK to its ally on the region, the Hijaaz.

But by the time the Saudi Gulf Fleet arrived to the Red Sea, the war was already over.

Peace talks

The Arab Community held another emergency summit in Marrakesh, Maghreb, which debated the Hajji War. The war had already lasted five weeks.

On this summit the Arab Community criticised both belligerent parties for their actions. The secretary general of the organisation, Mahmoud Hassan, presented a plan for ending the war: Hijaaz should allow everyone to perform the Hajj in exchange of the ending of Saudi pretensions of overtaking the Hijaaz and the Holy Cities so as the Saudi army should retreat to internationally recognized borders. Also, war prisoners should be released.

Within a week, cease-fire was possible, thanks to the pressure of the Arab Community, so both parts in conflict could debate Hassan’s plan. After seven days of conversations, King Hussayn I of Hijaaz and King Said of Saudi Arabia agreed on Hassan’s plan, and the war was officially over on the 2nd Safar 1379 (7th August 1959). Besides the international pressure, the fact of both belligerent countries were economically exhausted due to the war effort, was also important for the ending of the Hajji War.

As Mahmoud Hassan said:

"At the moment of the Hajj we lose our nationality, we are all just Moslems. Mecca and Medina aren’t property of Hijaaz, they belong to all Moslems. So these cities don’t belong to the Saudis for the same reason."

This agreement granted him the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1959.

War Results

Both Saudi Arabia and the Hijaaz respected the terms of the peace plan, although the Saudi government kept its position of not recognizing the Hijaazi pretensions over the Iraaqi throne. Only after 1968, when King Hussayn I gave up his pretensions, was it possible to restore normal diplomatic relations between both countries.

Saudi Arabia gave up its pretensions of overtaking the Holy Cities until 1975, when King Faisal I al-Saud (successor to King Said) was deposed, and the new Saudi government moved towards islamic radicalism. But to the present day, no other attempt to overtake the Holy Cities was made.


Saudi Arabia

4000 soldiers and 450 officers killed, and probably about 10,000 wounded and 500 made prisoner. The Saudi navy lost also the entire Red Sea fleet, half of its air-force and a quarter of its armored mobile artillery.

Civil casualties were about 500 due to the bombings against Jizan.


7000 soldiers and 600 officers killed, 12,000 wounded and 800 captured by the enemy. About 700 civilians during this conflict were killed. These figures include the exiled iraaqi casualties.

Hijaaz lost half of its air-force and almost half of its armored mobile artillery.

Historians’ points of view

The Hajji War was considered by modern historians as the second modern conflict (after the Suez Crisis in 1956) in the Middle East due the tactics used, notably the blitzkrieg-like tactic used by the Saudis.

Modern historians also tend to find a third reason why Saudi Arabia invaded the Hijaaz. Besides the commonly-held idea of the long-lasting rivalry between the Saudi and Hashemite royal families, and the religious matters, historians nowadays also say about economic matters. At that time, Saudi Arabia had a single port at the Red Sea (Jizan), which wasn’t too important anyway. Saudi oil was then exported through its ports on the Arabian Gulf, having strong competition, notably Persia and Iraaq, among others. Having an oil-exporting port at the Red Sea would be an advantageous solution, as the Red Sea is closer to Europe than the Arabian Gulf. As Jizan wasn’t then able to serve the growing number of oil tankers, Jiddah, in Hijaaz (by then, the largest port on the Red Sea), would be the perfect spot to finish a future pipeline, which should bring the oil from the eastern Saudi oilfields to the exporting facilities. This should have made it possible for Saudi oil to be exported faster than oil from the other Arabian Gulf countries, and should had given important help to the struggling Saudi economy during those times.

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