Pseudo-Arabians from Iraq

By Edouard Aldahdah

Posted on November 11th, 2010 in Iraq, Lebanon

Starting in the 1950s, so-called “Iraqi Arabians” swept across the Middle East race tracks of Lebanon, and, to a lesser extent, of Egypt and the Sudan. Until then, the overwhelming majority of the racehorses involved in the racing industry of these countries were asil desert-breds from the Northern and Central Arabian deserts.

The Iraqi Arabians were different. They were not just Arabian horses from Iraq. They were taller, bigger, stronger, faster, and often more attractive than the plainer, smaller desert-breds. They looked like Arabians, but they ran like greyhounds, their tails down. They also matured much faster. Most significantly, they easily outraced the smaller desert-bred on the 1 mile, and 1.3 mile races. They were more ‘horse’ than ‘Arabian’, standing above 16 hands. Almost every racehorse owner in Beirut wanted them in his stalls.

Iraqis like Shahin ‘Iqab and Sfoug al-Yawer (al-Jarba) brought entire convoys of such “Iraqi” colts to Beirut. Very few filles were bought. From the 1950s trickle, the business quickly grew to a major industry in the 1960s and 1970s. The Lebanese Civil (1975-1990) barely slowed it down, but the first Gulf war (1990-1991) dealt it a devastating blow.

The names of the first generation racehorses are synonymous with the golden era of Lebanese horse-racing: Hisham, Helwan, Fahd el-Chol, Zeer, etc. The first two were owned by Henri Pharaon, the third by Musa de Freije. These two men were archrivals, but also friends, and they often entered in bidding wars for the most promising colt that would drive the price of the “Iraqis” higher and higher.  The first generation Iraqis were mostly sired by Walans, Dahman Baghdad, Ala Mahlak and Wadi’ Amal, all three sons of the grey Anglo-Arabian stallion Tabib also known as “Dahman Amer” and “al-Suri” (some, like me, believe he was an English Thoroughbred; more on him later). A single cross to Tabib meant up to 25% of English Thoroughbred blood.

Very soon, it became so unusual for desert-breds to beat these Iraqis that when it happened, people would talk about for years. Such was the case when desert-bred Minjim, a Tuwayssan, beat the “Iraqi-born” Saad Jamil, or when the asil Ashhal, a Kubayshan, beat the homebred second-generation “Iraqi” Saad El-Chol by a nose in the 1970s. In the photo that was used to determine the winner on the finish line, the small Ashhal (14.1 hands) look like he was litterally under the enormous Saad El-Chol.

The damaging influence of the “Iraqi” stallions on the asil Arabian breeding in Lebanon and neighboring Syria began to be felt when that first generation of Iraqi race-horses became breeding stallions. Mares from the best marabet of the Biqaa plateau in eastern Lebanon and the Akkar plain in northern Lebanon, were sent to these stallions, resulting in the first generation of Lebanese-bred “Iraqis”: Zeer el-Foddi (by Zeer), Serri, Moulouki (both by Hisham), etc. These became stallions as well, once their stellar racing careers were over.

Meanwhile, a second wave of Iraqi-born “Arabians” was hitting the race market: Amir Al-Zaman, Lark and his half-brother Rabdan, Black Arrow, etc. These were one more generation removed from the the infamous Tabib, and they were nicer looking than their predecessors Hisham, Helwan, et. al. This new wave of Iraqi-born stallions hit Lebanon in the 1970s; they were mostly sired by the stallions Daksi, Mared, and Asad Anwar. They were also incorporated in to Lebanese (and Syrian, but to a lesser extent) asil breeding, or what remained of it, after the damage inflicted by the first generation “Iraqis”. Indeed by the end of the 1980s, it was virtually impossible to find a Lebanese mare with a line to Amir al-Zaman.

The third wave of Iraqis came in the mid-1980s; their sire line were one more generation removed from Tabib a.k.a Dahman ‘Amer a.k.a al-Souri, but they had more than one cross to him. These were less famous than the Iraqis from the first and second wave, because by this time, Lebanon was producing its own brand of part-bred Arabians: offsprings of the first and second wave of Iraqi stallions and Lebanese asil mares of reliable, ascertained bloodlines. Nevertheless, some third wave Iraqi stallions were used as sires: Surra Man Ra’a (by Saad Sattar, by Asad Anwar, by Dahman Bagdad, by Tabib); Hilal al-Shark, Shayyal, Tsolias, etc. Most of these were sired by Iraqi sires Saad Sattar and Mahboob Fawzia.

From time to time, word went around that such and such Iraqi stallion of the third wave had no lines to Tabib; the stallion Golden Arrow (by Taj Nadeem), and Ibn Mared (not by Mared, but by a desert Hamdani Simri) were a couple of these and were both asil, reportedly. But they were the exception.

By now, the damage was speading to some of the Syrian towns who had hitherto been home of dozens of asil marabet: the Iraqi Zeer was sent to Aleppo late in his life, and in Damascus Tsolias, Black Arrow and Shayyal were standing at stud. The same thing was happening in the central Syrian Hims and Hama, and as far as Deir el Zor and Qamishli in the midst of the Bedouin horse-breeding area: the Iraqi stallions Marechal, Hilal al-Rafidain, and Nafir were active in the Upper Jazirah area, and the stallions al-Tamri (a son of Hisham), Hazza’, Mared, and others were active in the Lower Jazirah. Fortunately, the Bedouin tradition of breeding to their own old tribal bloodlines proved resilient, and these stallions were not heavily used. In the late 1980s, when the Syrian government went about registered the horses of the Bedouins, its committees of experts diligently culled out the offspring of the Iraqi horses from the registration process. The Syrian Studbook was largely free of these horses, thanks to a number of courageous and committed individuals, with Basil Jadaan in the lead. For instance, out of the several hundreds horses in Damascus, the Syrian registring committee accepted three horses in its studbook: the elderly asil Kuhaylan Ajuz stallion Ayid, and the two old asil mares Nijmeh, a Kuhaylat al-Ajuz, and Salha, a Kuhaylah Khallawiyah.

Lebanon was less lucky. In 1974, it had submitted a first studbook to the nascent WAHO, with 120 or so asil mares and stallions free to “Iraqi” blood. But the civil war that erupted on the following year thwarted that effort and the draft studbook remained a draft (the single copy left is in my Lebanon). Things were left to deteriorate for the next 15 years of the devastating Lebanese civil. When the war ended in 1990, my father was put in charge of a task force that was responsible for identifying the remaining Lebanese asil horses, those who free of “Iraqi” blood, and registering them in a studbook to be submitted to WAHO, with the help of Basil Jadaan and the Syrian Studbook registration authorities. The Lebanese task force my father headed found 22 elderly mares, and one stallion who later gelded. Most where in the late twenties and way past breeding age. A lot of pressure was put on that task force to register the prettier-looking Lebanese-Iraqi crosses (we owned several of these ourselves), but the task force stood firm, even though though it knew that the Lebanese asil breeding was not viable. Today, all 22 mares are dead, and their offspring are all by non-asil Polish, French, and Spanish Arabians.

Iraq, the source of the infamous did a better job, in a way. Its registering authorities included hundreds of the “Iraqi Arabian” descendants of Tabib, who was conveniently “hidden” under the name “Dahman Amer”, in the studbook that was submitted to WAHO. Of course, some Iraqis have their own version of Tabib story and will relentlessly claim that the horse is asil. The asil Iraqi horses of the Bedouin tribes were largely excluded from the registration process in which Barzan al-Tikriti, Saddam’s half brother, himself a big owner of these Iraqi horses, intervened directly. Of course, WAHO accepted the entire studbook. Today, the offspring of the partbred Asad Anwar, Mahboob Fawzia, Saad Sattar, and countless others are accepted by WAHO as purebred Arabians. Here is one example. Wait until you see some pictures of some of these Iraqi horses. The French ‘pseudo-Arabians’ look like Bedouin steeds from the stud of Abbas Pasha in comparison.

12 Responses to “Pseudo-Arabians from Iraq”

  1. The problem with the purity of the Iraqi horses is not only “Tabib”.
    “Tabib” being one of the many components of the “So-called” Arab horse in Iraq.

    The doubtful Arab horses in Iraq (or Turkish Arabia as it was known) existed from the times of general Haddad’s trip 1902/1903 .(he saw 460 horses at the Shammars ,few of them being pure)
    -“it has already been stated that a large proportion of the so-called Arabians which appear in foreign markets are produced in El I’rak”
    Major GeneralW.Tweedie”The Arabian Horse” 1894.page 278.

    Iraq was a horse producing country .The “bad luck”of the Asil iraqi horse was the British invasion of India.
    “it should be also remembered that,ever Great Britain took charge of India,the Arabian horse has enjoyed extraordinary opportunities of shining in the public service”
    “Chargers from the Euphrates have carried our soldiers to Candahar and Cabul to Pekin and Magdala”Tweedie. page 168.

    Moreover the popularity of Arab races in Bombay ,Poona,Ceylan,(Sri Lanka today)Calcutta,made the Iraqi horse traders to look always for faster horses,which lead to the mixing of the Iraqi horses,first with Akhal Teke and Argamak horses(Turkmen) then with Anglo-Arabs imported from Egypt(remember the anglos registered as Asils in the Pasha stud book in 1895.Carl Raswan)after that, maybe with thouroughbreds imported from Australia.
    Tweedie wrote about two thouroughbred geldings in Baghdad,but maybe somebody has imported a stallion,anyway ,and always according to Tweedie some Consuls in Baghdad owned Thouroughbreds imported from Russia.(you only have to bribe the groom and bring your mare..(Tweedie)
    in the auge of the Iraqi horse trade to India,more than 3000 horses were exported yearly from Basra and Kuwait to Indian ports.
    The Indian Arab race horse market was flourishing until 1947 (The famous Aga Khans dinasty ,use to race,successfully, Arabians in India from 1850 to 1880 before moving to Britain).

    Iraqi horsetraders were not interested in the Lebanese racehorse market ,considered a very small and poor one versus the wealthy Indian and Egyptian markets.
    In 1947/48 two major events hit dramatically the Iraqi racehorse market:
    –The Indian civil war who ended Arab horseracing.
    –The war in Palestine,who cut the antique Baghdad,Amman,Cairo land route.
    the horse traders took the racehorses,intended to be sold at the Indian and Egyptian markets,to the Beirut port in order to be shipped to Alexandria.
    The Lebanese owners were offered some of them ,before this all the Beirut racehorses horses were Asil Syrian horses, the rest is history…

    As for the Iraqi WAHO registered horses ,I saw some of them in Syria,en route to Sweden, and I have to disagree with Edouard they have an “Arab” look unlike the pure French racing horses.
    The French/Syrian cross sometimes give ugly horses but sometimes very handsome ones.(I may send some photos.

    As for “Walans” the true name is “Violence”(hence the Arabic pronounciation of walans”)
    “Violence” has a son”Amal el Sibak” (late Arganout) registered in the vol.IX of the AHS of Britain.page 112.
    Maybe “Violence” has nothing to do with Tabib as “Amal el Sibak” was registered as born in 1944, so his dam be covered in 1943.
    If we consider that “Violence” was 5 years old(good for a race horse) when he covered
    “Amal el Sibak ‘s” dam,
    this makes him a contemporary of “Tabib”.
    But all this is deduction.

  2. Tweedie is a gold mine..

    The story of why these horses invaded the Lebanese market is interesting. I was not aware of it. All I knew is that suddenly they started coming in the late 1950s…

    Yes many of the Iraqis are pretty, but do you remember the daughters of Zeer, Helwane, Hisham etc, how ugly they were? The daughters of Lark and Amir al-Zamane were pretty..

  3. All these efforts for selecting true asils to start the Syrian studbooks to see them now devastated by the French racers and other partbreds. They should have kept their studbook closed for imports. I assume that after pushing to join WAHO as a good thing, people like Basil Jadaan prefer to shut-up and defend it in order not to loose face. With a military head of state and state-owned national stud, it should be easy to set-up a second studbook for asil or add a “hujjah” note to the real asils in the WAHO studbook.

  4. A country that is a member of WAHO cannot close the doors of its studbooks to horses from other WAHO accepted registries. So the Syrians are relying on education and awareness raising.

    Now to most people in the Middle East, WAHO registration is synonymous with purity. It’s a label. Which is why WAHO was such a disaster for Middle Eastern countries.

  5. As I understand it, the Syrians had no choice if they wanted to have their horses accepted by any other Registry. The same Catch-22 faces each Registry, and is why the only way I can see to handle the situation is through education, and possible a supplemental listing or registration.

  6. The late colonel Basil el Assad (son of the late president)was the power behind the revival of the Asil horse in Syria,it was him who sponsored the first Syrian Stud Book who took few years of inquiries in the Badia between the Bedouin (1886 to 1889).
    Basel had pressionned the minister of Agriculture and obtained the prohibition to import horses.Unfortunately for the Asil Badia horses he died in 1994 or 1995(Sorry I did not remember the exact date) in a car accident.
    In 1997/8 we tried to re-import from Qatar two(very rare) mares taken by the late Yussef al Romaihi.each mares had at least 2 or 3 lines to very famous racing stallions ,one to “Sheikh el Arab” and the second to “Ghazwane”,we could’nt because of the “Basel el Assad” law.
    Suddenly,two years later one French stallion and two mares appeared in Syria:The law was obsolete..Basel had already passed away.

    WAHO horses:
    The main theme of my campaign in Syria is the following.
    One year ago the Syrian registry deregistered two horses. the first was the son of an Anglo-Arab and the second was a Thouroughbred labeleds as Arabs.Both of them were ready for export to the Gulf with false papers.
    Taking these two horses as an exemple I’m saying ” these horses prove that not all the “WAHO registered horses” are pure Arabs”.
    My campaign seems to have very favorable respons in all Syria,we are receiving a lot of calls.
    As Edouard rightly pointed,the Syrian breeder,due to lack of information about WAHO horses in general,and French horses in particular was covering his mares by these stallions.
    By the way,I’m not against the Egyptian/Syrian cross, this cross is giving very nice horses ,beauty and racing wise.The Egyptian stallions giving the refinement lacking in some Syrian mares ,one son of “Shaikh al Badi” named “Shaikh Shahir” had only two product by Syrian mares :two stunnig racers.
    Next year ,we may have in Damascus races only for 100% Syrian horses.Inshallah !

    Iraqi horses in Beirut:
    you are right “Al Zir” looked like an Anglo on the other hand “Amir el Zaman” was of a stunnig Arab beauty.
    Anyhow Iraqi horses are doing very well these days in Swedish races under the silks of my friend Mohamed el Nujaifi ,a big shot in the Islamic Bank in Ryadh,his brother was just elected yesterday speaker of the Iraqi house of representative.
    The huge Al Nujaifi farm is located near Mosul,they have French,Russian,Iraqi Stallions, pure Iraqi mares with and without “Tabib” blood.
    I respect the Iraqi point of vue on “Tabib” ,but I dont share it.
    Syrian and Lebanese horsemen cant be wrong and the Iraqi version true,15 years ago I wrote a material(in Arabic) on Iraqi horses and their bad influence on Lebanese and Syrian Asil horses..
    .Anyway,if you want,one day I can write the Iraqi version as told by Mohamed al Nujaifi in his book on the horses of Iraq.

  7. please do. You’re right, we should listen to their viewpoint. My mistake in the past.

  8. Only to remind you dear Edouard that your father was not the only person in Lebanon who tried to work hard for the admission of Lebanon as a full member of the WAHO!!!! Henri Pharaon & Moussa de Freige worked very hard in the beginings of the 70’s and a delegation of the WAHO led by late President Jay Stream visited Lebanon in 1974 and unfortunately at this moment Moussa de Freige realised that it was very difficult to be accepted (for political reasons)! We kept in touch with them durin the civil war via Nabil Nasrallah and me until the beginings of the 80’s when we knew your father General Salim el Dahdah and we started with him a new approach for being full member ! We went to France together to buy 2 pur arabian stallions that were chosen by your father ,Wajik el Mazan and Zenin, and we were accepted as full member in Cairo in 1992 where we where the 3of us!

  9. Dear Sirs, I am reading with great interest all your articles on Iraqi, Lebanese, Egyptian racehorses. I would like you to tell me if you have ever heard of a horse named ASHIRAT and an Iraqi producer named Sheikh Ibrahim el Kobeissi, owbnr of a great stallion named Nasser El Arab. I would really appreciate your comments to the above and many thanks in advance if your could e-mail me.
    With best regards,
    Nicolas

  10. Looks interesting. 🙂 Do they PayPal? and shipping costs?

  11. Anita, we have a few copies coming to the States that will be for sale through Arabian Horse World. Shipping will be much cheaper that way. I have a copy and its very interesting. I’ll save one for you (and anyone else who wants to let me know to do so – anita@atanda.com)

  12. have you got information of zad

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