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Am 7. März 1920 wurde Faisal von der Regierung des Syrischen Nationalkongresses von Hashim al-Atassi zum König des Arabischen Königreichs Syrien (Großsyrien) ausgerufen . Im April 1920 erteilte die Konferenz von San Remo Frankreich das Mandat für Syrien , was zum französisch-syrischen Krieg führte . In der Schlacht von Maysalun am 24. Juli 1920 waren die Franzosen siegreich und Faisal wurde aus Syrien vertrieben .

Im März 1921 entschieden die Briten auf der Kairoer Konferenz , dass Faisal aufgrund seiner offensichtlich versöhnlichen Haltung gegenüber den Großmächten und auf der Grundlage von Ratschlägen von TE Lawrence, besser bekannt als Lawrence von Arabien, ein guter Kandidat für die Herrschaft des britischen Mandats im Irak sei . Aber 1921 wussten nur wenige Menschen, die im Irak lebten, wer Faisal war, oder hatten seinen Namen jemals gehört. Mit Hilfe britischer Amtsträger, darunter Gertrude Bell , setzte er sich erfolgreich unter den Arabern des Irak durch und gewann die Unterstützung der Minderheit der Sunniten. Die Mehrheit der Schiiten stand Faisal jedoch lauwarm gegenüber, und sein Erscheinen in der schiitischen Hafenstadt Basra stieß auf Gleichgültigkeit.

Die britische Regierung, Mandatsträger im Irak, zeigten sich besorgt über die Unruhen in der Kolonie. Sie beschlossen, sich von der direkten Verwaltung zurückzuziehen und eine Monarchie zu schaffen, die den Irak anführte, während sie das Mandat aufrechterhielten. Nach einer Volksabstimmung mit 96 % Zustimmung stimmte Faisal zu, König zu werden. Am 23. August 1921 wurde er zum König des Irak ernannt. Der Irak war eine neue Einheit, die aus den ehemaligen osmanischen Vilayets (Provinzen) Mossul , Bagdad und Basra entstand . Osmanische Vilayets wurden normalerweise nach ihrer Hauptstadt benannt, und daher die Basra Vilayetwar der Südirak. Vor diesem Hintergrund gab es kein Gefühl von irakischem Nationalismus oder gar irakischer nationaler Identität, als Faisal seinen Thron bestieg. Anekdotisch spielte die anwesende Band God Save the King , da der Irak noch keine Nationalhymne hatte und bis 1932 auch keine haben würde . Während seiner Regierungszeit als König förderte Faisal den panarabischen Nationalismusdie vorsah, die französischen Mandate in Syrien und im Libanon schließlich mit dem britischen Mandat in Palästina unter seine Herrschaft zu bringen. Faisal war sich bewusst, dass seine Machtbasis bei den sunnitischen Arabern des Irak lag, die eine Minderheit bildeten. Würden hingegen Syrien, Libanon und Palästina in sein Reich eingegliedert, würden die sunnitischen Araber die Mehrheit seiner Untertanen stellen, wodurch die arabischen Schiiten und die Kurden des Irak zu Minderheiten würden. Darüber hinaus hatten die arabischen Schiiten des Irak traditionell nach Persien nach Führung gesucht, und der Sammelruf des Panarabismus könnte die arabischen Sunniten und Schiiten um einen gemeinsamen Sinn für arabische Identität vereinen. Im Irak waren die meisten Araber Schiiten, die dem Ruf nach Sharif Hussein, sich der "Großen Arabischen Revolte" anzuschließen, nicht gefolgt waren, da Sharif ein Sunnit aus dem Hedschas war und ihn damit zu einem doppelten Außenseiter machte. Anstatt den Zorn der Osmanen für einen Außenseiter wie Hussein zu riskieren, hatten die Schiiten des Irak die Große Arabische Revolte ignoriert. Im Osmanischen Reich war der sunnitische Islam die Staatsreligion und die Schiiten wurden wegen ihrer Religion an den Rand gedrängt, was die schiitische Bevölkerung ärmer und weniger gebildet machte als die sunnitische Bevölkerung.

Faisal encouraged an influx of Syrian exiles and office-seekers to cultivate better Iraqi-Syrian relations. In order to improve education in the country Faisal employed doctors and teachers in the civil service and appointed Sati' al-Husri, the ex-Minister of Education in Damascus, as his director of the Ministry of Education. This influx resulted in much native resentment towards Syrians and Lebanese in Iraq. The tendency of the Syrian emigres in the education ministry to write and issue school textbooks glorying the Umayyad Caliphate as the "golden age" of the Arabs together with the highly dismissive remarks about the Imam Ali gave great offense in the Shiite community in Iraq, prompting protests and leading Faisal to withdraw the offending textbooks in 1927 and again in 1933 when they were reissued. Faisal himself was a tolerant man, proclaiming himself a friend of the Shiite, Kurdish and Jewish communities in his realm, and in 1928 criticized the policy of some of his ministers of seeking to fire all Jewish Iraqis from the civil service, but his policy of promoting pan-Arab nationalism to further his personal and dynastic ambitions proved to be a disruptive force in Iraq as it drew a wedge between the Arab and Kurdish communities. Faisal's policy of equating wataniyya ("patriotism" or in this case Iraqiness) with being Arab marginalized the Kurds who feared that they had no place in an Arab-dominated Iraq, indeed in a state that equated being Iraqi with being Arab.

Faisal also developed desert motor routes from Baghdad to Damascus, and Baghdad to Amman. This led to a great interest in the Mosul oilfield and eventually to his plan to build an oil pipeline to a Mediterranean port, which would help Iraq economically. This also led to an increase in Iraq's desire for more influence in the Arab East. During his reign, Faisal made great effort to build Iraq's army into a powerful force. He attempted to impose universal military service in order to achieve this, but this failed. Some see this as part of his plan to advance his pan-Arab agenda.

During the Great Syrian Revolt against French rule in Syria, Faisal was not particularly supportive of the rebels partly because of British pressure, partly because of his own cautious nature, and mainly because he had reason to believe that the French were interested in installing a Hashemite to govern Syria on their behalf. In 1925, after the Syrian Druze uprising, the French government began consulting Faisal on Syrian matters. He advised the French to restore Hashemite power in Damascus. The French consulted Faisal because they were inspired by his success as an imposed leader in Iraq. As it turned out, the French were merely playing Faisal along as they wished to give him the impression that he might be restored as king of Syria to dissuade him from supporting the Syrian rebels, and once they crushed the Syrian revolt, they lost interest in having a Hashemite ruler Syria.

In 1929, when bloody rioting broke out in Jerusalem between the Arab and Jewish communities, Faisal was highly supportive of the Arab position and pressured the British for a pro-Arab solution of the Palestine crisis. In a memo stating his views on Palestine submitted to the British high commissioner Sir Hubert Young on 7 December 1929, Faisal accepted the Balfour Declaration, but only in the most minimal sense in that the declaration had promised a "Jewish national home". Faisal stated he was willing to accept the Palestine Mandate as a "Jewish national home" to which Jews fleeing persecution around the world might go, but he was adamant that there be no Jewish state. Faisal argued that the best solution was for Britain to grant independence to Palestine, which would be united in a federation led by his brother, the Emir Abdullah of Trans-Jordan, which would allow for a Jewish "national home" under his sovereignty. Fasial argued that what was needed was a compromise under which the Palestinians would give up their opposition to Jewish immigration to Palestine in exchange for which the Zionists would give up their plans to one day create a Jewish state in the Holy Land. Faisal's preferred solution to the "Palestine Question", which he admitted might not be practical at the moment, was for a federation that would unite Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine under his leadership.

Faisal saw the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1930 as an obstacle to his pan-Arab agenda, although it provided Iraq with a degree of political independence. He wanted to make sure that the treaty had a built-in end date because the treaty further divided Syria and Iraq, the former which was under French control, and the latter under British rule. This prevented unity between two major Arab regions, which were important in Faisal's pan-Arab agenda. Ironically, Arab nationalists in Iraq had a positive reception to the treaty because they saw this as progress, which seemed better than the Arab situation in Syria and Palestine. Faisal's schemes for a greater Iraqi-Syrian state under his leadership attracted much opposition from Turkey, which preferred to deal with two weak neighbors instead of one strong one, and from King Fuad of Egypt and Ibn' Saud, who both saw themselves as the rightful leaders of the Arab world. When Nuri al-Said visited Yemen in May 1931 to ask the Imam Yahya Muhammad Hamid ed-Din if he was interested in joining the "Arab Alliance" under Faisal's leadership, the Imam replied with a confused look what would be the purpose of the "Arab Alliance" and to please explain the meaning of the phrase "Arab World", which he was unfamiliar with.

In March 1932, just months before independence, Faisal wrote a memorandum where he complained about a lack of Iraqi national identity, writing:

"Iraq is a kingdom ruled by a Sunni Arab government founded on the wreckage of Ottoman rule. This government rules over a Kurdish segment, the majority of which is ignorant, that includes persons with personal ambitions who lead it to abandon it [the government] under the pretext that it does not belong to their ethnicity. [The government also rules over] an ignorant Shiite majority that belongs to the same ethnicity of the government, but the persecutions that had befallen them as a result of Turkish rule, which did not enable them to take part in governance and exercise it, drove a deep wedge between the Arab people divided into these two sects. Unfortunately, all of this made this majority, or the persons who harbor special aspirations, the religious among them, the seekers of posts without qualification, and those who did not benefit materially from the new rule, to pretend that they are still being persecuted because they are Shiites."

In 1932, the British mandate ended and Faisal was instrumental in making his country independent. On 3 October, the Kingdom of Iraq joined the League of Nations.

In August 1933, incidents like the Simele massacre caused tension between the United Kingdom and Iraq. Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald ordered High Commissioner Francis Humphrys to Iraq immediately upon hearing of the killing of Assyrian Christians. The British government demanded that Faisal stay in Baghdad to punish the guilty, whether Christian or Muslim. In response, Faisal cabled to the Iraqi Legation in London: "Although everything is normal now in Iraq, and in spite of my broken health, I shall await the arrival of Sir Francis Humphrys in Bagdad, but there is no reason for further anxiety. Inform the British Government of the contents of my telegram."

Im Juli 1933, kurz vor seinem Tod, reiste Faisal nach London, wo er seine Besorgnis über die aktuelle Situation der Araber äußerte, die sich aus dem arabisch-jüdischen Konflikt und der zunehmenden jüdischen Einwanderung nach Palästina sowie der politischen, sozialen und wirtschaftlichen Situation der Araber ergab war rückläufig. Er forderte die Briten auf, die jüdische Einwanderung und den Landkauf zu begrenzen.