Famine killed as many as two million Iranians out of a population of little more than ten million while an influenza pandemic killed additional tens of thousands. The shah’s government was virtually bankrupt and was reduced to paying civil servants with its only valuable commodity, the bricks from the rubble of old buildings. Iran was almost totally under the control of the British military, which was trying to restore order in the country but was poorly situated to address the disunity tearing at the fabric of Iran’s still unrecovered sovereignty.
Because the Allied and Central Powers had used local Iranian levies to support their operations, many tribal leaders and influential local leaders seized the opportunity to assert their independence. Qajar Iran, in its waning years, amounted to Tehran, the region surrounding the capital, and a few other large cities. Iran’s other regions were controlled by whichever provincial noble or tribal chief had the power to enforce his rule.
Thanks to his British support, Sheikh Khazal of Muhammarah was virtually independent in the oil- rich and ethnically Arab region of Khuzestan. Elsewhere, Iranian tribes in pursuit of power and booty disrupted trade and communications, isolating most villages as social chaos spread throughout the country.
To add insult to injury, despite the Iranian government’s coerced alignment with the Allied Powers, Iran gained nothing from their victory. Tehran sent a delegation to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 with exorbitant or superfluous demands. These included the abrogation of the 1907 Anglo- Russian Treaty; the abolition of the remaining capitulations; the restoration of Iran’s former imperial boundaries to the Oxus River in the northeast and to Baku, Yerevan, and Mosul in the northwest; and millions of dollars in war reparations.
Ignoring the warring nations’ violations of the Iranians’ declared neutrality, the victors considered Iran a neutral power and deemed its representatives ineligible to sit at the negotiating table. Despite some sympathy and support from the American delegation, Iran and its demands were ignored at London’s behest. And British interference continued to set the parameters for Iran’s future security and military developments through the middle of the 1920s.