Iraq Geopolitics

Part I: Geopolitics in Iraq an old game

Henry C K Liu

First appear in Asia Times Online on August 18, 2004

The Arabs, a people generally defined by a common Arabic language, having been awakened with the new faith of Islam by Mohammed, gained control of Syria, Mesopotamia, Persia and Egypt in AD 640, took Roman Africa in AD 700 and reached Spain in AD 711, when they overthrew the Germanic kingdom set up by the West Goths. The Arab realm then stood as the more advanced third component of a triangulated non-Asian world culture consisting of Arab, Byzantine and collapsed West Roman roots.

Mesopotamia, a Greek word that means the land between the rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, meeting at the cradle of Western civilization, known today as Iraq, was and is inhabited predominantly by these Arab tribes. Iraq is an Arabic word that appears in the Koran and has been a geographical term for the Mesopotamia area throughout the Muslim era. Iraq became a target of rivalry between the Persian and Ottoman empires, both Islamic, for almost five centuries beginning around 1500. Shah Ismail, the Safavid ruler of Persia, put Iraq under Persian occupation in 1508. The Ottoman Sultan Selim I regained control of Iraq in 1514, after the battle of Jaldiran. In 1529, Iraq was reoccupied by Persia, but was retaken by the Ottoman Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent in 1543.

This recurring tug-of-war over Mesopotamia reflected the precarious and changing military balance between the two Islamic empires on the one hand, and the administrative difficulty in occupying alien lands on the other. Neither could decisively defeat the other and achieve permanent military control over Iraq; nor could either establish effective, lasting administrative control over the local Arabic population when in possession of it. Since the rivalry could not be resolved through military means, a political solution was attempted in the first treaty between the two empires through the Amassia Treaty of 1555. The treaty endured for 20 years with the region remaining an Ottoman province until 1623, when it was again occupied by Persia. However, in 1638, the Ottoman Sultan Murad IV drove the Persians out of Iraq by capturing Baghdad. In 1639, the Treaty of Zuhab was signed establishing a peace and defining the border between the two empires.

With this background, conflict between the two Islamic empires was contained in a frontier zone and manifested in shifting tribal allegiances, inter-tribal conflicts and avenging raids. In the Treaty of Zuhab, the frontier zone was over 100 miles wide, between the Zagros Mountains in the east and the Tigris and Shatt al-Arab rivers in the west. While its role in containing armed conflict was short-lived, the Treaty of Zuhab was significant because it became the basis for future treaties and established the framework for future disputes over legitimate borders. By 1730, the two empires were again engaged in full-scale war, with the possession of Iraq a key focus of conflict. A treaty in 1746 between the two empires re-established the century-old 1639 Zuhab boundaries, affirming them as points of reference of future negotiations and foci of future conflicts. A common Islamic culture did not unit the nations of the Middle East any more than a common Christian culture prevented war among the nations of Europe, a historical fact that refutes the current doctrine of a clash of religion-based civilizations that threatens world order. Geopolitics beyond religious bounds was and remains the controlling factor in world armed conflicts.

Enter the West

By the 19th century, British imperialist expansion in the region had transformed the Ottoman/Persian power balance and changed the geopolitical nature of the conflict. During the 17th and 18th centuries, British imperialist interests had pushed back in succession Portuguese, Dutch and French commercial and political penetration of the Middle East. By 1820, Britain had turned the Persian Gulf into a British lake and had begun to focus its attention on Ottoman Iraq and Persia in its efforts to protect British India against threats from European imperialist rivalry, particularly expansionist Czarist Russia, to develop a secure line of communication and commerce between British India and the Britain Isles via the Middle East, and to expand commercial markets for British trade in the region.

This all came to a head as war erupted in Europe. In the course of World War I, British forces invaded what is now southern Iraq in late 1914 as part of Britain's offensive against the Ottoman Empire (which later collapsed after having suffered the misfortune of being on the losing side of the war). By mid 1914, a stalemate had developed on the Western Front between Allied forces and those of the Central Powers. Following the initial free-flowing operations, the opposing sides found themselves facing each other along a line of defensive trenches that stretched from Switzerland to the Belgian coast. The effective defense of positional warfare forced policymakers in both opposing camps to find new ways to prosecute a war that threatened to drag on without end. Under these circumstances, the need for an alternative approach was becoming pressing before continuing heavy casualties without the promise of victory would begin to threaten the internal security of the opponent governments.

Forcing the Dardanelles

On the Central Powers side, Germany, the ultra-conservative lead member, was pushed to help Lenin, the detested Bolshevik, to return from exile in Switzerland through Germany in a sealed train to Russia to lead a communist revolution that, if successful, would withdraw Russia, a member of the Allied Nations, from the war between capitalist powers. On the Allied side, the search for a strategic alternative was encouraged by the pride of the British in their invincible sea power. With the German High Seas Fleet contained in the North Sea, the possibility of launching naval attacks on the enemy was particularly appealing to the British First Lord of the Admiralty, through the hawkish imperialist persona of Winston Churchill. Eager to use unmatched British naval resources to maximum advantage against land powers, Churchill advanced a series of provocative proposals, among them a sea assault on the Dardanelles, the nearly 50-kilometer-long strait separating the Aegean Sea from the Sea of Marmara, which at the Narrows was less than two kilometers wide. The object was to drive an overwhelming naval force into the Sea of Marmara and capture Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, which on October 29, 1914, had the foolish audacity to ally itself with Germany and the Central Powers against Britain and the Allied Nations. For the Ottomans, the alliance with the Central Powers was a geopolitical natural, since Britain, France and Czarist Russia had been the Western powers that, in the Crimean War, had most recently taken less-than-honorable actions to dismember the Ottoman Empire.

The Crimean War (1854-56), like so many of the later Ottoman conflicts with Europe, was instigated not by the Ottomans but by inter-European rivalry. Czarist Russia, Westernized by Peter the Great (1682-1725), was primarily interested in territory as part of a quest for warm-water ports to the Mediterranean Sea. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, Russia had been gradually annexing Muslim states in Central Asia. By 1854, Russia found itself edging toward the shores of the Black Sea. Anxious to annex territories in Eastern Europe, particularly the Ottoman provinces of Moldavia and Walachia (now in modern Moldova and Romania), the Russians forced a war on the Ottoman Empire on the pretext that the Ottomans had granted Catholic France, rather than Greek Orthodox Russia, the right to protect Christian sites in the Holy Land, which the Ottomans then controlled.

The Crimean War was unique in Ottoman history in that the conflict was not motivated, managed or even influenced by Ottoman policy or interests. The war was a European conflict fought on Ottoman territory, with Britain and France allying with the Ottomans in order to protect their own lucrative economic concessions in the region from Russian infringement. The war ended badly for the Russians, with unfavorable terms in the Paris Peace of 1856, but the Ottomans as victors fared even worse. From that point onward, the Ottoman Dominion fell under direct European domination and earned the derisive label as "the sick man of Europe". The Crimean War marked the decline in Ottoman morale and self-respect. In 1914, 58 years later, the former European rivals of Britain and Russia were united in a world war to once again threaten the Ottoman Empire.

Europeans, for their part, no longer saw, as they had three centuries earlier, the Ottoman state as an equal force that could manipulate intra-European rivalry to enhance Ottoman geopolitical advantage, but as a pliant victim that could be manipulated for larger European geopolitical purposes. This Eurocentric geopolitics permeated beyond Ottoman territories, throughout the whole world, especially in the final decades of dynastic China, and in most of Asia and Africa.

Constantinople (now known as Istanbul), which stands guard on the Bosphorus, a narrow waterway into the Black Sea, was viewed by Churchill as being vulnerable to attack by sea. Such naval actions had precedents. In 1807 a small British naval squadron had forced the Narrows only to be marooned and eventually had to retreat before it could attack Constantinople. As recently as the Italian-Turkish War of 1911-12, an Italian force had attacked the Dardanelles and penetrated as far as the defenses of the Narrows. Now, an invincible British navy would bring these promising naval operations to successful conclusion. Even before the Ottoman Empire entered the war on October 13, 1914, the possibility of a joint Greek-Russian assault on the Dardanelles had been canvassed. Once hostilities began, Churchill wasted no time ordering a naval bombardment of the forts guarding the Narrows. This operation, carried out before Britain formally declared war on the Ottoman Empire, reminded the Ottoman Turks of the threat to the Dardanelles, and impelled them to seek German help to improve its defenses, especially by the laying of sea mines in the Narrows.

Churchill first urged a naval attack on the Dardanelles at the meeting of the British War Council in London on November, 1914, but his brash naval war plan was rejected. Pre-war studies had indicated that such an operation would be too risky and for no strategic purpose, since Ottoman forces were no threat to British interests in the region. The issue was soon brought back to the fore by the military stalemate on the Western Front. The Ottoman Turks' advance northwards in the Caucasus caused panicky Czarist Russia to urgently appeal to her Western allies for counter action to relieve the pressure. The need turned out to be fleeting since Russian forces were able to drive the Turkish advances back without help. But these events provided impetus for Churchill's precarious plan of a naval attack on Ottoman Turkey. The tempting idea of inducing, with a spectacular British naval victory, the Balkan states newly separated from Ottoman rule to join the Allies and attack Austria-Hungary from the southeast, never more than a wishful illusion, was also part of Churchill’s grand strategy of naval glory. A successful naval campaign in the Eastern Mediterranean with minimum casualties might, moreover, encourage opportunistic Italy to enter the war on the Allied side. Still, no serious thoughts had been given to any possible use of tribal Arabs against the Ottoman Turks, for rule over the disunited Arabs was a war prize to be won from the Ottomans. Britain was not about to jeopardize her coveted post-war rule of the Middle East by fanning the ugly spark of Arab nationalism.

Britain's reckless strategic calculations for Arabic territories in the Ottoman Empire, to be accomplished without Arab participation, were reinforced by the promise of the limited nature of Churchill's proposed naval action on the Dardanelles, requiring no need for a sizable land force. Despite the strong reservations of the commander of the Royal Navy's Eastern Mediterranean Squadron, Churchill proposed a naval attack in force on the forts guarding the Narrows, a maneuver supposedly well within the ample range of the world's unmatched naval superpower up to that time in history. His plan, expressed with Churchillean grandiloquence, had the irresistible attraction of not requiring any substantial land forces for its implementation at a time when military manpower was emerging as the decisive factor on the western front. Nor would it diminish Britain's position of naval strength in the vital North Sea against the German fleet, since only surplus older battleships on the verge of obsolescence would be used against the second-rate Ottoman military devoid of a navy. The British War Council approved Churchill's proposal on January 15, 1915. Just as President George W Bush, in 2003, trapped by overzealous, hawkish neo-conservative advisors who subscribed to the fantasy that Iraqis would welcome US liberators with flowers and hugs, sold Congress on the ill-advised invasion of Iraq by claiming not to need any sizable force to occupy Iraq for long periods, Churchill in 1915 was trapped by his blind faith in the myth of naval power replacing the need for land troops for imperialist conquest. Churchill forgot that while the Battle of Trafalgar won by Lord Nelson at sea might have saved Britain from French invasion, it was the Battle of Waterloo won by Duke Wellington on land that finally defeated Napoleon.

In 1915, in the sea campaign against the Ottoman Empire as planned by Churchill, the Royal Navy, supplemented with ships of her French ally, with a total of 247 floating cannons, was supposed to destroy the Ottoman defense of 150 land guns positioned over 40 bases along the Narrows, blast its way through the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara and then the Narrows with Nelsonian daring, reducing the defending forts to rubble as it went. Then, anchoring in the shadow of Constantinople, its sheer invincible presence and threat of destructive navy cannons trained on Topkapi Palace would induce panic in the Ottoman court and cow the Ottoman government into surrender. The flanks of Germany and Austria-Hungary would then be exposed and with the sea lanes to the Black Sea opened, Czarist Russia could be supplied with much-needed munitions, and the Czar's rejuvenated massive armies would steamroller westward into Berlin, breaking the stalemate on the Western Front. A similar strategy had worked in China in 1840, when, faced with stiff Chinese resistance in the southern coast, the British fleet steamed north to threaten Peking and forced the Qing court to negotiate an unequal treaty that yielded, among other war prizes, the British colony of Hong Kong. The navy campaign on the Dardanelles was to be Churchill's Trafalgar.

When, with Churchill's urging, the British War Council reversed its earlier plan to send even the 29th Division to the East Mediterranean campaign; it was decided to deploy to Mudros on the Aegean island of Lemnos untested Dominion troops from Australia and New Zealand. The French government, meanwhile, had also decided to deploy to Mudros a specially composed division of new recruits. All these troops were intended as garrison forces which might occupy the forts (and later Constantinople) after the "shock and awe" naval bombardments had been successfully completed in short order. Since an amphibian assault on Gallipoli was not envisaged in the war plans of the naval campaign through the Dardanelles, this Allied Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, to be commanded by General Sir Ian Hamilton, was not adequately manned, nor its troops trained for heavy combat.

By the time Hamilton arrived in the Eastern Mediterranean on March 17, 1915, the slow progress of the naval operations had raised doubts about Churchill's plan of easy victory by naval means alone. The Ottoman land bases with 150 guns dispersed over 40 well-protected forts were largely immune from naval bombardment. In addition to land bases, the strait was protected by some 610 mines set into deep water in the Narrows. And two underwater nets against submarines had been set. Pushed by an impatient Churchill who demanded quick action from London, a heroic attempt to subdue the forts and incapacitate their guns guarding the intermediate defenses was made on March 18 by the British fleet with French support, before the sea mines were cleared by minesweepers whose operation had been hampered and delayed by effective Ottoman gun fire. The sea assault proved disastrous when six of the16 capital ships taking part struck mines, and three sank, carrying 700 sailors to their death. The sea mines remained insurmountable for the British naval force.

The Disastrous Assault on Gallipoli

Within four days, Hamilton, the supreme commander on the spot, had to shift the emphasis from a predominantly naval to a land operation, to launch an amphibious assault on Gallipoli, a 50-mile long peninsula in the European part of Ottoman Turkey, extending southwestward between the Aegean Sea and the Dardanelles, to use British troops to disarm the Ottoman guns to let the British fleet through. The result was the infamous Gallipoli campaign. It was a change of war plan approved by a desperate Churchill who refused to admit the failure of his foolhardy faith in naval power and rationalized that Ottoman resistance to an amphibious landing had nevertheless been greatly weakened by earlier British naval bombardment. British prestige had to be preserved with bulldog tenacity. The Gallipoli campaign turned out to be a military failure costly in human lives. But the damage to British prestige was decidedly greater.

Just like US President George W Bush's disastrous occupation plans of Iraq, the disastrous outcome of Gallipoli was predetermined by the strategic error of not having enough troops available for the task at hand. Hamilton launched the amphibian invasion campaign with five divisions against a roughly comparable Ottoman force that enjoyed the advantage of operating on interior lines. The rough parity was sustained as the campaign progressed with 13 divisions of the Triple Entente (Britain, France and Russia) eventually facing 14 Ottoman divisions. The half-hearted British approach was dictated by Churchill's faulty premise that the objective could be attained by the navy with only a small land force, and with London viewing the Ottoman front as a crazy idea of an overzealous but politically astute hawk, and as an insignificant side show hardly worth any significant sacrifice in manpower and resources even after July 1915. This attitude ensured that the Entente build-up was always too little, too late to secure more than a foothold on the landing on the narrow peninsula. Hamilton, saddled with undeserved blame, was replaced by Sir Charles Munro, who withdrew from the area on January 9, 1916. Just like the desperate British retreat from Dunkirk in World War II, the evacuation from Gallipoli was hailed by British propaganda as having been brilliantly executed, albeit the campaign that should have prevented the need to retreat itself was not. Wrongheaded leadership on the part of Churchill played a key part in the Entente failure, and many men, inadequately trained and poorly led, who nevertheless fought bravely, mostly Dominion troops from Australia and New Zealand, were sacrificed in futile attacks on strong Ottoman positions.

The Gallipoli campaign had no significant effect on the outcome of the war, which could only be resolved where the main forces of the opponents confronted each other on the western front and finally not until the United States entered the war on the side of the Allied Nations on April 6, 1917. And the prospect of a Balkan coalition forming to lead a mighty offensive from the southeast was illusory, if only because of the pitiful state of the Balkan militias. Moreover, there was no certainty that the Ottoman Turks would necessarily have capitulated had their capital come under threat from Allied naval forces. In pursuit of Churchill's hawkish chimera, 120,000 British and 27,000 French troops became casualties in the first months of landing. For the Ottomans, whose casualties probably numbered as many as 250,000, including 87,000 dead, it was the beginning of a process of national revival. The Ottoman hero at Gallipoli, Mustafa Kemal, would eventually become the founding president of the Republic of Turkey, and would later be bestowed the name Ataturk (meaning Father of the Turks).

The Beginnings of the Jewish State

It was the disaster at Gallipoli that forced the British to accept the idea that an Arab revolt would be useful against the Ottoman Turks. The British then disingenuously began promoting Arab nationalism as a device against the Ottoman Empire, posing as progressive friends who had come to liberate the Arabs from Ottoman oppression. It was the forerunner of a US policy three decades later after the Second World War to promote fundamentalist separatism and bogus democracy as devices against global communism. In late 1915 in the Anglo-Hejaz treaty, Britain promised that the Middle East would become an Arab state. In 1916, T E Lawrence, the famous Lawrence of Arabia, joined Arab forces under Faisal al-Hussein, third son of Hussein ibn Ali, the Sharif of Mecca, in their revolt against the Ottoman Empire. Faisal would later become Faisal I of Iraq. In the same year, the secret Sykes-Picot treaty between Britain and France divided post-war Middle East between the two imperialist powers. Britain would protect Egypt and the newly created state of Saudi Arabia, France would protect the Syrian-Lebanon state. Palestine would be international, with a new Jewish state earmarked there in the future.

Geopolitically, to prevent an alliance between the 56,000 Jews in Palestine and the well-established and influential Jewish population in Germany, the British, with the Balfour Declaration in 1917 agreed to advocate a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Insulating infiltration of German influence into the Middle East through the more liberal German Jews was a factor in British policy towards Palestine, which quietly favored immigration of Russian and Slavic Jews into the region. In addition, the possibilities of a pro-British Jewish state in Palestine to help counter Arab nationalism in the Middle East were not idle thoughts at No 10, Downing Street. The British never seriously contemplated effective resistance from Arabs to a Jewish state in Palestine. Arab nationalism was not a significant consideration in the initial geopolitics behind the Balfour Declaration. A Jewish state in Palestine under British Mandate did not conflict with British plans because the British never intended to give back the Ottoman Arab provinces ,to the Arabs. Still, it took another world war and a horrifying Holocaust which essentially destroyed the liberal influence of the German Jews, to finally bring the new Jewish state into reality.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement

In the late stage of the multi-front, four-year-long First World War, Britain and France had secretly reached the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, with the acquiescence of Czarist Russia, to partition the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Dominion between the two Western powers. The secret agreement spelled out the division of Ottoman Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine into various French and British-administered areas. The agreement conflicted directly with pledges already given by the British to the Hashemite leader Hussein ibn Ali, the Sharif of Mecca, who had been persuaded to lead an Arab revolt in the Hejaz against the Ottoman rulers on the understanding that the Arabs would eventually receive much of the territory won. The Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Paris Peace Conference and the Cairo Conference were examples of the political hegemony of the European imperialist powers, which shifted borders and annexed territories, inventing dependency through mandates and protectorates. The British had persuaded the Arabs to rise up against the Ottoman rulers. The British high commissioner in Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, corresponded with the Sharif of Mecca, promising an independent Arab state in return for fighting the Ottoman Turks. Unaware of the secret Sykes-Picot agreement, the Sharif of Mecca initiated a revolt against Ottoman rule in 1916 with the help of British advisers, training and munitions, and proclaimed himself king of the Hejaz until Mecca fell in 1924 to ibn Saud of Nejd, descendant of the puritanical Wahhabi rulers, who laid the basis of the present Saudi Arabia kingdom.

Wahhabis are a puritanical Saudi Islamic sect founded by Mohammed ibn-Abd-al-Wahhab (1699?1792), which regards all other sects as heretical. His life gave birth to the term "Wahhabi". Mohammed Ibn Abdul Wahhab Najdi was supported by the British who were looking for dissidents to weaken the Islamic Caliphate from within itself. The Wahhabis took Mecca with the help of the British in 1924 and bombarded the Shrine of the Holy Prophet in Medina which they took in 1931. And in 1932, the Wahhabis founded the state of Saudi Arabia. By the mid-20th century, Wahhabism had spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula, and it is the official religion of the Saudi Arabian kingdom. Oil was struck in Saudi Arabia in 1936 and commercial production began during the Second World War, in which Saudi Arabia remained neutral until the end when it became a member of the Allies against the Axis powers. Oil changed the geopolitical importance of Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.

The disclosure of the secret Sykes-Picot agreement provided indisputable evidence of British diplomatic duplicity. The Arabs learned about the agreement only in 1917, the year of the Balfour Declaration, when the new Soviet Union published diplomatic documents from the Czarist archives. The secret agreement deprived the Arabs of the right to rule their own territories, newly won with blood. Most of the Middle East came under British and French control. The vision of a free and united Arab realm had been a manipulated illusion perpetrated by Western imperialism. The Sykes-Picot Agreement set the scene for a century of border conflicts that continue today. The Paris Peace Conference in 1919 legitimized the imperialist partitions. Britain was entrusted with mandate powers for Iraq and Palestine, while Syria and Lebanon came under the French mandate. Under Article 22, the League of Nations stated: "Territories inhabited by peoples unable to stand themselves would be entrusted to advanced nations until such time as the local population can handle matters." Peoples unable to stand themselves were apparently quite able to die for the advanced nations in a war of imperialist rivalry, the prize for which was the right to dominate these same people.

Britain Occupies Iraq

By 1917, British occupation of Iraq began. In the aftermath of the war and the subsequent dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, the Fertile Crescent of ancient Mesopotamia was divided between France and Britain in accordance with the secret Sykes-Picot Treaty. After the war, Britain was given formal control of a territory of 171,600 square miles known as Iraq under a League of Nations mandate, despite widespread popular resentment from the then local population of 7 million, which has since grown to 25 million. Iraq inherited 1,472 kilometers of the old Ottoman-Persian border, 700 kilometers of which passes through Kurdistan, a border resulting from diplomatic intrigue that dated back to the Zuhab settlement in 1639. The mandate encompasses three former Ottoman wilayas, or administrative districts: Mosul, Baghdad and Basra, which historically included Kuwait. The British, being ever conscious of the need for naval bases, carved out Kuwait as a separate nation, whose legitimacy has never been accepted by Iraq. Since 1779, the British East India Company, backed by British naval power, had exercised de facto control over Kuwait.

As World War I ended, Britain and France both sent troops to enforce their claims and peace conferences subsequently confirmed this wartime division. Palestine was the exception, becoming part of the British zone and not, as was originally planned, an international zone. Britain merged the Ottoman provinces Baghdad, Basra and Mosul into a new state of Iraq, inhabited by three different groups of people: Shi'ites, Sunnis and Kurds. Under British rule, the new Iraqis were subjected to more taxes than under Ottoman rule and pilfering of Iraqi national wealth occurred on a scale that the Ottoman Empire never contemplated.

Arabs in southern Iraq, having helped the British against the Ottoman Turks in World War I, began resistance in 1920 against the British, who failed to honor their promise to end British occupation after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. To crush the Iraqi national liberation movement, Winston Churchill, as British secretary of state for war, introduced new military tactics with massive bombing of villages as the original "shock and awe" doctrine, revived eight decades later by the US military. Churchill ordered the use of mustard gas against the Iraqi civilian population, stating: "I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes." Churchill argued that the military use of gas was a "scientific expedient" and it "should not be prevented by the prejudices of those who do not think clearly". Whole villages were bombed and gassed. There was wholesale slaughter of civilians. Men, women and children fleeing from gassed villages in panic were mercilessly machine-gunned by low-flying British planes. The Royal Air Force routinely bombed and used poison gas against the Kurd, Sunni and Shi'ite tribes without discrimination. President George W Bush was highly selective when he proclaimed that the world was a better place with Saddam Hussein removed from power because Saddam used gas on the Iraqi Kurds. To be consistent, history without a double standard would have to say that the world would have been a better place had Churchill been removed from power. According to Churchill, Bush in calling Saddam evil for gassing Kurdish civilians merely "did not think clearly." Needless to say, no regime change was imposed on Britain.

Notwithstanding the ruthless British response to Iraqi nationalist resistance with overwhelming military force, Britain soon was forced to face the inescapable fact that it would be impossible to effectively control the Arab country by military means. To avoid heavy casualties to the occupational force, the British were forced to restrict their control to only critical neighborhoods in key urban centers. This in turn allowed more attacks of British occupation forces. Britain then decided to form a pro-British Iraqi government as a proxy to protect British interests, just as the US is doing now in Iraq.

The delineation of Iraq's borders was framed by Britain's objective of securing communication between British India and British Egypt. British commitment in the Balfour Declaration that the British government "views with favor" the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine provided the context for additional political and strategic calculations. Britain aimed at turning her war-time obligations to her war-time Arab allies into a chain of proxy states across post-war northern Arabia ruled by branches of the pro-British House of Hashim under the protection and control of Britain. When it became clear that Iraq would not have a common border with the newly established communist Soviet Union, conflict between Britain and France over Mosul surfaced for lack of a common ideological enemy and was resolved by Britain's agreeing to grant France 10% of future oil revenue from the region. In exchange, British-controlled Iraq would be guaranteed access to water from the upper Tigris in French-controlled areas for use in the south and for irrigation needed for the cultivation of agricultural produce, such as tobacco, timber and grain, grown mostly in the north.

An unnatural mismatch between Arabic/Iraqi history and the political borders imposed by European powers to resolve European rivalry affected Iraq's relationship with its surrounding neighbors as well as distant Western powers. Some 12 states were created in the Arabian Peninsula and 22 states divided the Arab world as a result of World Wars I and II. The borders between these states were so contested by local tribal inhabitants that peace had been maintained only by the creation of neutral zones. Justice was frequently preempted by arbitrary geopolitical decisions imposed by the side most able to enforce a solution militarily. This militaristic geopolitical game continues today.

Next:  Iraqi Geopolitics After World War II