The first Iraqi colonial war
Iraq Deja Vu (The British in Mesopotamia 1920-21)
Sun Sep 17, 2006 at 10:39:07 AM PDT
While doing research this week in the London Times Digital Archives, in 1920-1921, I was stunned to see headline after headline that could have been lifted from today's news. I've read some histories of the British in Iraq, or Mesopotamia as it was called then, including David Fromkin's excellent A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922 (Henry Holt 1989), but I was unprepared for how eerily similar the news sounded. I read through numerous articles and thought I would include some interesting excerpts and headlines for a one-year period, Aug 1920-July 1921. Unfortunately, the Times Digital Archive is a subscription database, so I can't provide links to any of the articles. If you have access to the archive, however, I suggest reading some of the full articles for yourself..
While History does repeat itself, it never repeats itself in the same way, and I don't think the U.S. occupation of Iraq can be directly compared to that of the British in 1920-1921. But it's interesting and useful to see what they went through. You wonder if anyone from the Bush administration ever bothered reading any of this material. I doubt it. Interestingly, the last piece I include gives a very clear warning about outside nations invading the region. "Every child at school has heard of Babylon and its tragic fate; and the mounds of rubble which are all that now recall the vanished glories of the Babylonian empire may still serve to remind our rulers that every Power which has sought to control these dismal lands has met with ultimate disaster."
16 Aug 1920
Bad to Worse in Mesopotamia
A telegram from Baghdad says that the situation in Mesopotamia is becoming worse. . . . [R]ebels are trying to encircle the town. The railway has been cut in several places. It is evident from this message that the trouble in Mesopotamia is far more widespread than previously reported. . . . The outbreaks now reported show that on the west, the north, and the north-east of Baghdad, a state of insecurity prevails. . . . The railway from Baghdad to Fallujah has been cut and the staff on the railway station kidnapped.
20 Aug 1920
The weekly "Notes on Military Operations" show the very widespread character of the troubles, which extend to nearly every part of the country. . . . A rising took place near Baquba [30 miles north of Baghdad], the junction of the railway to Persia. The line was cut and the British administration compelled to withdraw. A column was sent out to deal with the disturbance, but failed to suppress it.
23 Aug 1920
Mesopotamia. A Serious War Before Us. Causes of the Trouble.
[One can] see not only the struggle round Baghdad but some of the issues flowing from it to Jerusalem, Damascus, Delhi, Tehran. . . . Baghdad is already half-isolated. . . . Ramadi and Fallujah have garrisons cut off from Baghdad. . . . [T]he troops suffer the torture of an Inferno, and heavy reinforcements are required. . . . We are engaged in a war as expensive as and more exhausting than the South African War. . . . Whatever the ultimate limits of Mesopotamia may be, no escape existed from the duty of maintaining the military occupation. . . . That proved to be an intolerable financial burden, but the event proves that we attempted it with too few rather than too many troops, and the cheap policy of policing by local levies has proved unsuccessful. . . . The causes of the trouble are patent enough on the spot. They are, in the first place, a powerful intrigue from Syria.
31 Aug 1920
Bad News from Mesopotamia. Jihad Preached. Trouble Spreading in the South.
3 Sep 1920
Holy War in Mesopotamia. Fanatics Stirring Up the Arabs.
The Muntaflk Arabs, to whom political catch-words failed to appeal, have been aroused by active preaching of a Jihad on the part of fanatics from Najaf and Karballah; the leading sheik in the district, despite his unwavering friendship for us, has been unable to hold his men back., and the withdrawal of the British political officers at the last moment by air alone saved them from being murdered. . . . North of Baghdad, Samarra was attacked by insurgents.
8 Sep 1920
What Is Happening in Mesopotamia? (Editorial)
We must protest once more against the extremely patchy and inadequate bulletins issued by the War Office regarding the operations in Mesopotamia. The nation finds itself involved in a serious war [in Iraq], and the ration strength of our forces . . . must by now greatly exceed 100,00 men. The War Office rarely gives any clear idea of the situation, and sometimes leaves us almost entirely in the dark. . . . For example, not one word has been spoken officially about the recent executions in Baghdad.
14 Sep 1920
Armoured Cars For Mesopotamia.
18 Sep 1920
Improvement in Mesopotamia.
20 Sep 1920
Progress in Mesopotamia
12 Oct 1920
Arab Opposition in Mesopotamia. Strong Force Near Hillah.
6 Nov 1920
Our Mistakes in Mesopotamia. Withdrawal Urged. How To Protect the Oil Industry.
9 Nov 1920
Britain's Foes in Mesopotamia. Feudalists and Fanatics.
[M]any minor sheiks . . . formed the idea that the British meant to leave the country to anarchy. This idea was fomented by Syrian agents with money to spend, and by a few self-seeking extremists in Baghdad.
11 Dec 1920
Our Costly Adventure in Mesopotamia.
2 Feb 1921
Baghdad or Basra. Facing Facts in Mesopotamia. The Dilemma. Retirement Or Further Loss.
Eliminating all questions of Imperial security, prestige, or mandatory civilizing mission, undoubtedly Mesopotamia is at present a bad investment for the British taxpayer. The present, nominal estimated ordinary expenditure is 25 million pounds a year; actually, it is far greater. . . . How can we most safely cut the losses? Suppose we begin by evacuating down to Basra this year.
4 Feb 1921
Mandates and Oil. No Open Door in Mesopotamia. American Point Of View
An examination of the unofficial text of the draft arrangement whereby Great Britain holds the Mesopotamia mandate has led the [U.S.] State Department to make known its continued dissatisfaction with a situation under which Americans are held to be debarred from the participation in the exploration of the oil fields, which are considered as the fruits of victory.
12 April 1921
Mesopotamia. Task Of Withdrawal.
[E]ven if the evacuation of Mesopotamia is begun immediately, considered as a technical staff problem it is impossible to complete it under 12 months.
18 July 1921
Mr. Churchill got to the root of the Mesopotamia issue when he said, on June 14, that our `obligation' there is not `unlimited,' that a point might be reached when no more sacrifices could be demanded from British taxpayers, and that the time might come when `the conditions of our finance or our military resources were such that we could do no more' for Mesopotamia. In our view, the point defined by Mr. Churchill was reached long ago. . . . Every child at school has heard of Babylon and its tragic fate; and the mounds of rubble which are all that now recall the vanished glories of the Babylonian empire may still serve to remind our rulers that every Power which has sought to control these dismal lands has met with ultimate disaster
posted by Steve @ 12:20:00 AM