Photo from the Archives, Department of Archaeology, University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Just finished reading a terrific book entitled The Desert Queen by Janet Wallach. It's a biography of Gertrude Bell, who drew the boundaries of modern Iraq in the 1920s, and was a close advisor of King Faisal and an ally of Lawrence of Arabia. It makes you realize how little has changed in the last 80-90 years!
Here are a couple of quotes:
"Although all believed that Mosul should be united with Baghdad and Basrah, the rest was as muddy as the ground in the rainy season: the Sunni nationalists wanted an Arab kingdom; the Shiites wanted an Islamic religious state; the Kurds in the north sought an independent Kurdish entity; the business community that had prospered under the Sultan wanted a return to the Turks."
Sound familiar? Read on....
In 1920, a strong contingent in the British government felt that Iraq "had already cost Britain too much money and too many lives (there were 17,000 British and 44,000 Indian troops in Iraq, and combined with the 23,000 troops in Palestine, it was costing England 35.5 million pounds a year [about half a billion dollars in today's currency] to keep the garrisons in place), but few could deny [Iraq's] importance as a future source of oil."
But Lloyd George wrote: "What would happen if we withdrew?. . . After the enormous expenditure which we have incurred in freeing this country from. . . .withering despotism. . . .to hand it back to anarchy and confusion, and to take no responsibiity for its development, would be an act of folly and quite indefensible."
And Bell herself agreed: "If we leave this country to go the dogs, it will mean we shall have to reconsider our whole position in Asia. If Mesopotamia [Iraq] goes, Persia [Iran] goes inevitably, and then India. And the place which we leave empty will be occupied by seven devils a good deal worse than any which existed before we came."