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Great Britain and Iraq: Excerpts from Churchill’s Papers, 1921-1922.

churchillRecommendations for the Fate of the Ottoman Empire

India, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Palestine are all affected prejudicially. In regard to Egypt, Mesopotamia and Palestine, we are forced to maintain military establishments the cost of which far exceeds the resulting revenue and throw a burden on Army Estimates of the gravest kind…whether the European powers should not, jointly and simultaneously, renounce all separate interests in the Turkish Empire other than those which existed before the war. That is to say, the Greeks should quit Smyrna, the French should give up Syria, we should give up Palestine and Mesopotamia, and the Italians should give up their sphere…found very hard to relinquish the satisfaction of those dreams of conquest and aggrandisement which are gratified by the retention of Palestine and Mesopotamia. As a matter of fact we have far more territory in the British Empire than we should be able to develop for many generations…The need of national economy is such that we ought to endeavor to concentrate our resources on developing our existing Empire instead of dissipating them in new enlargements. We can only compel the other powers to give up their exploitation claims against Turkey by ourselves being willing to set an example.

– Churchill Cabinet Memorandum Chartwell 16/18

Mesopotamian Oil

In considering the future profit which may be drawn from the Mesopotamian oil fields, it is necessary always to bear in mind the capital charges which are accruing. Every year we go on at the present rate of expenditure of £1,000,000 a year at 5 per cent to what Mesopotamia will ultimately have to produce in order to yield a profit. Even if the oil-fields bear out our most sanguine hopes, we are burdening them to an intolerable extent with capital charges, and what would be a thoroughly good business for the British Empire, if developed gradually and thriftily is being daily deteriorated by the sterile charges which are mounting up.

– Churchill Cabinet Memorandum CAB 24/106

The Financial Difficulties of Holding on to Mesopotamia

In our present state of military weakness and financial stringency we cannot afford to go on estranging the Mohammedan world in order to hand over a greater Greece to King Constantine…Finally I must point out that the burden of carrying out the present policy at Constantinople, in Palestine, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Persia is beyond the strength of the British Army, and is producing [the] most formidable reaction upon the Indian Army, upon which we are compelled to rely. I see the very greatest difficulty in maintaining that situation through the new financial year unless our military measures are aided by a reconciliation and co-operation with the Turks and with the Moslem world. It is far better to do this than to give up a province like Egypt, where we have been…established for many years…

Our own military forces are extremely weak and maintained with great difficulty and expense, and we have not secured a single friend among the local powers.

– Churchill Cabinet Memorandum Chartwell 16/53

Goals of a Policy for Mesopotamia

The presence of these forces for many months to come and the effects produced upon the Arabs by the suppression of the rebellion and the surrender of [their] rifles, gives me the hope that by the effective use of the resources at our disposal we may be able to set up an Arab Government, through whose agency the peaceful development of the country may be assured without undue demands upon Great Britain. It is to this policy that we must devote our efforts.

– Churchill to Sir Percy Cox, 8 January 1921Chartwell 17/16

The Arab Issues Are All One Issue

…any attempt to divide it will only reintroduce the same paralysis and confusion of action which has done so much harm during the last two years. It will be fatal to all prospects of success to introduce conflicting or divergent policies – Feisal or Abdullah, whether in Mesopotamia or in Mecca; King Hussein when at Mecca; Bin Saud at Nejd…and King Samuel at Jerusalem are all inextricably interwoven, and no conceivable policy can have any chance which does not pull all the stings affecting them. To exclude Arab relations would be to disembowel the Middle East Department…All affairs in the triangle Jerusalem-Aden-Basra must be dealt with in their integrity by one single Minister and from one single point of view. Otherwise muddle, failure and discredit are certain.

– Churchill to Lloyd George, 12 January 1921 Chartwell 17/2

Churchill Asks for Facts and Debates the Merits of the Hashemites

I had not appreciated the weakness inherent in King Hussein’s [King of the Hijaz, Feisal’s father] position. He is only a member of the Sherifan family selected by the Turks on political grounds. What other candidates were there in the Sherifan family at the time when the Turks made this decision? When did they make it? What other important chiefs of the Sherifan family are still alive? It seems to me that all this has bearing upon our committing ourselves irrevocably to one of King Hussein’s sons as ruler of Mesopotamia. If the father’s title is defective, the son’s influence may fall within it. Probably you will be able to re-assure me. Write a brief opinion on this…

The Wahabi sect is at feud with the Sunni. It is also at feud with the Shia? What are the principal doctrinal and ritualistic differences involved between the Shia, the Sunni and the Shabi Mohammedans? A very brief answer will suffice.

– Churchill Memo to Hirtzel Chartwell 17/14,17

Plans for the Cairo Conference

First, the new ruler. Second, future size, character and organisation of the future garrison. Third, the time-table of reduction from present strength to that garrison. Fourth, arising out of the above the extent of the territory to be held and administered.

– Churchill to Cox, 7 February 1921 Chartwell 17/1

The Agenda for the Cairo Conference

We shall begin with Mesopotamia –
(1) The new ruler. Methods of Election. The Mandate generally. Kurdestan, Bin Saud, etc.
(2) The permanent garrison for the three years 1922-1923, 1923-1924 and 1924-1925- size, location, permanent barracks; co-operation with or control by the Air Force.
(3) Critical examination of present military charges, station by station, unit by unit, category by category. After a general discussion on this, a sub-committee will sit separately to formulate proposals for immediate economy and report before the Conference separates.
(4) The rate of reduction from the present force to the permanent garrisons. My hope is that one third of the present troops can leave the country before the hot weather and another third immediately after it is over. [They should work out means of] accelerations of evacuation. The shipping question must also be studied.
(5) The system of taxation and the scale of the civil Government to be maintained must also be reviewed in the direction of having lighter taxation and a less ambitious Government.
(6) [About working out the grant in aid for 1922-1923 inclusive.] (7) Final review of the political situation in the light of the above and decisions as to the actual territory and positions to be held.

– Churchill Memorandum to Shuckburgh, 18 February 1921 Chartwell 17/18

The Purpose of the Middle Eastern Department

…in undertaking the charge of this department will to build up a costly and vainglroriousl Middle Eastern Empire at the expense of the British taxpayer. My object is exactly opposite. The present position is as follows- – We have accepted, by the Treaty of Versailles [should say Sevres] mandates for Palestine and Mesopotamia and we have also incurred certain responsibilities in regard to Arabia which are of profound significance to the Mohammedan subjects of the Crown. The discharge of our task both in Palestine and in Mesopotamia is now threatened by the enormous military expenditures required for the garrisons if these two countries. During the present financial year 1920-1921 the cost of the garrison in Palestine has been about eight million pounds, and the cost of the garrison in Mesopotamia, including the fighting to suppress the revolt, over thirty three million.

– Churchill to Sir George Ritchie, 23 February 1921 Chartwell 5/24

Support for Feisal

We have no doubt whatsoever that the guarantee for the stability of [the] government and [a] quick reduction of expense and responsibility would be [the] adoption of Feisal by a substantial preponderance of public opinion. In all the Arab world there is no other competing principle capable of maintaining an Arab state on modern lines than the Shereefian. On the other hand I am deeply conscious of [the] danger by a too…open advocacy of Feisal [that] we might defeat our own ends.

– Churchill to Lloyd George, 21 March 1921 Chartwell 17/18

Feisal’s Limited Authority

I hope you will explain to Feisal that we wish him to manage the country with [your] assistance & advice. If he manages it so well that in a few years we can withdraw our forces, he will become a Sovereign with plenary powers subject only to treaty obligations with the Mandatory. But as long as we have to spend many millions a year to ensure the maintenance of order & to support his Government, we must expect him to rule in general conformity with the advice tendered to him by you.

– Churchill to Cox (not sent), 15 August 1921 Chartwell 17/16

A Message for Feisal Regarding Oil Interests

…must proceed in [a] lawful & regular manner in regard to their treaty obligations under the Covenant of the L[eague] of N[ations] & special undertakings like the Anglo French oil treaty. US are making difficulty under pressure of oil interests & if they join with the French against the Feisal regime we shall have serious difficulties on the Council of [the] L[eague] of N[ations]. These difficulties might well become insurmountable unless we follow absolutely correct procedure.

– Churchill to Cox, 20 August 1921 Chartwell 17/16

On the Treaty with Iraq

The British Government have no power to abrogate or terminate the Mandate which they hold from the League of Nations, except by resigning once and for all their special position in the country. The other great Powers on the Council of the League of Nations would not agree to Britain having a special position in Iraq unless controlled by the Mandate. America, though not a member of the League, would also refuse consent. There is no possibility, therefore, of Britain freeing herself from the Mandate other than by washing her hands altogether of responsibilities towards Iraq.

The meaning of the Mandate and its whole purpose was to restrain Britain and not to restrain Iraq. The Mandate regulates and restricts the action of the mandatory Power, and is intended solely to safeguard the interests of Iraq. The other great Powers would never allow Britain to have special treaty relations with Iraq while escaping from the Mandate. If we were to offer to the League of Nations to release us from the Mandate, they would refuse; and the only course open to us would be either to bow to their decision or to quit the country altogether.

Of course, when Iraq becomes strong enough in our opinion to stand alone, we shall be in a position to state that our task has been fulfilled, and that Iraq is in fact as well as in status and independent sovereign State. But this cannot be said with any respect for truth and fact while we are forced year after year to spend very large sums of money on helping the Iraq Government to defend itself and maintain order.

We therefore are unable at the present time to alter in any way the position which has been reached in the negotiations for the Treaty. If there is to be a Treaty it must be signed on this basis and no other. If the King or his Cabinet of the Assembly cannot agree to a Treaty on this basis, then it will be impossible to frame a form of agreement regulation the relations of Britain and Iraq. These are facts which do not depend on the wish of the British Government but on powers and laws to which they must bow.

The King will therefore see that if the Treaty, which was his idea and not ours, cannot be agreed, there is nothing for us but to go forward on the present indeterminate basis until Iraq is strong enough to stand alone. There is really no use in searching in vain for vain formulas which disguise the fact that Britain has to obey the League of Nations, and that Iraq must accept our guidance whilst it still requires our aid.

– Churchill to Cox, 19 April 1922 Chartwell 17/26

Churchill Threatens to Pull Out of Iraq

I think we should now put definitely, not only to Feisal but also to the Constituent Assembly, the position that unless they actually beg us to stay on our own terms in regard to efficient control, we shall actually evacuate beyond the close of the financial year. I would put this issue in the most brutal way, and if they are not prepared to urge us to stay and to co-operate in every manner I would actually clear out. That at any rate would be a solution. Whether we should clear out of the country altogether or hold onto a portion of the Basra vilayet is a minor issue requiring a special study.

– Churchill to Lloyd George, 1 September 1921 Chartwell 17/27

The Root of the Problem (According to David Lloyd George)

Strategically, I think, the whole decision was faulty. To be effective we had to leave our base on the sear for hundreds of miles in a torrid country utterly unfit for white fighting. We ought to have concentrated on Gallipoli and Palestine or Alexandretta. The Taurus was then unpierced. The decision was taken when I was hardly on the fringe of the War Cabinet. You were in it. Having provoked a war with the Turk we had to fight him somewhere, but the swamps of the Tigris were a badly chosen battle-ground.

Whatever, however, the merits or demerits of the original decision to fight in Mesopotamia, it certainly is responsible for our difficulties now; and tracking the story back to that decision, I do not see how any of our subsequent troubles couls have been avoided.

It was quite clear to me when I became Prime Minister that we could not afford to relax our campaign against the Turks in that region. Such a decision, after the withdrawal from Gallipoli, and the surrender of a British army at Kut, would have weakened our position throughout the Mohammedan world.

Having beaten the Turks both in Iraq and Palestine, we could not at the Armistice have repudiated all our undertakings towards the Arabs. We were responsible for liberating them from Turkish sovereignty, and we were absolutely bound to assist them in setting up Arab governments, if we were not prepared to govern them ourselves.

Feisal has responded so badly to your excellent efforts to make him self-supporting with a minimum of British protection; but I do not think that an effective case can be made against us on that score, if we stand together and meet criticism courageously.

If we have failed in Iraq, it is because we have taken no effective steps during our years of occupation to prospect the possibilities of the country. As you know, I was anxious that the Anglo-Persian [Oil Company] should bore to ascertain the value of the oil deposits. We have, however, done virtually nothing in that respect. If we leave, we may find in a year or two that we have handed over to the French and the Americans some of the richest oilfields in the world – just to purchase on derisive shout from our enemies. On general principles, I am against a policy of scuttle, In Iraq as elsewhere, and should like you to put the alternatives [before the Cabinet].

– Lloyd George to Churchill, 5 September 1922 Chartwell 17/27

Report on Feisal’s Acceptance of the Treaty

This draft treaty conformed in all respects to the requirements of the League of Nations, and also fully complied with the pledge which had been given to King Feisal that in the case of Iraq Great Britain would substitute a Treaty relationship for a mandatory relationship. Throughout the idea of the Cabinet had been to establish Iraq as an independent Arab State bound to Great Britain during the mandatory period by Treaty relations.

The Arabs were themselves opposed to the ordinary mandatory relationship, but it had been pointed out to them…their objections could be satisfactorily met inasmuch as if and when Iraq was admitted to the League of Nations the necessity for any mandate would cease. When a stable government had been established in the country, when the frontiers had been defined, when and organic law had been passed and certain military and financial arrangements had definitely been executed, then Great Britain would be prepared to advocate the admission of Iraq to the Legaue of Nations.

King Feisal had accepted this solution, and his acceptance had no doubt been influenced by his illness and the energetic action taken by the High Commissioner in suppressing the extremists.

It has been made clear that in this particular matter the Government would not deal with Feisal alone, but that he must arrange for the formation of a Ministry and act on the advice of his Ministers, and that the Ministers themselves must give full assurances that they would accept and work the Treaty. The High Commissioner had succeeded in meeting these requirements, and all that was now necessary was to authorise him to sign the Treaty…

The moment for this action seemed opportune. Trouble with the Turk was the time for friendship with the Arab, and inasmuch as the Treaty was extremely favorable to Arab aspirations the publication of its terms would undoubtedly have an excellent effect and would enable Feisal to unite the Arab against any Turkish attack.

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