Posted by: sean | October 7, 2006

A peace to end all peace

While reading David Fromkin’s 1989 A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, I came across a passage (pp. 307-8) that seemed awfully familiar:

It was evident that London either was not aware of, or had given no thought to, the population mix of the Mesopotamian provinces [Baghdad and Basra]. The antipathy between the minority of Moslems who were Sunnis and the majority who were Shi’ites, the rivalries of tribes and clans, the historic and geographic divisions of the provinces … made it difficult to achieve a single unified government that was at the same time representative, effective, and widely supported.

[Sir Percy] Cox raised other immediate and practical issues that obviously had not been thought through in London. …

The Mesopotamian Administration Committee had no ready replies, for the Ottoman administration of Mesopotamia had been driven out, and no body of experienced officials … existed in the provinces to replace it. The war continued, and orders had to be given and administrative decisions taken daily. Public facilities and utilities had to be managed. Who was to do it?

…General Maude … was put in the position of preaching self-rule while discouraging its practice. The compromise formula at which the British had arrived might have been expressly designed to arouse dissatisfaction and unrest: having volunteered what sounded like a pledge of independence to an area that had not asked for it, the military and civil authorities of the occupying power then proceeded to withhold it.

The Mesopotamian provinces were the first to be captured from the Ottoman Empire by Britain during the war. Whitehall?s failure to think through in practical detail how to fulfill the promises gratuitously made to a section of the local inhabitants was revealing, and boded ill for the provinces that were the next to be invaded…

You would think that someone would have done their homework before invading Iraq, instead of repeating the same mistakes as the British nearly 100 years ago.


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