The Complications of State-Building: Reevaluating the Role of Britain in the Creation of Iraq
University of Utah — Member ΦΑθ-BƖ
Published in Utah Historical Review, Vol IV.
When the defunct Ottoman Empire’s Middle-Eastern territory was divided by Britain and France in the early 1920s as League of Nations Mandates, Britain received Iraq. Ostensibly, the French and British were to assist the people living within their respective mandates in nation-building. In reality, these mandates amounted to little more than watered downed colonialism with these European powers determining their governments and borders. Indeed, the myth that Iraq’s western border with Jordan cuts deeply eastward because Winston Churchill sneezed while drawing the map of Iraq at the 1921 Cairo Conference persists to this day. This paper argues that Britain’s role in creating Iraq has been simplified and exaggerated, especially since the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003. Though Britain certainly played a large role in its creation and further sought to benefit from a neocolonial relationship with Iraq, to credit (or to blame) Britain solely for its existence is to ignore external factors that curtailed Britain’s decision making. These external factors range from British dealings with Middle-Eastern elites to the need to appease the interests of other Western powers in the area, such as France, Russia and the United States. This is demonstrated by examining a series of primary sources, including: correspondences between British officials and Middle-Eastern leaders; as well as proposed treaties and actual treaties between Britain and other Western states.