Anti-War Activist; Talk Show Host
TGIF: The Middle East Harvests Bitter Imperialist Fruit
June 20, 2014
The wall-to-wall coverage of the disintegration of Iraq ought to
carry this credit: This bloodshed was made possible by the generosity of
British and French imperialists.
The stomach-wrenching violence in Iraq — not to mention the
horrendous civil war in Syria, the chronic unrest in Palestine/Israel,
and problems elsewhere in the Middle East — are direct consequences of
the imperialist acts of the British and French governments at the end of
World War I, the history-altering catastrophe that began 100 years ago
this August 4.
The story has been told many times. The government of Great Britain
wanted to disrupt the Ottoman Empire's ability to help Germany and the
Austro-Hungarian empire in the Great War. So the British dispatched
personnel, most famously T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia),
to persuade the Arab leaders to revolt against the Turks, in return for
which they would gain their independence in (roughly) the Levant (what today is Israel/Palestine, Jordan, Syria), Mesopotamia (Iraq), and the Arabian Peninsula. The Arab leadership agreed and proceeded to obstruct the Turks' war efforts.
In the 1915–16 correspondence between the British High Commissioner
in Cairo, Sir Henry McMahon, and Arab leader Hussein bin Ali, McMahon acknowledged Hussein's demand for independence in most of the Levant (Palestine included) and the Arabian peninsula:
Subject to the above modifications, Great Britain is
prepared to recognize and support the independence of the Arabs in all
the regions within the limits demanded by the Sherif of Mecca [Hussein].
McMahon did not give a blanket guarantee; he excluded western parts
of the Levant (Lebanon) in favor of French interests and declared that
With regard to … Bagdad [sic] and Basra [in Iraq], the
Arabs will recognise that the established position and interests of
Great Britain necessitate special administrative arrangements in order
to secure these territories from foreign aggression, to promote the
welfare of the local populations and to safeguard our mutual economic
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