Churchill's Folly: How Winston Churchill Created Modern Iraq

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"If you want to understand why Iraq seems doomed to conflict (and why our lives are being changed as a result), this book is a good place to start."

- Alexander McCall Smith, The Mail on Sunday

"An impressive study on the making of modern Iraq, with all its crises and catastrophes."

- Kirkus Reviews

As Britain's colonial secretary in the 1920s, Winston Churchill made a mistake with calamitous consequences. Christopher Catherwood, scholar and ...

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Overview

"If you want to understand why Iraq seems doomed to conflict (and why our lives are being changed as a result), this book is a good place to start."

- Alexander McCall Smith, The Mail on Sunday

"An impressive study on the making of modern Iraq, with all its crises and catastrophes."

- Kirkus Reviews

As Britain's colonial secretary in the 1920s, Winston Churchill made a mistake with calamitous consequences. Christopher Catherwood, scholar and adviser to Tony Blair's government, chronicles and analyzes how Churchill created the artificial monarchy of Iraq after World War I, thereby forcing together unfriendly peoples under a single ruler. The map of the Middle East that Churchill created led directly to both the rise of Saddam Hussein and the numerous conflicts that followed.

Defying a global wave of nationalistic sentiment, and the desire of subject peoples to rule themselves, Winston Churchill put together the broken pieces of the Ottoman Empire and created a Middle Eastern powder keg. Inducing Arabs under the rule of the Ottoman Turks to rebel against their oppressors, the British and French during World War I convinced the Hashemite clan that they would rule over Syria. In fact, Britain had promised the territory to the French. To make amends, Churchill created the nation of Iraq and made the Hashemite leader, Feisal, king of a land to which he had no connections at all. Churchill’s decision resulted in a 1958 military coup against the Iraqi Hashemite government and a series of increasingly bloody regimes until the ultimate nightmare of Ba’athist party rule under Saddam Hussein, which led to the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the first Gulf War in 1991, and the 2003 U.S. invasion and bloody guerrilla war which followed.

Eight pages of photographs add to this fascinating history on Churchill's decision and the terrible legacy of the Ottoman Empire's collapse.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This compelling volume raises eerie echoes of present-day Iraq. In the aftermath of WWI, France and Britain competed for the Mideastern leftovers of the Ottoman Empire. The British grabbed Palestine, attempted to set up puppet monarchies in Arabia and in 1921 cobbled together hostile peoples-Kurds and Sunni and Shiite Arabs-into the artificial and unstable kingdom of Iraq, ruled by the imposed Hashemite king Faisal. Cambridge historian Catherwood asserts that this form of indirect rule was "empire lite" as fashioned by Churchill, then colonial minister. The British, drained economically by the world war, were greedy for spoils and wanted the benefits of empire on the cheap. The vastness of Iraq proved impossible to govern by a reduced garrison. Catherwood, a consultant to Tony Blair's cabinet, sees contemporary parallels in the unlearned lessons of "imperial overreach." Unwanted paternalistic protectorates have a way of imploding, Catherwood notes. Churchill conceded wryly that Britain was spending millions "for the privilege of living on an ungrateful volcano out of which we are in no circumstances to get anything worth having." In a readable historical essay stretched into a short book, Catherwood demonstrates yet again that one generation's pragmatism can be a later generation's tragedy. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (Aug.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
How did things get so messy in Mesopotamia? In part, because of Iraq's founding at the hands Winston Churchill, "undoubtedly brilliant but utterly lacking in any kind of judgment."As Britain's colonial secretary in the early 1920s, Churchill was a principal in carving up the vast, now-fallen Ottoman Empire-which, Catherwood (History/Cambridge Univ.) suggests, sided with Germany in WWI after Churchill, then naval secretary, had requisitioned for his own fleet heavy warships due by contract to the Ottoman navy. Churchill did some of that carving with an eye to the old divide-and-conquer strategy: distribute the Kurds across several states, he seems to have thought, and they would make no trouble; let national lines slice through ethnic ones, and the residents of Iraq (and Palestine, for that matter) would be so busy squabbling with one another that they would have no energy to cause trouble outside their borders. So it was that modern Iraq arose, an artificial creation that encompassed three majority ethnic and religious groups (Shia and Sunni Muslims and Kurds), along with many minority groups, all headed by a Hashemite (Saudi) king whom Churchill selected with an eye to pliability. That was a mistake, Catherwood suggests, if an expedient one: "Choosing Feisal," he writes, "was far from being an Iraqi-centered solution-which would have entailed choosing the best person for Iraq, or, better still, letting the new Iraqis have a genuine say over how their new state was to be ruled." Given Mesopotamia's oil wealth, it was in Britain's interest to have such an ally in power, but Churchill was hampered by several unpleasant realities: King Feisal began to resist orders almost immediately, andChurchill had trouble keeping peace in the region because the British government was constantly trying to rule on the cheap. The legacy: after the British occupiers left, Iraq endured 58 governments in 37 years, "a sure sign of chronic, unresolved instability"-and a pattern of chaos ended only by the rise of Saddam Hussein. An impressive study on the making of modern Iraq, with all its crises and catastrophes. Agent: Gene Brissie/James Peters Associates
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780760792681
  • Publisher: Barnes & Noble
  • Publication date: 5/5/2007
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Catherwood teaches history at Cambridge University and the University of Richmond (Virginia). He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and has served as a consultant to the Strategy Unit of Tony Blair's cabinet, working in the Admiralty Building where Winston Churchill was based as First Lord of the Admiralty.
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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 From Abraham to Allenby 19
Ch. 2 The Arab revolt and the great betrayal 41
Ch. 3 How two men in London changed the world 63
Ch. 4 Churchill and his forty thieves 95
Ch. 5 Changing the map : the Cairo Conference of 1921 127
Ch. 6 Winston's bridge 161
Ch. 7 From Feisal to Saddam 215
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