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Basic Books
Churchill's Folly: How Winston Churchill Created Modern Iraq

Churchill's Folly: How Winston Churchill Created Modern Iraq

by Christopher Catherwood
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As Britain's colonial secretary in the 1920s, Winston Churchill made a mistake with calamitous consequences and unseen repercussions extending into the twenty-first century. Christopher Catherwood, scholar and adviser to Tony Blair's government, examines Churchill's creation of the artificial monarchy of Iraq after World War One, forcing together unfriendly peoples—Sunni Muslim Kurds and Arabs, and Shiite Muslims—under a single ruler. Defying a global wave of nationalistic sentiment and the desire of subjugated peoples to rule themselves, Churchill put together the broken pieces of the Ottoman Empire and unwittingly created a Middle Eastern powder keg. Inducing Arabs under the thumb of the Ottoman Turks to rebel against rule from Constantinople, the British during WWI convinced the Hashemite clan that they would rule over Syria. However, Britain had already promised the territory to the French. To make amends after the Great War, Churchill created the nation called Iraq and made the Hashemite leader, Feisel, king of a land to which he had no connections. Catherwood examines Churchill's decision, which 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. Photographs and maps are included.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780786715572
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: 05/01/2005
Edition description: First Trade Paper Edition
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 658,807
Product dimensions: 8.18(w) x 10.90(h) x 0.74(d)

About 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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Churchill's Folly: How Winston Churchill Created Modern Iraq 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Catherwood's thesis is that Iraq was a disaster waiting to happen from the day of its founding. 9/11, the Balkan Wars, the Arab-Israeli conflict [to some extent], and the conflict in Iraq all can be traced to the break-up of the Ottoman Empire and the way in which the victorious allies partitioned it among themselves.The book begins with a well-written short history of the region, which includes the following interesting nuggets. The rise of Islam was facilitated by the fatigue and weakness of the Byzantines and the Persians, who had been contesting control of the area between themselves. Iraq did not exist as a country until 1923. The Basra region was the cradle of Shia Islam, which did not become the official religion of Iran for centuries. The Ottoman Turks were the first Caliphs who were neither Arab nor descendants of Mohammed. By the 18th centruy, the border between the Ottomans and Persia was pretty much what it is today. In the 19th century, the British thought of the Ottomans as the principal bulwark against Russian expansion into the Balkans and Caucauses, but when WWI broke out, the British and Russians were on the same side. The Ottomans probably sided with Germany because of their long rivalry with Russia. When WWI ended, the French and British were greedy for the spoils of the Ottoman Empire. The British wanted what is now Iraq to complete a safe air route from Cairo to India. Surprisingly, Churchill's voluminous correspondence and memos to various government agencies rarely mentions the importance of oil, which was promising but not yet proven. Britain's chief concern in the area was the possible expansion of the new Turkey, which was busily beating the Greeks and ethnically cleansing Anatolia of Christians. Catherwood dispenses with one of modern Arabs' favorite myths, namely that the British denied the Arabs their rightful prize for their role in beating the Ottomans through the "Arab Revolt." The author says there really was no significant Arab Revolt. Rather, a few thousand tribesmen of questionable military value fought along with Lawrence, but the real fighting was done by British troops undeer Allenby. Most Arabs remained loyal to their coreligionists under the Sultan.The British were awarded the Mandate of Mesopotamia, but found that the real Arab revolt was against Western rule. After the war, the British were strapped for cash, and quickly wanted to reduce their presence in the Mesopotamia. They were having plenty of trouble in Ireland, India, and Palestine. They thought the cheapest way of controlling the new Iraq would be to install an Arab king who would beholden to them. There were no such Arabs from Mesopotamia available, so they chose one from the Hejaz, Feisel, who had ridden with Lawrence. They appended Kurdistan in the north to the new "Irak" as a way of preventing the Shiites from having too great a majority in the country and to provide a bulwark against Turkish expansion. They thought they could control the unruly tribesmen with the RAF rather than the army. Churchill recommended using poison gas bombs.The Iraq created was never stable. Feisel and the Hashamids had to be somewhat anti-British to establish any legitimacy among their subjects. The monarchy lasted from 1921 to 1958, during which time there were 58 [sic!] changes of government. Stability was established by the Ba'athists, but only through the well know extensive cruelty practiced by Saddam. It is very interesting to read the correspondence of Churchill and other british officials from 1920-21, because they faced problems almost identical to those now faced by the Americans. Churchill's biggest error was to think nationalism could be as powerful a force in the Middle East as religion. Folly indeed. (JAB)