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A Tale of Two Empires

Iraq is the land of the Tigris and the Euphrates, the fertile area around and between the two great rivers, the territory between Baghdad, the ancient capital of the entire Arab world, and Basra, over 500 miles away where the great rivers converge as the Shatt-el-Arab before entering the Persian Gulf.  Some say Iraq is “artificial,” but there would still be an Iraq even if she lost her Kurdish region or some Sunni Arab districts to Syria.  

The story of British Iraq can be read as an allegory for problems and temptations that have recurred today.

Around 1900, Germany started to finance, advise, arm, and train the Ottoman Empire, and the British saw this as a threat to their own empire in Asia.  They defeated this threat by the terrifyingly radical expedient of making an alliance with Russia and waging war on Germany.  The destruction of the Ottoman Empire was a by-product of the war.  Troops from India landed at the head of the Persian Gulf to take Basra.  They set off up the Tigris but ran into serious trouble.  Nine thousand British soldiers surrendered at a place called Kut; this provoked British fury.  The Bedouin tribes were stirred up against the Turks with gold and promises, and Sir Stanley Maude was sent to Basra with reinforcements.  Maude did much better: He captured Baghdad in March 1917.  Maude, hailed as “Systematic Joe,” became a popular...

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