History Repeated Itself: U.K. and U.S. in Iraq


T. E. Lawrence (1888-1935)

After World War I (1914-1918), the United Kingdom invaded and occupied some of the remnants of the declining Ottoman Empire. This included Iraq which the U.K. occupied for about fifteen years. They experienced large numbers of casualties and sectarian insurrections from Shi’a elements that led to 2,000 British casualties in 1920 alone. Britain had great difficulty in nation-building in this most ethnically diverse Arab nation, and failed to establish a government that reflected its interests. There was an utter lack of security as chaos gripped the land particularly around Baghdad, Basra and Mosul.

While given legal authority under a League of Nations’ mandate, calls for withdrawal mounted during British occupation in the 1920s. One of those advocating a British withdrawal from Iraq was T. E. Lawrence: this was the famed Lawrence of Arabia who was a scholar, archaeologist, adventurer and soldier who spent a great deal of time in the Middle East and learned Arabic. Lawrence was a courageous advocate for Arab-independent states liberated from the yoke of western colonialism. Below is his call for British disengagement from Mesopotamia (Iraq).

“[It is] a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honour…Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are today not far from a disaster.

“We say we are in Mesopotamia (Iraq) to develop it for the benefit of the world…How long will we permit millions of pounds, thousands of Imperial troops and tens of thousands of Arabs to be sacrificed on behalf of colonial administration?”

The British withdrew their military forces in 1927 and the mandate ended in 1932.

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