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 is a brief daily email with an excerpt or quote we view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, primarily historical in focus, and will occasionally be controversial. Finally, we hope that the selections will resonate beyond the subject of the book from which they were excerpted. Sign up and join 99,000 other subscribers who receive Delanceyplace every weekday morning.

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britain carves up the middle east -- 10/30/14

Today's encore selection -- from The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power by Daniel Yergin. In the immediate aftermath of World War I, Britain carved the new country of Iraq out of the defeated Ottoman (Turkish) Empire to protect its access to newly discovered oil fields and its imperial possessions in Asia. The new country is an illogical aggregation of factions -- Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds among them -- that are so hostile to each other it almost immediately led Britain to bomb some of its villages. The British recruited an out-of-work king to preside over the ill-fated land:

"During the war, London had encouraged Hussein, the Sharif of Mecca, to take the lead in raising an Arab revolt against Turkey. This he did, beginning in 1916, aided by a few Englishmen, of whom the most famous was T.E. Lawrence -- Lawrence of Arabia. In exchange, Hussein and his sons were to be installed as the rulers of the various, predominantly Arab, constituents of the Turkish empire. Faisal, third son of Hussein, was generally considered the most able. ...

"The British put Faisal on the throne of the newly created nation of Syria, one of the independent states carved out of the extinct Turkish empire. But a few months later, when control of Syria passed to France under the postwar understandings, Faisal was abruptly deposed and turned out of Damascus. He showed up at a railway station in Palestine, where, after a ceremonial welcome by the British, he sat on his luggage waiting for his connection.

Coronation of Prince Faisal as King of Iraq

"But his career as a king was not yet over. The British needed a monarch for Iraq, another new state, this one to be formed out of three former provinces of the Turkish empire. Political stability in the area was required not only by the prospect for oil, but also for defense of the Persian Gulf and for the new imperial air route from Britain to India, Singapore and Australia. The British did not want to rule the region directly; that would cost too much. Rather what [Winston] Churchill, then head of the Colonial Office, wanted was an Arab government, with a constitutional monarch, that would be 'supported' by Britain under the League of Nations mandate. It would be cheaper. So Churchill chose the out-of-work Faisal as his candidate. Summoned from exile he was crowned King of Iraq in Baghdad in August 1921. ...

"Faisal's task was enormous; he had not inherited a well-defined nation, but rather a collection of diverse groups -- Shia Arabs and Sunni Arabs, Jews and Kurds and Yazidis -- a territory with a few important cities, most of the countryside under the control of local sheikhs, and with little common political or cultural history, but with a rising Arab nationalism. The minority Sunni Arabs held political power, while the Shia Arabs were by far the most numerous. To complicate things further, the Jews were the largest single group among inhabitants of Baghdad, followed by Arabs and Turks."

author: Daniel Yergin
title: The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power
publisher: Free Press
date: Copyright 1991, 1992, 2008 by Daniel Yergin
pages: 200-201
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