Carving up the Middle East
In my earlier post (Detering and Sinclair Duke it Out), we had a look at some of the subversive tactics used by the British, and specifically by the Royal Dutch Shell Company and its chairman, Sir Henry Detering, to gain oil concessions from the Soviets in 1921 and 1922. By early 1922, the British had effectively eliminated their American competition via the notorious Teapot Dome Scandal, and were ready to negotiate with the Soviets for oil concessions on their own terms. To this end, the British convened the World Economic Conference in Genoa, Italy in April, 1914. Briefly, the goals of this conference were (to recap):
- Explore the possibility of returning to a pre-1914 gold standard
- Open diplomatic relations between Great Britain and the Soviet Union
- Keep the Americans (and Standard Oil) out of the whole process.
Mosul, located on the upper shores of the Tigris River, near
the ruins of the Biblical city of Nineveh, is Iraq's 2nd largest city
One thing remained yet undone, though, and it's a key to understanding why the German economy was later ravaged by hyperinflation. As part of the Sykes-Picot Agreement (arrived at in 1916), which carved out concessions in the Middle East between France and Great Britian, the French were awarded territory around what is now Mosul, Iraq. The area is, of course, rich in oil, something the British suspected even in 1916 when they signed Sykes-Picot, and which was proven beyond any reasonable doubt in the intervening years.
The British therefore naturally desired to wrestle control of Mosul away from the French and back into their own sphere of influence. To understand their strategy for doing so, we must first understand a little bit about the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and about British involvement in the Middle East during WWI.
The British Wage Jihad at Gallipoli
Historians often focus on the massive changes that WWI brought to Europe and Russia, and occassionally less so on the equally profound changes the war had on American life. But what is little discussed in Western educational institutions is the impact that WWI had on Middle East. By the time the bitter fighting was over, four centuries of Ottoman rule over the Middle East would be over, and Christians would be in control of Jerusalem for the first time since the Crusades.
The Gallipoli Peninsula was the site of an early, important
defeat for British forces in the Middle East during WWI
The following is a brief synopsis of the some the key, early events in the Mideast Theater:
- Ottoman Empire declares war on France, Russia and Great Britain in November, 1914
- British (and Indian) troops land in Basra to defend the Anglo-Persian pipeline
- Ottomans attack Britain's "jugular vein," the Suez Canal, in February, 1915. An attempt to raise in Islamic revolt in Egypt fails, however, and results in heavy losses for the Ottomans.
- In February and March, 1915, the Royal Navy launches a campaign against Istanbul to force the Ottomans out of the war, but is unable to fight its way through the Dardanelles
Mustafa Kemal Pasha (Kemal Ataturk) successfully defended
the Gallipoli Peninsula from Allied attacks in 1915
The loss at Gallipoli, and the heavy causulties the French sustained in supporting British military objectives (in 1915), is key to understanding how the Middle East would eventually be carved up between the French and the British (in 1916). After all, the Anglo-Persian pipeline in Basra, and the Suez Canal in Egypt (the primary targets of Ottoman attacks against British assets), were hardly of any overriding importance to the French. Why should the French be expected to sacrifice so many of their troops for British mercantile interests, when they have the Germans to contend with in the trenches?
The British would soon be forced to compensate the French for their losses at Gallipoli, and the compensation would come in the form of oil concessions in Mosul.
The Sykes-Picot Agreement
If there was ever any question as to why the British were even in the Middle East in the first place during WWI, the question can easily be answered by casually glancing at the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Concluded in May, 1916, it was essentially a deal struck between Sir Mark Sykes (UK) and Georges Picot (France), although Italy and Russia were signatories as well and received small allotments in Anatolia (what is now Turkey) and the Causaus Mountains, respectively. The lion's share of all the spoils (including all the known oil fields in the region) were divided between the French and the British.
Sykes-Picot Agreement of May, 1916. The French concessions
(including Mosul) are shown in blue; the British concessions
(including Baghdad, Basra and Kuwait) are shown in red.
Some things that Britain and France agreed to under Skyes-Picot:
- In each of their respective areas, France and Britain retain exclusive rights to enterprise and exclusive rights to make (local) banking loans.
- Britain gets the Palestine ports of Haifa and Acre.
- Construction on the Baghdad Railway would be suspended south of Mosul (in the French region) and north of Baghdad (in the British region), until a railway connecting Baghdad with Aleppo (in what is now Syria) had been completed.
- Britain had the sole right to build a railway connecting the Palestine port of Haifa with Baghdad, and had perpetual right to transport troops along this line at all times.
- Britain and France would control the import of arms into the region.
France was keenly aware of the disproportionately heavy burden that she was bearing, as well as the (unnecessary) 47,000 causulties that she suffered at Gallipoli fighting for the British Crown. It is for this reason that Picot was able to negotiate a concession to the oil fields of Mosul in 1916 as part of Sykes-Picot. It was a concession that the British were (very) reluctant to make in 1916, and which they were (very) keen to win back in the following years.
Lenin released a copy of the confidential Sykes-Picot
Agreement in 1917, embarrasing the Allies and stirring up
distrust among Britain's most important WWI asset, the Arabs
As a historical note, the Sykes-Picot Agreement was first made public by none other than Rockefeller-stooge Vladimir Lenin soon after he took power in Moscow and dug up a dusty copy of the contract with the Czar's seal of approval on it (for what should perhaps be somewhat obvious reasons .. after all, where was Standard Oil when Mesopotamia was being carved up? ..it would seem that old J.D. Rockefeller had been rudely shut out of the negotiations), although delving into that here will take us too far off topic. As another historical note, the British -- for all their calculating -- saw no value whatsoever (at the time) in the region that is now Saudi Arabia, an oversight that Rockefeller's Standard Oil would be more than happy to take advantage of soon afterwards in the 1930s.
We are now almost ready to discuss the topic of German hyperinflation, which I'll address in my next post.