(PALSTINE, SYRIA, LEBANON and IRAQ, to 1930 – continued)

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Rebellion against Colonialism in Iraq and Syria

In 1922 in Mesopotamia, rebellion against British domination erupted among the Kurds. The British saw themselves as unable to afford ground troops against the rebellion, and they saw themselves as low in the amount of money it could spend on the war. They turned to air power. Aircraft bombed and machine-gunned the Iraqis. Winston Churchill and Lawrence of Arabia urged the use of gas, and mustard gas is said to have been used on occasion, while this has been denied. Delayed action bombs are also said to have been used. Britain's Air Commodore Lionel Charlton resigned his commission in 1924, disgusted with the air campaign. A squadron leader in Mesopotamia, Arthur Harris, supported the bombing strategy, saying that "The only thing the Arab understands is the heavy hand." The rebellion was defeated and British rule restored. According to Wikipedia the British suffered 400 killed, 600 missing and 11 aircraft destroyed, and local peoples lost between 6,000 and 10,000 people. Arthur Harris would become commander of British air power during World War II while believing in bombing German civilian targets.

In Iraq, Faisal would always be looked upon as a foreigner and his rule a British creation. Meanwhile, Iraqi military officers would remain largely secular, influenced by the same attraction to modernization that Turkey's military intellectuals had, and they were interested in unification of the Arabic lands. Among them, the Sunni dominated. Shia were accepted only if they endorsed the unity of all Arabic countries. The Shia tended to perceive the Iraqi state as an enemy because it was Sunni and gave them no voice in politics. And the Kurds in the north would continue to seek independence for themselves.

It would be on 15 May 1923 that Britain recognized Iraq's neighbor, Transjordan, as a state, while King Abdullah, Faisal's brother, would continue to cling to his plan for an eventual unity of the Arabs under Hashemite authority.

By 1924, a dispute arose regarding the city of Mosul in what was being called Iraq. It was close to 100 kilometers from the far southeast border of today's Turkey. The British were interested in oil in the area around Mosul. So too was Turkey. Turkey and the US discussed Americans getting a share of the oil in exchange for support for Turkey's claim to the area. That was superseded by the British making a deal with Turkey, the US and others. Beginning in 1925 oil concessions were granted, the Turks, the US, the French and Dutch were all to receive a share in royalty payments from what came to be called Iraq Petroleum.

The year 1925 saw another revolt in Syria, to be called the Great Syrian Revolt. The French were not as slick as the British in handling the Arabs. They lacked the experience that the British had gained in recent years. The Syrians, moreover, were most nationalistic. The French struck back with artillery, tanks and the firepower of military aircraft. Despite this the rebellion lasted into 1928 – 1927 according to Wikipedia. According to Wikipedia, "At least 6,000 rebels were killed, and over 100,000 people were left homeless, a fifth of whom made their way to Damascus... Across Syria, towns and farms had suffered significant damage, and agriculture and commerce temporarily ceased."

As for Lebanon, in 1926 a constitution was created that required the president to be a Christian (a Maronite) and the prime minister a Sunni – a degree of self-government while remaining under French domination. Lebanon was not to become independent until 1943.


The Formation of Modern Syria and Iraq, Eliezer Tubber, 1994

Copyright © 1998-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.