British policy in Mesopotamia, 1903-1914
Stuart A. Cohen
This book is not intended to be either a comprehensive study in international relations or a detailed account of the domestic politics of Mesopotamia between 1903 and 1914. It has two more restricted, but nevertheless important, aims. The first is to measure the extent of official British interest in the region during this period, and in so doing to redress a traditional historical bias. Commonly, Britain’s interest in Mesopotamia before 1914 has been treated merely as a prologue to the Mesopotamian campaign of the First World War and the subsequent British mandate over Iraq: the subject has been considered of little importance in its own right. The accelerating momentum of Britain’s Mesopotamian policy (which the present work attempts to describe) suggests that this is to misinterpret the evidence. The British and Indian governments had long possessed a strategic interest in the region, because it constituted a highway to India. By 1914, they had also taken active steps to secure a position of prominence in all areas of Mesopotamian commercial development and to establish a claim on the political loyalties of the Arab inhabitants of the region. Britain’s Mesopotamian policy before 1914 must therefore be treated as an important element in Britain’s general policy towards the Middle East in the early twentieth century. The second aim of this book is to weigh the various pressures which influenced British officials in the formulation of their policy towards Mesopotamia. This aim is restricted, and accounts for the exclusive concentration on the motives of the British government. However, it is also of wider relevance, since the subject forms part of a reassessment of the purposes of British foreign policy before the First World War. Thus the study aims to investigate not only the details of Britain’s involvement in Mesopotamia but also the motives (idiosyncratic and collective) which accounted for the parabola of that involvement.