"Churchill invented Iraq. The end of World War I left Britain and France in command of the Middle East and the allies carved up the region as the defeated Ottoman Empire fell apart. Winston Churchill convened the 1912 Conference in Cairo to determine the boundaries of the British Middle Eastern mandate. After giving Jordan to Prince Abdullah, Churchill, gave Prince Abdullah’s brother Faisal an arbitrary patch of desert that became Iraq," writes Garikai Chengu who is a scholar at Harvard University.
Churchill’s imperial foreign policy has caused a century of instability in Iraq by arbitrarily locking together three warring ethnic groups that have been bleeding heavily ever since. In Iraq, Churchill bundled together the three Ottoman vilayets of Basra that was predominantly Shiite, Baghdad that was Sunni, and Mosul that was mainly Kurd.
Britain set up a colonial regime in Iraq. British oppression in Iraq intensified and an uprising in May 1920 united Sunni and Shia against the British. Winston Churchill, the responsible cabinet minister, took almost a decade to brutally quash the uprising leaving 9,000 Iraqis dead.
Churchill ordered punitive village burning expeditions and air attacks to shock and awe the population. The British air force bombed not only military targets but civilian areas as well. British government policy was to kill and wound women and children so as to intimidate the population into submission.
Churchill also authorized the use of chemical weapons on innocent Iraqis.
In 1919 Churchill remarked, “I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes… It will cause great inconvenience and spread a lively terror”.
Britain’s relationship with Iraq has always revolved around the issue of oil. Churchill viewed Iraq as an important gateway to Britain’s Indian colony and oil as the lifeblood for Britain’s Imperial Navy.
British and US intelligence helped Saddam’s Ba`ath Party seize power for the first time in 1963. Ample new evidence shows that Saddam was on the CIA payroll as early as 1959, when he was part of a failed assassination attempt against Iraqi leader Abd al-Karim Qassem. During the 1980s, the United States and Britain backed Saddam in the war against Iran, providing Iraq with weapons, funding, intelligence, and even biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction.
In 2003 the Guardian reported that a chemical plant, which the United States said was a key component in Iraq’s chemical warfare arsenal, was secretly built by Britain in 1985 behind the backs of the Americans. Documents show British ministers knew at the time that the $14 million dollar British taxpayer funded plant, called Falluja 2, was likely to be used for mustard and nerve gas production.
British relations with Saddam Hussein only began to sour when Hussein nationalized the Iraq Petroleum Company in 1972.
During the 1990’s, Britain supported severe economic sanctions against Iraq because of Saddam’s increasing resource nationalism. The United Nations estimated that 1.7 million Iraqis died as a result of the sanctions. Five hundred thousand of these victims were children.
The British and American sanctions on Iraq killed more civilians than the entirety of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons used in human history.
Glaring similarities between Britain’s 1917 occupation of Iraq and the modern military debacle in Iraq are too salient to dismiss or to ignore.
They told us that Iraq was a nuclear threat; Iraq was a terrorist state; Iraq was tied to Al Qaeda. It all amounted to nothing. Since the 2003 invasion, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died and over a million have been displaced because of this lie.
Prior to 2003, Iraq had zero recorded suicide bombings. Since 2003, over a thousand suicide bombs have killed 12,000 innocent Iraqis.
Shortly after British general Stanley Maude’s troops captured Baghdad in 1917, he announced, “our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators.”
Almost a century later in 2003 Tony Blair said, “Our forces are friends and liberators of the Iraqi people, not your conquerors. They will not stay a day longer than is necessary”.
History has a habit of repeating itself, albeit with slightly different characters and different nuances. Iraq may well go down in history as Britain’s greatest longstanding foreign policy failure.
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