Back in the days when
Lawrence of Arabia and Sir Winston Churchill were calling the shots for the England’s Colonial Office, Iraq was known as Mesopotamia.
The British had wanted to make Feisal, the eldest son of Sherif Hussein — the man who had led the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire — the King of Syria, but the French threw him out in 1920. The French had emotional ties to Syria from the days of the Crusades.
After World War I, Britain’s occupation of Mesopotamia became troublesome. A memorandum from the office of Sir Winston Churchill on Feb. 19, 1920, speaks of these difficulties in Iraq. As such, the roots of America’s and England’s war with Iraq, Operations Desert Storm and Desert Fox, find their true genesis.
“The General Staff profess themselves unable to garrison Mesopotamia. The original estimate provided 21 and a half million Pounds for the purpose, which is considered to be more than the country is worth.” (This was obviously before British Petroleum had completed its inventory of the nation’s oil reserves.)
“Secretary of State has had to cut this sum down, with the result that the General Staff now propose a complete evacuation. He wishes to know whether you are prepared to take on Mesopotamia. It would entail the provision of some kind of asphyxiating bombs calculated to cause disablement of some kind but not death for use in preliminary operations against turbulent tribes.”
A little more than a week after this memorandum, Churchill, at this time the head of the Colonial Office, asked the Royal Air Force to finalize operational plans to subdue the revolt in Mesopotamia. Churchill was unsure if Iraq could even be governed. Lawrence, who would be brought back into Churchill’s fold as an adviser on Arab affairs in the newly created “Middle East Department,” weighed in that Mesopotamia should be “a native state with English advisers only.”
Speaking of biochemical war in Mesopotamia/Iraq, Lawrence wrote several newspaper editorials on the subject. In a letter to the Sunday Times of London, Lawrence, using a sharp and twisted wit, spelled out to the British public what Churchill had been privately considering. At this writing, Lawrence had no foreknowledge of the plans of the Colonial Office for biochemical war to be waged on Mesopotamia.
“How long will we permit millions of pounds, thousands of Imperial troops and tens of thousands of Arabs to be sacrificed on behalf of a form of Colonial administration which can benefit nobody but its administrators?” Lawrence asked. “It is odd we do not use poison gas on these occasions. By gas attacks, the whole population of offending districts [in Iraq] could be wiped out neatly; and as a method of government it would be no more immoral than the present system.”
England decided to make Feisal the king of Iraq, kidnapping his main political opponent, Sayid Taleband, and sending him on a long “vacation” to Ceylon, which today is called Sri Lanka. Feisal won 97 percent of the vote to become king in a bogus election. It was an election that never sat quite right with the Iraqi people.
Feisal ruled in Iraq until 1933. His family stayed on the throne till 1958, when his grandson Feisal II was assassinated. Lawrence of Arabia had warned England and the world that unless his own peace plan for the whole of the Middle East was adopted at the Paris Peace Conference at the end of World War I, his great-grandchildren might one day have to fight a war in Iraq wearing gas masks.
Lawrence’s haunting prophecy has come true and may well do so again in the near future, as the West continues to confront Saddam.