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World War One may have ended a century ago - but not for the Middle East

Thanks to the actions of the British, the consequences of the Great War are still being felt in the Middle East region today

Ibrahim Al-Marashi
Monday 12 November 2018 11:44 UTC
Monday 12 November 2018 14:25 UTC

One hundred years ago on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, World War One came to an end. The last member of the British imperial military to die was Canadian Private George Lawrence Price, killed in Belgium by a German sniper’s bullet at 10:58am. Two minutes later the guns fell silent, to be replaced by cheers among soldiers and civilians on both sides of the front lines.

But while the war saw its final casualties amid the trenches of Europe, thousands of kilometres away on the Mesopotamian front in Iraq, the British military was still advancing into the Ottoman province of Mosul, which it captured on 14 November.

While 11 November 1918 is celebrated as the end of the Great War, this unfinished but largely forgotten episode of the conflict demonstrates that not only did fighting continue after the armistice, but that the consequences of "the Great War" are still being felt in the region to the present day.

Shifting identities

A century after the guns fell "silent", this day invites a reappraisal of the shifts of identity that ensued after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the role of Arabs in the Arab Revolt, and finally how the British violation of its armistice with the Ottomans influenced the evolution of Iraq.   

The secret Sykes-Picot Treaty, sealed in May 1916, has been blamed for drawing up the "artificial" borders of the Middle East, Iraq in particular. Actually the borders of the Middle East would be formalised more than a year after the Armistice in the San Remo Treaty of 1920.

In reality what 11/11/1918 meant for Middle Easterners was that each individual’s borders of belonging would be reconfigured, since the empire that had ruled them and their ancestors since they could remember had collapsed. For many Arabs a search for identity would ensue, once a search for survival had been satiated, having endured famines and dislocations from Lebanon to Iraq during the conflict.

One example of these shifting identities would be my grandfather's. As of 11 November 1918 he would have thought of himself as a Muslim from Najaf who happened to be a subject of the Ottoman Empire. He did not resent the Ottomans because they were Turks and he was an Arab. The latter described "ethnic" differences – a newly minted word he had not heard in the Arabic language in those days. Nonetheless, by the end of the war, the Ottoman Empire, which he belonged to, had relinquished its claims to the lands in which he lived.  

My grandfather would have lived in a territory that was in limbo, waiting to see what fate the British occupiers had in mind. 

When the British declared the formation of the Iraq Mandate in 1920, my grandfather picked up a rifle and joined the 1920 Iraqi Revolt, launched by a growing number of "Iraqis" disenchanted with the occupation after the armistice and willing to sacrifice their lives to expel the British. It was opposition to British rule that made him an Iraqi.

The Arab Revolt

Having lived as an Arab in Turkey, I had often heard the phrase that "the Arabs stabbed the Turks in the back" during World War I, referring to the Arab Revolt of Lawrence of Arabia. Popular historical memory traces the beginning of Arab nationalism to the revolt. Both of these assumptions are shrouded in myth, challenged recently by Turkish and Arab historians.  

For example, Arab soldiers fought tenaciously on behalf of the empire during the Battle of Gallipoli. In 1916, 102 out of 132 of Ottoman prisoners of Arab origin refused to make a deal with their British captors to join the Arab Revolt, perhaps out of loyalty to the Ottoman Empire, or just weariness with the fighting.

Most Arab officers of the Ottoman military stayed loyal to the empire throughout the war, yet were jobless as of 11 November 1918. During the British mandate of Iraq, the new state had a pool of around 600 former Ottoman officers available to join the new army. Of this number 450 served in the Ottoman military throughout the duration of the 1914-18 war, while 190 defected to serve in the anti-Ottoman Army of the Arab revolt.

Some of these officers who joined the Iraqi army were discontented with British control of the institution and threatened to join the army of the newly formed Republic of Turkey, indicating that their identities in this early stage were fluid, and still bore some allegiance to the successor state of the former Ottoman Empire.

British violations of the armistice in Iraq and its seizure of Mosul led to the incorporation of the Kurdish regions around Erbil and Sulaymaniyya, as well as the lucrative oil fields around Kirkuk, into Iraq’s borders, embedding two unstable currents in Iraq’s state-building process under the British Mandate as of 1920.    

Had the British not seized the Ottoman Mosul province, in theory the Kurds of this region would have become inhabitants of a future Turkey or perhaps been given their own state.

Nonetheless, a Kurdish revolt became a constant factor in Iraq’s history from the 1920s, providing cover for the government in Baghdad to devote precious resources to weaponry to use against its own citizens, culminating in the chemical weapons attack on the Iraqi Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988, which killed close to 5,000 in a single morning.

The creation of a single Iraqi Mandate made it easier for the newly created British-controlled Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC) to exploit the oil fields from Kirkuk in the north to Basra in the south within a single political entity. This control provided a rallying point for Iraqi nationalists as another symbol of British control over the nation’s sovereignty.

Bequeathing so much oil to Iraq also made it a victim of the resource curse, and when the IPC was nationalised in 1972, the windfall led to an arms buildup that allowed for the disastrous invasion of Iran in 1980, leading to the longest inter-state war of the 20th century.  

Retrospective pieces on this anniversary have neglected the Middle Eastern front during the Great War, harking back to sentiments a century ago that the Ottoman front was "a sideshow of a sideshow". Yet it gave birth to a slew of conflicts, such as the enduring Palestine-Israel one, to the Islamic State group's rallying cry of demolishing the Sykes-Picot border. This "sideshow" was anything but.

- Ibrahim al-Marashi is Associate Professor of Middle East History at California State University San Marcos. His publications include Iraq's Armed Forces: An Analytical History (2008), The Modern History of Iraq (2017), and A Concise History of the Middle East (forthcoming).

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: The Arabian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference in early 1919 included Emir Faisal Hussein, later the British-backed king of Iraq, and TE Lawrence, third from left (public domain)

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The Impact Of US Sanctions And The Rhetoric Of Iranian Leaders

by Hassan Mahmoudi November 12, 2018

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday that newly imposed U.S. sanctions targeting Iran’s shipping, shipbuilding and financial sectors will not impact the country’s economy since the White House had already applied extensive sanctions on the Islamic republic. He promised that the government would be able to handle the economic pressure of new U.S. punitive measures.

However contrary to the Iranian leader’s rhetoric after the US sanctions, the anticipated economic and political upheaval will be materializing soon in Iran.

People in the Islamic Republic, and especially Bazaar merchants, shop owners, truck drivers, and farmers have demonstrated this week against the government in the biggest wave of protests to hit the country.

On Saturday, police patrolled Tehran’s Grand Bazaar in an effort to restore normality. Merchants and investors closed their shops on Friday protesting rising prices and the plummeting value of Iran’s currency, the rial; the unrest at the Grand Bazaar has not been quelled.

Public fears about the new U.S. sanctions against Iran, which started on Monday, have sent the rial into a downward spiral against the dollar.

On November 6 the strike of Bazaar merchants in large parts of Tehran and many other cities of Iran continued for the second consecutive day in spite of the repressive and deterrent measures of intelligence and police forces.

The carpet-sellers and home appliances Bazaar in Tehran, the carpet-sellers and handicrafts market in Isfahan, Sarshour market in Mashhad, Tarbiat Street market and the apparel market in Tabriz, as well as parts of Kerman, Rudsar, Babol, and other cities, continued their strike today in protest of inflation, poverty and high prices. The bazaar merchants refused to open their shops.

On Saturday the strike of Bazaar merchants in Birjand continued in spite of repressive and deterrent measures of intelligence and police forces.

On Saturday, November 10, heavy truck drivers and truckers continued their strike in different cities throughout the country for the tenth day of the new round. Earlier in the months of June, August and September, they were striking because of the severe living conditions, low freight rates, the high cost of spare parts, severe insurance conditions, and so on. The October strike lasted 21 days.

In the fourth round of their strike, in addition to their previous demands, drivers called for the release of their colleagues who were arrested during the third round of strikes. The regime struggled to prevent the strike through all kinds of pressure and threats.

Deprived farmers of cities and villages around Isfahan such as Ghahderijan. Varzaneh, Najaf Abad, Khorasgan, and others continued their demonstrations and sit-ins in protest of the deprivation of their right to water and their difficult living conditions. They were chanting: “Lest we are humiliated!”. “The Zayandeh Roud water is our inalienable right.”

Haft Tapeh sugar cane workers continued their strike for the sixth day in a row in protest of non-payment of their claims against the company. Some of them took their protest into the city to make their desires were heard.

Workers of the Ahvaz National Steel Group also protested on Saturday, gathering in front of the governor’s office in the city. They chanted: “No nation has seen this much injustice.”

Workers of Line 6 project of Tehran urban trains also protested against the non-payment of their salaries in front of the headquarters of the company.

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said that Ankara will not allow anyone to drill in the eastern Mediterranean without the permission of Turkey. We've come!

The time of the drilling rigs in the Eastern Mediterranean and the time to clear up and Turkey's position has arrived. He arrived with the drilling rig of the ExxonMobil-Qatar Petroleum joint venture to drill the Cyprus EEZ.

The US drill rider reached the "Delphin" target at block 10 of the Cyprus EEZ with absolute security late Sunday night, a few hours earlier than the scheduled time of arrival, according to the "Cyprus Liberal Party".

With the safe arrival of the drilling rig, the first and important stage of the multi-month design was completed, which was aimed at the safe and unimpeded ride of the drilling rig, given the experiences of the previous six drilling and especially the Turkish provocative actions.

Already, the first support boat that left the port of Limassol approaches the drilling rig, while a second support ship is on the way to transport the first supplies and equipment.

But the United States is saying a resounding "presence" in the region, wanting to strengthen the sense of security in the region and to send a message to Turkey that they will not in any way accept the obstacle to drilling. And Ankara's reaction is particularly interesting following the threats it has sparked over the past few days.

Washington, wishing to show interest in the region, is sending the US Secretary of State for Energy, Frances Fannon, to Nicosia this week. The decision of the State Department leadership to send the Energy Commissioner for the Eastern Mediterranean is of particular importance as it implements Washington's promise to Nicosia to show its interest and concern over Ankara's threats.

After Fannon will follow Assistant Secretary Wesse Mitchell, who will go to Cyprus, Israel and Egypt. These are the three countries that according to research have natural gas, and which are loyal allies of the United States.

At the same time, it is worth mentioning that in Larnaca, USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) is the USSF, which carries out US Navy 6-seafarer operations to support the interests of national security forces in Europe and Africa.

As far as energy planning is concerned, ExxonMobil will proceed to two drillings in "plot 10". The first one starts within days and is expected to last until mid-December, and the second will begin almost immediately after and will end in late January.


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Electromagnetic Frequency Weapons / CNN Special Report (1985)
Electromagnetic fields, properly modulated, can alter brain functions remotely, without leaving any evidence in the body of the person.

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Mercenary Chief And ‘Putin’s Cook’ Caught Participating In Libyan Conflict Talks With Moscow

by Tsarizm Staff November 10, 2018

The man infamously known as ‘Putin’s Cook’ and head of the notorious ‘Wagner Group’, a Russian private security firm, has been shown participating in talks with a Libyan military delegation sent to Moscow for discussions with the Kremlin on November 7.

Russian independent news outlet Novaya Gazeta reported Yevgeney Prigozhin is shown in the video below discussing the situation in-country with the Libyan officials and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov.

Prigozhin earned the ‘Putin’s Cook’ nickname as he owns several hi-level catering firms in Moscow and has secured contracts from the Russian Defense Ministry to feed Russian military forces.

His Wagner Group, which most analysts tag as a mercenary force, has been documented operating in East Ukraine, Syria, and the Central African Republic. Several Russian journalists were killed in the CAR earlier in the year as they attempted to report on the activities of the group. Mercenaries are illegal under Russian law.

Interfax and RIA Novosti news agencies on November 10 quoted an unidentified “military and diplomatic source” as confirming the authenticity of the video and saying Prigozhin was present in his capacity as the event’s caterer.

“Well-known Russian restauranteur Yevgeny Prigozhin has made arrangements for a meeting between the Russian and Libyan top military officials in the Russian Defense Ministry,” the source was quoted as saying by Interfax.

“He arranged an official dinner and took part in the discussion of the cultural program of the Libyan delegation’s visit, reported RFERL.

Prigozhin also runs the Internet Research Agency which has been indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for interfering in the U.S. 2016 presidential election.

Prigozhin has also been sanctioned by the United States for his alleged involvement in Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea and Moscow’s military support of separatist formations in eastern Ukraine, added RFERL.

Perhaps the most interesting and least reported incident regarding the Wagner Group was the killing of hundreds of its members by American air power in Syria in February of this year. Tsarizm has reported extensively on the incident.

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