Wednesday, November 18, 2009 11/18/09 - occupiers and plebiscites

In today's excerpt - occupiers often manipulate
plebiscites or other data to "prove" that their new
subjects support them. But that often masks a
pending revolt. And so it was with the British
occupation of Iraq (Mesopotamia) in 1917 - which
locals viewed as a British attempt to extend their
empire - and the violent revolts that followed. Given
Woodrow Wilson's world-shaking proposal in the
aftermath of World War I that all people should be able
to self-determine their own government, such
plebiscites had become especially crucial:

"On March 11th, 1917, British and Indian soldiers of
the Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force (MEF)
marched into Baghdad and occupied it in order to
restore order and halt the looting that had followed the
city's evacuation by Ottoman forces the previous day.
On March 12th, the British War Cabinet issued a
proclamation to the inhabitants of Baghdad. This
flowery document pledged that 'our armies do not
come into your cities and lands as conquerors or
enemies, but as liberators'. ...

"After March 1917 the emphasis of [British] operations
in Mesopotamia shifted towards the pacification of the
British-occupied areas and the introduction and
extension of civil machinery designed to regulate the
mobilization and extraction of the manpower, food and
fodder needed in ever greater quantities for the
military. This involved the 'submission by political
means' of local tribes and the visible downward
penetration of British control to all levels of
society. ...

"The logistical requirements of maintaining and
supplying the MEF, which peaked at 420,000
combatants and non-combatants in 1918, made
enormous demands on local resources of manpower,
food and fodder, ... causing great hardship to a
populace already weakened by poor harvests in 1916
and 1917, and the commercial dislocation caused by
three years of war.

"At the end of the war, Mesopotamia remained under
British occupation. With President
Woodrow Wilson and the peace-makers in Paris
championing self-determination, the British
administration in Baghdad sought to find 'up to date
reasons' for continued British rule that would make
them 'both indispensable to, and acceptable by, the
native community', even as they entrenched
themselves more firmly in the region. ... The British
failed to identify the true degree of opposition to their
presence in Mesopotamia. They manipulated and
misrepresented the results of a plebiscite on 'local
opinion' in 1919 to produce what one Cabinet
member in London, Edwin Montagu, called
an 'authoritative statement' to President Wilson and
the peace conferences indicating popular local
support for British policies.

"British demands for labour and foodstuffs continued
throughout 1919 and 1920 and the methods of
collection became more effective. They combined with
the cumulative impact of food shortages, high price
inflation and the introduction of taxation to create
significant pools of discontent as British control
became increasingly visible, ... creating a multitude of
grievances that eventually found their outlet in violent
unrest. The speed and ferocity with which the [Iraqi]
revolt took root and spread between July and October
1920 shook the foundations of British rule in
Mesopotamia and necessitated a level of financial
and military expenditure that London could ill afford at
a time of significant discontent in India, Ireland and
elsewhere. ...

"[Prominent among the revolt leadership was] a family
called Sadr, [whose grandson Moqtada al-Sadr is a
belligerent in the current Iraqi War]."

Kristian Ulrichsen, "Coming as Liberators," History
Today, January 2007, pp. 47-49.


Post a Comment

<< Home