IRAQ-Key to Asia

ROSITA FORBES June 15 1941

IRAQ-Key to Asia

ROSITA FORBES June 15 1941

IRAQ-Key to Asia

"If the German-lfalian advance broke through into Egypt, the Arabian bank of the vital Suez Canal could still be held—but only as long as a friendly Iraq kept her Treaty obligations" Rosita Forbes


IRAQ is far more than a giant reservoir of oil. It is Turkey's back door, leading directly by the AnkaraAleppo-Bagdad Railway to the Persian Gulf and unlimited Indian supplies. It is the most important stage of our own land route from the Mediterranean front to the docks, warehouses and arsenals of the East. If the German-Italian advance broke through into Egypt, the Arabian bank of the vital Suez Canal could still he held -but only as long as a friendly Iraq kept to her Treaty obligations and allowed our troops and war material free n~wp

As usual in the Middle East, the present situation has its roots in the mistakes and compromises following what, bluntly, was a breach of faith with the Arabs in 1919. When the Emir Feisal, subsequently King of Iraq, roused the desert tribes to fight the Turks on our behalf, he was definitely promised by Lord Curzon, then Foreign Secretary: “While the sun rises and sets the Arab flag shall fly over the cities of Hama, Homs, Damascus and Aleppo.” Within two years of the conclusion of peace, these four towns had been handed over to France, and Arabia was divided into unnatural mandates and semi-independent states. The freedom and unity promised by the then British Government had disappeared into thin air and discontent smoldered from Basra to Jerusalem.

Later, when revolt was making Iraq untenable except by a stronger military force than British democrats could approve, Downing Street turned to Feisal. This son of King Husein of the Hejaz had been our ally till we allowed France to turn him from the throne of Syria to which by right of birth, religion, and conquest he had been enthusiastically elected as soon as his Arab troops entered the town in 1918.

The meetings between the ex-King, Colonel (now Sir Kinahan) Cornwallis and Colonel Lawrence took place in my sitting room at a Cairo hotel in the early summer of

1921. There Feisal, who dreamed and planned a “United States of Arabia,” was persuaded to come to the aid of Britain and to bring peace to a distraught Iraq by accepting a crown he did not want.

His condition was that his greatest friend, Cornwallis, could be released from the Egyptian service to go with him.

A telegram to that effect was sent to the Colonial Office. I remember Colonel Lawrence begged Feisal to write “if Cornwallis or Lawrence can come with me.” But the Emir refused. He wanted only one man. and that his best friend, destined to work for the remainder of the King-elect’s life, and for some years after his death, as adviser to the Ministry of Interior in Bagdad.

The mutual understanding between these two men did much to create modern, independent Iraq. I remember when—with immense pride—I introduced my husband to King Feisal, he said, “Of course, he is charming, but if you had only married Cornwallis, you would have been as a sister in my house.”

It is this man who has just been deputed to represent Britain in Iraq. He brings to his immensely difficult task the prestige of his devotion to the pioneer King. But it remains a difficult work; for the young—and now not so young—Bagdadi nationalists who opposed Whitehall’s colonization policies are definitely pro-Nazi.

So the roots, fertilized by the mistakes of Versailles when Lloyd George gave way to Clemenceau’s desire for French dominion over a part of Arabia in the form of the unpopular Syrian mandate, bear bitter fruit today. At this moment a united peninsula from the Turkish frontier to Basra and Aden would be of inestimable value to us. But in a land where 120,000,000 people once lived, rich, prosperous, concerned with a vast trade in silk, spices, coffee, metalwork, hides, wool and grain, 18,000,000 now exist in poverty.

To a certain extent unfairly, they attribute the blame

to those British politicians who for the last twenty-two years have enforced what I think were unnatural and unnecessary frontiers, limiting commercial and agricultural initiative. German propagandists throughout Arabia have been promising a united land without barrier to trade or travel, and a free land with no mandatory power in Syria and Trans-Jordan, no Jewish immigration in Palestine and no military obligations imposed on Iraq.

On the other hand, one of the more romantic personalities of the Middle East, the Emir Habid Lotfallah, an Egyptian with Syrian blood, came to London this last winter with the suggestion that it was still not too late to do at once what Germany is promising for the future. He wanted to reopen the Bank of tire Hejaz and through its old familiar branches, still with many links all over Arabia, give agricultural and commercial credits as a first step to the creation of a mutual interest which would eventually result in some sort of Federal Arab Government.

Britain’s Major Glubb

' I 'HE INFLUENCE of a land where all the Semitic ■*races—Jews, Moslems and Christians would be united under their own central authority, with local autonomy to satisfy provincial needs and circumstances, would be great. There is one man who could unite the Bedouin tribes today and could complete such a work as Colonel Lawrence failed to do on account of his personal bitterness and disillusionment.

Apart from Sir Kinahan Cornwallis, Britain’s best asset in contemporary Iraq, is Major Glubb. For ten years this small, sturdy, inconspicuous man was on desert patrol between Iraq and Syria. He is known to all the great tribal federations still free of nation or frontier, as Abu el Hanak—Father of a Jaw. When I last talked with Mussolini in the summer of 1939, the only Middle Eastern

personage about whom he asked was this quiet man in the early forties whose life is spent in an armored car, his guns bringing peace, and his fluent colloquial Arabic friendship, to men who think only in terms of war. The Duce knew more about the achievements of John Bagot Glubb than we do in Canada or Britain.

It is impossible to consider Iraq alone, for her politics are of necessity influenced by those of French-mandated Syria and to a lesser extent by our own actions in Palestine. For two decades the latter country has been violently disturbed by the conflicting designs of Lord Balfour and Lord Curzon. Jew and Arab were both promised what they supposed would be exclusive possession of the land. Each race has been severely disillusioned and each blames Whitehall. Syria has also had altogether too much government. A succession of High Commissioners have interfered with the lives, possessions, habits and activities of Moslems, Jews and Christians, to an irritating and unnecessary extent. The mass of Arab peoples all over the Peninsula which is so important to us today as our overland route to India, infinitely preferred the easy-going Turkish rule, of which the Treaty of Versailles deprived them, to anything but complete independence.

Unfortunately Syria is a continent in miniature. Among its most important elements are the two sharply divided Moslem factions, Surrites and Shias, each about 150,000 strong; but there are also Greeks, Armenians, Chaldaeans. whose spiritual home is the Babylon of the Bible—Jews, Ottoman and Osmarli Turks, Latin and Balkan merchants, devil worshippers who are excellent farmers, Druses who adore the Golden Calf and fishermen who count holy the peacock, blue water, or just the color blue!

How can any Western power cope with 4,000 years of such historical and religious confusion? Germany today merely foments revolt by promising to the Arabs an independent kingdom—its capital at Damascus—to the

civilized Lebanon autonomy, security and Dr. Schacht’s supposed industrial millennium under the Reich’s aegis, and to the Druses their immemorial right of raiding where they choose.

The main channel for German news, money and propaganda—apart from their legation in Bagdad and consulate in Damascus—is provided by the wanderings of the Suleiman Kheil. This gypsy people travels from Afghanistan and Persia through the vital oil lands of Iraq to the markets of Mosul, Damascus and Bagdad. Their camels carry more than merchandise. Each caravan represents a branch of Asia’s German-subsidized banking and telegraphic system. Unfortunately, the Sykes-Picot Agreement of twenty-two years ago, whose protagonists were an adventurous English imperialist and a French Consul shrewd to the point of brilliance, gave as Southern frontier to Syria the Rasna Kura heights which command Haifa. So this vital harbor and the Mediterranean terminus of the pipeline from Bagdad may at any time be within range of Axis guns. For Admiral Darían, Vichy’s most forceful figure, makes no secret of his desire that France should co-operate with Germany. And in Syrian cafes, French soldiers talk about their present pay and their future pensions, both of which they consider endangered by our Empire’s obstinate determination to continue the war! The French are a thrifty race. They will not risk their savings if they can help it.

There is no reason in French minds why Syria, assured of Axis trade via Turkey and the Balkans, should risk anything for our cause, still desperately on the defensive. And Syria is the key to Iraq oil stores, the unbarred gate to the whole of Central Asia. A hostile force there could cut the railway line between the capitals of Iraq and Ankara. Axis planes operating from Rayak airdrome could menace our own supplies which go over land from Bagdad Continued on pase 41

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to our Palestinian front. They could oppose a superior force to our airmen based by Treaty concession on Mosul, where we maintain a military airdrome.

Egypt And the Suez

TF EGYPT ever had to be evacuated and

the Suez Canal blocked—by sinking a single ship in mid-channel—our highroad for food and munitions would run between the Arabian bank, still held by our troops based on Palestine, and Iraq, from which we should draw our oil. Turkey’s only and vitally important strategic railway up which—in case she is ever at war with Germany all her supplies must come via Iraq—runs for some twenty miles through French Syria. If Turkey had control of this bop as well as of the rest of the line, she could afford to lose Constantinople and still be safe where the genius of her late great soldier-president enthroned her in the Anatalian Hills.

But she is weakened by the fact that French mandated and garrisoned Aleppo, which town logically belongs to the port of Alexandretta, now a Turkish sanjak ((province), sits fair and square across that significant corner of railway by which alone Turkey can profit by her recent trade pact with India and the British Dominions.

The importance of Syria and Iraq to us is that, together, they give Turkey strategic access to the Persian Gulf and the shortest sea route to India and to ourselves an unlimited highway for supplies. To Germany they mean oil. If Hitler attempts to realize the Kaiser’s BerlinBagdad dream it will be because he does need oil. At present this question is debatable. Experts differ. Since September, 1939, a host of false prophecies have been made concerning Germany’s lack of fuel. So far she has shown no signs of having less than superabundant stores.

If this is the case, Hitler’s policy will surely be to clear the British from Malta and Gibraltar, thus completely closing tq us the Western Mediterranean. If he can get Egypt, so much the better, but as long as he can oblige us to keep large sea and land forces penned around the Suez Canal for its defense, he can more easily operate wherever else he chooses. It is, therefore, unlikely that he will fight across the dangerous “Bridge of Asia”—that strip between Ankara, Damascus and Bagdad which has proved the grave of every campaign from Pompey’s to Napoleon’s— unless the oil of Iraq is essential to his continuance of a motorized war on a scale so vast that it approaches the astronomical!

In 1938, General Lobh stated that Germany needed to import 2,700,000 tons of petroleum in various forms to meet her peacetime requirements. In that year she acquired 4,218,000 tons so that she was abie to store a third. Since then she has greatly increased her own production. The Nienhagan fields South East of Hamburg supply her with three quarters of her home output which for the first six months of 1939 was 365,000 tons. Austria, Czecho-Slovakia and the Jasla oil field in occupied Poland, all contribute to the Reich’s needs and her scientists expected that in addition to the Ruhr plants using the Bergius and Fischer Tropsch processes for producing fuel oils from bituminous coal, four new plants ipçluding the mariners Hydrierwerk Politz A. G. at Stettin, would be working by this spring.

In 1942, Germany considered she would be independent of imported fuel so far as her peacetime needs were concerned. But it takes five tons of bituminous coal, and far more lignite, to make one ton of liquid fuel. So it was supposed that Germany’s synthetic processes would not produce much aircraft fuel. For this

special petrol, dependent on a high proportion of octane, it was argued that she must go East to Iraq. Before the war, she imported from Venezuela, the Dutch East Indies, U.S.A., Mexico, Burma, Peru, Persia, Roumania and Russia. All but the last tw’o sources are now closed to her. So eighty-three per cent of her usual imports have been eliminated.

Allied experts calculated this would leave Germany short of peacetime requirements by 2,000,000 tons a year. Only Roumania and Russia were left, it was said, to make up the infinitely greater amount that the Reich would need in war. But nobody really has any accurate conception of what Germany’s synthetic processes can now produce, and several new factors favor the Nazis since their wholesale occupation of Europe.

The Roumanian oil that used to be shipped to Germany from the Black Sea all the way round Europe to Hamburg, now comes up the Danube. It is supposed that the new Italian Flotilla Company can supply the Reich by this means with a million tons a year. Hungary has given a German company the right to drill in her Danubian plains. Jugoslavia will be forced to cede whatever she possesses, Russian reserves are large and Mexico is certainly supplying Hitler with as much fuel as she can, shipped across the Pacific to the Trans-Siberian Railway. So it is still questionable, if Germany needs the approximate 4,500,000 tons which Iraq yearly produces or the 10,500,000 tons annual production of Persia to which the occupation of Iraq would give the Nazis right of way.

War of Raw Materials

"DROM Dakar on the West African coast

—from which point German bombers can fly to what is in reality the German colony of Santa Caterina within the frontiers of Brazil—to the Persian Gulf and the Black Sea, this is a war for fuel and raw materials. Hitler does not want Iraq to colonize. But he may need what Iraq produces. If Turkey (guaranteed Russian neutrality—or if the Soviet becomes frightened by a German threat to the Dardanelles) supplied with Russian wtar material, decides at any time to fight along with Britain, she will be immensely vulnerable, with Vichy’s Syria able to stop her supplies from Iraq by closing the Ankara-Bagdad Railway at Aleppo. She will also be vulnerable in the rear should Germany be able to rouse sufficient antiBritish sentiment in Iraq.

Mosul, by Treaty agreement our main Air Force post in the Middle East, guards the vital pipeline. Our planes from this Arab town patrol one thousand miles of desert frontiers as well as the canalized oil of Central Asia. But Mosul could easily be attacked from Syria. France still holds the scales of power in the Middle East as in North Africa.

If any man can keep Iraq friendly—or even honestly neutral—in memory of her first King’s devoted loyalty to Britain, it will be our new envoy Sir Kinahan Cornwallis. If any man can re-awaken among I raqui Bedouin the sentiments with which they fought for Britain until 1918, it will be John Bagot Glubb.

But Petain may still be the deciding factor. Distraught by diverse loyalties, the old Marshal will hold France neutral as long as he can. But Hitler has a habit of moving fast. Gibraltar, Lisbon and Aleppo—those are his three keys to complete control of the European situation. On them, rather than on the oil of Iraq—protected by burning-hot waterless deserts, approachable only by tracks where there are no wells—may depend the issue of Nazi federation or Imperial Democracy on the shores of the Mediterranean.