The Mesopotamian Campaign of World War I: The History and Legacy of the Allied Victory that Led to the Breakup of the Ottoman Empire

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Most books and documentaries about the First World War focus on the carnage of the Western Front, where Germany faced off against France, the British Empire, and their allies in a grueling slugfest that wasted millions of lives. The shattered landscape of the trenches has become symbolic of the war as a whole, and it is this experience that everyone associates with World War I, but that front was not the only experience. There was the more mobile Eastern Front, as well as mountain warfare in the Alps and scattered fighting in Africa and the Far East.


Then there was the Middle Eastern Front, fought across the Levant and Mesopotamia, which captured the imagination of the European public. There, the British and their allies fought the Ottoman Turkish Empire under harsh desert conditions hundreds of miles from home, struggling for possession of places most people only knew from the Bible and the Koran.


The war to push the Ottoman Empire out of the Middle East ended up being a total success, and it has had far-reaching ramifications in the past 100 years. The Turks lost control of the Levant, the Saudi peninsula, and Mesopotamia, but now it was up to the victors to determine what should happen with the diverse populations of Arabs, Kurds, Jews, Sunnis, Shia, Christians, Druze, and various other groups that lived in this vast region. Even before final victory, the British and the French had come to an agreement about how to divide up the spoils. On May 16, 1916, British diplomat Mark Sykes and his French counterpart Francois Georges-Picot signed what has become popularly known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement. It divided the conquered lands into spheres of influence. The French got direct control of what is now Lebanon, coastal Syria, and portions of southern Turkey. The British got control of much of what is now Iraq, Kuwait, and the east coast of Saudi Arabia. Between these two areas were a French sphere of influence and a British sphere of influence. The Holy Land was made an Allied Condominium, ruled jointly by Britain and France under the advisement of the other Allies and the Sharif of Mecca.


In the end, the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire drew up borders that ignored local populations, although with the patchwork of groups in the region, it would have been difficult to create even small countries with any sort of ethnic, tribal, or religious homogeneity. Instead, the resulting nation-states were conglomerates of minorities, paving the way for generations of conflict the region is still experiencing today. When Edward House, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy advisor, heard of the agreement from his British counterpart, Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour, he remarked, “It is all bad and I told Balfour so. They are making it a breeding place for future war.”
The Mesopotamian Campaign of World War I: The History and Legacy of the Allied Victory that Led to the Breakup of the Ottoman Empire examines the history of this crucial but often overlooked campaign. Along with pictures of important people, places, and events, you will learn about the campaign like never before.