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Dividing lines: The original map for the Sykes-Picot agreement. In 1916 Britain and France made secret plans to divide control of the Middle East after the first world war. How much is this agreement responsible for the region’s turmoil since then? The Sykes-Picot agreement is nearly one hundred years old. Why is it in the news?

‘Smashing Sykes-Picot’ tweeted the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) to its followers last month when it bulldozed a barrier on the Iraq-Syria border. The Sunni jihadist group has been fighting a spectacularly successful campaign against the Shia-led Iraqi government. And its well-run propaganda campaign on social media has used Sykes-Picot as a rallying cry to reignite the anger many Arabs feel about the agreement. After the first world war it was the blueprint used to carve up the defeated Ottoman empire into separate Arab states.

Now ISIS controls a great swathe of territory in both Syria and Iraq. In a video posted on YouTube called ‘The End of Sykes-Picot’ it announced that this was a new caliphate, an Islamic state run according to sharia law. They claim they are removing the artificial boundaries created by Britain and France.

So what was the agreement for in the first place?

It was negotiated between the French diplomat François Georges-Picot and his British counterpart Sir Mark Sykes in 1916. Its purpose was to ensure that, after the defeat of Germany’s ally, the Ottoman Empire, its territories should remain stable and under French and British control. This was a huge chunk of the Middle East, stretching from the Gulf to the Mediterranean and from the Red Sea to the Caspian Sea.

Why did they need to control the region?

There were many reasons. The British wanted to protect the overland route to India, the jewel in the British Empire’s crown and the French had interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. There was also oil in the region and the British Royal Navy which had switched its fuel from coal to oil before the war was keen to secure new supplies. The Catholic Church had been pushing for French control of the Syrian coast, home to many Maronite Catholics, and Britain was keen to put the French between them and the Russians to the north.

So a northern slice, running from the Mediterranean to the Tigris river, went to France; a southern slice, from Palestine to Iraq, was bagged by Britain. None of this was made public.

Why the secrecy?

It had to be secret because the British had already promised entirely different things to other people. Most notably, to the Arabs. In order to inspire all the Arabs across the region to rise up against their Ottoman overlords, the British had promised them self-determination – control of their own territories after the war.

So when did all this become known?

The Russians had been included in the Sykes-Picot negotiations – they were going to get Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) after the war. However, the Russian Revolution intervened and the new Soviet government discovered a Sykes-Picot document in the files of the foreign ministry. They published it in 1917 to the considerable embarrassment of the British and French governments.

Dr.Abdul Wahid

The present day misery of Gaza, Syria and Iraq began in that war. As most people know, 2014 is the centenary of the start of World War One. A few people in Britain have attempted rewriting history to present a justification for this war. They are those who generally supported the costly military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq in this present century. Others have embarked on a critical reflection about the horrors of a war that saw tens of millions killed and injured and question – looking at Gaza and Syria – whether the world has learnt any lessons at all.

It isn’t right to disrespect those who died in that war or their families’ recollections of individual acts of valor. But at the same time it isn’t wrong to disrespect the likes of Lloyd George, Kitchener, Curzon and Balfour who sent millions to die in a war that had little to do with ‘national security’; instead everything was to do with securing Britain’s position in Europe and interests across the world. The memories of the dead and injured are certainly not served by selective omission or rewriting of history.

So, it is worth reflecting on the legacies of this war that still resonates today. Namely that World War One shaped the chaos, oppression and conflict of the modern Middle East; and laid the seeds for the Zionist occupation of Palestine.

Sowing the seeds of misery – Sykes-Picot, Client-Regimes and the Abolition of the Caliphate

The modern Middle East is rife with wars, oppression and injustice. It is a series of nation states artificially constructed in the aftermath of World War One. They are ruled by client regimes, initially installed at that time, that serve themselves as well as a narrow elite and foreign interests – instead of serving the people of the region. These rulers are widely hated by the people they preside over. They use their armed forces for two main purposes. Firstly, to suppress their own populations – particularly when they see a flicker of political criticism or Islamic sentiments; and secondly to serve any Western military interests that are asked of them.

The most enduring of these client-regimes are the Kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Saudi Arabia was conceived in Britain’s foreign office around a century ago and has since then squandered huge amounts of material wealth. Its ruling family has enjoyed close ties with Britain and the United States ever since. Jordan is a similar family business, installed by the British after World War One. Britain installed members of the same family, widely seen as traitors to Islam and Muslims, to rule Iraq and briefly Syria – only to see their dynasty toppled in these places by coups and counter-coups variously sponsored by the Britain and the US.

It is worth reflecting that people living under the Ottoman state – even in its era of decline – enjoyed more stable and less oppressive lives than people living in the Middle East over the past century. For several centuries prior to that, under the Caliphate, the region was the home of a great civilization that presented a unique society in which communities of different racial and religious backgrounds lived peacefully and in harmony.

In his 2009 essay, ‘Islam and its Discontents’, Brenden Clifford of the Bevin Society wrote:

Islam, one of the major cultures of the world, has been without a state to uphold its position in the world-order for close on 90 years. The Islamic state was destroyed by Britain in the course of the war, which it declared on Germany in 1914. It has been argued that the destruction of the Islamic state was one of the purposes for which Britain declared war on Germany. And the destruction of the Islamic state appears to me to be the ultimate cause of the condition of the world which the USA and Britain call the War on Terror.

He reminds the reader that:

‘A little over a century ago the German Kaiser paid a state visit to the Ottoman Empire, met the Sultan, and declared that a strong Muslim state was a necessary part of any stable order in the world’.

German policy as set out by Count Von Moltke (later a Field Marshal of the German state) in his Essays, Speeches, And Memoirs, 1893 (Vol 1, p272) argued that it was possible to regenerate the Ottoman Empire as such from Islamic roots.

The British fear the impact of this in relation to its colonies – in particular in India – so pursued a policy of expansion of their Empire from India to Egypt. Indeed, once the Ottomans did enter the war, declaring it to be a Jihad, Kitchener had real fears this call would spread to India, Egypt and Sudan.

But at the outset of the war, the Ottoman policy was neutrality. It was in no financial or political position to engage in a war. However, Britain refused to accept this position and refused to accept any overtures of alliance with it – and set about provocation of the Ottoman state, particularly through allying with a hostile Russia.

By 5th November 1914, Britain declared war, in conjunction with Russia, by alleging an Ottoman attack on Russia in the Black Sea. Clifford writes scathingly that it was ‘an allegation made so obscurely and furtively that there is reason to suspect that it was comparable to Hitler’s allegation of a Polish attack on Germany in September 1939’!

Failing to see the expected rapid collapse of the Ottoman defences, Britain found allies in the form of Sharif Hussein – the ancestor of the Jordanian dynasty and Ibn Saud – the founder of modern day Saudi Arabia.

In 1916, under the Sykes Picot accord, the British and French governments agreed to a division of the spoils of the Middle East between the two states, drawing ‘a line in the sand’ between Acre and Kirkuk – the British to take what was south of the line, and the French what was north of it.

After much wheeling, dealing and double crossing between the two, the regions of Syria and Lebanon fell to France, whilst Transjordan, Iraq and the Hejaz went to Britain. The original agreements were meant to share Palestine. Britain managed to secure a mandate over the region, but was later forced by America and France to share the newly discovered oil revenues from Mosul shortly after the war.

The events of the war and the subsequent ‘peace conferences’ afterwards not only carved up the Ottoman state, it precipitated a collapse internally, ending with the abolition of the Caliphate in 1924.

The following 90 years have seen wars between these artificially constructed states; repressive regimes tyrannising their people; the material wealth of the region haemorrhaging away from the people who had a right over it; and various periods of occupation.

From pre-Balfour Declaration to the Zionist Occupation of Palestine

Before World War One, British imperial strategists took account of the implications of potential scenarios within the Middle East. Addressing the 1907 Imperial Conference in London, Britain’s Prime Minister Henry Campbell Bannerman expressed these fears and called for a commission to look at the question of how to prevent the fall of their empire. The report recommended:

1) To promote disintegration, division and separation in the region.

2) To establish artificial political entities that would be under the authority of the imperialist countries.

3) To fight any kind of unity – whether intellectual, religious or historical – and taking practical measures to divide the region’s inhabitants.

4) To achieve this, it was proposed that a “buffer state” be established in Palestine, populated by a strong, foreign presence which would be hostile to its neighbors and friendly to European countries and their interests.

Retrospectively, this would appear to have become British Imperial policy from this time – prior to World War One – for several decades thereafter.

Within this context, Arthur Balfour’s letter to Lord Rothschild in 1917, expressing Britain’s support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, becomes easy to understand.

There has been much debate over the years as to what extent the British government of the time really meant this expression of support.

Writing many years later, Sir Anthony Nutting believed that Balfour and others were complicit with the Zionist agenda to evict the Palestinian Arabs from the region – fitting very much with the pre-war policy recommendation to Bannerman to establish the ‘buffer state…populated by a strong, foreign presence’.

But other historians like Jonathan Schneer have viewed the promise to the Zionists as one of a complex series of bargaining moves that sought to variously ‘play’ Zionist Jews and the leaders of the Arab revolt, all in order to maintain British control over Palestine.

Schneer recognizes overlapping interests in that the Zionist movement wanted the Ottomans out of Palestine, whilst the British government wanted the Ottomans out of the whole Middle East – whilst conceding as little influence as possible to France.

His argument is that part of this bargaining process was that Balfour’s promise would tantalize American Jewry into lobbying for the United States to enter the war on Britain’s side against the Ottomans. Yet simultaneously, Britain was secretly negotiating a peace with the Ottomans, ready to ditch Balfour’s promise, in case they did not get support from the United States.

So in effect, at some stage or other between 1916 and 1918, Britain had offered Palestine to different interested parties at different times. As well as offering it to the Zionist lobby there was a dialogue to hand it to the Ottomans had Britain decided to settle for peace prior to American entry in the war. There had been a verbal promise to Sharif Hussein that it would be part of his territory, as well as having agreed to share with the French under the original terms of the Sykes Picot agreement.

According to historian James Barr the trust between the ‘allies’ of Britain, France and the Zionists was so poor – because of the feeling they had been made too many broken promises – that by 1945 the French were financing Zionist terrorists to attack British troops in Palestine (whilst British soldiers were helping to liberate France from the Nazis).

However, the client Arab regimes accepted humiliation and broken promises with servitude – and showed no real interest in defending or liberating Palestine. From the very first until today they have been the first line of support and defence for ‘Israel’.

One prime example was illustrated in Chaim Weizmann’s diary, where it is recorded that St John Philby, a former British intelligence officer and advisor to Ibn Saud, made a proposal that Ibn Saud should be offered a financial incentive of £20,000,000 in return for his support for a Zionist state. It seems the only reason this didn’t happen was because Weizmann didn’t want to proceed.


So much of the politics of today’s Middle East can be understood from the political intrigues surrounding World War One.  It is imperative that Muslims know the history of that disastrous era and learn real lessons from it in order to understand the neo-colonial games that are played today – that continue to wreak havoc over large parts of the world.

Selected Bibliography

Barr, J – A Line in the Sand  – 2011
Schneer, J – The Balfour Declaration – 2010
Clifford, B – Islam and its Discontents – 2009
Al-Rashid, M – A History of Saudi Arabia –  2010
Nutting, Anthony – Balfour and Palestine – A legacy of deceit – 1975
Weizmann, Chaim – The Letters and Papers of Chaim Weizmann – Vol II
Rotberg, Robert  – Israeli and Palestinian Narratives of Conflict: History’s Double Helix


Ethnic Cleansing Planned in the Middle East? History, Legality Ignored

The concept of a “Greater Israel” according to the founding father of Zionism Theodore Herzl, is a Jewish State stretching “’From the Brook of Egypt to the Euphrates.’  Rabbi Fischmann, of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, stated to the UN Special Committee on 9th July 1947 that:
The Promised Land extends from the River of Egypt up to the Euphrates, it includes parts of Syria and Lebanon’”, wrote Michel Chossudovsky. (1)

Thus “from the Nile to the Euphrates.” Herzl’s detailed thesis was written in 1904.

“Greater Israel”: The Zionist Plan for the Middle East
Quoted in the same article is Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya on The Yinon Plan (1982) “ … a continuation of Britain’s colonial design in the Middle East”:
“(The Yinon plan) is an Israeli strategic plan to ensure Israeli regional superiority. It insists and stipulates that Israel must reconfigure its geo-political environment through the balkanization of the surrounding Arab states into smaller and weaker states. “Israeli strategists viewed Iraq as their biggest strategic challenge from an Arab state. This is why Iraq was outlined as the centerpiece to the balkanization of the Middle East and the Arab World. In Iraq, on the basis of the concepts of the Yinon Plan, Israeli strategists have called for the division of Iraq into a Kurdish state and two Arab states, one for Shiite Muslims and the other for Sunni Muslims. The first step towards establishing this was a war between Iraq and Iran, which the Yinon Plan discusses.”

At the time Yinon wrote, the eight year, Western driven Iran-Iraq war was into its second year – with another six grinding years of loss, tragedy and heartbreak, valleys of widows, orphans, maimed, on both sides of their common border. The toll on life and health was compared to World War 1. Iraq of course, in an historic error, had virtually been fighting a proxy war for an American regime, even then obsessed with Islam, which, in Iran they had decided was the wrong sort of Islam. What the faith of a nation thousands of miles away had to do with Capitol Hill, remains a mystery. The day after that devastating war ended, the US replaced Iraq over the then USSR as the country which was the biggest threat to America. A devastated, war torn nation of, at the time, just under seventeen million people. (2)
Then came the dispute with Kuwait over alleged oil theft and Dinar destabilizing with the then US Ambassador April Glaspie personally giving Saddam Hussein the green light to invade should he choose. The subsequent nation paralyzing UN embargo followed, then the 2003 decimation and occupation – another orchestrated downward spiral – and tragedy and now open talk of what has been planned for decades, the break up of Iraq.

Greater Israel” requires the breaking up of the existing Arab states into small states.

“Mission accomplished” for both the US with its long planned redrawing of the Middle East and North Africa – and Israel, through whose friendship with the Iraqi Kurdish autocracy, was set to become pretty well a partner in an autonomous, independent Iraqi Kurdistan. Dream come true, from “the Nile to the Euphrates”, the final fruition of near seventy years of manipulation and aggression for domination of the entire region. The all is also the vision of the super hawk, dreamer of destruction of nations, Lt Colonel Ralph Peters since the early 1990s. Here is his 2006 version (3.) Peters is a man whose vision of eternal war is seemingly an eternal wet dream. Here, again, for anyone unaware of the Colonel, is a repeat of that dream (US Army War College Quarterly, Summer 1997):

“There will be no peace. At any given moment for the rest of our lifetimes, there will be multiple conflicts … around the globe. Violent conflict will dominate the headlines, but cultural and economic struggles will be steadier and ultimately more decisive. (US armed forces will keep) the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To those ends, we will do a fair amount of killing. “We have entered an age of constant conflict.”

Peters would make some of history’s most megalomaniacal expansionists look like gift offering peaceniks. His cartographic monument to arrogance: “The New Map of the Middle East Project”, of geographical restructure in far away places of which he gave less than a damn, was published in the Armed Forces Journal in June 2006.

It was surely no coincidence that on 1st May 2006 Joe Biden, long time Member of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations – now US Vice President of course – and Leslie Gelb, President Emeritus of the Committee, joint authored a New York Times piece (4) urging the break up of Iraq, dividing the country on ethnic lines: “ … giving each ethno-religious group – Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab …” their own ethnic and political ghettos. Ignorance on wide inter-marriage, inter-relations, until 2003, inter-communities at every level for millennia, mixed  neighbourhoods, shared celebrations, religious festivals, joys and heartaches, boggle the imagination. The deluded article is entitled: “Unity through autonomy in Iraq.” Think non-sequeta, think mixed marriages, does the husband live in a “Sunni” ghetto and the wife a “Shia” one, for example?

“The Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions would each be responsible for their own domestic laws, administration and internal security.” A “five point plan” of ghettoisation, destruction, delusion and wickedness, the US-Israeli game plan for Iraq, with the UK as ever, tagging along dreaming of days of empire when, with France, Iraq and the region’s borders were imperially tinkered with just short of a hundred years ago (5.)  Aside from the shaming arrogance and illegality of the plan, ignorance is total. Clearly there is no knowledge in the great annals of the US State Department, Department of Foreign Affairs or the CIA of Iraq’s religious and ethnic minorities, also co-existing for centuries: Christians, Mandaeans, Yazidis, Turkmen, Jews, Zoroastrians, Bahai, Kakai’s, Shabaks – and indeed those who regard themselves as non-religious.
By October 2007 Joe Biden had: “attempted to create a reality when an overwhelming majority of the US Senate voted for his non-binding Resolution to divide Iraq in to three parts … (with) the Washington Post reporting that the 75-23 Senate vote was a ‘significant milestone’ ” in the severing of Iraq in to three, wrote Tom Engelhardt (6.)
Engelhardt is seemingly the only eagle eye to have picked up that: “The (tripartite) structure is spelled out in Iraq’s Constitution, but Biden would initiate local and regional diplomatic efforts to hasten its evolution.” The Constitution, written under US imposed “Viceroy” Paul Bremer, is of course, entirely invalid, since it is illegal to re-write a Constitution under an occupation. “Only the Kurds, eager for an independent State, welcomed the plan.”   What, ponders Engelhardt, with forensic reality, would be the reaction if Iraq, or Iran for example: “passed a non-binding Resolution to divide the United States in to semi-autonomous bio-regions?”    He concludes that: “such acts would, of course, be considered not just outrageous and insulting, but quite mad.” In Iraq however: “at best it would put an American stamp of approval on the continuing ethnic cleansing of Iraq.”
However, the US Administration’s commitment is clear, Joe Biden, a self confessed Zionist, stated at the annual J Street Conference in September 2013: “If there were not an Israel, we would have to invent one to make sure our interests were preserved.” (7) Think oil, gas, strategic aims.  Biden assured his audience that: “America’s support for Israel is unshakable, period. Period, period.” (sic) He stressed a number of times the commitment that President Obama had to Israel. His own long and deep connections, he related, stretched back to a meeting with then Prime Minister Golda Meir when he was a freshman Senator and latterly his hours spent with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The latest meeting was in January this year when he travelled to Israel to pay his respects to the late Ariel Sharon and subsequently spent two hours alone in discussion with Netanyahu.

It is surely coincidence that subsequently the rhetoric for the division of Iraq accelerated. Israel has had “military, intelligence and business ties with the Kurds since the 1960s” viewing them as “a shared buffer between Arab adversaries.”   In June Netanyahu told Tel Aviv University’s INSS think tank: “We should … support the Kurdish aspiration for independence”, after “outlining what he described as the collapse of Iraq and other Middle East regions …”(8) Iraq’s internal affairs being none of Israel’s business obviously does not occur (apart from their outrageous historic aspirations for the region in spite of being the newly arriving regional guest.) The howls of Israeli fury when even basic human rights for Palestinians in their eroded and stolen lands are suggested for the last sixty six years, however, metaphorically deafen the world.

Of course Kurdistan has now laid claim to Kirkuk, with its vast oil deposits. The plan for the Northern Iraq-Haifa pipeline, an Israeli aspiration from the time of that country’s establishment can surely also not have been far from Netanyahu’s mind. An independent Kurdistan, which indeed it has enjoyed almost entirely within Iraq, since 1992 – and immediately betrayed the Iraqi State by inviting in Israel and the CIA – would herald the planned dismemberment of Iraq.  It is darkly ironic, that whether relating to the break up of their lands or ghettoisation of those of Iraqis and Palestinians, this mirrors the plan of Adolf Eichmann, the architect of ethnic cleansing, who, after the outbreak of Word War II “arranged for Jews to be concentrated into ghettos in major cities …” he also devised plans for Jewish “reservations.”
Additionally he was an architect of forcible expulsion, one of the charges brought against him after he was captured by Israel’s Mossad and Shin Bet in Argentina in 1960. He was tried in Israel, found guilty of war crimes and hanged in 1962. Ironically his pre-Nazi employment had been as an oil salesman (9.)  Can Israel and the “international community” really be planning to mirror Eichmann by repatriating and ethnic cleansing? Will nations never look in to history’s mirror?

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GLOBAL UMMAH SOLIDARITY - by moeenyaseen - 08-23-2006, 11:07 PM

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