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18 September 2014
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British Relations with Iraq

By Derek Hopwood
World War One

A photograph that shows a Turkish soldier taken prisoner in Mesopotamia by the Allies in 1917
Turkish soldier taken prisoner in Mesopotamia by the Allies, 1917 ©
The Ottoman Empire, which included the provinces of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul, entered World War One on the side of the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary), and immediately became a target for British imperial ambitions.

Winston Churchill conceived the disastrous campaign in Gallipoli as means of occupying Constantinople, while others, largely in India, favoured sending invading Allied forces via a longer route through Basra to Baghdad. They believed the area was suitable for colonisation, and thought an invasion would meet little resistance.

'...the British decided to push on towards Baghdad.'

In India a substantial Anglo-Indian army was raised, which landed in Basra in November 1914. The local defending forces soon fled, and the British decided to push on towards Baghdad. They totally miscalculated the strength and determination of the Turkish (Ottoman) forces, however, who trapped them in a terrible siege in Kut al-Amara on the Tigris. The Anglo-Indian force surrendered in April 1916 and many of the soldiers perished in prisoner-of-war camps. New British forces eventually arrived in Basra in greater numbers, and by March 1917 were able to capture Baghdad.

Published: 2003-02-10

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