Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Barefaced and Stupid Lie

The clickable thumbnail to the left links to a copy of the map presented by T. E. Lawrence to the British cabinet in 1918 of the click to see full size mapregion in the Ottoman empire called at that time "Mesopotamia." (Note how the Kurdish region is marked as: ? - mfi.) The story of how Churchill subsequently used this map for imperial gain is so well known as not to be worth repeating here.

The map is freshly relevant today because of the increasing number of calls being made by Americans such as Senator Joe Biden for Iraq to be carved up.

Biden and his co-author of the NYT editorial Gelb have been peddling this line for a while. (See today's: Juan Cole.)

That such a suggestion should be peddled by politicians such as Biden, rightwingers such as Gelb who devoted massive effort to supporting the drive to war against Iraq and self-appointed "experts" such as the cynically racist "Let Them Have Their Civil War" Caleb Carr is unsurprising. Their commitment to American neocolonialist hegemony in the Middle East is only slightly less blatant than that of the Bush regime itself, and the backstory that Iraq qua Iraq is a wholly artificial construct left over from the twilight of the British Raj has the virtue of sounding plausible to the nororiously ill-informed American public particularly when wrapped up in tones of dulcet concern for the rights of women and minorities.

But there's a problem:

It's a barefaced lie. Worse it's a stupid barefaced lie.

To say that present day Iraq is the result of British imperialists carving up the defeated Ottoman empire is to ignore a few inconvenient facts well-known to every Iraqi.

  1. It ignores the fact that the Ottoman Empire was not a Turkish empire per se (as the Turks did not benefit or lose more than the peoples in non-Turkish territories.)
  2. And it ignores the inconvenient fact that the Ottoman empire was not a state in the sense in which we use the word now.
The truth of the matter is that the Ottoman Empire was a military administration consisting of interlocking fiefs, or commands if you prefer to use that term.

It is true that under the Ottomans Iraq was divided into three military regions consisting of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. It is however completely untrue to say as these American politicians and their supporting choir of pundits are now trying to claim that "Iraq" did not exist.

Anyone who knows even the slightest amount of the region's history knows that Iraq did indeed exist. Anyone who knows even the slightest amount of the region's history knows that the people who lived in the three Ottoman provinces of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra, referred to themselves in writing and speech as "Iraqis." Anyone who knows even the slightest amount of Iraq's history knows that those people considered the city of Baghdad to be the center and natural capital of the region formed by the three provinces. And anyone who has read even a few Official Ottoman documents of the period knows that the Ottomans agreed with them, referred to the three provinces collectively as "Iraq," and ran the place accordingly.

The calls by Biden and his like are further proof if further proof were needed of the rampant imperialism that has infected the entire American body politic like a cancer for more than a generation. They are proof that the American political elite is trying to disassemble Iraq. That the American political elite is trying to smash Iraq and then say: "Well the Iraqis broke it so we own it. The American political elite wants to spin this as an Iraqi initiative and pretend that Iraqis want an ethnic government. The American political elite wants to silence those Iraqi voices, calling for unity such as Al-Sadr and Grand Ayatollah Sistani. And under Bush the American political elite has shown that there is no attrocity to which they will not stoop to achieve this end. Of course the have to show their humane and caring side:

"The choice I’m proposing can give all of us -- Republicans, Independents, Democrats, Americans -- realistic hope that our sacrifices in Iraq were not in vain. "
(Biden's Speech last two lines - the sacrifices forced upon the Iraqis don't of course count.)

Expect more from the Biden Band and Chorus along the lines of: "we lost 2,400 troops and all that money so we deserve something for all our sacrifice and anyway we're the good guys - right?"


Biden & Co are merely giving the neoconservative project a pragmatic little tweaking in a place or two so that it runs smoother. Next stops Iran and then Syria, or maybe Syria first and then Iran. I wonder when we can expect Senator Biden turn up to the American Enterprise Institute and deliver a short speech:

"Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small
crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business. Faster please."

Given his history of blatant plagiarism* I hope he remembers to provide attribution.


*Plagiarism: A polite word for stealing. Click the link and scroll down a bit I promise it's worth it - mfi.

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