Friday, November 14, 2008

Imperial Myopia: Some Lessons from Two Invasions of Iraq

British troops enter Baghdad in 1917. The British promised that they did not come as occupiers...and then proceded to occupy Iraq until 1932, and the again from 1941 to 1947. In 1920, the British faced a series of major uprisings throughout the country. They used all available military force, including poison gas, to reassert their hegemony in the country.

Imperial Myopia: Some Lessons from Two Invasions of Iraq

By Peter Sluglett

Professor of History, University of Utah

The Middle East Journal
, vol. 62, no. 4 (August 2008): 593-609

This article tries to chart some of the parallels between the British Mesopotamia Campaign in the First World War and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Both campaigns were justified by faulty or contrived intelligence; both were launched with little consideration of the future potential needs of the liberated/occupied territory; and both were characterized by a lack of planning and clear objectives. However, in spite of their obvious paternalism, several military and civilian members of the British-Indian expedition had a fair understanding of the Middle East, Arabic, Islam, tribal society, and so on; this sort of expertise was almost completely absent both among those planning, and among those running, the US invasion of 2003.


Peter Sluglett is a historian of the 19th and 20th century Arab Middle East, of the area which is now Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. His research focuses on political and socio-economic history, as well as urban social history in the Arab Mashreq and Egypt. He is a noted expert on modern Iraqi history and politics, and has written many books and scholarly articles on the subject, among them Britain in Iraq: Contriving King and Country.

U.S. troops patrol Sadr City, an Arab Shi'i district in Baghdad.
The U.S. and its coalition allies have occupied Iraq since March 2003.

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