British Policy in Mesopotamia, 1903-1914

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British Policy in Mesopotamia, 1903-1914. By Stuart A. Cohen. Reading, U.K.: Ithaca Press, 2008. 265 pp. $34.50.

As U.S. forces occupied Iraq in 2003, numerous historians scrambled to elucidate lessons from the British occupation of Mesopotamia during World War I.1 Cohen, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University, has republished in paperback British Policy in Mesopotamia, a 1976 St. Antony's monograph, itself a version of his University of Oxford doctoral thesis.

Cohen provides an able if somewhat dry account of the formation of British policies toward Mesopotamia at the beginning of the twentieth century, a world in which oil had yet to play a significant role but rather where concerns over India's defense, German railroad ambitions, and a desire to expand commercial holdings dominated British interests.

The study analyzes competing diplomatic, strategic, and commercial concerns, each complicated by a bifurcation of policy input from the Foreign and India offices. The result is a useful primer on the development of British interests in the region in the decade immediately prior to Britain's occupation of the Ottoman provinces, which, with the defeat of the Ottoman forces, would formally become Iraq.

Cohen constructs his narrative from a range of British archival sources with a smattering of German works. …