Modern Politics -- the Twilight of British Ascendancy in the Middle East: A Case Study of Iraq, 1941-1950 by Daniel Silverfarb

By Bishku, Michael B. | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 1995 | Go to article overview

Modern Politics -- the Twilight of British Ascendancy in the Middle East: A Case Study of Iraq, 1941-1950 by Daniel Silverfarb


Bishku, Michael B., The Middle East Journal


The Twilight of British Ascendancy in the Middle East: A Case Study of Iraq, 1941-1950, by Daniel Silverfarb. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994. xiii + 234 pages. Notes to p. 291. Bibl. to p. 300. Index to p. 306. $49.95.

This book is a continuation of Daniel Silverfarb's earlier study of Anglo-Iraqi relations covering the years 1929-41.(1) In the future, he hopes to complete another volume bringing his account up to the 1958 Iraqi revolution. Silverfarb's work focuses on the important issues that affected bilateral Anglo-Iraqi relations from 1941-50, a time when Britain excised a certain amount of influence over Iraq. This volume begins with the British reasserting their dominance over Iraq following the spring of 1941 military operation against the short-lived pro-German government of Prime Minister Rashid 'Ali. The book covers, in detail, the diplomatic, economic, and strategic developments in Iraq through December 1949. Chapters 7-16 cover the years following the Second World War. Silverfarb notes that since Wm. Roger Louis, author of The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945-1951, devoted "a relatively small amount of attention" (one chapter of 38 pages) to Iraq in his well-known 800-page work,(2) chapters 7-16 of British Ascendancy are designed to fill this gap (p. 80). As Louis is currently working on a second volume concerning Britain's involvement in the Middle East through the 1958 Iraqi revolution, it will be interesting to compare his account to Silverfarb's anticipated volume. It is likely that this time Louis will devote more attention to Iraq.

Silverfarb writes with a great deal of clarity, not only with regard to political issues, but also about economic and military matters. Additionally, he is very thorough in his utilization of British government documents, especially those of the Foreign Office. He presents an enlightening description and analysis of Great Britain's policy towards Iraq, and to a lesser degree of the positions and actions taken by the Iraqi government. With regard to the latter, Silverfarb also relies on Iraqi memoirs written in Arabic.

Given recent events involving Iraq, the two chapters on the 1943-45 Kurdish revolts and the territorial dispute over Kuwait and the port of Umm Qasr are of particular interest. While British officials were sympathetic to Kurdish grievances regarding discrimination, they gave military supplies and advice to the Iraqi government in its operations against Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani, as they did not like Barzani's attempt to maintain local autonomy. While the Foreign Office supported a pro-Iraqi interpretation of the border with Kuwait, a line approximately two miles south of Umm Qasr fort, it opposed Iraq's claims to the islands of Bubiyan and Warba, which constitute a portion of Kuwaiti territory.

Silverfarb also devotes two chapters to the negotiations and collapse of the 1948 Treaty of Portsmouth, which was to replace the 1930 Treaty of Alliance. …

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