Cover image for Churchill's folly : how Winston Churchill created modern Iraq
Churchill's folly : how Winston Churchill created modern Iraq
Catherwood, Christopher.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Carroll & Graf Pub., [2004]

Physical Description:
267 pages : map ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DS70.96.G7 C38 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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As Britain's colonial secretary in the 1920s, Winston Churchill made a mistake with calamitous consequences. Scholar and adviser to Tony Blair's government, Christopher Catherwood chronicles and analyzes how Churchill created the artificial monarchy of Iraq after World War I, thereby forcing together unfriendly peoples under a single ruler. The map of the Middle East that Churchill created led to the rise of Saddam Hussein and the wars in which American troops fought in 1991 and 2003. Defying a global wave of nationalistic sentiment, and the desire of subject peoples to rule themselves, Winston Churchill put together the broken pieces of the Ottoman Empire and created a Middle Eastern powder keg. Inducing Arabs under the rule of the Ottoman Turks to rebel against their oppressors, the British and French during World War I convinced the Hashemite clan that they would rule over Syria. In fact, Britain had promised the territory to the French. To make amends, Churchill created the nation of Iraq and made the Hashemite leader, Feisel, king of a land to which he had no connections at all. Eight pages of photographs add to this fascinating history on Churchill's decision and the terrible legacy of the Ottoman Empire's collapse.

Author Notes

As consultant to the Strategy Unit of Blair's cabinet, Christopher Cather-wood worked in the Admirality building, where Churchill was based as First Lord of the Admirality in 1939-1940. He teaches history at Cambridge University and each summer at the University of Richmond (Virginia), where he is an annual Writer in Residence for their History Department.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

This compelling volume raises eerie echoes of present-day Iraq. In the aftermath of WWI, France and Britain competed for the Mideastern leftovers of the Ottoman Empire. The British grabbed Palestine, attempted to set up puppet monarchies in Arabia and in 1921 cobbled together hostile peoples-Kurds and Sunni and Shiite Arabs-into the artificial and unstable kingdom of Iraq, ruled by the imposed Hashemite king Faisal. Cambridge historian Catherwood asserts that this form of indirect rule was "empire lite" as fashioned by Churchill, then colonial minister. The British, drained economically by the world war, were greedy for spoils and wanted the benefits of empire on the cheap. The vastness of Iraq proved impossible to govern by a reduced garrison. Catherwood, a consultant to Tony Blair's cabinet, sees contemporary parallels in the unlearned lessons of "imperial overreach." Unwanted paternalistic protectorates have a way of imploding, Catherwood notes. Churchill conceded wryly that Britain was spending millions "for the privilege of living on an ungrateful volcano out of which we are in no circumstances to get anything worth having." In a readable historical essay stretched into a short book, Catherwood demonstrates yet again that one generation's pragmatism can be a later generation's tragedy. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Catherwood explores the role Churchill played in the creation of Iraq while he was colonial secretary in David Lloyd George's post-1918 coalition government. The topic is an important one, but this is, unfortunately, a seriously flawed treatment. Even for an account clearly intended for a general audience, it rests on too narrow a range of sources. Catherwood's very heavy reliance on Churchill's papers tends to overemphasize his role while obscuring that of others, such as the remarkable Gertrude Bell. His list of secondary sources is also thin, and very important and highly relevant titles, such as Briton Busch's Britain, India, and the Arabs, 1914-1921 (CH, May'72), are missing. The author seems unaware of the impact of the Whitehall war between the infant RAF and the older services, which made "air control" in Iraq a crucial component in the RAF's strategy for institutional survival. Catherwood's constant personal asides and references to the current Iraq situation do nothing to illuminate the events of 1921-2. There is nothing here for specialists, and general readers would do better to look at David Fromkin's A Peace to End All Peace (1989). ^BSumming Up: Optional. Public libraries. R. A. Callahan University of Delaware