Old boundaries for a new state: the creation of Iraq’s eastern question

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This paper chronicles critical chapters in the delimitation of Iraq's boundaries with Iran and Kuwait, paradoxically in the period preceding the Great War. For such territorial definition took place before the Iraqi state was even formed, yet it would create many of the strategic problems that Iraq has since faced with its two neighbors. Narrowing the Perso-Ottoman land frontier in the mid-19th century had been an Anglo-Russian project, though it was largely Britain's interests that proved conclusive in its final settlement in 1914. The discovery of oil in Persia in the first decade of the 20th century added a new dimension to settling the southern end of the frontier along the Shatt al-Arab river. Britain's interest in maintaining the Persian Gulf as a British lake in order to defend British India was the chief determinant of the contemporary territorial definition of Kuwait. In shaping these territorial limits and dealing with the Ottoman Empire, Britain could not have realized that it was essentially creating the explosive contemporary strategic issue of Iraqi access to the Persian Gulf. With hindsight, it seems that Britain bequeathed to the Iraqi state an eastern question of its own.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27 - 39
Number of pages13
JournalThe SAIS Review of International Affairs
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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