Intervention: Britain, Egypt, and Iraq during World War II
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This comparative study examines the various forms of British intervention in Egypt and Iraq during World War II, and the nature of Britain’s informal empire in the Middle East. The focus is on the British Embassies which served as the local point of contact between Britain and these two countries. Britain hoped to have, in the words of one Foreign Office official, a “quiet time” in the Middle East during World War II, and pursued an official policy of nonintervention in Egyptian and Iraqi internal affairs. Yet this status quo policy often conflicted with the parallel goal of maintaining Britain’s prestige and influence in the region. In fact, the war saw an increased level of British involvement in the local affairs of both countries in the interest of the Allied war effort, culminating in the British military occupation of Iraq after the 1941 Rashid Ali coup, and the 1942 Abdin Palace incident in Egypt. This study also examines the development of the Political Advisory system in Iraq and its role in the Mulla Mustafa Kurdish uprising from 1943-1945, the movement for Arab unity in Egypt and Iraq culminating in the 1945 founding of the Arab League, and the role that local intermediaries played in Britain’s informal empire in these two countries. The local focus of this study highlights the complex motives of those who worked both for and against the British, moving beyond simplistic definitions of nationalists versus collaborators. While portrayed as a hegemonic power in the region, British influence and freedom of action was often limited due to the constraints of wartime. Local actors were able to use opportunities provided by the war to advance their own interests. World War II also served as incubator for the development and growth of movements that gained increasing significance in the post- war period.