22 August, 19201
A Report on Mesopotamia
by T.E. Lawrence [of Arabia]
Ex.-Lieut.-Col. T.E. Lawrence,
The Sunday Times, 22 August 1920
[Mr. Lawrence, whose organization and direction of the Hedjaz against the
Turks was one of the outstanding romances of the war, has written this
article at our request in order that the public may be fully informed of our
The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap from which it
will be hard to escape with dignity and honour. They have been tricked into
it by a steady withholding of information. The Baghdad communiques are
belated, insincere, incomplete. Things have been far worse than we have been
told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows.
It is a disgrace to our imperial record, and may soon be too inflamed for
any ordinary cure. We are to-day not far from a disaster.
The sins of commission are those of the British civil authorities in
Mesopotamia (especially of three 'colonels') who were given a free hand by
London. They are controlled from no Department of State, but from the empty
space which divides the Foreign Office from te India Office. They availed
themselves of the necessary discretion of war-time to carry over their
dangerous independence into times of peace. They contest every suggestion of
real self- government sent them from home. A recent proclamation about
autonomy circulated with unction from Baghdad was drafted and published out
there in a hurry, to forestall a more liberal statement in preparation in
London, 'Self-determination papers' favourable to England were extorted in
Mesopotamia in 1919 by official pressure, by aeroplane demonstrations, by
deportations to India.
The Cabinet cannot disclaim all responsibility. They receive little more
news than the public: they should have insisted on more, and better. they
have sent draft after draft of reinforcements, without enquiry. When
conditions became too bad to endure longer, they decided to send out as High
commissioner the original author of the present system, with a conciliatory
message to the Arabs that his heart and policy have completely changed.
Yet our published policy has not changed, and does not need changing. It is
that there has been a deplorable contrast between our profession and our
practice. We said we went to Mesopotamia to defeat Turkey. We said we stayed
to deliver the Arabs from the oppression of the Turkish Government, and to
make available for the world its resources of corn and oil. We spent nearly
a million men and nearly a thousand million of money to these ends. This
year we are spending ninety-two thousand men and fifty millions of money on
the same objects.
Our government is worse than the old Turkish system. They kept fourteen
thousand local conscripts embodied, and killed a yearly average of two
hundred Arabs in maintaining peace. We keep ninety thousand men, with
aeroplanes, armoured cars, gunboats, and armoured trains. We have killed
about ten thousand Arabs in this rising this summer. We cannot hope to
maintain such an average: it is a poor country, sparsely peopled; but Abd el
Hamid would applaud his masters, if he saw us working. We are told the
object of the rising was political, we are not told what the local people
want. It may be what the Cabinet has promised them. A Minister in the House
of Lords said that we must have so many troops because the local people will
not enlist. On Friday the Government announce the death of some local levies
defending their British officers, and say that the services of these men
have not yet been sufficiently recognized because they are too few (adding
the characteristic Baghdad touch that they are men of bad character). There
are seven thousand of them, just half the old Turkish force of occupation.
Properly officered and distributed, they would relieve half our army there.
Cromer controlled Egypt's six million people with five thousand British
troops; Colonel Wilson fails to control Mesopotamia's three million people
with ninety thousand troops.
We have not reached the limit of our military commitments. Four weeks ago
the staff in Mesopotamia drew up a memorandum asking for four more
divisions. I believe it was forwarded to the War Office, which has now sent
three brigades from India. If the North-West Frontier cannot be further
denuded, where is the balance to come from? Meanwhile, our unfortunate
troops, Indian and British, under hard conditions of climate and supply, are
policing an immense area, paying dearly every day in lives for the wilfully
wrong policy of the civil administration in Baghdad. General Dyer was
relieved of his command in India for a much smaller error, but the
responsibility in this case is not on the Army, which has acted only at the
request of the civil authorities. The War Office has made every effort to
reduce our forces, but the decisions of the Cabinet have been against them.
The Government in Baghdad have been hanging Arabs in that town for political
offences, which they call rebellion. The Arabs are not at war with us. Are
these illegal executions to provoke the Arabs to reprisals on the three
hundred British prisoners they hold? And, if so, is it that their punishment
may be more severe, or is it to persuade our other troops to fight to the
We say we are in Mesopotamia to develop it for the benefit of the world. all
experts say that the labour supply is the ruling factor in its development.
How far will the killing of ten thousand villagers and townspeople this
summer hinder the production of wheat, cotton, and oil? How long will we
permit millions of pounds, thousands of Imperial troops, and tens of
thousands of Arabs to be sacrificed on behalf of colonial administration
which can benefit nobody but its administrators?
1 - copied from The World War I Document
Archive, Brigham Young University, Harold B. Lee Library, Provo, Utah (http://www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/wwi/1918p/mesopo.html)
2 - Sir Percy Cox was to return as High
Commissioner in October, 1920 to form a provisional Government.