College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

Graduation Date


Document Type


Department/Program Conferring Degree

International Studies


First World War, Iraq, occupation, Great Britain, 1920


The topic of this thesis is the complex history of the British occupation of the Middle Euphrates region of Iraq near the conclusion of the First World War and in its aftermath, which culminated in a massive rebellion in the summer of 1920. On the eve of WWI, Great Britain was faced with a combination of the disruption of its commercial pursuits in the Persian Gulf, fears of Russian expansionism in Persia and Central Asia, and German expansionism in Iraq. Seeking the opportunity to secure its imperial interests in Ottoman Iraq, and to join France and Russia in the European conflict with the Central Powers, Great Britain declared war on the Ottomans in November 1914 and promptly invaded southern Iraq with armies from British India. Great Britain set up a Civil Administration with which to govern the local population, and after capturing Baghdad in March 1917, imposed their Civil Administration on the Middle Euphrates region, an irrigated flatland stretching along the Euphrates River System. Initially, the Civil Administration intended to extract local resources and labor power from the Middle Euphrates for the use of the Indian Army, and to establish a British administrative presence in the region. This thesis focuses on the ways that the Civil Administration interacted with local social, political, and economic patterns. The thesis argues that the British occupation and its process of blending components of state-building with efforts to extract local resources and labor power brought the British into conflict with various segments of local society, including Shi’i clerics, Sayyids, tribal Sheikhs and their constituencies. The accumulated frictions between local actors and the British sparked a widespread armed rebellion and political upheaval in the Middle Euphrates in the summer of 1920. Although the British defeated this rebellion, it had a profound impact on the British occupation of Iraq, and the formation of the modern state in the early 1920s. This thesis’ detailed investigation of the British occupation of the Middle Euphrates and the 1920 rebellion aims to reveal the complexities of British colonial governance and the lasting contradictions characteristic to the emergence of modern nation states.