The history of British involvement in the Middle-East

The Manchester attack has stirred resentment from those who don’t fully understand the issues of radicalisation. 22 people died after Salman Abedi detonated an explosive device at an Ariande Grande concert at the MEN arena Monday night. Country-wide grief has fallen upon the UK with many understandably angry responses, but we mustn’t make rash decisions as a country or a society.

Theresa May responded by upping the security level to ‘critical’ meaning that they are expecting an attack ‘imminently’. Deploying armed police and military to every major city, with most deployed in Manchester.

British historical involvement

During this difficult period for everyone involved, they will all face uncomfortable questions and truths. The most poignant one being, why would a 22-year old commit such an atrocity? Plus, why do we respond in such a unifying manner with Western nations but others we ignore? We have seen multiple attacks across Europe within the last 3 years or so and every single one is tragic and the violence is horrific but further historical understanding why these attacks occur is required.

The complexities of the region cannot be explained through one article alone but to summarise, it was our involvement in the middle-east that sowed the seeds of conflict; some continue to this day. That conflict has directly led to the rise in Islamic extremism. In 1915, the British government made a deal with Russia in secret over the Ottoman Empire, this meant that the British would lay claim to central Persia, including Mesopotamia, which was known to be oil rich. The agreement signalled an alliance change as Britain promised away territory it was initially defending.

1914 saw the Ottoman side with Germany and declare war against France, Russia and Britain. Britain decided that the Ottoman Empire was a threat to the British Empire, eventually taking down the Ottoman Empire and occupying territories that later became Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine and Trans-Jordan. In 1916, Britain encouraged the Great Arab revolt against the Turks by promising Arab independence, upon victory the allies failed to provide full independence placing them under British and French control under the Treaty of Versailles.

Other leading causes of the conflicts and extremism we see today, include the partition of Palestine in 1947. Plus, the Sykes-Picot agreement, which was signed in secret by Britain, Russia and France. This agreement would see most of the Arab regions controlled by the Ottoman Empire divided up and placed under the control of the French and British. This agreement was signed in secret without the knowledge of the Arabs, under the assumption that they would be better off under European control.

Britain in Iraq

Perhaps the most damaging was Britains role in Iraq, and appetite for oil, trade and transportation overshadowed the concern for the communities within the region. In 1921, the Hashemite monarchy was established by the British, with the country gaining independence on October 3rd, 1932. According to the terms of the Anglo-Iraqi treaty in 1930, Britain retained a military presence and had agreed to train Iraq’s army. However, these military bases were a breeding ground for resentment towards British presence, this was amplified through newer nationalist officers.

1958, saw a vicious revolt with the Hashemite Royal family and politicians swept aside, thus creating the Republic of Iraq. This was then ruled by a series of military and civilian governments for the next two decades, until Saddam Hussein became the Iraqi dictator. His authoritarian tactics and ability to hold onto power had suppressed regional, sectarian revolts. However, in 2003, the American led but British-supported invasion, which saw Saddam Hussein toppled, led to renewed sectarian violence and resentment that had been growing for nearly a century, with groups such as al-Quaida and its affiliates (ISIL) gaining support.


History and our involvement has led to resentment throughout the Middle-East and without a change in policy, we will not have any success in fixing the problems that we have made. Radicalisation happens through disillusionment and the guy who committed the atrocity was radicalised by using language to empower him and make him feel wanted. They create a kind of support network, where they ‘understand’ individuals to mould them into ‘martyrs’.

The effects radicalisation has on families is awful, and Jihadists are lost in more ways than one. There were 23 lives lost on that evening and each one could have been prevented almost a century ago. It is time as a nation we took responsibility for our actions and not blame other cultures, but worked with them to combat the nature of radicalisation to defeat organisations like ISIL.


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