China’s New Vassal
How the War in Ukraine Turned Moscow Into Beijing’s Junior Partner
The special committee appointed to investigate the question of the frontiers between Turkey and Iraq has returned from its work on the spot and has been preparing its report, designed for presentation at the June meeting of the Council of the League of Nations. The problem to be solved is an arduous one, complicated by conflicting considerations of many kinds. The territory in dispute roughly corresponds to the former Turkish Vilayet of Mosul, although in theory the British deny this and declare that there is no dispute as to Mosul, which is a part of Iraq, but only as to what should be its northern boundary. On the other hand, they claim certain districts not in Mosul proper. Officially they are only championing the demands of the state formed from the region they conquered and which until recently they governed under a mandate; indeed, in order to obtain the ratification by the Iraq parliament of the treaty which establishes the future relations between Great Britain and independent Iraq they undertook to secure for her her proper frontiers, i.e., Mosul. But for the Turks Mosul is part of the territory, the recovery of which comes under their National Pact of January 28, 1920, the sacred foundation of their new national existence. At the conferences at Lausanne, the two claimants did not even approach agreement. It was therefore provided in the treaty of peace, July 24, 1923, that if they continued to be unable to reach a settlement, the matter should be referred to the League of Nations for arbitration.
We can only sum up here the principal difficulties in arriving at a decision which will be reasonably fair to all parties. Geographically the Mosul district has a certain natural unity which makes anything like an equal division arbitrary and artificial. Although in the main mountainous, one cannot determine with certainty whether it should go primarily with the mountains of which it is a fringe or with the valley of the lower Tigris which begins here. Economically it is of much value, owing to the great amount of oil known to be within its borders, not to speak of the still larger quantities suspected or imagined. This leads to dreams of wealth on the part of the eager claimants to the territory and explains the interest felt in the dispute by the world oil syndicates whose rival claims to concessions form a special chapter in the Iraq complications.
Historically Mosul has changed hands many times. Ethnographically the population is mixed. Although the region belonged to the Ottoman Empire for some three hundred years there are few Turks in it. In the west the Arabs are numerous, but in most of the disputed zone the Kurds predominate. These untamed mountaineers of uncertain race still maintain much of their old tribal organization. At the close of the World War there were plans for an independent or at least an autonomous Kurdistan; but it would hardly have been capable of self government. At any rate nothing came of the idea, and today the Kurd has the choice of being under the Turk or under the Arab. The Turks have vigorously asserted that they and the Kurds, many of whom are now full fledged citizens of the new Turkish Republic, have always been on excellent terms. Indeed, the identity of sympathy and interest between the two peoples has been one of the chief grounds on which the Turks have proclaimed that Mosul is properly theirs, and they have felt so sure of the result that they have even expressed their willingness to abide by the results of a fair plebiscite. The Kurdish revolt of this spring came, therefore, at a peculiarly inopportune moment. A small but interesting element is formed by the Assyro-Chaldeans, who were expelled by the war from their home in the mountains where they had maintained a heroic but precarious existence for many centuries. The remnant have found refuge in Iraq, where they are naturally firm supporters of British rule.
The real desires of the mass of the people, in so far as these have any, are not only hard to ascertain but are liable at any time to sudden change. The townsman may well prefer one regime, the tribesman another. Local feuds, personal ambitions, ridiculous hopes or fears, and all sorts of accidental circumstances are likely to determine the sentiments of the moment. A plebiscite could hardly be carried out in such a way as to have much moral value. Whatever settlement is made will produce fierce anger and may even endanger the peace, for there are great interests at stake and passions have already been aroused. The best solution would be a direct agreement, even at the eleventh hour, between the disputants themselves, for any kind of compromise freely accepted by both parties will mean less ill-feeling than an arbitral decision which will be unsatisfactory to at least one of them. But a settlement of some kind there must be and the sooner the better.