|J. Zel Lurie at his 97th birthday party
At 101, J. Zel Lurie (known to his friends as Zel) is still writing his column. This is most of his latest piece for the Jewish Journal of South Florida (hat tip to Lilly Rivlin for letting us know):
|Gertrude Bell and T.E. Lawrence
There were 39 English men, diplomats, army officers and Middle East experts — and one English woman — sitting in Cairo in March 1921.
They had been convened by Winston Churchill who had taken over the colonial office not long before. The former Turkish provinces of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra, which were under British occupation, were in turmoil. The Indian soldiers who made up the British army of occupation were being slaughtered by Arab attackers on horseback. Churchill wanted a conference to find a solution.
Churchill and his aide, T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), . . . presented his plan for separate entities for . . . the Kurds, the Sunnis, and the Shiites, to the Versailles Conference in 1919. The powers ignored his sensible plan.
But Lawrence had an obligation to the Hashemites who had been kicked out of their desert home by Ibn Saud. Prince Faisal, who was at Lawrence’s side in the famous movie “Lawrence of Arabia” when they captured Akaba, [was] now out of a job. He had been King of Syria for a while but the French had replaced him. So Lawrence and his boss Churchill, wanted to place him as the King of Baghdad. He would have been King of the Sunnis. Kurdistan would be independent for the first time in the north and the Shiites would have their own state in the south.
The solitary woman was known as a master spy and a famous Arabist. She was Gertrude Bell. She had a pencil and a map and she drew straight lines around all three provinces and called it Iraq. She chopped off a triangle from the southern province to form the British protectorate of Kuwait.
Churchill and Lawrence argued that Kurdistan should be independent. The famous Arabist said that the Kurds were Sunnis, and together with other Sunnis they would offset the Shiite majority in her state. Moreover, there was oil in Kirkuk, part of the Kurdish state, and its environs. The revenue from Kurdish oil, she argued, would help finance the new state.
The 39 men accepted the analysis of the famous Arabist. As this column is being written on June 25th, President Obama and Secretary Kerry is about to repeat the mistake of the famous Arabist 93 years ago. Secretary Kerry is in Kurdistan today to try to persuade the Kurds to rejoin the Sunnis and Shiites.
. . . It would be just as wrong for the partition of Palestine in 1947 to be nullified, and one state to be declared with 6 million Jews and an equal number of Arabs. It wouldn’t work and it won’t happen. In the 93 years of the state of Iraq, the Kurds have fought their fellow Sunnis many times. Saddam Hussein captured Kirkuk and kicked out hundreds of thousands of Kurds, replacing them with Arabs.
Kirkuk is now a showplace for the Kurds once again. The Kurdish mayor was elected in democratic elections with the support of Arabs and Turkmen. . . . The mayor has lived and worked in the United States for 39 years and holds US citizenship.
The Kurdish militia, which is called Peshmerga, took over the Kirkuk airbase, a former American army base, and is using it to attack the ISIS jihadists. The Kurds have expanded to the west and they hold one of the crossings into Syria. On the other side of the border, there are a couple of Kurdish villages who have been under ISIS attack for many months.
ISIS controls all the other crossings into Syria and the one crossing into Jordan. It is feared that the Jihadists may spread into the refugee camps in Jordan.
Secretary Kerry made a quick trip to Baghdad to persuade Prime Minister Maliki to bring the Sunnis and the Kurds back into his government. . . . The Neocons in Washington are putting pressure on President Obama to bring the American troops back to fight the Sunni Jihadists.
President Obama and Secretary Kerry would like to fight the Jihadist but they would do it with air strikes rather than troops. Ideally their objective should be the three states — Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd — living side-by-side in peace and prosperity. They should study the map prepared by T. E. Lawrence in 1918, which can be found in the Imperial War Museum in London.
What about the oil? The Kurds had signed an agreement to ship their oil by pipeline to Baghdad. Years ago, in return they received 17% of the revenue from Iraq’s oil exports which they used wisely to build roads, schools and hospitals. Since the troubles began, they tried selling their oil independently. Two tankers filled with Kurdish oil wandered around the Mediterranean for days. None of the large oil companies would touch them. The last I heard was one tanker was unloading in Israel and the second was in a Turkish port.
Incidentally, the Cairo conference not only installed Faisal as the king of Iraq, but it also found a job for his younger brother Abdullah. They made him the ruler of Transjordan by partitioning Palestine into two states, one Palestine and one Transjordan, which later became Jordan, while Palestine became Israel and the Palestinian territories. . . .