“Sykes-Picot is dead,” Walid Jumblatt roared at me last night — and he may well be right.
The Lebanese Druze leader — who fought in a 15-year civil war that redrew the map of Lebanon — believes that the new battles for Sunni Muslim jihadi control of northern and eastern Syria and western Iraq have finally destroyed the post-World War Anglo-French conspiracy, hatched by Mark Sykes and FranÃ§ois Picot, which divided up the old Ottoman Middle East into Arab statelets controlled by the West.
The Islamic Caliphate of Iraq and Syria has been fought into existence — however temporarily — by al-Qa’ida-affiliated Sunni fighters who pay no attention to the artificial borders of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon or Jordan, or even mandate Palestine, created by the British and French. Their capture of the city of Mosul only emphasises the collapse of the secret partition plan which the Allies drew up in the First World War — for Mosul was sought after for its oil wealth by both Britain and France.
The entire Middle East has been haunted by the Sykes-Picot agreement, which also allowed Britain to implement Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour’s 1917 promise to give British support to the creation of a Jewish “homeland” in Palestine. Perhaps only today’s Arabs (and Israelis) fully understand the profound historical changes — and deep political significance — that the extraordinary battles of this past week have wrought on the old colonial map of the Middle East.
The collapsing Ottoman Empire of 1918 was to be split into two on a north-east, south-west axis which would run roughly from near Kirkuk — today under Kurdish control — across from Mosul in northern Iraq and the Syrian desert and through what is now the West Bank to Gaza. Mosul was initially given to the French — its oil surrendered by the British in return for what would become a French buffer zone between Britain and the Russian Caucasus, Baghdad and Basra being safe in British hands below the French lines. But growing British commercial desires for oil took over from imperial agreements. Mosul was configured into the British zone inside the new state of Iraq (previously Mesopotamia), its oil supplies safely in the hands of London. Iraq, Trans- jordan and Palestine were under British mandatory control, Syria and Lebanon under the French mandate.