Mosul Question

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The vilayet of Mosul in 1914, with modern borders superimposed

The Mosul Question was a territorial dispute in the early 20th century between Turkey and the United Kingdom (later Iraq) over the possession of the former Ottoman Mosul Vilayet.

The Mosul Vilayet was part of the Ottoman Empire until the end of World War I, when it was occupied by Britain. After the Turkish War of Independence, the new Turkish Republic considered Mosul one of the crucial issues determined in the National Pact. Despite constant resistance, Britain managed to bring the issue into the international arena, scaling it down to a frontier problem between Turkey and Iraq.

The League of Nations Council appointed an investigative commission that recommended that Iraq should retain Mosul, and Turkey reluctantly assented to the decision by signing the Frontier Treaty of 1926 with the Iraqi government in 1926. Iraq agreed to give a 10 percent royalty on Mosul's oil deposits to Turkey for 25 years.


English and Ottoman officials meet in northern Iraq during November 1918

Near the end of World War I, on October 30, 1918, the debilitated Ottoman Empire and the United Kingdom signed the Armistice of Mudros. The agreement stipulated a cessation of hostilities effective October 31, 1918.[1] For the British, "It was most desirable that Mosul should be occupied by the British force and General Marshall should send a detachment to Mosul to accept the surrender of the Turkish garrison."[2] After discussions with Ali Ihsan Pasha, the local Turkish commander, and communications between London and the Ottoman government, where the British justified their intent by reference to Clause 7 of the agreement as well as their intent to proceed in any event, the local commander was instructed to withdraw and the British occupied Mosul on 10 November, 1918.[3][4][5]

In August 1920, the Treaty of Sèvres was signed to end the war, however the Ottomans still contested the British right to Mosul as being taken illegally, post-Mudros. Even when the Lausanne Treaty was signed between Turkey and Britain in 1923, Turkey maintained that Britain was controlling the Mosul Vilayet illegally.[6] British officials in London and Baghdad continued to believe that Mosul was imperative to the survival of Iraq because of its resources and the security of its mountainous border.[7] Turkish leaders were also afraid that Kurdish nationalism would thrive under British Mandate and start trouble with the Kurdish population in Turkey.[8]

In order to reach a resolution on the conflicting claims over Mosul, the League of Nations was called on to send a fact-finding commission to determine the rightful owner. The commission investigated the region and reported that Turkey had no claim to Mosul, and it belonged to the British and no one else had any rightful claim to the area.[6] Britain was highly influential in the League of Nations. The Secretary of the War Cabinet, Maurice Hankey, had already decided that Britain needed to have control over the whole area because of their oil concerns for the Royal Navy, before the commission's work was completed.[2]

Because Britain also wanted to soothe Turkish anger over the League of Nations decision, they gave them a portion of the oil profits. By having control over the oil and the Iraq Petroleum Company, the British stayed in control of the resources of Mosul even though they had given political control back to Faysal.

Another area of contention between Britain and Turkey was the actual boundary line. There was a 'Brussels Line' which had been decided by the League of Nations as the true border of Iraq, and a British line which was the division line the Britain had used as reference in the past. When this was brought up to British leaders, both Percy Cox, the British High Commissioner of Iraq, and Arnold Wilson, the British civil commissioner in Baghdad, urged Lloyd George, who was the Prime Minister, to use the Brussels line because they did not think there was that large of a difference between the two line boundaries.[9]

Other claimants[edit]

Kingdom of Iraq[edit]

The Mosul Vilayet was not just contested by external powers, i.e. Britain and Turkey; Faysal ibn Husayn, the Hashemite ruler who had become the king of the newly created state of Iraq by the British in 1921, also wanted to claim the Mosul Vilayet as his. The British liked, and respected Faysal because of all of the assistance he had given to them; the British also felt that they could trust him to do what they wanted. In this belief, Britain was both right and wrong. Faysal was a brilliant diplomat who was able to balance what the British wanted and the true needs of his people into a very complex system. However, one of the things he wanted most was the unification and strong status of Iraq and he did not believe that was possible without having control of the Mosul Vilayet.

Prior to the League of Nations decision, Faysal had continually petitioned the British government to give control of Mosul to him so that he could succeed in his aim of unification. Finally, after the League of Nations decision, the British agree to let Faysal have control over Mosul in return for important resource concessions. The British founded the Turkish Petroleum Company which they later named the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC).


Another internal group that wanted control over Mosul was the Kurds. The Kurds were the natural inhabitants of the Vilayet and made up over 60% of the population in the region, they did not want to belong to any other government other than their own. They had long fought against being integrated into Iraq because they wanted independence. Most Kurds did not consider themselves as a part of the new country of Iraq. Various Kurdish leaders rallied Kurdish groups who already had their own firepower and had been helped by different imperial powers on occasions when it suited their needs. Furthermore, many Kurds felt betrayed by promises the British had made to them in earlier times and subsequently not kept. Faysal wanted to integrate them because, as by a majority Sunnis, he needed them to balance out the Shiite population. Britain used both the Kurdish firepower and Faysal's desire for a united Iraq in order to keep a stranglehold over him, and later Iran used the Kurds and their firepower in order to keep unrest in Iraq during the reign of Khomeini. The Kurds did not want to be integrated into Iraq; however they did support the continuance of the British mandate in the area.[8]


The vilayet had an Arabic speaking population, a large Assyrian Syriac speaking population[10] and a Kurdish speaking population, and in contrast to Mosul's neighbors, it was much more directly integrated into the Ottoman Empire.[11] With regards to the religious communities, it was predominately Sunni with notable communities of Turkmen, Kurds, Assyrian Christians and Jews with a total population of about 800,000 people in the early 20th century.[8] These communities and their respective leaders were heavily influenced by the political hierarchy, trading networks, and the judicial system of the Ottoman Empire, even though they considered themselves on their own and not completely controlled by the empire.[11]

Economic resources[edit]

An 1876 sketch of Mosul

During the period of Ottoman rule, Mosul was involved in the production of fine cotton goods. Oil was a known commodity in the region and it became critically important during World War I and continuing until today. Mosul was considered a trading capital of the Ottoman Empire because of its location along the trade routes to India and the Mediterranean; also it was considered a political sub-capitol.

Local politics[edit]

The leadership was constantly plagued with accusations of corruption and incompetence, and leaders were replaced with an alarming regularity.[12] Also, because of these problems, the administration of Mosul was entrusted to Palace and notable favorites, where the high official's careers were usually determined by tribal issues within their states.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fromkin, David (2009). A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East. Macmillan. p. 372. ISBN 978-0-8050-8809-0.
  2. ^ a b V.H. Rothwell: Mesopotamia in British War Aims, in: The Historical Journal, Vol. 13, No. 2 (1970), p. 291.
  3. ^ "The First World War continues: Britain's dash for Mosul, Iraq, November 1918". OU. 2019-01-15. Retrieved 2019-09-13.
  4. ^ Paul Knight (16 July 2013). The British Army in Mesopotamia, 1914-1918. McFarland. pp. 153–. ISBN 978-0-7864-7049-5.
  5. ^ Erik J. Zürcher (25 June 2004). Turkey: A Modern History. I.B.Tauris. pp. 133–. ISBN 978-1-85043-399-6.
  6. ^ a b The Geography of the Mosul Boundary "The Geographical Journal" by H.I. Lloyd 1926[page needed]
  7. ^ "The Creation of Iraq: 1914-1921" by Reeva Spector Simon and Eleanor H. Tejirian, New York: Columbia University Press 2004[page needed]
  8. ^ a b c The Mosul Dispute "The American Journal of International Law" by Quincy Wright[page needed]
  9. ^ The Geography of the Mosul Boundary: Discussion "The Geographical Journal" 1926[page needed]
  10. ^ Assyrians, Kurds, and Ottomans: Intercommunal Relations on the Periphery of the Ottoman Empire, p. 171, at Google Books
  11. ^ a b "A History of Iraq" by Charles Tripp, New York: Cambridge Press 2007[page needed]
  12. ^ a b "Ottoman Administration of Iraq 1890-1908" by Gokhan Cetinsaya New York: Routledge, 2006[page needed]

External links[edit]