21 April 2005 Edition

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British imperialism - then and now

BY Mícheál MacDonncha

Carrying out some research last week, I was struck by the following article from the Republican newspaper, Poblacht na hÉireann, of 15 June 1922, less than a fortnight before the outbreak of the Civil War. Headlined 'England's Mutinous Eastern Empire' it was a roundup of British repression from India to Palestine, Syria and Egypt. And most striking in light of today's events is this piece on the British bombing of civilians in Iraq.

Irak (Mesopotamia)

Yet another 'Treaty', this time with Irak (Mesopotamia), another vast Arab country coolly annexed by Britain after the world war, under the guise of a 'mandate'. The Treaty - in actual fact a charter of conquest - for what Mr Churchill calls the "provisionally independent state of Irak" - has been negotiated over the heads of the inhabitants and Baghdad, the London 'Times' reports, is in a state of "acute tension" in consequence.

Irak is the bloodiest page in the history of the British annexations of the East after the world war. The Arabs here, as everywhere else, were told that they would be liberated from Turkish rule and made independent if they would only fight for England, or at least oppose German-Turkish operations. They were fooled, and as soon as the Turks were gone, a rigorous military system was imposed and the usual tale of risings, massacres and 'pacification' followed.

Irak, by the way, is Mr Churchill's first experiment in the new Imperial system of holding down a subject country by means, not of infantry and artillery, but of strong squadrons of bombing aeroplanes, posted so as to be able to break up hostile gatherings and reduce seditious towns or villages to ruins.

The idea is that this is the cheapest way of stunning a people by death and devastation, and scores of millions are to be saved by the policy when extended to the Empire generally. Mr Churchill's fame is to be crowned by the result a pacified Empire.

We beg leave, even on technical and military grounds, to be sceptical as to the result. It would certainly be a fiasco in Ireland.

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