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World War I and Aftermath

In 1914 the Ottoman Empire entered World War I (1914-1918) on the side of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria) against the Allied Powers (28 nations including Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and the United States). In order to protect the oil installations of southwestern Iran and to preempt an Ottoman thrust toward the Persian Gulf, British Indian troops invaded southern Iraq in the first weeks of the war, eventually reaching Baghdad in March 1917. Syria and Palestine remained under Ottoman control until the last months of the war. Upon defeat by the Allies, the Ottoman Empire lost its Arab provinces and was confined to present-day Turkey.

Conflicting arrangements that the Allies had made among themselves and with others during the war complicated control of the Middle East after the war. In 1916 the Allies negotiated the Sykes-Picot agreement, which stated that rulership of the Arab part of the Ottoman Empire would be divided among Britain, France, Italy, and Russia after the war. Meanwhile, in 1915 and 1916 the British government promised Husein ibn Ali, the sharif of Mecca, the right to Arab independence in return for collaboration with the Allies against the Ottomans. However, the British left vague the precise areas where Arab independence would be recognized. Finally, the British promised their support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” in the Balfour Declaration of November 1917 to win worldwide Jewish support for the war effort. The vagueness and potentially conflicting commitments of these agreements strained relationships among all the parties involved, particularly with regard to Palestine.

During various postwar peace conferences the idea of direct colonial rule over the former Arab provinces was discarded in favor of a mandate system. Under this system, members of the newly formed League of Nations were granted supervision of territories with varying degrees of independence. Five new mandate states were created: Britain took over Iraq, Palestine, and Transjordan (now Jordan), while France took Syria and Lebanon. When the Allies attempted to parcel out parts of present-day Turkey, Turkish soldier Mustafa Kemal (later Ataturk) rallied national support and expelled French, Greek, and Italian forces from the country by 1922. Kemal signed the final postwar territorial settlement in 1923, and the Turkish republic, with Kemal as president, was proclaimed later that year. Turkey abolished the caliphate (an office assumed by Ottoman sultans) in 1924.

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