Blogger Andrew Sullivan writing about Syria today notes:

Syria as we now know it was created by one Brit, Mark Sykes, and one Frenchman, Francois Georges-Picot in 1920. Originally, it included a chunk of Iraq (another non-country), but when oil was discovered there (in Mosul), the Brits wanted and got it.

Similarly Wikipedia's article on Mosul states:

discoveries of oil in the region just before the end of the war (1918), pushed the British government to yet another negotiation with the French; to include the region of Mosul into the southern zone (or the British zone)

Britain and France were allies and equal partners in shaping the post-WW1 settlements, and French interests in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East were powerful and historic. Presumably, also, France was just as interested in oil as Britain was.

How was Britain suddenly able to gobble up Mosul simply because oil had been discovered there? Did Britain concede territory to France somewhere else as part of the negotiations?

1 Answer 1


Found information in the JSTOR article France's Middle Eastern Ambitions, the Sykes-Picot Negotiations, and the Oil Fields of Mosul, 1915-1918*:

Georges Clemenceau ceded Mosul during a Sunday conversation at the French Embassy in London on December 1st 1918. Possibly for one or more of these three reasons:

  1. Removal of a source of friction with their British ally, as France's primary goals at the time were Eurocentric.
  2. To forestall a complete revision of the Skyes-Picot Agreement regarding the partition of the Ottoman empire: Giving away Mosul in order to keep control of Syria and Lebanon.
  3. The British (David Lloyd George) might have promised to share exploitation of much as 50% of the oil found in Mosul.
    • But the oil sharing reason is disputed because a French negotiator (Philippe Berthelot) stated in a private letter that the French abandoned their claims on Mosul and Palestine without obtaining anything (directly) in return.

I suggest reading the entire article to dig into the backstory.

* Had to get a MyJSTOR account to read it.

  • A fourth apocryphal reason could have been that the British were still near the peak of their international power, only just beginning their decline. Whilst the French has just been through the meat grinder; and US Franco-phobia was starting to pick up steam: France's leverage could have been limited. If the French didn't anticipate the end-result of the Treaty of Versailles - then undervaluing long-term value of oil extraction isn't out of the question. Sep 18, 2013 at 2:11

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