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This dissertation analyzes the origins and development of Iraq’s boundaries with Nejd and Syria during the British military occupation and subsequent Mandate over Iraq after World War I. I argue that the location of these boundaries was determined by acts of policing Arab Bedouin tribes in the borderland of the northern Arabian Desert and the Syrian Desert. Whereas other scholars of the inter-war state-building period explain Iraq’s borders as functions of French and British imperial deal-making and arbitrary “lines in the sand,” I approach them as institutions that emerged from inimitable processes of reconciling abstract political or strategic objectives with the real-life conditions of government along the frontiers of state authority. Instead of relying on final-status boundary negotiations by and between the political centers of London, Paris, or even Baghdad, my sources are British colonial archival documents, including maps and Royal Air Force intelligence files, the records of the League of Nations, as well as historical works, first-person accounts and geographical or ethnographic works by Iraqi statesmen and intellectuals involved in the state-building enterprise between 1918 and 1932.

By focusing on day-to-day modalities of rule, I show how policing and the political geography of post-WWI state building defined and claimed both territory and people. The pre-war British idea of Iraq as a geographical, historical, and social entity depended on a distinction between the river valley and the desert, and postulated a primordial conflict between settled Iraqis and their Bedouin counterparts. In policing the latter, British and Iraqi officials “nationalized” tribal territory, further delineating the political boundaries of Mandate Iraq. The forced relocation of Nejdi refugees from southern to northern Iraq in 1925 was one result of this newly politicized borderland, as was a 1927 conference among Iraqi and Syrian tribal elites at 'Anah that laid bare the consequences of unsettled territorial claims between Britain and France dating to 1920; it also served as a venue for these tribes to embody Iraqi territoriality in the Jazirah. The 1928 AKFORCE military campaign against Ikhwan tribes from Nejd signaled that the 1922 boundary agreement between Ibn Sa'ud and British had not prevented inter-tribal conflict in the Shamiyah, but it did consolidate Iraqi security over the Shamiyah by expanding the number and reach of de facto boundary posts in the Iraq-Nejd borderland.

This research has several implications for the historiography of colonial-era state building in Iraq and the Middle East. Iraq’s boundaries are shown to be a process, rather than a fact, of the Mandate era, one involving low or mid-ranking British military and intelligence officers, Arab provincial governors and police, and Bedouin tribal shaykhs of the northern Arabian Desert and Syrian Desert. It follows that Iraq’s boundaries can no longer be considered arbitrary constructs imposed from Paris, London, or the League of Nations in Geneva after WWI. Nonetheless, it must be acknowledged that the priority of the British was the formation of a state from the top down, not a nation, and that Iraq’s Mandate-era boundaries were based indirectly, at best, on ideas of ethnic or national self-determination. In addition, the role of anti-Shia sentiment in official Iraqi nationalism (particularly under the Baath Party of the 1970s and 1980s) must be critically re-evaluated. My research shows that distinctions between Bedouin and settled communities, and intra-Sunni conflicts between Wahhabi and Iraqi Sunni tribes, shaped security policy and the eventual locations of the boundary and neutral zone far more than narratives of sectarian conflict between Shia-majority Iraq and Sunni-majority Nejd.

Shook, Carl Bryant. "The Origins and Development of Iraq's National Boundaries, 1918-1932: Policing and Political Geography in the Iraq-Nejd and Iraq-Syria Borderlands." Order No. 10785479, The University of Chicago, 2018.

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