World War I: British-French Diplomacy--Sykes-Picot Agreement (February 1916)

World War I Middle Eastern campaigns
Figure 1.--

Sharif Husayn and the Arabs were not the only group British policy had to contend with in the Middle East. Another important player was Britain's primary ally--France. The French had Arab colonial possessions and protectorates in North Africa, an interest in Suez, and desisgns on the Levant. After the failure of the Galipoli campaign to knock the Ottomans out of the War, British strategic planners began to conceive of a new offensive, to attack the Ottomans from the south, through both Mesopotamia and Palestine. The British Foreign Office before doing this wanted to make sure the French would not object. British and French officials secretly negotiated what has become known as the Sykes-Picot Agreement (Asia Minor Agreement) (February 1916). Sir Mark Sykes has been called a visionary British politican. François Georges-Picot was a seasoned French diplomat. The agreement divided the Middle East which had been dominated by the Ottoman Empire into areas of influence for France, Britain and others. It partition of the non-Turkish areas of the Ottoman Empire into French and British zones of control and interest. One histoirian writes, "...the two men paid lip service to the promise of Arab independence ... but then used Sykes' line in the sand--from Acre on the Mediterranean coast to Kirkuk near the Persian frontier--to divide in two the region that the British high commissiiner had offered to Husein. Territory north of the line would come under French protection; territiry to the south , the Vritis .... 'It seems to me, Britain's head of military intelligence complined, 'that we are rather in the position of the hunters who diviude up the skin of the bear before they had killed it.'" [Barr] The British would obtain what is now Palestine, Trans-Jordan, and Iraq. Most of Palestine was to have been under international control. The French would seize control over much of the Levant, Syria and Lebanon. The wording of the agreement mentions the possibility of cessions by either side to an Arab state. France would obtain Lebanon, and Syria. Thus the Middle East would become colonial possessions of the two European powers for some 30 years. [Barr] Curiously when Arabs complain about colonialism, this is what they refer to and not the four centuries of Ottoman colonial rule. Palestine under the agreement was to be administered by an international "condominium" of the British, French, and Russians. (This was before the Revolution and the Tsarist Government were also signatories to the agreement). A problem with the Sykes-Picot Agreement was it involved the partition of some of the same areas that the British had pledged to Sharif Husayn. The Agreement stirred up a controversy for a variety of reasons. It meant thst Britain was not honoring the promises Sir Henry McMahon made to to Sheriff Hussayn (1915). The Sykes-Picot agreement specifically excluded the districts 'west of the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo' as listed in the Hussayn-McMahon agreement, extending the line south so that Palestine was excluded from Arab control. The Sykes Picot Areement also excluded two substantial areas that would be under direct British and French control.


Barr, James. A Line in the Sand: The Anglo-French Struggle for the Middle East, 1914-48 (2011).


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Created: 1:40 AM 2/17/2012
Last updated: 1:40 AM 2/17/2012