Nothing to Fall Back On

Charles Tripp

  • Tigris Gunboats: The Forgotten War in Iraq 1914-17 by Wilfred Nunn
    Chatham, 288 pp, £19.99, March 2007, ISBN 978 1 86176 308 2

When units of the British army seized Basra in April 2003, they were gratified to find that the gates of the main prison (too heavy to be carried away by looters, apparently) had been made by a Sheffield iron foundry in the 1920s. Similarly, there were many Britons who took a quiet – and, as it turned out, wholly misplaced – satisfaction from the repeated view that the British understood Iraq much better than the jumped-up Americans because they had been in at the country’s creation. After all, the US army’s ‘tribal affairs officer’, appointed in 2003, had a handbook on the tribes of Iraq that had been published by the British War Office in 1919. It was given to him by a group of tribal sheikhs who felt that it granted them the recognition they deserved.

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