1900-1919 | Iraq

British troops seize Mosul to gain control over Mesopotamia’s oil fields

Mosul – Matson Photograph Collection
Library of Congress – Wikimedia.

3 November 1918

on 3 November 1918, four days after an armistice with Germany’s First World War ally Turkey had brought to an end hostilities in the Middle East, the British army in Mesopotamia, acting under direct orders from Prime Minister Lloyd George, seized the town of Mosul in what is today northern Iraq.  British troops entered the city despite the fact that the town and the surrounding area had been designated a post-war French zone of control, under the secret Sykes-Picot agreement of May 1916.1

Three months earlier, Lloyd George’s attention had been drawn by a memorandum, by Admiral Sir Edmond Slade, marked ‘Very Secret and Important,’ on the importance of controlling Mosul’s oil fields. Based on pre-war reports from German geologists, these were considered to be ‘the largest undeveloped resources at present known in the world.’  The Admiral, who was also a director of the government owned Anglo-Persian Oil Company, argued there was no time to loose, because ‘the power that controls the oil lands of Persia and Mesopotamia will control the majority of the supply of the liquid fuel of the future.’2  Moreover as oil was supplanting coal as the fuel of the future, it was ‘of paramount importance to obtain the undisputed control of the greatest amount of petroleum that we can.’3

After occupying the town, the British faced, what a press report politely termed ‘difficulties’, when the commander of the Turkish garrison at Mosul refused to disarm his troops, pointing out correctly that the armistice only referred to the disarmament of field armies. So Britain applied diplomatic pressure, reminding Turkey of its overwhelming military superiority in the region, until the Turkish high command duly sent orders for the town’s soldiers to surrender their weapons and withdraw.4

Lloyd George – circa 1915 – Library of Congress


  1. James Barr, A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle for the Mastery of the Middle East, Simon and Schuster, London and New York, 2012, pp. 66-67.
  2. Ibid. p. 66.
  3. Kiristian Coates Ulrichsen, The First World War in the Middle East, Hurst and Company, London, 2014 p. 145.
  4. ‘British hold Mosul,’ The Globe, 7 November 1918, p 3 and ‘Evacuation of Mosul,’ The Birmingham Gazette, 15 November 1918, p. 1.

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