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Berlin-Baghdad Railway - Baghdad to Basrah

Berlin to Baghdad mapBy 1897, Kuwait was being considered as the terminus of the proposed Berlin-Baghdad Railway. The UK, which had not formally accepted the Ottoman right to speak for Kuwait, therefore interested itself, and the English Resident at Bushire, Col. Meade, was authorized by London to contact the Shaykh of Kuwait directly. The Shaykh was interested not only in asserting his independence vis-à-vis Turkey, but also in British help with the perennial skirmishing going on since 1895 between himself and the Rashidi family, head of the powerful Shammar tribe in Saudi Arabia, and later with their conqueror, King Abdul Aziz Ibn Sa’ud.

On January 23, 1899, therefore, the Kuwaiti Shaykh agreed not to let or cede any part of his territory to other governments or subjects of governments other than England, and to receive no representatives of foreign powers without British authorization. In return, the Shaykh received an annual subsidy and British and Indian protection as needed against the Wahhabi incursions from Saudi Arabia. This is the treaty just denounced by the Iraqi government.44. Agreement between Great Britain and Kuwait providing for non-cession of territory within the Sheikdom, 23rd January 1899. From 1903, a British Political Resident was established in Kuwait; a second treaty with the UK was signed in 1907.

On July 29, 1913, agreement was reached between the UK and Turkey, by which the boundaries of Kuwait were defined, and its status was established as that of an autonomous qadha (sub-province). At the same time, the treaty relationship with the UK was confirmed by Turkey, and Turkish representation was to be permitted at Kuwait. The outbreak of World War I prevented ratification of this instrument. Instead, England declared Kuwait to be an independent kingdom under British protection. On December 26, 1915, King Ibn Sa’ud concluded an agreement with the Shaykh and the UK by which the Kuwait-Saudi boundaries were defined (they have never been demarcated), and any Saudi claims to the territory of Kuwait were conceded.

By 1914 the Anatolian and Baghdad Railway Companies represented a German investment of $80,000,000. The Anatolian lines began at Haidar Pasha, on the Asiatic side of Constantinople, and ran to Eskishehir, where there was a bifurcation eastwards to Angora — Ankyra of the Ancients. St. Paul's epistle to the Galatians was addressed to Ankyra, the capital of Galatia. From Eskishehir the railway ran south-easterly to Konia — Ikonium of the Ancients, capital of the Seljuk dynasty which preceded the Osman house enthroned at the Golden Horn. It was from Konia that Cicero, banished, wrote to a Roman friend that there were more asses in the country than men. Some day, if Gwinner had his way, there would be more Germans there than Turks. The Anatolian lines had a total length of six hundred and fifty miles.

The Baghdad system, which began where the Anatolian Railway ended, was to extend from Konia across country to the Persian Gulf. By 1914 three hundred and fifty miles of it were already built and opened to traffic; something over 625 were under construction, or to be constructed, as far as Baghdad. A branch was to be built to Alexandretta, on the Mediterranean, where Alexander the Great overwhelmed the Persian Emperor in the battle on the banks of the River Issus, 333 BC.

Construction between Baghdad and the Persian Gulf had not commenced at the outbreak of the Great War. It was this strip which was the bone of contention between Germany and Great Britain. Germany's insistence on the right to construct and control the terminal undoubtedly contained the seeds of a grave conflict. Englishmen may be excused for not relishing the spectre of a short cut to India over a trans-European-Asiatic trunk-line, German-owned and German-operated, which reduced the searoute to India ten days, and might conceivably bring German armies to the gates of Delhi before British Dreadnoughts could reach Bombay.

Busrah, the home of Sinbad the sailor and the natural port of Mesopotamia, was not suitable as a terminus for the Berlin-Baghdad Railway — at any rate from the point of view of the German authorities — owing to a sand bar at the mouth of the Shatt-al-Arab (the name given to the confluence of the two great rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates) ; but the natural harbor of Koweit below the bar is eminently suitable for the purposes. Consequently, Turkey, at the instigation of Germany, demanded that the territory in Koweit should be handed over for the purposes of the railway. The Sheikh of Koweit, true to his obligations, replied that he was unable to do this; but from the time this first demand was made until the outbreak of war, Germany, by means of Turkey, never ceased to press for a concession from the Sheikh of Koweit, and to embroil the Turkish Government with the British authorities. In this way the relations between the Turkish and British Government became in the ten years previous to 1914 more and more strained. Eventually Great Britain gave way, and upon the outbreak of war, England was upon the point of signing an agreement which virtually gave Germany all she asked for, including control of the Baghdad railway right down to the Persian Gulf.

The pressing on of the building of the railway to a great German naval port at Koweit, was to give Germany a direct outlet to the Persian Gulf and the shores of India. Afghanistan was to be bribed and with the occupation of Persia and the advance through Afghanistan, and by sea from Koweit, it would not be hard, the Germans thought, to destroy once and for all British dominion in India. This scheme was to be aided, if not entirely accomplished, by means of a "Jehad" or Holy War, launched (as it afterwards was) from Constantinople, at which the "faithful" in all countries were to rise and to push the "infidel"—excluding only the German allies of Turkey—into the sea. The extension of the railways of Palestine made progress possible towards the Suez Canal and Egypt. The linking up of the German possessions in East and West Africa was to cut the line of the Cape-toCairo Railroad, disposing forever of that "far-fetched British scheme," leaving the German free to strike north and south at his future convenience, until finally Africa became his own.

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Page last modified: 10-01-2012 19:23:50 ZULU