The Iran-Iraq boundary can be viewed as unique within the Middle East region. The morphology of the border landscape is certainly much more varied than the desert through which many of the geometric boundary lines of the Arabian Peninsula have been drawn. From north to south, the most recently agreed delimitation (1975) utilises a number of high drainage divides in Kurdistan, continues along the western edge of the Zagros mountains and then crosses a broad, alluvial plain to the Shatt al Arab, where for its last sixty-five miles the boundary assumes a course along the Thalweg.
More significantly the Iran-Iraq boundary has long displayed the classic characteristics of a political frontier-zone or a border march. This contrasts sharply with the twentieth-century framework imposed largely by European colonial powers elsewhere in the Middle East. Imperial conflict over the Zagros mountains and the Mesopotamian plain was an ancient phenomenon. In pre-Islamic times this east-west configuration could be observed when the Persian and Greek empires hired Christian Arab groups from the Hira and Damascus respectively to fight out their own wars. Essentially beginning with the series of conflicts inaugurated by Sultan Selim I in 1514, the Sunni Ottoman Empire and the Shi´a Persian Safavid Dynasty clashed repeatedly in their efforts to impose their respective creeds of Islam upon the Zagros-Mesopotamia region.
Evolution of the boundary: (1) Second Treaty of Erzeroum (1847)
For the period under review three principal phases of diplomatic activity have shaped the course of the Iran-Iraq boundary. Each has resulted in the signature of treaties defining or modifying the boundary, in 1847, 1913, and 1937 respectively.
The second Treaty of Erzeroum of 1847 and its Explanatory Note of 1848 were the culmination of four years of intense negotiations between the British, Russians, Ottomans and Persians. The land boundary was allocated for its entire length while further south a territorial limit was rather loosely defined along the east bank of the Shatt al Arab river. Reference to the nineteenth century documentation in the volumes, which include substantial sections of the original, handwritten diary of the Turco-Persian Boundary Commission, will highlight the massive problems encountered in precisely establishing the Perso-Ottoman divide.
The complete distaste for compromise shown by the Persians and Ottomans led an exasperated and impatient British Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston, to comment in 1851 that "the boundary line between Turkey and Persia can never be finally settled except by an arbitrary decision on the part of Great Britain and Russia".
Evolution of the boundary: (2) The Constantinople Protocol (1913)
In the Tehran Protocol of December 1911, Persia and the Ottomans agreed that a new delimitation commission should commence work based on the clauses of the 1847 treaty. During 1912, eighteen meetings provided no tangible results. However, mediating powers of Britain and Russia worked energetically behind the scenes in pressing for a new settlement to resolve all outstanding difficulties. Instead of the dispute being referred to the Hague Court of Arbitration, Britain induced ´the sick man of Europe´ (the Ottoman Empire) to agree to a boundary line in July 1913. Further quadripartite negotiations resulted in the signature of the Constantinople Protocol of November 1913, when the delimitation was clarified in considerable detail. In 1914, as the immense detail of the Procès-verbaux illustrates, the boundary was demarcated by pillar. The frequently tense and exciting record of these developments is reproduced in full in this collection. A spate of very useful printed Foreign Office memoranda appeared around this time, familiarising Whitehall personnel with the nineteenth century history of the border dispute.
Evolution of the boundary: (3) The Tehran Treaty (1937)
Relations between Iran and Iraq soured over the Shatt al Arab in the early 1930s. Accusations and counter-accusations of border violations were made with increasing frequency and both sides argued the boundary issue in an inconclusive hearing before the League of Nations in 1934-35.
The Saadabad Pact regional security agreement between Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan was signed in Tehran in July 1937. After two and a half years of exhaustive and often fruitless negotiations, Iran and Iraq took this same opportunity to sign a further boundary treaty. This extended Iranian sovereignty to the Thalweg over a stretch of water alongside Abadan anchorage but otherwise confirmed the validity of the earlier 1847 and 1913 treaties.
The Iraqi revolution of 1958 ended Britain´s intimate and continuous involvement in the development and administration of the Iran-Iraq border and the documentation ends at this point.
Problems of Perso-Iraq boundary following Arab revolt against Persian authority in Khuzestan 1925.
Border dispute in Kurdistan.
Persian insistence on removal of Abadan office of Basra Port Authority from Persian soil.
Persia desirous of rectification of frontier on Shatt al Arab and western frontier.
Kemalist Turkey rejects validity of 1913 Constantinople Protocol.
India Office memoranda by Mr J.G. Laithwaite on developments with regard to Shatt al Arab.
Anglo-Persian oil concession in transferred territories.
Incidents at Abadan.
Trade routes between Persia and Iraq.
Proposed anchorage for Abadan in Shatt al Arab.
Attitude of Persian Government towards Turco-Persian frontier settlement of 1913.
Shatt al Arab Conservancy Board: proposed convention.
Dredging of the Shatt al Arab bar.
Persian request that boundary delimitation in the Shatt al Arab be adjusted to Thalweg.
Memorandum on Shatt al Arab: legal position in case of war.
Appeal by Iraq to League of Nations regarding disquiet on boundary issue.
Presentations of Iraq and Persia before League of Nations in Geneva.
Foreign Office memoranda on submission of case to League of Nations.
Foreign Office memo on the frontier between Persia and Turkey and Persia and Iraq 1639-1934.
Comments of Mr C.J. Edmonds, Adviser to Iraqi Ministry of Interior, on proceedings in Geneva.
Baron Aloisi appointed as rapporteur in dispute: proceedings moved to Rome under his supervision.
Rapporteur reports no agreement reached between the two parties and returns case to League Council.
Territorial adjustment opposite Abadan anchorage is contemplated: Admiralty´s reservations.
Discussions between Col. Ward of Basra Port Authority, Admiralty and Foreign Office concerning possible territorial concession in Shatt al Arab.
Memo on Iraq-Iran boundary by Mr C.J. Edmonds.
Fear that bilateral negotiations between Iran and Iraq might result in agreement detrimental to British interests in region.
Progress report on Perso-Iraqi frontier by M.J. Clauson.
Draft Iraqi treaty for navigation convention and frontier adjustments.
Progress reports by Hood and Rendel on boundary negotiations.
Memo on policy to be adopted by Foreign Office on Shatt al Arab issue.
Frontier Treaty of July 1937 signed in Tehran.
Memo by Lacy Baggallay on July 1937 boundary treaty and proposed Shatt al Arab Conservancy Convention.
Notice to League of Nations from Iraqi Government to effect that dispute has been settled.
Various Colonial Office and Foreign Office memoranda on proposals for Shatt conservancy conventions.
Possible claim by Iranian Government to sovereignty over Rooka Channel.
Navigational difficulties in Shatt al Arab.
Situation on land frontier: failure of 1938 Iran-Iraq Frontier Commission.
Correspondence on various draft conservancy conventions for Shatt al Arab.
Administration of the Shatt al Arab.
Proposals for demarcation of frontier between Iran and Iraq.
Question of Iraqi territorial waters.
Development of Shatt al Arab entrance channels.
Discussions and negotiations on administration of Port of Basra: proposals to dredge bar and develop new channel.
Conservancy of Shatt al Arab.
Incidents on land frontier.
Speculation as to prospect of Persian interference with shipping on Shatt al Arab during Anglo-Iranian oil crisis.
Policy regarding Basra and Conservancy of Shatt al Arab.
Frontier situation in Kurdistan.
Territorial waters of Iraq.
Future prospects for Port of Basra and Shatt al Arab waterway following Iraqi revolution and dismissal of British Inspector General from Basra Port Authority.