Iran–Iraq Border 1840–1958, The

ISBN: (13) 978-1-85207-160-8   Extent: 11 volumes, 5,500 pages, including 2 map boxes
Editor: R. Schofield    Published: 1989
Paper: Printed on acid free paper
Binding: Library bindings with gilt finish
See sample pages: not available

The Iran-Iraq boundary can be viewed as unique within the Middle East region, as it has long displayed the classic characteristics of a political frontier zone or a border march. This contrasts sharply with the 20th-century framework imposed largely by European colonial powers elsewhere in the Middle East. Imperial conflict over the Zagros mountains and elsewhere in the Mesopotamian plain was a regular phenomenon in ancient times. The period under review covers three principal phases of diplomatic activity which have shaped the course of the Iran-Iraq boundary. Each has resulted in the signature of treaties defining or modifying the boundary.
This collection contains the key primary documents from British Government files, covering 120 years of records on the Iran-Iraq border, in a single major reference work. The historical evidence for the evolution of the Iran-Iraq border may be considered as a common background for negotiations following the Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq. Included are treaty texts in facsimile and detailed accounts of negotiations between British, Russian, Turkish, Persian and latterly Iraqi sides.


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.


For the 120-year period covered by this collection Britain was intimately involved in the evolution of the boundary which today separates the modern states of Iran and Iraq. With the appearance of these ten volumes (including two map-boxes), the extensive records of the British Foreign, Colonial and India Offices relating to the territorial issue are made available for the first time in one comprehensive chronological compilation.
The exact extent to which Iraqi dissatisfaction with the status of the Shatt al Arab (the Iran-Iraq boundary´s southernmost estuarine constituent) was responsible for the onset of the war in September 1980 has been widely debated but the issue remains of central importance. Iraq´s reluctance to return to the Thalweg delimitation she conceded to Iran in March 1975 proved to be a major stumbling-block in the United Nations-sponsored peace talks between the two states.
During the last years of the Iran-Iraq war statements by government officials of each combatant suggested that the exact course of the international boundary in Kurdistan was far from clear. While the protracted and troublesome evolution of the Shatt al Arab dispute has been reasonably well covered by the literature in recent years, the land boundary dispute further north has received far less attention. This imbalance is redressed with the release of the present work. Were future disputes to arise, for instance, over the oil-producing localities of Khanaqin or Majnoon, reference can now be made to previous archival correspondence concerning these border districts.
The collection is published in nine volumes of text and a further two volumes of maps. Documents are reproduced in facsimile save where they have been retyped in the interest of legibility. Material has been selected in approximately equal measure from the Public Record Office and the India Office Library and Records, London. The papers of Mr C.J. Edmonds have been reproduced by arrangement with St. Antony´s College, Oxford. Each of the nine volumes of text is preceded by a brief introduction. These introductions serve to summarize the diplomatic context of the boundary´s evolution and to comment generally on the selected documents in each volume. The volumes are organised in chronological sequence. The Editor: Richard Schofield has written widely on the Shatt al Arab boundary dispute and on territorial affairs in the Gulf region. He has researched and edited the important Archive Editions documentary collections on Arabian Boundaries and Arabian Boundary Disputes and other regional territorial studies.


Timescale of principal events and documents:

Captain Brant´s reports of deteriorating situation along Kurdistan section of Perso-Ottoman frontier zone.
Formation of quadripartite Turco-Persian Boundary Commission. Despatches from the British Commissioners with Protocols of various documents relating to the Conferences of Erzeroum. (Includes copies and discussions of earlier Treaty of Zohab, 1639; Treaty of Kerden, 1746 and First Treaty of Erzeroum, 1823 and also correspondence on massacre of Persian pilgrims by the Ottomans at Kerbela.)
Further despatches from the British Commissioners with Protocols of various documents relating to the Conferences of Erzeroum.
Memoranda by Major Rawlinson on subject of Mohammerah and the Chaab tribe and on subject of 1639 Zohab Treaty.
Signature of second Treaty of Erzeroum of May 31, 1847.
Delays in ratification of Treaty.
Explanatory Note regarding vagaries and ambiguities in Erzeroum Treaty.
Layard´s Memorandum on important objects of local interest in frontier zone.
Colonel Williams´ Letter imposing de facto boundary line from Hawizch to Shatt al Arab.
Correspondence concerning lack of progress of Delimitation Commission.
Correspondence respecting province of Zohab.
Travelling Diary of Colonel Y. Tchirikof, Russian Mediating Commissioner on Turco-Persian Delimitation.
Border disputes in Kurdistan and rumoured construction of fort at Zohab by Persia.
Russia doubts wisdom of continuing labours of Delimitation Commission.
Removal of Turco-Persian Boundary Map Commission to St. Petersburg.
Border disputes at Dumbah and Makoo.
The Diary of the Turco-Persian Boundary reports no activity for these years.
Memorandum on Boundary Questions by E. Hertslet.
Ahmedavend insurrection.
Memorandum on forts erected by Persia on frontier.
Completion of ´Carte Identique´ in St. Petersburg.
Signature of ´Status Quo´ Convention regarding frontier in Constantinople.
Nomadic movements infringe status quo agreement.
Memorandum on Turco-Persian boundary question by E. Hertslet.
Persian memorandum on external threat posed by Russia and dangerous state of country´s internal affairs.
Joint Russo-British communications on frontier.
Memorandum on Present State of Turco-Persian Boundary Question and Condition upon which its Solution would seem to depend, by E. Kemball.
Memorandum on History to date on Turco-Persian Boundary Delimitation, by E. Hertslet.
Dispute in Khanaqin region.
Dispute over sovereignty over Shallah Island in Shatt al Arab.
Papers respecting cession of Khotour to Persia under Conference of San Stefano and Article LX of Treaty of Berlin.
Anglo-Russian Delimitation of Frontier at Khotour.
Memorandum on the Boundary Dispute between Turkey and Persia in the Pusht-i-kuh District by E. Hertslet.
Memorandum on negotiations respecting the erection of fortifications on the Shatt al Arab in connection with the Treaty of Erzeroum of 1847.
Report on position of Fao Fort.
Threatened diversion of Mandeli water supply by order of Persian Government.
Neutral land at Zohab.
British assurances to protect territorial integrity of Persia.
Turkish acknowledgement that Muhammarah did not form part of Turkish territory.
Claims of Shaikh of Muhammara.
Suggested mediation for the Lahijan frontier.
Picot´s reports from frontier zone.
Note on the Turkish fort at Fao.
Situation at Muhammara and assurances made to Shaikh of Muhammarah regarding sovereignty by Britain.
Turkish occupation of Urmia in Persia.
Alliance of Shaikh of Muhammarah and Bakthiari Khans.
Ottoman Commission to levy dues on shipping in Shatt al Arab.
Maunsell´s survey and map.
Anxiety of Shaikh of Muhammarah over Karun concession.
Memorandum by Cox on assurances desired by Shaikh.
Britain agrees to Russian proposal to raise question of reconvening mixed boundary commission.
Proposed representation to Hague Tribunal should delimitation commission fail.
Tehran Protocol signed by Ottomans and Persians instituting new delimitation commission.
A Précis of the Relations of the British Government with the Tribes and Shaikhs of Arabistan, by Lt. A.T. Wilson.
Turco-Persian frontier negotiations at Constantinople; British correspondence.
Procès-verbaux of eighteen unsuccessful meetings of new delimitation commission.
Memorandum respecting frontier between Muhammarah and Turkey by Mr A. Parker.
Memorandum respecting Shallah Island in the Shatt al Arab by Mr E. Parkes.
Position of Khanaqin and interests of Anglo-Persian oil company.
Situation in Kermanshah area of frontier.

Report by Mr H. Shipley on the Turco-Persian Frontier Commission´s progress in 1912.
Declaration relative to the Muhammarah frontier by Hakki Pasha.
Note from the Porte to the Russian Ambassador on the Turco-Persian boundary.
Anglo-Turkish Agreement of July 29, 1913.
Identical Notes communicated to the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Various drafts of protocols respecting Turco-Persian frontier.
Constantinople Protocol of November 17, 1913.
Correspondence regarding the proposed Shatt al Arab Riverain Commission.

Report on the Proceedings of the Turco-Persian Frontier Commission from July 16 until its termination October 26, 1914, by Capt. Wilson.
Recueil des Procès-verbaux des Séances de la Commission de Délimitation de la Frontière Turco-Persane 1913-1914.
Report on sanitary matters in Mesopotamia, the Shiah Holy Cities and on the Turco-Persian Frontier, by F.G. Clemow.
Basra Port Declaration of 1919.

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.