Britain’s interests in the Ottoman Empire in the final decades of its existence were concentrated primarily in Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf. Concerned to maintain British supremacy in an area considered vital to the defence of India and to communications with the eastern Empire in general, Britain could uphold this interest by upholding two others of long standing: her commercial and her political dominance in the region. Foreign commercial interests were not debarred from the area, although any attempt to use them to usurp Britain’s political dominance through the local political influence that followed in the train of an established commercial position or, alternatively, by a direct naval and military presence was not to be tolerated. Lord Lansdowne so warned Britain’s fellow Great Powers, and particularly, at that time, Russia, in his speech of May 1903 in the House of Lords.1 The Foreign Secretary’s warning was underlined by the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, when, six months later, in resounding tones, he reminded the sheikhs of the south Persian Gulf coast of their trucial, dependent relations with Britain:

We were here before any other Power in modern times had shown its face in these waters. We found strife, and we have created order. It was our commerce as well as your security that was threatened and called for protection. At every port along these coasts the subjects of the King of England still reside and trade. The great Empire of India, which is our duty to defend, lies almost at your gates. We saved you from extinction at the hands of your neighbours. We opened these seas to the ships of all nations, and enabled their flags to fly in peace. We have not seized or held your territory. We have not destroyed your independence but have preserved it. We are not now going to throw away this century of costly and triumphant enterprise. The peace of these waters must still be maintained; your independence will continue to be upheld; and the influence of the British Government must remain supreme.2