Imposition of Uqair Protocol

Imposition of Uqair Protocol

Date: Saturday, 2 Dec 1922
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The Uqair Protocol was issued on 2 December 1922, in response to the Wahhabi Bedouin raiders, operating from Nejd, under Abdul Aziz ibn Abdul Rahman ibn Saud. The British High Commissioner to Baghdad, Sir Percy Cox (previously, during the British invasion of Otttoman Mesopotamia in World War I, the British Resident in Basra), met with ibn Saud and the British Political Agent to Kuwait, Major John More, at Uqair where he imposed the Uqair Protocol which defined the boundaries between Iraq and Nejd; and between Kuwait and Nejd.

In a frequently cited article, Washington Post journalist Glenn Frankel described how British High Commissioner Sir Percy Cox settled boundaries between Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, thus:

The meeting had gone on for five grueling days with no compromise in sight. So one night in late November 1922, Cox, Britain's representative in Baghdad, summoned to his tent Sheik Abdul-Aziz ibn Saud, soon to become ruler of Saudi Arabia, to explain the facts of life as the British carved up the remnants of the defeated Ottoman empire.

"It was astonishing to see [ibn Saud] being reprimanded like a naughty schoolboy by His Majesty's High Commissioner and being told sharply that he, Sir Percy Cox, would himself decide the type and general line of the frontier," recalled Harold Dickson, the British military attach´┐Ż to the region, in his memoirs.

"This ended the impasse. Ibn Saud almost broke down and pathetically remarked that Sir Percy was his father and mother who made him and raised him from nothing to the position he held and that he would surrender half his kingdom, nay the whole, if Sir Percy ordered."

Within two days, the deal was done. The modern borders of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait were established by British Imperial fiat at what became known as the Uqauir Conference.

The quotations above come, in fact, from the memoirs of Cox's aide, Major Harold Dickson (H.R.P. Dickson, "Kuwait and Her Neighbors", London: Allen and Unwin, 1956):

On the sixth day Sir Percy entered the lists. He told both sides that, at the rate they were going, nothing would be settled for a year. At a private meeting at which only he, Ibn Sa'ud and I were present, he lost all patience over what he called the childish attitude of Ibn Sa'ud in his tribal boundary idea. Sir Percy's Arabic was not too good, so I did the translating.

It was astonishing to see the Sultan of Nejd being reprimanded like a naughty schoolboy by H.M. High Commissioner, and being told sharply that he, Sir Percy Cox, would himself decide on the type and general line of the frontier. This ended the impasse. Ibn Sa'ud almost broke down, and pathetically remarked that Sir Percy was his father and brother, who had made him and raised him from nothing to the position he held, and that he would surrender half his kingdom, nay the whole, if Sir Percy ordered. Having put Ibn Sa'ud in his place, Cox was ready to hand down the law.

As far as I can remember, Ibn Sa'ud took little further part in the frontier discussions, leaving it to Sir Percy to decide for him this vexed question. At a general meeting of the conference, Sir Percy took a red pencil and very carefully drew in on the map of Arabia a boundary line from the Persian Gulf to Jabal 'Anaizan, close to the Transjordan frontier. This gave Iraq a large area of her territory claimed by Nejd. Obviously, to placate Ibn Sa'ud, he ruthlessly deprived Kuwait of nearly two-thirds of her territory and gave it to Nejd, his argument being that the power of Ibn Sabah [the desert title of the sheikh of Kuwait] was much less in the desert that [than] it had been when the Anglo-Turkish Agreement [1913] had been drawn up.[3] South and west of Kuwait proper, he drew out two zones, which he declared should be neutral and known as the Kuwait Neutral Zone and the Iraq Neutral Zone.


At about nine o'clock that evening there was an amazing sequel. Ibn Sa'ud asked to see Sir Percy alone. Sir Percy took me with him. Ibn Sa'ud was by himself, standing in the center of his great reception tent. He seemed terribly upset. "My friend," he moaned, "you have deprived me of half my kingdom. Better take it all and let me go into retirement."

Still standing, this great strong man, magnificent in his grief, suddenly burst into sobs. Deeply disturbed, Sir Percy seized his hand and began to weep also. Tears were rolling down his cheeks. No one but the three of us were present, and I relate exactly what I saw.

The emotional storm did not last long. Still holding Ibn Sa'ud's hand Sir Percy said: "My friend, I know exactly how you feel, and for this reason gave you two-thirds of Kuwait's territory. I don't know how Ibn Sabah will take the blow." Cox soon found how Ibn Sabah took the blow.

Both Major More and myself, I only in a secretarial capacity, were present when Sir Percy broke the news to the ruler of Kuwait that he had been obliged to give away to Ibn Sa'ud nearly two-thirds of the kingdom claimed by Sheikh Ahmad. Sheikh Ahmad pathetically asked why he had done this without even consulting him. Sir Percy replied that, on this unfortunate occasion, the sword had been mightier than the pen, and that had he not conceded the territory, Ibn Sa'ud would certainly have soon picked a quarrel and taken it, if not more, by force of arms. As it was, he (Sir Percy) had placated Sheikh Ahmad's powerful neighbor and brought about a friendly feeling for Kuwait.


Sheikh Ahmad then asked if Great Britain had not entered the war in defence of the rights of small nations. Sir Percy admitted that this was correct. "If some day," said Sheikh Ahmad, "Ibn Sa'ud dies and I grow strong like my grandfather, Mubarak, will the British Government object if I denounce the unjust frontier line and recover my lost territories?"

"No!" laughed Sir Percy. "And may God bless your efforts." Thus faced with a fait accompli Sheikh Ahmad agreed to add his signature to the agreement.

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