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IN NOVEMBER 1914, the Ottoman Empire threw in its lot with that of imperial Germany and the Austrian Empire in World War I. Consequently, when the Western Allies were victorious, the Muslim Ottoman Empire, which had once posed a mortal threat to Christian Europe, was swept away. The words of the Iranian poet Firdawsi, which Ottoman Emperor Mehmet II spoke as he entered vanquished Constantinople in 1453, now stood as an epitaph for his empire. Firdawsi wrote, “the spider serves as gate-keeper in Khusrau's [Cyrus the Persian's] hall; the owl plays his music in the palace of Afraisiyab.”

With the fall of Damascus, Syria, in 1918 to the British Empire forces of General Edmund Allenby, the future of what would be Irak—later Iraq—entered the spotlight. Captain ...

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