With the recent Remembrance Sunday commemorations, I would like to draw readers’ attention to a much neglected chapter in the history of the Second World War.
In April 1941 a group of Iraqi generals known as the Golden Square launched a coup against the pro-British government in Baghdad with the aim of handing the country’s vast oil reserves over to the Nazis in an effort to gain independence. The following month, following the British government’s decision to deploy Indian troops to Basra, Iraqi armed forces were dispatched to the RAF airbase at Habbaniya in an effort to prevent RAF planes at the base from flying. In effect, this was an attempt to goad the forces based at the air base into battle. British forces responded by bombing the Iraqi troops attempting to besiege the base. In the ensuing battle which lasted for five days the British garrison had suffered 13 men killed with 21 badly wounded in exchange for having inflicted between 500 to 1,000 casualties on the besieging force, and numerous more men had been taken prisoner.
By the end of the month the rising had been suppressed, but this was not the end of the story. In response to the suppression, the Jewish population of Baghdad became the subject of reprisals by supporters of the coup. In the first two days of June, Jewish businesses and homes were attacked. Between 150 and 200 people are thought to have been killed.
This episode of British military contribution is rarely touched on, despite the events of recent years, yet it was significant. Marshall of the RAF Lord Tedder, commander-in-chief of the air forces in the Middle East was quoted as saying two years later that had the battle been lost and the airbase overcome by the rebels “the whole European war would have been changed drastically.”A petition has been launched for a memorial. Sign it at www.change.org.