Friday, November 06, 2015

(Iraq 1) : Britain's Military Heritage In Iraq - Started 101 Years Ago Today

1. 101 years ago today and just three and a half months after the start of the First World War, Britain invaded Mesopotamia. British troops (who were mainly from India) captured the old fort at Fao (al-Faw) which then formed part of the Ottoman Empire. Fao is located at the south of what is now Iraq. It is where the Shatt-al-Arab river flows into the Persian Gulf. The Shatt-al-Arab itself starts at a point where two other main rivers flow into each other. These are the Tigris and Euphrates. They both commence in what is now Turkey, with the Euphrates then cutting fully across a significant section of Syria.

The photograph below is of British troops in Mesopotamia during the subsequent campaign.

2. Mesopotamia is seen as the cradle of civilization. It was where the Garden of Eden is believed to have been. The story of Noah and the flood fits in with an ancient Sumerian legend about an old man who survived 40 days and nights in an ark. Its main rivers produced rich fertile soil and a supply of water for irrigation. The civilizations that emerged around these rivers being amongst the earliest known non-nomadic agrarian societies. In terms of written history alone, Mesopotamia goes back to 3100 BC. It has a rich cultural heritage. But numbers of its ancient sites are now being destroyed by ISIS.  Way back it was part of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires: with later periods in which (amongst many others) Alexander the Great, the Romans and the Persian Empire had a presence.

3. Britain embarked upon its invasion at Fao soon after the start of the First World War, because the Ottoman Empire (which then dominated much of Mesopotamia) had recently signed a treaty with Germany. There was a particular worry about the danger to Britain's oil supplies in neighbouring Persia, especially in relation to the Anglo Persian Oil Company.

4. A long and bitter struggle then took place. But when British troops captured Baghdad in 1917, the Ottoman Empire collapsed. Britain then moved to unite and control what became the basis of modern Iraq in the vilayets of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. In 1919, however, it faced insurrections from the indigenous population who were far from keen about the prospect of having a fresh foreign imperial power emerging over them.

5. In 1920, however, Britain obtained a League of Nation Mandate to enable it to continue to play a major role in the development of Iraq. Following further unrest, Britain manoeuvred to create a situation in which a sympathetic regime under King Faisal was accepted in a carefully calibrated plebiscite, with a 96% endorsement.

Here is a link to a fine book which covers the above period. Note the comments about its considerable strengths.

6. Iraq operated under the British Mandate until 1932 when nominally it became independent. But before it gained its formal Independence, the United Kingdom achieved the Anglo-Iraq Treaty of 1930. This included permission to establish air bases for British use at Habbaniya and Shiaba, as British Crown territory. It was a situation that added to discontent amongst wide elements of the Iraqi population.

7. In April 1941 during the Second World War, there was a coup d'etat in Iraq when Rashid Ali ceased power and asked Germany for military assistance in the event of war with the British. Britain then sent troops into Iraq to topple the new regime and remained in effective control of the country until 1947 with a new Anglo-Iraqi Treaty being signed in Portsmouth the following year. This set up a joint defence board , but the Treaty was abandoned following mass protests in Baghdad known as al-Wathba (the leap). Britain, however, retained its bases in Habbaniya and Shiaba under the terms of the 1930 Anglo-Iraq Treaty.

8. In 1955 a pro-Western defence alliance known as the Baghdad Pact was signed between Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and the United Kingdom. As part of its terms the British Crown Territories at Habbaniya and Shiaba air bases were handed over to Iraq, although Britain still retained (but down-sized) it forces there and also at its Movements Unit which operated in Basra on the banks of the Shatt-al-Arab river. (Where I was undertaking my National Service at the time) The Baghdad Pact also led to the disbanding of a force called the Iraqi Levies. This force was made up mainly of Assyrians and had British Officers. It had originated as a local Arab armed scouting force during the First World War. On their disbanding, the Levies were given the opportunity to join the Iraqi Army, which then took over their previous facilities. But few Assyrians did this.

9. In one form and another Britain retained a continual presence and influence inside Iraq until the nation experienced a major regime change in 1958. The transformation in Iraqi politics in that year was itself stimulated by major unrest in Iraq over Britain's involvement in the Suez crisis of 1956. In 1959, the remaining RAF personnel and their aircraft were then obliged to withdraw from Iraq.

10. Britain's next direct military involvement in Iraq arose in response to Saddam Hussein's invasion and annexation of neighbouring Kuwait. Under "Desert Storm" in 1991, USA-led forces engaged in an air bombardment of Iraq. The RAF undertaking low-level attacks on Iraqi airbases. The Royal Navy provided scope for helicopters to destroy much of the Iraqi Navy. Whilst British Challenger tanks destroyed 300 Iraqi vehicles in both Kuwait and in pursuing Iraqi troops along the "road to Basra", until the plug was pulled on this military operation as the slaughter of Iraqi Troops was gaining bad publicity.

11. From 1992 up to the United States-led coalition invasion of Iraq in 2003, two "No Fly Zones" were enforced upon Iraq by USA, British and French air forces. The zone in the north of Iraq was established shortly after the Gulf War, extending from the 36th parallel northwards and providing protection for Iraqi Kurds, who had faced genocidal attacks from Saddam Hussein's regime - especially back in 1988. A zone was also established south of the 32nd parallel to defend the Shia population from attacks by Hussein's minority Sunni based regime. In 1996 this southern zone was expanded from the 33rd parallel.

12. The US-led invasion of Iraq took place in 2003, consisting of 21 days of major combat. UK forces took responsibility for supervision in the southern area of Iraq around Basra. They mainly withdrew from Iraq in 2009, whilst leaving behind some troops for training purposes. The final 170 British troops departed in October 2012. US forces finally left in December 2012. Iraqi Body Count estimated that 174,000 Iraqis were killed as a result of the conflict up to 2013. 4,779 Coalition troops were killed, plus a total of 1,674 in the categories of contractors, medics and aid workers. Sectarian conflict has continued to add significantly to the numbers of Iraqi killings.

Here is a most worthwhile history of Iraq which brings matters up to recent times. 

This telling blog entitled "Musings On Iraq" has been running since 10 September, 2008.

This is my own thread on Iraq. It has fallen away in recent years, but (hopefully) it will now be revived.



Unknown said...

One hundred years of imperialism and British politicians are still sticking their noses in other people’s affairs. To my mind these politicians and arm-chair generals have learnt nothing from the mess and human catastrophe that that they have created in the Middle-East, are still at it. It’s beyond misguided it’s absolute lunacy writ-large.

During my national service 1958/58 with the York & Lancaster Regiment in Aden (the end of Empire) I witnessed terrible things done by the British Army in the name of British values. And you know what, Harry, not once, did anyone bother to tell us thick squaddies why and what we were doing there. Just do as your told and don't ask questions.

And our armchair generals (many of them Labour politicians) still want to use weapons of mass destruction and bomb the shit out of Syria and if it involves a bit of collateral damage, so what - Hey ho - you can’t make an omelet with breaking a few eggs (heads). But when these posh boys and girls put their hands up and vote for war, it’s always the poor and most vulnerable they send, not themselves and their families.

Reminds me of a statement by Eamon (the medic) in that exlecent film “71” about the war in Northern Ireland when he says its: "posh cunts telling thick cunts to kill poor cunts"

And In an age of austerity we have Maria Eagle MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, (its never defence and always war) wanting to spend £167 billion (and rising) on weapons of mass destruction that can never be used and are not independent. And she goes on the Andrew Marr show (Sunday) and tells the British people that she’s comfortable with the highly political and controversial comments by General Sir Richard Houghton on Trident.

The woman's delusional as are all arm-chair generals who want to bomb and stir up sectarian violence Syria and the Middle East.

Harry Barnes said...

Ernie : I intend to produced a blog item about my own experiences in Iraq. I undertook the bulk of my National Service in an RAF Movements Unit at Basra in Iraq in 1955-56. We helped to see that goods landed at the port at Basra were transhipped by rail to Baghdad. The RAF collected these and took them by road to the Habbaniya RAF Camp some 50 miles to the west of Baghdad. Some goods would then be sent to Basra from Baghdad to be shipped back to the UK. There was also an RAF near us at Shiaba, but they tended to collect there own goods. RAF personel would also move by rail between Basra and Baghdad, so I was very much a railway clerk working closely with Iraqi State Railways. With "Labour Friends of Iraq" I also visited Iraqi Kurdistan in 2006 to meet up with Iraqi Trade Unionists from all over their country.

I am a bit busy until next week, then I hope to deliver and draw the lessons.