The photo shows what was its HQ.
On 5th November 1956 Britain and France invaded Egypt in what became known as the Suez Crisis. The Iraqi Government then had Nuri al-Said as Prime Minister and were under British influence having signed the Baghdad Pact in 1955. Immediately riots broke out against the Suez invasion in areas such as Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Najaf, Kafu and Hilla. These could be seen as triggers which eventually led to the Iraqi Revolution of 1958 under Qasim.
At the time of the outbreak of the unrest I was in Iraq. I had undertaken the bulk of my National Service in the Royal Air Force at a Movements Unit in Basra. But as I was due to be demobbed I had been moved to the RAF camp at Habbaniya to await a plane to take me back to Britain. So I did not directly experience the unrest, being stuck in the camp.
But on 5th November a flight in front of mine set of from Habbaniya to Cyprus on the first leg of its journey back to Britain. But as it was approaching a fighter base in Syria permission was withdrawn for it to fly over that country. So it had to double back to Habbaniya.
Whilst having a meal in Habbaniya I listened to the BBC News over the loud speakers telling us that there were no British troops in Iraq ! Plans were then made, however, for RAF flights to and from Iraq to be made via Ankara in Turkey. And I was given a place on the first of these. Although we were intercepted by Turkish fighters who made signs to us that we would be shot down if we did not return to Iraq. Luckily they must have received radio information confirming that we had permission to proceed, as they then flew away.
As reservists who had completed their National Service were at the time being called up to help with the fight in Eqypt, I was worried that I would not be demobbed and be caught up in the conflict. But I only had clerical experience working with Iraqi State Railways and Shipping lines. Pen pushers such as myself (filling out Arabic forms in English) were not what the invasion needed.
Unfortunately, my life was then taken over by my being demobbed and returning home to my previous job as a railway clerk. So I never discovered exactly what turmoil faced my former RAF colleagues at Basra. I had served there for 20 months and had never experienced any problems whatsoever from the local community; yet I moved almost daily around areas such as its railway station, good yards, docks and the Basra town centre. Then Iraqis worked as clerks and labourers on our camp. But this peace and tranquility are likely to have changed a great deal after 5 November. I had avoided any problems by the skin of my teeth.
For what was happening in Iraq at the above time, the following is a useful source – pages 115 to 117 of “Iraq” by Adeed Dawisha, Princeton University Press. I refer to the first paperback version published in 2009.
It was, however, my experiences in Iraq and the Suez Crisis which drew me into subsequent political activity. I have since attempted to make up for my failure to reconnect with RAF Basra personnel at the time of my demob and now hold a proud certificate of honorary membership of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions – who surfaced in 2003.
For more on Iraq follow the link below