This day in history: The Anglo-Iraqi War of 1941 and the surrender of Baghdad

On this day in 1941 during the early stages of World War II rebel Iraqi forces surrendered Baghdad to Great Britain ending the month long Anglo-Iraqi War. Though it is a short and little know conflict the battles for the Iraqi cities of Baghdad, Basra, Fallujah, and Habbaniya were apart of a critical proxy war and anti-insurgent operation won by the British against Iraqi rebel militia armies with the diplomatic support and later military support/intervention of Nazi Germany's Luftwaffe squadron Fliegerführer Irak.

German airplane that served in the expedition to Iraq in May 1941

Great Britain's interest diplomatically and militarily in Iraq was definitely a form of neo-cololiasm in the 'Inter War' era following Iraq's League of Nations mandate to Great Britain in 1920. In 1930 a mutual assistance treaty cemented Anglo-Iraqi relations for 25 years, in 1932 Iraq gained its independence but Britain's influence remained strong because of oil interests which dominated their diplomatic dealings with at what that time was a young unassuming nation. The British maintained two RAF bases within the country and its geographical position in proximity to the Suez Canal made Iraq a prime defensive target.

Despite rather intense anti-imperialist feelings from a majority of the diverse Arab population of Iraq, Great Britain maintained influence through a sympathetic Royal Family succession of Hashemite rulers, under their patriarch Faisal I. 

King Faisal I, King of Iraq 1921-1933

Through originally secret negotiations in Berlin the Nazi's gave their support militarily and ideologically, to an Iraqi bid to overthrow the British, which came in April of 1941 with coup led by a core of rebel Iraqi officers known as the Golden Square, who ousted the British backed government and who proclaimed an alliance with the Axis powers. This April 1941 coup d'état deposed Prime Minister, General Taha el-Hashimi

As far as Britain and her Imperial forces were concerned this new government led by prime minister Rashid Ali al-Gaylani was illegal and could severely weaken the military's presence in a region where they were already fighting the Vichy Frence, the Italians, and the German Afrika Korps.

Despite the Luftwaffe's presence and a swell in anti-British propaganda, Commonwealth forces were able to defend their RAF bases and counter attack the rebel forces successfully.  Of the fiercest battles in this "small war", the Battles for Fallujah and then Baghdad were among the most intense. A diverse UK force of British, Commonwealth, Indian, Gurkha, Arab (Transjordan) Legion, and loyal Iraqi forces advance on Baghdad in series of fierce battles. The Habforce, from British Palestine, a combined arms unit of horse cavalry and mechanized cavalry also played a decisive role in defeating the rebel threat.

RAF armored car in Iraq 1941

On May 31st the rebel leaders fled the city and Baghdad. By then just about all of Iraq was retaken by the military of Great Britain. Following the defeat of the rebels a violent pogrom broke out against the Jewish populations in Baghdad, despite Britain's control over much of the country the collapse of Rashid Ali's government triggered great unrest amongst the Arab populations of Baghdad and Fallujah.

Iconic photo of British troops looking out over the Tigris river into Baghdad


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    Your article is very well done, a good read.

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