The Pittsburgh Press (May 2, 1941)
NEAR EASTERN WAR FLARES IN OIL FIELDS
Pro-Axis Baghdad troops started shelling, London says
London, May 2 –
Radio Berlin tonight from Baghdad that Iraqi troops have occupied airdromes, strategic road junctions and oil fields in Iraq.
By Wallace Carroll, United Press staff writer
London, May 2 –
British Empire forces were reliably reported today to have clashed with the troops of the pro-Axis Iraqi government on a new Near Eastern war front after Iraqi artillery shelled the British air base at Habbaniya.
It was reported in reliable quarters that Iraqi forces today opened the attack.
British forces stationed at the key Habbaniya Airdrome were believed to have replied to the Iraqi fire.
Says treaty is broken
Informed sources said:
It may be assumed that the British force at Habbaniya has taken any action necessary.
The German radio, as heard in New York by NBC and CBS, reported that Iraqi reservists have been mobilized and have occupied the vital Mosul oil fields and stationed a strong guard around Basra, a Persian Gulf port where Imperial Forces sent to Iraq were landed.
It was said reliably that the Iraqi action in attacking the Habbaniya Airport constituted a breach of the Anglo-Iraqi treaty, presumably freeing the British to take whatever action they regard as necessary to safeguard their interests in this strategic backdoor to Turkey, Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia.
British circles claimed that “the mass of Iraq is not behind the usurper now wielding power in Baghdad,” but declined to speculate on the possibility of a British-armed occupation of the Iraqi capital.
Reports here were sketchy on the action around Habbaniya and it was not certain whether the clash was merely a skirmish or a prelude to wider action.
BBC reports, heard here by CBS and NBC, claimed that British women and children had been assembled at Habbaniya after being evacuated from Baghdad under safe conducts granted by the Iraqi government.
Has 28,000 in Army
The second contingent of British troops landed at the Iraqi port of Basra yesterday over the protest of the Baghdad government.
Baghdad, controlled by a government installed by a coup d’état last month, reported in some quarters to have been engineered by Germany, has at its disposal an army, including the air force, of 28,000 officers and men.
Iraq is of vital importance to the British because of the Mosul oil fields, the pipeline to Haifa, on the Mediterranean, and its position immediately south of Turkey to thwart a possible German route to challenge British control of the Suez Canal, the Red Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Since 1936, Iraq has had a compulsory military training of 18 months to two years for all men of 19 to 25. The Defense Ministry has been advised by a British military mission. With an area of 116,000 square miles, Iraq has a population of about 3.5 million, mostly Muslim.
From Basra, a railroad winds 345 miles to Baghdad and a narrow gauge railway connects Baghdad with the northern town of Kirkuk, 201 miles away. A railway also connects Mosul with the Syrian railways.