The Iraq War (1941)

U.S. Department of State (April 30, 1941)

740.0011 European War 1939/10502: Telegram

The Minister Resident in Iraq to the Secretary of State

Baghdad, April 30, 1941 — 5 p.m.
[Received 10:30 p.m.]


Midnight last night mobile units Iraqi Army including tanks, armored cars, field guns, cavalry and infantry commenced passing Legation from their nearby base. I sent for British intelligence officer, my neighbor. He went to Embassy and from there notified British Air Base at Habbaniyah. This was first notice they received of the event. This Iraqi Army proceeded to Habbaniyah arriving before dawn and took up commanding positions on heights overlooking the air base. The commander of the base was then informed that the army was engaged in exercises and that if any British planes should leave the ground the army would attack. The reply was that the British Air Force was also under instructions to exercise and that if Iraqi Army should interfere it would be considered an act of war. British Air Force believe they can dispose of Iraqi Army in short order.

Iraqi Government has issued notice informing public they have offered British all facilities in accordance with treaty but that British have made demands which infringe Iraq’s sovereignty and consequently the army has taken charge and will defend sovereign rights of country.

A mixed lot of Americans and miscellaneous foreigners and some Iraqi subjects numbering about 100 fearing mob violence have taken refuge in Legation.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 2, 1941)


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.



London, May 2 (UP) –
The Ministry of Economic Warfare today announced that cargo navicerts henceforth would be necessary for all seaborne goods consigned to Iran and Iraq by way of the Persian Gulf from neutral countries outside Europe.

The ministry warned that ships not carrying navicerts were liable to seizure. It said that, effective May 15, ships sailing to ports in the Persian Gulf would require navicerts.

The ministry said:

These will be issued provided that all items of cargo for Iran and Iraq and all existing navicert consignee countries be covered by navicerts or be loaded in British Empire or Allied ports. Covering documents are not necessary for goods consigned to other destinations in the Persian Gulf but carrying-vessels will require navicerts.


Today’s war moves –
By J. W. T. Mason, United Press war expert

Efforts by the new pro-Axis Iraq government to prevent powerful British forces entering the country are part of a wider movement to create suspicion of British power in the minds of the Turks. There is little reason to doubt that Franz von Papen, German Ambassador to Turkey, has been the moving spirit in this action.

Iraq, before the last world war, comprised three vilayets under Turkish rule. Their freedom from the Turks was due entirely to the British Army which fought the Turks in Mesopotamia, now included in Iraq.

The subsequent grant of independence to Iraq, which had been mandated to Great Britain, was likewise due to British action. The recent anti-British coup d’état in Iraq can be considered an act of ingratitude; but it apparently was accomplished by Axis diplomacy, pointing out that Turkey, the former enemy of Iraq’s freedom, is now allied with the British Empire.

Turkey is suspicious that Iraq seeks to expand its northern boundaries into Turkish territory. If the Germans can create an impression in Ankara that their new influence in Iraq can either stimulate or repress this ambition, then von Papen may widen his influence with the Turkish government.

The original movement of British troops, in Iraq and their present reinforcement, thus is not concerned entirely with the protection of the Iraqi oil fields. Deeper than that objective seems to be a struggle, below the surface, between the Axis and the British to impress the Turkish authorities.

If Great Britain succeeds in checking the antagonism of the Iraqi government and taking adequate military precautions to protect British interests, the Turks will rest easier. In that event, Germany will have suffered a diplomatic defeat in the Middle East.

Should the British policy show weakness in Iraq, which does not appear likely, the Turks will regard the situation with uncertainty at least. In that event, the Germans will expect to gain some advantage in the present struggle for influencing Turkish policies.

A clash between the British and the Iraqi governments, if it continues for any considerable time, must make the Turkish military authorities uneasy regarding their disposition of troops. They cannot afford to leave their frontier bordering Iraq unprotected in the event of the pro-German Iraqi administration gaining power and prestige.

Any such disquietude at Turkish general staff headquarters would be advantageous to Germany, at the present time, when a Turkish army is mobilized before the German forces in Bulgaria and eastern Greece. The Germans are unquestionably counting on such complications to cause the Turks to reconsider their attitude toward the Axis.

The quick German conquest of Greece surely is being counted upon by Hitler to exercise some influence on the Turks and to open the way for subtle anti-British propaganda. Von Papen is reported today to be on his way back to Ankara from Berlin where he had been receiving new instructions regarding Middle Eastern developments. He can be expected to make the most of the situation in Iraq if any opportunity remains.

A strong stand taken by Great Britain in maintaining her treaty rights to safeguard her interests in Iraq should calm Turkish uneasiness and check the German intrigue. Especially does it seem desirable from the British standpoint to keep the Iraq situation well in hand at this time, because of the uncomfortable reactions caused by the Greek situation.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 3, 1941)


British forces may march on Baghdad before German aid arrives – Turkish radio says pro-Nazi troops take over Mosul oil wells

By Frederick Kuh, United Press staff writer

London, May 3 –
British airplanes, flying across the Iraqi desert to the aid of the Empire forces, have attacked the batteries which shelled the Habbaniya Airdrome and have silenced several guns, it was said authoritatively today.

The situation in Iraq was explained in the following statement issued in an authoritative quarter:

It is learned in London that in Iraq, hostilities were started yesterday by the Iraqi forces against the British airdrome at Habbaniya.

The Iraqis previously had surrounded the cantonment and dug themselves in on high ground. The cantonment was heavily shelled and our aircraft retaliated with action against the Iraqi artillery, silencing some guns.

Fighting continues.

Iraqis in oil fields

Turkey’s Radio Ankara, in a broadcast picked up here, quoted the Iraqi Radio as asserting that the Mosul oil fields and other oil installations were in the hands of pro-German Iraqi troops and that fighting continued there.

Military quarters here reported that the British forces in Iraq, with the aid of reinforcements, might march on Baghdad, the capital, in an attempt to crash the Rashid Ali al-Gailani regime quickly before Germany could send it aid and menace the oil supplies of the British fleet, air force and mechanized army in the Middle East.

It was admitted that the British forces at present in Iraq were greatly outnumbered, but military experts expressed confidence that only a reasonably strong body of men would be needed now for such a drive.

There were suggestions in diplomatic and British quarters that in firing on British troops at the Habbaniya Airdrome, 65 miles from Baghdad, the Rashid al-Gailani government had been too hasty.

Appeal sent to Germany

It was taken for granted that the Iraqi government had appealed for German aid and that Germany would give aid if it possibly could.

Informants here suggested, however, that the Baghdad government had acted too soon for its own good and to suit the Germans.

Diplomatic quarters expressed belief that the Iraqi government hoped to hold out until German armed forces could arrive by air, possibly from bases in French Syria.

The position of Premier Rashid Ali al-Gailani was said to be delicate because not only the regent and government he deposed, but the powerful sheiks of the Euphrates, were opposed to his pro-Germanism.

Confidence was expressed here that British military leader in the Middle East would be able to deal with the situation firmly, but at the same time experts warned that the potential seriousness should not be underestimated.

If serious fighting in Iraq developed, it would be a strain on the Middle Eastern forces, already taxed to defend Suez.

Latest estimates were that the Iraqi Army could put into the field between 25,000 and 30,000 men with 12 batteries (48 guns of artillery, four or five squadrons of planes anywhere up to 75 or more planes) and a few mechanized units.

Experts here expressed belief that a much smaller British force could handle the situation, especially as the British troops are first-rate and include many of the famous Gurkhas and Sikhs from India. But anxiety was shown lest the Germans had sent many officers, and perhaps even enlisted men, into Iraq as civilians.

The British oil supply is in danger of sabotage by men now in Iraq or men who might arrive by plane. It was also necessary, from the British viewpoint, to deal firmly with the Iraqi government because of Turkey.

Turks show uneasiness

A Turkish spokesman here showed uneasiness in discussing the situation and expressed the hope that early restoration of a government friendly to Britain would be possible because, he emphasized, Iraq is at Turkey’s back door.

Private advices received in New York from Turkey reported that the Turkish government was drafting into national service non-Mohammedan citizens of 20 military classes, partly to control Fifth Columnists who might spread alarmist reports.

The Zionist Review here printed numerous urgent pleas from Jews in Palestine that they be permitted to form a home guard and, as the publication put it:

Fight for the cause of freedom and protect the homeland against both external attacks and attacks by Quislings within the gates.

Broadcast to people

The BBC last night broadcast an appeal to the people of Iraq to:

…disown Rashid Ali and those few military leaders who, for the sake of their own gain, have sought a quarrel with Great Britain and betrayed the interest of your country.

The appeal continued:

Rashid Ali has overthrown the Iraqi constitution and threatened the life of the lawful regent, whom he has driven from the country. He is ready to extend the war to Iraq at the bidding of the Axis and will bring untold misery to your country unless he is quickly repudiated… Overthrow these mercenary intriguers and let law and order reign once more.

Here is the newest seat of warfare – Iraq, which is paradoxically one of the youngest and oldest nations in the world.


79 years later that sentence is still true.



Berlin, May 3 (UP) –
The official news agency reported today that 26 British airplanes had been destroyed by Iraqi bombers in fighting at Habbaniya and that the British had lost a number of tanks in an unsuccessful attack on an airbase in the Rutbah area of southwestern Iraq.

An unconfirmed report circulated in Berlin that the Iraqis had already halted the flow of oil from the British fields in Iraq through the pipelines leading to the Palestine coast at Haifa. These reports however said the pipeline had not been destroyed.

Although it was emphasized that German sympathies were entirely with the Iraqi government, Nazi sources would not confirm that the Baghdad regime had appealed to Germany for aid.

Quoting an official Iraqi communiqué, the official news agency said:

Five British planes were destroyed on the ground at the airfield at Habbaniya. In the course of Friday, 26 British planes were destroyed. Iraqi fliers dropped 30 tons of bombs on the airfield at Habbaniya.

Habbaniya is the RAF base reported shelled yesterday by the Iraqi. British women and children from Baghdad as well as the British armed forces were concentrated there, London reported.

An attempt by a British motorized division to occupy forcefully the post of Rutbah and the adjoining airfield in western Iraq, which is equidistant from the frontiers of Syria, Transjordan and Saudi Arabia, was thwarted and repulsed.

A number of destroyed British tanks remain on the battleground.



Rome, May 3 –
Iraq has made a formal appeal for German aid through Luigi Gabrielli, Italian minister at Baghdad, diplomatic quarters reported today, and belief was expressed that Germany would help by all possible means.

Italian dispatches reported that heavy fighting continued between British and Iraqi troops at the Habbaniya Airdrome and that the Iraqi forces were holding their own.

Diplomatic informants said Iraq had appealed for German aid through the Italian minister because the former Iraqi government, ousted recently by a coup d’état, had broken relations with Germany early in the war.

Italian sources suggested the possibility that the Iraq situation might “inflame the whole Mohammedan world” against Great Britain and result in the ousting of Britain from the entire Near East.



Istanbul, Turkey, May 3 (UP) –
German sources intimated today that if Great Britain lost Iraq, Germany might take advantage of Arab turbulence there and in Transjordan and Palestine to drive through Turkey and Syria to the Iraqi oil fields.

Informants told of persistent reports that Arabs in Palestine intended to renew their anti-Jewish activities, and there were reports that German agents were encouraging them.

German agents were reported also to be seeking to influence the Emir Abdullah of Transjordan, the Imam of Yemen and the dissident Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, in an attempt to induce them to unite against Britain and Jews.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 4, 1941)


Mrs. Gordon H. Mattison

Two years ago, Mrs. Mattison, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Jay F. Hood, of Bellevue, left here with her husband for service abroad. Today she’s fleeing to India while Mr. Mattison, U.S. consul at Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, sticks by his post. The State Department ordered Mrs. Mattison to leave, relatives here were informed.

U.S. Department of State (May 4, 1941)

740.0011 European War 1939/10587: Telegram

The Minister Resident in Iraq to the Secretary of State

Baghdad, May 4, 1941.
[Received May 4 — 8:30 p.m.]


Diplomatic missions are not permitted send code telegrams. Radio transmitting sets in all diplomatic missions have been taken over by the Government. One hundred and sixty men, women, and children of various nationalities have taken refuge in the Legation since April 30th. The Government has placed a strong police guard around the Legation for its protection and has kindly permitted the delivery of food to the Legation. I have given a personal guarantee to the Government that no British subjects who have taken refuge in the Legation will leave the Legation compound until the situation is clarified. American women who went to Habbaniyah under safe conduct given by Government reached there safely. I know that some of the women reached Basra from Habbaniyah safely but have no information regarding the rest of them including my wife and Mrs. Mattison. I have no knowledge regarding situation more than I have seen British bombers operating over Baghdad and Rashid camp near the Legation and have received an official note from the Foreign Office informing me that a hospital at Rashid camp hit and one person killed and two wounded.




Bewildered British mass forces near Suez, but must see Vichy’s helplessness as Nazis undermine French Empire to squeeze Turks into Axis

By Carroll Binder

Hitler is keeping his antagonists and prospective victims bewildered as long as possible as to his next major move.

Thus the British today cannot be sure whether the German-inspired native military resistance in oil-wealthy Iraq, the unrest in Syria and the Axis military assaults upon British positions in Egypt definitely foreshadow an early major move against Suez or are merely designed to distract attention from an imminent German outright occupation of Spain and French North Africa with a view to closing that end of the Mediterranean to the British and gaining new positions for pressure against the United States.

Nor can the British be sure that the audacious Germans are not planning simultaneously to attempt knockout blows at both ends of the Mediterranean.

No aid from France

In planning for defense against the Axis attacks, Britain must take account of the fact that, at both ends of the Mediterranean, France is in effect a collaborator with the Axis instead of a passive resister of the Axis.

Having yielded so much already, it is unthinkable that the present regime in France would offer any effective resistance to the shipment through France of such supplies and troops as may be necessary for execution of German plans in Spain and North Africa. Nor can France be expected to prevent Hitler from using what remains of the French naval establishment as he is already using what remains of the French merchant marine.

We know a good deal about the activities of the 200 German officials and agents who are engaged in undermining French influence in French Morocco and who are reported from Spain as seeking the dismissal of General Noguès, the French military commander there.

"Tourists" in Syria

We know less about the activity of the many German “tourists,” who have been permitted to land in French-mandated Syria and who have already supplanted the Italian officials on the disarmament commission.

These Nazi agents, however, are doubtless the brains behind the new wave of native disorders in that easily inflamed area. The once-powerful French military establishment in Syria had been completely demoralized and largely disintegrated. Thus, Vichy could not suppress German activities there if it wished.

Syria is an excellent base for Nazi operations against such important British positions as Palestine, Egypt and Iraq as well as for creating anti-British sentiment throughout the entire Arab world.

Like Iraq, it is an admirable base from which to put the screws on Turkey, which Germany ardently desires to pry away from Britain and bring under complete Axis influence.

Thus, Turkey finds itself in the weakest position it has experienced in many decades. Germany has completely deprived it of its western zone of security, namely, Grecian Thrace. If Germany is able to obtain dominance in Syria, and succeeds in seriously weakening the British position in Iraq, Turkey’s southern zones of security likewise will disappear.

Such considerations, no doubt are being forcefully pointed out to the Turks by the German ambassador, Franz von Papen, who has just returned to Turkey from Berlin. Turkey could also provide Germany with badly needed chrome.

Iraq freed by British

Thus, in fomenting a rising against the British in Iraq, von Papen and his collaborators are also facilitating their work in Turkey. Iraq was freed from Turkey by the British, so it is easy for the Nazi agents to arouse suspicions in the minds of many natives by calling attention to Turkey’s present ties with Britain.

Inasmuch as the Iraqi Army is numerically small, poorly equipped and has been trained by British officers, it should not be difficult for the British to retain for the time being their control of the vital oil fields and air bases in that country.

Meanwhile, Turkey is unlikely to offer much resistance to Germany unless given the strongest encouragement by Russia.

Red-Nazi showdown near

Two news items published in the rigorously controlled Soviet press encouraged belief in some quarters that relations between Germany and Russia are moving toward a showdown. These were a report that 12,000 German troops equipped with tanks and artillery had landed at Turku, Finland, and announcement that Russia had prohibited transit through its territory of “basic war materials.”

Closer scrutiny of the regulations for the shipment of war materials revealed that the Russians took no steps to curtail the flow of essential raw materials for the manufacture if munitions from Japan to Russia. Japan has been buying up these materials for Germany throughout the Far East and Russia has been facilitating their shipment to Germany over the Trans-Siberian Railway. A German spokesman told the United Press after the promulgation of the Russian regulation that Russian deliveries to Germany have not been affected.

While it has been apparent for some time that Germany is steadily increasing its military forces along the entire Soviet borders, there still are no dependable indications that Russia means to defend itself at this stage of the war.

Meanwhile, the British are realigning their forces in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East in preparation for whatever blows may be forthcoming.


U.S. Department of State (May 5, 1941)

740.0011 European War 1939/10630: Telegram

The Minister Resident in Iraq to the Secretary of State

Baghdad, May 4, 1941.
[Received May 5 — 10:50 a.m.]


The Ministry for Foreign Affairs in an official note requests me to inform the Department that on May 3, a British plane tried to bomb a mosque situated at Fallujah at the time tribesmen were making their prayers. The Ministry points out that this horrible action which is not based on any human principles caused public disturbances and consternation and that this action will show the civilized world what the British forces are doing now against all rules of war of the civilized world.

This morning at 11:00 the Ministry for Foreign Affairs informed me that the commanding officer of the British forces in Iraq sent an ultimatum to the Iraqi Government demanding the withdrawal of the Iraq Army from the neighborhood of Habbaniyah within 4 hours the time limit of which would expire at 12:00 noon today and that failure to comply with the terms of the ultimatum would result in the bombing of the public buildings of Baghdad by the British Air Force. The Iraqi Government sent a counter ultimatum to the effect that if the British bombed the public buildings of Baghdad the Iraq Government would bomb British subjects wherever they might be found. About an hour later I was informed by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs that the Iraqi Government demanded that I should deliver to the appropriate Iraqi authorities, who would call at the Legation, all British subjects who had taken refuge at the Legation. I agreed to comply with this request immediately upon receipt of an official note from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs guaranteeing the proper treatment due to the British subjects in the present circumstances in accordance with the accepted principles of international law. I was informed that an official note making the demand and giving the guarantees I demanded would be handed to me when the appropriate authorities would call at the Legation for delivery of the British subjects. I have since been informed that the British subjects will be removed from the Legation when a suitable internment camp has been prepared for them.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 5, 1941)

By Ned Russell, United Press staff writer

British forces today had seized key military points at Basra and were reported ready to march along the Tigris River to Baghdad, where RAF planes had already raided the airport twice. But this cheering picture, from the British standpoint, was counteracted by reports that Iraqi forces had cut the oil pipeline from Kirkuk to Haifa.

London, May 5 –
Heavy British air raids in the Baghdad airport, occupation of key points at Basra and announcement that the ousted Emir 'Abd al-Ilah intended to try to overthrow the Rashid Ali al-Gailani regime indicated an improved military situation in Iraq today.

But to offset any undue optimism, there were reports that the Iraqis had cut the Mosul oil pipeline and a belief among military experts that, unless the Rashid Ali regime could be crushed quickly, Germany would be compelled to go to its aid.

And the Swiss Radio also reported that Iraqi troops were closing in on the British forces at Habbaniya, the RAF air base where the first fighting developed in Iraq and were continuing their shelling of that airdrome.

A Cairo communiqué of the Royal Air Force told of a second heavy British raid on Baghdad’s Moascar al-Rashid airdrome yesterday. Severe damage was done to airdrome buildings and workshops and at least 22 Iraqi aircraft were put out of action, the communiqué said.

The War Office announced that British forces had occupied the airport, dock area and power station at Basra Friday after Iraqi authorities had ignored an ultimatum to withdraw.

According to the Cairo communiqué, British planes bombed an armored train and forced it to turn back and, in raids on Iraqi gun positions, mechanized units and troop concentrations outside Habbaniya airdrome, west of Baghdad, did severe damage.

Raids on Habbaniya were continued throughout yesterday, the communiqué said, after the Iraqis had shelled the airport and caused some casualties among non-combatants.

The Foreign Office announced that the ousted 'Abd al-Ilah had proclaimed from his headquarters in Palestine that he was going back to Iraq to “restore constitutional government.” He urged Iraqi soldiers to remain at their posts peaceably to await him.

’Bought by foreign gold’

He said a group of military tyrants and other ill-disposed persons “bought by foreign gold” had:

…thrust me from my sacred duties as guardian of my nephew, your beloved young king.

I am returning to restore the tarnished honor of our native land and lead it back again to peace and prosperity. I call on all true sons of Iraq to drive out this band of traitors.

A United Press Jerusalem dispatch reported that martial law had been declared in northern Iraq.

A Daily Sketch dispatch from Baghdad reported that British residents had gathered in the grounds of the British embassy and that the embassy was isolated, but had not been attacked.

Cruise over Baghdad

British planes are cruising over Baghdad as a warning, the dispatch said.

There were reports that Germany might either attack Turkey or put immediate pressure on it, aided by its possession of key islands dominating the Dardanelles; that Germany now had a colony of 25,000 residents in Iran led by a Nazi Arab expert.



Budapest, May 5 (UP) –
The semi-official Hungarian news agency today quoted Beirut dispatches reporting serious clashes between Arab and British troops near Nablus, in Palestine, yesterday. Nablus is a short distance north of Jerusalem.

All unmarried Jews under 40 in Palestine have been called to service by the British and a curfew has been imposed at Nablus, the dispatch said.

A Baghdad dispatch, quoting an official Iraqi communiqué issued yesterday, claimed Iraqi forces had occupied all oil wells and refineries at Kirkuk, Chamikin and Gayyara and that all pipeline stations were in possession of the Iraqi Army.

U.S. Department of State (May 6, 1941)

740.0011 European War 1939/10693: Telegram

The Minister Resident in Iraq to the Secretary of State

Baghdad, May 5, 1941 — 7 p.m.
[Received May 6 — 3:27 p.m.]


Department’s telegram via London stating my 110 last received. My 115, May 4 the last sent. No. 114 was canceled. Americans at Legation are well. I am informed by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs that the Jesuit Fathers of the Jesuit College and Dr. and Mrs. Staudt of American Boys School who elected remain at their respective schools are well, and also that one American Jesuit Father and a Miss Adams at the British Embassy are presumably still there. The Ministry Foreign Affairs will inquire and report to me regarding whereabouts and welfare of the Willoughby family at Mosul. Referring to my 113, I suggest that Department make inquiries through other channels regarding American women who left here for Basra via Habbaniyah and also regarding Americans at Basra. I have been and am continuing to be absolutely correct in the matter of the persons of various nationalities who have taken refuge in the Legation and in all other respects thus endeavoring to retain the confidence in me of the Ministry Foreign Affairs and thereby receive their cooperation to ensure the protection of the people who have taken refuge here and the inviolability of the Legation in accordance with the accepted principles of international law. I have nothing further to report at this time. Please acknowledge in plain language receipt of this and previous telegrams.



The Pittsburgh Press (May 6, 1941)

By Helen Kirkpatrick

London, May 6 –
British troops continue to hold their own in the port and airdrome at Basra and at the Habbaniya Airdrome in Iraq, London hears.

Unless the Germans rush units from Syria to Premier Rashid Ali al-Gailani’s assistance – which it is thought they are likely to do – the British expect to be able to quell the Iraqi revolt.

Despite the fact that the British have the Iraqis completely at their mercy through mastery of the air in that part of the world, they have not yet used it to terrorize Rashid Ali’s rebel government into submission.

Deny Iraqi reports

There is nothing to prevent the British from dealing with Baghdad as the Germans dealt with Rotterdam and Belgrade. They have refrained from doing so, first, because they still feel that the Iraqi “rebellion” may be subdued, and second, because the British do not like such tactics. Perhaps, too, they have not been convinced that German methods really pay.

German and Iraqi reports flow in regarding the fall of Habbaniya and the encirclement of the port of Basra. These, it is categorically stated, are not true. The British forces at Habbaniya are still in full control of the British-built airdrome city and airdrome of Basra, according to latest reports.

Berlin states that 20,000 Indian troops have landed at Basra and Rome radio statements report the British contention that the Iraqi population is not 100% behind Rashid Ali.

Try to arouse Arabs

“Incidents,” Rome says, have taken place in England when “Jews” have posted anti-Rashid signs throughout the city.

German-inspired Arabs in Syria are working their hardest to persuade Syrian nationalists to support Rashid Ali who they represent as fighting the British for pan-Arabia.

The Vichy government is reported to have been approached by the Germans for permission to send additional “armistice commission” members into Syria. There are said to be about 1,800 Germans in Syria already. This number does not include air units which have been reported arriving from Greece.

Meanwhile, the Germans are offering the Turks guarantee of Turkish integrity and non-violation of the Dardanelles in exchange for renunciation of the Anglo-Turkish alliance.



Beirut, Lebanon, May 6 –
Iraqi broadcasts reported that Iraqi government refused Great Britain’s condition for ending hostilities and claimed that Iraqi troops were completely in control of the oil pipeline to the Mediterranean after capturing four military stations.

The Iraqi reports said the four military stations were the only ones along the pipeline and the oil supply to the Palestine port of Haifa had been cut off.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 7, 1941)


Cairo, May 7 (UP) –
British reinforcements, rushing 300 miles from the port of Basra with new arms and howitzers, joined besieged Empire forces in dislodging Iraqi troops from a plateau dominating the Royal Air Force base at Habbaniya, a RAF communiqué said today.

With the support of the RAF, which hammered steadily at Iraqi positions, Empire troops drove Iraqi forces from their positions on high ground in the direction of Fallujah in a battle that developed yesterday morning, the communiqué added.

The British were said to have inflicted heavy casualties on the Iraqis, who withdrew from the plateau, “leaving 300 prisoners.”

The communiqué said:

Our troops, whose casualties were negligible, now are in possession of the high ground.

Constant air patrols are being maintained over enemy positions, the RAF reported, and other British aircraft were said to be engaged in bringing up reinforcements to Habbaniya and removing women and children to safety.

A key pumping station of the vital Iraqi oil pipeline between the Rutbah wells and the border was said to have surrendered when RAF planes appeared simultaneously with a small patrol of Imperial forces.



Berlin, May 7 (UP) –
Iraqi troops have attacked the British forces at Basra and heavy fighting is in progress with the result still in doubt, an official news agency dispatch from Berne, Switzerland, said today, quoting an Iraqi General Staff communiqué.

The Iraqi forces started the battle with an attack on British positions, it was added.


The Pittsburgh Press (May 8, 1941)


Empire forces reportedly driving native forces back on disorder

Cairo, May 8 (UP) –
Powerful intervention by British armed forces was reported today to be weakening Iraqi military resistance despite trustworthy reports that Axis military advisers have arrived in Baghdad.

Reliable quarters said that at least two high Italian military experts have gone to Baghdad to aid the pro-Axis Premier Rashid Ali al-Gailani.

However, the Turkish radio reported that Iraqi military operations seemed to be weakening due to heavy losses inflicted upon the Iraqi Air Force by the RAF and to a shortage of arms and munitions.

Seek Iraqi-Turk federation

The Iraqi public was said to be impressed greatly by the Iraqi Air Force losses.

It was reported here that Iraqi forces are falling back on Baghdad in some disorder.

An Exchange Telegraph report from Ankara asserted that Naji Shawkat, Iraqi Defense Minister, is expected there tomorrow to try to renew negotiations for a “federation” of Turkey and Iraq.

Bomb Baghdad Airport

The exact nature of the “federation,” which was said to include amalgamation of foreign affairs, defense and fiscal matters, was not clear but was said to have been the subject of Turkish-Iraqi discussions last June.

British forces in Iraq followed up a victory at Habbaniya Airdrome Tuesday by bombing Baghdad Airport yesterday, damaging buildings and the airdrome road, according to communiqués issued here.

Other raids made by the RAF resulted in direct hits on the Al-Washash munitions magazine near Baghdad.

The RAF said:

Bombs were also dropped on dispersed aircraft at the Hanaidi Airdrome.

Everything indicated that the situation was in hand, from the British viewpoint, and that the regime of Rashid Ali al-Gailani might be heading for early defeat in the first decisive phase of the battle for the Middle Eastern oil fields.

Try to guide Nazi planes

Belief grew that the Iraqi revolt against the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty had gone off half-cocked and that, because of the landing of British troop reinforcements at Basra, Rashid Ali had precipitated fighting which Germany had expected – and for which it arranged – but he acted too quickly.

It seemed certain that Rashid Ali had expected German aid.

Dispatches reported that Rashid’s troops had awaited German help anxiously, and that they had even been leaving signal flares burning each night at airfields to guide German troop-carrying planes.

A Daily Mail Cairo correspondent said it was reported that Rashid has sent message after message to Berlin, complaining that help was being dangerously delayed and that he had expressed to Italy his uneasiness at the non-arrival of Italian funds he was expecting.

Suspect Vichy agreement

British experts were deeply suspicious of the agreement reached between the Vichy government and Germany.

There was no tendency at all to believe that Germany in a burst of generosity had made concessions to Vichy without exacting an adequate return.

Speculation turned to the possibility that Admiral Jean François Darlan, Vichy Vice Premier, might have entered into a secret agreement which would permit German planes to use Syrian air bases for an attack on Iraq.


05, Rutbah assault (Norman)
The fort at Rutbah under attack from H4-based Bristol Blenheims.

On May 8, a column of the Arab Legion, under Glubb Pasha, reached the fort at Rutbah. They picketed the ground surrounding the fort, to wait the RAF bombardment. The fort was defended by approximately 100 policemen, the majority of them being Iraqi Desert Police. The H4-based Blenheims of 203 Squadron arrived and bombed the fort, and thinking that they had surrendered, left. The fort did not surrender and the RAF returned twice that day to bomb the fort without success.

U.S. Department of State (May 9, 1941)

124.90G6/40: Telegram

The Minister Resident in Iraq (Knabenshue) to the Secretary of State

Baghdad, May 7, 1941 — 1 p.m.
[Received May 9 — 6:08 p.m.]


Ministry Foreign Affairs now informs me that code telegrams may be sent to and received from their governments by diplomatic missions. As certain circumstances compelled me to destroy all my codes and confidential files on May 4th I can now send and receive only in plain language. All is well with us all at the Legation. I beg the Department not to give anything to the press or radio broadcast about the Legation. I have nothing further to report at this time.



The Pittsburgh Press (May 9, 1941)


London, May 9 –
Rashid Ali al-Gailani is still in Baghdad, it is learned from reliable sources, but his departure is hoped for any time now.

There is apparently not a word of truth in the report that the rebel Premier has fled, but there are signs that his revolt is petering out from a combination of lack of enthusiasm on the part of his followers and failure of the Germans to send assistance immediately.

Rashid Ali’s coup d’état (at the end of March) was premature, having been planned to coincide with a German entry into Alexandria set for May 1.



Berlin, May 9 –
An official news agency dispatch from Beirut, Lebanon, reported today that students, in demonstrations at Damascus, had expressed their support for Iraq and had called a school strike.

The newspaper Lokal-Anzeiger said that “Britain’s loss of the Mediterranean” would reveal that British sovereignty in Transjordan and Palestine was “only a sham.” Egypt and Iraq, it said, wanted to “break off British tyranny.” It added that:

This will certainly inspire new activity toward all Arabian aspirations, which cannot remain without effect in India.