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Arthur ‘Bomber’ Harris – of Dresden and Hamburg fame – in his book Bomber Offensive, written in 1947, recounted what happened in Iraq in 1922 when the Air Ministry took over the defence of the new client-kingdom. ‘Bomber’ Harris learnt his craft in Mesopotamia and later described the process of policing by bombers, or as it was known,“air control”:

“When I got to Irak, or Mespot as we called it, in those days, Sir John Salmond had just taken over the air control of the country and most of the very large army forces which the British taxpayer refused any longer to support there had departed. A rebellion had broken out in 1920, because the Arabs there had been led to expect complete independence and had got instead British army occupation… The military control of Irak was transferred to the RAF entirely in order to save money… the decision to hand control of the country to the RAF – which was of course Winston Churchill’s – was made in 1921 and took effect on 1 October, 1922…

The truculent and warlike tribes which occupied and still largely controlled after the rebellion, large parts of Irak… had to be quelled, and in this our heavy bombers played a large part. We were hundreds of miles up river near Baghdad and in the centre of thoroughly turbulent and wholly unpacified tribes on whom we were endeavouring to impose government of local Baghdad Effendis whom the tribesmen have naturally held in utter contempt for time immemorial. When a tribe started open revolt we gave warning to all its most important villages by loudspeaker from low flying aircraft, and by dropping messages that air action would be taken after 48 hours. Then, if the rebellion continued, we destroyed the villages and by air patrols kept the insurgents away from their homes for as long as necessary until they decided to give up, which they invariably did. It was, of course, a far less costly method of controlling rebellion than by military action.” (pp.21-3)

After one bombing raid on Iraq in 1924, Harris wrote: “They now know what real bombing means, in casualties and damage; they now know that within 45 minutes a full-sized village can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured by four or five machines which offer them no real target, no opportunity for glory as warriors, no effective means of escape.” (This quote is from a book by David Omissi, Air Power and Colonial Control: The Royal Air Force 1919-1939, which is a very informative source of information on the origins of terror bombing.)

Britain displays great continuity in its military affairs. As its fields of conflict extended to different spheres of the world and the use of new technology Britain maintained the same principles of warfare. It applied the logic of the methods of the Boer War concentration camps and the Great War naval blockade of Germany to Iraq by destroying the women and children of the fighting men in order to defeat the combatants. British wars are slow grinding wars, not just aimed at defeating an enemy but primarily to disable its people. The spirit of the enemy needs to be thoroughly crushed and the best way of doing this is by harming its human stock. England did this long before it produced Darwin. Drake and Hawkins practiced it in Ireland in the 16th Century, Cromwell in the 17th.

In a biography of Hugh Trenchard, the father of the RAF, an operational report about a British attack on a village, sent to Churchill, is quoted:

“The eight machines (at Nasiriyah) broke formation and attacked at different points of the encampment simultaneously… The tribesmen and their families were put to confusion, many of whom ran into the lake, making good targets for our machine-guns.”

Churchill was annoyed at the candour of the writer and insisted that such enthusiasm at slaughtering civilians should not appear in official records again. (Andrew Boyle, Trenchard, p.389)

In Iraq, in the 1920s, the RAF first employed itself against Turkish forces on the border near Mosul, to ensure the oil rich area remained under Imperial control. The RAF flew most of its missions against the Kurds – who have always resented rule from Baghdad. For ten years the RAF waged an almost continuous bombing campaign in the oil-rich, mountainous northeast region of Iraq against these people, to whom Britain had earlier promised autonomy. The Iraqi Air Force – which the British established, built up, trained and equipped – carried on this work from Baghdad after the Iraqi client state became nominally independent in 1932.