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British Colonialism and repression in Iraq- Global Policy Forum - UN Security Council Security Council - Documents, Analyses, Comments, Reports, Issues, DebatesSecurity Council - Documents, Analyses, Comments, Reports, Issues, Debates

British Colonialism and Repression in Iraq

Picture: Repairs of an armored car from No.1 Company in Iraq,
British Royal Air Force, ca. 1923 (IWM HU. 49856, Fagg Collection)

Britain set up a colonial regime in Iraq after a long military campaign during World War I. In response to Iraqi resistance, including a country-wide uprising in 1920, British forces battled for over a decade to pacify the country, using airplanes, armored cars, firebombs and mustard gas. Air attacks were used to shock and awe, to teach obedience and to force the collection of taxes. Winston Churchill, as responsible cabinet minister in the early years, saw Iraq as an experiment in high-technology colonial control. Though officials in London sometimes had qualms about the violence, colonial administrators on the ground like Gertrude Bell expressed enthusiasm for the power of the imperial military enterprise.

History of Oil in Iraq | British Colonialism and the Kurds
Gulf War and a Decade of Sanctions | US and British Support for Hussein Regime

Aeroplanes and Armored Cars: Imposing British Colonial Control on Iraq in the 1920s (1998)
In this brief excerpt from his book Colonial Empires and Armies 1815 1960, V.G Kiernan explains how Britain used armored cars with air support to impose its colonial rule. The armored and air units operated jointly under the command of the fledgling Royal Air Force.

British Air Power and Colonial Control in Iraq 1920 1925 (1990)
This selection, by historian David Omissi, describes emerging policy on the use of airplanes to attack Iraqi opponents of British rule. Planes would strafe and bomb villages that offered resistance to the ground forces. Winston Churchill, the responsible cabinet minister, proposed the use of mustard gas from the air as the cheapest means of controlling Iraq militarily.

The Royal Air Force in Iraq (1976)
Peter Sluglett, a leading historian of modern Iraq, here discusses the British use of air power to impose colonial rule. While officials in London sometimes expressed discomfort, military commanders and colonial officials used air attacks to teach obedience and to force tax collection from even the poorest Iraqis.

"The RAF Has Done Wonders" (1922, 1924)
Gertrude Bell, a British colonial official, describes in personal letters the use of British air power in Iraq in the 1920s, exclaiming that "the RAF has done wonders bombing insurgent villages." (Gertrude Bell Project)

A Report on Mesopotamia by T.E. Lawrence (August 22, 1920)
A 1920 newspaper letter by T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) denounces brutal conduct by British colonial forces in Iraq during the revolt of 1920. (Sunday Times)

Deceit and Duplicity: Some Reflections on Western Intervention in Iraq (March-April 2003)
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, occupying powers in Iraq have expressed the right of Iraqi self-determination, but they have not allowed their lofty proclamations into practice. This article from Third World Resurgence gives a chronology of the Kurdish, Shi'ite and other uprisings that Iraq's occupiers brutally quashed.

Lessons of 1920 Revolt Lost on Bremer (November 17, 2003)
US occupation forces should heed the lessons of previous British rule in and departure from Iraq, argues the Financial Times. The British gave the Iraqis a "free hand . . .as a result of rebellion" in 1920.

Britain Tried First. Iraq Was No Picnic Then. (July 20, 2003)
Referring to the British occupation of Iraq, Lawrence of Arabia wrote that the public had been led "into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor." Veteran Middle East journalist John Kifner draws on the history of British colonialism in the Middle East to comment on the US occupation. (New York Times)

Baghdad and British Bombers (January 19, 1991)
Iraq is no stranger to aerial bombardment. In this article, historian David Omissi recalls the 1920s, when gas shells and explosives were used as part of the British colonial war against Iraq. (Guardian)

Postmodern Imperialism (April 24, 2003)
A good way to understand US policy is to look at the era of European colonization. Today many problems are consequences of the British colonial past in the Middle East. (Le Monde)

Miss Bell's Lines in the Sand (March 12, 2003)
The Guardian describes the influential role played by Gertrude Bell, an archaeologist, linguist, and British colonial official, who helped shape British plans to carve out the boundaries of an Iraqi state "which was too weak to be independent from Britain."

Iraq: The Imperial Precedent (January, 2003)
According to British historian Charles Tripp, the US war for "regime change" in Iraq echoes the British invasion of Mesopotamia in 1914. Tripp takes examples from the modern history of Iraq to argue that US actions, like those of Britain at an earlier period, reflect the "logic of imperial power." (Le Monde Diplomatique)

More Information on Iraq's History
More Information on the Iraq Crisis

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