What was Iraqforce?

Introduction

Iraqforce was a British and Commonwealth formation that came together in the Kingdom of Iraq.

The formation fought in the Middle East during World War II.

Background

During World War I, the British Army defeated the Ottoman Army in the Middle East during the Mesopotamian Campaign. Subsequently, the League of Nations designated Mesopotamia as the British Mandate of Mesopotamia. From 1920 to the early 1930s, RAF Iraq Command was created as an inter-service command in charge of all British forces in the mandate-controlled Kingdom of Iraq and was commanded by an RAF officer normally of Air Vice-Marshal rank.

In 1932, the British mandate in Iraq ended and according to the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1930, the United Kingdom was permitted to maintain troops in Iraq. In 1933 or 1934, RAF Iraq Command was renamed the British Forces in Iraq. By the late 1930s, these forces were restricted to two Royal Air Force stations, RAF Shaibah near Basra and RAF Habbaniya west of Baghdad.

On 01 April 1941, during World War II, Rashid Ali seized power in Iraq via a coup d’état. Ali was supported by three senior Royal Iraqi Army officers and one Royal Iraqi Air Force officer, known as the Golden Square. Rashid Ali proclaimed himself Chief of the National Defence Government. His new government was immediately recognised by Nazi Germany; it was openly pro-Nazi and anti-British.

Nomenclature

The ground forces from India that landed in Basra were initially known as Sabine Force (Major-General William Fraser). From 08 May 1941, Fraser was replaced and the forces in Basra were commanded by Lieutenant-General Edward Quinan. On 18 June, Quinan was placed in command of all ground forces in Iraq which included Sabine Force and British Forces in Iraq as Iraqforce. From 21 June, Iraqforce was called Iraq Command. On 01 September 1941, after Persia (modern Iran) was invaded, Iraq Command was renamed “Persia and Iraq Force” (PAI Force). PAI Force was still commanded by Quinan and he still reported to India Command. Iraqforce was variously part of India Command, Middle East Command and then Persia and Iraq Command.

Prelude

Sabine Force was despatched from Karachi by GHQ India to seize the port of Basra and to supplement the British Forces in Iraq at RAF Shaibah and RAF Habbaniya. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill saw Basra as a major supply base in the future for material from the United States. Churchill did not recognise Rashid Ali’s “National Defence Government” as legitimate. Churchill also wanted to reinstate a more compliant Iraqi government and to protect British interests in Iraq, notably the oilfields of which the British-owned Anglo-Persian Oil Company was concession holder. On 18 April, a brigade from Karachi landed and captured Basra; on 30 April, a second brigade arrived. The Rashid Ali government demanded that the British forces be removed from Iraq and Iraqi forces took up positions around RAF Habbaniya. On 02 May, British aircraft from Habbaniya launched a surprise attack on Iraqi forces throughout the country.

Military Operations

Anglo-Iraqi War

Refer to Anglo-Iraqi War (1941).

During the ensuing war, a force from the British Mandate of Palestine, known as Habbaniya Force (shortened to Habforce), advanced into Iraq from Transjordan. Habforce, with Kingcol in the lead, was to relieve the British garrison forces besieged at the Royal Air Force treaty base at RAF Habbaniya. The threat to Habbaniya was removed by actions of the garrison before any elements of Habforce arrived. After it arrived, Habforce and a portion of the Habbaniya garrison then advanced through Fallujah to capture Baghdad. By 31 May, an armistice had been signed and the government collapsed. From early May, the troops in Iraq were under the operational control of Army Headquarters, Middle East Command in Cairo, reverting to India command on 18 June. From 21 June, Iraqforce became known as the Iraq Command.

Syria-Lebanon Campaign

In June and July 1941, after Iraq was secured, elements of Iraqforce/Iraq Command took part in the Syria-Lebanon campaign and, while active in Syria, they once more came under the authority of the Cairo Headquarters.

Anglo-Soviet Invasion of Persia

In late August 1941, Iraq Command conducted the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Persia, in conjunction with forces advancing from the Soviet Union. A new formation, Hazelforce, based on the 2nd Indian Armoured Brigade was formed within Iraq Command during this effort. On 01 September, after Persia (modern Iran) was secured, Iraq Command was renamed “Persia and Iraq Force” or Paiforce. Paiforce was still commanded by Quinan and he still reported to India Command. In January 1942, Persia and Iraq once again came under Middle East Command and, in February 1942, Quinan’s headquarters was re-designated as Tenth Army.

In 1942, with the growing threat from the German advance in the Caucasus, it was felt that the area should come under a General Headquarters which could bring a specific focus to the area. Previous experience of controlling the area from Cairo and Delhi had not proved ideal and both these General Headquarters were by this time fully committed in the Western Desert Campaign and to the Burma Campaign respectively. In August 1942, it was decided therefore, as part of the changes made bringing in Alexander and Montgomery to Middle East Command and Auchinleck to India Command, to create a new Persia and Iraq Command, to be led by General Sir Maitland Wilson and based in Baghdad.

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