Operation Campaign for Iraq

Otherwise known as as the 'Anglo-Iraqi War', the 'Campaign for Iraq' was a British-led Allied military campaign against the Kingdom of Iraq under Rashid Gaylani, who had seized power in a 1941 Iraqi coup d'état with German and Italian assistance (2/31 May 1941).

The campaign resulted in the downfall of Gaylani’s government, the re-occupation of Iraq by the British, and the return to power of the Regent of Iraq, Prince 'Abd al-Ilah, a British ally.

Iraq had been governed by the British since 1921 under the terms of a mandate of the League of Nations. Before Iraq’s nominal independence in 1932, Britain concluded the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1930, which was opposed by Iraqi nationalists, including al-Gaylani. Although Iraq was considered a neutral power under Regent Abd al-Ilah, it had a pro-British government. In April 1941, Iraqi nationalists organised the Golden Square coup, with assistance from Germany and Italy. The coup ousted al-Ilah and installed al-Gaylani as prime minister. The latter officially established cordial relations with the Axis powers, prompting the Allies to respond. For the Allies, Iraq represented an important land bridge between British forces in Egypt and India.

Following a series of skirmishes, Allied air attacks were launched against Iraq on 2 May. The campaign resulted in the collapse of al-Gaylani’s short-lived government, and re-installed al-Ilah as the regent. This increased the influence of the Allies in the Middle Eastern theatre.

The Kingdom of Iraq, also known as Mesopotamia, was governed by the UK under a League of Nations mandate, the British Mandate of Mesopotamia, until 1932, when Iraq became nominally independent. Before granting independence, the UK concluded the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1930, which included permission for the establishment of military bases for British use, and allowed unrestricted movement of British forces through the country upon request to the Iraqi government. The conditions of the treaty were imposed by the British to ensure control of Iraqi petroleum. Many Iraqis resented these conditions, which left Iraq still under the control of the British government.

After 1937 there were no British troops in Iraq, whose government had become solely responsible for internal security. The Royal Air Force had been allowed to retain two bases: RAF Shaibah, near Basra, and RAF Habbaniya (Air Vice Marshal H. G. Smart, also air officer commanding RAF Iraq Command), between Ramadi and Fallujah. The bases protected British petroleum interests and were a link in the air route between Egypt and India. At the beginning of World War II, RAF Habbaniya became a training base, protected by No. 1 Armoured Car Company RAF and locally raised mainly Assyrian troops, the RAF Iraq Levies, sometimes known as Assyrian levies.

In September 1939, the Iraqi government broke off diplomatic relations with Germany. In March 1940, the nationalist and anti-British Rashid Ali replaced as-Said as prime minister of Iraq. Ali made covert contacts with German representatives in Ankara, the capital of neutral Turkey, and Berlin, though he was not yet an openly pro-Axis supporter. In June 1940, when Italy joined the war on the side of Germany, the Iraqi government did not break off diplomatic relations. The Italian legation in Baghdad became the chief centre for Axis propaganda and the fomentation of anti-British sentiments. In this they were aided by Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who had been installed by the British in 1921. The Grand Mufti had fled from the British Mandate of Palestine shortly before the war, and later received asylum in Baghdad. In January 1941, Ali resigned as prime minister and was replaced by Taha al-Hashimi amid a political crisis and a possible civil war.

On 31 March, the regent of Iraq, Prince 'Abd al-Ilah, learned of a plot to arrest him and fled Baghdad for RAF Habbaniya. From Habbaniya he was flown to Basra and given refuge on the British river gunboat Cockchafer. On 1 April, Ali and the Golden Square (four senior military commanders) seized power in a coup d'état, Ali proclaiming himself 'Chief of the National Defence Government'. The Golden Square deposed prime minister al-Hashimi and Rashid Ali again became prime pinister of Iraq. Ali did not overthrow the monarchy and named a new regent to King Faisal II, Sharaf bin Rajeh. Faisal and his family took refuge in the home of Mulla Effendi. The Golden Square also arrested pro-British citizens and politicians, but many managed to escape through Transjordan.

The Golden Square intended to refuse further concessions to the British, to retain diplomatic links with Italy, and exile prominent pro-British politicians. They thought the UK was weak and would negotiate with them. On 17 April, Ali asked Germany for military assistance in the event of war with the UK, and also attempted to restrict British rights under Article 5 of the 1930 treaty when he insisted that newly arrived British troops be quickly transported through Iraq and into Palestine.

Before the war, the UK had provided support to the Royal Iraqi Army, the Royal Iraqi Navy and the Royal Iraqi Air Force via a small military mission based in Baghdad, commanded from 1938 by Major General G. G. Waterhouse. The Iraqi army had some 60,000 men, most of them in four infantry divisions and one mechanised brigade. The 1st Division and 3rd Division were stationed near Baghdad as was the Independent Mechanised Brigade, which comprised one light tank company of Italian L3/35 tankettes, one armoured-car company of Crossley armoured cars, two battalions of motorised infantry, machine gunners and an artillery brigade. Unlike the current use of the word 'mechanised', in 1941 it meant 'motorised' (transport by truck but fighting on foot). The 23nd Division was stationed in Kirkuk and the 4th Division in Al Diwaniyah, on the main railway line linking Baghdad and Basra. The Iraqis also fielded police units and about 500 irregulars under the Arab guerrilla leader Fawzi al-Qawuqji, a ruthless fighter who did not hesitate to murder or mutilate prisoners. For the most part, Fawzi operated in the area between Rutbah and Ramadi, before being chased back into Syria.

The Iraqi air force had 116 aircraft, of which 50 to 60 were serviceable, deployed in seven squadrons, and one training school. Most Iraqi fighter and bomber aircraft were at 'Rashid Airfield' in Baghdad (formerly RAF Hinaidi) or in Mosul. Four squadrons and the flying training school were based in Baghdad. Two squadrons with close co-operation and general-purpose aircraft were based in Mosul. The Iraqis flew an assortment of aircraft types including Gloster Gladiator single-engined biplane fighters, Breda 65 single-engine fighter-bombers, Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 three-engined medium bombers, Northrop/Douglas 8A single-engined fighter-bombers, Hawker Hart (Hawker Nisr) single-engined biplane close co-operation aircraft, Vickers Vincent twin-engined biplane light bombers, de Havilland Dragon twin-engined biplane general purpose aircraft, de Havilland Dragonfly twin-engined biplane general purpose aircraft and de Havilland Tiger Moth single-engined biplane trainers. The Iraqi air force had another nine aircraft not allocated to squadrons and 19 aircraft in reserve.

The Iraqi navy had four 100-ton Thornycroft gunboats, one pilot vessel and one minesweeper. All were armed, and were based in the Shatt al-Arab waterways.

On 1 April 1941, the British forces in Iraq were small and led by Smart as the commander of British Forces in Iraq, a multi-service headquarters. The ground forces included No. 1 Armoured Car Company RAF and six companies of Assyrian Levies, composed of indigenous Eastern Aramaic speaking Christian Assyrians about 2,000 officers and other ranks strong, under the command of about 20 British officers. The armoured car company had 18 old Rolls-Royce armoured cars, built for the RAF in 1921 on converted chassis of World War I design. The armoured car company had two large tanks ('Walrus' and 'Seal' based on Vickers Medium Dragon Mk 1 artillery tractors with Rolls-Royce turrets) and one Carden-Loyd Mk VI tankette.

At RAF Habbaniya, No. 4 Flying Training School had a miscellany of obsolescent bombers, fighters and trainers. Many of the 84 aircraft were unfit for offensive use. At the start of hostilities, there were about 1,000 RAF personnel, of whom a mere 39 were pilots. On 1 April, the British had three Gladiator biplane fighters in service as officers' runabouts, 30 Hawker Audax single-engined biplane close co-operation aircraft, seven Fairey Gordon single-engined biplane bombers, 27 Airspeed Oxford twin-engined trainers, 28 Hawker Hart single-engined biplane light bombers (the bomber version of the Audax), 20 Hart Trainers and one Bristol Blenheim Mk 1 twin-engined bomber. The Audax aircraft could carry eight 20-lb (9.1-kg) bombs, and 12 were modified to carry two 250-lb (113-kg) bombs. The Gordons could each carry two 250-lb (113-kg) bombs and the Oxfords were converted from carrying smoke bombs to carrying eight 20-lb (9.1-kg) bombs. The Harts could carry two 250-lb (113-kg) bombs. The Hart Trainers were unarmed and the Blenheim departed on 3 May. There was also an RAF Iraq Communications Flight at Habbaniya with three Vickers Valentia twin-engined biplane flying boats. At RAF Shaibah there was No. 244 Squadron with some Vincent bombers.

The naval forces available to support British actions in Iraq were part of the East Indies Station and included vessels from the Royal Navy, the Royal Australian Navy, the Royal New Zealand Navy and the Royal Indian Navy.

The British perspective was that relations with Ali’s 'National Defence Government' had become increasingly unsatisfactory. Under the terms of the 1931 treaty, Iraq was bound to provide assistance to the UK in times of war, these obligations including the permitting of passage for British troops through its territory. There was a British Military Mission with the Iraqi army, and the RAF had stations at Habbaniya and at Shaibah. From the outset, the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, refused recognition of the 'National Defence Government', labelling it illegal.

On 2 April 1941, Sir Kinahan Cornwallis, the new British ambassador to Iraq, arrived in Baghdad. He had much experience in Mesopotamia and had spent 20 years in the country as the advisor to King Faisal I. Cornwallis was highly regarded, and was sent to Iraq in the expectation that he would be able to take a more forceful line with the new Iraqi government, but reached Iraq too late to prevent the outbreak of war.

On 6 April, Smart requested reinforcements, but his request was rejected by the air officer commanding in the Middle East, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Longmore. At this time the situation developing in Iraq did not figure highly in British priorities. Churchill wrote that 'Libya counts first, withdrawal of troops from Greece second. Tobruk shipping, unless indispensable to victory, must be fitted in as convenient. Iraq can be ignored and Crete worked up later.'

The British chiefs-of-staff and the commander-in-chief for India, General Sir Claude Auchinleck, were in favour of armed intervention, but the three local commanders, already burdened by the ongoing 'Campaign for the Western Desert', 'Campaign for East Africa' and 'Campaign for Greece', suggested that the only force available was an infantry battalion in Palestine and the aircraft already in Iraq. The government of India had a long-standing commitment to prepare an infantry division to protect the Anglo-Iranian oilfields, and in July 1940 the leading brigade of Major General A. G. O. M. Mayne’s Indian 5th Division was ordered to Iraq. In August, the division was placed under the control of Middle East Command and diverted to Sudan. Since then, India Command had been investigating the move of troops by air from India to RAF Shaibah.

On 8 April, Churchill asked Leo Amery, Secretary of State for India, what force could be quickly sent from India to Iraq. Amery contacted Auchinleck and Lord Linlithgow, the viceroy and governor-general of India, on the same day. The response from India was that most of a brigade group due to depart for Malaya on 10 April could be diverted to Basra and the rest sent 10 days later; 390 British infantry could be flown from India into RAF Shaibah, and when shipping was available the force could quickly be built up to a division. On 10 April this offer was accepted by London, and the move of these forces was codenamed 'Sabine'. On the same day General Sir Archibald Wavell, heading the Middle East Command, informed London that he could no longer spare the battalion in Palestine and urged diplomacy and possibly a demonstration of air strength, rather than military intervention.

On 10 April, Major General W. A. K. Fraser assumed control of 'Iraqforce', the land forces from India headed for Basra with orders to occupy the Basra-Shabai area and thus ensure the safe disembarkation of further reinforcements and open the way to the establishment of a base in that area. The attitude of the Iraqi army and local authorities was still uncertain and attempts might be made to oppose disembarkation. Fraser was to co-operate closely with the naval commander, and in the event that the landing was opposed, Fraser was to defeat the Iraqi forces and establish a base, but Fraser was not to infringe the neutrality of neighbouring Iran. Early in April, preparation for hostilities began at Habbaniya: aircraft were modified to carry bombs, and light bombers such as the Audaxes were modified to carry larger bombs.

On 12 April, the BP.7 convoy departed Karachi with eight transport vessels escorted by the Australian 'Grimsby' class sloop Yarra. The forces transported by the convoy were under the command of Fraser, and comprised two senior staff officers of the Indian 10th Division’s headquarters, Brigadier D. Powell’s Indian 20th Brigade, the personnel of the Royal Artillery’s 3rd Field Regiment without their guns, and a number of ancillary troops.

On 13 April, the Royal Navy force of four ships in the Persian Gulf was reinforced by the aircraft carrier Hermes and two light cruisers, Emerald and the New Zealand Leander. Hermes carried the Fairey Swordfish single-engined biplane torpedo bombers of No. 814 Squadron. The naval vessels which covered the disembarkation at Basra were Hermes, Emerald, Leander, the sloop Falmouth, the gunboat Cockchafer, the patrol vessel Sea Belle II, the Indian minesweeper sloop Lawrence and the Australian sloop Yarra. On the morning of 15 April, the BP.7 convoy was met at sea by Sea Belle II from Basra. Later in the day the escort was reinforced by Falmouth. On 17 April, the convoy was joined by Lawrence and then moved toward the entrance of the Shatt al-Arab. On 18 April, the convoy moved up the Shatt al-Arab and arrived at Basra at 09.30. Emerald was already in Basra, and on the same day Leander was released from support duties in the Persian Gulf. On 16 April, the Iraqi government was informed that the British were going to invoke the Anglo-Iraq treaty to move troops through the country to Palestine. Rashid Ali raised no objection.

On 17 April, the 1/King’s Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster) was flown into RAF Shaibah from Karachi in India, the battalion being accompanied by Colonel O. L. Roberts, the chief staff officer of the Indian 10th Division. By 18 April, the airlift of the 1.King’s Own Royal Regiment to Shaibah had been completed. The troop-carrying aircraft used for this airlift were seven Valentia and four Armstrong Whitworth Atalanta four-engined passenger transports supplemented by four Douglas DC-2 twin-engined passenger transports which had recently arrived in India.

On 18 April, Powell’s Indian 20th Brigade landed at Basra, this brigade including the 2/8th Gurkha Rifles, 2/7th Gurkha Rifles and 3/11th Sikh Regiment. The landing of the force transported by the BP.7 was covered by infantry of the 1/King’s Own Royal Regiment, which had arrived during the previous day by air. The landing was unopposed.

By 19 April, the disembarkation of the force transported by the BP.7 convoy at Basra had been completed. On the same day, seven aircraft were flown into RAF Habbaniya to bolster the air force there. Following the landing of the Indian 20th Brigade, Ali requested that the brigade be moved quickly through the country and that no more troops should arrive until the previous force had left. Cornwallis referred the issue to London and London replied that it had no interest in moving the troops out of the country and wanted to establish them within Iraq. Cornwallis was also instructed not to inform Ali who, as he had taken control of the country via a coup d'état, had no right to be informed about British troop movements.

On 20 April, Churchill had written to Anthony Eden, the foreign secretary, to indicate that it should be made clear to Cornwallis that the chief interest in sending troops to Iraq was the covering and establishment of a great assembly base near Basra. It was to be understood that what happened 'up country', with the exception of Habbaniya, was at that time an 'altogether lower priority'. Churchill went on to indicate that the treaty rights were invoked to cover the disembarkation, but that force would have been used if it had been required. Cornwallis was directed not to make agreements with an Iraqi government which had usurped its power. In addition, he was directed to avoid entangling himself with explanations to the Iraqis.

On 29 April, having sailed from Bombay, the remaining elements of the Indian 20th Brigade reached Basra on the three transport vessels of the BN.1 convoy. On 30 April, when Ali was informed that ships containing additional British forces had arrived, he refused permission for troops to disembark and began organising an armed demonstration at RAF Habbaniya, fully expecting that German aircraft and airborne troops would be coming to his assistance. Ali decided against opposing the landings at Basra.

On 29 April advised that all British women and children should leave Baghdad; 230 civilians were escorted by road to Habbaniya and during the following days, were gradually airlifted to Shaibah.Another 350 civilians took refuge in the British embassy and 150 British civilians in the US legation.

By the end of the month, Roberts and 300 men of the 1/King’s Own Royal Regiment had been flown from RAF Shaibah to reinforce RAF Habbaniya. Other than the 1/King’s Own Royal Regiment, there were no trained British troops at Habbaniya except the RAF’s No. 1 Armoured Car Company.

At 03.00 on 30 April, RAF Habbaniya was warned by the British embassy that Iraqi forces had left their bases at Baghdad and were heading west. The Iraqi force comprised between 6,000 and 9,000 men with up to 30 pieces of artillery. A few hours after RAF Habbaniya was warned, Iraqi forces occupied the plateau to the south of the base. Reconnaissance aircraft were launched before dawn from RAF Habbaniya, and reported that at least two battalions, with artillery, had taken up position on the plateau.

By 1 May, the strength of the Iraqi forces surrounding Habbaniya had increased to one infantry brigade, two mechanised battalions, one mechanised artillery brigade with 12 3.7-in (9-mm) mountain howitzers, one field artillery brigade with 12 18-pdr field guns and four 4.5-in (114.3-mm) howitzers, 12 Crossley six-wheeled armoured cars, a number of Fiat light tanks, one mechanised machine gun company, one mechanised signal company, and one mixed battery of anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns. This totalled 9,000 regular troops, an undetermined number of tribal irregulars, and about 50 field guns.

At 06.00 on 30 April, an Iraqi envoy presented a message to Smart, stating that the plateau had been occupied for a training exercise. The envoy also informed Smart that all flying should cease immediately and demanded that no movements, either ground or air, take place from the base. Smart replied that any interference with the normal training carried out at the base would be treated as an act of war. Based in embassy in Baghdad and in contact with RAF Habbaniya via wireless, the ambassador fully supported this action.

British reconnaissance aircraft, already in the air, continued to relay information to the base, reporting that the Iraqi positions on the plateau were being steadily reinforced and that Iraqi troops had occupied Fallujah.

At 11.30, the Iraqi envoy again made contact with Smart and accused the British of violating the Anglo-Iraqi treaty. Smart replied that this was a political matter and he would have to refer the accusation to Cornwallis. Meanwhile, Iraqi forces had now occupied vital bridges over the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and reinforced their garrison at Ramadi, cutting the land links to RAF Habbaniya.

During the morning, Smart and Roberts surveyed the situation and came to the conclusion that the British were exposed to attack on two sides and dominated by Iraqi artillery; a single hit from an Iraqi gun might destroy the water tower or power station and, as a result, cripple resistance at Habbaniya in one blow. Thus the base seemed at the mercy of the Iraqi rebels. The garrison did not have enough small arms, and the only artillery support was few mortars.

Smart controlled a base accommodating some 9,000 civilians but was indefensible with the force of roughly 2,500 men currently available. The 2,500 men included air crew and Assyrian Levies, who were prized by the British for their loyalty, discipline and fighting qualities. There was also the possibility that the Iraqi rebels were waiting for dark before attacking. Smart decided to accept the tactical risks and stick to Middle East Command’s policy of avoiding aggravation in Iraq by, for the moment, not launching a pre-emptive attack.

Although further exchanges of messages took place between the British and Iraqi forces, these did not defuse the situation. Smart again requested reinforcements, and this time Longmore ordered 18 Vickers Wellington twin-engined medium bombers to RAF Shaibah. The British ambassador signalled the foreign office that he regarded the Iraqi actions as an act of war, which required an immediate air response. He also informed them that he intended to demand the withdrawal of the Iraqi forces and asked for permission to launch air attacks to restore control; even if the Iraqi troops overlooking Habbaniya did withdraw it would only postpone aerial attacks.

On 1 May Cornwallis received a response giving him full authority to take any steps needed to ensure the withdrawal of the Iraqi armed forces. Churchill also sent a personal reply, stating that 'If you have to strike, strike hard. Use all necessary force.' In the event that contact broke down between the British embassy in Baghdad and the air base at Habbaniya, Smart was authorised to act on his own initiative.

Still in contact with the British embassy and with the approval of Cornwallis, Smart decided to launch air strikes against the plateau the following morning without any issue of an ultimatum, as with foreknowledge the Iraqi force might opt to shell the air base and halt any attempt to launch aircraft.

Most combat operations of the 'Campaign for Iraq' were centred on the Habbaniya area. Starting early on 2 May, British air attacks were launched against the Iraqi forces from RAF Habbaniya. While the largest number of British troops was ultimately assembled in the Basra area, an advance from Basra was not immediately practicable and did not get under way until after Ali’s government was already collapsing. Initially, the Iraqi siege of RAF Habbaniya and the ability of the besieged British force there to withstand the siege was the primary focus of the conflict. Smart’s decision to attack the Iraqi positions with air power not only allowed his force to withstand the siege, but to neutralise much of Iraq’s air power. While the relief force from Palestine arrived in Habbaniya after the siege was over, it did allow an immediate change over to the offensive.

Smart’s tactic to defend Habbaniya was to mount continuous bombing and strafing attacks with as many aircraft as possible. At 05.00 on 2 May, 33 aircraft from Habbaniya, out of the 56 operational aircraft based there, and eight Wellington bombers from Shaibah began their attack. A few of the Greek pilots being trained at Habbaniya also joined in the RAF attack. Within minutes the Iraqis on the escarpment replied by shelling the base, damaging some aircraft on the ground. The Iraqi air force also joined the fray over Habbaniya. RAF attacks were also made against Iraqi airfields near Baghdad, on which 22 aircraft were destroyed on the ground; further attacks were made against the railway and Iraqi positions near Shaibah, with the loss of two aircraft. Throughout the day, the pilots from Habbaniya flew 193 sorties and claimed direct hits on Iraqi transports, armoured cars and artillery pieces; however five aircraft were destroyed and several others put out of service. On the base 13 people were killed and 29 wounded, the total including nine civilians.

By the end of the day, the Iraqi force outside Habbaniya had grown to about one brigade.

The British attack on 2 May had taken the Iraqis by complete surprise. While the Iraqis on the escarpment carried live ammunition, many Iraqi soldiers were under the impression that they were on a training exercise. Ali and the members of the Golden Square were shocked by the fact that the British defenders of RAF Habbaniya had now revealed the fact that they were prepared to fight rather than surrender. To compound the surprise and shock, many Moslem men of the Iraqi army were preparing for morning prayers when the attack was launched. When the news reached the Grand Mufti in Baghdad, he immediately declared a jihad against the UK. In addition, the flow of Iraq Petroleum Company oil to Haifa was severed.

On 3 May, the British bombing of the Iraqis continued: troop and gun positions on the plateau were targeted, as were the supply line to Baghdad. The Iraqi base at Rashid was also attacked and an Iraqi Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 three-engined bomber heading for Habbaniya was intercepted and shot down. On the following day further air attacks were carried out on Iraqi troop positions and the Iraqi air force. A bombing raid conducted by eight Wellington bombers on Rashid was briefly engaged by Iraqi fighters, but no losses were suffered. Blenheim light bombers escorted by Hurricane fighters also conducted strafing attacks against airfields at Baghdad, Rashid and Mosul.

On 5 May, following a car accident, Smart was evacuated to Basra and thence to India, and Roberts assumed de facto command of the land operations at RAF Habbaniya. Air Vice Marshal John D’Albiac, later arrived from Greece to take command over air forces at Habbaniya and of all RAF forces in Iraq. Further aerial attacks were conducted against the plateau during the day, and after the fall of night Roberts ordered a sortie by the 1/King’s Own Royal Regiment against the Iraqi positions on the plateau. The attack was supported by the Assyrian levies, some RAF armoured cars and two World War I-era 4.5-in (114.3-mm) howitzers which had been put in working order by British gunners who had previously been decorating the entrance of the base’s officers mess.

Late on 6 May, the Iraqis besieging Habbaniya withdrew, and by dawn on 7 May, RAF armoured cars reconnoitring the top of the escarpment reported it to be deserted. The Iraqi force had abandoned substantial quantities of arms and equipment, and the British garrison gained six Czechoslovak-built 3.7-in (94-mm) howitzers along with 2,400 shells, one 18-pdr gun, one Italian tank, 10 Crossley armoured cars, 79 trucks, three 20-mm anti-aircraft guns with 2,500 rounds of ammunition, 45 Bren light machine guns, 11 Vickers machine guns and 340 rifles with 500,000 rounds of ammunition.

The Iraqi investment of Habbaniya had come to an end. The British garrison had suffered 13 men killed, 21 badly wounded, and four men suffering battle fatigue. The garrison had inflicted between 500 and 1,000 casualties on the besieging force, and taken many prisoners. On 6 May alone, 408 Iraqi troops were captured. The British chiefs-of-staff now ordered that it was essential to continue to hit the Iraqi armed forces hard by every means available while avoiding direct attacks on the civilian population. The British objective was to safeguard British interests from Axis intervention in Iraq, to defeat the rebels, and to discredit Alli’s government.

Meanwhile, Iraqi reinforcements were approaching Habbaniya. RAF armoured cars, reconnoitring ahead, soon found that the village of Sin el Dhibban, on the Fallujah road, was occupied by Iraqi troops. The 1st King’s Own Royal Regiment and the Assyrian levies, supported by the RAF armoured cars, assaulted the position, driving the Iraqis out and taking more than 300 prisoners. The Iraqi force retreating from Habbaniya now met an Iraqi column moving toward Habbaniya from Fallujah in the afternoon. The two Iraqi forces met around 5 miles (8 km) to the east of Habbaniya on the Fallujah road. The reinforcing Iraqi column was soon spotted and 40 aircraft from RAF Habbaniya arrived to attack it: the two Iraqi columns were paralysed, and within two hours more than 1,000 Iraqi casualties were inflicted and further prisoners were taken. Later in the afternoon Iraqi aircraft carried out three raids on the air base and inflicted some damage.

Also on 7 May, apparently unaware of Smart’s injury, Churchill sent the following message to Smart: 'Your vigorous and splendid action has largely restored the situation. We are all watching the grand fight you are making. All possible aid will be sent. Keep it up!'

Over the course of the next few days the RAF, from Habbaniya and Shaibah, effectively eliminated the Iraqi air force. However, from 11 May, German aircraft took the place of the Iraqi aircraft. During the time leading up to the coup d'état, Ali’s supporters had been informed that Germany was willing to recognise the independence of Iraq from the British empire. There had also been discussions on war matériel being sent to support the Iraqis and other Arab factions fighting the British.On 3 May, the Joachim Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister, persuaded Adolf Hitler to commit the secret return Dr Fritz Grobba to Iraq to head a diplomatic mission to channel support to the Ali régime. The British quickly learned of the German arrangements through intercepted Italian diplomatic transmissions.

Vichy France, which controlled the neighbouring Syrian Republic through a mandate provided by the League of Nations after World War I, became interested in the facilitation of any agreement between Iraq, Italy and Germany. A key Vichy French figure, Amiral de la flotte François Darlan, commander-in-chief of the Vichy French navy, was fully supportive of agreements with the Germans in order to promote long-term Vichy French aims, and had become increasingly incensed by British naval attacks on Vichy French shipping, which sometimes brought the Royal Navy into direct confrontation with Vichy French military forces. It was therefore proposed that Axis access to Iraq would be facilitated via Vicht French-held Syria.

On 6 May, in accordance with the Paris protocols, Germany concluded a deal with the Vichy French government to release war matérial, including aircraft, from sealed stockpiles in Syria and transport them to the Iraqis. The French also agreed to allow passage of other weapons and material as well as loaning to Germany several air bases in northern Syria for the transport of German aircraft to Iraq. Between 9 May and the end of the month, about 100 German and about 20 Italian aircraft landed on Syrian airfields. Darlan had also ensured that the protocols included a proposal that the French would launch an offensive against the British-held Iraqi oilfields, and that the resulting supply of oil would be made available to the Germans.

On 6 May, the Luftwaffe ordered Colonel Werner Junck to take a small force to Iraq, to operate from Mosul. Between 10 and 15 May the aircraft arrived in Mosul via Vichy French air bases in Syria, and then began regular air attacks on the British forces. The arrival of these aircraft was the direct result of fevered consultations between Baghdad and Berlin in the days following RAF strikes on the Iraqi forces above Habbaniya. The Luftwaffe force, under the direction of General Hans Jeschonnek, was named Fliegerführer 'Irak' (Flying Command 'Iraq') and was under the tactical command of Junck. On 11 May, the first three Luftwaffe aircraft arrived at Mosul via Syria. At least 20 bombers were initially promised; ultimately Junck’s unit comprised between 21 and 29 aircraft, all painted in Iraqi air force markings.

Major Axel von Blomberg was sent to Iraq with Sonderstab 'F' (Special Staff 'F'), the German military mission commanded by Felmy. von Blomberg was to command a 'Brandenburger' special forces reconnaissance group in Iraq that was to precede the arrival of the Fliegerführer 'Irak', and was also tasked with integrating Fliegerführer 'Irak' with Iraqi forces in operations against the British. On 15 May, von Blomberg flew from Mosul to Baghdad, but on its approach to Baghdad, the aeroplane was engaged by Iraqi ground fire, and von Blomberg was killed.

At this time Germany and the USSR were still allies as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939, and this was reflected in Soviet actions regarding Iraq. On 12 May, the USSR recognised Ali’s National Defence Government, and an Iraqi and Soviet exchange of notes established diplomatic relations between the two governments.

On 13 May, the first load of supplies arrived in Mosul by railway from Syria via Turkey, allowing the Iraqis to take delivery of 15,500 rifles with six million rounds of ammunition, 200 machine guns with 900 belts of ammunition, and four 75-mm (2.95-in) field guns with 10,000 rounds of ammunition. Two more deliveries were made on 26 and 28 May, and these included eight 155-mm (6.1-in) guns with 6,000 rounds of ammunition, 354 sub-machine guns, 30,000 grenades and 32 trucks.

On 14 May, according to Churchill, the RAF was authorised to act against German aircraft in Syria and on Vichy French airfields. On the same day, two over-laden Heinkel He 111 twin-engined medium bombers were left in Palmyra in central Syria because they had damaged rear wheels. British fighters entered Vichy French air space and strafed and disabled the damaged Heinkels. On 15 May an attack was made on German aircraft on the ground at Damascus, killing a Vichy French officer in the process.

By 18 May, Junck’s force had been whittled down to 8 Messerschmitt Bf 110 twin-engined heavy fighters, four He 111 bombers and two Junkers Ju 52/3m three-engined transport aircraft. This represented a loss of about 30% of Junck’s original force. With few replacements available, no spares, fuel of only poor quality, and aggressive attacks by the British, this rate of attrition did not bode well for the Fliegerführer 'Irak'. Indeed, near the end of May, Junck had lost 14 Messerschmitt and five Heinkel aircraft. On 18 May four Vichy French Morane-Saulnier MS. 406 single-engined fighters chased British aircraft flying above Syria, and another three Morane-Saulniers attacked Blenheims near Damascus without causing damage. On 19 May another British air attack near Damascus damaged several French aircraft and wounded a French soldier, and on 20 May British aircraft intentionally shot up six French aircraft and 50 vehicles.

More dogfights between Vichy French and British aircraft took place on 24 May, as did a British sabotage mission by 13 sappers on the railway line connecting Aleppo and Mosul, during which a Vichy French armoured car fired on the British. Further air combat between British and Vichy French warplanes occurred on 28 May, in which a Blenheim was shot down by a Vichy French fighter, killing its crew. On the same day, Vichy French Morane-Saulnier fighters escorted four German Ju 52/3m aircraft near Nerab in eastern Syria. More air combat was recorded on 31 May.

The UK was angered by the Vichy French assistance to Italy and Germany in their attacks on the British in Iraq, which would not have been possible save for the connivance of the Vichy French, and this spurred the UK into the start of preparations for the 'Exporter' invasion of Syria, which ultimately led to the 'Campaign for Syria and Lebanon' in June and July.

On 27 May, after being invited to do so by Germany, 12 Italian Fiat CR.42 single-engined biplane fighters of the 155a Squadriglia (renamed Squadriglia speciale 'Irak') of the Regia Aeronautica Italiana arrived at Mosul to operate under German command. Also present were an SM.79 and Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 three-engined aircraft acting as pathfinders from a base at Aleppo; personnel and equipment were brought in on three SM.82 machines. By 29 May, Italian aircraft were reported in the skies over Baghdad. Churchill claimed that the Italian aircraft accomplished nothing, but on 29 May near Khan Nuqta the Italians intercepted a flight of Audax aircraft escorted by Gladiator fighters of No. 94 Squadron and in the resulting combat two Gladiators were lost for one CR.42 shot down. This was the final aerial battle of the 'Campaign for Iraq'. The SM.79 was destroyed on the ground in Aleppo by RAF bombers. Three CR.42 fighters were damaged and had to be abandoned during the Axis withdrawal from Iraq. The remaining Italian aircraft were evacuated at the end of May and used to bolster the defence of the little island of Pantelleria.

Plans were drawn up to supply troops, but the German high command was hesitant and required the permission of Turkey for passage. In the end the Luftwaffe found conditions in Iraq intolerable, as spare parts were not available, and the quality of aircraft fuel was far below the Luftwaffe’s requirements. With each passing day fewer aircraft remained serviceable, and ultimately all Luftwaffe personnel were evacuated in the final He 111.

On 2 May, the day Smart launched his air attacks, Wavell continued to urge for further diplomatic action to be taken with the Iraqi government to end the current situation and accept the Turkish government’s offer of mediation. He was informed by the British defence committee that there would be no acceptance of the Turkish offer and that the situation in Iraq had to be restored.

Before Smart launched his air attacks on 2 May, members of the Iraqi Desert Police had seized the fort at Rutbah for the National Defence Government, and on 1 May had fired on British workers in Rutbah. In response, Major General J. G. W. Clark, the British commander in Palestine and Transjordan, had ordered the mechanised squadron of the Transjordan Frontier Force, which was based at the H4 pumping station, to seize the fort for the British. When the members of the Transjordan Frontier Force refused, they were marched back to H3 and disarmed.

By the end of the first day of air attacks, there had been reports that Iraqi army elements were advancing on the town of Rutbah. C Company of the 1/The Essex Regiment was instructed to advance from Palestine to H4, between Haifa and Iraq, and from here to join a detachment of RAF armoured cars and defend the position from the Iraqi rebels.

On 4 May, Churchill ordered Wavell to send a force from Palestine, and on the following day Wavell was placed in command of operations in northern Iraq, and General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson was recalled from Greece to take command of forces in Palestine and Transjordan. The rationale of the defence committee and chiefs-of-staff for taking military action against the Iraqi rebels was that they needed to secure the country from Axis intervention, and considered Ali to have been conspiring with the Axis powers. The chiefs-of-staff accepted full responsibility for the despatch of troops to Iraq.

On 8 May a column of the Arab Legion, under Major J. B. Glubb (Glubb 'Pasha'), reached the fort at Rutbah. It picketed the ground surrounding the fort to await the RAF bombardment. The fort was defended by approximately 100 policemen, mostly Iraqi Desert Police. The H4-based Blenheim bombers of No. 203 Squadron arrived and bombed the fort and, thinking that it had surrendered, left. The fort had not surrendered, and the RAF returned twice that day to bomb the fort without success.

During the following day, the RAF continued to bomb the fort intermittently. One aeroplane sustained such heavy small-arms fire that it crashed on the way home, killing the pilot. That evening, 40 trucks armed with machine guns arrived at the fort to reinforce the garrison. Half of the trucks were irregulars under the command of Fawzi al-Qawuqji and the other half were Iraqi Desert Police. Glubb decided to withdraw his troops to H3 to await the reinforcement of the main column. The Arab Legion returned to H3 on the morning of 10 May, and found No. 2 Armoured Car Company under Squadron Leader Michael Casano waiting there. The company had been sent up ahead of the main column to assist the Arab Legion in taking Rutbah. Casano took his RAF armoured cars to Rutbah while the Arab Legion replenished its supplies at H3. Casano’s armoured cars fought an action against al-Qawuqji’s trucks for most of the rest of the day and, although the result was not decisive, the trucks retired to the east under the cover of darkness, leaving the garrison to its fate. That night the RAF succeeded in a night bombing, with several bombs landing inside the fort.

Following the withdrawal of al-Qawuqji’s trucks and the successful bombing by the RAF, the rebel garrison withdrew from the fort under the cover of darkness. In the morning the Arab Legion column arrived and garrisoned the fort whilst Casano’s armoured cars continued to fight remnants of the Iraqi Desert Police’s forces.

The force put together in Palestine by Wavell was named 'Habforce', short for Habbaniya Force. The force was placed under the command of Clark, who was commander of the 1st Cavalry Division as well as commander in Transjordan and Palestine. After Wavell complained that using any of the force stationed in Palestine for service in Iraq would put Palestine and Egypt at risk, Churchill wrote to Major General Sir Hastings Ismay, the secretary of the chiefs-of-staff committee to ask 'Why would the force mentioned, which seems considerable, be deemed insufficient to deal with the Iraq Army?' Concerning the 1st Cavalry Division specifically, he wrote: 'Fancy having kept the cavalry division in Palestine all this time without having the rudiments of a mobile column organised!' On balance, Wavell wrote that the 1st Cavalry Division in Palestine had been stripped of its artillery, engineers, signals and transport to provide for the needs of other formations in Greece, North Africa and East Africa. While one motorised cavalry brigade could be provided, this was only possible by pooling the whole of the divisional motor transport.

It was after the Transjordan Frontier Force had refused to enter Iraq that Clark decided to divide 'Habforce' into two columns. The first column was a flying column named 'Kingcol' after its commanding officer, Brigadier J. J. Kingstone, and comprised the 4th Cavalry Brigade, two companies of the 1/The Essex Regiment, the No. 2 Armoured Car Company RAF, and No. 237 Field Battery of 25pdr gun/howitzers of 60th (North Midland) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. The second column, the 'Habforce' main force, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel J. S. Nichols, comprised the remaining elements of the 1/The Essex Regiment, the remainder of the 60th Field Regiment, RA, one anti-tank battery, and ancillary services. In addition to 'Kingcol' and the 'Habforce' main force, there was available to Clark a 400-man detachment of the Arab Legion (al-Jaysh al-Arabī) in Transjordan. The Arab Legion comprised three mechanised squadrons transported in a mixture of civilian Ford trucks and supported by extemporised armoured cars. Unlike the Transjordan Frontier Force, the Arab Legion was not part of the British army but was the regular Army of Transjordan, commanded by Glubb, also known as 'Glubb Pasha'.

During the morning of 11 May, 'Kingcol' departed Haifa on the Mediterranean coast with orders to reach Habbaniya as quickly as possible. This was the last occasion in which an all-horse operation was launched by the British. On 13 May, 'Kingcol' arrived in Rutbah but found no military presence there: Glubb Pasha and the Arab Legion had already moved on. The flying column under Kingstone then conducted maintenance at Rutbah before moving forward once more. On 15 May, the first contact was made with the Iraqi military when a Blenheim bomber strafed the column and dropped a bomb; no damage was suffered and no casualties were sustained. On 16 May, further bombing attacks were made against the column when it was attacked by the Luftwaffe: again no damage was sustained, but there were a few casualties. Also on 15 May, Fraser went sick and was replaced as the commander of the 10th Indian Division. His illness had led to him losing the confidence of his own staff, and he was replaced by the newly promoted Major General W. J. Slim, who later went on to be one of the most dynamic and innovative British commanders of the war. Also in early May, Longmore was replaced as air officer commanding in the Middle East by his deputy, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder.

During the late evening of 17 May, 'Kingcol' reached the Habbaniya area, and during the morning of the following day the column entered the RAF base. Throughout the day the remainder of the 1/The Essex Regiment was airlifted into the base. The force despatched from Palestine to relieve the Iraqi siege of RAF Habbaniya arrived about 12 days after the siege had been lifted.

With Habbaniya secure, the next objective for British forces was to secure the town of Fallujah on the Euphrates river as a preliminary objective before being able to move on Baghdad. An Iraqi brigade group was holding the town and its bridge, denying the road to Baghdad, and another brigade group was holding the town of Ramadi, to the west of Habbaniya, barring all movement to the west. Roberts dismissed the idea of attacking Ramadi because it was still garrisoned heavily by the Iraqi army and was largely cut off by Iraqi flooding. Roberts left Ramadi isolated and instead secured the strategically important bridge over the Euphrates river at Fallujah.

In the week following the withdrawal of the Iraqi forces near Habbaniya, Roberts formed what became known as the Habbaniya Brigade, formed by grouping the 1/The Essex Regiment from 'Kingcol' with further infantry reinforcements arriving from Basra, the 2/4th Gurkha Rifles, and some light artillery.

During the night of 17/18 May, elements of the Gurkha battalion, a company of RAF Assyrian Levies, RAF armoured cars and some captured Iraqi howitzers crossed the Euphrates river using improvised cable ferries at Sin el Dhibban, and approached Fallujah from the village of Saqlawiyah. During the early hours of the day, one company of the 1/King’s Own Royal Regiment was flown by four Valentia aircraft and landed on the Baghdad road beyond the town near Notch Fall. A company of RAF Assyrian Levies, supported by 'Kingcol' artillery, was ordered to secure the bridge across the river. Throughout the day the RAF bombed positions in the town and along the Baghdad road, avoiding a general bombardment of the town to prevent civilian casualties. On 19 May, 57 aircraft bombarded Iraqi positions within and around Fallujah, dropping 10 tons of bombs in 134 sorties.

During the afternoon there was a 10-minute bombardment of Iraqi trenches near the bridge before the Assyrian Levies advanced, covered by artillery fire. Facing little opposition, they captured the bridge within 30 minutes and were then met by an Iraqi envoy who offered the surrender of the garrison and the town. Some 300 prisoners were taken, and there were no British casualties. The Luftwaffe responded to the British capture of the city by attacking the Habbaniya airfield, destroying and damaging several aircraft and inflicting a number of casualties. On 18 May, Clark and Air Vice Marshal J. H. D’Albiac, designated as the British air commander in Iraq from 1 June, arrived in Habbaniya by air, but determined not to interfere with the ongoing operations directed by Roberts. On 21 May, having secured Fallujah, Roberts returned to Shaibah and to his duties with the Indian 10th Division.

On 22 May, the Iraqi 6th Brigade of the 3rd Division delivered a counterattack against the British forces within Fallujah, starting at 02.30, supported by a number of Italian-built L3/35 light tanks. By 03:00 the Iraqis had reached the north-eastern outskirts of the town, but two light tanks which had penetrated into the town were quickly destroyed. By dawn British counterattacks had driven the Iraqis out of the north-eastern area of Fallujah. The Iraqis now switched their attack to the town’s south-eastern edge, but met stiff resistance from the start and made no progress. By 10.00 Kingstone had arrived from Habbaniya with reinforcements, which were immediately thrown into battle. The newly arrived infantry companies, of the Essex Regiment, methodically cleared the Iraqi positions in house-to-house fighting. By 18.00 the remaining Iraqis had fled or had been taken prisoner, sniper fire silenced, six Iraqi light tanks captured, and the town secured. On 23 May, aircraft of the Fliegerführer 'Irak' made a belated appearance, strafing British positions at Fallujah three times, being a nuisance but accomplishing little. A day earlier an air assault co-ordinated with the Iraqi ground forces' attack might have changed the outcome of the counterattack.

Meanwhile Glubb’s Arab legionnaires dominated the tribal country to the north of Fallujah between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, an area known as Jezireh. Glubb had been instructed to persuade the local tribes to end their support for Ali’s government. Using a combination of propaganda and raids against Iraqi government posts, his actions proved to be remarkably successful. The British also used this period to increase air activity against the northern airfields of the Luftwaffe and to finally crush the German effort to support the Iraqis.

In response to the initial Iraqi moves, the Indian 10th Division, under Fraser’s command in Basra, occupied the airport, the docks and the power station. Elements of Brigadier D, Powell’s Indian 20th Brigade were used to occupy these sites. Between 18 and 29 April, two convoys had landed this brigade in the Basra area. The 2/8th Gurkha Rifles guarded the RAF airfield at Shabaih, the 3/11th Sikh Regiment secured the Maqil docks, and the 2/7th Gurkha Rifles was held in reserve. No major operations took place in the Basra area. The principal difficulty was that there were insufficient troops to take control of Maqil, Ashar and Basra city simultaneously. The Iraqi troops in Basra agreed to withdraw on 2 May, but did not. On 6 May, Brigadier C. J. Weld’s Indian 21st Brigade arrived and disembarked at Basra as the Indian 10th Division’s second brigade to reach Iraq. The Indian 21st Brigade included the 4/13th Frontier Force Rifles, the 2/4th Gurkha Rifles and the 2/10th Gurkha Rifles.

On 7 and 8 May, elements of the Indian 20th and 21st Brigades captured Ashar, near Basra. Ashar was well defended, and the Iraqi defenders inflicted a number of casualties on the British attackers. The British units involved were A, B, C and D Companies of 2/8th Gurkha Rifles and a half-section of Rolls-Royce armoured cars from 4/13th Frontier Force Rifles. The 2/4th Gurkha Rifles were held in reserve. As a result of the successful action against Ashar, the city of Basra was secured without a fight, but armed resistance from Iraqi police and army units continued until 17 May. While the Basra area was now secured, it was flood season in Iraq, and the difficulty of northward movement from Basra by rail, road or river toward Baghdad stifled further operations. In addition, Iraqi forces occupied points along the Tigris and along the railway the further to discourage northward movement.

On 8 May, control of operations in Iraq passed from Auchinleck’s India Command, to Wavell’s Middle East Command. Lieutenant General E. P. Quinan arrived from India to replace Fraser as commander of 'Iraqforce'. Quinan’s immediate task was to secure Basra as a base. He was ordered by Wavell not to advance to the north until the co-operation of the local tribes had been fully assured. Quinan could also not contemplate any move north for three months on account of the flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Directives had been issued to Quinan before he assumed command. On 2 May, he had been directed to: '(a) Develop and organise the port of Basra to any extent necessary to enable such forces, our own or Allied, as might be required to operate in the Middle East including Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran, to be maintained. (b) Secure control of all means of communication, including all aerodromes and landing grounds in Iraq, and develop these to the extent requisite to enable the Port of Basra to function to its fullest capacity.' Quinan was further instructed to 'begin at once to plan a system of defences to protect the Basra Base against attack by armoured forces supported by strong air forces, and also to be ready to take special measures to protect (i) Royal Air Force installations and personnel at Habbaniya and Shaiba. (ii) The lives of British subjects in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq. (iii) The Kirkuk oilfields and the pipe line to Haifa.' Lastly, Quinan was directed 'to make plans to protect the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s installations and its British employees in South West Iran if necessary.' Quinan was informed that 'it was the intention to increase his force up to three infantry divisions and possibly also an armoured division, as soon as these troops could be despatched from India.'

On 23 May, Wavell flew to Basra to discuss with Auchinleck further reinforcements and operations in Iraq. Additionally, he instructed Quinan to plan an advance from Basra toward Baghdad. On 27 May, the forces from Basra started to advance to the north. In 'Regulta', the Indian 20th Brigade, known as the Euphrates Brigade, advanced along the Euphrates river by boat and by road. In 'Regatta' (i), the Indian 21st Brigade, known as the Tigris Brigade, advanced up the Tigris river by boat to Kut. On 30 May, the Indian 10th Division’s third brigade, Brigadier R. G. Mountain’s Indian 25th Brigade, arrived and disembarked at Basra. The Indian 25th Brigade included the 3/9th Jat Regiment, 2/11th Royal Sikh Regiment and 1/5th Mahratta Light Infantry. During June 1941, additional British forces arrived in Basra from India: on 9 June, Brigadier D. D. Gracey’s Indian 17th Brigade arrived and, on 16 June, Brigadier R. E. Le Fleming’s Indian 24th Brigade.

The British forces from Habbaniya pressed on to Baghdad after the defence of Fallujah. Clark decided to maintain the momentum because he suspected that the Iraqis did not appreciate just how small and vulnerable his forces actually were. Clark had a total of about 1,450 men to attack at least 20,000 Iraqi defenders but did, however, did enjoy a marked advantage in the air.

It was during the night of 27/28 May that the British advance on Baghdad began. The advance made slow progress and was hindered by extensive inundations and by the destruction of many bridges over the irrigation waterways. Faced with Clark’s advance, the Ali’s government collapsed. On 29 May, Ali, the Grand Mufti, and many members of the National Defence Government fled to Iran and then went on to Germany. On the morning of 31 May, the mayor of Baghdad and a delegation approached British forces at the Washash Bridge. With the mayor was Cornwallis, the British ambassador, who had been confined to the British embassy in Baghdad for the past four weeks. Terms were quickly reached and an armistice was signed. Operations by 'Mercol', 'Gocol' and 'Harcol' against guerrillas continued into June. The British decided not to occupy Baghdad immediately, partly to disguise the weakness of British forces outside the city, as the Iraqi armed forces in the vicinity of Baghdad still greatly outnumbered those of the British. On 1 June, Prince 'Abd al-Ilah returned to Baghdad as the regent, and the monarchy and a pro-British government were restored. On 2 June, Jamil al-Midfai was named as the new prime minister.

In the immediate aftermath of the fall of Ali’s National Defence Government and signature of the armistice, Baghdad was torn apart by rioting and looting. Much of the violence was channelled towards the city’s Jewish quarter: more than 180 Jewish residents were killed and about 850 injured before the Iraqi police was ordered to restore order with live ammunition.

At least two British accounts of the conflict praised the efforts of the air and ground forces at RAF Habbaniya. According to Churchill, the landing of the Indian 20th Brigade at Basra on 18 April was 'timely' and in his opinion had forced Ali into premature action. He added that the 'spirited defence' of Habbaniya by the flying school was a 'prime factor' in the British success. Wavell wrote that the 'gallant defence' of Habbaniya and the bold advance of 'Habforce' discouraged the Iraqi army, while the Germans in their turn were prevented from sending further reinforcements by 'the desperate resistance of our troops in Crete, and their crippling losses in men and aircraft'.

On 18 June, Quinan was given command of all British and commonwealth forces in Iraq. Before this, 'Iraqforce' was more or less limited to the forces landed at and advancing from Basra.

After the 'Campaign for Iraq', elements of 'Iraqforce' (known as Iraq Command from 21 June) were used to attack the Vichy French-held Mandate of Syria during the 'Exporter' campaign against Syria and Lebanon, which started on 8 June and ended on 14 July. Iraq Command (known as Persia and Iraq Force [Paiforce] from 1 September) was also used to attack Iran during the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Persia, which took place in August to September 1941. Forward defences against a possible German invasion from the north through the Caucasus were created in 1942, and the strength of Paiforce peaked at the equivalent of more than 10 brigades before the Soviets halted the German threat at the 'Battle of Stalingrad'. After 1942, Iraq and Persia were used to transit war material to the USSR, and the British military presence became mainly lines of communication troops.

On 20 June, Churchill informed Wavell that he was to be replaced by Auchinleck. Of Wavell, Auchinleck wrote that 'In no sense do I wish to infer that I found an unsatisfactory situation on my arrival – far from it. Not only was I greatly impressed by the solid foundations laid by my predecessor, but I was also able the better to appreciate the vastness of the problems with which he had been confronted and the greatness of his achievements, in a command in which some 40 different languages are spoken by the British and Allied Forces.'

British forces remained in Iraq until 26 October 1947, and the country remained effectively under British control. The British considered the occupation of Iraq necessary to ensure continued access to the country’s strategic oil resources. On 18 August 1942, Wilson was appointed commander-in-chief of the Persia and Iraq Command, and by 15 September was headquartered in Baghdad. Wilson’s primary task was 'to secure at all costs from land and air attack the oil fields and oil installations in Persia and Iraq'. His secondary task was 'to ensure the transport from the Persian Gulf ports of supplies to Russia to the maximum extent possible without prejudicing [his] primary task'.

While Ali and his supporters were in alliance with the Fascist régime in Italy, the war demonstrated that Iraq’s independence was at best conditional on British approval of the government’s actions. Ali and the Mufti of Jerusalem fled to Persia, then to Turkey, then to Italy, and finally to Germany, where Ali was welcomed by Hitler as head of the Iraqi government-in-exile.