The Iraq Coup  of 1941, The Mufti and the Farhud

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The Iraq Coup Attempt of 1941, the Mufti, and the Farhud

Prologue - The Iraq coup of 1941 is little studied, but very interesting. It is a dramatic illustration of the potential for the Palestine issue to destabilize the Middle East, as well a "close save" in the somewhat neglected theater of the Middle East, which was understood by Churchill to have so much potential for disaster [1].

Iraq had been governed under a British supported regency, since the death of King Feysal in September 1933. Baqr Sidqi, a popular general, staged a coup in October 1936, but was himself assassinated in 1937.  In December of 1938, another coup was launched by a group of power brokers known as "The Seven." Nuri al-Sa'id was named Prime Minister.

The German Consul in Baghdad, Grobba, was apparently already active before the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, soliciting support for Germany and exploiting unrest. [2]. Though the Germans were not particularly serious about aiding  a revolt perhaps, they would not be unhappy if it occurred. 

In March of 1940 ,  the "The Seven" forced  Nuri al-Sa'id out of office. Rashid Ali Al Keilani was made Prime Minister. However, in February of 1941, Raschid was forced to resign in favor of Taha Pasha al Hashimi. Raschid Ali and a group of officers plotted to eliminate the British supported monarchy and the regent, Abd-ul Ilah as well as Taha Pasha.  

The Mufti - Apparently the coup was in great part the initiative of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin El Husseini. Husseini had  fled the wrath of the British in Palestine, where he was wanted for his central role in the Palestinian "Arab Revolt." The Mufti had visited the  German Consul General, Dohle, in Palestine on July 21, 1937, and is thought to have been in the pay of the Germans since that time. He is reputed to have met Adolf Eichmann in Palestine, when Eichmann had traveled there (in September or October of 1937) with another SS officer, Herbert Hagen,  to investigate the possibility of deporting German Jews to Palestine. Based on war crimes testimony and the Eichmann trial transcripts, it appears that Eichmann and the Mufti later enjoyed a close relationship. [3]

Husseini wrote in his memoirs:

Our fundamental condition for cooperating with Germany was a free hand to eradicate every last Jew from Palestine and the Arab world. I asked Hitler for an explicit undertaking to allow us to solve the Jewish problem in a manner befitting our national and racial aspirations and according to the scientific methods innovated by Germany in the handling of its Jews. The answer I got was: 'The Jews are yours.

Husseini fled Palestine in October of 1937, following the murder of the British Commissioner of the Northern District (Galilee), Lewis Andrews.  The Mufti and a number of members of the  Arab Higher Committee fled to Beirut, and then in October 1939, following the outbreak of World War II,  they moved to Baghdad. The Iraqi government financed the Mufti, and the Mufti endeavored to use Iraqi dissatisfaction to oust the British and advance the Palestinian cause as well as the cause of the Axis.    However,  on the whole most of the anti-British faction  regarded the war as an opportunity to advance their own cause, whoever won. The Mufti, however, considered  a British victory in the war as contrary to Arab interests. It should be pointed out that whilst the Mufti was certainly pro-Axis by choice, that was not true of the entire Palestinian leadership, including his cousin Jemal, who favored a deal for Palestine with Britain. According to a diplomatic observer, the Mufti favored the Arabs joining the axis and the USSR, then an ally of Germany,  in a general war against the France and Britain. [4]

Husseini was being supported, morally and apparently financially, from Berlin and Rome. On August 26, 1940, Husseini had sent his secretary Kemal Hadad to Berlin. Hadad  acted as a liaison between the Axis powers and four pro-Nazi staff officers known as the " the Golden Square" (Salah al-din al Sabag, Fahmi Said, Mahmud Salman and Kemal Shabib). [5] Hadad made another trip in December of 1940 because "funds were running low." [6]  In February of 1941, Haddad again traveled to Berlin with a letter requesting military aid.

The British had been following the career of the Mufti with concern. In May 1940, the British Foreign Office had allegedly refused a  proposal from the the Vaad Leumi (Jewish national council in Palestine) that they assassinate Haj Amin al-Huseini. However,  in November, Winston Churchill approved the plan.  According to a different account, it was David Raziel, imprisoned leader of the Jewish Irgun underground, who himself proposed the plan, writing from his jail cell. Eventually, the plan was changed to a mission of sabotage in Iraq.    In May 1941, several members of the Irgun including its leader David Raziel were released from prison and flown to Iraq for this purpose. The mission was abandoned when Raziel was killed by a German plane  [7]

The Coup - On April 1, 1941,   the "Golden Square" and the chief of staff of the Iraqi army staged the coup, and  appointed Rashid 'Ali al-Keilani head of the government. Nuri as Said was forced to flee Iraq along with the regent and young king Faysal II. On April 3, a letter from the German Secretary of State Von Weizacker answered Haddad's letter favorably, but the letter arrived after the coup.

Rashid 'Ali  stated on April 10 that he would honor the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1930, apparently fearing British reprisals .On April 16, Rashid responded to a  request for landing of  British troops at Basra cautiously. He replied that they could land, but must embark immediately for Palestine or Egypt. The British began landing troops on April 16 or 18  at Basra, at first in compliance with Rashid Ali's conditions, and later in violation of the conditions, since the troops did not leave.  The British played for time and made pretences of accepting the new situation. However, reinforcements from India kept arriving at Basra.

The Iraqi government was also trying to buy time, and entered into a pretence of Turkish mediation of the crisis. However, the Iraqi representative in Turkey, told the German Ambassador von Papen, that there would be no compromise with the  British. Raschid Ali had already asked the Italians for military aid at the end of March, and likewise, Hitler decided on April 10 to send military aid to the Iraqis. However, the shipments took several weeks. The German foreign office got a report from General Keitel of a large shipment, including, for example, some 15,000 rifles and about 800 machine guns.    Arms were shipped from Saloniki and through Turkey and Syria. The shipments from Syria were sent as a consequence of the agreement between the Vichy leader Darlan and Hitler as to general collaboration between Vichy and Germany. In the same agreement Vichy also agreed to allow German aircraft to base and stage through Syria on their way to Iraq, though there would be some pretence involved, so that the Vichy government could plausibly deny to Britain that it was assisting the German war effort. The French also rationed German fuel supplies, and as the Luftwaffe was unable to obtain fuel from Persia or elsewhere, this hampered their effectiveness.

A second group of British troops landed at Basra on April 28, and the Iraqis protested.  On the evening of April 29, about 9,000 troops of  the Iraqi army surrounded the RAF air base at Habaniyeh and the next day the Iraqis ordered that no flights were to take off. However, the Iraqis had insufficient force. The move was instigated by the "Golden Square" officers. Rashid Ali himself apparently wanted to avoid antagonizing the British and wait for supplies from the Germans.

The British strike back - The British struck to lift the siege of Habanniyeh, remove Rashid Ali from power and restore the pro-British government. Though they were initially unable to move from Basra overland, because of the weather and because Iraqis had cut lines of communication, the British were able to use the RAF at Habbaniyeh and Shaiba effectively, and began attacking on May 2.   They had about 90 aircraft, mostly antiquated, but these included a number of Wellington bombers[8]. . The RAF struck the Iraqis surrounding Habbaniyeh  The Iraqis used their air force [9],  very sparingly and not very effectively.  At the same time, relatively small numbers of British reinforcements were ferried by air from Basra.  Iraqi anti-aircraft fire and artillery proved ineffective. By May 6 the Iraqi force was defeated and the siege of Habbaniyeh was abandoned, though the roads were still blocked.  The RAF also destroyed most of the Iraqi air force on the ground by about May 8.

German Aid  - During this time, several German officers and diplomats were seconded to Iraq to oversee Luftwaffe  operations and the arms supply. Dr Fritz Grobba, the former consul, now returned to oversee the arms shipments and a Major Hansen was sent to oversee the transfer of aircraft. Grobba allegedly distributed sums of money to both Rashid Ali and the Mufti. Raschid Ali got about 90,000 pounds, and the Mufti reportedly got about $10,000.

The first train load of war supplies arrived from Vichy Syria on 11 or 12 May, and  two more followed on 26 May and June 3. A third shipment on June 10, and perhaps more, would have followed, but RAF reconnaissance had soon spotted the shipments and commenced attack on the railway line and Vichy French bases where German aircraft had been spotted. They even air landed British army engineers into Syria to blow the railway bridges. The  supplies that arrived seem to have been stored in Mosul by the Iraqis but were never used. It is not known why, though some military historians suggest it was because the Iraqi forces were not trained to use French equipment, and Vichy had not supplied promised instructors. One of the enduring mysteries about the French supplies is whether or not aircraft were supplied. The RAF claim to have seen Me109s on Iraq airbases, and encountered them in the air, but it is clear that no German single engine fighters went to Iraq. There is a suggestion in some of the sources that Vichy may have supplied MS406s, their standard fighter of the time, but no solid evidence.

German air forces arrived at Mosul after staging through Vichy Syria on 13-14th May 1941.  They consisted of 14 Bf110 twin engine fighters and 7 He111 bombers, plus a number of transport aircraft. From the beginning they had problems with technical backup, spares, and fuel (the fuel provided by the Iraqis was very crude and had to re-refined before use).  Nonetheless, the German forces embarked on attacks on Habbaniya and the British forces immediately upon arrival on May 13. The first German bombing raid on Habbaniya did more damage than all previous Iraq attacks put together.

It was all in vain. As noted, the Iraqi army failed to overrun Habbaniyeh initially, while the British were getting organized, and lost their chance, for whatever reason. By the time the Germans were attacking  the British and Imperial forces at Habbaniya had seized the initiative. They had cowed the offensive spirit of the Iraqi army, and virtually destroyed the Iraqi air force. However, the British could not leave Habanniyeh by land. 

KingCol and Habforce to the Rescue - It was understood from the beginning that a larger force was needed. The force of British and Arab Legion troops was hastily organized in Palestine. The entire Palestine force, called Habforce, consisted of about 7,000 or 8,000 troops under Major General John George Walters Clark. However, it was judged that it would take too long for this force to arrive. Therefore an advance column, called KingCol, was sent with about 2,000 troops men drawn from the Household Cavalry Regiment (Life Guards and Royal Horse Guards) and the 1st Essex Regiment together with supporting artillery and armored vehicles, under Brig. J.J. Kingstone.  

The Role of the Arab Legion - Enthusiasts of the Arab Legion have sometimes left the impression that the Arab Legion was the key force in ending the revolt.  This was not the case. The Legion set out with 350 men, and after garrisons were left at H4 and Rutbah, 250 continued toward Baghdad, under Major John Glubb ("Glubb Pasha")[10]. The column got air cover from the RAF. This small advance force arrived about May 14 (May 18 according to some sources, prossibly referring to the arrival of Habforce), despite Luftwaffe  strafing and despite the fact that company D of the Arab Legion regiment  refused to cross the Transjordan-Iraq frontier and advance to Rutbah, and they had to be disarmed and disbanded. [11] Glubb and the Legion did not take part in the main advance of Habbaniyeh. In his Story of the Arab Legion, Glubb relates that  their most important task was to find the route to get the motorized transport through the sand dunes safely.  Once KingCol arrived at Habbaniyah, Glubb attempted to carry out his political mission to the Iraqi tribes, together with a little light sabotage of railways and similar tasks. The Legion force detached itself from the main KingCol column and went north with a diversionary force to act as scouts. The northern force was however held up by serious Iraqi defence at Khadimain. There was some serious fighting between the main part of the northern column and the Iraqi defenders but the Legion did not take part in that. It did cut the Baghdad railway so that the Iraqi troops at Mosul could not send reinforcements.

Iraq - 1941 Coup - Map of KingCol advance

The advance of KingCol from Sarafend in Palestine to R.A.F. Habanniyeh
 (along H - Haifa Pipeline) and return along T to Palmyra. (from de Chair, Somerset , "The Golden Carpet")

Though the new German commander agreed with the Iraqi government in Baghdad on  May 16th that his priorities were to repel the British KingCol force, capture Habbaniya, and put spine into the Iraqi army, he did not have sufficient force to do it. The British were seizing the initiative. The battle was in the hands of younger officers who were not only more aggressive, but prepared to adopt many new means of fighting, such as flying elements of the ground forces into position to mount diversionary attacks, using bombs especially adapted to emit a fearsome scream as they fell, etc. In fact the RAF officer commanding Iraq, Air Marshall Smart, apparently unsuited for operational command,  had had a nervous breakdown by this point, and the air battle was in the hands of a Group Captain and a clutch of squadron leaders

The British had, in addition to KingCol, a variety of Imperial troops and allies in Iraq. These included the Indians who had arrived in Basra, Assyrians, mostly in northern Iraq, and some troops of defeated allies, such as the Greeks, who fought with memorable distinction. On May 19th  the combined British Imperial forces took Fallujah. The German forces coordinated with the Iraqi counter-attack which swung back and forth during the day, but finally ended with with the British once more in possession. This seems to have settled it so far as serious opposition from the Iraqi army was concerned, and the number and condition of the German aircraft was daily deteriorating. Twelve Italian CR42 fighters arrived in Kirkuk via Aleppo Syria on 26th May, and immediately went into action against British Imperial forces on the road between Fallujah and Baghdad, but essentially this force was contained by RAF aircraft now operating from Habbaniya and Shaibah in Iraq, the H4 base and   Amman in Transjordan, and from Aqir and other bases in Palestine. The Axis air support could not retrieve the facts on the ground, and the facts on the ground were that the Iraqi army had retreated into Baghdad, with outposts at Ramadi and Kirkuk.

By  May 28th British forces were camped just outside Baghdad. There was no reinforcement of German/Italian forces. The intelligence officer of KingCol fed a rumor directly into the Iraqi military command that 100 tanks were coming down the Baghdad road, and this seems to have broken the nerve of Rashid Ali and his colleagues in the Iraqi Government. In fact the only armor the British Imperial forces had were a handful of armored cars of various types. Raschid Ali and his party, including Haj Amin El Husseini fled first to Persia and then to Berlin.

The Farhud - Nonetheless, Iraq remained turbulent. Yunis Al Sabawi, an Iraqi pro-Nazi leader, appointed himself governor of central southern Iraq. He ordered Jews  to remain in their homes Saturday, May 31, and on June 1 and 2, during the Jewish  Shavuoth holiday, apparently intending a pogrom. However, the British deported Sabawi before he could put his plan into action.

On June 1, a group of Jews went to the airport to greet the regent and his party who were returning to Iraq. On the way back, they were  attacked on Al Khur bridge by soldiers and civilians. One Jew was killed, and many injured. Riots and murder spread to Al Rusafa and Abu Sifya.. The terror continued until 10 p.m, including murder, murder of infants  rape, arson, and looting. On June 2 1941 the riots continued, reinforced by policemen, soldiers and slum dwellers from the Al Karkh quarter.  At 5 p.m., a curfew was declared. Persons out after curfew were summarily shot. Official Iraqi reports record 187 killed. Some estimates claim thousands of Jewish dead. Very probably about 400 people were killed and an estimated 2,100 injured. At the same time there were many acts of kindness by Muslims who protected and sheltered Jews, and Muslim doctors who took the lead in giving aid to Jewish casualties. 

The behavior of the British in the Farhud remains a mystery, since the British ambassador, Kinahan Cornwallis, refused to allow British troops to enter the city until the pogrom was over. This may have been due to reluctance to interfere in Iraqi internal affairs, or to fear of getting involved in street fighting, or to reluctance to risk British lives for what were not vital British interests.  British records are sealed until 2017. [12]

Epilog - The timely intervention of the British and their success in quelling the counter-coup, seemed to vindicate, in part,  British imperial policy and the tactics engineered by Churchill in the 20s, which relied on air power.  Failure of the Axis to commit sufficient air power, for one reason or another, lost for the Axis the chance to control oil-rich Mesopotamia, and to have a staging base for controlling the entire east. [1] On the other hand, the high-handed meddling of the British in Iraqi politics and the inept government they supported may have been instrumental in encouraging Iraqis to seek Axis help.

The deposed Grand Mufti and Palestinian leader, Haj Amin El Husseini, became an active collaborator in the Nazi war effort, broadcasting for Berlin and organizing SS troops in Yugoslavia.  The Iraqi revolt provided a model of how trouble in Palestine could spill over into other countries and destabilize the Middle East. The activities and career of the Mufti, always disquieting, became a source of anxiety for most of the rulers in the Middle East. They feared, with some justice, that he was out to unseat them, either as part of a plan to take power in Palestine by removing the British and their supporters from the Middle East, or else after he head taken power in Palestine. In Iraq, the seeds of anti-Jewish feeling that were stirred up in this period came to the fore again in 1948, after the establishment of the State of Israel. 

For the Jews of Palestine, the Mufti was a source of nightmares.  Dieter Wisliceny, Eichmann's deputy had told Rudolf Kastner, who was in touch with the Jewish Agency,  that the Mufti had been influential in determining the fate of European Jews, and the Mufti later confided to the British that he envisioned the same solution for the Jews of Palestine. It is safe to assume that these plans were known to the Zionist leadership. The Jewish community of Palestine were aware not only of the Farhud, and of the Mufti's hair-raising calls on Nazi Radio to "kill the Jews wherever you find them." They had also seen the slaughter inflicted on Jews and Arabs by the Mufti and his followers during the Palestinian revolt. These facts, in addition to other public Arab statements about massacring the Jews, likely  helped convince the Jews of Palestine that they were facing a war of extinction in 1948.

Palestinian Grand Mufti Haj Amin El Husseini (Hussayni) with Nazi Troops  
Mufti Haj Amin el Husseini
featured on the cover of Vienna Illustrated (Wiener Illustrierte) magazine. Husseini is apparently reviewing troops he had recruited.  

Ami Isseroff and  Peter FitzGerald-Morris


1 Churchill said of the battle of Habanniyah - "Thus the German plan for raising rebellion in Iraq and mastering cheaply this wide area was frustrated on a small margin. The landing of an Indian brigade at Basra on April 18 was timely. It forced Rashid Ali into premature action. Even so there was a race with our meagre forces against time. The spirited defence of Habbaniya by the Flying School was a prime factor in our success. The Germans had of course at their disposal an airborne force which would have given them at this time Syria, Iraq, and Persia, with their precious oil-fields. Hitler's hand might have reached out very far towards India, and beckoned to Japan. He had chosen however, as we shall soon see, to employ and expend his prime air organism in another direction. We often hear military experts inculcate the doctrine of giving priority to the decisive theatre. There is a lot in this. But in war this principle, like all others, is governed by facts and circumstances; otherwise strategy would be too easy. It would become a drill-book and not an art; it would depend upon rules and not on an instructed and fortunate judgment of the proportions of an ever-changing scene. Hitler certainly cast away the opportunity of taking a great prize for little cost in the Middle East. We in Britain, although pressed to the extreme, managed with scanty forces to save ourselves from far-reaching or lasting injury."

2. Grobba and Unrest - See  here 

Ben prima dell'inizio del secondo conflitto mondiale, il console tedesco a Baghdad, Hans Grobba aveva iniziati a svolgere un accurato lavoro sotterraneo, avvicinando i membri del partito nazionalista arabo (già in contatto con il Movimento filonazista e antiebraico capeggiato dal Gran Muftì di Gerusalemme, Husseini) e i principali esponenti dell'esercito iracheno..

(Well before the beginning of the war, the German consul in Baghdad, Hans Grobba had begun to develop an accurate underground work, approaching  members of the Arabic nationalist party (already in contact with the Nazi-loving and anti-Jewish movement headed by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Hussieni) and the main leaders of the Iraqi army....)

3. Eichmann and the Mufti and Mufti involvement with Nazism - The involvement of the Mufti with Nazism and with the extermination of the Jews in Europe,  must be documented carefully, because there are systematic attempts to deny it for reasons that have nothing to do with historical veracity, and on the other hand, there seem to be some attempts to embroider and dramatize it, perhaps beyond what is warranted by the evidence.

Eichmann's trip to Palestine was the initiative of the SD. Eichmann was ordered to travel to Palestine in July of 1937 and to make contact with Zionists there. This manipulation is often portrayed by anti-Zionists as "collaboration with Nazis," but in fact the Zionists were interested in any possibility of rescuing Jews from the clutches of the Germans. Eichmann was to use this fact well in future dealings. However, according to the BBC, Eichmann's trip to Palestine was aborted after one day:

This trip, aborted after one day, revealed the true extent of his sympathy for Zionism: he warned the SD that it would be foolish to promote a strong Jewish state. Instead, it should encourage Jewish emigration to backward countries where they would live in poverty.

It is not clear that Eichmann met the Mufti then, though this is stated in several sources. According to one source ( , Eichmann only arrived in Palestine in November of 1937, which was most likely after the Mufti had fled.

Evidence introduced at the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem indicates however that the Mufti and Eichmann were close and that the Mufti was an important role in instigating the Holocaust, according to second hand testimony  of Steiner regarding Dieter Wisliceny, Eichmann's deputy for Slovakia and Hungary:

" State Attorney Bach: This is our document No. 281. Mr. Steiner first tells us that Wisliceny described his talks with Eichmann, why Palestine cannot be considered as the destination for emigration: "When I asked him why, he laughed and asked whether I had never heard of the Grand Mufti Husseini. He  explained that the Mufti has very close contact and cooperation with Eichmann,  and therefore Germany cannot agree to Palestine being the final destination,  as this would be a blow to Germany's prestige in the Mufti's eyes."

Then he goes on: "At this further conversation Wisliceny gave me more details about the cooperation between Eichmann and the Mufti. The Mufti is a sworn enemy of the Jews and has always fought for the idea of annihilating the Jews. He sticks to this idea always, also in his talks with Eichmann" - and here we have one of the points about which Wisliceny has reservations - "who, as you  know, is a German who was born in Palestine. The Mufti is one of the originators of the systematic destruction of European Jewry by the Germans, and he has become a permanent colleague, partner and adviser to Eichmann and Himmler in the implementation of this programme."

Here Wisliceny adds: "I have read these descriptions and find them correct, except for this, that Eichmann was born in Palestine, and that the Mufti was a permanent partner of Himmler's; this is not what I said."

Presiding Judge: This will be marked T/1117."
Web source:

The gist of the above can be confirmed from several sources, including Wisliceny himself. Reportedly, in June 1944, Wisliceny told Dr. Rudolf Kasztner in Budapest that he was convinced that the Mufti had played a role in the decision to exterminate the European Jews... The importance of this role must not be disregarded... The Mufti had repeatedly suggested to the various authorities with whom he was maintaining contact, above all to Hitler, Ribbentrop and Himmler, the extermination of European Jewry. He considered this as a comfortable solution of the Palestinian problem.

At the Nuremberg Trials in July 1946, Wisliceny testified:

"The Mufti was one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry and had been a collaborator and adviser of Eichmann and Himmler in the execution of this plan... He was one of Eichmann's best friends and had constantly incited him to accelerate the extermination measures. I heard him say, accompanied by Eichmann, he had visited incognito the gas chamber of Auschwitz."

Wisliceny also testified that after the Mufti's arrival in Germany he had paid visit to Himmler and shortly afterwards (late in 1941 or early in 1942) had visited Eichmann in his Berlin office at Kürfurstrasse, 116. According to Wisliceny, Eichmann told him that he had brought the Mufti to a special room where he showed him maps illustrating the distribution of the Jewish population in various European countries and delivered a detailed report on the solution of the Jewish problem in Europe.

When the Red Cross offered to mediate with Adolf Eichmann in a trade prisoner-of-war exchange involving the freeing of German citizens in exchange for 5,000 Jewish children being sent from Poland to the Theresienstadt death camp, Husseini directly intervened with Himmler and the exchange was cancelled.

Among the sabotage al-Husayni organized was an attempted chemical warfare assault on the Jewish community in Tel Aviv. Five parachutists were sent with a toxin to dump into the water system. The police caught the infiltrators in a cave near Jericho, and according to Jericho district police commander Fayiz Bey Idrissi, "The laboratory report stated that each container held enough poison to kill 25,000 people, and there were at least ten containers."

An interesting source that has many quotes from books including the postwar depositions of Steiner, Wisliceny and Rudolf Kastner regarding the Mufti and Eichmann: The Grand Mufti and in French , under the title: La Bibliothèque Proche Orientale

Reference:  Bar-Zohar, Michael and Eitan Haber,  The Quest for the Red Prince, 1983 quoted here.

4. Jemal Husseini ("Baghdad Proposal) " In discussions including the Mufti's cousin Jemal el_Huseini the idea was that a National Government would be established in Palestine, the Mufti and his Huseini clan would support the Allies, and Iraq would declare war on the Axis and provide two divisions for the desert war. However opposition from Churchill and the Jewish population of Palestine saw that these talks did not succeed  and the "Baghdad proposals" were rejected by the British Government on 29/8/40." The Mufti had not participated in these talks and was evidently uninterested in any case. Hirszowicz, op. cit. p 81 - 82.

Assessment of Mufti's aims - The diplomat was Al-Hud - advisor to Ibn Saud, in communication to German Ambassador to Turkey 15/11/39. See-  Hirszowicz, Lukasz,   The Third Reich and the Arab East London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968, pp 65 ff.

5. Hadad's Missions - At about this time  (August-September 194) Haddad also had discussions with Von Papen former German Chancellor and now ambassador to Turkey  Von Papen was told Italy had already given the Iraq government a written assurance supporting the independence of all mandated and protectorate Arab countries. The Mufti wanted a similar declaration from Germany. On that basis Iraq would resume diplomatic relations, and a new revolt would be organised in Palestine to assist the Axis fight against Britain. With Saudi Arabian assistance the pro-British Emir of Transjordan would be removed and his lands joined to Palestine. Haddad went on to Berlin where in August/September 1940 he held discussions with Grobba (the former German Consul)   Melchers and Weizacker (the state secretary in the German Foreign Office). Haddad represented himself as representative of a coordinating committee of the Arab World under the leadership of the Mufti  essentially it represented Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Palestine. Haddad told the Germans that the committee had been trying to contact the Germans for some time without success, in particular to inform the German and Italian governments of the Iraqis desire to cooperate with the Axis Haddad also told ther Germans there was no chance that that the Palestinians would be allied to Britain even while the British were negotiating with Jemal Husseini.  (Grobba's notes 27/8/40).  Hirszowicz, op. cit. p 82 - 83.

At this time however, the Middle East was in the Italian sphere, and the Germans were reluctant to commit to any such schemes.  The Tripartite pact signed on 27/9/40 recognised Italy's hegemony in the Arab lands. In further discussions, the Mufti's secretary was told by the Germans that any agreement to Italian supremacy in the Middle East was temporary, and would change when the war was over. Hirszowicz, op. cit. p 91

6. December trip and Axis Funding of the Mufti -   Hirszowicz records several trips by Haddad to Berlin and Rome, including this one:  "By December 1940, the funds advanced to the Mufti by the Axis were running short The Mufti's secretary Haddad therefore made a further trip to Rome and Berlin. (p108-9).

It is clear (see note above)  that the Mufti was a vicious racist who was deeply implicated in German war crimes. It is frequently alleged and is perhaps likely, but apparently not fully proven, that the Axis powers supported the Palestine Arab Revolt and funded it. The exact history of the support for the Mufti and the origins of that support - whether from Germany or Italy or both, are not entirely clear in our sources. It is likely, based on the information available to us, that the Axis powers played a role in funding the Palestinian Arab revolt as well as the coup in Iraq, but only the latter seems to be well documented. Hirszowicz notes,

In German/Italian discussion at this time the Italian Foreign Minister Ciano claimed to have been funding the Mufti for many years to no great effect. (p 86)

The time in question was autumn of 1940, and the above implies that the Italians may have been funding the Mufti during the Arab revolt, which had taken place from 1936 to 1939. 

A second and often cited source regarding Axis support for the Palestinian is a captured document evidence exhibit submitted to the Nurenberg war crimes tribunal. The Mufti was being held in France for trial, but he escaped with the connivance of French authorities and was never tried. The document in question is shown online here. Following is an excerpt:

No. 792-PS
17 September 1945

Source of Original OKW Files, Flensburg



SUMMARY OF RELEVANT POINTS (with page references):

1. Only through the funds made available by Germany to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was it possible to carry out the revolt in Palestine. (Page 1).

2. Germany will keep up the connection with the Grand Mufti. Weapons will be stored for the Mufti with Ibn Saud in Arabia. (Page 2).

3. Ibn Saud himself has close connections with the Grand Mufti and the revolting circles in TransJordan. (Page 2).

4. To be able to carry out our work one of Germany's agents will be placed in Cairo (Page 3).

5. The document is undated but obviously written before the outbreak of the war in 1939. It is not signed.

Analyst Landmann                  Doc. No. 792-PS
Source:The Arab Higher Committee, Its Origins, Personnel and Purposes, The Documentary Record Submitted to The United Nations, May 1947, by Nations Associates.

As we do not have a translation of the entire text of the German documents, it is difficult to assess the exact meaning and reliability of the statement regarding the Palestine revolt, nor is there an explanation for the fact that both Ciano and the Germans claimed to be supporting the revolt.  Perhaps both were supporting it independently. Perhaps the Abwehr (German intelligence) wanted to take credit for the work of the Italians or perhaps it was an invention. On the face of it however, there is no good reason to doubt this evidence.  The note about storage of weapons with Saud and Saud's connections with the Grand Mufti seems very unlikely.

7, Raziel Mission - There are various accounts of what the Raziel mission was and how it was initiated. According to Phillip Matar (1984) the idea for the mission initiated with the Zionist executive and was approved by Churchill.  According to the Irgun Web site, "Raziel regarded Hitler as the prime enemy of the Jewish people, and therefore decided that it was essential to collaborate with the British against the joint enemy. When war broke out, Raziel wrote a letter from his place of detention to the British Commander in Chief in Palestine, to the Mandatory government secretary and to the British police commissioner. In his letter, he informed them of his readiness to declare a truce and offered help to the Allies in their struggle against the Germans. ....

In their plight, the heads of British intelligence in Egypt ... asked if the Irgun could despatch a unit to blow up the refineries in Baghdad, since the fuel reserves were vital to the Luftwaffe. ... Raziel, immediately assented. He organized a four-man unit and decided to head it. His comrades tried, unsuccessfully, to dissuade him from taking part. On Sunday, May 17, 1941, the four left for the military airfield at Tel Nof. Raziel was accompanied by Yaakov Meridor, Yaakov-Sika Aharoni and Yaakov Harazi (the latter two were unaware of Raziel's true identity). At Tel Nof, they boarded an RAF transport plane, and several hours later landed at Habaniyeh. After landing, it was explained to Raziel that the plan had been postponed and that, instead, the unit was to carry out intelligence missions in preparation for the capture of Faluja (which was en route to Baghdad).

The next day the unit set out, accompanied by a British officer and reached the river, which they were scheduled to cross. However, there was room for only two passengers in the sole available boat. Raziel ordered Meridor and Sika to cross the river and carry out the mission, while he himself, with Harazi and the British officer, made their way back to the car. Suddenly a German plane swooped down and bombed the area, scoring a direct hit on the car and killed Raziel and the British officer instantly. The driver of the car was injured while Harazi, who managed to jump clear, was unscathed ...."

8. RAF -  Details are based in large part on the account of Air Vice-Marshal B. A. Casey - Details of the air operations are given here -

The strength of the RAF initially : (adapted from )

Initial Aircraft Strength of RAF Units


Units Aircraft Type At Start of Operations
No 4 Service Flying Training School Audax 32
Gordon 8
Oxford 29
Gladiator 9
Blenheim 1
Communication Flight Valentia 3
Nos 37 & 70 Squadron Detachments Wellington 18


Additional aircraft arrived later, but these came mostly after the initial battles.  Audax and Fairey Gordon were biplanes. Habaniyeh was the last battle of WW II for the Hawker Audax. See for some pictures of these aircraft.

9. The Iraqi air force - On paper the Iraqi Air force, was not inconsiderable, as claimed in some accounts, and its planes should have been a fair match in quality, if not in number   for the available RAF forces.

According to Dust Clouds in the Middle East, the operational force was at least as follows:

Squadron Location Aircraft
No.1 Army Cooperation Mosul 25 Hawker Nisrsa
No.2 Fighter Kirkuk 9 Gloster Gladiatorsb
4 Savoia SM79 high-altitude medium bombersc
No.5 Fighter Rashid 5 Breda Ba.65d
No.7 Fighter Bomber Rashid 15 Northrop-Grumman (Douglas)  8A-4 attack bomberse

a. Hawker Nisrs were a faster export version of the RAF Hawker Hart. The Hawker Nisrs were also obsolete as fighting aircraft in the European context, but Europe was a long way away. The Iraqi Nisrs were superior to the comparable Hawker Audax (another Hart variant) based at Habbaniya. Intended as an Army cooperation aircraft, it could carry a light bomb load, and also act as a fighter in the absence of more modern aircraft.

b. The Gladiator fighter was now obsolete in the European theatre, but the RAF and the Italian air force were still doing a lot of fighting in Africa and the Western Desert with biplane fighters like this one. At the beginning of the campaign, the Gladiator was the best fighter there, and both sides had it. The CR42s the Italians sent to Iraq was a very comparable biplane fighter.

c. The Italian Savioa SM79 bombers could carry a very solid bomb load, and could operate at an altitude where the RAF Gladiators could not intercept. These aircraft alone if used properly could have made a real mess of Habbaniya and Shaiba.

d. The Italian Breda Ba.65 often appears in lists of the worst aircraft of WWII. But in the Middle East at this time it had a useful multiple role. As a fighter it outgunned the RAF Gladiators, and almost of the Iraqi aircraft also had a defensive upper turret. It could also carry a useful light bombload.

e. The Douglas  (Northrop Grumman) 8A-4   was an export version of the Northrop A-17,  broadly comparable to the ground attack aircraft which the US started the war with. In the context of Iraq in 1941 it was a comparatively modern aircraft comparable to  with anything the RAF had at Habbahiya or Shaibah.

The Iraqis had some additional aircraft not listed in the above table such as de Havilland Dragons.

The Iraqis could have made much better use of these aircraft. I would speculate that a force composed of these aircraft if properly used could without German/Italian support have made much more serious attacks on Habbaniya and on KingCol which had very little anti-aircraft capability.

10 -  The Legion as part of KingCol - From Glubb's Story of the Arab Legion

Chap XIII "The Storm Breaks" "The force which actually set out consisted of only the 350 men of the Desert Mechanised Foce .... Our force was carried in Ford trucks ... the men were armed with rifles and a number of Vickers and Lewis machine-guns, all veterans of the First World War. We also had our "home made" armoured cars. We had no artillery or even mortars."

Chap XIV "The path of honour" - "The force of the Arab Legion which left Rutbah for Iraq, after leaving patrols and garrisons at H4 and Rutbah, was 250 strong"

Some sources give the impression  that Glubb led the entire KingCol column, with text like this:  On May 30, the British-organized Arab Legion, led by Major John Glubb , reached Baghdad in the last-ditch effort, causing the "Golden Square" and their supporters to flee to Iran.

11.  Arab Legion mutiny - from
" The first call to action was something of a disaster.   The Mechanised Regiment was earmarked to join Kingcol, part of Habforce, in the relief of Habbaniya in Iraq in April 1941.  ' D' Company of the Regiment was at the H4 pumping station on the Iraq Petroleum Company pipeline but when ordered to advance against Rutbah, the men refused to cross the border into Iraq.  As a result, the Mechanised Regiment was excluded from the subsequent campaign and ' D' Company was disbanded.  It was replaced by ' L'  Company, formed from the Line of Communication Squadron.  A new squadron, the Mobile Guard Squadron, was formed to take over the line of communication duties. "

12. Farhud - The account of the Farhud is based largely on The Farhud by Hayim V. Habousha


Peter FitzGerald Morris of Rochester, England, provided the detailed account of British and German military action and much of the background about the history of the Grand Mufti Haj Amin El-Husseini and the Transjordan Legion.  He provides these references:

Buckley, Christopher, 1939-1945. Five Ventures: Iraq-Syria-Persia-Madagascar-Dodecanese, London: HMSO, 1954 and 1977.  Official "popular military history" of the Iraq, Syria, Iran, Madagascar and Dodecanese campaigns, includng the political background

De Chair, Somerset S. The Golden Carpet. NY: Harcourt, Brace, 1945.   A personal account of KingCol's march from Palestine to Baghdad and then to Palmyra by the MP and poet who was KingCol intelligence officer. Here you find the full story of the tanks rumour that probably caused the surrender of Baghdad. An appendix by Glubb Pasha sets out the role of the Arab Legion in the campaign.

Dudgeon, Air Marshall AG, Hidden Victory: The Battle of Habbaniya, May 1941. Stroud, UK: Tempus Publishing, Ltd,. A personal account of the seige of Habbaniya by one of the RAF Squadron Leaders later Air Vice Marshal. Dudgeon is concerned to fill the gaps in the official accounts.

Glubb, John Bagot, ("Glubb Pasha") The Story of the Arab Legion. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1948.   Full account of the origin and activities of the Arab Legion includes an account of their work in the Iraq and Syria campaigns

Great Britain. Central Office of Info. Paiforce: The Official Story of the Persian and Iraq Command, 1941-1946. London: HMSO, 1948. D760P3A54.. British Government official account of the Persia and Iraq Command includes the political background, the campaigns in Iraq, Syria and Iran.

Hirszowicz, Lukasz,   The Third Reich and the Arab East London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968  The most complete account of political contacts between Nazi Germany and the Arab nationalists. Hirszowicz had access to the Arab sources and there are extensive notes and bibliography

Shores , Christopher, Dust Clouds in the Middle East: The Air War for East Africa, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Madagascar, 1940-42. London: Grub Street, 1996   A detailed and probably definitive account of the air campaigns in East Africa, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Madagascar.

Warner, Geoffrey.  Iraq and Syria, 1941. Newark, NJ: U of DE, 1979. A concise account of the political background to the campaigns in 1941

Internet sources:

Report of Operations in Baghdad Area - 2 May to 31 May 1941 By Air Marshal D'Albiac The official dispatch on the Iraq campaign is on the RAF history site at

Account of the role of the RAF Assyrian Levies The RAF levies are the real forgotten military force in the Iraq campaign

Centre for Contemporary conflict, Thesis, and . Three excellent articles on Iraq in 1941 >

Saddam's Uncle

The Grand Mufti and in French, under the title: La Bibliothèque Proche Orientale

Stone & Stone Brief account of the military campaign with links to another bibliography

Iraq Air Force 1941 On paper a well equipped and trained force

Iraq Army 1941 Also on paper an even better equipped and trained force.

Some additional sources on Iraq in this period:

Churchill, W, The Second World War, (Vol. 2 & 3) London: The Reprint Society, 1950.

Ireland, P.H, Iraq, a Study in Political Development , London : J.Cape, 1973.

Khaduri, M, Independent Iraq, 1932 - 1958, (2nd ed), London: Oxford University Press, 1960.

Longrigg, S.H, Iraq, 1900 to 1950: A political, social and Economic History, Beirut: Librarie du Liban, 1953.

Melka, R.L, The Axis and the Arab Middle East, 1930 - 1945, Ann Arbor, Mich: Xerox University Microfilms, 1974

Shikara, A.A.R,  The Interaction Between Domestic Politics & Foreign Policy  London: LAAM LTD, 1987.

Silverfarb, Daniel, Britain's Informal Empire in the Middle East: A Case Study of Iraq 1929-1941, London, Oxford, 1997, 

Simon, R.S, Iraq, Between The World Wars, New York: Columbia University Press, 1986.

Tarbush, M.A, The Role of the Military in Politics, London: K. Paul International, 1982.

Woodward , E.L , Sir British Foreign policy in the Second World War 1970 London : H.M. Stationery Office

Some additional sources on the Mufti Haj Amin El Husseini:

Carpi, Daniel. . The Axis of Antisemitism, Dollard Des Ormeaux, Que. : Dawn Publishing Co. , 1985.

Jbara, Taysir, Palestinian Leader, Hajj Amin Al-Husoyni, Mufti of Jerusalem, Kingston Press, 1985.

Mattar , Phillip, "Al-Husayni and Iraq's quest for independence, 1939-1941," Arab Studies Quarterly 6,4 (1984), 267-281.

Mattar, Phillip, The Mufti of Jerusalem , Columbia University Press revised edition, 1988.

Pearlman, Moshe, Mufti of Jerusalem: The Story of Haj Amin el Husseini, V Gollancz, 1947

Schechtman,  Joseph B.,  The Mufti and the Fuehrer: The rise and fall of Haj Amin el-Husseini, T. Yoseloff, 1965.

Elpeleg, Z. David Harvey, Shmuel Himelstein, The Grand Mufti: Haj Amin Al-Hussaini, Founder of the Palestinian National Movement,Frank Cass Publishers, 1993.

Taggar, Yehuda, The Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine Arab Politics, 1930-1937, Garland Pub, 1987.

Zepp-LaRouche, Helga, ed. "The Grand Mufti and Hitler: National Socialist Networks in the Mideast," chapter 4 of The Hitler Book: A Schiller Institute Study, Ben Franklin Booksellers, 1984.

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