Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Iraq’s Military History

Iraq's Military History
The British army enters Baghdad in 1917

During World War I Iraq was the stage of fighting between British and Ottoman forces. After the war the British established a mandate over the strategically positioned region. In the 1920s, an Iraqi revolt against the occupying forces was suppressed.

In 1941 an internal political crisis caused the discontent to flare up again. This time the insurgents were aided by Germany, Italy and Vichy France (the latter controlled Syria). German and Italian fighter aircraft flying from Mosul in northern Iraq attacked British forces. The leader of the revolt, Rashid Ali, was supplied with weapons by Vichy French authorities in Syria. The ‘Anglo-Iraq’ war only lasted for a couple of weeks, as superior, air power-backed British forces overpowered their lightly armed Iraqi opponents and overstretched Nazi fighters. A pro-British government was installed, and Nazi involvement in the region ended. In January 1943, Iraq declared war on the Axis powers when the Russian noose was tightened around the beleaguered German forces in Stalingrad.

After World War II, Iraqi armed forces were visible on the fringes of larger conflicts. In 1948, Iraq sent military personnel to fight the newly created State of Israel. In 1967 they sent slightly larger contingents, but these reinforcements did not play a significant role, as they were overwhelmed by the rapidly unfolding events.

In 1973 Iraq sent two armoured divisions – more than 600 tanks – and special forces to fight Israeli formations that had, after absorbing the initial attacks on the Golan Heights, counter-attacked in the direction of the Syrian capital Damascus. In conjunction with Jordanian and Syrian forces the Iraqis stemmed the Israeli counter-offensive. Further battling was halted by developments on the international political front. The Iraqi Air Force dispatched a squadron of Hawker Hunter fighter-bombers to Egypt. However, the Iraqi military only really started to play a role on the world stage with Saddam Hussein’s rise to power in 1979.

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