Winston Churchill and Iraq

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Jan 22 09:38:45 MST 2003

The Times (London), August 29, 2002, Thursday

Rumsfeld recalls Churchill's stand against tyranny

Tim Reid in Washington

DONALD RUMSFELD, the US Defence Secretary, yesterday compared President
Bush's international isolation over plans to attack Iraq with the lonely
stand taken by Winston Churchill before the Second World War.

Drawing parallels with the threat that Mr Rumsfeld says is posed by
President Saddam Hussein, the Defence Secretary highlighted the rigid
line Churchill took against the threat of Hitler, in the face of
appeasers and doubters at home and abroad, because the British Prime
Minister realised what a threat the German leader was to Europe.

Mr Rumsfeld, addressing 3,000 marines at Camp Pendleton, California,
said that President Bush had made no decision on whether to invade Iraq,
but said: "Leadership in the right direction finds followers and



[BACKGROUND: In 1917, following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the
British occupied Iraq and established a colonial government. The Arab
and Kurdish people of Iraq resisted the British occupation, and by 1920
this had developed into a full scale national revolt, which cost the
British dearly. As the Iraqi resistance gained strength, the British
resorted to increasingly repressive measures, including the use of
poison gas.]

All quotes in the excerpt are properly footnoted in the original book,
with full references to British archives and papers. Excerpt from pages
179-181 of Simons, Geoff. "IRAQ: FROM SUMER TO SUDAN". London: St.
Martins Press, 1994:

Winston Churchill, as colonial secretary, was sensitive to the cost of
policing the Empire; and was in consequence keen to exploit the
potential of modern technology. This strategy had particular relevance
to operations in Iraq. On 19 February, 1920, before the start of the
Arab uprising, Churchill (then Secretary for War and Air) wrote to Sir
Hugh Trenchard, the pioneer of air warfare. Would it be possible for
Trenchard to take control of Iraq? This would entail "the provision of
some kind of asphyxiating bombs calculated to cause disablement of some
kind but not death...for use in preliminary operations against turbulent

Churchill was in no doubt that gas could be profitably employed against
the Kurds and Iraqis (as well as against other peoples in the Empire):
"I do not understand this sqeamishness about the use of gas. I am
strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes."
Henry Wilson shared Churchills enthusiasm for gas as an instrument of
colonial control but the British cabinet was reluctant to sanction the
use of a weapon that had caused such misery and revulsion in the First
World War. Churchill himself was keen to argue that gas, fired from
ground-based guns or dropped from aircraft, would cause "only discomfort
or illness, but not death" to dissident tribespeople; but his optimistic
view of the effects of gas were mistaken. It was likely that the
suggested gas would permanently damage eyesight and "kill children and
sickly persons, more especially as the people against whom we intend to
use it have no medical knowledge with which to supply antidotes."

Churchill remained unimpressed by such considerations, arguing that the
use of gas, a "scientific expedient," should not be prevented "by the
prejudices of those who do not think clearly". In the event, gas was
used against the Iraqi rebels with excellent moral effect" though gas
shells were not dropped from aircraft because of practical difficulties

Today in 1993 there are still Iraqis and Kurds who remember being bombed
and machine-gunned by the RAF in the 1920s. A Kurd from the Korak
mountains commented, seventy years after the event: "They were bombing
here in the Kaniya Khoran...Sometimes they raided three times a day."
Wing Commander Lewis, then of 30 Squadron (RAF), Iraq, recalls how quite
often "one would get a signal that a certain Kurdish village would have
to be bombed...", the RAF pilots being ordered to bomb any Kurd who
looked hostile. In the same vein, Squadron-Leader Kendal of 30 Squadron
recalls that if the tribespeople were doing something they ought not be
doing then you shot them."

Similarly, Wing-Commander Gale, also of 30 Squadron: "If the Kurds
hadn't learned by our example to behave themselves in a civilised way
then we had to spank their bottoms." This was done by bombs and guns.

Wing-Commander Sir Arthur Harris (later Bomber Harris, head of wartime
Bomber Command) was happy to emphasise that "The Arab and Kurd now know
what real bombing means in casualties and damage. Within forty-five
minutes a full-size village can be practically wiped out and a third of
its inhabitants killed or injured." It was an easy matter to bomb and
machine-gun the tribespeople, because they had no means of defense or
retaliation. Iraq and Kurdistan were also useful laboratories for new
weapons; devices specifically developed by the Air Ministry for use
against tribal villages. The ministry drew up a list of possible
weapons, some of them the forerunners of napalm and air-to-ground missiles:

Phosphorus bombs, war rockets, metal crowsfeet [to maim livestock]
man-killing shrapnel, liquid fire, delay-action bombs. Many of these
weapons were first used in Kurdistan.



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