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1941 Iraqi coup d'état
Date1 April 1941
LocationIraq Kingdom of Iraq
Result Overthrow of government of 'Abd al-Ilah
Formation of National Defence Government
British intervention in Iraq
Iraq Iraqi Government

Iraq Golden Square Supported by:

 Nazi Germany
Commanders and leaders

Iraq 'Abd al-Ilah
Regent of Iraq

Iraq Taha al-Hashimi
Prime Minister of Iraq

Iraq Rashid Ali al-Gaylani
Iraq Col. Salah al-Din al-Sabbagh
3rd Division Commander
Iraq Col. Kamal Shabib
1st Division Commander
Iraq Col. Fahmi Said
Independent Mechanized Brigade Commander

Iraq Col. Mahmud Salman
Chief of the Air Force
Units involved
Royal Guard 3rd Infantry Division
1st Infantry Division
Independent Mechanized Brigade

The 1941 Iraqi coup d'état, also known as the Rashid Ali Al-Gaylani coup or the Golden Square coup, was a pro-Nazi[1] military coup in Iraq on April 1, 1941[2] that overthrew the regime of Regent 'Abd al-Ilah and installed Rashid Ali as Prime Minister. It was led by four Iraqi nationalist army generals, known as "the Golden Square." The Golden Square intended to use the war to press for full Iraqi independence following the limited independence granted in 1932. To that end, they worked with German intelligence and accepted military assistance from Germany. The change in government led to a British invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation until 1947.

The coup

From 1939 to 1941, Iraq was ruled by a pro-British government headed by the Regent 'Abd al-Ilah and Prime Minister Nuri as-Said. Iraq had severed relations with Germany on September 5, 1939, following the outbreak of World War II in Europe. However, Nuri had to tread carefully between his close relationship with Britain and dependence on pro-German Army officers and cabinet members.[2] By that time, Iraq became a refuge to Arab leaders who fled Mandate Palestine as a result of failed Arab revolt against the British. Among the key figures to arrive was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem - Mohammad Amin al-Husayni, the Arab nationalistic leader of the failed revolt.

The Golden Square coup was initiated on April 1, 1941,[2] overthrowing the regime of Regent 'Abd al-Ilah and installing Rashid Ali as Prime Minister. The Mufti Amin al-Husayni was one of the orchestrators of Rashid Ali al-Gaylani's coup d'état, with Nazi support and financing.[3]

British response

British forces sent to quell the revolt

On 18 April, Britain reacted by landing the Indian 20th Infantry Brigade at Basra, the first elements of Iraqforce. Britain claimed it was entitled to do this under its defense treaty with Iraq. This treaty was essentially dictated by the British without negotiation or agreement before independence was granted to Iraq. It gave the British unlimited rights to station and transit troops through Iraq without consulting the Iraqi government.[citation needed]

Siege of Habbaniya

In the following days, the new Iraqi government moved substantial ground forces, including an infantry brigade, an artillery brigade, and 12 armored cars as well as tanks[4] to the plateau overlooking the large British Royal Air Force (RAF) base at Habbaniya, 50 miles west of Baghdad on the Euphrates River. Upon arrival, the Iraqis demanded that the British not move any troops nor aircraft in or out of the base. The British responded by first demanding that the Iraqis leave the area and then, following the expiration of an ultimatum given in the early hours of May 2, launched an attack. The base had immediately available a force of 96 mostly obsolete aircraft, most of which were used for training. They also had an understrength battalion from the King's Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster), six companies of levies (Iraqi troops raised by the British), 18 armored cars and a company of RAF personnel, giving a total strength of 2,200 troops to defend the base.[5] The Iraqi air force, which included a number of modern German- and Italian-built machines, proved to be no match for the RAF. By the second day of fighting (May 3), 4 more Blenheim fighter bombers arrived.[6]

With British forces having dominant air superiority, the Iraqis were forced back to Falluja and the air battle was taken to the remaining Iraqi Air Force bases at Mosul and Rashid; Habbaniya had essentially lifted the siege upon its resources.

Reinforcements, in what became known as "Iraqforce", came from two directions. British, Transjordanian, and Arab Legion forces arrived in two columns (Habforce and Kingcol) across the desert from the Transjordan. Additional Indian forces continued to arrive in Basra.[5]

The Iraqi army was driven out of Falluja and pursued to Baghdad, which fell within a week. This cleared the way for the nominal restoration of the Regent and the pro-British government. British military occupation of Iraq continued until late 1947.

Allied Forces

Allied Forces Included:[7]

Axis support for the nationalists

A Heinkel He 111 bomber with German and Iraqi markings.

During the course of the Iraq war, minor reinforcements for the nationalists were received from both Germany and Italy. Arriving aircraft were crudely painted with Iraqi colours. A few aircraft from the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) flew sorties from Mosul against both the base at Habbaniya and the relieving Commonwealth forces moving across from Transjordan. This was done to little effect.

However, the Vichy French authorities in the Syrian Mandate had given some assistance to both the pro-Axis Iraqi nationalists and to the Germans (providing staging bases for the aircraft of the German Air Force). Even before the end of the Iraq campaign, this had led to RAF attacks on airbases in Syria. The Vichy assistance to the Axis and the British air attacks in response would lead to the full-scale invasion of Vichy-occupied Syria and Lebanon within weeks during the Syria-Lebanon campaign.

See also



External links

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