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Iraqforce was a British and Commonwealth formation that came together in the Kingdom of Iraq. The formation fought in the Middle East during World War II.


The ground forces from India that landed in Basra were initially known as Sabine Force and were under the command of Major-General W.A.K. Fraser. From 8 May 1941, Fraser was replaced and the forces in Basra were commanded by Lieutenant-General Edward Quinan. On 18 June, Quinan was placed in command of all ground forces in Iraq which included both Sabine Force and British Forces in Iraq. Iraqforce was the name of the combined forces. From 21 June, Iraqforce became known as the Iraq Command.[1] On 1 September 1941, after Persia (modern Iran) was secured, Iraq Command was renamed "Persia and Iraq Force" or PAI Force.[2] PAI Force was still commanded by Quinan and he still reported to India Command.

Iraqforce was variously part of India Command, Middle East Command, and, finally, Persia and Iraq Command.


During World War I, the British Army defeated the Ottoman Army on the Middle Eastern Front during the Mesopotamian Campaign. Subsequently, the League of Nations designated Mesopotamia as a mandate territory, the British Mandate of Mesopotamia. From 1920 to the early 1930s, "RAF Iraq Command" was created as an inter-service command in charge of all British forces in the mandate-controlled Kingdom of Iraq. The command consisted of Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, British Army, Commonwealth, and locally raised units and was commanded by an RAF officer normally of Air Vice-Marshal rank.

In 1932, the British mandate in Iraq ended. However, per the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1930, the United Kingdom was permitted to maintain troops in Iraq. In 1933 or 1934, RAF Iraq Command was renamed the "British Forces in Iraq." By the late 1930s, these forces were restricted to two Royal Air Force stations, RAF Shaibah near Basra and RAF Habbaniya west of Baghdad.

On 1 April 1941, during World War II, Rashid Ali seized power in Iraq via a coup d'état. He was supported by three top level Royal Iraqi Army officers and one top level Royal Iraqi Air Force officer who were collectively known as the "Golden Square." Rashid Ali proclaimed himself Chief of the "National Defence Government."[3] His new government was immediately recognized by Nazi Germany. It was openly pro-Nazi and anti-British.

Sabine Force was initially despatched from Karachi by GHQ India to seize and secure the port of Basra and to supplement the existing British Forces in Iraq at RAF Shaibah and RAF Habbaniya. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill saw Basra as a major supply base in the future for material from the United States. Churchill did not recognize Rashid Ali's "National Defence Government" as legitimate. Churchill also wanted to reinstate a more compliant Iraqi government and to protect British interests in Iraq, notably the oilfields of which the British-owned Anglo-Persian Oil Company was concession holder.

On 18 April, a brigade from Karachi landed and Basra was captured. On 30 April, a second brigade arrived. The Rashid Ali government demanded that the British forces be removed from Iraq and Iraqi forces took up positions around RAF Habbaniya. On 2 May, British aircraft from Habbaniya launched a pre-emptive attack on Iraqi forces throughout the country.

Anglo-Iraqi War

During the ensuing Anglo-Iraqi War, a force from the British Mandate of Palestine, known as Habbaniya Force (shortened to Habforce), advanced into Iraq from Transjordan. Habforce, with Kingcol in the lead, was to relieve the British garrison forces besieged at the British Royal Air Force treaty base at RAF Habbaniya.

Lieutenant-General Quinan in Iraq

The threat to Habbaniya was removed by actions of the Habbaniya garrison before any elements of Habforce arrived. After it arrived, Habforce and a portion of the Habbaniya garrison then advanced onwards through Fallujah to capture Baghdad. By 31 May, an armistice was signed and the government collapsed.

From early May, the troops in Iraq were under the operational control of Army Headquarters, Middle East Command in Cairo, reverting to India command on 18 June.[4] From 21 June, Iraqforce became known as the Iraq Command.[1]

Syria-Lebanon Campaign

In June and July 1941, after Iraq was secured, elements of Iragforce/Iraq Command took part in the Syria-Lebanon campaign and, while active in Syria, they once more came under the authority of he Cairo Headquarters.

Anglo-Soviet Invasion of Persia

In late August 1941, Iraq Command conducted the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Persia in conjunction with forces advancing from the Soviet Union. A new formation, Hazelforce, based on the 2nd Indian Armoured Brigade was formed within Iraq Command during this effort.

On 1 September, after Persia (modern Iran) was secured, Iraq Command was renamed "Persia and Iraq Force" or Paiforce. Paiforce was still commanded by Quinan and he still reported to India Command. In January 1942, Persia and Iraq once again came under Middle East Command[5] and, in February 1942, Quinan's headquarters was re-designated as Tenth Army.

British trucks near Baghdad, 1943.

In 1942, with the growing threat from the German advance in the Caucasus, it was felt that the area should come under a General Headquarters which could bring a heavy focus to the area. Previous experience of controlling the area both from Cairo and Delhi had not proved ideal and both these General Headquarters were by this time fully committed in the Western Desert Campaign and to the Burma Campaign respectively. In August 1942, it was decided therefore, as part of the changes made bringing in Alexander and Montgomery to Middle East Command and Auchinleck to India Command, to create a new, separate command, the "Persia and Iraq Command," to be led by General Sir Maitland Wilson and based in Baghdad.[6]

Order of Battle - Iraq May 1941

Commanded by Major-General W.A.K. Fraser (until 8 May). Lieutenant-General Edward Quinan (from 8 May).[7]

Formed from existing units in early June:

  • Gocol - R. E. S. Gooch
  • Mercol - E. J. H. Merry
  • Harcol - R. J. Hardy

Arriving At Basra on 9 June:[22]

Arriving at Basra on 16 June:[22]

Order of Battle - Syria June and July 1941

Commanded by Lieutenant General Edward Quinan

During the Syria-Lebanon campaign Iraqforce consisted of:

  • 10th Indian Infantry Division -Major-General William Slim
    • 20th Indian Infantry Brigade - Brigadier Donald Powell
    • 21st Indian Infantry Brigade - Brigadier C.J. Weld
    • 25th Indian Infantry Brigade - Brigadier Ronald Mountain
  • 17th Indian Infantry Brigade (detached from 8th Indian Infantry Division) - Brigadier Douglas Gracey
  • Habforce - Major-General J.G.W. Clark
    • 4th Cavalry Brigade - Brigadier J.J. Kingstone
    • 1st Battalion The Essex Regiment
    • Arab Legion Mechanized Regiment
    • 237th Battery 60th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery
    • An Australian battery of 2 pounder anti-tank guns
    • 169th Light Anti-aircraft Battery

Order of Battle - Persia August and September 1941

Commanded by Lieutenant General Edward Quinan

During the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Persia (Iran) Iraqforce was redesignated Paiforce. Paiforce consisted of:

See also


  1. The brigade landed at Basra on 18 April.[9]
  2. Playfair related that the brigade landed at Basra on 30 April[10] but Wavell wrote that the brigade arrived on 7 May at the same time as the 10th Indian Division HQ and Lieutenant-General Quinan and his Force HQ.[11]
  3. Included two troops of Rolls Royce armoured cars.[12]
  4. The brigade landed at Basra on 30 May.[13]
  5. Battalion landed at RAF Shaibah on 17 April.[9] The battalion was transferred by air to RAF Habbaniya on 24 April.[14]
  6. 18 RAF armoured cars.[15] Company included 18 Rolls Royce armoured cars and two ancient tanks.[16]
  7. This detachment of the Arab Legion consisted of three mechanised squadrons[14] and was around 400 men strong.[18]
  8. The Arab Legion initially advanced ahead of Kingcol.[19] The Legionnaires were ostensibly the personal escort of Glubb Pasha.[20]
  9. Equipped with 25 Pounders.[18]
  10. Equipped with 2 Pounders.[18]
  11. 8 Royal Air Force armoured cars.[18] Company included 8 Fordson armoured cars.[21]
  12. Minus two companies.[18]
  13. Minus one battery and equipped with 25 Pounders.[18]
  14. Minus one troop and equipped with 2 Pounders.[18]
  1. 1.0 1.1 Lyman, p.19
  2. MacMunn, passim
  3. Playfair, p. 178
  4. Wavell (1946), pp. 1–4 in "No. 37685". 1946-08-13. 
  5. Wavell, (1946), p 10 in "No. 37685". 1946-08-13. 
  6. Mackenzie, p. 591
  7. Playfair, p. 186.
  8. Mackenzie, p. 101
  9. 9.0 9.1 Playfair, p. 179
  10. 10.0 10.1 Playfair, p. 181
  11. Wavell, p. 4093.
  12. Lyman, p. 32
  13. Mackenzie, p. 104
  14. 14.0 14.1 Mackenzie, p. 94
  15. Playfair, p. 182
  16. Lyman, p. 23
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 17.5 Maritn, p. 44
  18. 18.00 18.01 18.02 18.03 18.04 18.05 18.06 18.07 18.08 18.09 18.10 18.11 Martin, p. 45
  19. Young, p. 7
  20. Lyman, p. 54
  21. Lyman, p. 25
  22. 22.0 22.1 Lyman, p. 88


  • Lyman, Robert (2006). Iraq 1941: The Battles for Basra, Habbaniya, Fallujah and Baghdad. Campaign. Oxford, New York: Osprey Publishing. pp. 96. ISBN 1-84176-991-6. 
  • Mackenzie, Compton (1951). Eastern Epic: Volume 1 September 1939-March 1943 Defence. London: Chatto & Windus. OCLC 59637091. 
  • MacMunn, George (1950). The History of the Guides Part II 1922-1947. Aldershot: Gale & Polden. OCLC 795824908. 
  • Martin, Colonel Thomas Alexander (1952). The Essex Regiment, 1929-1950. Essex Regiment Association. 
  • Playfair, Major-General I.S.O.; with Flynn R.N., Captain F.C.; Molony, Brigadier C.J.C. & Toomer, Air Vice-Marshal S.E. (2004) [1st. pub. HMSO 1956]. Butler, J.R.M. ed. The Mediterranean and Middle East, Volume II The Germans come to the help of their Ally (1941). History of the Second World War, United Kingdom Military Series. Naval & Military Press. ISBN 1-84574-066-1. 
  • Wavell, Sir Archibald P. (1946). Despatch from Operations in Iraq, East Syria and Iran from 10th April, 1941 to 12th January, 1942.. London: HMSO.  officially published in the "No. 37685". 1946-08-13. 
  • Wilson, Maitland (1946). Despatch on the Persia and Iraq Command Covering the Period from 21st August, 1942, to 17th February, 1943. London: War Office.  in "No. 37703". 28 August 1946. 
  • Young, Peter (1972). The Arab Legion. Men-at-Arms. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 0-85045-084-5. 

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