RAF Iraq Command's Involvement in the Arab Insurrection of 1920

Most notable for its strategic role in the Middle East during the early 20th century, the Royal Air Force (RAF) played a pivotal part in quelling the Arab Insurrection of 1920 in Iraq. This historical event marked a significant chapter in the RAF’s operations in the region, showcasing their capabilities in supporting ground forces and exerting control over rebellious uprisings. Understanding the RAF Iraq Command’s involvement sheds light on the complex dynamics of colonial rule, military intervention, and resistance that shaped the modern Middle East.

The Political Climate and Causes of the Insurrection

Post-World War I Mandate Politics

For the Arab population in the Middle East, the aftermath of World War I brought about significant shifts in political dynamics. The region was carved up by the Allied Powers, with the League of Nations granting mandates to Britain and France to govern different territories. This imposition of foreign control over Arab lands created a deep sense of resentment and fueled the desire for independence.

Rise of Arab Nationalism

Any examination of the Arab Insurrection of 1920 must consider the rise of Arab nationalism as a key factor. The Arab world was experiencing a growing sense of identity and unity, fueled by a desire to assert independence from colonial powers. Intellectuals and activists across the region were advocating for self-determination and the establishment of Arab states free from foreign influence.

To further stoke the flames of nationalism, the Arab population faced economic hardships and political repression under the mandate system, leading to widespread discontent and a willingness to challenge colonial rule through organized resistance.

RAF Iraq Command: Strategy and Tactics

Even though the RAF Iraq Command played a significant role in the Arab Insurrection of 1920, its strategies and tactics are not widely discussed in historical narratives. For a more comprehensive understanding of this period, readers can refer to THE HISTORY OF THE IRAQ LEVIES 1915-1932 for a detailed account of the RAF’s operations in Iraq during this time.

Air Control: Theory and Implementation

Iraq employed the concept of “Air Control” in dealing with the Arab Insurrection of 1920. This theory, pioneered by the RAF, involved utilizing air power to suppress rebellions and maintain control over territories. The implementation of this strategy in Iraq during the insurrection showcased the effectiveness of air power in modern warfare and its impact on ground operations.

Key Figures in the RAF Command Structure

Any discussion of RAF Iraq Command’s strategy and tactics would be incomplete without acknowledging the key figures within its command structure. These individuals, such as Air Vice-Marshal Sir John Salmond and Air Commodore Arthur Harris, played crucial roles in shaping the RAF’s approach to combating the Arab Insurrection. Their leadership skills and strategic vision were vital in guiding the RAF through this challenging period.

With a deep understanding of military strategy and a commitment to achieving objectives, these key figures in the RAF Command Structure demonstrated the importance of effective leadership in achieving success in wartime operations.

The Course of the Conflict

RAF Operations Against Rebel Strongholds

Operations conducted by the RAF in Iraq during the Arab Insurrection of 1920 were aimed at quelling rebellion and establishing control over the region. Many rebel strongholds were targeted through aerial bombardment to disrupt insurgent activities and weaken their positions.

Effectiveness and Controversies of Aerial Bombardment

Strongholds were subjected to intensive aerial bombardment by the RAF, which led to significant damage to rebel infrastructure and morale. The effectiveness of this strategy in weakening rebel forces and enabling ground operations has been a topic of debate among historians, with some questioning the ethical implications of indiscriminate bombing campaigns during the conflict.

To fully comprehend the impact of aerial bombardment during the Arab Insurrection of 1920, it is important to consider the technological limitations and strategic considerations that influenced RAF operations in Iraq at the time. The use of air power in counterinsurgency operations marked a significant shift in military tactics and raised ethical questions about the proportionality of force employed against rebel forces.

Aftermath and Legacy

Now, looking back at RAF Iraq Command’s involvement in the Arab Insurrection of 1920, we can see the lasting impacts it had on British policies and military strategies in Iraq. For more information on the Iraqi Revolt, you can visit here.

Long-term Impacts on British Policy in Iraq

Longterm, the Arab Insurrection of 1920 significantly shaped British policies in Iraq. The violent response to the revolt led to a shift in the administration of Iraq, with more focus on indirect rule through local leaders rather than direct control.

Influence on Military Doctrine and Colonial Control

For years to come, the lessons learned from the Arab Insurrection influenced military doctrine and colonial control strategies. The British military adapted tactics to better handle uprisings in the region, emphasizing the importance of understanding local dynamics and engaging in counterinsurgency efforts with a more nuanced approach.

Aftermath, the RAF Iraq Command’s involvement in the Arab Insurrection of 1920 left a lasting mark on British policies and military strategies in Iraq. The events of the revolt served as a turning point in the approach to governance and military operations in the region, influencing future decision-making processes and shaping the direction of British presence in Iraq for years to come.


As a reminder, RAF Iraq Command played a significant role in the suppression of the Arab Insurrection of 1920. By providing air support to ground forces and conducting aerial reconnaissance missions, the RAF helped the British military maintain control over the region. The involvement of the RAF showcased the growing importance of air power in modern warfare and marked a shift in military tactics during colonial conflicts. The success of the RAF in quelling the rebellion highlighted the effectiveness of using air power in counterinsurgency operations, setting a precedent for future military strategies in similar conflicts.

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