“Air power may either end war or end civilization.” — Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 14 March 1933
In the spring of 1920, British armed forces in Mesopotamia found themselves mired in the largest British-led military engagement that the Empire would face during the interwar period. A series of localized Arab revolts had spread among the tribes surrounding Mosul, in the north, and extended to the Middle and later Lower Euphrates, south of Baghdad, destabilizing the newly-designated British Mandate even as British officials still pondered what their formal relationship and international obligations now entailed. The some 60,000 British and Indian troops then serving in Mesopotamia were overrun and only succeeded in fostering a fragile level of stability later that autumn after receiving further reinforcements and air support, namely from the 92 aircraft assembled in Iraq between July and November.
Recounting the scenes of burnt villages and heavy Arab losses characteristic of the “regular course” of Arab risings and subsequent British aerial bombardment, one notable writer posed a harrowing observation. “It is odd that we do not use poison gas on these occasions,” Col T. E. Lawrence, the celebrated army officer famed for having successfully liaised between the British and Arab commands during the Arab Revolt of 1916 – 1918, said in a 1920 Observer article. “Bombing the houses is a patchy way of getting the women and children, and our infantry always incur losses in shooting down the Arab men. By gas attacks the whole population of offending districts could be wiped out neatly: and as a method of government it would be no more immoral than the present system.” Lawrence’s words were likely not intended to be a call for the British to begin gassing the Iraqis, but rather to serve as a sardonic public reminder of just how similar the British Mandatory counterinsurgency methods were to the total war tactics since disowned by the international community due to their very inhumanity. The emerging British scheme of air policing, whereby Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots would patrol Iraq from a series of bases and, acting on intelligence from agents on the ground, strafe suspected subversive villages and tribes, made no distinction between combatant and non-combatant, insurgent and infant.
After the unrelenting slaughter of the Great War sparked unprecedented efforts to end future wars, as well as the use of particularly cruel tools of violence like chemical weapons, how could the use of similarly unsettling counterinsurgency methods be so deeply linked to the early history of Mandatory Iraq? In a new age of supposed international standards of collective security and humane responsibilities, how could Great Britain now engage in such a violent repression of a national uprising? What structural and cultural narratives can account for the British willingness to use unprecedented asymmetric power first to counter the 1920 revolt and later as a part of a long-term air policing policy designed specifically for Iraq?
Much of the historiography concerned with the British Mandate period in Mesopotamia, and later the Kingdom of Iraq—as the region would be known after the dissolution of the initial British-drafted mandate plan and the establishment of the semi-independent Kingdom of Iraq in 1921—focuses on the power of air control as a policing technique as well as a much-needed rationale for the growth of the fledgling Royal Air Force. In his 2003 Inventing Iraq, Toby Dodge examined the quandary faced by British policymakers, who hoped to minimize their costly presence in Iraq while still both upholding their international obligations to the Permanent Mandates Commission of the League of Nations and maintaining a possible future claim to Iraq’s lucrative oil deposits. The rationale that he uncovered for the use of air power was a story of constraints; patrolling from the skies offered a cheap and seemingly efficient solution to the competition between a nation interested in adopting a more frugal Middle Eastern policy friendly to the tax-paying British public and government agencies concerned with their long-term strategic political and economic interests in region. Likewise, the work of David Omissi and Jafna Cox has understood the justification and thus the emergence of an aerial policing regime in Iraq in terms of its cost-efficiency and perceived deterrent effect, attributes that were favorably endorsed by those politicians and aerial officers who sought to solidify the R.A.F.’s purpose as a necessarily independent institution.
More recently, however, Priya Satia has argued that such explanations do not account for the scheme’s initial formation in Iraq per se—for why the British invented an unprecedented program of surveillance and bombardment reliant on a not yet fully understood innovation, and why Iraq in particular was seen as both a suitable training ground for the aerial regime in 1919 – 1923 and afterward as a site where such policing strategies could be incorporated into the bedrock of the British administration. Rather than put forth an economic story to explain the eventual acquiescence, or at least declining interest, of the British tax-paying public, she has suggested that the aerial regime played upon the prevailing cultural imaginaries then associated with both Iraq and the concept of aerial bombardment to create “a space for empire at a time where imperialism was no longer home in the world.” By promising a supposedly cheap, omniscient, discreet, romantic, and culturally-respected form of surveillance and policing, air power offered policymakers the means to continue an unpopular British presence abroad even as opposition to traditional forms of imperial control gained strength at home. What emerged was a new style of “covert empire,” wherein real power wielded by intelligence agents would allow the British presence in Iraq to remain long after the Mandatory period itself ended in 1933. Satia’s work is an important contribution to the emerging field of contemporary scholarship on 20th century colonial violence and terror, like Caroline Elkins’ Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya, a haunting study into the so-called “Pipeline” system of detention camps designed in a failed attempt to suppress the Mau Mau anticolonial movement.
Noting the importance of local agents in enabling the air power scheme, Satia has described imperialism as a “political relationship more than a perspective,” whereby “intimacy does not make it go away.” She is right to remind her readers about the expansiveness of empire, which penetrated rural Sunni villages and lucrative Persian Gulf ports alike. But her analysis is best complemented by the recognition that imperialism was also a process of excluding and limiting liabilities, its future never certain until scrutinized retrospect. Not only moral domestic opposition to imperialism and its dark underside, but also pragmatic public resistance to costly schemes that would yield the currency of international prestige could complicate diplomats’ and colonial officials’ expansionary aims. Imperialism not only shaped global relationships but also could be shaped by them in turn. Rather than be a binary construct, it was a multifaceted colossus, creating relationships among institutions and individuals that defied categorical limits.
Through archival research into the language of contemporary editorial and news stories from prominent periodicals like The Observer, The Manchester Guardian, and the Times, as well as the language of official state documents related to the British Mandate in Mesopotamia and later the Civil Administration in Iraq, this paper hopes to uncover discrepancies between the actual facts of revolt and its repression, and how such events were presented in the British press and parliamentary debates. Understanding not only the cultural imaginaries but also the political, material, and even personal concerns that created such a gap can shed light on how air control methods came to be seen as the perfect policy solution not only for the future of the Iraq but also of the British metropole. In such a way, the emergence of air power as a justifiable strategy of control in Iraq must be understood not in spite of British international obligations, but as a direct result of the interplay between British cultural mentalities and material concerns.
Revolt, Repression, and the Rise of the Aerial Regime
“These rising take a regular course. There is a preliminary Arab success, then British reinforcements go out as a punitive force. They fight their way (our losses are slight, the Arab losses heavy) to their objective, which is meanwhile bombarded by artillery, aeroplanes, or gunboats. Finally, perhaps a village is burnt and the district pacified.” — T.E. Lawrence
To best understand the dynamics of the Mandatory-era revolt and consequent repression, a brief historical grounding is necessary. The British seizure and occupation of Mesopotamia began soon after the outbreak of war between Great Britain and the Ottoman Empire in October 1914. In November, a Mesopotamian Expeditionary Force (MEF) captured Basra, beginning a campaign northward from the Persian Gulf that would end with the British occupation of the three Ottoman provinces of Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul by the end of 1918. Historian Charles Tripp, whose A History of Iraq is considered by many in the field of Middle Eastern studies as the definitive account on the nation, argues that the British authorities in both London and India in 1914 lacked a clear vision for the political future of Mesopotamia even as they undertook an operation to wrest the territory from Ottoman hands. Inevitably, however, territorial gains came to be considered a political asset, prompting the Ottoman government to sue for peace, signing the Armistice of Mudros in October 1918 and agreeing to a full Ottoman withdrawal the following month.
Aware of the proposed British and French postwar spheres of influence outlined in the Sykes-Picot agreement, the Iraqis feared the consequences of the ambiguous British occupation. Preoccupied by negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, however, British high officials hardly reflected on the fate of a region considered “a poor and backward Turkish province.” Experienced in the direct rule of the British administration in India, the civil administration overseeing the former Ottoman territories now took it upon itself to govern in a similar fashion with little oversight. Senior officials who advocated for a more indirect model of occupation, like that of Egypt, were largely ignored. Negotiating from a position of decisive strength in direct opposition to Britain’s postwar foreign policy weakness, American President Woodrow Wilson strove to create an entity hitherto unknown in traditional imperialism and international relations, the League of Nations Mandate system. Great Britain was chosen as a Mandatory for Iraq, tasked on April 25, 1920 with “rendering of administrative advice and assistance… until such time as [Iraq was] able to stand alone,” and its assignment was announced eight days later. The language of the Information Department Memo on the Termination of the British Mandatory Regime in Iraq in 1933 suggested, however, that the decision was not seen as an optimal scenario, but rather a situation forced upon it by the structures of the Mandate System. What led Britain to accept a responsibility to Mesopotamia and the League was not any particular personal desire, but rather the hard geopolitical reality that “it did not dare to take the risk of allowing another power to assume to assume a control, however disinterested and however transitory, over a territory of such vital, strategic importance to Great Britain.” Such, it should be added, was considered a “negative advantage.” Informal empire could have far better suited the overstretched imperial system, hampered by ever growing financial commitments. But once the League of Nations’ Mandate System removed the possibility of informal rule altogether, Britain now felt obligated to pledge to yet another unanticipated potential fiscal liability, rather than see another state, and particularly Britain’s longtime rival in the Great Game, Russia, reap Mesopotamia’s rewards. Moreover, it felt forced to build a foundation for British influence within the country, so that it might retain its interests on grounds other than the so-called right of conquest.
For the Iraqis, however, the notion of tutelary rule appeared to be little more than “European imperial rule by another name.” Under the Anglo-French Declaration of 1918, Britain had promised to give effect to the “complete and final liberation” of countries like Mesopotamia that had once been subject to Ottoman rule, but the officials now claimed such promises could not be presently fulfilled owing to the competing territorial claims of Turkey, France, and Britain in the region. Moreover, the British had diminished the local power of tribal authorities by instituting far more direct governance measures than those of the Ottoman Empire, which incorporated amounted to little more than occasional punitive tax collection. Included among these measures was the highly lucrative tax on imposed on all bodies buried at Najaf, the Holy City where Shi’a from all over the world laid their dead to rest. For the Shi’a, a sacrosanct place had been violated. Secret societies sprung up in 1918 and 1919 to rally popular resistance to the foreign occupation, the three most notable of which were the Najaf-based Jim’yat al-Nahda al-Islamiya (The League of Islamic Awakening), the Karbala-based al-Jim’ya al-Wataniya al-Islamiya (The Moslem National League), and the Baghdad-based Haras al-Istiqlal (The Guardians of Independence). The latter, whose presence was also felt in Hilla, Kut, Karbala, and Najaf, was a precarious coalition that crossed sectarian divides, incorporating Shi’a merchants, Sunni teachers and civil servants, Muslim scholars and theologians, and others into the fold. Concerns over land tenure, taxation, loss of local autonomy, and the further economic costs of British intrusion had, in a formative moment, symbolically united the hitherto-at odds religious groups. In June of 1920, the national discontent first manifested through popular demonstrations and peaceful dissent in the proceeding months now finally transformed into an armed revolt, or thawah. By late July, rebels held much of the mid-Euphrates region, inspiring tribal revolts in lower Euphrates and in the districts surrounding Baghdad.
Long before the revolt broke out, conversations within Westminster and Whitehall had begun to circle around the idea of instituting schemes of RAF aerial policing to replace the costly British garrisons in Iraq. By May 1, 1920, just as news of the British Mandate sparked great nationalism and anticolonial revolt, Churchill proposed that a new department of state be given the portfolio of Middle East affair and that the RAF be charged with the policing of Mesopotamia. Reporting on the debate of such a policy in the House of Commons, The Manchester Guardian quoted his Churchill’s colleague, Sir F. H. Skyes, the Controller General of Civil Aviation, in stating that “today England, the heart of Empire, is no longer safe unless Britannia rules not only the waves but the air.” His evocative quote reflected not only reflected a newfound vulnerability of the once mighty sea power, but also the degree of metropole-centric thinking that underpinned early notions of the Mesopotamian aerial regime. Safety for English peoples, Sykes thus suggested, and not for all subjects of the British Empire, was deemed a priority of the air control regime. Yet in July, the RAF presence in Mesopotamia and Persia still amounted to only 16 planes.
Moreover, suffering from a lack of skilled mechanics, the RAF in Iraq could fly only 6 aircraft at any one time—their presence was little more than symbolic. The arrival of reinforcements from Constantinople, which would total an additional 92 aircraft from July to December of 1920, corresponded to a significant shift in British momentum toward the suppression of the revolt. What halted the revolt was not so much the crushing power of the RAF’s campaign, but rather a lapse in revolutionary momentum. Critical Sunni tribes remained loyal to the British government, fearing a loss of political power, and so splintered the movement, planting seeds of sectarian conflict that would ignite in later years.
Obscuring Iraqi Agency
“The power of an air force is terrific when there is nothing to oppose it.” — Winston Churchill
Tracing the trajectories both of the suppressed Iraqi revolt and the early British usage of air power in 1920 yields a picture of genuine Iraqi grievances and ensuing nationalistic sentiments, in which air power played a repressive role only in the revolt’s later stages. The story does not, however, reflect the coverage accorded to the uprising by most leading British newspapers, such as The Times, The Manchester Guardian, The Fortnightly Review, and The Observer. Their accounts of the battles and campaigns evoked a sense of complete anarchy amid the rebels and subtly suggested that their actions were controlled by outside forces. Rather than allow the Arab peoples what agency the historians’ studies of the revolt have clearly accorded them, British journalists projected their cultural imagination of the semi-civilized nature of the Arab people onto the facts at hand. In doing so, they crafted a depiction of the revolt as being a proxy for the schemes of Britain’s enigmatic enemies, the Bolsheviks and the Kemalists, and so created ideological grounds for the ‘responsible’ tutelary discipline of bombardment.
Prevalent among the official documents and periodicals that addressed the 1920 Revolt and the smaller uprisings that followed it was the implication that Arab dissent was somehow a product of Bolshevik scheming. The Arabs’ own reasons for rebellion, such as to gain the right to self-determination promised by Britain only two years earlier with the signing of the Anglo-French Declaration, were never considered either by the British press or in the debates they covered. Numerous stories labeled the revolt “anarchist” in nature, ignoring the clear organized political developments in the months leading up to the revolt, like the emergence of secret societies that fostered public mobilization and protests, or the coalition of Arab leaders that personally met with Acting Civil Commissioner A. T. Wilson in June to remind him of Britain’s 1918 pledge. In headlines that reached New York and Toronto, the revolt was referred to as the “Red Revolt” as if to imply that the specter of communism held Iraq, and most critically the land’s oil deposits, in its throes. The European News Office of the Christian Science Monitor, itself a Boston-based media outlet known for avoiding sensationalism in its news coverage, reported hearing from “authoritative quarters” that the revolt “may be attributed to many causes, amongst others the very fact of [the Arabs’] warlike instincts make them good soil for propagandist literature which has been distributed broadcast by Kemalist and Bolshevist agitators.” A malleable people easily susceptible to propaganda and foreign interests, the line suggested, the Arabs were only proxies for two unknown but more pivotal actors, the newly declared Turkish Republic and Bolshevik forces of Soviet Russia. What such reports failed to include was that both Turkey and Soviet Russia were ideas, not solidified states, at the time of the revolt. The notion that revolutionary factions, presently embroiled in bloody struggles for the very survival of their political philosophy and proposed governments, could somehow simultaneously be engineering an entire revolt across Mesopotamia defies reason.
Rather, such reflections of British geopolitical anxieties onto the motivations of the Iraqi rebels revealed the extent to which the British understanding of—and reactions to—the Arabs’ nationalism was colored by deep racial prejudices of the “semi-civilized” nature of the Arab people. Like “soil,” the Iraqis were often perceived as the simple sediment upon which the British could tread, described with words like “rough” and “dirty.” Commenting on the generous Ottoman tax policies that the British overturned and the Arabs’ ensuing objections—which, despite their lack of press coverage, would be a critical causal factor in the revolt—a reviewer of the memoir of General Sir Aylmer Haldane, who led the British counterinsurgency against the 1920 revolt, wrote in The Manchester Guardian that the British lacked tolerance toward the Arabs out of the knowledge “that our schemes were as good for them as soap for a dirty boy,” and so the British “simply told them, so to speak, to turn up and be washed.” The idea of the Arabs being naughty, soiled children was repeated in the rhetoric of editorials and the accounts of parliamentary debates on uprising and the policing methods that averted further significant revolts. As a tutelary power, Britain, reports suggested, held a parental duty to school the Iraqis in better behavior, a responsibility that manifested itself in the teaching moments of bombardment. Thus, reports of strafing by British bombers couched their details in the language of schoolboy discipline. A September 1920 news brief in The Scotsman, a well-respected Edinburgh daily, noted that a dissident “Imam Hamz” was “now receiving punishment” during the recent bombing raids on the Lower Euphrates in a matter-of-fact tone, as if the punishment was not radically different from that of a spanking or a dunce’s cap. The demonstrative impact of one subversive student’s penalty would then subdue his peers; maturation meant “the morale effect” of the ever-present bomber overhead. Thus, when Iraq formally received de jure independence from British official oversight in 1933, the continued presence of the RAF air-policing regime, now an instrument serving the authoritarian kingdom, was explained by high-level officials, like former High Commissioner for Iraq Sir Henry Dobbs, as a demonstration of Britain’s parental duties: “Whatever treaties might lay down, so long as the British Air Force remained in Iraq overawing the country by its presence we might disclaim but we could not evade responsibility for the policy of Iraq, both external and internal, and for any mistakes that might be made.” Like so many other articles published in 1920 and in the years that followed, Britain’s regime of air control was posited as a consequence of the empire’s supposed benevolence and self-imposed duty to develop other states.
Some articles referred to Britain’s sense of a civilizing mission as the force behind the empire’s persistent willingness to end Arab blood feuds, which were described as the natural state of Middle Eastern affairs, with assertions of power that the Arabs would supposedly understand. These accounts reveal a potent notion that influenced policymakers in London and on the ground in Baghdad alike during the early years of the Mandatory regime—the conception of the Arab people as a “semi-civilized race.” Unlike the Saudi desert tribes of Ibn Saud, the people of Baghdad were particularly understood as belonging to a nebulous middle ground between the uncivilized people of the desert fringes and the civilized English. Seven years after the 1920 revolt, when the marauding tribes of Ibn Saud attempted to conquer Iraqi lands, The Globe and Mail spoke of “a cleavage so deep and wide between the lukewarm Moslem Government of Mesopotamia and the fanatical Brethren of the Desert that it cannot be bridged,” later describing Iraq and her British defenders as standing “in the way of a union between the fanatics of Arabia and the Kurds.” This conception of semi-civilization, of a government not yet guided by cool intellect, yet no longer inflamed with fanatic passions, directly supported the use of air power as what Satia has labeled a “distant discipline.” By removing regimes of control to a new space, only now conquered by mankind’s technical capacity, the bomber uniquely served the nebulous situation of the Mandatory regime, a concept still poorly understood by British policymakers. Martial law would not be necessary for a “semi-civilized, nor would a more liberal policing regime like that of the dominions address the Mandate’s security threats.
Fuelled by Frugality
“There are not very many people in this country who follow and understand the constantly changing situation in South-Western Asia. Naturally a far wider interest is aroused when there is the prospect or the certainty of fresh raids on the British taxpayer on account of some past commitment or urgent need.” — Robert Machray, The Fortnightly Review
Whereas the language of British newspapers and official Mandatory documents suggests how preexisting biases and political concerns could together recast the story of a genuine revolt into a deceivingly dark scheme, and so posit the bomber as tool of quite literally radical transformative light, these sources also suggest a third narrative necessary to understanding the unfolding story: that of the fiscal policy debates that shaped the British presence overseas. Even as the British public hoped the Empire would make strategic choices to alleviate their tax burden, policymakers feared relinquishing Britain’s preferential hold on Iraq’s promising oil deposits. Prior to the 1920 revolt, politicians hoped to dramatically cut Britain’s military presence in Mesopotamia to alleviate the state’s postwar financial woes. Winston Churchill, then Secretary of War, intended to cut the Mesopotamian garrison by one half prior to the revolt, but in December of 1920 The Scotsman reported that the rebellion had instead led War Ministry to incur a vast increase in expenditure, requiring an addition £37,570,000; 26,000 more troops were present in the country than the previous June, having been transported from British India. In very same Parliamentary hearings, however, the Air Ministry reported that it had witnessed notable savings during the same period of some £2,050,800 pounds, three-quarters of which it returned to the Exchequer.
As the public continued to grapple with the longstanding question of what benefits Great Britain would receive from the heavy financial and political liabilities associated with assuming the Mandate in Iraq, the Air Ministry’s fiscal austerity was seen as a much needed form of assistant for the cash-strapped government. Thus, taxpayers perceived of air power as their fiscal ally, and so parliamentarians courting public opinion championed the policy proposal, while the Air Ministry, seeking to solidify its claim for long-term institutional independence from the Navy, found in Churchill a powerful ally. Personal motivations and political concerns heavily influenced the series of decisions that would lead to growing momentum for the Air Ministry’s continued presence in Iraq after 1920. The British public may not have had much care for the details of the aerial raids now characteristic of South-Western Asia The Fortnightly Review would report in 1924, but they acutely felt any new raid on their cheque-book.
Furthermore, the memory of biblical Babylonia, the famed Fertile Crescent, now hung over policymakers enthralled with the possibility of once more reaping the region’s abundant fruits, its the gushing reservoirs of black gold. Certainly the American Secretary of State, Bainbridge Colby, feared Britain’s intention to assert its claims to oil exploitation right and petroleum concessions and so establish some kind of monopoly through its proxy, the Turkish Petroleum Company. Moreover, Britain had made the decisive choice in 1912 to transform its fleet from coal-fuelled vessels to those dependent on oil for power. British strategic interests in the region thus were not only economic in nature but also of vital importance for national security. Most historians examining the debate over the expansion of the air control regime to the British mandate in Mesopotamia have neglected to consider this element of the Mandatory debates in great detail. Yet, oil was now critical to the very thermodynamic reactions propelling British air power forward. In the international realm of realist states, British parliamentary debates frequently noted, “oil was power.” Withdrawal, regardless of how financially promising it might appear in the short term, could not be an option, for to do so would not only risk losing out on Iraq’s potent oil deposits, but also losing out to a rival nation like the United States. Fearing that British withdrawal from Iraq would amount to the loss of “one of the world greatest sources of power,” one editorial warned Britain to remain a presence in Iraq even after the state’s nominal independence. The stakes for withdrawal were grim; losing power meant losing all. The British long-term presence in Iraq, enabled only through efficient and discreet use of aerial patrols, amount to Britain’s own imperial insurance. Cashing out could lead to fatal, financial ruin.
Ninety-seven years after the 1920 revolt, the British returned to Iraq as part of the American-led coalition in 2003 the toppled government of Saddam Hussein. Once more, bombs rained from British bombers in the Baghdad skies, killing innocent civilians and inspiring would-be insurgents who gleaned from the Western show of force, whether correct or not, the shades of rekindled imperial designs. Today, the emergence of drone warfare in the Arabian Peninsula and the tribal regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, often referred to in shorthand as AfPak, poses a further challenge to the mounting debate over just what levels of indiscriminate violence against civilians overseas are deemed acceptable to protect a state’s “homeland security.” In August of 2014, widespread public opposition to America’s engagement in yet another sectarian Middle East conflict thwarted President Barack Obama’s voiced intention of intervening militarily in the Syrian Civil War in response to the Syrian government’s chemical weapons usage. Now, high-level conversations in the White House on how the United States might still somewhat intervene in the conflict, while respecting public opinion, circulate around the possibility of drone use. A repercussion of the Royal Air Force’s emergence as a critical form of colonial control color contemporary geopolitics, British officials’ decision to extend the tactics of total war to peacetime governance in Iraq reflects the ambiguous question of what separates wartime from peacetime—a question that remains unresolved to this day.
But to understand the rise of widespread Iraqi discontent that manifested itself in the 1920 Iraqi Revolt—and thus the parallel expansion of the Royal Air Force’s role in both in Mesopotamia and Whitehall—solely through the lens of historical retrospect risks ignoring the ever-present fears, thoughts, and decisions of individuals. In crafting a conception of the Iraqi dissidents suitable to their own geopolitical needs and cultural understandings, the British did just so. The language of British newspapers and official documents during the uprising and its aftermath denied agency to the rebels’ genuine complaints and concerns. Historical memory must not do likewise.
Writing in the midst of the 1920 uprising, Gertrude Bell, a well-known Arabist who served as Oriental Secretary to Sir Percy Cox, the British High Commissioner during the revolt, wrote desperately, “the problem is the future.” Policymakers like she were governed by ever-present geopolitical fears in the turbulent years of the early 1920s, yet faced critical fiscal constraints and consequent metropolitan taxpayer unrest that threatened to derail longstanding British imperial interests. Only by understanding their situation as it unfolded in real-time, as she and her colleagues struggled to conceive of where both ambiguous Mandatory rule and the shadowy Arab race stood on the hierarchies of power and social development that they had construed, can we begin to understand the painful questions of how such a merciless scheme of aerial surveillance and bombardment could have been envisioned, legitimized, and sanctioned by the British government in aftermath of the 1920 Iraqi Revolt.
Historical research has depicted the Iraqi revolt as an organized uprising, arising from genuine discontent about the British’s failed promises and harsh rule, yet that the British press and official documents fail to acknowledge. But by integrating cultural and structural historical accounts together, this discrepancy itself presents a powerful third narrative. As British policymakers grappled with the ambiguities of Mandatory rule, fearing the economic consequences of direct rule yet desiring to maintain a strong strategic presence in the region, arguments in support of greater reliance on air control, particularly in Mesopotamia, found powerful sway. By understanding the Iraqi people as occupying a third space between civilization and barbarity, reflective of the semi-independent state Britain was tasked with supervising, the British could justify air control as the natural policing system for their unprecedented situation. Informing such a perspective were not only common cultural imaginaries about the Iraqi people’s so-called martial nature and perpetual warlike state, but also personal considerations and concerns. In this moment of national uncertainty, the British official mind and the minds of ordinary commoners, likely uninformed of the indiscriminate nature of the air control regime, were one. Bell’s words and Whitehall actions serve as reminders of what may arise from lack of foresight. Public pressure may have not been on the side of morally sound policymaking in the years of the Mandatory regime, but in a world now constantly assaulted by the implications of that era, we would do well to understand just what the shock and awe of the early twentieth century would portend.
Zoe Rubin (’16) is a Global Affairs major in Timothy Dwight College.
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 Mark Jacobson, ‘‘Only by the Sword’: British Counter-Insurgency in Iraq, 1920,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 2 (1991), 331.
 AP3000: British Air and Space Power Doctrine, 4th ed., Royal Air Force, Centre for Air Power Studies, accessed from http://www.airpowerstudies.com/RAF%20and%20Small%20Wars%20Part%201.pdf; Jacobson, 352.
 T.E. Laurence, “France, Britain, and The Arabs: the Beam in Our Own eye the Road to Peace in Mesopotamia,” The Observer (1901- 2003), August 8, 1920, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Guardian (1821-2003) and The Observer (1791-2003), 10.
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Priya Satia, Spies in Arabia: The Great War and the Cultural Foundations of Britain’s Covert Empire in the Middle East (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 241.
Priya Satia, “In Defense of Inhumanity: Air Control and the British Idea of Arabia,” AHR (2006) 17.
 See Toby Dodge, Inventing Iraq: The Failure of Nation Building and a History Denied. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003).
 Jafna L. Cox, “A Splendid Training Ground: The Importance to the Royal Air Force of its Role in Iraq, 1919-32,” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 13 (1985): 157-184.
 See particularly Satia, Spies in Arabia, 240; Satia, “In Defense of Inhumanity: Air Control and the British Idea of Arabia”; Priya Satia, “Drones: A History from the British Middle East,” Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development 5, 1 (2014): 2.
 Satia, Spies in Arabia, 262.
 Satia, “Drones: A History,” 2, 17.
 Satia, Spies in Arabia, 262.
 Satia, “In Defense of Inhumanity: Air Control and the British Idea of Arabia,” 18..
 Satia, Spies in Arabia, 245.
 Charles Tripp, A History of Iraq. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000, 31-32..
 Tripp, A History of Iraq, 32.
A. Ryan, “The Model Mandate,” Fortnightly Review, May 1926, 589.
 Tripp, A History of Iraq, 37.
 Dodge, Inventing Iraq, 1.
 “Memorandum on the Termination of the British Mandatory Regime in Iraq, 1933,” Information Department, Yale University Sterling Memorial Library Archives.
 “Memorandum on the Termination of the British Mandatory Regime in Iraq, 1933.”
 Kristian Coates Ulrichsen. “The British Occupation of Mesopotamia, 1914-1922,” Journal of Strategic Studies 30 (April, 2007), 351.
 Tripp, A History of Iraq, 41.
 “Memorandum on the Termination of the British Mandatory Regime in Iraq, 1933.”; also the treaty itself
Amal Vinogradov, “The 1920 Revolt in Iraq Reconsidered: The Roles of Tribes in National Politics,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 3 (1972), 133.
 Ibid, 133-134.
 Ibid, 134; Coates Ulrichsen, “The British Occupation of Mesopotamia, 1914-1922,” 374.
 Tripp, A History of Iraq, 43.
 Tripp, A History of Iraq, 44.
“Air Force’s New Role: Superseding Troops in Mesopotamia,” The Manchester Guardian (1901-1959), February 24, 1920, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Guardian (1821-2003) and The Observer (1791-2003), 9.
 Jacobson, ‘‘Only by the Sword’: British Counter-Insurgency in Iraq, 1920,” 329.
 Ibid, 327.
 Jacobson, ‘‘Only by the Sword’: British Counter-Insurgency in Iraq, 1920,” 352.
 Jacobsen, ‘‘Only by the Sword’: British Counter-Insurgency in Iraq, 1920,” 330.
 “Red Revolt Grows In Mesopotamia: Uprising Gains Rapidly in South; Officials Are Rescued by Airplanes,” New – York Tribune (1911-1922), August 29, 1920, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: New York Tribune (1841-1922), 1; “Revolt Grows on the Tigris: Considerable Hostile Movement in Area 70 Mile South of Baghdad,” The Globe (1844-1836), August 30, 1920, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Globe and Mail (1844-2011), 17.
 Special cable to The Christian Science Monitor from its European News Office, “British Officers Check Arab Rising: Measures Put Into Force to Prevent Rebellion From Spreading in Mesopotamia–New Administration to Be Set Up,” The Christian Science Monitor (1908-Current file), September 6, 1920, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Christian Science Monitor (1908-2000), 1.
“The Mesopotamia Revolt,” The Manchester Guardian (1901-1959), October 3, 1922, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Guardian (1821-2003) and The Observer (1791-2003), 8.
 “Revolt Still Widespread,” The Scotsman (1860-1920), September 1, 1920, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Scotsman (1817-1950), 7.
 Satia. “In Defense of Inhumanity,” 30.
 “Britain and The Future of Iraq: Use of Our Air Force,” The Manchester Guardian (1901-1959), February 16, 1933, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Guardian (1821-2003) and The Observer (1791-2003); Sir Henry Dobbs succeeded Sir Percy Cox as a High Commissioner in 1923, whereupon he played a crucial role in engineering Iraq’s quick entry to the League of Nations as a formal state and in ensuring the continuation of British indirect control beyond that point. See “Sir Henry Dobbs,” British Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed on April 26, 2014, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/32842.
“ The Mesopotamia Revolt,” The Manchester Guardian (1901-1959), October 3, 1922.
 “The Arab Cromwell,” The Globe (1844-1936), March 7, 1928, ProQuest Historical Newspapers, The Globe and Mail, 4.
 “Mr. Churchill’s Explanation,” The Scotsman (1860-1920), December 14, 1920, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Scotsman (1817-1950), 8.
 “Memorandum on the Termination of the British Mandatory Regime in Iraq, 1933.”
 Robert Machray, “British Policy in the Middle East,” Fortnightly Review, May 1865-June 1934, November 1924;, British Periodicals, 651.
 “World of Nations: Facts and Documents,” The Contemporary Review,”January 1, 1921,ProQuest, 245.
 J. Wentworth Day, “Feisal of Iraq-And After?” Saturday Review of Politics, Literature, Science and Art, September 16, 1933, British Periodicals, 290.
 The term “homeland security” is fraught with historical weight. Many academics have noted parallels between the language of American officials involved in the Department of Homeland Security’s inception following 9/11, and that of officials in Nazi Germany; For a thorough examination of how the historical use of aerial surveillance regimes has shaped contemporary drone use, see Satia, “Drones: A History from the Middle East.”
 These insights came from a seminar on the future of Syria guest-led by Amb. Robert Ford, who most recently served as American Ambassador to Syria, Middle East Politics Seminar, Yale University, April 22, 2013.
 Martin Walker, “The Making of Modern Iraq,” The Wilson Quarterly (1976) 27, 2: 40.