1900-1919 | Collective punishments | Executions | Iraq

25 MAY


[ 25 May 1918 ]

At dawn on 25 May 1918, eleven Arab rebels, who had taken part in an uprising to free the holy city of Najaf from British rule, were hung in front of a sullen crowd of onlookers. They had been part of a group of 27 who had attacked the headquarters of the British administration in Najaf on 19 March, during which the local British political officer,  Captain W. M. Marshal, had been shot dead.1

The authorities knew that those who had led the revolt had already escaped the city, but despite appeals for mercy, they decided to uphold the decision by a hastily convened military tribunal to inflict the maximum penalty. A mass execution in public would remind the population of the consequences of defying imperial rule. Such a deterrence was considered essential.  Najafis were suffering high prices for grain and other essentials caused by war time restrictions on trade and British army requisitions. However, any savings the population might have used to stave off hunger, were now threatened by demands for a fine of 50,000 rupees imposed for the crime of rebellion as well as new taxes on housing, water, animals and shops which exceeded even those which had previously been exacted by the Ottomans.2

News of the executions was music to the ears of the local political officer Harold Dickson, who gloated that the hangings had ‘done more good than anything else in the world. A tonic has been administered that won’t be forgotten.’3 However, it was feared that the British public might harbour a dangerously sentimental sympathy for the rebels and consequently there was no mention of the rebellion or the hangings in any newspaper at the time. We know nothing about the background of those executed – but these are their names

Kaẓim Ṣabi,

Abbas Ali al-Rumaḥi,

Alwan Ali al-Rumaḥi,

Karim al-Ḥaj Saad al-Ḥaj Raḍi,

Aḥmad al-Ḥaj Saad al-Ḥaj Raḍi,

Muḥsin al-Ḥaj Saad al-Ḥaj Raḍi,


Muḥsin Abu Ghnim,

Najam al-Baqal,

Majid b. al-Ḥaj Mahdi Diibil,

and Judi Naji4


  1. Two sources give the execution date as 25 May 1918 – these are Ian Rutledge, Enemy on the Euphrates: The Battle for Iraq, 1914 – 1921, Saqi Books, London, 2015, p. 146 and Jawdat K Al-Qazwini, The Religious Establishment in Ithna’ashari Shi’ism: A Study in Scholarly and Political Development,  Submitted for the Degree of PhD at SOAS, 1997, p. 167 accessed online at url https://eprints.soas.ac.uk/28898/1/10673072.pdf  However two other sources cite 30 May 1918 as the date of execution. Abbas Kadhim, Reclaiming Iraq: The 1920 Revolution and the Founding of the Modern State, University of Texas Press, Austin, 2012, p. 3 and Eissa Dashti, The Shiite Resistance Against the British Occupation in Iraq 1914-1921, A thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Bangor University, 2017, p. 111 accessed online at url http://e.bangor.ac.uk/10855/2/Dashti%20PhD%202017.pdf
  2. Eissa Dashti, op. cit. pp. 90 – 111 and Ian Rutledge, op. cit., pp. 137 – 146.
  3. List of the names of the rebels executed given in Eissa Dashti, op. cit. p 111.

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