1900-1919 | Executions | Iraq | Massacres | Prisoners murdered

Arab villagers who run away ‘meet their end on the scaffold’

British troops in Mesopotamia. © IWM -‘(Q 24656).

14 January 1915

During the First World War, British troops were deployed to Mesopotamia (now Iraq) to force back Turkish forces and secure a post-war territorial stake in the crumbling Ottoman Empire. After landing on the Persian Gulf coast, one of their first tasks was to search Arab villages, which had been deemed potentially ‘unfriendly.’ Private William Bird described in his diary how his battalion would quietly encircle a village during the night and wait for the dawn, at which point they would ‘fix bayonets and rush the houses, any house that refused to open when we first knock, we immediately break down the door, and make prisoners of all the male occupants, we then search everything and everywhere for arms.’ He added that ‘those who attempt to run away are caught by our ring of men outside the village. They are treated as combatants and meet their end on the scaffold.’ Similarly, those who dared to defend their village were ‘either shot or captured and hung in the market square.’1


  1. Diary of William Bird, 14 January 1915 cited in Charles Townshend, When God Made Hell: The British Invasion of Mesopotamia and the Creation of Iraq, 1914-1921, Faber and Faber, London, 2010, p. 48.

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