1920-1939 | Bombing villages | Iraq | Livestock targeted | Punitive operations | RAF crimes

Iraqi villages subjected to punitive RAF bombing. Fleeing inhabitants machine-gunned.

An RAF DH9A "Ninak" flying over the desert.
RAF HMSO – Public domain – Wikimedia
An RAF DH9A “Ninak” flying over the desert.
RAF HMSO – Public domain – Wikimedia

27 January 1923

On 27 January 1923, after an RAF officer was wounded by insurgents in an ambush two miles north of the Iraqi town of Al Diwaniyah, several nearby villages were selected for punitive bombing. These settlements were believed to be inhabited by the Al Hamad, who the British deemed likely suspects in the attack. Consequently the villages were subjected to a total of three air assaults by eight aircraft of number 84 squadron.

The small community of Ramlat Sadun, a village of some 50 huts and a palm plantation, suffered the heaviest bombing and the brushwood and reed roofed huts were soon engulfed by fires ignited by hundreds of incendiary bombs. The raids, carried out by open cockpit Ninak (DH9A) biplanes based at Shaibah, over two hundred miles to the south east, continued the next day, but were hampered by sand storms. They were suspended on the 29th due to continued adverse weather, and only completed on the 31st. A telegram sent the same day to the RAF Chief Staff Officer noted that the operation had been ‘entirely successful’ and that ‘no opposition was encountered.’1

According to an RAF memo on the air raids, a total of two and half tons of bombs were dropped, including 600 incendiaries. Squadron leader Brown noted ‘cattle machine gunned with good effect,’ adding, ‘inhabitants observed fleeing from village machine gunned.  Scattered villages to the south of Sadun bombed and machine gunned.’  Seven villagers were killed and five wounded. The squadron’s Lewis machine guns discharged a total of 1,800 rounds.2  

Meanwhile at RAF HQ Baghdad there was complete confusion as to whether any ultimatum had ever been issued, and if so what had been its terms, whether the villages had failed to comply and whether, even in these circumstances, it had actually expired prior to the air assault commencing.3 There was also some initial concern that ‘several bombs fell outside the proper area.’ Flight Officer C. H. Elliott confessed to Brown that it was possible that ‘these were the bombs I dropped on mud huts which I thought were well within hostile parts.’4 The local political officer was however unperturbed, reporting to Baghdad that ‘there is no indication that this had an adverse political effect’ and reminding HQ that ‘compensation is not considered advisable as this would create a precedent leading to a number of petitions of a similar nature which have occurred in the past.’5


  1. Telegram Wireless “O” – From Special Diwaniyah to Chief Staff Officer Aviation, No MDT/15 dated 31/1 AIR23/186 accessed at the National Archives. Comments on use of brushwood and reed matting in the villages targeted in  – Air Staff Intelligence, AIR HQ Baghdad, 8 February 1923, AIR23/186, National Archives.
  2. The Secretary Air HQ Baghdad to HE The High Commissioner, 28 January 1923, AIR23/186 and Squadron Leader Brown, Reconnaisance Report No 66, AIR23/186, both documents accessed at the National Archives.
  3. Notes on Diwaniyah Situation, AIR23/186 accessed at the National Archives.
  4. Letter from Flight Officer C. H. Elliott to the Officer Commanding 84 Squadron, 12 February 1923, AIR23/186 accessed at the National Archives.
  5. Report from the political officer Flight Lieutenant G.M. Moore to Chief Staff Officer, Air Headquarters, Baghdad p. 3  AIR23/186 accessed at the National Archives.

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