Navigation Links
Despite claims, UK did not gas Iraqis in the 1920s, new research finds
Date:10/21/2009

It has passed as fact among historians, journalists and politicians, and has been recounted everywhere from tourist guidebooks to the floor of the U.S. Congress: British forces used chemical weapons on Iraqis just after World War I.

But that claim has never been fully squared with the historical record, says R. M. Douglas, a historian at Colgate University. According to Douglas's research, forthcoming in the December issue of The Journal of Modern History, no such incident ever occurred.

Allegations of chemical bombings by the British erupted into the public sphere during the run up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Iraq's history of chemical weapons did not start with Saddam Hussein's gas attack on the Kurds, scholars and critics asserted. It was Great Britain when it controlled the region under League of Nations mandate in the 1920s that first used chemical weapons in the region to quell Arab uprisings. Many scholars went so far as to root Arab distrust of the West in Britain's brutal chemical attacks.

Douglas, however, finds that these claimsoft repeated in books, newspapers and political speechesrest on very shaky foundations.

The first blunt assertion of British chemical weapons use in Iraq comes from a 1986 essay by historian Charles Townshend. In his essay Townshend refers to a 1921 letter penned by J.A. Webster, an official at the British Air Ministry. In Townshend's description, Webster wrote to the British Colonial Office, the overseer of the Mesopotamian occupation, that tear gas shells had been used against Arab rebels with "excellent moral effect."

Douglas's research, however, reveals that Webster was wrong. The army had asked permission to use gas shells, but had not yet employed them in the field. And contrary to Townshend's description of the letter, Webster's much-quoted reference to an "excellent moral effect" represented "the Air Ministry's estimation of what gas bombs dropped from aircraft, if used, could be expected to achieve, rather than what gas shells had already achieved," Douglas writes.

In fact, shortly after receiving Webster's letter, the Colonial Office sought clarification of the bombing claim from Army General Headquarters in Baghdad. General Headquarters reported, contrary to Webster, that "gas shells have not been used hitherto against [Iraqi] tribesmen either by aeroplanes or by artillery."

Despite the evidence Webster's letter was wrong, it still became the basis for claims of British chemical use. From there the story mutated and spread.

"In some versions, the Royal Air Force is alleged to have dropped gas bombs from aeroplanes against rebellious Iraqis, in the course of what was euphemistically known as 'air policing,'" Dr. Douglas writes. "In others, the British Army is held to be the responsible party, employing gas-filled artillery shells."

Though the specifics differed, each allegation treated the incident as a matter of unassailable fact. Douglas's research suggests it is anything but.

THE WILL, BUT NOT THE WAY

Perhaps lending a measure of credence to allegations of British chemical use in Iraq is the fact that there were high-profile British ministers who very much wanted to use them.

But wanting to use them does not mean they did.

"[T]here had been two brief periods in 1920-21 during which the use of tear gas in the course of military operations had been the stated policy of the British Government," Douglas writes. "In both cases practical difficulties rather than moral qualms prevented their use."

Before 1920, the British War Cabinet had expressly denied requests by field commanders to use tear gas in occupied Mesopotamia. That changed in June 1920, when an organized Arab rebellion erupted. Winston Churchill, then War Secretary and a vocal advocate of nonlethal gas use, gave commanders in the field permission to use "existing stocks" of tear gas artillery shells.

But at that time, there were no existing stocks of such weapons in Mesopotamia. The nearest supply was in Egypt and needed to be transported to the region. By the time they arrived, the rebellion was over and the shells went unused.

Anticipating renewed hostilities, a Royal Air Force commander sought permission in 1922 to convert the unused artillery shells into bombs that could be dropped from aircraft. Churchill signed off on the request, but was forced to rescind his permission just days later when the Washington Disarmament Conference passed a resolution banning the use of tear gas. The shells, again, went unused.

There is little doubt had the timing of these events been slightly differenthad the 1920 rebellion lasted longer or if there had been time to convert the shells to aerial bombsthat British forces would have used their chemical ordnance. And that, says Douglas, may have vastly changed the course of history. Churchill had given authorization to use chemical agents without consulting his colleagues in the Cabinet, most of whom would have vigorously objected. Moreover, public sentiment against using chemical agents remained strong in the wake of German mustard gas use in World War I.

"[A]ny actual employment of these weapons would have triggered a public and political storm that might well have brought an abrupt end to Winston Churchill's career," Douglas writes.

Despite faulty evidence, claims of British chemical attacks on Iraqis became a popular anti-war rallying cry 80 years after the alleged incidents took place. War critics often drew parallels between Britain's alleged gas attacks and Saddam Hussein's gassing of Kurdish separatists in 1988.

"The symmetrical appeal of history faithfully repeating itself no doubt accounts for much of the public and scholarly credence accorded to claims that the British used chemical weapons in mandatory Iraq, their inconsistency and implausibility notwithstanding," Douglas writes.


'/>"/>

Contact: Kevin Stacey
kstacey@press.uchicago.edu
773-834-0386
University of Chicago Press Journals
Source:Eurekalert

Related biology news :

1. Birds in Flint Hills of Kansas, Oklahoma face population decline despite large habitat
2. Organic soils continue to acidify despite reduction in acidic deposition
3. Despite peacenik reputation, bonobos hunt and eat other primates too
4. Despite awareness of global warming Americans concerned more about local environment
5. CITES caviar export quotas remain steady for beluga sturgeon despite threat of extinction
6. Clemson researchers say algae key to mass extinctionss
7. Texas A&M researchers find new mechanism for circadian rhythm
8. New research examining essential drugs, emerging botanicals supported by USP Awards
9. Genomes of 2 popular research strains of E. coli sequenced
10. Researchers find ways to encourage spinal cord regeneration after injury
11. National Science Foundation Fellow uses ultrasound to research bog turtles
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
(Date:4/13/2016)... April 13, 2016  IMPOWER physicians supporting Medicaid patients ... a new clinical standard in telehealth thanks to a ... the higi platform, IMPOWER patients can routinely track key ... body mass index, and, when they opt in, share ... visit to a local retail location at no cost. ...
(Date:3/31/2016)... -- Genomics firm Nabsys has completed a financial  restructuring under ... M.D., who returned to the company in October 2015. ... including Chief Technology Officer, John Oliver , Ph.D., ... Vice President of Software and Informatics, Michael Kaiser ... Bready served as CEO of Nabsys from 2005-2014 and ...
(Date:3/23/2016)... , March 23, 2016 ... Interesse erhöhter Sicherheit Gesichts- und Stimmerkennung mit ... Inc. (NASDAQ: MESG ), ein ... dass das Unternehmen mit SpeechPro zusammenarbeitet, um ... der Finanzdienstleistungsbranche, wird die Möglichkeit angeboten, im ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/23/2016)... 23, 2016   EpiBiome , a precision microbiome ... in debt financing from Silicon Valley Bank (SVB). The ... to advance its drug development efforts, as well as ... "SVB has been an incredible strategic partner to ... traditional bank would provide," said Dr. Aeron Tynes ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... 2016 Apellis Pharmaceuticals, Inc. today announced ... of its complement C3 inhibitor, APL-2. The trials ... dose studies designed to assess the safety, tolerability, ... in healthy adult volunteers. Forty subjects ... single dose (ranging from 45 to 1,440mg) or ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... June 23, 2016 , ... ClinCapture, the ... Convention Center and will showcase its product’s latest features from June 26 to ... a scientific poster on Disrupting Clinical Trials in The Cloud during the conference. ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... , June 23, 2016 ... research report to its pharmaceuticals section with historic ... details and much more. Complete report ... 151 pages, profiling 15 companies and supported with ... http://www.reportsnreports.com/reports/601420-global-cell-culture-media-industry-2016-market-research-report.html . The Global ...
Breaking Biology Technology: