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 t
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