Following Iraqi independence in 1932 Britain enjoyed good relations with the Hashemite monarchy. Under the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty Britain maintained substantial RAF bases in the country. These were staging posts on the route to India but also provided some security to British petroleum interests in the country.
A coup d’etat at the beginning of April brought the anti-British Rashid Ali to power. There were very few troops available in the region that might bolster the RAF, although arrangements were made to bring in re-inforcements from India. When Rashid Ali’s forces attacked the RAF base at Habbaniya there was only a small force of RAF armoured cars available for land operations:
On the 2nd May, at 0200 hours, the Royal Air Force Cantonment at Habbaniya was invested by Iraqi troops and hostilities broke out. The aerodrome and emergency landing ground were shelled, and 22 out of 29 serviceable aircraft were damaged. Our casualties were over 40, including four pilots andi two observers. Iraqi aircraft unsuccessfully bombed and machine-gunned the camp.
On the same day, all available aircraft attacked the investing forces, and No. 4 Flying Training School carried out 400 sorties on this and the three subsequent days, dropping approximately thirty tons of bombs. Aided by extra guns, the enemy shelling continued desultorily during this period, but without making it impossible for aircraft to use the landing-grounds, although a further number were destroyed and damaged on the ground. Wellingtons from Shaibah bombed enemy troops and positions and attacked their aircraft at Raschid aerodrome.
Blenheims did valuable reconnaissance of the pipe-line around Rutbah, where a large oil fire was observed, and also of the towns of Mosul, Kirkuk, Baghdad and Sulman Pak. On the 6th May, reconnaissance showed that the enemy positions near Habbaniya had been abandoned.
During the operations, the greater part of the Iraqi Air Force was put out of action. We lost seven aircraft in the air and seven on the ground. It is probable that the Iraqis expected air assistance from the Germans. Pilots returning to Habbaniya from Hit during the night of the 5th/6th May reported that fires were lighted at their approach and all along their route. Others were lighted round Habbaniya which had the appearance of guiding marks. An Arab questioned at Hit thought that our aircraft were German.
From the Air Situation Report for the week see TNA CAB 66/16/23