“The Iraqi Levies” 1915-1932
In 1915, Major J. I. Eadie of the Indian Army, who was then Special Service Officer in the Muntafiq Division in Mesopotamia, recruited (40) Mounted Arabs from the tribes round Nasiriyah, on the Euphrates, for duty under the Intelligence Department. From this small force of (40) men was gradually built up a force, which, after various changes of name, were finally called “Levies”; and which, from a strength of (40) in 1915, rose to (6,199) in May 1922, after which date the gradual cutting down of units, or transfer to the Iraqi Army, began. The following is an attept to give an account of this force, whose organization changed from a small mounted contingent to a mixed force of all arms; whose personnel changed from entirely Arabs, to a mixed force of Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Turkomans and Yezidis, and finally to almost entirely Assyrians; and whose area of use was first of all limited entirely to the country south of Baghdad, latter entirely to Kurdistan, and now, as their end approaches, they are gradually taking over stations in the South again. Major Eadie’s (40) men, at first known locally as the Muntafiq Horse, were soon increased to (60), and were called Arab Scouts. Their duties were many and various, and included reconnoitering for British columns which were operating in the area. They were allowed to wear their own form of dress, produced their own horses, saddlery, rifles, arms and ammunition, and provided their own shelter for themselves and their animals. They formed the nucleus of the 5th Euphrates Levy. In March 1916, another small mounted force, also (60) strong, was raised by Major Hamilton, the Political Officer at Nasiriyah. This was called the Political Guard. This force acted as guard to the Political Officer during his tours of the Division, and carries out Police duties in the town and district. They were paid at the same rates, and enlisted under the same conditions as the Arab Scouts.
In June 1916, after the fall of Kut [a city east of Baghdad] a corps of guards for the river and telegraph line in the Qurnah, Amarah and Basrah [cities in southern Iraq] areas, was raised. This corps was divided to correspond to Political Divisions, and acted under Assistant Political Officers. These formed the nucleus of the 3rd Tigris Levy, and the Qurnah District Police. In this same month the Arab scouts and the Political Guard were amalgamated, and renamed the Nasiriyah Mounted Guard. The strength of this force was raised from (120) to (150) and by the end of the year to (250).
A further increase to (350), took place in April 1917, and by July, by adding other forces raised by the Civil Commissioners, the force had become (500) mounted men, and (400) dismounted men.
In 1916 it was decided that the force must have a distinctive uniform, and here a difficulty arose. The only clothing for the legs available was either shorts or riding breeches, and the Arabs refused to wear either, considering that such an exposure of their lower limbs indecent, and against all customs. A compromise was effected by which they wore their Arab robes over the uniform. However, by 1917 they became used to wearing the dress of the British soldier, and this was adopted throughout the force.
The force continued to grow, and seems to have had different names in different areas. Thus we find on 12th April 1918, that the Hillah [city south of Baghdad] Shabana or 2nd Euphrates Levy under Major C. A. Boyle, were used; this being the first operation in which this force is mentioned. This was to Madhatiyah, to destroy towns and forts, collect revenue, and make certain arrests. They covered (110) miles on this expedition without any horse casualties, destroyed (84) towers, collected some of the revenue and obtained surety for the rest, and brought in (8) people who were wanted.
On the 21st April the same Levy, (70) mounted men and (100) dismounted, made an expedition to Jerbonieh and destroyed (27) towers and burned (2) villages. The expedition lasted three days. The mounted men were eleven hours in the saddle each day. No one in the force fell out.
The Great War came to an end; but the work of this force increased. Their name at the end of 1918 was changed to Shabana, a name in use in Turkish times and already in use to a certain extent. The duties were now to supply the executive needs of the Civil Administration. The organization, administration, and pay of the force and strength of (5,467) were laid down in a memorandum of 8th October 1918. It was intended that the Shabana should be a striking force, and should become the nucleus of the future Arab Army.
The name Shabana was reminiscent of many abuses in Turkish times, and generally unpopular, and the name of the force was again changed to Muntafiq Horse. And this name was again changed, the whole force in March 1919 being named Militia, though the name Muntafiq Horse seems to have continued as the name of the Mounted Troops of that area. Major C. A. Boyle was Inspecting Officer of the Militia with Headquarters at Baghdad. It was during this year that a standard uniform for the force was laid down, the force was re-armed with the short British 303 rifle, and a voluntary system of recruiting was introduced. So far local Sheikhs and headmen had been called on to produce men, and those produced were not exactly voluntary soldiers. This year was fairly eventful, and the force saw a good deal of service. Before narrating this, it is best to show the changes in organization, administration, and location of the force.
In July 1919, the name of the force was changed again from Militia to Levies, in use now for the first time and on August 1st the Levy and Gendarmerie Orders were published. These orders defined control of the Levies, and the duties of the Inspecting Officer of the Levies, which were limited to inspection and administration. Therefore by these Orders, Levies were under the orders of three different people:
On 12th August 1919, the force changed its name for the 8th time, becoming Arab and Kurdish Levies. The personnel of the force at this time were drawn from: - Arabs: Mainly townspeople or from settled tribes. The desert tribes did not take kindly to discipline. A few old Arab officers of the Turkish Army also joined in. Kurds: These joined chiefly the Suliamani and Arbil Levies, and the Mosul Gendarmerie. Kirkuklis: These are Turkoman people and joined the Kut, Baqubah and Kirkuk Levies.
The first operation was on February 25th, 1919, when the 5th Euphrates Levy under Captain F. W. Hall left their station at midnight to deal with Sheikh Badr and his following, in co-operation with airplanes and gunboats. The Levies numbered (120). The town was bombed, shelled, and finally occupied on the 27th. On May 8th, (30) Levies under Captain Lewis were sent to deal with bad characters in the marsh village of Umm el-Batouch. Five of the enemies were killed and one captured. On May 21st, the 5th Euphrates Levy were out again, forming part of a column to deal with Sheikh Badr’s force, which had concentrated on the west bank of the Sharaish River. Meanwhile, Sheikh Mahmud advanced from Barzinjah to Sulaimania. He met the Levies under Major F. S. Greenhouse on May 22nd at the Azmir Dagh, overwhelmed them and captured the town. The Amadiyah area was the next area of disturbance. In June, the troops about Amadiyah were withdrawn to Suwara Tuka Pass, 18 miles southwest of Amadiyah. The A.P.O., Captain Willey, was left in Amadiyah, with Lieut. MacDonald and Sergeant Troop in command of the Kurdish Levies. Anti-British and anti-Christian propaganda had been going on for some time. On July 15th, the leaders of this movement, aided by contingents of Kurdish tribesmen and the local gandarmerie, murdered the whole party. It was only here and at this late time of the Levies existence that the first Assyrian involvement in battles among local tribes took place. A column at once took action under General Nightingale, and with it two Battalions of Assyrians trained in Baqubah. They entered Amadiyah on August 8th and then took action against the Barwari tribes, the Goyan and Guli. The Assyrian Battalions did well on this expedition, and this led later to their being taken as the main part of the Iraq Levies.
In November 1919, the Political Officer, Mosul, Mr. J. H. H. Bill, I.C.S., and the Assistant Political Officer, Aqra, Captain K. R. Scott, M.C., were attacked and killed by Kurds of Zibar and Barzan near Bira Kapra. The Kurds then attacked Aqra, which was held by Lieut. Barlow and some gendarmerie. They put up a good fight, but had to retire. The Yuzbashi (native captain) Hasoon Ibn Falayfil, who later was awarded the medal for gallantry, rallied a small party at Jujar; and by holding on here blocked the road to Mosul from the insurgents, and gave support to such Kurdish chiefs as remained loyal to the government. He held on until relieved, and his action enabled the country up to the Aqra Dagh to be re-occupied.
In 1920, and after the defeat and capture of Sheikh Mahmub at the action of the Bazian Pass, Major E. B. Soane took over and made it the quietest in Iraq. But then the well known rebellion of 1920 began. This was a most trying time for the Levies, who remained faithful to the government throughout the rebellion. They had to face the worst forms of persecution to induce them to change sides. Intensive propaganda was leveled at them by their own people, including their female relations. They were openly insulted in the streets and coffee shops, and called infidels. Reports were circulated to them that their own women were being assaulted, or in some cases carried off and killed. They fully realized they were cutting themselves off from their own people. It is reported that active operations began on the night of May 13/14th, when (100) men of the 3rd Tigris Levy with (100) Amarah and (100) Qurnah tribesmen made a successful night raid on the Bait Jasim and Bait Mahmud of the Nawafh, at al-Baidah in the marshes. The rebellion continued in the south and during August the disturbances spread to the north. This was not so much part of the Arab Rebellion in the South, which did not affect the Kurds, as a pro-Turkish agitation started in and about Arbil.
Early in 1921 was held the Cairo Conference on Iraq, and from the decision taken there, the future of the Iraq Levies was decided, and laid down by orders from the British Cabinet shortly as follows: - “The function of the Iraq Levies, as determined at the Cairo Conference, is to relieve the British and Indian Troops in Iraq, take over out-posts in Mosul Vilayat (province) and in Kurdistan, previously held by the Imperial Garrison, and generally to fill the gap until such time as the Iraq National Army is trained to undertake these duties.”
So far, and during the Rebellion period, the Levies had consisted entirely of Arabs, Kurds, Turkomans. Now that Iraq Army was to be formed, the Arabs would be required to join it rather than to go to Levies. It was decided to enlist Assyrians in the Levies.