Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Third Reich and World War II in the Middle-East

An RAF Fordson Armoured Car waits outside Baghdad while negotiations for an armistice take place.

While the German markings were over-painted with Iraqi symbols, many Messerschmitt 110s in Iraq still featured "shark teeth" markings of 4/ZG 76 on the nose.

Germany’s official policy toward the Middle East remained inconsistent through the Third Reich because it was predicated upon ideological, diplomatic, and economic factors that contradicted one another. The Nazi doctrine of racial purity and the search for markets in the Middle East lent themselves to support of the Zionist movement through the ha-Avarah (transfer) agreements as useful tools to rid Germany of Jews. When, after 1937, it was understood that Jewish sovereignty was possible, and that a large population of Jews (a circumstance noted after the war in eastern Europe began) might be a base for activity against Germany, Hitler opposed Jewish immigration to Palestine.

Also opposed to Jewish Palestinian immigration were German nationals, including archaeologists, scholars, members of the Palestine Templars, and diplomatic personnel who worked in the area. Both German nationalists looking back to imperial glory and Nazis became disseminators of German propaganda, finding allies in some pan-Arab groups and the military in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. Max von Oppenheim and German Ambassador to Iraq Fritz Grobba advocated financial and military support for local anti-British pan-Arab movements as early as 1937. Meetings between pan-Arab nationalists such as Shakib Arslan, Muhammad Amin al-Husayni, and Aziz Ali al-Misri and German diplomatic officials took place, resulting in a declaration of support in December 1940 but no real aid.

Officially, Germany remained uninvolved in the Middle East, initially leaving the area to Britain. After 1939 and the outbreak of World War II, Germany left the area to Italy, which sought hegemony in North Africa and in the eastern Mediterranean. Italy’s losses to the Allies in Greece and in Libya in 1941 sparked a belated interest by Germany, which had planned to turn to the Middle East only after anticipated successes in Russia (Operation Barbarossa).

Last-minute German arms deliveries to the pro-Axis Rashid Ali al-Kaylani government did not prevent Britain’s victories in Iraq in June 1941 and in Vichy-ruled Syria in July. Fear that Iran was a potential fifth column because of its economic dependence on Germany—because of the large numbers of German nationals working there, and because it offered a haven for those fleeing the British in Iraq—resulted in Pahlavi’s abdication and control of Iran by Russia and Britain. A planned pro-Axis Free Officers’ revolt involving Aziz Ali al- Misri and Anwar al-Sadat, among others, together with Abwehr (German military intelligence) agents infiltrated into Cairo, failed to coordinate with Erwin Rommel’s advance toward Egypt in the summer of 1942. Berlin provided sanctuary for some pro- Axis Arabs, among them the Jerusalem mufti, who left the Middle East during the war and worked for the German propaganda machine in return for Germany’s promise to support Arab independence. After the war, a number of Nazis immigrated to the Arab world.

Name given to the four ex-sharifian, pan-Arab Iraqi army officers whose anti-British, pro-Axis politics led to the Rashid Ali coup of 1941 and the war with Britain that followed.

The original “Four” included the leader, Salah al- Din al-Sabbagh, and Kamil Shabib, Fahmi Said, and Mahmud Salman. They organized after the 1936 Bakr Sidqi coup and then joined with three other officers, Aziz Yamulki, Husayn Fawzi, and Amin al-Umari, to form a military opposition bloc to the government. Jamil al-Midfai’s government in 1938 tried to transfer the officers out of Baghdad, but succeeded only in making them more politically active.

The officers supported the goals of the Jerusalem mufti (chief Muslim jurist), Hajj Amin al- Husayni, who arrived in Baghdad and solicited Germany’s help to achieve total Iraqi independence from Britain and the pan-Arab goal of Arab unity of the Fertile Crescent. They opposed Prime Minister Nuri al-Said’s severance of relations with Germany in 1939. In 1940 and 1941, the officers and the mufti were in contact with the Japanese and the Italians through their missions in Baghdad and supported Rashid Ali al-Kaylani’s government (31 March 1940 to 31 January 1941) as the British pressured Iraq to declare war on Germany. When Rashid Ali resigned, the pro-British regent, Abd al-Ilah, asked General Taha al-Hashimi, who had worked with the Four, to form a government, thinking that he could control the generals. But Taha’s weakness and the attempt by the regent to transfer Kamil Shabib out of the capital led them, in collusion with the mufti, to take control of the government in April 1941, with Rashid Ali again as the prime minister.

At the end of the abortive war against Britain in May 1941, the Four fled but were later caught and executed.

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