“We reserve the right to bomb the niggers!”
Such was how then Prime Minister David Lloyd George defended the indiscriminate bombing of Kurdish villages by the Royal Air Force during the 1920s. Through a deal with France to carve up the post-WWI Middle East (Who is Responsible for Today’s Middle East?), Imperial Britain created Iraq and annexed its former province of Kuwait in order to landlock Iraq and thus maintain the flow of oil to the West.
When the Kurds bravely revolted against this oppression, they paid with their lives. “If the Kurds were going to misbehave”, recalled a pilot, “we would smack their bottoms”. Containing similarly callous veterans as well as elderly Kurdish survivors, the Channel 4 documentary from which this quote is taken – “Birds of Death” – is available on YouTube and worth watching.
To avoid international notoriety, then War Secretary Winston Churchill’s eager request to deploy mustard gas against these “recalcitrant tribes” was fortunately denied. But the campaign proved no less ruthless. “The attack with bombs and machine guns”, ordered one RAF commander, “must be relentless and unremitting and carried on continuously by day and night, on houses, inhabitants, crops and cattle”.
Lionel Charlton resigned after visiting a local hospital full of injured civilians. But other RAF commanders such as Arthur “Bomber” Harris showed no mercy. “The Arab and Kurd now know what real bombing means, in casualties and damage”, Harris intoned. “They know that within 45 minutes a full-sized village can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured”.
This soon became standard RAF practice in the Middle East, explains British historian David Omissi:
Schemes of air control similar to that practiced in Mesopotamia were set up in the Palestine Mandate in 1922 and in the Aden Protectorate six years later. Bombers were active at various times against rioters in Egypt, tribesmen on the Frontier, pastoralists in the Southern Sudan and nomads in the Somali hinterland.
Like the Palestinians the following decade (put down with comparable savagery that murdered thousands), the lightly armed Kurds were crushed and defeated. Likewise the Omani rebels in the 1950s, when Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson personally selected RAF targets: water treatment facilities, villages, and other civilian infrastructure. Read historian Mark Curtis’ research based on internal government files.
Ali Abbas: a symbol of the US-UK “Shock and Awe” blitz on Baghdad, March 20 2003
This all provided the precedent for the more recent holocaust in Iraq. During the 1991 Gulf War, the USAF and RAF decimated the civilian infrastructure of a country that once boasted, despite the formerly Western-backed Saddam dictatorship, one of the highest living standards in the Arab world.
Echoing Lloyd George, the Ministry of Defence justified one of its many attacks on civilian targets (in this case, a herd of sheep) documented by a UN report in the late 90s: “We reserve the right to take robust action”.
This, on top of an economic embargo that starved more than half a million children to death (“We think the price is worth it”, a US official explained at the time).
Curtis refers to “the RAF’s secret drone war, which involves a fleet of “Reaper” drones operating since 2007 to strike targets in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria… The targeted killing of terrorists (and the use of force generally) is only lawful in self–defence or following UN authorisation, and thus the drone programme is widely regarded as illegal”.
Of the more than one million deaths caused during the Iraq War, 2% (20,000) were caused by American and British aircraft[Opinion Research Business]. Up to 90% of the dead were civilians, meaning US and British pilots slaughtered up to 18,000 innocent men, women and children. What heroes!
And then there’s Libya, where the RAF killed thousands at indiscriminate targets such as water and food facilities, schools, homes and other civilian infrastructure. This is documented by the International Legal Assistance Consortium, the Arab Centre for Human Rights and the Palestinian Centre of Human Rights. The “Shock and Awe” bombing of Baghdad on March 20 2003 followed the exact same procedure, taking some 10,000 lives.
Boasting the highest living standard in Africa, Libya’s greatest achievement (among many others) was the Great Manmade River Project, its deliberate bombing by NATO reflecting a broader campaign to terrorise and demoralise the Libyan people: with forbears like anti-Mussolini insurgent Omar Mukhtar, the West knew it was up against a brave and proud nation who do not accept colonization.
An Obama-sponsored genocide of blacks ensued via Al Qaeda-linked terrorists, including a group whose members included the eventual Manchester bomber. Chalmers Johnson: “blowback”.
2011 NATO assault on Libya was illegal, spawned Europe’s refugee crisis
In addition to 2-3000 civilians killed by airstrikes on Iraq and Libya since 2014[airwars.org], the longest war in US history continues in Afghanistan and has witnessed horrifying civilian casualties resulting from Western (incl. RAF) airstrikes. Targets have ranged from weddings and funerals to villages and hospitals. This is all documented and systemic.
Prince Harry, a member of the 1% in whose interest imperialism is waged, is the veritable poster boy for the MoD as it seeks to revive jingoism amidst a country suffering from “Iraq War syndrome”. Harry, who once dressed up as a Nazi at a “colonels and natives” party, has likened shooting “raghead[s]” and “paki[s]” to playing a video game. Again, what a hero!
There is no pride in the most lethal weapon in Britain’s imperialist arsenal. There is no pride in a force that specialises in slaughtering children and women from high above, commanding the skies of other countries like a foreign overlord. With the exception of World War II, the British homeland has never faced a military threat.
All of Britain’s wars have been imperial endeavours to defend and advance the interests of the very same corporate elite that we rightly damn at home for dodging billions in tax every year while austerity and privatisation continues unabated on their behalf. The real enemy is at home, not abroad!
Air Power and Colonial Control: The Royal Air Force 1919-1939
2. Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq ITV (1999); watch at johnpilger.com
3. American School of Public Health (2006); cited in The War You Don’t See ITV (2010), watchable at johnpilger.com