The Iraq Levies was the first Iraqi military forces established by the British in British controlled Iraq. The Iraq Levies were a noteworthy feature of the Kingdom of Iraq, and especially of northern Iraq during the years of the mandate, and no account of the Assyrians or indeed of Iraq itself would be complete without some account of them.
The Iraq Levies distinguished themselves in May 1941 during the Anglo-Iraqi War. The force thereafter grew and survived until disbanded in May 1955 when control of RAF Habbaniya and RAF Shaibah was handed to Iraq.
- 1 Organization
- 2 History
- 3 Levy ranks
- 4 Medals awarded to Assyrian Levies
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
On 1 August 1919, the Levy and Gendarmerie Orders were published in which the control of the Levies, and the duties of the Inspecting Officer of the Levies, who were limited to inspection and administration, were defined. This put the Levies were under the control of three different people: the Inspecting Officer, the Political Officer of the Area, and the Local Administrative Commandant. The budget was dealt with by the Inspecting Officer, except in the Northern Iraqi Provinces of Kirkuk, Sulaimani and Mosul Liwas, where Political Officers dealt with it. Later the Levies came under their own OC Iraq Levies.
The Levies consisted of a Headquarters (first located in Baquba, then Hinaidi and then in Habbaniya), a Hospital (also in Habbaniya), and numerous numbered field companies. Some of the field companies were later organized into battalions for mobile operations.
The Iraq Levies traced their history to the Arab Scouts organized in 1915 by a Major J I Eadie, of the British Indian Army who served as a Special Service Officer in the Muntafiq Division in Mesopotamia. He recruited forty mounted Arabs from the tribes round Nasiriyeh, for duty under the Intelligence Department as bodyguard for political officers in southern and central Iraq. By 1918 The Arab Scouts increased to 5,467 Arabs, Kurds, Turkoman, Marsh Arab and Assyrian militia.
In 1919 the force changed names twice, first to the Militia and then in July to the Iraq Levies when Iraq became a British Mandate. On 12 Aug. 1919, the force became known as the "Arab and Kurdish Levies." Also in 1919 the Iraq Levies were split was split into a strike force of 3,075 men, based in Baquba, and district Police force of 1,786 men. On 1 August 1919, the Levy and Gendarmerie Orders were published in which the control of the Levies, and the duties of the Inspecting Officer of the Levies, who were limited to inspection and administration, were defined. This put the Levies were under the control of three different people: the Inspecting Officer, the Political Officer of the Area, and the Local Administrative Commandant. The budget was dealt with by the Inspecting Officer, except in the Northern Iraqi Provinces of Kirkuk, Sulaimani and Mosul Liwas, where Political Officers dealt with it.
In 1921 at the Cairo Conference the mission of the Levies became "The function of the Iraq Levies 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."
Up to 1921 the Levies had consisted primarily 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. The Assyrians were prized for their discipline, loyalty, bravery and fighting skills by the British and were generally Nestorian Christians, a religious minority in a generally Moslem population. In July 1922 Orders were issued in which no more Arabs were to be enlisted as they were required to join the new Iraqi Army, those serving could not re-engage, A 1922 Treaty between Great Britain and Iraq allowed for the continued existence of the Levies as "local forces of the Imperial garrison" and that its members were "members of the British Forces who are inhabitants of Iraq".
By 1923 the ethnic composition of the Iraq Levies was half Assyrians and half Kurd, plus an attached battalion of Marsh Arabs and a few Armenians and Turkomans.
In July 1928 the Levies were transferred from the Colonial Office to the Air Ministry and its Headquarters was transferred to Hinaidi.The original Levies were not Assyrians until 1928, when the levies became entirely Assyrian. The Marsh Arab battalion became the 7th Battalion of the Iraq Army. The force then expanded rapidly and became known as "Shabanas", a Turkish word meaning a semi-military gendarmerie. Its primary duty was now to protect Royal Air Force bases in Iraq.
As they became more disciplined they rendered excellent service; during the Arab rebellion of 1920 they displayed, under conditions of the greatest trial, steadfast loyalty to their British officers.
In 1931 Assyrian levies and Iraqi army units were patrolling Barzan district. Government troops implied government control, which Shaykh Ahmad still wanted to avoid.
On 1 June 1932 the Assyrian levies presented a signed memorial to their Commanding Officer stating that "all the men had decided to cease serving as from 1st July." The reason was Britain had "failed adequately to ensure the future of the Assyrian nation after the termination of their mandate over Iraq."
During 1940/41 Iraq joined the Axis powers and the Battle of Habbaniya took place. During the Rashid Ali rebellion in 1941 the base was besieged by the Iraqi Army encamped on the overlooking plateau. The siege was lifted by the units based at Habbaniya, including pilots from the training school, a battalion of the King's Own Royal Regiment flown in at the last moment, Number 1 Armoured Car Company RAF, and the RAF's Iraq Levies. The subsequent arrival of a relief column (Kingcol), part of Habforce sent from Palestine, then a British mandate, combined with the Habbaniya units to force the rebel forces to retreat to Baghdad. The Levies then recruited an additional 11,000 men, mostly Assyrians but also some Kurd and Yezidi.
"They had dug trenches and were determined on destroying the Assyrians and taking their properties and possessions. Assyrians painfully remembered the massacre of 1933 in Simele and the surrounding villages and pledged "Never Again!". They remembered the raping and pillaging of defenseless Assyrian villagers." 
By 1942, the Iraq Levies consisted of a Headquarters, a Depot, Specialist Assyrian companies, 40 service companies and the 1st Parachute Company, which consisted of 75% Assyrian and 25% Kurd. The new Iraq Levies disciplinary code was based largely on the Indian Army Act.
By 1943 the Iraq Levies strength stood at 166 British officers controlling 22 Assyrian companies, 5 Mixed Assyrian/Yizidi companies, 10 Kurdish companies, 4 Gulf Arab companies and 3 Baluchi companies. Eleven Assyrian companies served in Palestine and another four served in Cyprus. The Parachute Company was attached to the Royal Marine Commando and were active in both Albania and Greece. The Iraq Levies was renamed the Royal Air Force Levies.
In 1945 after the Second World War 1945- the Iraq Levies were reduced to 60 British officers and 1,900 other ranks and the RAF Regiment took over command of the Levies and Army personnel would gradually be replaced by RAF personnel. During October 1946 the Iraq Levies battalions were redesignated as Wings and Squadrons to conform to the RAF Regiment procedure. In December the Kurdish Squadrons in Cyprus and the Persian Gulf were returned to Iran.
The RAF Levies continued its escort and RAF Bases guard duties into 1954 where it consisted 1200 Assyrians, 400 Kurds, 400 Arabs. The RAF Levies was disbanded on 2 May 1955, King Faisal was present along with members of the government, as RAF Habbaniya and RAF Shaibah were handed back to the Iraqi Government, although the RAF remained at Habbaniya until May 1959. 195 Assyrians, out of 515, volunteered for service in the Iraqi Army. At 0800hrs on 3 May 1955, the Levy's quarter guards were relieved by guards from the Iraqi Army. A minor and passing event but it did signify the end of an era as now the Levies had ceased to exist.
The British offered financial compensation, vocational training, and resettlement in civilian life to members of The RAF Levies. Those members with 15 or more years of service were pensioned off. Those with less than 15 years were given a gratuity of one month pay for each year of service. Also, the Levies received full pay up to and including the second May. For those who were to be discharged on that day received pay and a ration allowance for 28 days terminal leave; plus they received a civilian clothing allowance and a free railway pass to their homes. Those Levies receiving vocational training had their current rates of pay and allowances continue until the end of their training.
Levy Officer Rank were derived from Ancient Assyrian Military Ranks:
RAB Khaila; Force Leader
RAB Tremma; Leader of 200
RAB Emma; Leader of 100
RAB Khamshi; Leader of 50
Medals awarded to Assyrian Levies
Cross of Saint George
Order of the British Empire
A total of ten Orders of the British Empire were awarded to officers of the Iraq Levies.
Five Officer of the Order of the British Empire were awarded to:
RAB Khaila Zaya Giwargis -1926
RAB 100 Shayin Giwargis -1926
RAB 100 Daniel Ishmail -1922
RAB 50 Zaia Giwargis -1926
Five Member of the Order of the British Empire were awarded to:
RAB Kaila David De Mar-shimun [honorary]
RAB 200 Yacouv Khoshaba
RAB 200 Odishu Natan
RAB 100 Shlimon Bukho
RAB 50 Eshu Hamzo
The Military Cross was awarded to commissioned officers of the rank of captain to warrant officer. The [M.C] was awarded to the following personnel;
The original Military Cross awarded to Shlimon Slivo.
RAB 100 Stepan Nissan
RAB 100 Baijan Peko
RAB 100 Ozariu Tamraz -1926
RAB 50 Eshu Saper -1928
RAB 50 Shlimon Sliwa-1926
The Military Medal was awarded to the following personnel;
RAB 100 Warda Eshu
CQMS 65347 Baitu Marqus -1928
CPL Nikola Dinkha
CPL 55416 Mishu Miro -1927
Mentioned in Despatches
Six Members of the Iraq Levies were Mentioned in Dispatches
RAB 100 Malam Odai -1929
RAB 50 Barkhu Hormis -1929
Cpl 55416 Barhku Babu -1928
Pte 55994 Khanania Yakob -1929
Cpl 1171 Gewergis Shinu -1944
L/Cpl 10575 Menaz Gerwergis -1944
The King has been graciously pleased to approve that the following be Mentioned in recognition of distinguished services in the Middle East:-
"……Lincoln R - Capt. H. J. C. Thomas, M.B.E. (64588), attd. Iraq Levies……"
(London Gazette, 23 December 1941)
Medal for Long Service and Good Conduct
Over 300 Medals for Long Service and Good Conduct awarded for over fifteen years service in the Assyrian Levies.
King George Medal-with clasp
General Service Medal with Iraq Clasp
World War Two Medals
Three different World War two medals were awarded to members of the Iraq Levies.
- The War Medal 1939–1945 - Awarded to Levies after 28 days of service in WW2.
- The 1939-1945 Star - Awarded to Levies after six months service in WW2.
- The Italy Star - Awarded to parachute company personnel that served in Albania, Italy and/or Greece.
For similar units see:
- The Tragedy of the Assyrians By R. S. Stafford - Page 59
- Minorities in the Middle East: a history of struggle and self-expression By Mordechai Nisan
- The Iraqi Levies" by Brigadier J. Gilbert Browne
- "unknown". Assyrianlevies.com.[dead link]
- Brig. Gen. J. Gilbert Browne, The Iraq Levies, http://www.atour.com/~history/1900/20000921a.html
- The Iraqi Levies" by Brigadier J. Gilbert Browne
- Kenneth Michael Pollack, Arabs at War: Military effectiveness, 1948-1991 - (2002)
- Len Deighton - Blood, Sweat and Tears
- A Modern History of the Kurds - Page 178 by David MacDowall - 2004
- Britain, Iraq and the Assyrians: The Nine Demands By Stavros T. Stavridis
- The biography of brave Assyrians in Habbanyia
- "Dedicated Servers hosting, Cloud hosting and colocation Data Center, Northern California". Edessa.com. Retrieved 2012-08-17.