For all its new equipment and training, the Iraqi air force was now severely depleted and had not been able to hold back the RAF. The Iraqi army had also suffered demoralising reversals losing both Basra and Habbaniya, but in contrast it was still largely intact, with 20,000 troops around Baghdad and 15,000 in northern Iraq. Rashid Ali’s government still ruled from Baghdad and the British forces in Basra were bogged down by geography and making very slow progress in trying to advance deeper into the country.
While the British planers could not envision the military campaign ending with anything but an eventual Imperial victory, the political campaign held much greater fears. British political objectives were the overthrow of the Golden Square’s regime and the return of Prince Abd al-Ilah as Regent. Even with the relief of Habbaniya, General Sir John Dill, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, confided in Wavell that ‘If we cannot quickly scotch the trouble that has started with Rashid Ali it is difficult to see where it will all end’. The threat of Iraq’s war spreading and consuming the whole region was very daunting, the secondary rebellion in Kuwait had been quickly put down, but other larger nations would not be so easily able to remain calm.
Iraq’s appeals to Italy for further aid had yielded positive, but not concrete, responses. The Iraqi embassy in Ankara become the focal point of Iraqi diplomatic engagement, with the legation tasked with putting pressure on the Italians for further support. The Iraqi War Minister, Naji Shawkat, even travelled to Ankara to lobby for urgent military assistance. But the Iraqi government was also putting out feelers for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Shawkat had also met with members of the Turkish government, trying to obtain their assistance in obtaining an ‘acceptable basis of understanding with the British’. The Turks were in no ways supportive of the Iraqi position however, and made plain their belief that Iraq had violated the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty. Further, under the terms of the Saadabad Pact, Turkey and Iraq had pledged to prevent the actions of groups wishing to destabilise each other, the unspoken understanding being this was a defence against trans-border Kurdish nationalism. However the potential of Iraq’s conflict spilling across into Turkey was as much a concern for Ankara as to the French in neighbouring Syria, and additional Turkish troops and aircraft were deployed along their southern border.
Elsewhere in the country British and other alien nationals had been rounded up by the Iraqi army and police. In Kirkuk, the British petroleum workers had received orders to evacuate all women and children before losing communications, and then all remaining staff were rounded up by Iraqi police and interned at the Iraq Petroleum Company Club. Meanwhile hundreds of British civilians were sheltering in the American and British diplomatic compounds in Baghdad, also without knowledge of the unfolding campaign as the Iraqis had severed communications. But the 350 refugee men, women and children and the consular staff in Baghdad did have the ability to watch the air war unfolding, and took cognisance of the presence of British bombers in the skies.