Bakr Sidqi

Bakr Sidqi al-Askari (Arabic: بكر صدقي العسكري‎)[1] was an Iraqi general of Kurdish origin,[2][3] born in 1890 in Kirkuk and assassinated on August 12, 1937, at Mosul.

General Bakr Sidqi
General Bakr Sadqi in uniform
Kirkuk, Ottoman Mesopotamia
Died11 August 1937(1937-08-11) (aged 47)
Mosul, Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq
AllegianceOttoman Empire Flag of Iraq (1924–1959).svg Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq
Service/branchIraq Royal Iraqi Army
Years of service1913–1937

Early lifeEdit

Bakr Sidqi was born to Kurdish family in ‘Askar,[4] a Kurdish village or in Kirkuk'.[5] He had purposefully exploited his birthplace according to political necessities. Like many ambitious men who lived in the Ottoman Empire, Sidqi joined the Ottoman army as a young man. At a young age, he was sympathetic already to an Arab nationalism favoring freeing the Arab lands from Ottoman domination. He nonetheless spent formative years in what was essentially the colonial army.

Military careerEdit

Having studied at the Military College in Istanbul and graduated as a second lieutenant, he fought in the Balkan Wars and joined the Staff College in Istanbul, graduating in 1915.[4] During the First World War, with the outbreak of the Arab Revolt, Sidqi joined Faisal's army in Syria and served in Aleppo with a number of other Sharifian officers.[4] From 1919 to 1920, he served as an intelligence agent of the British military forces and was later recommended by the British General Staff in 1921 to an officer rank in the Iraqi army after the collapse of Faisal's Arab Kingdom of Syria. His plan was to one day be the Chief of the General Staff but was met with opposition by some Iraqis, who accused him of pushing for a "pro-Kurdish policy." In response, Sidqi highlighted his half-Arab origins, linking himself with familial ties with Jafar al-Askari. He later attended the British Staff College and was considered one of Iraq's most competent officers. He lectured in the military school and achieved the rank of colonel in 1928 and brigadier general in 1933.

In August 1933, Sidqi ordered the Royal Iraqi Army to march to the north to crush so-called 'militant Assyrian separatists' in Simele, near Mosul, which led to 3,000 Assyrian civilians being killed in the region in the Simele massacre.

The British praised him in 1934 as "the best commander in the Iraqi army and the most efficient one". In 1935, he cracked down on the Shia Arab tribal rebellions at al-Rumaitha and al-Diwaniya with unprecedented harshness.

According to Malik Mufti, he systematically promoted Kurds and Turkmens for positions in the army until they were 90% of the high-ranking officers, which generated resentment.[6] Bakr Sidqi was "accused of having tried to set up a Kurdish state in the north of Iraq, which would include the Kurds of Iran and Turkey".[7]

Simele MassacreEdit

The Lethbridge Herald,
18 August 1933, reporting on the Simele massacre.

In the late spring of 1933, the American representative in Iraq, Paul Knabenshue, described public animosity towards the Assyrians was at 'fever heat'. With Iraqi independence, the new Assyrian spiritual-temporal leader, Mar Shimun XXI Eshai, demanded autonomy for Assyrians within the Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq, as had been promised by the British and Russians during the First World War, and sought support from Britain. He pressed his case before the League of Nations in 1932.

His followers planned to resign from the Iraq Levies, a formidable and highly capable force, under the command of the British, which had served British interests putting down Kurdish and Arab rebellions against Britain since 1921, and to regroup as a militia and concentrate in the north, creating a de facto Assyrian enclave. However, the British prevented the plan from being realised.

In June 1933, the young Patriarch was invited to Baghdad for negotiations with Hikmat Sulayman’s government[clarification needed] and was detained there after refusing to relinquish temporal authority. Mar Shimun would eventually be exiled to Cyprus, forcing the head of the Assyrian Church of the East to be located in Chicago, where it remained until 2015 when it was brought back to Erbil.

In early August 1933, more than 1,000 Assyrian people who had been refused asylum in Syria crossed the border to return to their villages, in Northern Iraq. The French, who controlled Syria, had notified the Iraqis that the Assyrians were not armed. However, while the Iraqi soldiers were disarming those whose arms had been returned by the French, shots were fired. It is unclear who fired first. The Royal Iraqi Army was defeated, and 30 Iraqi soldiers killed. Anti-Assyrian and anti-British xenophobia, apparent throughout the crisis, accelerated.

When news of the confrontation reached Baghdad, the government panicked, fearing disaster in the unity of their armed forces. The government used irregulars, who killed some 120 unarmed civilians in two Assyrian villages in the week of August 2, with most of the massacre occurring on August 7). Then, on August 11, Sidqi led a heavily armed force to what was then one of the most heavily inhabited Assyrian areas in Iraq, the Simele District.

The Assyrian population of the district of Simele was indiscriminately massacred, including, men, women and children. In one room alone, 81 Assyrians of the Baz tribe were massacred. Religious leaders were prime targets; eight Assyrian priests were killed during the massacre, including one beheaded and another burned alive. Girls and women were raped and made to march naked before the army commanders.

Back in Doha, 600 unarmed Assyrian civilians were murdered by Sidqi's men. In the end, around 65 Assyrian villages were targeted in the Mosul and Dohuk districts. On 13 August, Bakr Sidqi moved his troops to Alqosh, where he planned to inflict a further massacre on the Assyrians who found refuge there.[8][9][10] The main campaign lasted until August 16, but violent unprovoked attacks on Assyrians were being reported up to the end of the month. After the campaign, Bakr Sidqi was invited to Baghdad for a "victory" rally. The campaign of terror resulted in a third of the Assyrian population of Iraq fleeing to Syria.[citation needed]

The Simele massacre inspired Raphael Lemkin to create the concept of ""Genocide"". In 1933, Lemkin made a presentation to the Legal Council of the League of Nations conference on international criminal law in Madrid, for which he prepared an essay on the Crime of Barbarity as a crime against international law. The concept of the crime, which later evolved into the idea of genocide, was based mostly on the Simele massacre.[11] The Assyrians were living among their "hereditary enemies" the Kurds in Iraq, and it is "at the hand of the Kurds that they suffered most of the loss of life which Raphael Lemkin was to assess as genocide".[12][13][14]

1935 Rumaytha and Diwaniyya revoltsEdit

Coup d'étatEdit

In 1936, during the reign of Faisal's ineffectual son, King Ghazi, General Sidqi, then acting commander of the Royal Iraqi Army, staged what was probably the first modern military coup d'état in the Arab world against the government of Yasin al-Hashimi. Eleven Iraqi military planes dropped leaflets over Baghdad on October 29, 1936, requesting the King to take action and dismiss Yasin al-Hashimi's administration and for the installment of the ousted anti-reform Prime Minister, Hikmat Sulayman. In addition, the leaflets warned the citizens that military action would be taken against those who do not "answer our sincere appeal".

The leaflets were signed by Sidqi himself, as the "Commander of the National Forces of Reform".

General Bakr Sidqi could not have found a better time to execute his plan as the Chief of Staff, General Taha al-Hashimi, was in Ankara, Turkey. As the acting Chief of Staff, Sidqi ordered those in the army and in the air force who shared his beliefs of a military coup to adhere to his directions. Any interference by Sidqi's opponents was neutralised by Sidqi himself, who managed to send a telegram to Taha al-Hashimi ordering him not to return. In an interview conducted by Majid Khadduri, he claims that Sidqi had disclosed to Khodduri that the King had called the British Ambassador, Sir Archibald Clark Kerr, over to the Zahur Palace for advice. The ambassador suggested for the King to invite all ministers in the Royal Iraqi Government for an emergency meeting. Of those in attendance were Yasmin al-Hashimi, Nuri al-Said, General Ja'far al-Askari and Rashid Ali, Minister of the Interior.

Immediately, the King discounted any notion of a revolutionary movement, but there were reports of some bombing in Serai and the advance of troops towards Baghdad. With the exception of Nuri al Said, all those present in the palace agreed to comply with the demands of General Bakr Sidqi and allow Hikmat Sulayman to step into power. As a result, Yasin al-Hashimi resigned.

According to Khodduri, Ambassador Kerr suggested for Hikmat to be invited to the meeting. Coincidentally, Sulayman arrived at the palace to deliver the letter, written by Sidqi and Latif Nuri, to the King explaining the implications of the coup.

Jafar al-Askari, who was Minister of Defence during the coup and had served twice as the Prime Minister of Iraq prior to Yasin al-Hashimi, sought out to deter Sidqi from his plans by attempting to distract the two battalions from advancing towards Baghdad. In addition, he tried to appeal to those officers who still regarded him as instrumental in the formation of the Royal Iraqi Army. Cautious of any dissention as a result of al-Askari's actions, Sidqi's sent two of his men, Akram Mustapha, member of the air force, and Ismail Tohalla, who had participated in the Simele Massacre, to assassinate him.

The death of al-Askari was widely viewed as challenge to the old government and highlighted Sidqi's quest in ultimately gaining control of the country by first taking over the army. As a result, Nuri al Sa'id was exiled to Cairo, and Yasin al-Hashimi was exiled to Istanbul. However, the coup provoked "anti-Kurdish feelings among Arab nationalists".[15]

Despite the obvious overthrow, Sidqi found it necessary to enter Baghdad with the army and parade with the citizens. According to Khodduri, some felt that it was a move to dissuade any last-minute resistance, and others felt that Sidqi wanted to prove himself with the parade and be applauded for bringing in a new regime for Iraq.

As a result of the coup, Yasmin stepped down, insisting that the King write a formal letter accepting his resignation. Sulayman became Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, but, after overthrowing the government, it was Sidqi, who as commander of the armed forces, essentially ruled Iraq. Some other members of the new cabinet included Abu al-Timman, Minister of Finance, Kamil al-Chadirchi, Minister of Economics and Public Works, Abd al-Latif, Minister of Defence, and Yusuf Izz ad-Din Ibrahim as Minister of Education. It is important to note that although General Sidqi was instrumental in the formation of the coup, he did not want a cabinet position and remained Chief of the General Staff.

However, the murder of al-Askari created strong feelings, especially among Iraqi forces, against the new government, and Sulayman's cabinet lasted under ten months until Sidqi was assassinated. As a result, Sulayman resigned as Prime Minister and was succeeded by Jamil al-Midfai.

Sidqi was recognised as one of the most brilliant officers in the Royal Iraqi Army, known for his intelligence, ambition, and self-confidence. He also believed the army was needed to bring about reform and achieve order, a stance he shared with Atatürk and Reza Shah.

Assassination and legacyEdit

It is important to note that General Sidqi's image began to deteriorate in the eyes of the public as soon as the coup had played out. Many realised his dictatorial behavior in addition to the irresponsible acts of those closest to him. His primary objective was to reinforce and to restructure the army. Khadduri claims that Sidqi was aware of tension surrounding him and had created a "black list". This list contained names of military and civilian enemies who he wanted assassinated. It is imperative to mention that numerous attempts were made to get rid of Sidqi; however, his security arrangements and heavy bodyguard always thwarted these plans.

In August 1937, while en route to Turkey, Sidqi was assassinated in the garden of one of the air force bases in Mosul along with Mohammad Ali Jawad, the commanding officer of the Royal Iraqi Air Force. Both Sidqi and Jawad were sent as part of a military mission by the Royal Iraqi Government in response to an invitation from the Turkish Government. Sidqi had stopped in Mosul on August 11 on the way to Turkey to spend the afternoon with Jawed when a soldier named Muhammad 'Ali Talla'fari opened fire, instantly killing both men. The bodies of both men were flown to Baghdad the following day and buried with full military honours.

Many attribute his murder to his reformist judgment and dissociation from the idea of pan-Arabism. It is still unclear as to who was behind the death of Sidqi but many conspiracy theories have emerged. Some theories state that the British, in conjunction with Nuri al-Said, were behind it. Other theories suggest that Sidqi was assassinated by a group of dissident nationalist military officers who had withdrawn their support from him after he had promoted adherent officers to key military posts. However, a thorough investigation by Hikmat Sulayman's government revealed seven army officers as part of the plot including Aziz Yamulki, Fahmi Sa'id, Mahmud Hindi and Muhammad Khorshid.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "The National Archives of the UK, FO 406/76, p. 87" (PDF). 1938. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-04-15.
  2. ^ David McDowall, A Modern History of the Kurds, I.B.Tauris, 2000, ISBN 978-1-85043-416-0, p. 289.
  3. ^ Denise Natali, The Kurds and The State: Evolving National Identity in Iraq, Turkey, and Iran, Syracuse University Press, 2005, ISBN 978-0-8156-3084-5, p. 35.
  4. ^ a b c Edmund Ghareeb, Beth Dougherty, Historical Dictionary of Iraq, Scarecrow Press, 2004, ISBN 978-0-8108-4330-1, p. 224.
  5. ^ Liora Lukitz, Iraq: The Search for National Identity, Routledge, 1995, ISBN 978-0-7146-4550-6, p. 86.
  6. ^ Sovereign Creations: Pan-Arabism and Political Order in Syria and Iraq By Malik Mufti. 33-34
  7. ^ K. Rahman, The Iran-Iraq War, p. 69,
  8. ^ Stafford 2006, p. a62
  9. ^ Stafford 2006, p. 162
  10. ^ "There was reported a renewed assault upon Assyrian villages by the Kurds, and in mid-August British sources claimed some 500 Assyrians had been killed, 200 of whom were claimed to be women and children not involved in the fighting. The British government of Ramsay MacDonald was reported to be "profoundly disturbed,"... the British were once more reported to be in a state of great agitation over a homeland for their "ex-allies," and unhappy at what was happening to them at the hands of both the Iraqi armed forces, and the Kurds, who were now assessed to have "butchered them by the hundreds." The Man Who Invented Genocide: The Public Career and Consequences of Raphael Lemkin, James Martin, Institute for Historical Review, 1984 p.252-3
  11. ^ The Man Who Invented Genocide: The Public Career and Consequences of Raphael Lemkin, by James Joseph Martin. Page 166. 1984.
  12. ^ The Man Who Invented Genocide: The Public Career and Consequences of Raphael Lemkin, James Martin, Institute for Historical Review, 1984 p.252.
  13. ^ Lemkins' work on defining genocide as a crime dates to 1933, and it was prompted by the Simele massacre in Iraq. William Korey, ""Raphael Lemkin: 'The Unofficial Man',"" Midstream, June–July 1989, p. 45–48
  14. ^ However, the work of defining genocide was also inspired by the Armenian genocide. "In a lengthy manuscript treatment of the massacre of a million or more Armenians Lemkin described these crimes in graphic detail....There are many parallels in his text with the horrors of the Holocaust: the herding of peaceful citizens into churches or other buildings which were then set alight; the deliberate killing of women and children; the Kurds arriving with sieves and sifting through the ashes of victims, searching for gold which they might have swallowed." John Cooper, Raphael Lemkin and the Struggle for the Genocide Convention p. 250
  15. ^ David McDowall, A Modern History of the Kurds, p. 288


Further readingEdit

  • Yildiz, Kerim. The Kurds in Iraq, The Past, Present and Future. London: Pluto Press, 2004.