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Civilian Casualties from British Military: The Jordan Intervention

This section provides a detailed account of recorded civilian casualties that resulted from the British military’s involvement in the Jordan intervention.

When did this conflict occur?

17th July, 1958^ – 29th October, 1958*

^ – Though the advance party of British military forces only arrived in Amman on the 17th of July, the request for a British intervention was approved by the government of Prime Minister Harold McMillan the day prior, on the 16th of July. [1]

* – The British contingent remained stationed in Amman until the 29th of October; however, the sole instance in which UK servicemembers employed deadly force occurred just 11 days following the force’s arrival, on the 28th of July, 1958. [2]

What is the background to this conflict?

On February 1st, 1958, Egypt and Syria announced the integration of both states to form the United Arab Republic, a development greeted with enthusiasm by supporters of Arab nationalism across the region. Seeking to ensure long-term political stability amidst these developments, the Jordanian King Hussein appealed to his cousin, King Faisal II of Iraq, to unite the Hashemite Kingdoms of Iraq and Jordan into a single Arab Union on February 14th. [3] The Arab Union, however, collapsed five months later, on the morning of the 14th of July; Iraqi officers of the Nineteenth Brigade, originally ordered to depart the country in support of Jordanian military forces, staged a military coup which quickly toppled the Iraqi monarchy. Baghdad was quickly seized and King Faisal II as well as all key members of the royal family, with the exception of Crown Princess Hiyam, were executed by Iraqi troops. [4] The Jordanian response was immediate, with King Hussein threatening a military intervention in Iraq to avenge the killing of King Faisal II and restore the Arab Union. Though this course of action was soon abandoned following discussion with his civilian ministers, King Hussein still attempted to rally loyalist elements of the Iraqi military under the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan with little success. Fearing the prospect of a similar action by his national military, King Hussein sent an urgent request for military support to British Prime Minister Harold McMillan shortly after 10pm on the 16th of July. [5] By the morning of the 17th, the advance party of British forces based in Cyprus touched down in Amman and began consolidating its position. The force, which soon expanded and became increasingly popular with local Jordanian civilians, remained in place in Amman until the 25th of October, 1958.

What role did British military forces play?

The British force which arrived in Amman on the morning of the 17th of July consisted primarily of elements drawn from the Cyprus-based 16th Parachute Brigade. Supported by ground-attack Hawker Hunters from the RAF and lacking organic man-portable anti-aircraft systems, the paratroopers immediately reinforced their positions at Amman airfield and awaited the arrival of reinforcements from the Scottish Cameronian Regiment. [6] The joint force’s mission consisted of two primary tasks: maintaining control of the airfield in order to facilitate an emergency noncombatant evacuation operation and the extraction of King Hussein, senior government ministers, and British nationals in the event of a coup attempt. [7] In addition, British troops also maintained a series of four-man roving patrols in the centre of Amman under the direction of ground force commander Brigadier Tom Pearson. Seeking to avoid becoming entangled in crowd control operations, the Chiefs of Staff refused a request by Brigadier Pearson to issue personnel with tear gas, remarking that troops must “use rifles or show their determination to do so” if confronted by aggressive Jordanian civilians. [8] Such instances, however, were limited, and the focus of the British military mission to Jordan quickly shifted to maintaining positions at the airfield, conducting engagements with the local community, and embarking on exercises in East Jordan. By the time of the force’s withdrawal in late October, British troops had become, in the words of Ambassador Charles Johnston, “embarrassingly popular”. [9]

Can a figure of civilian deaths due to British military action be determined?

Yes. Over the course of the Jordan Intervention, there was 1 confirmed killing of a civilian by British military forces. In contrast to this civilian death, 0 British military personnel died in the conflict. [10]

Are there any trends or incidents of note?

The sole civilian death caused by British military forces over the course of the Jordan Intervention occurred on the 28th of July, 1958, when members of the 16th Parachute Brigade at Amman Airfield accidentally shot and killed a Jordanian civilian. Though the Jordanian government attempted to establish a tribunal consisting of two Jordanian officials and a British officer, the suggestion was quickly rejected by Lieutenant General Robert Bower, the Commander in Chief of British Middle East Land Forces. [11, 12]

Endnotes:

[1] Statement by Macmillan on Jordan, The New York Times, 1958, https://www.nytimes.com/1958/07/18/archives/statement-by-macmillan-on-jordan.html

[2] Blackwell, Stephen. British Military Intervention and the Struggle for Jordan: King Hussein, Nasser and the Middle East Crisis, 1955-1958 (Oxfordshire: Routledge, 2012): 134.

[3] Aruri, N.H., “Jordan, the Arab Union, and the U.A.R,” in Jordan: A Study in Political Development (1921–1965) (Dordrecht: Springer, 1972): 151.

[4] Blackwell, Stephen, “A Desert Squall: Anglo-American Planning for Military Intervention in Iraq, July 1958-August 1959,” Middle Eastern Studies 35, no. 3 (1999): 1–18. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4284021.

[5] Blackwell, British Military Intervention and the Struggle for Jordan, 122.

[6] Tal, Lawrence, “Britain and the Jordan Crisis of 1958,” Middle Eastern Studies 31, no. 1 (1995): 39–57. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4283698.

[7] Blackwell, British Military Intervention and the Struggle for Jordan, 133-134.

[8] DEFE 11/173, “Tear Gas in Amman,” 1958, in Blackwell, British Military Intervention and the Struggle for Jordan, 134.

[9] FO 371/134010, 1958, in Blackwell, British Military Intervention and the Struggle for Jordan, 158.

[10] Blackwell, British Military Intervention and the Struggle for Jordan, 168.

[11] Blackwell, British Military Intervention and the Struggle for Jordan, 134.

[12] Kettle, Louise. Learning from the History of British Interventions in the Middle East (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2018): 78-79.