Fawzi al-Qawuqji was a leading Arab nationalist military figure in the interwar period, based in Germany, and allied to Nazi Germany during World War II. He served as the Arab Liberation Army (ALA) field commander during the 1948 Palestine War.
World War I and Interwar Period
He served as a captain (Yuzbashi) in the 12th Ottoman corps garrison in Mosul, and in several battles during the First World War, including at Qurna in Iraq and at Beersheba in Ottoman Palestine. He was decorated with the Ottoman Majidi Medal for his role in these battles. He was also awarded the German Iron Cross, second class, for his service fighting alongside General Otto von Kreiss' Prussians, who had opposed the British in Palestine during World War I.
The Ottoman Empire collapsed after World War I, and al-Qawuqji supported the independence of the short-lived Arab Kingdom of Syria. In 1920, he fought at the Battle of Maysalun, serving in the army of King Faisal as a captain (ra'is khayyal) in a squadron commanded by Taha al-Hashimi.
After the unsuccessful outcome of the campaign to establish the Arab Kingdom of Syria, Syria became a French Mandate. Al-Qawuqji then joined the 'Syrian Legion' (also known as the French-Syrian Army) which had been created by the French mandatory authorities. Al-Qawuqji received formal training at the French École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr. He became commander of a cavalry squadron in Hama.
During the rebellion of 1925–1927, he deserted the French Army to join the rebellion, leading the uprising in Hama in early October 1925. al-Qawuqji remained an outlaw thereafter.
In 1936, al-Qawuqji began fighting the British and the Jewish population in Mandatory Palestine in actions that would become known as the 1936–39 Arab revolt in Palestine. He represented the Iraqi Society for the Defense of Palestine, which was separate from forces under the control of Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin Husseini. Al-Qawuqji resigned his commission in the Iraqi army and his position at the Royal Military College to lead approximately fifty armed guerrillas into Mandatory Palestine. In June he contacted Fritz Grobba, who was acting as German ambassador to Iraq. This was probably al-Qawuqji's first encounter with a representative of Nazi Germany. In August, he commanded about 200 volunteers from Iraq, Syria, Transjordan, and the Samaria region of Palestine. His title was 'Supreme Commander of the Arab Revolution in South-Syrian Palestine.' He operated four units, (Iraqi, Syrian, Druze and Palestinian) in the Nablus - Tulkaram - Jenin triangle until the end of October. The military performance of al-Qawuqji's troops became hampered by internal dissensions and animosity between him and Grand Mufti Husseini, the Arab Higher Committee, and the Mufti's kinsman Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni, who commanded forces that were active in the area around Jerusalem. On October 26, 1936, al-Qawuqji crossed the Jordan River with his troops into Transjordan. A few weeks later he returned to Iraq.
Although al-Qawuqji and Grand Mufti al-Husseini had periods of considerable friction and discord, particularly during the 1936–39 Arab revolt in Palestine, the two men subsequently reached a rapprochement. Al-Qawuqji followed the Mufti from Lebanon to Iraq in October 1939, along with other members of the Mufti's entourage, including Jamal al-Husayni, Rafiq al-Tamimi, and Sheikh Hasan Salama. Al-Qawuqji became the Mufti's military advisor in the 'Arab Committee' that Haj Amin Husseini formed in Baghdad. Husseini's group, including, al-Qawuqji, played critical roles in the pro-Axis coup. His frequently demonstrated prowess won him fame among the Arab population and the esteem of Haj Amin Husseini. His popular following, however, was not altogether to the Mufti's liking. He was prominent in the Kingdom of Iraq during the Rashid Ali coup of 1941 and, during the subsequent Anglo-Iraqi War, he again fought against the British. Al-Qawuqji led approximately 500 "irregulars" in the area between Rutbah and Ramadi. He established a reputation as bold fighter. He was also known to either execute or mutilate his prisoners. After the Rashid Ali regime collapsed, al-Qawuqji and his irregular forces were targeted for destruction by the Mercol flying column and were chased out of Iraq. While still in Iraq, a British plane strafed and almost killed him.
World War II and the 1948 War
After suffering serious wounds fighting the British in Iraq, al-Qawuqji was transported to Vichy French-held Syria, and then made his way to Nazi Germany. He remained in Germany for the remainder of World War II, recuperated from his wounds, and married a German woman. In May 1942, after the Axis powers signed secret documents to support the Arab nationalists, al-Qawuqji expressed dissatisfaction with the results, commenting that they were "just symbolic and not an agreement."
He was awarded the rank of a colonel of the Wehrmacht, and given a captain to act as his aide, along with a chauffeured car, and an apartment near the clinic at Hansa. His expenses were paid by Wehrmacht High Command and by Rashid Ali's Foreign Minister. The Germans used al-Qawuqji's name and reputation extensively in their propaganda.
In Germany al-Qawuqji continued to oppose the Allies in cooperation with other Arabs who were allied with the Axis powers, including the two competing leaders of the pro-Nazi Arab factions, Grand Mufti Husseini and former Iraqi Prime Minister Rashid Ali al-Gaylani.
In 1947 al-Qawuqji traveled to Egypt via France, and proclaimed that he was "at the disposition of the Arab people should they call on [him] to take up arms again." In August he threatened that, should the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine vote go the wrong way, “we will have to initiate total war. We will murder, wreck and ruin everything standing in our way, be it English, American or Jewish"
After the UN Partition vote, the Arab League appointed him to be field commander of the Arab Liberation Army (ALA) in the 1948 Palestine War. This appointment was opposed by Haj Amin Husseini, who had appointed his own kinsman Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni as the commander of the Army of the Holy War. The execution of the 1948 Palestine War was marked by the personal, family, and political rivalry between al-Qawuqji (who fought mainly in northern Palestine) and al-Husayni, who fought mostly in the Jerusalem area.
In early March 1948, al-Qawuqji moved some of his forces from the Damascus area and crossed (unmolested by British troops) into Palestine over the Allenby Bridge, leading hundreds of Arab and Bosnian volunteers in a column of twenty-five trucks. The British troops' inaction infuriated General Sir Gordon MacMillan, who stated that al-Qawudji should not be allowed "to go openly rampaging over territory in which Britain considered herself a sovereign power." General MacMillan did not want to confront al-Qawudji's force, however, since he saw "no point in getting a lot of British soldiers killed in that kind of operation."
Inside Mandatory Palestine al-Qawuqji commanded a few thousand armed men who had infiltrated the area. They were grouped into several regiments concentrated in Galilee and around Nablus. Al-Qawuqji told his troops that the purpose was "ridding Palestine of the Zionist plague".
In April 1948, the ALA mounted a major attack on the kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek which sat near the strategic road that connected Haifa to Jenin, and was surrounded by Arab villages. On April 4 al-Qawuqji initiated the first use of artillery during the war by directing his seven 75 and 105 mm field guns to fire on the kibbutz for a 36-hour barrage. During this battle al-Qawuqji issued a number of announcements that were subsequently proven false. In the first 24-hours he announced victory, on April 8 he announced he had taken Mishmar HaEmek, and after the battle was lost he claimed the Jews had been assisted by non-Jewish Soviet troops and bombers. Copies of these mendacious telegrams are preserved in the Jordanian archives. The Haganah and Palmach counter-attacked and the ALA were routed. The battle was over by April 16, and most of the Arabs in the area fled, disheartened by the defeat of the ALA or demoralized by the Jewish victory. The remaining minority were expelled from the surrounding Arab villages by Jewish forces.
In July 1948, al-Qawuqji launched a rolling offensive of counterattacks, focusing on Ilaniya (Sejera), a Jewish settlement deep in ALA territory. Although he deployed armored cars and a battery of 75 mm artillery to support the ALA infantry, his troops suffered from lack of artillery ammunition and host of other deficiencies. The opposing Golani Twelfth Battalion withstood the attack, inflicting heavy losses on the ALA. The battle ended on July 18, with the ALA losing the Arab village of Lubiya, which had been their main base in Central Eastern Galilee.
The ALA established control of upper central Galilee, from the Sakhnin–Arabe–Deir Hanna line through Majd al-Krum up to the Lebanese border until October 1948. On October 22, the date of the third UN Security Council cease-fire order, the ALA attacked Sheikh Abd,a hilltop overlooking Kibbutz Manara and put the kibbutz under siege. Al-Qawudji told the UN observers that he demanded depopulation of nearby Kibbutz Yiftah forces, and a diminution of the Jewish forces in Manara. The Jewish forces responded by demanding that ALA withdraw from its positions. Al-Qawuqji rejected these counter-demands. The Jewish forces then informed the United Nations that in view of al-Qawuqji's actions it did not feel encumbered by the UN's cease-fire order, and on October 24 launched Operation Hiram. Historian Benny Morris concludes that although the Israelis had planned for Operation Hiram, they may not have launched this campaign without the justification provided by al-Qawuqji's military provocations. The result was that the ALA were driven from their positions by force, and the Arab forces lost all of upper Galilee, even though this had been assigned to the Arabs by the UN Partition Plan. On October 30 the Jewish Carmeli Brigade retook Sheikh Abd from the ALA, who had abandoned the position. Shortly thereafter the last of the ALA forces were driven out of the Galilee and al-Qawuqji escaped to Lebanon.
After the end of the war, al-Qawuqji moved to Syria and lived out his days in Damascus, Beirut and Tripoli.