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Iraqi Air Mail: A Blast from the Past

David P. Masko

The Greek historian Herodotus related details of Persian postal methods, declaring, “nothing mortal travels so fast as Persian messengers”. To the Persians goes credit for perfecting a postal service that became a model for the entire ancient world. But in todays war-torn Persian Gulf, the U.S. and military postal services are credited with moving the largest volume of mail to any one specific area in the world.

I doubt if Saddam Hussein collects stamps, but I’m sure many of his people inside Iraq do.

Friends of mine who are stationed in the gulf have been looking for Iraqi stamps – at my request being an avid collector of Middle Eastern postage. And what they’ve found out might surprise you, especially if you’ve become a TV news junkie like I have….knowing of the vast destruction inside that country.

How could anyone even think of collecting stamps in those kinds of conditions I wondered. Reading a letter from Richard, I couldn’t believe it when he said, “Stamps are big business…they’re a lot more than you told me they would cost”.

From what I knew from the catalogs, Iraqi stamps – those from say the past 50 years – are pretty low in cost. I asked Richard to send me all pre-1960 issues, in mint or good condition if possible.

“I walked into this store in the town just outside where our unit was deployed. I asked for stamps…they sold just about everything – from brass to a bitter tasting candy which I can’t pronounce. He pulled out a plastic box that was hidden under the table where he did business. I don’t know anything about stamps, but they looked real old,” he said. This stamp hunting took place before Richard would go off for the Desert Storm campaign. From what he said, the GI’s were allowed to visit some cities in the Mid East.

He said the Saudi salesman said he had “many Iraqi stamps”, that he was a collector. And would sell them at a fair price. What was fair to him, didn’t sound fair to my friend. Richard told me he asked about $1.00 in US money for each stamp. Well, I told Richard before he left to look for bargains…to pay no more than say $10.00 for a large lot of stamps. I was hoping something might turn up, especially with all the turmoil going on in the country.

I told my friend at the Alexandria (VA) Stamp Club, a Mr. Bill Elliott, about this quest for Iraqi stamps. Bill told me about a nice Iraqi stamp item he picked up in Europe about four years ago. “Just about every Sunday in Palermo (Sicily) they have a sort of a flea market in the center of town,” he said. “And just browsing I came across an otherwise undistinguished cover that was made interesting by the boxed cachet which indicates the cover must have been used for air mail”.

Doing research on Iraqi issues from the early 1920’s, I found a reference to the British military desert mail route that preceded the first mid-East Imperial route of 1927.

Bill’s cover had a black stamped box with the words “By Air Service, Baghdad-Cairo”. It was addressed to someone in London, but with no date and stamped air mail. On the back was a row of four stamps showing what Bill said was Iraq’s first postal issue and a very light 1924 Baghdad cancellation. What carried these letters was the British long-range flying boat.

Doing some research into my old photo collection, I came across what was referred to as the “Goonie-Bird” by British forces in World War II. The aircraft dates back to the early 1920’s. And like the stamp, covered the Middle East while routed from London to Cape Town over the Imperial route.

The British Imperial Airways didn’t have to carry the volume of mail that today is flown to and from the Gulf, but did its fair share in keeping mail lines open to Iraq.

Surely Bill would let me have this cover at a fair price, I thought. After all we were stamp club mates….and he knew my wants for Iraqi stamps. Maybe it was the war thing, or that I was just in the hunt for something special from Iraq. I think all stamp collectors go through this “craving”. We just can’t get our mind off that stamp or cover or block or whatever.

It’s stamp fever, and I had it bad. I wanted Bill’s air service to Baghdad cover. Bill said he would let it go for $450. I said, “What, we’re at war with that country for crum sake!”

This article has been reprinted from Global Stamp News April 1991 – Issue #6