110. Briefing Notes by Director of Central Intelligence Dulles0

I. Iraq and the Middle East

The pro-West government of Iraq under Prime Minister Nuri was overthrown at daybreak today, Baghdad time, by a military coup supported by pro-Nasir civilian elements. It is reported, but not confirmed, that Prime Minister Nuri and the Crown Prince have been murdered. One Baghdad radio report states that the Crown Prince was torn limb from limb and carried through the streets. The King’s Palace is reported by an American observer to be under fire. The fate of King Faisal is unknown but there is a report that he has been permitted to flee the country.

Our reports so far are based on cables from our Embassy, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] the attaches and radio broadcasts. As the Embassy itself is closely guarded by the military and tanks which limits ingress and egress, the ability for independent reporting is restricted. [2-1/2 lines of source text not declassified]

The coup action was taken by pro-Nasir elements led by young army officers and backed by the mob. A “Republican” government of [Page 309]Iraq has been proclaimed with a cabinet largely of junior army officers and leftist civilians. Members of the so-called Baath party, which in the area has spearheaded the pro-Nasir cause, particularly in Syria, predominate in the civilian group. A three-man committee has been set up to watch over the affairs of the Republic in the place of the King. One of these, General Rubai, has long been suspected of complicity with the Egyptians and has been under close observation for some time. Approximately 50 army officers, including Chief of Staff General Aref, who has recently been in Amman cooperating with King Hussein, and General Dagestani, great friend of the West, have reportedly been retired.

II. The City of Baghdad

Curfew has reportedly been imposed in the city and tanks are deployed. The airport is closed; Nasir placards are much in evidence and the crowds are cheering Nasir.

Radio Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad are hailing these developments.

[less than 1 line of source text not declassified] reports that machine guns and mortar fire are being directed on the Palace; that four large tanks and a civilian mob were approaching Nuri’s house.

The attitude of the army outside of Baghdad is not yet known; in particular a brigade of some 3,000 troops stationed in northern Jordan and another brigade in the desert near the Jordanian frontier.

Effect on Other Countries

The pro-Western President of Lebanon, Chamoun, summoned our Ambassador Robert McClintock this morning after receiving information of the developments in Baghdad. He stated that the developments there had proved that his estimate of the threat to the Middle East was correct. The only thing that surprised him was that Nasir had not waited until Lebanon had been gobbled up, but was starting against Iraq with Jordan next. In these circumstances, he stated he wanted U.S. military intervention in Lebanon within 48 hours. He would interpret our intentions by our deeds. He wanted the Sixth Fleet here within 48 hours, or else he would at last know where he stood so far as assurances from the West were concerned. As far as he was concerned, he was determined to go down fighting. He indicated that similar requests were made to the British and French representatives. In response to the Ambassador’s inquiry if General Shahib had been informed of these appeals and if he was in agreement, he stated Shahib had been informed and whether he agreed or not “He will carry out government orders or else”.

[1 paragraph (9-1/2 lines of source text) not declassified]

Latest reports from Lebanon indicate an ominous quiet over the city. The Damascus radio has appealed to Iraqis in Lebanon who are [Page 310]now working with the Government to desert to the rebels. There are also reports of a possible Army coup in Lebanon which might further affect the security of American lives and property.

Jordan

In recent days, King Hussein in Jordan has uncovered what appeared to be a well-advanced Army plot to overthrow his Government, based largely on pro-Syrian and Egyptian elements. As a result, he had to arrest some 40 officers and put many more under house detention. It is believed that this plot has been nipped in the bud but the position of King Hussein hangs in the balance.

Today, after receiving the reports from Baghdad regarding the coup in Iraq and that the King of Iraq and the Prime Minister and Crown Prince were all eliminated, or exiled, and acting under the constitution of the Arab Union of Iraq and Jordan, King Hussein declared that he had assumed his constitutional powers as head of the Arab Union as of July 14, and had assumed as Supreme Commander, command of all of the armed forces of the government of the Arab Union. He designated a new Chief of Staff of the Arab Army in accordance with the constitution.

Whether and how long this will stick, we do not know but it is a courageous act.

Saudi Arabia

King Saud of Saudi Arabia sent his trusted and well-known emissary to our Ambassador in Jidda and demanded that the Baghdad powers intervene or “What is the use of all these pacts?” [3-1/2 lines of source text not declassified]

[3 paragraphs (6 lines of source text) not declassified]

He added that [1-1/2 lines of source text not declassified] if the U.S. and U.K. do not do anything about Iraq and Jordan, they are finished as powers in the Middle East. He requested an urgent answer to his message.

Israel

There is no doubt that Israel will be alarmed at the prospect of being surrounded by Arab states under Nasir influence, and if Jordan falls to Nasir, might move to take over West Jordan to the Jordan River. Israeli mobilization is probable.

One of the disturbing features from Israel viewpoint is the fact that Iraq has never signed an armistice with Israel.

Other Countries

Kuwait—The position of Kuwait as the largest single oil producer today in the Middle East will be immediately threatened by these [Page 311]events. The British may be shortly faced with an occupation of Kuwait or the loss of these oil resources, jointly owned by British and American interests.

Iran–Turkey–Pakistan—The Moslem members of the Baghdad Pact were scheduled to meet today in Istanbul to consider the Lebanon and other related problems. The Shah of Iran and Mirza, the President of Pakistan, were to meet there with Prime Minister Menderes of Turkey and Prime Minister Nuri of Iraq. This meeting, which may now be moved to Ankara, may take place in the coming hours. We may expect an appeal of some nature from these countries to the U.S. and Great Britain to take steps to save the Baghdad Pact and to meet the threat which they will undoubtedly see to themselves in events in Lebanon and Iraq. There will be some pressure on Turkey to take action, but in view of their position vis-à-vis the USSR, they are unlikely to move without “guarantees” from the U.S.A.

Egypt—The hand of Nasir has been clearly apparent [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] at least in the earlier phases of the subversive attempts against Lebanon.

Likewise, he has been plotting throughout against Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

The elements who have taken over in Iraq are led by persons some of whom have been clearly identified with the pro-Egyptian campaign.

There is some question, however, as to whether the methods and timing of the present coup in Iraq were dictated from Egypt. The timing seems a little out of gear with what might have been expected, as well as the manner and brutality of carrying out the coup. Nasir is still absent, completing his visit to Yugoslavia.

General Summary

If the Iraq coup succeeds it seems almost inevitable that it will set up a chain reaction which will doom the pro-West governments of Lebanon and Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and raise grave problems for Turkey and Iran.

The Soviet Union will undoubtedly welcome these developments and do what it feels it safely can without direct involvement in overt hostilities to support this chain reaction.

The USSR would undoubtedly react strongly to direct military action by Turkey or Iran, but it would probably hesitate over action which it felt contained grave risk of general war.

  1. Source: Eisenhower Library, White House Office Files, Staff Secretary Records, International File, 1958, Iraqi Coup, Effects in Middle East. Secret. Dulles prepared these notes for use in a 2:30 p.m. White House meeting with congressional leaders. According to a July 18 covering letter from Allen Dulles to Goodpaster, Dulles’ presentation at the meeting followed these notes closely, although there was a question-and-answer period that is not covered in the notes. A full account of the meeting is printed in vol. XI, pp. 218 226.