138. Telegram From the Embassy in Iraq to the Department of State0

1312. Three months have now passed since coup which brought Brigadier Qassim to power. It might at this stage prove helpful to depict and assess some aspects of present scene and to attempt some forecast, hazardous though it be, of what coming months probably hold in store.

Troops are still camped in Embassy compound and stand guard at other foreign missions, though perhaps in lesser force. Diplomatic and private visitors are still challenged at Embassy gates, as are American officials. I myself was denied entrance a few days ago, until identified, although in official car with flag displayed. Administration of Embassy, though perhaps a shade easier than during July, August and September, is still hampered by petty and unreasonable restrictions. GOI has still not yet permitted us free access USIS offices.
Press and radio keep up steady attacks on US, its posture in past and its current official policies. Our actions are sweepingly damned as “imperialistic” and usually linked with “British imperialism”. Terminology of these attacks is increasingly “Made-in-Moscow”. Public added to this fire of hatred almost nightly by the trials of officials, military and civilian, of former governments, these trials being widely publicized by radio, television and press. It is for us in the Embassy a sickening sight to see our former firm friends and active supporters of the free world pilloried by a petty military “judge” who also conceives of himself as a prosecutor.
We have confirmation from a number of sources that grumblings among shopkeepers and particularly among workmen is steadily growing. Promises made so loudly and widely in early days following coup of a fuller and freer life are in no way materializing. That is immediate basis of growing discontent.
What of the government? In last analysis no government in western conception of that term exists in Iraq today, three months after coup. Individual cabinet ministers manage now and then to issue regulations. In few instances cabinet as a whole has approved “Laws” but up to now they are on paper only. Content of these laws, many of which are ill-conceived and hastily drafted, has in several cases required repeated clarification (e.g., laws on rent control, labor and cropsharing). There is [Page 345] widespread paralysis of even routine in first weeks following coup of top layer of trained men comparable, in a measure, to our civil service. Their replacements have been found, are of low caliber indeed. In spite of daily cabinet meetings, there is as yet no coordinated government program in any field, and how could there be? Although cabinet includes handful of men with previous experience this level, this government is woefully lacking in men experienced in the challenging task of governing. This lack is particularly noticeable in the economic development field. The individuals holding cabinet positions have right up to today still nothing more to guide them than the oft-repeated general policy statement of the Prime Minister that Iraq is to be independent; Iraq wants to raise the living standards of the people; Iraq wants to be friends with all nations, east and west, that want to be friends with her; and above all Iraq wants to cooperate closely with other Arab states.
Economy of country is stagnant chiefly because development program which was main pump primer in past has been allowed to grind to halt. Government’s fumbling efforts to manage economy have caused a lack of confidence among the business community which no number of highly publicized but in substantial trade agreements with Soviet Union and Soviet bloc countries can dispel.
Inevitably, even though coup was carried out most effectively by a very small group of conspirators, differences as to the courses to be followed developed early among them. Tensions, primarily among the military but also among certain civilian members of regime, soon came to surface. Momentarily Qassim is on top. Arif, second in July 14 plot, has been deprived of military and political power positions and left October 12 to become Iraqi Ambassador in Bonn. The known Baathist members of the cabinet were removed or demoted at same time as Arif fell from grace. Thus most important elements working toward union with UAR, or at the least toward very close collaboration with Nasser, have been removed from center of government. The group that seems to influence Qassim most at present is made up of members of the National Democratic Party led by Kamal Chaderchi and Mohammed Hadid. This group, unfortunately, is naive to the extreme concerning danger which communism holds for Iraq. Qassim, we believe, is anti-Communist, and may be making a sincere effort to hold Communists in check. We do not think, on basis of reports we have received from diplomatic colleagues and reports emanating from Iraqi sources, that Communists played a major role in having Arif and Baathist Ministers removed from power. Communists do not today have that much influence with the regime. By weakening of Baathist influence, however, Communists undoubtedly gain much more room for maneuver. Communists also have potential for attack on another point through returned Kurdish leader Mulla Mustafa Barzani. He has spent last eleven years in exile in Soviet Union. [Page 346] His appeal to a majority of Iraqi Kurds is strong and his ability disrupt stability almost endless. Thus we believe that today greatest potential threat to stability and even existence of Qassim’s regime lies in hands of Communists.
As of today, three months after coup, Qassim’s regime is by no means firmly entrenched. There exist strong pressures on it from without and within regime; there is no solid unanimity and tensions are rampant. We are in for weeks, perhaps even months, of uncertainty. Certainly weeks just ahead are critical. Future stability is dependent on Qassim’s ability to withstand the various pressures being brought to bear on him and to lead country back to normal existence.
Up to now Qassim’s regime, whether deliberately or not, has in the main been carrying out a predominately wrecking operation. We think some of those around him are finally beginning to realize that it is much simpler to effect a coup and tear down government than it is to govern.
From my personal experience and observation covering these past four years in Iraq, I would say that with the murder of Nuri, illiberal as he may at times have been in dealing with domestic issues, Iraq sacrificed her best leader toward an eventual life of dignity and decency and her strongest bulwark against recurrent chaos, if not savagery. A number of well placed and knowledgeable Iraqis have been quoted to me within the past few days as having said, in effect, that within ten years at most a monument would be erected in Baghdad to Nuri.

I hope, in fact I believe, they are right.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 787.00/10–1458. Confidential. Transmitted in two sections and repeated to Amman, Ankara, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jidda, Karachi, London, Tehran, and Tel Aviv.