144. Memorandum From the Director of Intelligence and Research (Cumming) to Secretary of State Dulles0

SUBJECT

  • Intelligence Note: The Communist Threat in Iraq1

The present situation in Iraq is largely an outgrowth of the lack of solid groundwork for the coup of July 14, 1958. The sole uniting force among the disparate groups and individuals involved in the coup was hatred of the old regime, and there was little agreement on the policies to be followed once the coup had succeeded. The main issue in Iraq at present is the relationship to Nasir and the UAR. Istiqlal and Ba’thist attempts, led by such figures as Colonel ’Arif, Rashid’Ali al-Gaylani, and Fa’iq al-Samarra’i to promote association with the UAR, prompted a vigorous counter campaign on the part of the Communists and of Kamil al-Chadirchi, leader of the leftist National Democratic Party. [Page 354]Increasing tension between Qasim and the pro-Nasir faction have induced him to lean more heavily on the support of Chadirchi and the Communists. This has increased the alarm of the non-Communist groups, including the senior army officers who have pressured Qasim to disassociate himself from the Communists. However, the Communists have emerged from years of illegal existence as a well-organized force while their opponents are largely disorganized, with only the Ba’th Party and the army having some capabilities for organized political action.

Qasim, while probably not a Communist, leans heavily on Chadirchi’s advice. Both men are politically naive and seem to feel that they can exploit the Communists as long as they are useful and then oust them. In the meantime the Communists have succeeded in establishing themselves in various strong positions in government and, among other things, are in control of the propaganda apparatus. While Communist infiltration probably has not yet got out of control, the point of no return may be reached in a few months should the Qasim regime continue on its present course.2

The political situation in Iraq definitely points to an early showdown which, however, is unlikely to lead quickly to a clear-cut result and which, unless some new force or personality emerges, is equally unlikely to yield any appreciable gain for the West. The most likely focus of a coup against Qasim at this time is pro-UAR Rashid ’Ali al-Gaylani. However, the most important element in any coup remains the army which may join in an anti-Qasim coup but is likely to split over the question of union with the UAR. Tribal elements likewise might support such a coup, but not necessarily union with the UAR. Thus even in the case of a successful coup the struggle probably will not have ended the governmental instability and plotting is likely to continue. Should Qasim win over his opponents, his debt to the Communists will have increased and his chances of ridding himself of Communist influence will have become smaller.

A similar memorandum has been addressed to the Under Secretary.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 787.001/11–2558. Secret. A note on the memorandum indicates that the Secretary saw it.
  2. Commenting on a CIA working paper entitled “The Communist Threat to Iraq,” Sanger of INR wrote that although the Communist threat to Iraq was grave, the CIA paper “exaggerates” it, [1-1/2 lines of text not declassified] and that the new Iraqi cabinet contains Communists or Communist-sympathizers. (Memorandum from Sanger to Arneson, November 25; ibid., INR Files: Lot 58 D 776, Iraq) The CIA paper has not been found.
  3. In a November 28 memorandum to Murphy, to which was attached an NE study with accompanying appendices, Rountree summarized NE’s assessment of Communist influence in Iraq: “In brief, we believe there is considerable evidence that Communist elements enjoy a favorable position in Iraq today and that their activities are being tolerated by Prime Minister Abdul Karim Qasim. Communist elements are clearly providing Qasim with ‘street’ support which he needs in his struggle with political factions opposed to him, notably pro-UAR groups. We do not believe Qasim is a Communist but believe that there is a real danger that he will become overly dependent on the Communist support he is now receiving.” Murphy wrote on the source text: “Very good presentation.” (Ibid., Central Files, 787.001/11–2858)