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

2758. Department pass Defense. Addressees pass major military commands. Paris also for USRO. Deptel 2145.1

Preparation Embassy’s estimate of situation in Iraq in response reftel interrupted by Mosul coup attempt. Now appears revolt and aftermaths have altered picture only in that as result failure of coup attempt Qassim and pro-Communists have greatly increased their strength as opposed to that of nationalist elements desiring closer relations with UAR.
Basic question remaining is whether Qassim and GOI are too far along road to communism to turn back and whether Iraq consequently is fated to be first Soviet satellite in Arab world.
Overt signs point sharply left. It appears that Mosul attempt was almost last gasp of nationalist, anti-Communist forces in Iraq. Shawwaf’s effort was overcome with comparative ease by Qassim and with noticeable absence of panicky reaction. Qassim conducted himself throughout affair cooly and with confident air of man who believes people to be with him. Now seems to us that control could be wrested from Qassim only by assassination and even that would not automatically result in government of different orientation from present one.
Communists and pro-Communists have scored noticeable gains since Mosul. Destruction March 11 by mob action, countenanced or at least uninterrupted by security forces, of plants of three nationalist daily newspapers and weekly magazine in Baghdad leaves press field almost exclusively to Communists. This control of press plus appointment of new Director General of Guidance who is known to have been and probably still is Communist means that virtually all of overt propaganda media here are now subject to Communist direction. Most significant evidence of this control has been unanimous and savage attack on UAR and Nasser who six short months ago was held by Iraqi people in equal if not greater esteem than Qassim. Today Nasser is a “Fascist dog” and “agent of imperialism”. Even taking into account acknowledged Arab volatility and ability change sides almost overnight, this re-moulding [Page 396]of Iraqi public opinion has been masterfully managed by Communists, whose task been made easier by clumsy overconfidence of Nasser’s attempts to unseat Qassim.
Communists are making strong and thus far uniformly successful efforts to dominate Iraq’s new Trade Union Movement, Students Union, Teachers Association, League for Defense of Women’s Rights and other “popular” and “partisan” organizations whose number increases monthly. Communists appear to be in almost complete control of Popular Resistance Force. According to reports received from Basra, PRF has shown itself willing and able to defy civil and military authority whenever its unofficial leaders think stakes are worth it. Despite Qassim’s January 14 pronouncement and recent reassuring statements by Military Governor Brigadier Abdi and PRF Commander Colonel Bamarni, we see little reason believe PRF is not in effect an arm of CPI, wherever the individual loyalties of PRF members may lie.
Estimates of number arrested since March 7 run as high as 15,000. Jails throughout country filled and private houses and institutions such as Police Cadet School been taken over as places of detention. Sudden disappearance of respected friends and colleagues has frightened and silenced those who have reservations about course of events.
Since Mosul every ministry except Foreign Office has undergone new purge. Hardest hit have been Development Ministry and Education Ministry. Communists now appear be strongly entrenched here and in Economic and Agriculture Ministries. Economic Ministry under Kubba had already embarked on program designed tie Iraq economically as closely as possible to Soviet Bloc. Recent conclusion Iraqi-Soviet accord on development aid is latest and most significant of Kubba’s efforts in this direction. Difficulties encountered by private firms, foreign and domestic, are discouraging capital investment and leaving way open for growth of state capitalism and expansion Soviet assistance.
Pro-Communist teachers and students are riding high in high schools and colleges. Student association boards rather than faculty councils now often have decisive voice in issues of curricula, administration and faculty appointments. General lowering of academic standards, which have never been high, is reported. Dissenting professors and teachers intimidated, many demoted and some arrested following denunciation by students or other teachers.
Military Court President Mahdawis’ excesses remain unchecked. It becoming increasingly clear he either member Communist Party or its willing tool. His pronouncements from bench following Communist line almost 100 percent and are given wide coverage by Baghdad press, radio and TV.
On top of all foregoing, very atmosphere of Baghdad almost inescapably forces foreign onlooker (especially American) to conclude that Iron Curtain descending. Many of our Embassy staff recurrently followed by security agents. Embassy office and residential telegrams continuously monitored. Four Embassy local employees been arrested (three since Mosul) and held without bail and incommunicado on unspecified charges. International mail censored. Flow of Western newspapers and magazines into Iraq is frequently interrupted. Embassy encountering increasing difficulty in getting exit and re-entry permits for office personnel. Outgoing household effects subjected to search which can best be described as ruthless. Embassy complaints on these and other matters are met with mixture of blandness and insolence familiar to anyone who has dealt with satellite officers since World War II. We are living within contracting circle of social mobility as former friends and contacts turn away. Press, radio, and television keep up continuous attack on “imperialism”, with US depicted as chief offender. Despite GOI official disclaimers (not published in Iraq), US still labeled by Iraqi press as among instigators of Mosul revolt.
On other side of picture we see only few hopeful signs. During my recent interview with Qassim his statement about wishing to be neutral seemed to me to be genuine and his general attitude was friendly. Recent definition of PRF duties by PRF Commander (definition which not strictly followed), recent appeals by Education Minister to students to return to school and respect their teachers and by head of Teachers Association for decent treatment of UAR teachers detailed here, and Foreign Minister’s statements to American reporters that GOI aware of non-involvement US in Mosul attempt all may be indications that there are still among Iraqis moderate men of good will trying to stem tide of Communism.
Skeptics among us point out, however, that PRF Commander’s statement and appeals to students and teachers to calm down are not inconsistent with Communist emphasis on “discipline” and avoidance unnecessary and uncoordinated trouble-making. This is theme repeatedly stressed in CPI circulars and party guidances [less than 1 line of source text not declassified].
Another negatively hopeful sign is that of “eight demands” put to Qassim by CPI through its front organizations after Mosul only two have clearly been met—i.e., withdrawal from Baghdad Pact and purging of “disloyal elements” in government and army circles. Two crucial demands, for arming and executing those condemned to death by Military Court, have not been met and we have not yet seen any indication Qassim intends to comply.
Worth pointing out also that there still no Communists in cabinet and that among the ministers only Kubba openly espouses party line.
On balance it now seems to us there is grave danger that in short run Iraq will come under preponderantly Communist control. Our past estimates have always centered around question whether Qassim is himself a Communist or otherwise a voluntary follower of Communist direction. In light contradictory reports and differing deductions from available evidence, we still cannot answer that question categorically. Recent events, however, have steadily increased our doubts as to whether Qassim can, even if he wished to, reverse the trend. We still think that loyalty of army and people is primarily directed to him rather than to what appears to be his present program, but there is clear possibility that Communist control of popular organizations and Communist cadres within army and government departments could grant and/or nullify this loyalty to Qassim if showdown came.
Nasser no longer appears to have what it takes to reverse tide of events in Iraq. There remain two other possibilities. One is that Qassim himself will realize extent of danger and attempt to halt Communist advance while his personal following in army and among people still gives him capacity to do so. Other is that Qassim will be assassinated and that army would then take over reins under leadership of officers opposed to Communism.
Gist of joint estimate prepared by service attachés is that (1) successful anti-Qassim coup by army officers would require quick and well-coordinated use of preponderance of mobile and armored units stationed in or close to Baghdad and (2) appraisal of attitudes of first and second level commanders in these units leads to conclusion that successful coup from this quarter unlikely. (Details of this estimate follow in joint attaché telegram.2)
From Baghdad it looks as if 1959 will be year of the bear in Iraq.
Service attachés [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] concur.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 787.00/3–2659. Secret. Transmitted in three sections and repeated to Amman, Ankara, Beirut, Benghazi, Cairo, Moscow, Paris, Rabat, Rome, Tehran, Tel Aviv, Tunis, Damascus, Basra, Dhahran, and Kuwait.
  2. Telegram 2145, March 4, requested the Embassy’s appreciation of the Iraqi political situation, especially in light of the British view that the Communists in Iraq were definitely gaining ground. (Ibid., 787.00/3–459)
  3. Not found.