175. Paper Prepared in the Department of State0
THE SITUATION IN IRAQ
Policy the United States Should Follow To Prevent Communism From Establishing Control of the Country
I. Evaluation of the Situation
If the rapid development of Communist strength in Iraq is not arrested, there is grave danger that the country will fall under Communist control. The Communists have taken over all significant media of public expression in Iraq. They also control the increasingly active para-military [Page 415]Popular Resistance Forces, and they are marshaling trade union and student groups to serve the Communist cause. In addition, Communists or pro-Communists are established in certain key positions in the Iraqi Government, notably in the fields of economic development and propaganda, and in the immediate entourage of the Prime Minister. The Communists are also making strenuous efforts to subvert the army, the key factor in the control of the country. The army cannot be said as yet to be Communist-controlled, but apparently the Communists are having success in subverting the lower ranks and the possibility is a real one that in a time of crisis the junior officers and non-commissioned officers would not obey instructions from above which might be opposed by the Communists.
Although the majority of the Iraqis are not sympathetic to communism, there is at present no effective opposition to the Communist forces. The anti-Communist nationalists are at the moment demoralized and virtually powerless.
In the midst of this growing Communist strength the Prime Minister remains an enigma. Although on several occasions he has with apparent sincerity stated that he has no intention of turning Iraq over either to the Western “imperialists” or to the Communists, and although certain Communist demands, such as the execution of imprisoned officials of the Nuri regime and the full arming of the Popular Resistance Forces, have not been met, the Prime Minister has taken no significant action to curb Communist strength.
The Soviet Union is according full support to Iraq both publicly in the propaganda field and particularly by economic and military assistance. The tone and content of the Iraqi press and radio output give firm indication of Soviet guidance and coaching. Meanwhile, despite the Prime Minister’s protestations of friendship for the West, the position of the latter in Iraq continues to deteriorate. Westerners long resident in the country are being expelled and Western contractors are being harassed by the Communists and by government obstruction. The West is daily attacked in the Iraqi press and over the Iraq radio. The Prime Minister’s stated desire that Iraq shall follow a policy of neutrality is rendered meaningless by the actions of subordinate officials of the Iraqi Government who are clearly biased in favor of the Soviet Union and the Communists.
Accordingly, the situation in Iraq is cause for grave concern on the part of the United States. If matters proceed along their present course it seems but a matter of time before Communist control of the country will be established, even though surface appearances may be that Qassim is in control. If the Communists take over Iraq, they will be in a position to extend their influences into Syria and the Persian Gulf areas, particularly Kuwait, thus threatening the West’s control of the Middle East oil [Page 416]reserves. The repercussions of a Communist takeover in Iraq could well include the downfall of the regime in Iran.
Despite this grave situation it is notable that certain Middle East friends of the United States regard the Iraq situation by no means as darkly as does the United States. Turkey, Jordan, and Israel in particular, and Iran to a lesser degree, appear to believe that Qassim will keep Iraq independent of the Communists and feel strongly that Nasser is undermining this possibility by his attacks on Iraq. The Turks have gone so far as to give the impression that they would go to Iraq’s assistance if Nasser should intervene in that country. Even the UK views the Iraq situation with less alarm than does the United States. The attitude of the Sudan seems to be that it is none of the business of the rest of the Arab world whether Iraq goes Communist, and King Saud, in viewing developments in Iraq, is torn between his fear of the Communists and his hatred of Nasser. During the recent Arab League meeting in Beirut only Yemen strongly supported the UAR with regard to Iraq. The reason for the difference between these states’ appraisal of the Iraqi situation and that of the United States seems in varying degrees to lie in the fear and resentment of Nasser on the part of the former and the belief that even a Communist takeover in Iraq might be preferable to a Nasser takeover.
While the developments in Iraq, from the United States point of view, present a very dark picture, it must not be forgotten that developments in the rest of the Near East present a far brighter picture from the United States viewpoint than has been the case for a long time. The rapprochement between the US and the UAR, the effective campaign being carried on by Nasser against local Communists and the Soviet Union, the resultant awakening of the Arabs to the danger of international communism—all of these are developments which would not have seemed possible a year ago and which bring tremendous political benefits from our point of view. We must be very careful, in considering steps we might take, with regard to Iraq, to proceed cautiously with any measures which might jeopardize the present favorable developments in the rest of the area.
II. Steps which the United States and its Friends Might Take to Arrest the Trend toward Communist Control of Iraq
Endeavor to Convince Qassim of United States Friendship and Desire to See Iraq Remain Independent
This is being done. The United States has made a special effort to counteract Communist lies that the United States is plotting against the Qassim regime and seeks to overthrow it. It is difficult to know whether Qassim has been convinced but for some weeks he has not reiterated his previous conviction, apparently based on Communist reports, that the United States was in fact plotting against his government. In support of [Page 417]this approach and in order to help provide Qassim with an alternative to complete reliance on the USSR, the United States has indicated its willingness to continue to provide technical assistance and its desire that United States firms continue to contribute toward the economic strength of Iraq. As regards military assistance, the Iraqi Government has never responded to our request for information on its position with regard to the military aid agreement and there is good reason to doubt that the supplying of arms to Iraq at this time would produce benefits within the country great enough to outweigh the disadvantage which would derive from Nasser’s obtaining the impression that we were supporting Iraq against him, with the possible lessening of his anti-Communist campaign as a result. Thus while we should continue to seek friendly relations with the Iraqi Government and to convince them that we are not plotting against them it would not be in our interests to offer to provide arms, beyond agreeing to sell spare parts for United States military equipment in Iraqi hands. At the same time Iraq is not entirely cut off from Western sources of supply for military equipment, since the British have apparently decided to accede to the Iraqi request to sell arms.
It has been suggested that national policy attaches such importance to the prevention of Communist domination of the states in the Middle East that we should be prepared to go even to the length of military intervention to prevent this. If we felt that US military action, if taken in Iraq, would keep Iraq from communism and would not gravely endanger US interests in the Middle East of even greater significance than Iraq, we should not be deterred from taking such action by the threat of Soviet military reaction. However, as soon as US forces left Iraq the revulsion against any government set up under their aegis would be so great that it would probably be swept away and its replacement would in all likelihood be a Communist government. Thus for this reason alone we cannot advocate this course, apart from the long standing United States principles which would be violated by what would in effect be unprovoked United States aggression and apart from the catastrophic psychological reaction throughout Africa and Asia which would inevitably portray us as being worse aggressors than the Communists.
Public Expressions of US Concern over Growth of Communism in Iraq
We tried this approach when Syria was threatened with a Communist takeover and came to the conclusion that it did more harm than good. Such a move produces resentment amongst sensitive Arab nationalists, tends to unify Arab opinion in hostility to the United States, and thereby weakens the position of the West and strengthens that of the Communists. The less the West can do in Iraq to provide a target [Page 418]around which the Communists can rally opinion against the West, the better.
It should also be noted that any public expression of US concern over the growth of communism in Iraq would tend publicly to identify us with Nasser’s current anti-Communist campaign. This would be most unfortunate since Communist propagandists would exploit our statement to substantiate their allegations that Nasser is fast becoming an “imperialist stooge”. Our statement would thus seriously compromise Nasser’s anti-Communist efforts which in the end are likely to be much more effective than any efforts of our own. For the foregoing reasons, a public statement by us expressing concern over communism in Iraq would clearly be unwise.
Attempt to Dissuade Nasser from Attacking Qassim and Iraq
However great may be the risks that Nasser’s attacks on Iraq are forcing Qassim to rely more than he might wish on the Communists, we believe that the advantages which the West derives from Nasser’s current anti-Communist campaign are such that the risk in Iraq must be run. It is likely that if we were to approach Nasser to suggest letting up on Iraq he would interpret this as revealing that we were taking Iraq’s side against him; he might slacken if not cease his anti-Communist campaign. We do not wish to run this risk. It is also of course by no means certain that if there were a detente between the UAR and Iraq, the Government of Iraq would turn its attention to curbing the Communists.
Encourage Nasser in his Campaign against Communism in Iraq
While we have not directly linked with Nasser’s present campaign against communism the steps we have recently taken to aid Egypt, there is no doubt that Nasser knows that we have taken these steps as a sign of approval of his current campaign and that they have emboldened him in his anti-Communist efforts. We have instructed Ambassador Hare to convey to Nasser expressions of encouragement from the highest circles of the United States Government and we are certain that Nasser, at the moment at least, has no concern that if he presses his attack on communism in Iraq and elsewhere in the Near East the United States will take the occasion to stab him in the back somehow. He would be even more certain of our attitude if something could be done to help him with the difficult problem of disposing of Egyptian cotton, for the lifting of which he now depends so heavily on the USSR. We should continue to encourage Nasser in his present attitude by whatever means may be feasible to us. At the same time it should be borne in mind that Nasser’s current conflict with the Communists, while opening up new opportunities for the West, has not altered his basic pan-Arab goals which include the elimination of the remaining positions of Western, and particularly British, influence in the area.
Encourage Representations to Iraqi Government by Other Nations
We believe it would be useful to encourage other nations represented in Baghdad to instruct their representatives there to bring home to Qassim the dangers of becoming too closely involved with the Soviet Union and of allowing the Communists to attain too much control and authority. We are proceeding to attempt to achieve the agreement of the nations concerned to send such instructions.
Western Threat to Boycott Iraqi Oil, Cutting of IPC Pipeline, General Economic Boycott
Even if we could obtain British and French agreement to join us in a public announcement at this time that we would boycott Iraqi oil if the Communists established control of Iraq, we do not believe that this would be a desirable step to take as it would enrage the Iraqi population and thus enhance the Communist position, and would cause the Iraqis to turn even more to the Russians. The same reasoning would apply to the possibility of our contriving to have the IPC pipelines cut as a means of bringing pressure on the Iraqi Government. If we undertook an economic boycott of Iraq, the USSR would without doubt step in to aid Iraq, thus further consolidating its position there as it did in Egypt where it quickly agreed to supply commodities urgently needed by the Egyptians. These courses would increase rather than curb the growth of communism in Iraq.
Letter from President Eisenhower to Qassim
We have considered the possibility that the President might write an appropriate letter to Prime Minister Qassim warning him of the danger of collaboration with the USSR and the Communists. We have felt, and the Embassy in Baghdad concurs, that such a step would be deeply resented as intervention in Iraqi affairs, would provide the Communists with helpful ammunition against us, and thus would not be effective.
The capacity of the United States to take decisive action which would arrest the growing Communist strength in Iraq and at the same time insure against the resurgence of communism as soon as the US action were terminated, is limited. The United States could of course send forces into Iraq but this would not prevent communism from re-establishing itself once these forces withdrew. Furthermore, such military action would set the whole Middle East against us at a time when the current in the area, with the exception of Iraq, is for the first time in a long while running in favor of the United States. It is unlikely that economic warfare against Iraq by the United States would have any effect other than to turn the population against us and strengthen the position of the Communists and of the USSR, which would provide the necessary [Page 420]economic assistance to Iraq. As for assets in Iraq at this time of sufficient significance to influence decisively the course of events in that country, the United States does not possess them.
Other factors which limit the ability of the United States to take decisive and effective action are the support which Prime Minister Qassim continues to receive from the army and the key segments of the Iraqi population; the efficiency of the Iraqi security forces which have foiled several attempts to overthrow the Qassim regime; the identification of the United States with the hated regime of Nuri Said; the social ostracism and personal harassment currently being experienced by Americans in Iraq, and the example of Egypt in obtaining help from the USSR while maintaining its independence, which no doubt leads the Iraqi leaders to believe they can do the same thing.
Another factor which at present is working against the United States is that of timing. The Iraqi leaders have carried out a revolution and swept away all the restraints which the previous regime had imposed on the population. The pendulum in Iraq has thus swung very far from the direction in which it was held for so many years. The Iraqi leaders, even some pro-Western ones, seem to be operating on the philosophy that this is perfectly natural under the circumstances and that in due course a balanced position of neutrality will be achieved. Thus, efforts by outsiders at this time to establish a feeling of alarm and concern in the Iraqi leaders over the degree of progress toward the left come at the wrong psychological moment as far as the leaders are concerned. The problem of course is that if they should attempt at some future date to redress the balance they may find it is too late.
In view of the limited capacity of the United States effectively to alter developments in Iraq by direct approach, it is perforce necessary to turn to indirect methods of influencing the situation. A decision to do this implies, in the circumstances, that the problem will not be quickly solved. There is thus the risk that the Communists will become too deeply entrenched before the indirect approach can become effective in curbing their strength. It must be recalled, however, that when a similar situation, although admittedly not so serious a one, existed in connection with Syria and after our direct approaches to the Syrian problem had failed, the trend toward Communist domination of Syria was effectively arrested by regional elements, with our indirect encouragement. It seems to us that we must approach the Iraqi problem in the same fashion, recognizing the limitations upon our ability to bring about quick results and accepting the risk inherent in the relatively long period of time which will be required before the indirect approach through regional elements can prove effective. We also assume that there are anti-Communist elements in Iraq awaiting a suitable opportunity to bring about a change of the present trend.[Page 421]
The regional force which obviously presents itself as the avenue through which it may be possible to curb the growth of communism in Iraq is Arab nationalism as headed by President Nasser of the United Arab Republic. This force, with its powerful propaganda, is already heavily engaged against communism in the area, and is in specific conflict with the Iraqi regime. Judging from reports received, Nasser is confident that he will win this battle. Although he may be overestimating his abilities vis-à-vis the Communists, there is no doubt he recognizes the serious nature of the struggle and realizes that if he loses it he risks losing Syria and weakening his position in Egypt as well.
We have already taken steps to make clear to Nasser that we approve of what he is doing and that we support him in this battle. Recognizing that in the circumstances the best chances of curbing the Communists in Iraq reside in measures which the Arabs themselves may take to bring this about, we should continue this policy, implementing it with such steps as we can take from time to time in our own right to contribute to the outcome. Assuming that we are granted the necessary time, we should not be discouraged if progress seems slow. We should remember the many months and the patient painstaking work which were involved in bringing the United Arab Republic to a realization of the dangers of communism and in establishing the considerable degree of confidence which now exists between ourselves and the United Arab Republic, a situation which many observers would have thought impossible a year ago. It should be emphasized that if our policy with respect to the United Arab Republic has been successful it has been due in large measure to our recognition of the delicacy involved and our avoidance of the sensational, the dramatic, and newspaper publicity. In dealing with the grave Iraqi situation, it would behoove us to move with the same delicacy, secrecy and painstaking effort.
IV. Recommended Courses of Action
- Without publicly injecting ourselves into Nasser’s battle against the Communists in the Middle East, or taking sides in the Nasser–Qassim fight, we should discreetly lend Nasser encouragement and assistance recognizing that the United States is severely handicapped as far as ability quickly to change the situation in Iraq is concerned and that the problem should be approached through indigenous forces.
- If there should develop grounds for sound belief that the trend toward communism in Iraq would be arrested if a détente between Iraq and the UAR could be brought about, we should urgently explore means of achieving this.
- We should maintain a correct but friendly attitude toward Qassim and the Iraqi Government, refraining from publicly condemning Iraq and from adopting an attitude of public hostility toward her. We [Page 422]have not given up hope that Qassim, or other forces in Iraq, will take measures to curb the Communists.
- At the same time, we should make every effort firmly to defend United States interests in Iraq. We should not allow the Iraqis to take unfriendly actions such as the harassment of our personnel without appropriate protest.
- We should make every effort to maintain and where feasible strengthen the United States “presence” in Iraq. This means maintaining elements of our technical assistance program which are being utilized and attempting to be helpful in other non-dramatic and non-military fields.
- We should make energetic efforts to align the evaluation by other friendly nations of the situation in Iraq with our own. We need particularly to persuade the Turks of the dangers involved in the current situation in Iraq.
- We should make efforts to persuade appropriate friendly nations which share our views of the situation in Iraq to make representations to the Iraqi Government to warn it of the dangers of becoming too closely involved with the Soviet Union and of permitting the Communists to become too powerful.
- [sic] We should cooperate closely with the British and coordinate with them policy designed to achieve our purposes.
- We should and are urgently examining with the British steps, [less then 1 line of source text not declassified] which we might take in the event that, despite the measures described above, a Communist takeover of Iraq occurs. In this connection, contingency plans should be formulated for replacing IPC oil supplies to Western Europe by oil from other Mideast sources.
- Source: Eisenhower Library, Files of the Special Assistant for National Security Affairs, Near East. Top Secret. Drafted by Rockwell. Sent by Calhoun to Karl G. Harr, Jr., at the White House for use at the April 17 meeting of the NSC; see Document 176. According to an April 14 memorandum from Skofield to Mak, Herter read and approved this paper. Herter hoped that prompt interagency agreement on the courses of action recommended herein could be achieved without invoking a meeting of the heads of the various agencies and that the coordinated program could be recommended to the President. (Department of State, S/P Files: Lot 67 D 548, Iraq)↩