186. Special National Intelligence Estimate0

SNIE 36.2–3–59


The Problem

To estimate implications of a Communist takeover in Iraq and of possible courses of action by other powers over the next year or so.


In previous estimates, we concluded that the Communists would soon be in virtual control of Iraq, if indeed they were not already in that position.1 The present estimate examines the situation which would obtain if such a Communist takeover were in fact to take place.


Both the Iraqi Communists and the USSR would probably seek to conceal Iraq’s subservience to Soviet policy, and it may remain well nigh impossible to determine precisely when the movement toward Communist control has passed the “point of no return.” Nevertheless, the establishment of decisive Soviet influence over Iraq would presage a radical change in the Middle Eastern political scene, and over the longer run, the USSR would almost certainly exploit this base to enhance Communist influence elsewhere in the area. (Paras. 11, 14–15)
Even a Communist Iraq would want to avoid isolation within the Arab Community. It might thus initially soft-pedal subversive actions against its Arab neighbors, but it appears almost inevitable that sooner or later such efforts would be directed against Syria, Kuwait, and Iran. The regime would probably also move to obtain greater influence over the Iraq Petroleum Company and to exert a disruptive influence on the Middle East oil industry. Actions such as these would be likely to be [Page 454] accelerated if the Communist regime felt compelled to maintain its momentum in the face of outside attack. (Paras. 15–18, 22)
Nasser will persist in a two-fold effort to undermine the Communists in Iraq and to prevent the spread of their influence elsewhere in the Arab World. For both these endeavors, he will seek discreet US support as a source of influence over conservative and opportunist elements in other Arab States and as a counterweight to Soviet pressures. (Paras. 24–28)
Nasser is unlikely for some time at least to be able to affect significantly the situation within Iraq. His chances are fairly good for isolating the Communist regime from the rest of the Arab World and blocking the spread of its influence. He has greater popular appeal and more assets in the Arab States generally than has Qassim, and his anti-Communist crusade has already had widespread public effect in the Arab World. He would probably have the support of the Arab World as a whole in any measures he might take to repeal aggressive Iraqi moves beyond Iraq’s own borders. Except in the case of an internal upheaval in Iraq, direct UAR military intervention is unlikely. For such a move at least tacit Western support would be needed. (Paras. 38–48)
Turkey, Iran, the UK, and the conservative Arab States will remain distrustful of Nasser’s ambitions, but would be likely to find themselves compelled eventually to recognize that he must almost certainly play a major role if Communist influence in Iraq is to be contained or eliminated. For the time being, however, these states will probably gyrate through shifts in policies and alignments. (Paras. 23, 29–32, 34)
Turkey and Iran are unlikely to intervene overtly in Iraq without US support; in any event such intervention would be highly repugnant both to Iraqi nationalists and to the Arab World generally. While direct US and UK military intervention in Iraq could result in the removal of Qassim and the Communist-dominated regime, Arab nationalists would be deeply offended by such action. The effect would probably be modified if important Arab leaders were consulted in advance, if some justification beyond that of simply resisting Communism could be found, and especially if the operation were quick and decisive. (Paras. 41–42)
Should UAR subversive efforts against Iraq appear to be effective, the USSR would probably respond with economic and political pressure on the UAR. The Soviets would also be prepared to make the considerable effort necessary to support the Iraqi regime in the event of external economic measures against it. (Para. 50)
The USSR’s initial and immediate reaction to overt military intervention in Iraq would probably be limited to action in the UN and to warnings, backed by military preparations, of Soviet countermeasures [Page 455] if the intervention did not cease. If these political measures failed and if the Communists were overthrown and a new government established in Iraq before the USSR could bring effective countermeasures to bear, Moscow would probably accept the situation rather than attempt to upset it by direct use of force. (Para. 52)
If the Iraqi regime showed some ability to maintain resistance to an intervention by neighboring states, the USSR would probably soon begin to supplement its diplomatic support with material aid. If only Arab or Iranian forces were involved, the USSR would probably attempt to provide military assistance, including “volunteer” technicians and specialists, on a covert basis, but it would try to avoid provoking direct Western involvement. In case Turkey were involved in this intervention, the USSR would probably also extend this kind of support, and would probably also engage in military redeployments along the Turkish border. Nevertheless, it would still seek to avoid provoking Western involvement. The Soviet response would probably be the same even if Western conduct and posture lent implicit support to the local effort. (Para. 53)
In the case of direct US or UK military involvement, a Soviet decision would have to be virtually immediate. The nature of the Soviet response would depend in large measure on the manner in which the crisis had developed and on the scale and nature of the Western intervention. On the one hand, failure to act would not only mean the loss of the Communist position in Iraq, but also a blow to Soviet prestige elsewhere, particularly in Eastern Europe. On the other hand, open Soviet intervention in Iraq would involve great military disadvantages for the USSR and would probably require violation of Turkish and Iranian air space or territory or both. This in turn would serve to spread the conflict with the risk of making it general. In these complex circumstances, we cannot precisely assess the chances of Soviet military intervention against the US and UK forces. We believe that the odds are against such intervention, although the chance of such a move cannot, of course, be ruled out.2 (Para 54)

[Here follows the “Discussion” portion of the estimate (paragraphs 11–54) with sections headed: “Introduction,” “Probable Policies of a Communist Dominated Iraq,” “Attitudes and Aims of Other Interested States,” “Actions Which Might Affect the Situation: Chances of Success and Probable Consequences,” and “The Soviet Role.”]

  1. Source: Department of State, OCB Files: Lot 61 D 385, Iraq Documents. Secret. A note on the cover sheet indicates that this special estimate, submitted by the CIA, was prepared by CIA, INR, the intelligence organizations of the Army, the Navy, the Air force, and the Joint Staff. All members of the USIB concurred with this estimate on May 19 except the representatives of the AEC, FBI, the Director of the National Security Agency, and the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense, for Special Operations, all of whom abstained on the grounds that the topic was outside their jurisdiction.
  2. The likelihood of a Communist takeover and the probable reactions of other interested parties to the developing threat are discussed in SNIE 36.2–59 (17 February 1959) [Document 161] and SNIE 36.2/1–59 (21 April 1959) on “The Communist Threat to Iraq” [Document 179] and in SNIE 36.2–2–59 (28 April 1959) on “Probable Reactions to the Communist Threat in Iraq” [Document 181]. The present estimate supplements these previous estimates. [Footnote in the source text.]
  3. The Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, USAF, believes that the Soviet leaders are virtually certain to estimate that any overt engagement of Soviet and US armed forces would lead to general war. Accordingly, they are most unlikely to undertake to intervene in Iraq in the contingency posed. He would accordingly delete the last two sentences and substitute: “We therefore believe that the USSR would not intervene militarily against US-UK forces.” [Footnote in the source text.]