202. Special National Intelligence Estimate0

SNIE 36.2–4–59


The Problem

To estimate the short-term outlook for Iraq.

The Estimate

The situation in Iraq has grown even more unstable and uncertain since our last estimate (SNIE 36.2/2–59, “The Short-Term Outlook in Iraq,” dated 30 June).1Qassim has made a number of moves to limit Communist activities. At the same time, these measures have been overshadowed by his public approval of pro-Communist Col. Mahdawi’s anti-nationalist activities in the People’s Court and the recent execution of Brigadier Tabaqchali and other participants in the Mosul uprising, as well as four civilian members of Nuri’s last government.
Meanwhile, throughout the period the Soviet Bloc has continued and even expanded its activities in Iraq. Increasing numbers of Bloc personnel are working in Iraq, some of whom are high-level specialists advising Iraqi ministries. The Bloc is rapidly implementing its military and economic agreements and new negotiations have taken place, for example, in the field of atomic energy and civil aviation. In general, we believe the Soviet Bloc is likely to continue its support to Qassim.2 However, at the same time that Qassim has been cultivating expanded relations with the Sino-Soviet Bloc, he has also been seeking to improve Iraq’s position with the West.
Predictions as to future developments must remain highly tentative. Despite Qassim’s success in maintaining his position, he has not yet developed a political organization personally loyal to him. He probably hopes to maintain an equilibrium between Communist and the various non-Communist forces. He may be able to do so, possibly by counterbalancing the Tabaqchali execution with new moves to cut down Communist power. For example, the trials of persons involved in the Kirkuk disturbances would provide such an opportunity. However, we believe that the struggle for control of Iraq is about to enter another critical phase. The execution of Tabaqchali could serve as a catalyst for action in the tense situation. Such a crisis would not necessarily prove decisive, but it would probably involve more extensive disturbances and reprisals than have yet taken place.
Reports of coup plots, including the assassination of Qassim, have increased in recent weeks, but no organization capable of bringing off a successful coup is known to exist. Iraqi nationalists’ disillusionment with Qassim is at a new peak and the UAR apparently once again fears that Qassim cannot be relied upon to keep Iraq out of Communist hands. Nasser has claimed that any new coup move would fail, but may now feel compelled to attempt to create a climate favorable for a coup.
Qassim and the Communists are both almost certainly aware that the nationalists may resort to desperate measures. Either or both may move to forestall a nationalist challenge, though we believe that the Communists would still hope to act in conjunction with Qassim. We believe that army support is essential, either to maintain the Qassim regime in power or to overthrow it. There is little firm information available upon which to judge the balance of sentiment among army leaders toward Qassim, the nationalists, the UAR, or even the Communists. There is considerable reason to believe, however, that troop commanders in the Baghdad area are loyal to Qassim and that many identified antiregime nationalist and pro-UAR officers have been purged or placed in positions of relative unimportance. Thus, if the nationalists, either alone or with UAR help, do attempt a coup at this time, we believe that its chances of success would be less than even. In the event of a coup attempt, and especially if Qassim were assassinated, serious civil strife is likely.

Action against the Communists in the Kirkuk trials would hearten the anti-Communist forces. However, Qassim is not likely to take continuing strong action against the Communists so long as he is under direct attack by Nasser. On balance, we believe that the influence of the various Arab nationalist elements in Iraq will be further weakened. [Page 483]The probable result of this weakening would be acute and more overt hostility between Iraq and the UAR and consequently increased turmoil in the Arab World and the Middle East generally.3


Paragraphs 45 and 47 of NIE 30–59, “Main Currents in the Arab World,” dated 25 August 1959.4

We believe that the Soviets attach considerable importance to the stakes involved in Iraq. However, Soviet tactics in seeking to build and consolidate Communist power there will depend on their assessment of the risks and opportunities involved. They probably prefer that the Iraqi Communists acquire the substance of power behind a facade of Arab nationalism. Under present circumstances, at least, they will probably avoid attempting an overt and complete Communist takeover because of the risks of failure and foreign intervention and the probable costs to Bloc relations with Nasser and the nationalist movements. Their most likely tactic is to foster some form of popular front. Nevertheless, they would probably not remain content to share power indefinitely. If in time they came to believe that the Iraqi Communists could take over and retain power, the Soviets would be likely to support them in doing so, particularly if the situation in Iran seemed to be developing in a manner favorable to Soviet interests.
In the broadest sense we believe that the emergence of radicalism in Iraq has demonstrated the essential conflicts between Soviet policies and those of the reformist brand of Arab nationalism. In the long run, Bloc interests will almost certainly lie with the more extreme proponents of social and economic change. Even allowing for maximum [Page 484]flexibility in Bloc tactics toward individual governments, it is likely to become increasingly difficult for the Soviets to maintain the substance and even the form of convincing support for both reformism and radicalism, particularly if the latter continues to grow as a significant force in Arab affairs.
  1. Source: Department of State, PPS Files: Lot 67 D 548, Iraq. Secret. A note on the cover sheet indicates that this special estimate, submitted by the CIA, was prepared by CIA, INR, and the intelligence organizations of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Joint Staff. All members of the USIB concurred in this estimate on September 24 except the representatives of the AEC and FBI, the Director of the National Security Agency, and the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Special Operations, who abstained on the grounds that the topic was outside their jurisdiction.
  2. Document 195.
  3. For our assessment of basic factors affecting Soviet policy toward Iraq and its connection with Soviet objectives in Iran, see Annex: paragraphs 45 and 47 of NIE 30–59, “Main Currents in the Arab World,” dated 25 August 1959 [ Document 71]. We believe these paragraphs remain valid. [Footnote in the source text.]
  4. The Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Intelligence, Department of the Navy, does not concur with the third and fourth sentences of this paragraph. He would delete them and substitute the following:

    “This circumstance would probably have the effect of fusing the Iraqi nationalists of all shades and of creating a more amenable attitude toward the UAR among those nationalists hitherto wary of, if not antagonistic toward, Nasser. The probable result would be to sharpen the conflict between the Communists and the anti-Communists in Iraq, and thus increase turmoil in the Arab World and the Middle East generally.” [Footnote in the source text.]

  5. See Document 71.