203. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Jones) to Secretary of State Herter0


  • Statement to the NSC re the Situation in Iraq


Pursuant to NSC action 2068, April 17, 1959,1 an inter-agency committee was established to concern itself with the situation in Iraq and to consider feasible courses of action with a view to preventing a Communist take-over in that country. The Department’s NEA Assistant Secretary was named chairman of the group.

The inter-agency group held a number of meetings during April, May and June under the chairmanship of Mr. Rountree. Ambassador Jernegan was brought home and his views were extremely helpful to the Committee’s deliberations as well as to the NSC, before whom Mr. Jernegan appeared personally.

In its deliberations, the inter-agency committee agreed that the policy outlined in NSC 5820/1 entitled “Statement of United States Policy toward the Near East”2 continued to be valid, and no change of this basic policy was required. With reference to specific courses of action, the Committee felt that dramatic military or political action by the United States was not desirable, that the most effective restraint on Communism [Page 485]in Iraq is that exercised by the Arab peoples themselves, and that our best efforts could be along the lines of encouraging Qasim, particularly through third parties such as Afro-Asian representatives, to maintain an independent Iraq resistant to the Communist threat.

When the situation in Iraq appeared to be improving (Tab B),3 the NSC accepted a recommendation on June 22 by the inter-agency group that further weekly reports by the Committee to the NSC would be discontinued unless there occurred a substantial change in the situation in Iraq.4

Since there have been some recent somewhat disturbing developments in Iraq, the inter-agency committee under my chairmanship met again to examine the Iraqi situation on September 24. It was agreed to report to the NSC that the meeting was held, that the situation in Iraq was reviewed, that at the moment there appears to be no reason to alter policies and action courses previously agreed upon, but that the Committee would meet again when further information and evaluations are available including particularly the views of Ambassador Jernegan. In this connection, we have sent a telegram to Ambassador Jernegan asking for an assessment5 and his preliminary response6 may be available to you before the meeting Wednesday morning.7


That you report to the Council that the inter-agency committee concerned with Iraq pursuant to NSC action 2068 of April 17 met on September 24, that it reviewed the situation in Iraq including the September [Page 486]20 executions,8 that it was felt that at the moment there appears to be no need to alter the basic policy established by NSC 5820/1 and the courses of action previously agreed upon by the Committee, but the Committee intends to keep close surveillance on the situation in Iraq and meet again after further information and evaluations are available, particularly from Ambassador Jernegan.
If there is a request at the Council for an account of significant developments in Iraq since the last report by the Committee on June 17, you may wish to draw upon the summary attached herewith as Tab A.
That you indicate that you will again report to the Council concerning Iraq following the next meeting of the inter-agency committee.

Tab A9

Summary of Events in Iraq Since Late June

In reviewing the situation since the latter part of June, the intervening period can usefully be divided into the time up to August 11 and the period since then.

Between late June and early August the following favorable developments took place:
The Popular Resistance Forces which had been heavily infiltrated by the Communists were first disarmed and subsequently all but disbanded by Qasim. Training was discontinued and even the wearing of PRF-type uniforms in public has been forbidden.
A number of strongly anti-Communist newspapers, including several that had been sacked by Communist-led mobs at the time of the Mosul revolt, re-emerged. They have continued up until the present to take a line strongly antagonistic to Communist activities in Iraq.
The influence of the moderate Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Finance appeared to be on the increase and there was an apparent lessening of anti-Western suspicions on the part of the Iraqi Government.
Qasim reaffirmed his ban on political party activity and publicly rebuffed Communist efforts to press the formation of a United National Front.
Finally, the Communists badly overplayed their hand at the time of the July 14 celebrations of the first anniversary of the revolution. Communist supporters were involved in bloody atrocities and murders in Kirkuk which moved the Prime Minister to public expression of horror and public castigation of the “anarchists” responsible for these events. This stand on Qasim’s part, and concomitant measures taken by the military authorities against the student unions and other Communist infiltrated organizations, greatly heartened nationalist and anti-Communist elements in Iraq.
The resurgence of the nationalists shortly reached such dimensions that Qasim apparently again became nervous for his own position and became convinced that his policy of seeking to maintain a balance between the Communists and nationalists was in danger. In any event it was suddenly announced on August 11 that Brig. Gen. Tabaqchali and a number of other senior officers suspected of involvement in the Mosul revolt would, contrary to prevailing expectations, be brought to trial before the so-called People’s Court of Col. Mahdawi. These officers were all considered to have nationalist leanings. This decision began a train of events which have increased tensions in Iraq.
On August 13, Qasim, apparently stung by the defiant attitude of Tabaqchali and other defendants in the opening session of their trial before the People’s Court on the previous day, publicly gave the court president, Col. Fadhil Mahdawi, his unqualified support and endorsement. This move discouraged the hopes of anti-Communist elements who consider that by his words and deeds Col. Mahdawi had shown himself to be favorably inclined toward, if not the actual ally of, the Communists in Iraq.
Large numbers of Communist students who had been rounded up after the Kirkuk massacre were ordered released by Qasim and allowed to return to their studies with an admonition to stay out of politics.
A Communist-dominated coalition slate won the Journalist Association elections, with the result that the Board of the Association, which has the power to close down publications by expulsion of publishers from membership, is largely in the hands of the Communists and their sympathizers.
The execution on August 25 of five military officers and one civilian earlier convicted of participation in the Mosul revolt provided a further indication of the way the wind was blowing. This was followed on September 20 by the sudden carrying out of the death sentences handed down earlier by Col. Mahdawi’s Court, of the 13 nationalist officers headed by the popular Brig. Tabaqchali. The immediately preceding execution of Sa’id Qazzaz, Minister of Interior under Nuri Sa’id, and three old regime police officials was apparently intended partly as a sop to the Communists and partly to counter criticism that no old regime executions had been carried out whereas 23 of the thirty officers sentenced [Page 488]to death in connection with the Mosul rebellion have been put to death.
While developments since August 11 have clearly been to the disfavor of the nationalist elements, it seems premature to conclude that the Communists have made corresponding gains. As late as two days ago, Qasim declared publicly that Iraq will maintain its policy of neutrality and will become a satellite of no country. Qasim’s actions against nationalist elements since August 11 quite probably were designed to establish respect for his authority in the face of recurring rumors of anti-Qasim conspiracies allegedly supported by Nasser. Undoubtedly they have earned for Qasim bitter nationalist hatred. Despite a few relatively mild disturbances in reaction to the September 20 executions, Qasim seems as of the moment still to have the internal security situation under control. However, the army on which Qasim depends for his authority appears deeply riven by Communist-nationalist conflict.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 787.00/9–2859. Top Secret. Drafted by Meyer.
  2. See footnote 12, Document 176.
  3. Document 51.
  4. Tab B is a memorandum from Rountree to Dillon, June 17, reporting on events in Iraq since May 21 and the work of the interagency committee. (Department of State, S/PNSC Files: Lot 62 D 1, Iraq, The Situation, NSC Action 2068)
  5. See Document 194.
  6. Telegram 920 to Baghdad, September 28. (Department of State, Central Files, 787.00/9–2859)
  7. In telegram 787 from Baghdad, September 29, the Embassy informed the Department that telegram 784 from Baghdad (September 28), which crossed telegram 920 to Baghdad, “gives our best estimate present situation.” The Embassy did not see any reason to change U.S. policies since U.S. capabilities for influencing the situation remained extremely limited, and believed that U.S. intervention, either direct or indirect, would only make matters worse. (Ibid.)

    In telegram 784 from Baghdad, the Embassy submitted a general estimate on Iraq during the last 7 weeks, stating that the “pattern of events during the period has been inconsistent, with factors unfavorable to Communist cause running parallel to another sequence which has benefited Communists. But momentum of anti-Communist trend has slowed, while circumstances which favor Communists have assumed greater importance, especially in past two weeks.” The Embassy concluded that Qassim’s ability to maintain a “balance” was declining, and outspoken nationalist criticism might impel him to turn once again to the Communists for support. (Ibid.)

  8. September 30.
  9. See Tab A.
  10. Top Secret.