96. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (Rountree) to Secretary of State Dulles0


  • Problem of United States assistance for the Iraqi Air Force and our relations with the United Kingdom


This problem involves three United States policy objectives: 1) Iraq’s military posture; 2) the maintenance of relations with Iraq of a nature to insure Iraq’s continued effective participation in the Baghdad Pact and the availability of military facilities to the United States in Iraq in case of emergency; and 3) harmonious relations with the United Kingdom, not only in the Middle East but world-wide.

The Department has been under pressure from four different sources in the matter of United States assistance to the Iraqi Air Force (RIAF): 1) from the Iraqis, to provide such aid; 2) from developments in Syria and Syria’s acquisition of modern Soviet jet aircraft; 3) from the Department of Defense (prompted by the JCS) which wants to provide U.S. aircraft to Iraq and to act independently of the British military there, and, finally and most recently, 4) from the United Kingdom (January 16 letter from Selwyn Lloyd),1 which wishes to retain its traditional responsibility for the RIAF.

Of these pressures the two most difficult to reconcile are those from our Department of Defense and from the United Kingdom.

Department of Defense–JCS Position

The most direct and politically advantageous response to Iraq’s need and requests for air force assistance is to provide it ourselves with [Page 290] U.S. equipment. The latter is readily available; indeed F–86’s are currently in surplus; and it would be financially convenient to charge them off against the Military Assistance Program. Defense and the JCS are not convinced of the effectiveness of the British Air Force program in Iraq, and report that the Iraqis consider U.S. equipment superior to British. The fact that the U.S. has continued to concede the British primary responsibility for the RIAF, moreover, has always rankled our military authorities who believe that the much larger amount of military assistance which the U.S. has provided to Iraq over the past three years (some $44 million) in comparison to net British grant-aid of about $7.5 million, entitles the United States to the predominant military role in Iraq.

British Position

The RIAF has traditionally been under the British wing; and the United Kingdom clearly attaches considerable political importance to the preservation of its special military relationship to Iraq. Over the last ten months the U.K. has supplied the RIAF with 15 modern Hawker Hunter VI jet aircraft (5 as a grant, and 10 sold on terms for approximately $5 million). The British have a substantial, if somewhat dilatory, training program for the RIAF (pilots and maintenance), both in the U.K. and in Iraq. At present the RIAF has about 10 pilots checked out on Hawker Hunters, although these planes still must be maintained by British crews.

The position we took with the British during the first half of 1957 (in staff level conversations in the Department in March and May) on the subject of assistance for the RIAF was that the U.S. had no present intention of providing such aid. We expressed gratification that the U.K. was supplying the RIAF with Hawker Hunters. This subject also arose at the Bermuda meeting in March2 when we reiterated this position, coupled with assurances by the President to Prime Minister Macmillan that the United States desired, if anything, to build up the British again in the Middle East.

With this expressed desire in mind, the Department conducted extensive discussions with Defense representatives emphasizing the commitment to a continued recognition of U.K. interest in Iraq. These resulted in an agreed State–Defense position presented to the British for the first time at the staff level on January 14.3 Although no indication was given that the survey mission might recommend supplying U.S. aircraft, the British representatives apparently assumed that this was our intention.

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This January 14 presentation was undertaken in accordance with British agreement, as a result of your October 15 talk with Mr. Selwyn Lloyd, to discuss modifications in our respective military assistance responsibilities in Iraq heretofore governed by the Memorandum of Understanding.4


That you take a position along the following lines with the British:
In informing the British of the U.S. plan to send a mission to survey the RIAF we had no intention of implying that we had reached any final decision regarding the specific type of assistance to be provided.
The U.S. fully appreciates the U.K. traditional political and military relationship to Iraq. But as the British know, we have been under pressure also to assist in strengthening the RIAF. The U.S. survey mission would be in response to these Iraqi requests. It would also provide us at firsthand with the elements necessary to determine the most effective means of meeting the RIAF’s deficiencies.
The U.S. is aware of the potential problems of supplying the RIAF with U.S. equipment, and has every intention of examining them fully with the United Kingdom. The U.S. however believes that such discussions could most fruitfully be held after the survey has been undertaken.
In view of our common desire to work closely together in the Middle East we are however quite prepared to discuss the matter further with the British at Ankara, and meanwhile to postpone sending the survey mission and informing the Iraqis of it.
That the Department of Defense be informed at a high level that:
We believe the U.S. survey mission should avail itself of the British offer to provide information in London concerning their program for the RIAF, not only in the interest of obtaining these British views, but because the Department of State considers cooperative relations with the British indispensable to the success of the survey.
We believe the survey should be conducted along strictly fact-finding lines and without prejudice to the type of U.S. assistance which it may prove advisable, in the light of all the relevant factors, to render.
  1. Source: Department of State, NEA Files: Lot 59 D 582, Iraq, Air Survey Mission, 1958. Secret. Drafted by McClelland and Newsom.
  2. Not printed. (Ibid., Presidential Correspondence: Lot 66 D 204, UK Officials to Secretary Dulles/Herter, 1954–1960)
  3. Reference is to U.S.-U.K. meetings, March 21–24, 1957, in Bermuda.
  4. The position paper was attached to a memorandum from Dorman to Rountree, January 10. (Department of State, Central Files, 787.5–MSP/1–1058)
  5. For text of the U.S.–U.K. Memorandum of Understanding, February 26, 1954, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. IX, Part 2, pp. 23712374.
  6. According to Secto 34 from Ankara, January 29, Lloyd informed Dulles at the Baghdad Pact meeting that the United Kingdom welcomed increased U.S. military aid for Iraq’s Air Force and the U.S. survey but hoped to exchange views before the survey took place. Lloyd stated that it was the British understanding that all the Iraqis really desired in fighter aircraft was a squadron of Hawker Hunters in 1958 and another in 1959. The United Kingdom hoped that these British planes could be obtained by offshore procurement. In subsequent talks with British officials, also reported in Secto 34, Irwin and Rountree generally followed guidelines outlined in this memorandum. (Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 63 D 123, CF 969)