156. Memorandum From Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)0


Suggest we pass Baghdad 286 (attached) to President.1 Jernegan is dead right that “in leaving initiative to Kassim, we are in grave danger of being drawn into political disaster over Kuwait.” Other potentially serious problems also loom on the horizon.

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Iraqi internal instability. All observers agree that Kassim is increasingly isolated; only his control over security forces and a delicate balancing act keep him in power. His regime has been a disappointment to all segments of Iraq opinion, even Communists. Rumors of nationalist coup are recurrent, and best guesses around town are that one might occur at any time. If it does, we face problem of attitude to take toward new regime—I’d say we should be quite forthcoming in effort to counteract Soviet influence and get Iraq back on more neutral keel.
Kassim seems determined to push IPC to the wall. Both US and UK embassies believe IPC must continue production because to cease would have violent repercussions and might lead Kassim to grab Kuwait or throw himself into Russian arms.
Meanwhile Kassim keeps beating Kuwait drum. He is on to a good thing here, both as a diversion from his domestic failures and as an opportunistic gamble. If he can add Kuwait production (largest in ME) to that of IPC, he’ll have stranglehold on ME oil. Sovs would have much to gain if Kassim took over Kuwait. So Soviet veto of Kuwait UN application and Kassim’s subsequent release of Commies from jail make me suspect a deal. UK is obviously worried about a coup de main; Iraq might strike before Kuwait defense forces can be built up. Both place little reliance on present Arab League contingents (1100 Saudis, 900 Jordanians, 140 Sudanese).

[1 paragraph (4–1/2 lines of source text) not declassified]

However, our tendency has been to sit back and regard IPC, Kuwait and even Iraq as UK baby. But we own 23.75% of IPC 2 and Gulf has 50% of Kuwait Oil Company. Moreover, what happens in Iraq will directly affect events in Syria and Iran, not to mention Jordan, the UAR and Saudi Arabia. British tried originally to play ball with Kassim, but I gather they are disillusioned with his fanatical unpredictability.

Nasser may hold key to resolving these problems, but his current position is equivocal. In the past he backed a number of plots against Kassim. Also he stands to lose if Kuwait oil disappears into Iraqi’s maw instead of his coffers. However, after initially backing Kuwait against Iraq he’s now withdrawn his contingent in the sheikhdom.

Walt and I here, and now Jernegan in Baghdad, have been plugging theme Kuwait’s independence can only be assured if Ruler uses his fantastic oil revenues to buy support from other Arab leaders, particularly Nasser and Jordanians, perhaps through some Arab development scheme. Only in this way will he be able to create any vested Arab interest in preserving this anachronistic place.

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Jernegan’s blast may stir State out of its usual “wait and see” stance. Meanwhile, I’ve been urging on Phil Talbot and Walt some anticipatory planning. But an indication of Presidential interest would help to get things moving. How about the attached?3

Bob Komer
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Staff Memoranda, Robert W. Komer, Vol. II. Secret.
  2. Document 154.
  3. Standard Oil of New Jersey and Socony Mobil owned 23.75 percent of the Iraq Petroleum Company.
  4. On December 30, Bundy asked the White House Situation Room to pass to General Clifton for President Kennedy at his residence in Palm Beach, Florida, telegram 286 from Baghdad and the following note from Bundy: “Jernegan’s message seems persuasive to Komer and me, and with your approval I would like to press State Dept for action in this direction, using your interest as a stick. I would add that Dept should of course lay out a plan for action in cooperation with British if possible, but our own interests, oil and other, are very directly involved.” (White House telegram CAP 5491–61, December 30, and attached note from Bundy to Situation Room; Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Country Series, Kuwait, 8/61–5/62)