287. Memorandum From Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Talbot)0
I wonder if we shouldn’t take advantage of Jernegan’s return for a thoroughgoing re-appraisal of our Iraq policy. The Italian Ambassador’s recent gloomy prognosis (Baghdad 544)1 seems to represent the consensus of informed observers that (1) there is a “slow but steady swing … toward Soviet orbit”; (2) Kassem’s popularity is at a new low; (3) his overthrow is sooner or later inevitable, with unpredictable results.
Given US/UK interests in Iraq and its proximity to a floundering Iran, it seems prudent to ask ourselves again whether essentially a “wait and see” policy is still valid. It probably is (as I note Embassy Baghdad Dispatch 735 concludes)2 simply because of the lack of promising alternatives. But why not at least review ways in which we might more positively influence the course of events? Would CIA have any ideas; how about another talk with the British; indeed it might even be worthwhile to solicit UAR views. We certainly want to put ourselves in the best position to (1) react quickly to a change of regime in Iraq; (2) counter an accelerated drift toward the Bloc. The Embassy Baghdad dispatch, for example, has a number of good suggestions for meeting the first contingency.
Judging from this gloomy dispatch, the skull and sophistication of Soviet penetration in Iraq compares favorably with that in Afghanistan as noted by Ambassador Bowles. While Iraq is a long way from being as vulnerable (for obvious geographic reasons), it is sufficiently so to be most worrisome.