216. Circular Airgram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Iraq0



  • US Arms Policy for Iraq

There follows for the background information of addressees, except Baghdad, the approved United States position governing the responses to be made for arms sales requests received from the Government of Iraq:1

With the emergence of a new political situation in Iraq potentially altering drastically the political dynamics of the Near East, it is necessary to determine what policy should govern US sale of arms to that country. [Page 471] For several years prior to the recent coup, the US as a matter of policy sold to Iraq for cash only spare parts and ammunition for the military equipment of US origin previously supplied to Iraq. Several months ago we did approve, after delay of more than a year, the sale of 500 Reo trucks to the Iraqi Army, but the sale was not consummated.

Essential factors to be considered are:

The previous Iraqi regime acquired large quantities of Soviet military equipment to the point of standardization. We understand the Iraqi Army is disappointed in the quality of Soviet transport equipment, including aircraft.
Iraq still employs only limited quantities of US-origin tanks, artillery, transport radar and communications equipment supplied during the period of the Baghdad Pact.
Although the new regime is non-aligned and intends to maintain normal relations with both the Soviet Bloc and the West, attacks on it by International Communism for its alleged mistreatment of Iraqi Communists may well lead the regime to reduce its present dependence on the Soviet Union. Recent indications are that the regime may not only gradually come to rely primarily on the West for economic development and technology, but may turn also to the West for substantial military materiel.
The UK, prior to the Qasim regime, desired to be and acted as the main supplier of arms to Iraq. We assume the UK will wish to seek again to establish itself as the prime supplier of any armaments Iraq may desire from the West.
France has restored relations with Iraq, and may possibly wish to be available as a source of arms alternate to the Soviets and other Western countries, although French ties with Israel may serve as a restraint to some degree.
Iran and Turkey both are concerned over the buildup of Soviet arms in Iraq, and probably would be displeased at Western policies which might further strengthen Iraq, particularly if in the projected Federal union with Egypt and Syria, Iraq should come under Egyptian domination, which we do not expect, or if it should otherwise mount a credible irredentist threat against Iranian or Turkish territory.
Jordan and perhaps the UAR (depending on the outcome of current unity negotiations between Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad), might regard as favoritism towards Iraq a US policy permitting sale of any significant quantities or types of heavy or sophisticated weapons to Iraq.
Israel must regard the present Iraqi regime, with its pan-Arabist attraction to Syria and eventually Jordan, as a potential increase in the Arab threat to Israel’s security. Israel would react strongly to the appearance of Iraqi military forces in the vicinity of Israel’s border. Thus Israel [Page 472] would object seriously to a US policy permitting sale of significant quantities or types of heavy weapons or sophisticated equipment to Iraq.
Iraq’s capacity to mount an offensive outside the country, particularly against distant Israel, is not limited by lack of military equipment (the Army already has about 350 heavy tanks, mainly Russian T-54’s), but by logistics, organization, and problems of internal security. No real offensive capability is likely to be developed in the foreseeable future.
Iraq may desire training in the US for certain categories of military personnel.

Unlike the UAR, which uses its cotton surplus to pay for arms, Iraq must pay the Soviets in hard currency.

With these factors in mind, we recommend that in general the US follow toward Iraq the same arms policy as that governing sale of arms to those Arab states directly involved in the Arab-Israel conflict, namely, declining to become a major supplier of offensive weapons, taking into account, however, Iraq’s distance from Israel, its lack of logistical capability, and its legitimate defensive and internal security needs. Requests for sales that fall into “offensive” categories should be considered on a case-by-case basis. Specifically we propose that the US should:

Avoid sale to Iraq of any significant quantities of heavy military equipment or sophisticated weapons, including late-model, high performance combat aircraft and naval vessels and craft.
Agree to requests for reasonable quantities of small arms up to and including machine guns, but not preclude consideration of requests for small numbers of heavier guns.
Be willing to sell quantities of transport vehicles, communications equipment, engineering equipment, and other “non-shooting” materiel.
Be willing to sell reasonable numbers of transport aircraft, up to and including limited numbers of “Flying Boxcars”.
Continue the present program of grant aid non-combat training, consider requests for additional training on a reimbursable basis, but not preclude additional grant aid training if US interests would be served.
Refuse to cede to the UK its previous position of primacy in arms sales to Iraq. Notwithstanding, interpose no objection should the IAF seek to phase out its Soviet equipment and acquire reasonable numbers of British or other Western combat aircraft.
Agree to continue to sell Iraq spare parts and ammunition for equipment of US origin still employed by the Iraqi Army.
Given Iraq’s relatively favorable foreign exchange position, undertake only cash sales to Iraq unless better terms are required to compete with other Western suppliers. The latter will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Sell nothing classified to Iraq.
Consult with the Iranians and Turkish Governments before concluding agreements for arms sales to Iraq.
After informing the UK and French Governments of the foregoing, acquaint the Iraqi Government informally in the near future of the essentials of this policy.

[Page 473]

For Baghdad: Embassy is requested acquaint GOI informally with essentials of USG policy. It is important for GOI to understand that USG continues to adhere to its long-time policy of avoiding becoming a major supplier of offensive weapons in the Arab-Israeli context.

For All Addressees: Consonant with our policy, the USG has agreed to a GOI request for the sale of 40 light tanks and 12 tank transporters. In our view these items meet legitimate defensive and internal security needs of Iraq.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF 1 IRAQ-US. Secret. Drafted by Strong and Killgore on April 15 and approved by Talbot. Repeated to Amman, Ankara, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jidda, Kuwait, London, and Tehran.
  2. On April 5, Talbot sent a memorandum to Harriman recommending that he approve an Iraqi request to purchase 40 light tanks and 12 tank transporters. (Ibid., NEA/NE Files: Lot 66 D 5, Memos to Secretary and through S/S) In a memorandum to Harriman on April 8, Stoltzfus conveyed NEA’s view that asking Iraq for a quick agreement with the Kurds as a quid pro quo for the arms sale would defeat the purpose of the sale, which was to augment U.S. influence with the new Iraqi regime. Stoltzfus added that the tanks had no real military significance even for internal use against the Kurds and that NEA did not believe the arms would materially affect the Arab-Israeli arms balance. (Ibid., Central Files, DEF 12–5 IRAQ) Harriman approved the request on April 9.