185. Memorandum From the Country Director for Israel and Arab-Israel Affairs (Atherton) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Hare)1


  • IRG Meeting November 2, 1966: Communist Presence in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon

The following discussion and recommendations provide suggested talking points for your use in tomorrow’s IRG meeting.2 They are focussed on the nature of the Communist presence in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon and its policy implications for the USG. Although limiting the discussion in this way is admittedly somewhat arbitrary, we have not therefore attempted to cover the entire range of possible U.S. policy initiatives with the countries concerned.


A. Communist Presence in Iraq

The Communist presence in Iraq is large, centering more around Soviet official missions than an indigenous Communist Party. Soviet and Communist assets include 1) the acceptance by the Iraqi Government of a large-scale military and economic aid program that gives the Soviet Union influence with the Iraqi Government and entree for its personnel into Government operations and plans; 2) Dependence of the Iraqi Armed Forces on supplies and replacement parts from Russia for their largely Soviet equipment; 3) The image of the Soviet Union as a counterbalance to the “imperialists” in diplomatic and economic relations; 4) Iraqi resentment and fear of Western support for Israel in particular; 5) The close association of the U.S. and the UK with “reactionary” Arab states and Israel and the belief that the U.S. and the UK are fundamentally hostile to revolutionary Arab regimes.

On the other hand, the weaknesses of the local Communist position are numerous and deep and include: 1) Iraqi hatred of local Communists stemming from the latter’s excesses during the Qasim period; 2) Iraqi Government resentment of clandestine Soviet support for Kurds [Page 367] and local Communists; 3) The failure of some Soviet aid projects; 4) The cultural affinity of educated Iraqis for the West; 5) Iraqi preference for Western goods, travel, contacts and higher education, and the poor calibre of Soviet products and personnel; 6) Iraqi dread of USSR “great power” dominance; and 7) Mutual antipathies (Arabism, Islam vs atheistic communism, etc.)

B. Policy Considerations and Opportunities

Since 1963 there has been a gradual but continuing swing of the pendulum back toward moderation in the policies of successive Iraqi Governments. There is also a broadly based desire in Iraq to preserve and develop Iraqi national identity and to avoid overdependence on the USSR or an overly close tie with the UAR.

The USG should pursue policies designed to strengthen the foregoing tendencies and those elements in the power structure who support them. The problem of limiting the Communist presence in Iraq is long range—there are no gimmicks—and consists essentially of devising policies and actions which will maintain an effective western presence.

C. Recommended IRG Decisions

Continue within current availabilities to offer the Government of Iraq relief assistance for the devastated north in the form of surplus food, and otherwise attempt to offset Soviet influence in the Kurdish area by maintaining a friendly though correct relationship with the main body of the Kurds, who constitute a sizeable proportion of the population and hold strategic Iraqi territory.
Encourage Iran to pursue a more friendly, flexible policy toward Iraq in Iran’s own interest.
Maintain the program for military training in the U.S. and offer other courses such as counter-guerrilla training when appropriate.
Continue police training.
Maintain the educational and cultural exchange program at the highest feasible level.

[Here follows discussion of Lebanon and Jordan.]

  1. Source: Department of State, NEA/RA Files: Lot 71 D 218, Papers re Communist Presence in the Middle East, 1966. Secret. No drafting information appears on the source text.
  2. For a record of the IRG/NEA meeting on November 2, see Document 81. The Group discussed the Communist presence in the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf (except Yemen and South Arabia) and Jordan. It did not discuss the situation in Iraq.