220. Telegram From the Interests Section in Baghdad to the Department of State1

373. Subject: Kurdish Bid for USG Support. Ref: Beirut 7351; Baghdad 369.2

1. If we are interested in working toward improving relations with Iraq, I believe time has come to disassociate ourselves from Kurdish requests for U.S. military assistance and avoid receiving Kurdish envoys, even for sympathetic hearings.3 Such a decision could also contribute to our broader interest in regional stability. This recommendation is based on following conclusions:

2. Baath regime, however distasteful to us and most Iraqis, is essentially a nationalist regime, exceedingly jealous of its sovereignty. It has recognized it cannot defeat Kurds militarily and in March 1970 accepted necessity of granting Kurds cultural and other rights. These rights go well beyond what Kurds enjoy in neighboring countries. Neither Baath regime nor any other Iraqi regime is likely to agree to type of autonomy that Barzani demands since to do so would be tantamount to surrendering sovereignty.

3. As long as Barzani receives assistance from Iran and can hope for U.S. assistance, he is unlikely to compromise with Baath. Thus prospect of renewed fighting and diversion of Iraq from economic development remains high. Military operations against Kurds would also be likely to strengthen rather than to weaken Soviet influence. There is also possibility that Kurdish insurgency will spread into Turkey, and [Page 632] eventually to Iran. I do not know seriousness with which Turkish Government views Kurdish problem, but Turkish Ambassador Cuhruk is intensely interested in all aspects of subject and recent 5-day visit of Turkish Interior Minister is believed to have been partly motivated by concern over Kurds.

4. For better or worse, it is hard to escape conclusion that future of Iraqi Kurds lies with their integration into Iraqi state, albeit with as much autonomy as they can obtain. Only if Iraqi Kurds were to receive massive outside assistance would they be able to achieve real autonomy. Such assistance is unlikely to be forthcoming even from Iran. Furthermore, in terms of regional stability, it is probably preferable that Kurdish independence movement does not succeed.

5. Iranian and Israeli assistance to Kurds has served their purposes, but there is little to suggest it has served interests of Kurdish people, except by keeping alive illusion of eventual independence and winning concessions from Baath regime. Since cessation of fighting in March 1970, however, Kurdistan has, according to scanty info available here, remained a depressed area. It has not shared in economic development and remains something like a state under siege. A recent survey by English ILO expert, indicates that income of Kurdish artisans may be as much as 40 percent below artisans in rest of country.

6. Kurdish problem is of course inextricably linked with Iran’s policy toward Iraq. There can be no resolution of problem in Iraq or lasting détente between Iraq and Iran without cessation of Iranian assistance to Kurds. While recognizing overwhelming importance of Iranian policy, I recommend that we make clear to all concerned parties what U.S. policy is. I believe U.S. position should be that Iraqi-Kurdish conflict is strictly Iraqi internal matter in which USG has no intention of becoming involved. This position should be conveyed to Barzani’s envoys whenever they attempt to elicit U.S. assistance and also to Iraqi Government, preferably through official note.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, [no film number]. Secret; Limdis. Repeated to Amman, Ankara, Beirut, Moscow, and Tehran.
  2. Telegram 7351 from Beirut, June 21, notified the Department that Masoud Barzani and KDP Politburo member Mahmoud Othman had asked whether they could meet with high-level Department officials during their upcoming visit to the United States. The Embassy requested guidance on how to respond. (Ibid.) The Department replied in telegram 122076, June 22, that given U.S. policy not to encourage Kurdish hopes for U.S. assistance, only the Country Director would meet with the Kurdish leaders. (Ibid.) Telegram 369 from Baghdad, June 30, conveyed the response of local press to Barzani’s June 24 interview with Jim Hoagland, a Washington Post reporter, in which he appealed for U.S. military assistance. (Ibid.) Hoagland’s article, “The Kurds Gird For Another War” was published in the June 24 edition of The Washington Post (p. C2).
  3. Helms noted in backchannel message 81 to Kennedy, July 7, that Lowrie advocated this position, which some in the Department supported, at “any and all occasions.” Helms’s concern was “that through some inadvertence USG might make some public utterance” along these lines, with disastrous effect on the region. He added that he had recently visited with Othman and Masoud Barzani, who claimed they were reasonably satisfied with the support they were getting. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 425, Backchannel Files, 1973, Middle East/Africa)