222. Backchannel Message From the Ambassador to Iran (Helms) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

83. 1. On 6 July, with the Agency COS, I met secretly and at their insistence with Mullah Mustafa Barzani’s son Masoud, who is in charge of Kurdish intelligence and with Dr. Mahmoud Uthman, who is Political Secretary of Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party. Dr. Uthman, accompanied by Mullah Mustafa’s other son, Idris, had met with Colonel Kennedy and me in Washington one year ago, when it was de[Page 635]cided to provide financial and military assistance to Barzani via the Iranians.2

2. Speaking in the name of General Barzani, with Uthman translating, Masoud thanked us for the substantial assistance which had been provided during the past year. As a result the Kurds are in a much better position to defend themselves and to maintain an independent posture toward the regime in Baghdad.

3. Dr. Uthman then outlined the situation in Iraq as they see it: A despotic regime which maintains itself in power by terrorizing its political opponents. It has strong Soviet support and has an adventurist foreign policy which threatens Kuwait with invasion and the Gulf Shaykhdoms with subversion. Only the Kurds by reason of their geographical position, independent armed force and unity around Barzani are capable of maintaining an enclave where opponents of the regime can find refuge and organize to replace it. At the very least by maintaining a force in being, the Kurds pin down two-thirds of the Iraqi Army.

4. The truce of March 1970 is due to expire in March 1974. The Kurds believe the Ba’th regime is preparing to initiate hostilities against them, including the use of poison gas, unless they capitulate to Soviet, Ba’th and Communist Party pressure to join with the latter parties in a “National Front”, which of course would be dominated by the Ba’th. Once absorbed into the National Front, the Kurdish movement would become very vulnerable to leftist domination, and once disarmed the Kurds would no longer be a major threat to the Ba’th.

5. Dr. Uthman speculated about whether it might not be desirable for the Kurds, instead of leaving the initiative to the Ba’th, to take some offensive action themselves. To do this, however, they would need heavier and more offensive weapons.

6. The Kurdish “Pish Merga” regulars now number 25,000 and the armed reserves number 34,000. This force is well-armed for defense but it is not equipped to mount an offensive outside the Kurdish mountain area. The present level of foreign financial assistance only allows the payment of $14 a month to Pish Merga troops. Barzani would appreciate any additional help which might be possible to improve standard of living which below what normal Iraqi citizen now getting.

7. Dr. Uthman went on to say they hoped that we had not been annoyed at General Barzani’s interview with Jim Hoagland which appeared in the Washington Post.3 The General’s appeals for American aid [Page 636]tended to provide cover for the fact they were already receiving such aid secretly and indirectly. Also, because so few Kurds knew of our assistance, unwitting Kurdish representatives would continue to petition our Embassies and newsmen for American support of Kurdish aspirations.

8. I said that we understood this, and were not upset by it. I complimented them on the degree of secrecy which they had maintained and stressed in strongest terms that any breach in this security would make it impossible for us to continue our assistance. I did not encourage them to hope that it would be possible for us to increase our level of support.

9. On 7 July I sent brief message on above meeting to Dick Kennedy.4

10. Warm regards.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 425, Backchannel Files, 1973, Middle East/Africa. Secret; Eyes Only. Kissinger wrote on the first page: “I must have extended private talk with Helms when he is here. Can he stay after Shah leaves?” Scowcroft replied: “Done.” Kissinger and Helms met before the Shah’s July 24–27 visit; see Document 24.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–4, Documents on Iran and Iraq, 1969–1972, Documents 313, 315, 318, and 319.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 220.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 220. Kissinger replied in backchannel message WH31849 to Helms, July 14, that while the details could be discussed during the Shah’s visit, “you should tell your friends of our basically favorable disposition.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 425, Backchannel Files, 1973, Middle East/Africa)