231. Letter From the Chief of the Interests Section in Baghdad (Lowrie) to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Atherton)1
You can be sure I will take to heart the message in your letter of July 30.2 I appreciate your taking time to write it.
Events of the past two months have highlighted the crucial importance of the Kurdish issue to the stability of the Iraqi government and its relations with Iran, the USSR, and the West. I was pleased to see that Ed Djerejian’s draft cable received wide Department clearances.3 Ed asked for my opinion on it. I would like to elaborate on several points that I think bear special attention.
1. Closing off the Kurdish option today is not an irrevocable act. Kurdish nationalism is going to survive. The Kurds have in the past and will in the future take assistance from whoever will provide it. It [Page 654] may be cynical, but it is not unrealistic to say that if the anticipated benefits of a policy of disassociation do not materialize, the option can be re-opened.
2. I agree with those who think increased Kurdish dissidence will weaken and could even cause the downfall of this Baath regime. It does not, in my view, follow that this would be an effective way to counter Soviet influence. The contrary is more likely. The consistency of Soviet policy in this area is well illustrated by the following passage from Dr. Arthur Millspaugh written in 1946:
“The Soviet government apparently would like a fairly thoroughgoing and exclusive domination over the entire country with access to the Persian Gulf; but Russia’s more concrete and immediate aims are directed at the North, with the idea of making that part of Persia a closed Russian economic preserve. To advance their purposes, the Soviets want the North to be ‘autonomous,’ and they desire also a ‘friendly’ government at Teheran. By a ‘friendly’ government they mean one that is subservient to Moscow . . . . Until that end is attained, the Soviet government will not be interested in stability or good government in Persia . . . They want the kind of government that can be purchased, hoodwinked, or intimidated; but when the government becomes one of pro-Soviet quislings, order will return quickly to the North.”
How much does the present regime serve such Soviet aims and would any likely successor regime serve them better? As you know, I believe this regime is, in best Arab tradition, highly nationalistic and opportunistic. (Its special hatred and fear of the local Communist Party, current lovefeast notwithstanding, is a helpful additional buttress.) The regime’s actions since the IPC settlement and particularly since the June 30 abortive coup accurately indicate the independent direction Iraqi policy will take if its domestic problems become manageable. Any likely successor—particularly one that results from yet another attempt to resolve the Kurdish issue by arms—will I think be so weak, divided and unstable that Soviet goals may at last become obtainable. Most observers here agree that the current ICP–Baath coalition has as its primary objective the prevention of an ICP–KDP alliance. The importance of the role of the ICP is, therefore, likely to be in direct ratio to the Kurdish danger. I believe the same is true of the role of the USSR, particularly in the military assistance field, although noone should expect it to be reduced below the level of solid mutual interests.
3. The Iraqi Kurds—whatever their individual merits—are a negative force. I have talked to noone who considers them capable of, or interested in, the constructive work of building and governing. Fighting is another matter. It may be that the most important motive behind the recent incidents was they were itching for some action. (A Belgian engineer resident in Sulaimaniya tells me the going price for a paid killer there is 25 dinars.) For this and the obvious social divisions, the Kurds [Page 655] can succeed in bringing down Baghdad governments, but they should not be expected to help replace it with anything durable.
[Omitted here are personal remarks.]
Warm personal regards to you and all the family.