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

847. Refs: A. Tehran 845, B. WH40730.2

1. Please deliver the following message to Secretary Kissinger as soon as feasible.

2. Station Chief met General Barzani and Dr. Mahmud Uthman with their SAVAK liaison officer evening 16 March and with General Nassiri, Chief of SAVAK, on 17 March. Both conversations are summarized separately below for your information and to solicit your wishes as to how Barzani and Iranian requests for increased assistance should be handled. Similar summary being cabled to Agency by Station.

3. “Barzani made the following points:

“A. Kurdish morale and will to resist the Iraqi Ba’th regime has never been higher. Kurds from all over Iraq have been leaving their cities and towns and streaming northward to join Barzani’s forces. All Kurdish Cabinet Ministers, all Kurdish Governors, virtually all Kurdish members of the official government in the north and 5,000 police officers and men with their weapons and ammunition have rallied to Barzani.

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“B. He expressed the view that this had been a great political shock to the Ba’th regime which had probably hoped that a substantial element of the Kurdish community would seek an accommodation with the government. The government has withdrawn its garrisons from the most exposed places in the north, such as Rawanduz, Qala Diza, Raniya. The entire Turkish border area and the Iranian border area down to Halabcha are now in Kurdish hands. Baghdad has maintained garrisons at the two vital dams of Dukan and Darbandi Khan however.

“C. With the influx of 250,000 people and a virtual economic blockade of the Kurdish area by the government, Barzani’s administration required not only additional arms (surface-to-air rockets, anti-tank rockets, and more anti-anticraft machine guns) but also civilian supplies and money. They need food, tents, clothing. They have come to ask the Shah and their other friends for an increased level of support.

4. “COS told Barzani that he would pass his request along and that we would be discussing it, of course, with the Iranians. However, he should know a few things which might make it difficult for us to do more than we were now doing.

“A. Even the Iranians do not have hand-held ground-to-air rockets [1½ lines not declassified].

“B. COS’ organization does not have unlimited funds and it may well be contributing the maximum available in its budget for cash payments.

“C. As he knew, security and secrecy were essential to this project and, if through an attempt to raise the level of support, some information about the project would leak it could be fatal to the continuation of the support.

5. “Barzani said he thinks that the Iraqis may plan to bomb the Kurds and that the Turks may collaborate with the Iraqis as well. He noted the Turks have massed a lot of troops along the border. He said the Kurds are not seeking war and would like to avoid it but they refuse to give up any Kurdish territory.

6. “Barzani then went on to say that the root of his trouble with the Ba’th is his refusal to cooperate with the Ba’th and the Communists against Iran and the West. He said he has to think about the welfare of his people and if he can’t get sufficient support from Iran and the USA perhaps the best thing would be for him to leave the area, seek asylum in Iran, and tell the Kurdish people to make the best deal they can with the Ba’th. He went on that as he sees it Kurds have only two choices: either to accept the Ba’th autonomy proposals and join the National Front, or to refuse and to fight.

7. “COS said there was possibly another alternative which would be to continue strengthening themselves militarily and to continue [Page 679] talking and negotiating with a view to avoiding an all-out military confrontation. The Kurds could play for the breaks and perhaps work with anti-Ba’th Arab elements to weaken and eventually overthrow the regime.

8. “Barzani said he would like Iranian approval to set up and protect an Iraqi Arab and Kurdish government in the north which would claim to be the legitimate government of Iraq. But would Iran and the USA recognize and support it? COS said that he believes much preparatory groundwork would have to be done before such an action would be feasible and credible. COS asked him to identify the Arab Iraqi leaders who could form such a government. He said he would not reveal their names for security reasons until the appropriate time. COS impression is that they have no substantial group of anti-Ba’th Arab leaders who are prepared to collaborate at this time.

9. “He repeated his strong desire to meet the Ambassador and to get to see Dr. Kissinger. COS repeated all the valid reasons why this would not be desirable or even feasible. He said that when he saw the Shah he would ask him to urge Dr. Kissinger to receive him. Maybe Dr. Kissinger would intercede with Gromyko, to get the Russians to tell the Iraqis not to attack the Kurds.

10. “COS impression is that what they most want from us now is more money and ordnance. From the Iranians they want much more money, more weapons with which to arm the refugees, and political support. [3 lines not declassified]”

11. “On 17 March General Nassiri recapitulated the situation in Kurdestan as described by General Barzani. He stressed that Turkish military forces were sealing the border to the north of Barzani’s forces and that Iraq has imposed an economic blockade. He said the Kurds need:

A. Ground-to-air missiles,

B. Anti-aircraft machine guns,

C. Anti-tank missiles,

D. More rifles.

They also need tents, clothing, foodstuffs, and medical supplies.

12. “COS noted that we had some additional ammunition for the [less than 1 line not declassified] heavy machine guns [1½ lines not declassified]. COS said he would transmit the Iranian and Kurdish requests to his headquarters after discussing the situation with the Ambassador.

13. “COS mentioned that in his talk the preceding day General Barzani had surfaced the possibility that if he did not receive sufficient support he might decide to give up the struggle, seek asylum in Iran and recommend to his people that they make the best deal they can with the Ba’th. General Nassiri doubted very strongly that Barzani [Page 680] would do this and COS agreed with him. Speculated that this was probably a tactical ploy on Barzani’s part to increase the pressure on the Iranians and US to provide increased support. General Nassiri’s own position is that it is essential that support for Barzani be greatly increased since Barzani has no option but to care for the million and one half people who are in his area and cut off from other means of support.”

14. Before we proceed further with the Iranian Government or the Kurds, we would very much appreciate knowing how you want this handled.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 426, Backchannel Files, Middle East/Africa, 1974, Vol. II. Secret; Immediate. Sent with the instruction to deliver at opening of business March 18.
  2. In backchannel message 845 from Tehran, March 16, Helms confirmed that he had delivered a message from Kissinger to the Shah about keeping military pressure on Iraq until there was some type of disengagement on the Golan Heights and advised Kissinger that the Shah had agreed. (Ibid.) Backchannel message WH40730 to Tehran was not found.