267. Briefing Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Hyland) to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Sisco)1

Iraqi Charge of Use of US Missiles in Iraq

Iraq has charged that two of its planes were shot down inside Iraqi territory by US-made Hawk missiles fired by the Iranians (FBIS 34, Tab A).2 We have seen no evidence of Iranian deployment of Hawk missiles [Page 728] in or near Iraq.3 However, there is ample [less than 1 line not declassified] photographic evidence that the Iranians have deployed British-made Rapier surface-to-air missiles inside Iraq, and these were presumably involved in the reported incidents. (The possibility that Iraq might make public charges of Iranian aggression with US-made weapons was raised in our IN of November 18 (RCI–3122, Tab B).)

Tab B

Intelligence Note Prepared in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research 4

Washington, November 18, 1974.


Iran’s support for the Kurdish rebellion in Iraq has recently reached a level comparable to that of Indian involvement with the Bengalee rebels in East Pakistan just prior to the 1971 war. Although there are significant restraints against the widening of hostilities, there is now a real possibility of major clashes between Iranian and Iraqi forces. The Iraqis tried to raise a charge of Iranian aggression at the Rabat summit, and it could soon surface in other international forums.

Growing Iranian Intervention. Iran has been supporting Mustafa Barzani’s Kurdish resistance intermittently since 1964. In recent months Tehran has become more directly involved in the fighting, which resumed last spring.

—Iranian Army units in Kurdish clothing have been intermittently deployed inside Iraq for special missions since July.

—Company-size groups of Iranian 120-mm mortar platoons have been operating on 48-hour missions inside Iraq since August 23. In re[Page 729]sponse to a Kurdish request of September 12, the local Iranian commander was authorized to deploy them at his discretion, and since October 25 they have been permitted to remain in Iraq for up to 10 days at a time.

—A battalion of US-supplied 175-mm artillery on the Iranian side of the border has been shelling Iraqi positions around Qalat Dizeh and Raniayah intermittently since August 23 (see map).5 Originally requiring personal authorizations from the Shah, cross-border shelling since October 26 has been controlled by local Iranian commanders responding to Kurdish requests. [2½ lines not declassified]

—An Iranian unit of Soviet-supplied 130-mm artillery has been deployed in the Haji Umran–Rawanduz area of Iraq since the end of October.

—US-supplied 155-mm and 8-inch artillery has been deployed into Iraq twice since November 3.

—Iranian 23-mm and 35-mm air defense batteries have been sent across the border to protect Iranian artillery from air strikes. On November 11 two Rapier surface-to-air missile units were also deployed. On November 12 a Sukhoi (probably a SU–7/Fitter fighter-bomber) was shot down by an Iranian 23-mm unit inside Iraq.

Iranian units now inside Iraq include two artillery battalions (one with Soviet 130-mm guns and one with US 155-mm and 8-inch guns), several mortar platoons, several air defense batteries, and two Rapier units.

Significant Constraints on Both Sides. The Shah, with roughly as many Kurds on his side of the border as in Iraq, is interested in keeping Barzani’s rebellion alive but not in seeing it succeed. These interests require that he keep the heavy equipment he supplies the Kurds in the hands of Iranian soldiers. Moreover, the Shah may be concerned about the Soviet reaction to a large-scale, visible Iranian effort against Iraq. In these circumstances, his current objectives are probably limited to:

—the weakening, or possibly the overthrow, of the Iraqi Baathist leadership, which has staked its domestic prestige on a military solution to the Kurdish problem;

—pinning down Iraqi military forces (about 80 percent of the Iraqi Army is now deployed in the north), and

—maintaining an additional bargaining chip in the Shatt al-Arab border dispute.

Iraq, which is nervous about Iran’s superior military power, will avoid steps likely to widen the hostilities or to invite Iranian retaliation elsewhere on their long frontier. Moreover, Iraq has not yet widely [Page 730] publicized Iranian intervention or brought the matter to the UN because Baghdad:

—does not admit publicly that there is a civil war with the Kurds;

—has been unable at Rabat and elsewhere to generate Arab support against Iran; and

—sees little hope for effective Soviet or other outside support over the issue.

Furthermore, the winter rains and snows are already overdue and will soon curtail Iraqi armored and air operations, reducing hostilities to artillery exchanges until next spring.

Possible Escalation. Nevertheless, there remains a real potential for major clashes:

—The Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti, sent a message to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on November 12, stating that Iraq will mount an air strike against Iran within 10 days if Iranian artillery attacks do not stop at once. (Cairo has passed this warning to Tehran.)

—The Iraqi military reaction to Iranian operations inside Iraq and to cross-border artillery firing has grown more intense. Heavy air and artillery attacks on Iranian positions in Iraq took place on four days within the past week, and Iran publicly reported exchanges of artillery and machine-gun fire along the border on November 10 and 11.

—The growing control of local Iranian commanders over force deployments and artillery fire could lead to miscalculations through lack of coordination with the Iranian leadership.

—Iraqi air strikes on Iranian positions in Iraq and overflights of Iranian territory could lead to air battles along the border.

Iraq may also be preparing to make public charges of Iranian aggression with US-supplied weapons. On November 5, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry called in the Iranian Ambassador to make a formal complaint and invited the British Ambassador and Arab heads of mission to see an exhibit of captured weapons and ammunition of US, Israeli, and Iranian origin.6

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P860134–0018. Top Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]. Drafted by Donald A. Roberts (INR/RNA).
  2. Attached but not printed. The portion of the Department press briefing regarding the incident was sent to the Interests Section in telegram 276313 to Baghdad, December 17. (Ibid., Central Foreign Policy Files, D740367–0209)
  3. In telegram 10658 from Tehran, December 17, the Embassy noted that, contrary to the statement by the Iraqi armed forces, Iran could not have shot down the Iraqi planes using Hawk missiles, since the missiles had not yet been delivered. (Ibid., D740366–0784) In telegram 10692 from Tehran, December 18, the Embassy reported that the Iranian Government responded to the Iraqi charges by confirming that it had shot down two Iraqi planes and warned of a severe reaction if Iraqi planes violated Iranian airspace again. (Ibid., D740368–0053) The Embassy corrected its initial report in telegram 289 from Tehran, January 12, 1975, noting that the first shipment of Hawk missiles to Iran had been unloaded on December 9, but maintained that it was not possible for them to have been used as alleged. (Ibid., [no film number])
  4. Top Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]; No Foreign Dissem; Controlled Dissem; No Dissem Abroad; Background Use Only. Prepared by Donald Roberts.
  5. Not attached.
  6. In telegram 782 from Baghdad, November 9, Lowrie described the separate visits of the U.K. Ambassador and the Arab Chiefs of Mission to the Foreign Ministry. He also noted that the Egyptian Ambassador told him the Arab League had formed a committee to examine Iraqi-Iranian relations and the situation in the Gulf at the Arab League summit at Rabat October 26–28. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D740324–0331)