291. Memorandum Prepared in the Office of Current Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency1

OCI No. 0830/75


  • Subversion in the Arab Gulf

Evidence of attempts by outside powers to gain influence and shape events in the Arab Gulf raises some fears about middle- and long-term security of the small, but energy-important states that ring [Page 790] the eastern periphery of the Arabian peninsula. The tactics of Iraq, the Soviet Union, extremists in the Palestinian community, South Yemen, and Libya may vary, but all have been involved in clandestine operations and subversive action in the Gulf.

Although there are occasional indications of conflict between these external forces—Iraq and South Yemen have disputed whether Baghdad or Aden should have the leading role in exporting revolution to the Gulf—more often there is a cooperation based on a commonality of interest. For example, there is evidence that Soviets and some fedayeen organizations have cooperated in clandestine activity in Kuwait, and that South Yemen, the USSR, Iraq, and Libya have jointly supported the Dhofar rebels. To the extent that radical Arabs and the Soviets act in concert in their effort to subvert the moderate rulers in the Gulf, another dimension is added to the job facing local security forces in devising effective countermeasures.

In the following memorandum, we examine the subversive role being played in the region by non-indigenous radical Arabs and the Soviet Union and we speculate on future developments. [3½ lines not declassified]


The Algiers agreement, reached in early March between Iran and Iraq, is part of an intensive Iraqi effort to project an image of moderation in its regional policy. We have serious reservations about whether any substance exists behind the image and whether, as some observers have optimistically concluded, Iraq will end its interference in the affairs of its neighbors.

Past performance does not encourage acceptance of the new pose of Iraqi strongman Saddam Husayn Tikriti. Although his personal charm and dynamism have favorably impressed the Shah of Iran and many Western and Arab leaders, his record is that of a dedicated Baathist revolutionary and meddler in the affairs of other countries.

We believe that the Iraqi leadership remains revolutionary in outlook and committed to the overthrow of those governments in the Peninsula and the Arab Gulf not sharing Baghdad’s radical ideology.

Our assessment is that Baghdad has adopted a two-tiered policy. It will actively court its neighbors on the diplomatic level, while continuing to give aid to local clandestine groups and otherwise interfering in domestic affairs. For a time, however, in keeping with the conciliatory spirit of Algiers, Baghdad may refrain from blatant involvement, such as its support in June 1974 of an effort by local Baathists to overthrow the North Yemeni government.

The end of the Kurdish war has freed the Iraqis to focus their energies on covert operations aimed at extending their influence within [Page 791] the states of the Peninsula and the Gulf. Baghdad has never been better prepared financially for such undertakings. Although Baghdad is currently facing some short-term financial difficulties, Iraq’s oil income—an estimated $6.5 billion in 1974—is growing rapidly.

In line with its new moderate posture, Baghdad will probably concentrate for a while on building clandestine assets through an expansion of Baathist cells in the countries of the Gulf and increasing its aid to local dissident groups. Iraq, moreover, may spend liberally to influence local or expatriate Arab officials. Iraqi embassies will probably acquire additional intelligence and security-related personnel.

The following review of recent Iraqi activity in the Gulf does not inspire confidence in Baghdad’s professed adherence to the principle of respect for and non-interference in the domestic affairs of neighboring states.

In Bahrain, the Iraqi embassy has for many years clearly been involved in supporting Baathist and other leftist elements.

Iraq’s support to leftists is channelled through personnel attached to the Iraqi embassy and through Iraqi nationals employed in Bahrain. The Iraqis try to recruit local officials to provide Baghdad with information on Bahraini government activities, fund some members of the national assembly, finance subversive organizations such as the National Liberation Front–Bahrain and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman, and try to buy support in the local press.

Members of the Iraqi embassy have encouraged Bahraini students to organize demonstrations against Iran—before the Algiers agreement—and the US. They frequently draft speeches and statements for delivery by leftist members of the national assembly, and draw up questions for these assembly members to ask of government ministers. Revolutionary literature is brought into Bahrain through the Iraqi diplomatic pouch for distribution to sympathizers in organizations throughout Bahrain. Contacts have been reported between members of the People’s Bloc of the National Assembly and Iraqis operating the Iraqi Trade Center in Manama. As of 1974, Iraq was reportedly funding the Bahrain Writers and Literary Association.

The Iraqis are also expending much time and money to develop contacts and gain influence with Bahraini students studying abroad. Early this year, Iraqi officials having special responsibilities for Bahraini student affairs, paid for first class hotel accommodations for students attending a conference in Baghdad of the National Union of Bahraini Students. The Iraqis went to considerable effort in organizing the conference, at which student speakers denounced the al-Khalifa family, the US presence in Bahrain, and called for solidarity among various revolutionary groups active in the Gulf.

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In Kuwait, Iraqi subversive activity is also conducted by Iraqi diplomats and Iraqi residents in the country. According to a mid-1973 report [less than 1 line not declassified], there are a “large number” of secret cells in Kuwait working for the Iraqi Baath party. These Baath party cells, in turn, are supported by Kuwaiti leftist groups. The cells, [less than 1 line not declassified], are heavily armed with weapons smuggled in from Iraq and are prepared to take to the streets in support of Iraqi policy should Baghdad decide it necessary.

Before the Kuwait national assembly election in early 1975, the Arab Nationalist Movement–Kuwait was receiving Iraqi help in its campaign, and the Iraqi Communist Party reportedly had offered funds, pamphlets, and organizational assistance to the leftist Kuwaiti “State Security Group.” Iraq reportedly has some influence in the Kuwait labor movement; one leader is said to be an Iraqi Baathist, and a number of Kuwaiti trade unionists have attended the worker education school in Basra.

Over the years Iraq has given significant financial aid, as well as arms, to the rebels in Oman’s western province of Dhofar. PFLO members are being trained in sabotage in Iraq. Graduates of the course have also been sent to the other countries of the Gulf. The Iraqi government is also reportedly encouraging the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman to renew its campaign of subversion and sabotage in northern Oman. According to the report, if PFLO makes a serious attempt to rebuild its organization there—it was rolled up by Omani security forces several years ago—Baghdad will increase its monthly payments to PFLO. Baghdad’s embassy in Aden already gives PFLO a stipend of $37,000 per month.

Baghdad is reportedly attempting to organize a Baath Party in Oman. According to our information, Omani students attending the military academy in Baghdad have joined the Iraqi Baath Party, and upon their return to Oman will attempt to infiltrate the Sultan’s armed forces.

Iraqi activity has also been identified in the United Arab Emirates, especially Abu Dhabi. The Iraqi embassy in Abu Dhabi has attempted to exploit the expatriate Iraqi community by refusing to provide normal services unless individuals agree to undertake “certain missions” on behalf of the embassy. There have been numerous reports of arms smuggling by Iraq via launches.

[less than 1 line not declassified] activity by Baghdad in Qatar, but Iraqi agents reportedly operate there. According to one report, Baghdad has delivered arms to dissident elements of the ruling al-Thani family.

[Omitted here is material unrelated to Iraq.]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, DI/OCI Files: Job 85T00353R, Box 1, Folder 19. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified].