306. Intelligence Report Prepared in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research1

No. 414


The Algiers Accord, signed by Iran and Iraq on March 6, 1975, has proved to be largely a trade-off on specific issues rather than a prelude to an era of cooperation. Iran cut off its clandestine support of Iraq’s Kurds, which had kept their rebellion alive; Iraq, in return, accepted the Iranian position that the thalweg of the Shatt al-Arab river would be the boundary between Iraq and Iran.

Looking back over the past year, it is clear that the two leaders—Iraqi strongman Saddam Husayn and the Shah—were willing to apply a pragmatic solution to the Kurdish question largely because:

—Both feared that the situation might have led to an all-out military confrontation that neither wanted.

—Saddam was anxious to end the fighting because his deep preoccupation with the Kurdish problem was leading to criticism of his regime by the army.

—The Shah believed that the benefits of supporting the losing Kurdish causes were diminishing, and he saw a chance to gain a long-desired recognition of his position in the Shatt al-Arab boundary dispute.

Letter of Accord Intact. A series of high-level exchanges, including a visit to Iran in April 1975 by Saddam, battened down the details. On June 13, a treaty and three protocols formalized the March 6 agreement. Since then, Iran has been satisfied with Iraq’s repatriation of the Kurdish refugees returning from Iran; Iraq has desisted from acts of intimidation; and there has been a minimum of friction at the working level. Border demarcation and control measures are largely complete, and only formal ratification by the two parliaments remains.

On December 26, 1975, the foreign ministers signed a number of additional agreements on minor matters—livestock grazing, Shatt al-Arab navigation, joint frontier commissions and pilgrimages—that are regarded as lying within the framework of the Algiers Accord. The [Page 829] December agreements, however, did not set forth details because the ministers were unable to come to terms on the fine points.

Good Feelings Have Been Eroded. The satisfaction generated on both sides by the March 1975 agreement lasted at least through Saddam’s visit a month later to Iran, where he was “deeply impressed” by his reception. By mid-December 1975, Iranian Foreign Minister Khalatbari was saying privately that “the spirit of cooperation which had existed after the March talks in Algiers between the Shah and Saddam is now dead.” On the anniversary of the accord, Khalatbari’s deputy mentioned a further worsening of relations.

In the Iranian view, Iraq has:

—reneged on a promise to cooperate on a binding Gulf security pact that would close the Gulf to foreign warships and protect existing governments against subversion, and is about to renege on lesser agreements covering grazing rights and pilgrimages;

—continued to harbor and aid Iranian dissidents, PFLO 2 insurgents, and subversives in Bahrein, Kuwait, and Qatar and is striving to wreck Iran’s relationship with the smaller Gulf states;

—shaved the price of oil through under-the-table deals;

—dusted off the Khuzistan issue as a means of spoiling Iranian efforts to woo the small Arab Gulf states.

Iraq, on the other hand, is wary of Iran’s Gulf security scheme, which would exclude the great powers and leave the more powerful Iranian navy and air force to decide Gulf disputes. There is no evidence that the ruling Baath Party intends to back away from support of regional radical elements, although the current thrust of Iraqi policy is to promote closer relations with various Gulf states on a bilateral basis. For domestic political reasons, Saddam has a limited ability to resolve other outstanding issues with Iran:

—there is strong feeling within the Baath Party that Iraq conceded too much to Iran in exchange for ending the Kurdish rebellion;

—the army felt that its honor was tarnished, especially after senior officers received telegrams from leading Kurds congratulating them on their “military success” and wishing them “a second victory in Palestine.”

The Soviet Factor. Both Iran and Iraq have been sensitive to a negative Soviet response to the Algiers Accord. The Shah cancelled his trip to Baghdad last June in part to avoid drawing Soviet attention to Iraq’s new pragmatism in resolving a major issue without prior notice to Moscow. Saddam, who moved between 1973 and 1975 to reduce Iraqi economic dependence on the USSR, in the past year has halted the drift away from the Soviets.

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High-level Iranian officials claim to have evidence that Moscow is forcing Saddam into line by threatening to stop delivery of arms and spare parts. The Iranians also believe that the Soviets are responsible for Iraq’s refusal to work constructively on Gulf security matters or to allow an Iranian military delegation to inspect Umm Qasr’s port facilities; inspection allegedly had been provided for in a “gentleman’s agreement” reached after the Algiers meeting. The Iranians suspect that the Iraqis are using Umm Qasr as a holding point for Soviet equipment destined for South Yemen and the PFLO insurgents.

Prospects. The Algiers Accord, which relieved the two most troublesome bilateral irritants, has allowed Iran and Iraq to work constructively on lesser issues, but not on Gulf security. While Iran still clings to its hopes for a security pact creating a military or political organization of Gulf states and closing the Gulf to foreign warships, Tehran recognizes that it has lost its leverage over Iraq with the end of the Kurdish rebellion. Saddam was willing last year to compromise his brand of Arab radicalism because he feared that the Kurdish rebellion would lead to an army coup, but he has no incentive for further compromise.

In the short term, the two nations are not on a collision course, despite the continuation of various bilateral disputes. The Shah has forbidden hostile press commentary for the time being and has instructed his ambassador in Baghdad to work for better relations. However, he has also vigorously promoted the Iranian view on certain outstanding issues. Iraq, in turn, has treated the Iranians carefully. While flatly rejecting some of Iran’s demands, it has emphasized the importance it attaches to good relations with Iran.

Over the long run, Iran and Iraq, as natural competitors for regional primacy, will find it difficult to maintain smooth relations. However, the mutual desire to back away from armed hostilities, as reflected by the Algiers Accord, may invite further compromises on specific irritants.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, NSC Middle East and South Asian Affairs Staff: Convenience Files, Box 7, Iraq (1). Secret; Not Releasable to Foreign Nationals; USIB Departments Only; Not Releasable to Contractors or Contractor-Consultants; Dissemination and Extraction of Information Controlled by Originator. Prepared by Frank Huddle, Jr. and approved by George S. Harris.
  2. Popular Front for Liberation of Oman. [Footnote in the original.]