307. Telegram From the Interests Section in Baghdad to the Department of State1

563. Subj: Problems in Implementation of Iraq’s “Openness” Policy.

1. Summary: RCC has made high level decision to open up Iraq to Western commercial interests and has undertaken sustained drive to improve relations with neighbors through exchanges of Ambassadors, numerous high level visits, and a variety of other exchanges. Working level of GOI, however, has not been geared up to cope with the demands of the new policy nor have Iraq’s restrictive security procedures been modified. The result is a frustrating operational environment for both official and private foreigners in Iraq, and a potential for serious divisions within the regime. Foreign governments and private firms will continue to find it difficult to deal with the GOI, but current economic and political trends still provide major opportunities for governments and firms prepared to cope with the problems of working in Iraq. End summary.

2. Over the past three years, the RCC and the senior levels of the Baathi regime in Iraq have actively pursued a policy of encouraging participation of Western private companies in Iraq’s development program. The regime has also attempted to reduce Iraq’s international isolation by improving relations with most of the countries in the Middle East region and in the rest of the world. The most visible indications of the latter policy are the constant stream of high level governmental delegations to Baghdad, Iraq’s active participation in a number of international meetings and conferences, numerous junkets by senior Iraqi officials to Asian and African countries, the establishment of a number of new Embassies in Baghdad, and the vigorous promotion of cultural and other exchanges with a variety of countries.

3. While the new policies of “openness” are receiving vigorous support from the top levels of the regime, the working levels of the GOI bureaucracy, and particularly the powerful security services, are still operating in a manner more consistent with the previous GOI policies of international isolation and hostility to all foreigners and foreign influences. The governmental structure has not been altered to meet the demands the new policies place upon it, and the restrictive security procedures have not been changed.

[Page 832]

4. For example, all diplomats in Baghdad, except commercial attachés, are still required to channel all of their contacts with GOI officials through the hopelessly overburdened Foreign Ministry Office of Protocol. During the Principal Officer’s last call on the Foreign Ministry Director General of Political Affairs, Ibrahim al-Wali, Wali mentioned that he had just discovered that the Belgian Ambassador had asked Protocol for an appointment with him three months previously, but Protocol had neglected to inform him of the Ambassador’s request. Most Ambassadors in Baghdad complain bitterly over Protocol’s handling of their requests for appointments and many now seem resigned to a period of semi-retirement until their tours of duty in Baghdad are completed.

5. The Ambassadorial dissatisfactions are further aggravated by the GOI’s requirement that all diplomats obtain permission for any travel outside of Baghdad. While these permissions seem to be given freely, at least for visits to Iraq’s numerous archaeological and tourist attractions, the procedure requires an application two weeks in advance, and the reply seldom comes earlier than one day before the planned travel. All too frequently, there are bureaucratic delays and the reply is received one day after the planned departure date, thus invalidating the permission.

6. The security services have also continued their previous policies of brutal harassment of Iraqi citizens who have contacts with foreigners, even when such contacts are made for legitimate business or professional purposes. Even senior Foreign Ministry officials are hesitant at being seen too often in diplomatic residences, and most Ambassadors consider themselves fortunate if one or two Foreign Ministry officials actually appear at their receptions or dinner parties. Unlike other police states, the Iraqi security services do not seem to employ a stable of “cleared” individuals who mix with the foreign community and report on their activities. The degree of distrust and suspicion among Iraqis seems to be so great that the security services do not trust their own agents to play this role. The fear of contact with foreigners extends into GOI offices where most functionaries find it safer to avoid contact with foreigners and consider it expedient to pass any decisions concerning foreigners to their superiors.

7. Even Embassies from countries considered to have excellent relations with Iraq are experiencing lengthy and frustrating delays in obtaining visas for official personnel. Delays of six weeks or longer are now routine as the volume of visa requests increases along with the accumulations of paper in the in-boxes of security officials. Approvals for trade missions and working level governmental delegations are also taking more and more time and several Embassies have had to cancel official delegations at the last minute for lack of official GOI sanction [Page 833] even though the planned visits had been originated by informal requests from the GOI.

8. As the conflicts between the new “openness” policies and the concerns of the security agencies become more acute, the internal divisions within the regime may also become more and more severe. Although the RCC now clearly supports “openness” and the requirements of economic development will probably force a long-term trend in that direction, the security services are not without some potent cards to play on their own behalf. The regime still feels itself threatened, particularly from the military, and the men in positions of power are heavily dependent on the security services for their political and personal survival. The security services are not constrained by law or tradition and have arbitrary and almost unlimited control over the lives of ordinary Iraqis. Even members of the RCC are no doubt heedful of the fact that the last coup attempt in 1973 was launched by the then Director of Intelligence and failed by a narrow margin.

9. Baathi ideology requires that foreigners, particularly Westerners, be cast in role of the “imperialist” devil as a mechanism for the achievement of national unity; and the security agencies, in the minds of the Baathi faithful, are the shock troops of Iraq’s struggle for unity, freedom, and socialism. Even if the security agencies are forced to retreat under the pressure of the secular trends towards “openness” and commercial ties with the West, it seems likely that they will fight a bitter rear guard action and from time to time Iraq’s blooming flowers may well by scythed by brutal security apparachnics.

10. In the meantime, foreign governments and business concerns will continue to experience costly and frustrating delays in doing business with the GOI while even minor decisions concerning foreigners are pushed up the administrative ladder to senior levels for resolution of the conflicting interests of the various components within the government.

11. This state of affairs does not indicate that U.S. firms should stop bidding on projects in Iraq. Nor does it indicate that the USG should stop conducting business with the GOI or supporting U.S. commercial interests in Iraq. U.S. firms have usually found that their problems with the GOI diminish as their operations in Iraq become routine and as precedents become established in the minds of their GOI counterparts. USINT, in its official contacts with the GOI, is treated no worse, and in many cases better, than the Embassies in Baghdad and there are a group of well educated and intelligent (although frequently frustrated) officials in all of the GOI Ministries and organizations with which USINT has so far had contact. What it does indicate is that progress, official or commercial, will be slow and that apparently needless and time-consuming obstacles will be encountered resulting in last minute [Page 834] cancellations and costly delays. Most Westerners will not be prepared for the operational environment in Iraq, but with proper advance planning that gives adequate weight to the peculiarities of the local scene, it will still be possible for the USG, as well as private American firms, to take advantage of the longer term political and economic trends now underway.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D760159–0123. Secret. Repeated to Amman, Athens, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jidda, Kuwait, London, Tehran, and the Department of Commerce.