319. Telegram From the Interests Section in Baghdad to the Department of State and the Embassy in Iran1

1653. Subject: Iraqi-Soviet Relations. Ref: Tehran 10827 (Notal).2

1. If appropriate opportunity arises, would appreciate it if Ambassador Helms would attempt to draw Shah out on specifics of how Iraq is acting as surrogate of Soviets. As we see it from Baghdad, Iraqi regime consists of group of prickly and hardened revolutionaries who accept socialist principles but act very much on the basis of their own perceptions of Iraq’s national interests. They are a difficult bunch to do business with, and we doubt that they change their stripes when dealing with the Russians. As USG has found out in past, role of arms supplier does not, in itself give supplying country control over policies of receiving state, particularly in situations where receiving state perceives its own national interests to be at stake.

2. As far as security arrangements for Gulf are concerned, there is undoubtedly a parallel interest between Iraq and the Soviet Union in that both countries, for reasons of their own, would prefer that Iran not become the dominant power in the area. In other parts of the Middle East, however, as well as in Iraq’s internal politics, there is a definite and increasing divergence of interests between the two countries. Soviet support for the Syrian regime, Soviet approval of the Cairo summit,3 Soviet acquiescence in the Syrian intervention in Lebanon, and the Soviet call for a resumption of the Geneva Conference are all factors adding to the current tension between Baghdad and Moscow. Iraqi regime has pushed hard for more Soviet support in its bitter dispute with the Syrian regime but has little to show for its efforts.4 We have heard that Iraq was particularly disappointed that U.S.S.R. did [Page 903] not give Iraq more help in its dispute with Syria over the Euphrates River waters.

3. Believe we should also remember that Baath Party is at least as much Arab nationalist as socialist. We doubt very much that Iraq would be willing tool of Soviets on any issue which they perceive as touching on their Arabism. Emphasis on Arab nationalism is one principal difference between Baath Party and Communist Party of Iraq. Baath Party is very jealous of any potential rival power center and keeps Iraqi Communist Party under very close surveillance. Death penalty is imposed on a Baath Party member who also joins Iraqi Communist Party.

4. Baathi regime is almost neurotically sensitive to foreign influence or presence and keeps at least as tight a watch on Russians and East Europeans in Iraq as they do on Westerners. They also have vivid memories of past military occupations by Turkey and Great Britain and are particularly sensitive to any suggestions of a foreign military presence on their “sacred” soil. This sensitivity applies to the Soviets as well as to the West.

5. Last, but not least, Iraqi economy is now becoming increasingly interrelated with Western Europe, Japan, and the United States. Imports of goods and transfers of technology from these countries continue to climb as Iraq’s economic ties with the U.S.S.R. and Eastern Europe become relatively less important. With the 1973 increase in oil prices, Iraq began earning enough foreign exchange to meet its developmental requirements and no longer had to depend on economic assistance from the socialist bloc.

6. We can understand why Shah might see some advantage in attempting to convince USG that Iraq is hopeless tool of the Soviets, but believe we should be careful not to accept this view in formulating our own policies. On the contrary, the growing tension between Iraq and the Soviet Union is something that we might be able to exploit to our advantage as future developments unfold.5

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D760414–1103. Secret; Exdis. Repeated to Abu Dhabi, Amman, Ankara, Beirut, Cairo, Doha, Jidda, Kuwait, Damsacus, London, Manama, Moscow, Muscat, and Tel Aviv.
  2. Telegram 10827 from Tehran, October 31, conveyed the Shah’s view that the Iraqis were behaving as surrogates of the Soviets, increasing their build-up of Russian arms and balking at efforts to resolve the Lebanese crisis. (Ibid., D760406–0355)
  3. Apparent reference to the Arab League summit held in Cairo on October 25.
  4. According to telegram 1634 from Baghdad, November 2, Iraq was convinced of the futility of the Arab League’s diplomatic efforts at the Riyadh and Cairo summits in October to resolve the Lebanese crisis, which granted Syria a mandate to maintain 30,000 troops in Lebanon to keep the peace, and forced PLO fighters out of central Lebanon. Iraq considered this outcome a “capitulation to imperialist-Zionist forces and a first step towards a sell out of Arab rights in Palestine.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D760409–0529)
  5. The Embassy in Iran responded in telegram 11397 from Tehran, November 15, acknowledging that the Shah was too prone to accept any negative report about the Iraqis, but pointing out that the fact that the Iraqis had repeatedly turned to the Soviet Union for political and economic support could not be disputed. (Ibid., D760425–0947)