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

1919. Subject: Terrorism, Foreign Policy, and Internal Tensions in Iraq.

1. Summary: Iraqi regime is frustrated by current developments in Arab world and disturbed by increasing terrorism at home. Despite these problems and increased internal tension with Kurds, Iraqi Communist Party and Baathi National Command, Iraqi regime still seems to be in undisputed control. End summary.

2. In aftermath of airport bombing,2 Baghdad remains tense as police and security services brace themselves for further terrorism. Latest apparent outrage was bomb explosion in downtown Baghdad cinema on evening of December 23. GOI has not publicly acknowledged this latest atrocity but rumors spread rapidly through diplomatic corps after loud explosion was heard in downtown Baghdad that evening. USINT source who has close connections with security admitted that explosion had taken place in cinema but said that no one had been killed. He said GOI would now impose stricter controls on cinemas, checking all packages as patrons enter and locking doors after showing starts so that no one can leave until performances are completed.

3. Anti-regime Iraqis in league with Syrian regime are considered the probable perpetrators of the violence.3 Syrian Embassy in Baghdad is under particularly heavy surveillance although it seems unlikely that Syrians would use their Embassy as a base for covert operations under present conditions.

4. We continue to hear reports of small-group insurgent activity in north. Operations are apparently carried out by Kurdish irregulars supported by Damascus. USINT Principal Officer was denied permission to travel in north during New Year’s holidays although two other USINT officers made similar trip in early December.

5. There are also signs of increased tension between the ruling Baath Party and Iraqi Communist Party. In reporting on GOI statement attacking Syrian regime for airport bombing, Communist Party paper, Tariq as-Shab, left out one paragraph which contained a particularly [Page 912] scurrilous attack on Syrians. In response regime devoted entire front page of Baath Party weekly newspaper, Ar-Rased, to an attack on the ICP for its alleged failure to support the policies of the Iraqi regime and for its habit of taking its cues from foreign powers.

6. On diplomatic front, regime is also taking some well earned lumps with expulsion of four Iraqi diplomats from Iraqi Embassy in Amman for complicity in terrorist attack on Intercontinental Hotel and with enforced departure of Iraqi diplomat from United Nations Mission for illegal arms transactions.4

7. Bankruptcy of Iraqi foreign policy toward Arab world was further highlighted last week by announcement of plans for political merger between Syria and Egypt. Iraqis do not like to play role of odd man out which conflicts with their deep seated ideological and emotional inclination towards Arab unity. Syrian-Egyptian move was particularly bitter pill for Iraqi regime since merger plans were obviously related to Syrian and Egyptian attempts to move in direction of a comprehensive settlement with Israel in defiance of Iraqi “rejectionist” philosophy.5

8. OPEC conference has also strained Iraqi relations with other Arab states, in this case, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.6 Although GOI took a certain consolation in finding itself, at last, on the side of the majority, the decision by Saudi Arabia and UAE to go their own way on oil pricing was occasion for some angry words from GOI. Iraqi planning officials had counted on larger increase to help finance their development plans over next five years. Shaikh Yamani was a particular target of abuse.

9. To add to their other problems, there appears to be some increase in tension between the Baathi National Command, dominated by Michel Aflak and other anti-Syrian-regime Syrians, and the Regional Command, controlled by Bakr and Saddam Hussein. We have heard reports that the Regional Command has become increasingly annoyed by extent to which National Command has limited their freedom of action by taking public positions on sensitive foreign policy issues before the Regional Command has had time to act. For example, the implacable hatred for the Syrian regime on the part of the Syrian exiles on the National Command has limited the regime’s flexibility in managing this bitter conflict.

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10. All in all, this is not a merry holiday season for the GOI. Outlook is for increasing frustration on part of Iraqi regime who have unwisely locked themselves into a number of unrealistic policies and who may now feel obliged to opt for more desperate measures, such as terrorism, in a vain attempt to carry them out. Terrorism will, of course, breed counter-terrorism, which will, in turn, add to the regime’s already well developed sense of insecurity.

11. In fact, despite recent bombing outrages, regime seems to us to be in relatively strong position at home. Police and security agencies pervade all aspects of life in Iraq and Saddam Hussein is increasingly taking over the reins of power from an ailing President Bakr. Acceptability of Hussein to leadership of armed forces continues to be the major unresolved succession issue, but Hussein is a master manipulator and has had plenty of time to establish his own network of informers within the armed forces and move his trusted supporters into key commands. Although terrorism and covert warfare may now intensify, we doubt that regime is in serious danger, in the absence of a successful assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein himself.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D760473–0742. Secret. Repeated to Abu Dhabi, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jidda, Kuwait, London, Manama, Moscow, Doha, Tehran, and Tel Aviv.
  2. On December 15, a bomb exploded inside a suitcase at Baghdad International Airport. Iraq blamed Syria for the attack. (The Washington Post, December 16, 1976, p. A39)
  3. A group called “Free Iraq” claimed responsibility for the bombing.
  4. See footnote 8, Document 323.
  5. Telegram 1798 from Baghdad, December 7, noted that Iraq was increasingly isolated in its advocacy of a rejectionist front toward Israel, as its one-time Arab partners sought an overall settlement. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D760451–0370)
  6. The OPEC conference was held in Doha December 15–17.