301. Memorandum From Harold Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1 2

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  • Supporting the Kurdish Rebellion

The Iranian intelligence service, SAVAK, has again [less than 1 line not declassified] urged that we provide assistance through [less than 1 line not declassified] to the Iraqi Kurdish leader, Mulla Mustafa al-Barzani.

Similar approaches have been made over the last ten years and have been turned down. The British have also avoided involvement. The Israelis are probably paying Barzani a sizeable monthly subsidy, and King Hussein when he comes here may support US involvement. [2 lines not declassified]

According to a CIA report, the Soviets have urged Barzani and the Kurds to join a national front government in Iraq which would include Communists, Nasirists and Kurds under the Ba’th Party of Iraq. As you may know, the Kurds have been relatively quiet for the last two years or so. The purpose of any move the Iranians supported now would be to try again to overthrow the Iraqi Ba’thist government and to reduce chances of Soviet entrenchement in Iraq. There are reports that a Soviet treaty with Iraq similar to that one with Egypt is in the offing.

State Department and CIA are inclined to continue to avoid involvement. For one thing, any assistance that may be needed by Barzani is fully within the capability of Iran or Israel to provide. There is nothing absolutely needed from us except that they want to involve us. Another factor is that the odds are against the Kurds succeeding. Also, our involving ourselves for the first time at this point could be regarded by the Soviets as a move directed against them.

My instinct is to remain out of this as we have in the past, but I felt that you ought to be aware because of the Soviet angle.

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RECOMMENDATION: That I tell CIA we concur in their judgment that we should not involve ourselves.

Approve [HK] Other __________


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  • Iranian Approaches to U.S. Government

In late November 1971 SAVAK predicted to [less than 1 line not declassified] that a national front government would be formed in Iraq “within three or four months”. This government would include communists, Nasirists and Kurds subservient to the Ba’th Party of Iraq (BPI) and would represent a situation antithetical to both Iranian and U.S. interests. SAVAK [2 lines not declassified] stated that Kurdish leader Mulla Mustafa al-Barzani represented the only available figure around whom effective anti-BPI activity could be organized.

In early March 1972, SAVAK [less than 1 line not declassified] and reviewed events which at that time had led up to increasingly close Soviet ties with Iraq and joint Iraq-Soviet pressures on al-Barzani to reach an agreement with both the BPI and the Communist Party of Iraq. SAVAK viewed these developments as presaging further Soviet inroads with consequent difficulties for Iran and for the Gulf. At this time SAVAK again asked for U.S. assistance against the BPI, assistance which would include financial aid, military equipment and political action, all involving al-Barzani.

Concurrently, [less than 1 line not declassified] reporting on the Soviet pressures, an also reported that al-Barzani was planning to send a letter to Secretary of State Rogers requesting U.S. support against the BPI. All of these developments have been reported to the Department of State via Memorandum, [1 line not declassified].

On 15 March 1971, SAVAK [less than 1 line not declassified] and said that al-Barzani had asked SAVAK to inform USG that if the present trend continued, Iraq would assume a status similar to that of the East European satellites [1 line not declassified]. SAVAK again asked for USG support for al-Barzani in order to forestall the formation of a national front government in Iraq and thereby the formation of a preponderantly [Page 4] communist government. SAVAK stated that USG assistance could be channelled secretly through [less than 1 line not declassified] with only al-Barzani being aware.

It should be noted that similar requests have been made to the USG by SAVAK on behalf of al-Barzani over the past ten years. [2 lines not declassified]


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  • Soviet Contacts with Barzani

Following the visit of Saddam Taqriti to Moscow in February 1972, the Iraqi Ba’ath Government approached the Kurdish leadership asking it to sign the “National Covenant”. A few days later, on 28 February, a Soviet delegation of four persons arrived at the Hqs of Mulla Mustapha Barzani. The appearance of the group was an unusual and extraordinary event and is regarded to be of significance.

The Soviets were:

  • (1) RUMANYTSEV, of the International Department of the CPUSSR.
  • (2) FIODOROV, who was presented as no. l’s assistant. A person of the same name is serving in the Soviet Embassy in BAGHDAD and the two might be identical.
  • (3) AZAROV, First Secretary in the BAGHDAD Embassy.
  • (4) KHAJIEFF, not identified.

They made the following proposals:

The Kurds should sign the National Covenant and join the Popular Front, led by the Ba’ath Party. The Communists will be joining the Covenant.
The Soviets will establish a liaison with the Kurds. A Soviet mission with W/T contact will be stationed at Barzani’s Hqs with the task of maintaining contact and “protecting” Barzani.
Barzani was invited to visit the Soviet Union and assurances were given for his safe passage.
Barzani was promised Soviet support should he go along with the above proposals.

It is possible that the Iraqi-Soviet move is of considerable geopolitical significance. Possibly the purpose of this move is to free the Iraqi forces for military-political action in the Persian Gulf, to be directed also against the oil interests in that area.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 603, Country Files, Middle East, Iraq, Vol. I. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for action. Haig sent thememorandum on to Kissinger, who approved the recommendation. On Kissinger’s behalf, Haig wrote on the memorandum “Tell CIA to do in least abrasive way possible—Note—Barzani emissary enroute to D.C.” Waller was informed of Kissinger’s response on March 29.
  2. Notifying Haig of the renewed SAVAK plea for assistance on behalf of Kurdish Democratic Party Leader Barzani, Saunders concurred with the Department and CIA that the United States should avoid involvement.