136. Telegram From the Department of State to the United States Interests Section in Baghdad1

73833. Subject: Iraq: An Anglo-American Perspective.

1. Summary: During the recently concluded Anglo-American talks on the Persian Gulf,2 the participants noted Iraq’s efforts to be perceived within the rest of the Arab world as something other than a Soviet puppet. Within the last month or so, the GOI has made overtures to the British about warming relations and over the past six months has been taking a more adroit and active diplomatic role in Arab fora (e.g., the Baghdad Summit,3 mediatory efforts in Yemen).4 The GOI is, in British eyes “formidable and relatively efficient.” Iraq is the country most likely to be affected by events in Iran, given its large Kurdish and Shi’a populations. The Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty appears to have cost Sadat and Egyptians much of the support they had among Arab intellectuals. The Iraqis seem to be consciously trying to fill this void. In the process they seem to have outmaneuvered Saudi Arabia and other Arab moderates. End summary.

2. Iraq and its policy in the Arab world was one of the principal topics discussed during the recently concluded Anglo-American talks on the Persian Gulf. During the last six months Iraq has become active diplomatically in an effort to improve its standing in the Arab world. Iraq’s adept management of the Baghdad Summit Conference, its present intention to push for prompt action to implement Summit sanctions against Sadat once a treaty has been signed, and its mediatory efforts in Yemen are examples of this effort, as is its bid for unity with Syria.5 Iraq’s persistence and the apparently genuine nature of at least some aspects of the Iraqi/Syrian rapprochement cannot escape the attention [Page 433] of other Arab states. In the British view (with which the U.S. concurred), Iraq wants to be perceived as something other than a Russian puppet.

3. Complementing the increased tempo of Iraqi diplomatic activity in Arab circles have been its long-standing efforts to improve commercial ties with the West and, within the last three to four weeks, efforts to warm its diplomatic ties with the British. Sir Anthony Parsons of the F.C.O. noted that the U.K.’s Foreign Secretary6 might visit Iraq in the next one to two months. In the opinion of the British participants, the GOI is “formidable and relatively efficient.”

4. The British feel that Iraq is the country most likely to be affected by the Iranian situation, especially given Iraq’s large Kurdish and Shi’a populations. While there have been few major signs of increased Iraqi concern about these groups, both the U.S. and the U.K. teams expect the GOI will continue to maintain a close watch over domestic developments and to steer a course in its relations with Iran that is least likely to provoke Khomeini and the new government.

5. The British noted that the Iraqi Government appears to be confident as it moves to win from Sadat and the Egyptians a significant measure of support among the Arab intelligentsia. The U.K. feels there is considerable evidence that Sadat and the Egyptians have lost ground among Arab intellectuals. In particular, the British team noted that as Iraq seems to be returning to the Arab fold, the other Arab states have been engaging in wishful thinking about current trends in Iraqi foreign policy. This increased respectability within the Arab world is one of the cards the Iraqi Government may be able to play. The other Arab states—especially the moderates—may be pulled closer to the Iraqi position by their desire to achieve Arab unanimity.

6. The American side agreed that Iraq’s foreign policy has become substantially more active and effective. It also concurred with the British that the Arab moderates currently seem to fear Iraq less than before. One year ago, during the effort to win congressional approval of the sale of F–15 aircraft to Saudi Arabia, Iraq was portrayed as one of the enemies of Saudi Arabia. We have not recently heard Saudi Arabia or any Gulf state—except the UAE—describe the Iraqis as a threat. The Kuwaitis now appear to view Iraq as quite moderate and some responsible Kuwaitis have denied that Iraq poses a threat to Kuwait—perhaps an example of the wishful thinking described above. The UAE still perceives Iraq as a continuing threat, however, its leaders seem to feel that the improvement in Iraqi/Syrian relations is due primarily to events in Iran and not to any particular moderation of Iraqi views.

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7. In addition to playing a more active role in the Middle East, Iraq has devoted noticeable attention to the question of stability in the region. Common opposition to the Egyptian-Israeli treaty contributes to the maintenance of a strong relationship between Iraq and the USSR. Nevertheless, being wary of Soviet encroachment in the Middle East, Iraq will continue to build its credentials as a member of the non-aligned movement and may encourage other Arab states to do so as well. To the extent that it can mobilize Arab opinion against Sadat, Iraq constitutes a threat to U.S. and European efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. At the same time, Iraqi interests in maintaining stability in the Middle East and especially in the Gulf coincide to some extent with those of the West, as does Iraqi wariness of expanded Soviet influence in the region. Nevertheless, in the absence of any dramatic change in the situation, there is little likelihood that the political gap between Iraq and the U.S. will be substantially narrowed, though there may be some improvement in Iraq’s relations with Western European states.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790137–0930. Confidential; Priority. Drafted by Charles G. Currier (NEA/ARP); cleared by Wat T. Cluverius (NEA/ARN) and A. Peter Burleigh (NEA/ARP); approved by Crawford. Sent for information to Abu Dhabi, Algiers, Beijing, Cairo, Damascus, Doha, Jidda, Kuwait, London, Manama, Muscat, Paris, Rabat, Sana, Tehran, Amman, Moscow, Islamabad, New Delhi, Tel Aviv, and Tripoli.
  2. Held March 15–16, the Anglo-American talks addressed regional security threats. Crawford prepared a summary representing the consensus view of the participants in the talks, which was distributed in telegram 69172 to multiple posts, March 20. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790130–0863)
  3. See footnote 6, Document 12.
  4. See Document 274.
  5. Saddam and Syrian President Asad held talks in late January to discuss unification of Iraq and Syria. (William Bramigin, “Events in Iran Spur Iraq-Syria Unification Plan,” The Washington Post, January 30, 1979, p. A12)
  6. David Owen.