141. Article in the National Intelligence Daily1

IRAQ: New Directions

Iraq is trying to build a leadership role by exploiting Egypt’s isolation. Baghdad is playing on the refusal of most moderate Arabs to support the US peace process and on their doubts about US reliability. Trends in the Arab world probably will continue to favor the Iraqi effort. A key question is whether the process will develop a momentum of its own, permanently changing Baghdad’s orientation. Alternatively, the still-strong ideological and confrontational aspects of Iraqi politics could reassert themselves and limit accommodation with the conservative monarchies. [paragraph classification not declassified]

Iraq, traditionally the Arab outcast, has been the beneficiary of regional developments over the past two years that have weakened its main competitors—Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. President Saddam Husayn has moved aggressively to exploit this opening. His goals are to organize the Persian Gulf under Iraqi leadership, establish Baghdad as the new pole for Arab politics, and create a nonaligned image. [paragraph classification not declassified]

Adjustments in Policy

Iraq’s traditional ideological rigidity and emphasis on subversion have given way to greater pragmatism and moderation in dealing with other Arab governments. In addition, close identification with the USSR is being modified in favor of a more balanced posture between the superpowers. [paragraph classification not declassified]

To give form to these policies, the Iraqis have:

  • —Reduced support for terrorist groups.
  • —Developed closer political and, in some cases, security ties with Arab monarchs.
  • —Increased purchases of Western arms and technology from France, Italy, and Japan.
  • —Cut oil shipments to the USSR.
  • —Criticized Soviet policies toward Afghanistan, South Yemen, and Ethiopia.
  • —Raised oil production by nearly 1 million barrels per day and increased sales to Third World countries in return for political support.
  • —Pressed for a new “Arab Charter” that seeks to make Iraq the center of Pan-Arab opposition to outside meddling. [paragraph classification not declassified]

Implications and Constraints

Although present Iraqi policy represents a shift away from the USSR and toward better relations with Iraq’s moderate neighbors, it also is designed to detach those governments from their security ties to the US. Baghdad is seeking to promote neutralism on disputes involving the superpowers, militant Arab nationalism on the Palestinian question, and more aggressive use of Arab economic leverage for political purposes. Such militant pan-Arabism, however, would not necessarily be an effective bulwark against further Soviet advances in the region. [paragraph classification not declassified]

The pace of Iraq’s policy shift has in any case slowed because of several developments in the region. These include the collapse last year of Baghdad’s rapprochement with Syria amid charges of Syrian involvement in coup-plotting. [paragraph classification not declassified]

The Iranian hostage situation and particularly the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan have refocused superpower attention on the Gulf, thus complicating Baghdad’s drive for predominance. The deterioration in Iraq’s relations with the regime in Iran has been yet another factor. [paragraph classification not declassified]

Internal unrest, in particular, has acted as a constraint on Saddam Husayn. Iran has had some success in using Iraqi Shias and Kurds, who have longstanding grievances against the Baathist regime in Baghdad. [paragraph classification not declassified]

Of even greater concern to Saddam Husayn, there has been a resurgence of grumbling within the regime over his monopolization of power. Ideological opposition over his courting of Arab monarchs and his turn toward nonalignment almost certainly exists in the inner circle. [paragraph classification not declassified]

Other more inherent weaknesses in the Iraqi position are also evident. Previous Baathist attempts to subvert Iraq’s neighbors have left a legacy of deep mistrust and animosity. Beyond that, Saddam Husayn’s continued reliance on repression to rule Iraq qualifies his claim to legitimacy and reduces his attractiveness as an Arab spokesman. [paragraph classification not declassified]

If Saddam Husayn is to overcome these constraints, he must maintain stability at home and show patience and restraint toward Arab moderates. Should he become frustrated and revert to more traditional heavyhanded behavior, he would quickly revive old suspicions and greatly reduce prospects for a more fundamental shift in Iraq’s role in the Middle East. [paragraph classification not declassified]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Support Services (DI), Job 82T00466R, Intelligence Publications Files (1980), Box 3, Folder 2, National Intelligence Daily. Secret.