Volume #26 - 363.|
COMMUNISM IN THE MIDDLE EAST: THE UNITED ARAB REPUBLIC AND IRAQ
Ambassador in United Arab Republic|
to Secretary of State for External Affairs
January 12th, 1959|
Reference: My Tel 2 Jan 2.?
THE UAR, IRAQ, COMMUNISM AND THE WEST
At Heads of Mission meeting in Paris early last month I reported
(a) that Communist Party seemed well on way to becoming dominant force in Iraq;
(b) that this situation in Iraq had been causing a great deal of concern in Cairo;
(c) that might lead to a basic re-examination of UAR foreign policy;
(d) that it might provide a better opportunity than there has been for some years to bring about an improvement in Western relations with UAR and to make Arab nationalist movement genuinely non-aligned rather than essentially anti-Western;
(e) that one of Khrushchev's purposes in manufacturing a crisis over Berlin might be to distract attention of Western foreign ministers from Mideast.
2. Since then there have been a number of developments which reinforce conclusion that a great deal may be at stake in this region in next few weeks or months. There are already a number of encouraging developments. On other hand it is I think not repeat not impossible that present malleable situation, if misunderstood and mishandled, could result in a still further deterioration of Western position in UAR as in Iraq. One danger is that new situation could lead to still further mutual disillusion about possibility of achieving reasonable relations of confidence between Arab world and West. Under circumstances it may be useful to sum-marize main developments as they appear at this end.
3. According to information available here until a few days ago Communist Party was steadily increasing its power in Iraq. UAR leaders were of course disquieted to find that result of fall of Nuri régime in Iraq may not repeat not be an extension of Arab nationalism as they have understood it, but rather advance into Mideast of a new Russian imperialism which takes over from British the tactics of supporting an anti-Egyptian régime in Iraq. Inevitably Nasser's concept of Arab nationalism has been intimately bound up with position and influence of his own and Cairo's leadership. On other hand there is some reason to doubt that Nasser really seeks organic union with Iraq, and it seems more probable that what he would like is a looser form of co-operation, perhaps through Arab League or a UAS type of association. He seems to want hegemony rather than direct control. In any case it would I think be superficial to attribute present concern in Cairo merely to disappointed ambitions. I see no repeat no reason to doubt sincerity of Cairo leaders' devotion to dream of revived Arab independence and greatness; and I think that President Nasser and some of his associates have become genuinely disturbed with growth of communist influence in Iraq mainly because they see in it a threat to Mideast as a whole and to Arab independence in particular.
[4.] Under circumstances there would seem to have been, and still to be, five main courses open to UAR leaders:
(a) to try to improve position of non-communist Arab nationalists in Iraq;
(b) to improve UAR relations with West as a counter-weight to increased and increasing pressure of communism and USSR, which the Egyptian leaders are at last recognizing to be related;
(c) tacitly to ignore dangerous features of situation in Iraq, meanwhile concentrating on strengthening UAR home front and on developing Egyptian and Syrian economy;
(d) to come to an understanding with Russians and Iraqi régime and to concentrate Egyptian foreign activities in directions where established Western positions are main targets, such as penetration of North-Africa and East-Africa, and co-operation with communists in Afro-Asian movements;
(e) to try to save facade of Arab unity, and perhaps to get more Soviet economic aid, by doing a deal with Moscow and Iraqi communists, which might involve a loose federation including at least Egypt, Syria and Iraq; even though this might have to involve a dangerous degree of elbow room within federation for Arab communists.
[5.] Courses (a) and (b) might seem to go together as facets of one policy, with courses (c) and (d) as one alternative involving a "realistic" adjustment to fact of increased Soviet influence in Iraq, and perhaps course (e) as another alternative based on a less defensive type of adjustment to new facts of life. But present situation is by no repeat no means as clear-cut as these alternatives would imply.
[6.] Inevitably one consideration important to UAR leaders has been and is their dependence on Soviet economic aid, and their desire not repeat not to lose what they have got. It is clear from remarks made in confidence to me and other diplomatic representatives here by UAR leaders during past few weeks that another major concern has been fear that they could not repeat not really trust West. President Nasser has been genuinely concerned lest if he does adopt a policy that will compromise his relations with Russians by standing up to communist threat and opposing Soviet policy in Iraq, USA and UK might in a year or so, if not repeat not sooner, suddenly pull out the skids from under him. I do not repeat not doubt that one factor in situation, and in analysis of it suggested by Arab nationalists to Westerners, has been propensity of UAR leaders to try to build up their bargaining power like their countrymen in bazaar. But despite all this they have in fact been faced with a number of real and very serious dilemmas. Their response to these dilemmas has inevitably been empiric, but it has I think been interesting and courageous.
[7.] Towards end of November Ali Sabry told me that he and his colleagues were considering what to do about threat posed by Iraqi communists (my telegram 341 November 25?). Early in December Dr. Fawzi told me, in reply to a question about Iraq, that we could be assured that UAR Government "would not repeat not stand idly by and see another imperialism taking over in Mideast from that of West." One of first overt developments was wave of arrests in Iraq of a number of anti-communist personalities, Baathists and others. Cairo's public treatment of these arrests was curious. They were virtually ignored by press, though UAR leaders seemed able to speak of little else in private conversations. In most cases when talking to newspapermen and many diplomatic representatives here, they ridiculed idea that there had been in effect any planned coup, as Iraqi Government had announced, and suggested that whole thing was work of communist agents provocateurs, which had had designed effect of ousting a number of anti-communists from key positions in Iraqi police, army, and administration and replacing them with communist nominees.
[8.] On other hand many of best informed observers in Cairo believe that there had in fact been a coup planned by anti-communist Iraqis and that UAR leaders had at least had some advance knowledge of this and had given it their tacit blessing. This would be in line with remarkably prescient forecast479 in paragraph 5 of departmental telegram ME-347 November 26.?
[9.] Incidentally Samarrai, Iraqi Ambassador here, told me in confidence at a dinner shortly before Christmas that Sir Michael Wright, then British Ambassador in Baghdad, had informed Kassem that anti-communist Iraquis were plotting against him and had supplied names of men who had then been arrested.480 I told Samarrai that I found this allegation difficult to believe, and asked him how he would account for this alleged UK action since principal end result of arrest of anti-communists was presumably to strengthen communists, who were a far greater threat to UK position in Iraq and Persian Gulf than Arab nationalists. Samarrai said he could not repeat not account for it on any basis other than that Michael Wright himself "and possibly also Mr. Selwyn Lloyd" had developed such a degree of personal hostility toward Nasser that this overrode any other considerations. Samarrai also said that USA Chargé d'Affaires was largely dominated by Michael Wright's strong personality and had gone along with general UK policy in Iraq. In response to my expressions of scepticism about Michael Wright's alleged involvement in arrests, Samarrai said that he could only speculate about motives but that his statement of facts was based not repeat not on speculation but on direct and certain knowledge from highest Iraqi Government sources. There is I think no repeat no doubt that Samarrai himself and also top UAR leaders believe this story. I do not repeat not know how many others Samarrai has spoken to about this. I should perhaps mention that at dinner when he spoke to me about this, Krishna Menon was present, apparently asleep (but perhaps not repeat not) on an adjacent couch. Incidentally, William Holden, Times Mideast correspondent, who recently visited Cairo, told me later that Samarrai had informed him that Iraqi arrests were result of information given to Kassem by Michael Wright. Holden did not repeat not believe this story.
[10.] Samarrai told me that after recent replacement of non-communists in Iraq by communists, an open clash in nature of a civil war was likely in Iraq before long; and he was none too optimistic about results unless Nasser should intervene in one form or another. According to Samarrai probable next move after Russians had consolidated their position in Iraq would be a revolution in Iran.
[11.] However this may be, UAR leaders have obviously been concerned about possible implications for Syria of a consolidation of an anti-UAR and pro-Soviet régime in Iraq. There has already been considerable dissatisfaction in Syria, particularly among business community, landlords and intellectuals, with result to date of union with Egypt. In this situation pull of Iraq is considerable. The end beneficiaries of present widespread Syrian disaffection with UAR could well be Russians. It is I think important that Western Governments and also that Israeli Government, should recognize this.
[12.] Japanese Ambassador called on me shortly before Christmas in some excitement and told me that he had learned from reliable Arab sources that communist parties of Iraq and Syria had produced a document outlining a scheme for "Arab Peoples Republic" to include Iraq, Syria and Kurdistan (sic). Japanese Ambassador said that he had positive evidence that President Nasser had obtained a copy of such a document. I am unable to assess reliability of Japanese Ambassador's statement though it does not repeat not seem prima facie impossible.
[13.] However this may be, as reported in my telegram 2 January 2? current response of UAR leaders to communist threat to Syria and Iraq has been open attacks in Cairo press (and presumably Cairo radio) on communism as a threat to Arab world as a whole, and to Islam; arrest of a number of communists in Syria and Egypt; and appointment of the Boghdady-Hourany-Mohieddin Special Committee to consolidate political and economic situation in Syria and, according to well-informed sources, to "smash Syrian communists." Public campaign against communism was launched by President Nasser himself in recent speeches.
[14.] While one motive has presumably been to consolidate domestic position and security of UAR régime, it seems obvious that another and perhaps more important motive of UAR leaders has been to strengthen position of anti-communists in Iraq itself. According to information here there seems to be some reason to believe that this campaign has already met with some degree of success. I gather that there have been anti-communist riots in last few days in various parts of Iraq, and that pamphlets have been circulated proclaiming that Iraq does not repeat not wish to become another Hungary. At a dinner for Fanfani a few days ago I had a word with Samarrai who told me that a few days previously a number of anti-communist members of Iraqi cabinet had finally told Kassem that they would resign in a body if he did not repeat not stand up to Communist Party and take steps to reduce its strength. Samarrai said that speech Kassem gave, on Iraqi Army Day (January 7) had been drafted by these anti-communist members of his Cabinet. Samarrai was obviously very pleased with it. Next morning it received a big and favourable play in Cairo press.
[15.] I have the impression that the stand taken against the communists by a group of Cabinet Ministers which has apparently had some effect on Kassem had been concerted in advance with President Nasser and Ali Sabry and was part of a plan of which public anti-communist campaign within UAR, described above, was an essential and preliminary part.
[16.] According to Samarrai danger in Iraq, while slightly lessened, is by no repeat no means past and real showdown probably still lies ahead. A great deal will of course depend on extent to which communists succeed in their present efforts to penetrate army. A Soviet military mission, and Soviet technical advisers accompanying arms shipments, may be important in this regard.
[17.] Samarrai said to me that British and Americans were still playing into communist hands in Iraq. He said however that he had just learned that Sir Michael Wright had resigned from British Foreign Service. (Is this true?) Incidentally Samarrai seemed to think that Trevelyan would prove to be, from his point of view, a more helpful British Ambassador in Baghdad than Wright.
[18.] However this may be, it is I think important to realize that on most important current issue in Mideast - future of Iraq - UAR leaders seem to have taken strong and courageous action against Soviet interests. It would appear that when their first early December attempts to correct situation in Iraq (by instigating or cooperating with an attempted coup) failed, they did not repeat not abandon their efforts, but changed their methods and tried as it were to play it relatively straight by giving an overt lead to Arab nationalists everywhere to stand up to communist threat. It is too soon to say whether or not repeat not this will prove successful in Iraq, but it is of obvious importance to West as well as to UAR that it should do so. It is clear that Cairo is in a better position to make such a lead effective than any other centre. But UAR leaders did not repeat not take this decision without some trepidation, and as would be expected there seems to have been some important differences of opinion among President Nasser's associates, some of whom were advising him not repeat not to risk alienating Moscow in view of settled and proved hostility of London and Washington. That President Nasser has taken this strong course against communism despite considerable misgivings about real attitude of important Western governments is significant.
[19.] Shortly after December arrests in Baghdad, in which UAR leaders almost certainly believe Sir Michael Wright played a role, Rountree visited Cairo. This visit was timely and undoubtedly very helpful, though I gather that it did not repeat not by any means dispel all suspicion. A few days thereafter Randolph Churchill's statement that UK Government is considering organization of a new Mideast alliance including Israel,481 cause renewed concern, particularly in view of many reports of increased Western arms deliveries to Israel.
[20.] Incidentally I do not repeat not know whether there is anything in Randolph Churchill's story about Mr. Macmillan planning to organize a Western Mideast Pact with Turks, Persians and Israelis and without Arabs. I hope there is not repeat not. I cannot imagine anything much better calculated, particularly at this rather critical period, to tilt both Iraq and UAR, however reluctantly on part of many of their leaders, into real and perhaps final accommodation with communists and USSR. This is also view of Pakistan ambassador here, who told me that he had wired his government strongly urging them to have nothing to do with any such plan. American ambassador doubts if his government is in fact considering any such plan, which he also thinks would be very foolish indeed.
[21.] Events of past two months in and in relation to Iraq, illustrate decisively as it seems to me, dangerous superficiality of two influential fallacies. One is assumption hitherto widely held among Arab nationalists that main threat to their independence and aspirations comes from West, and that Russians are natural allies. Other is illusion even sillier on record but widely held in London and some other Western centres and in Israel, that Nasser and his associates are puppets or stooges of Moscow. Fallacy of this latter analysis had of course already been demonstrated last winter when Egypt accepted union with Syria in order to forestall communists: but that lesson appears not repeat not to have been adequately learned at time in Western Europe.
[22.] I am not suggesting that choice in Iraq will necessarily be between communist control and close association of Baghdad with Cairo. That is conceivable. Samarrai thinks it will eventually come to that. But in any case a lead from Cairo seems to have been necessary, and may well continue to be necessary, to inspire sufficient courage and direction in Arab nationalists in Iraq to stand up to communists.
[23.] Under circumstances it would seem desirable that Western Powers - and for that matter also Israel - should consider just what they really want, or at least just what they most do not repeat not want, in Arab part of Mideast. I do not repeat not think it wise for them to seek to weaken influence or courage of nationalists at those times, or in those places, where most likely alternative seems to be the communists.
[24.] Meanwhile there have been a number of developments in UAR's relations with both Western and communist bloc countries. UAR leaders appear to have been genuinely anxious lately to improve relations with West, but uncertain to what extent they can confidently do so. At same time they were getting desperately short of wheat, and of international currencies. Americans (and Italians) have agreed to fill present gap in wheat, and if all goes well a financial settlement with UK will provide valuta. But opportunity and desire to improve rela-tions goes beyond these immediate material factors. UAR leaders would, I believe, and for good strategic reasons, like to adjust somewhat their neutralist position.
[25.] It would however be foolish for us to expect UAR to abandon its neutralism. We must recognize that to many Arabs, and indeed to many people in other formerly colonial regions of the world, "neutralism" or non-alignment with either East or West is one aspect and one way of asserting their recent achievement of self-determination and independence. There are also tactical and purely Arab political considerations. In view of popular conditioning of recent years it has obviously been, and will doubtless continue to be, important in an ideological struggle in Arab world between pro-Nasser nationalists and communists, for nationalist forces not repeat not to appear too identified with West. For these various reasons UAR leaders' firm action against communists has been balanced, as it were, by certain concessions to Soviet bloc. We are reporting separately on some of these developments.
479"[Nasser] may be tempted to seek an escape from his dilemma by recourse to subversive action to bring to power in Baghdad a régime more amenable to close ties with the UAR and less dependent on Iraqi communist support." DEA 50351-40.
480Voir/See Walter H. Waggoner, "Baghdad Reports Foiling New Plot," New York Times, December 9, 1958, p. 13.
481Voir/See Randolph Churchill, "I Report a Bold Plan for the Trouble Zone," Evening Standard, December 17, 1958.