File photo of Henry Kissinger (left) with the Shah of Iran.
NEW YORK – While many of Iraq’s Kurds are scornful of Washington’s historical involvement in Kurdish affairs, new research by academic Bryan Gibson paints a more positive picture of Washington’s impact on the region.
In his forthcoming book, Sold Out? US Foreign Policy, Iraq, the Kurds, and the Cold War, Gibson rejects claims that the US backed Iraq’s 1963 coup and says the US was more supportive of Kurd forces in their 1970s battles with Baghdad than was previously thought.
“From 1958-75, US foreign policy in Iraq was designed to prevent it becoming a Soviet satellite,” Gibson told Rudaw. “This led to a series of covert operations to support groups inside Iraq that were opposed to Moscow’s imperial designs, like the Baath Party in the early 1960s and the Kurds in the 1970s.”
According to Gibson, the CIA and President John F Kennedy’s administration are widely-viewed to have backed the February 1963 Baath Party coup that toppled Iraqi Prime Minister Abd al-Karim Qasim and paved the way for Saddam Hussein’s eventual rise to power.
“Declassified documents and interviews with former CIA officials, who had been involved in plotting against the Qasim regime, raise questions about the extent of US involvement in the 1963 coup,” said Gibson, a former London School of Economics scholar.
At the time, CIA agents were monitoring a Soviet-Iraqi missile program and were worried that toppling Qasim would halt spy operations, he said. Also, US agents had “not found a viable alternative” to lead Iraq once Qasim was assassinated.
“There is enough evidence available today to question whether the US was behind the coup,” Gibson said, after six years of research in which he has interviewed a dozen officials and studied more than 100,000 pages of archive files.
The US is often accused of “selling out” the Kurds a decade later by backing their fight against Baghdad – together with Israel and Iran – in 1972 but then abruptly withdrawing support after Saddam and the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, struck a peace deal in March 1975.
By striking the deal, Saddam ended foreign support for Kurds and had a free hand to crush their pro-independence rebellion.
“It was previously thought that the US had willfully sold the Kurds out, but declassified documents suggest that the US, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in particular, was actually more committed to the Kurds than previously believed,” Gibson said.
Kissinger and Israel cooperated on a $30 million secret weapons deal that would have helped the Peshmerga hold out against Iraq’s onslaught in early 1975, said Gibson. Meanwhile, he tried to persuade Tehran to hold off from striking its deal with Baghdad.
“There is no question that parts of the US government were opposed to the Kurdish intervention, but Kissinger showed no interest in scaling back US support for the Kurds and, on more than one occasion, increased US assistance to the Kurds despite resistance from the CIA,” Gibson said.
“Once the Shah had cut his deal with Saddam, it was presented to the US as a fait accompli and both the US and Israel had no other way to assist and supply the Kurds and had no choice but to abandon their interventions.”