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Iraq–United States relations

Iraq–United States relations
Map indicating locations of Iraq and USA


United States
Diplomatic Mission
Iraqi Embassy, Washington, D.C. United States Embassy, Baghdad
United States President Barack Obama with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
U.S. President Barack Obama speaking with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in 2009.

Iraq–United States relations are the diplomatic relations between Iraq and the United States.


  • Ottoman Empire 1
  • U.S. recognizes Iraq 2
  • Arab Union 3
  • Plan to oust Qasim 4
  • Support for Ramadan Revolution 5
  • Support for the Kurds 6
  • Continued hostility 7
  • 1980s 8
  • 1990s 9
  • 2000s 10
  • See also 11
  • References 12
  • External links 13

Ottoman Empire

American commercial interaction with the Ottoman Empire (which included the area that later became modern Iraq) began in the late 1700s. In 1831, Chargé d'Affaires David Porter became the first American diplomat in the Ottoman Empire, at the capital city of Constantinople. With the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the United States supported Great Britain’s administration of Iraq as a mandate, but insisted that it be groomed for independence, rather than remain a colony.

U.S. recognizes Iraq

The United States recognized Iraq on January 9, 1930, when Charles G. Dawes, U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, signed the Anglo-American-Iraqi Convention in London. According to the preamble of the convention, "the United States of America recognizes Iraq as an independent State." In this treaty, the United States also acknowledged that "special relations" existed between the United Kingdom and Iraq because the latter was a mandate under British protection according to the Treaty of Versailles. In 1932, Iraq terminated its mandate status. Diplomatic relations and the American Legation in Iraq were established on March 30, 1931, when Alexander K. Sloan (then serving as Consul in Iraq) was appointed Chargé d'Affaires of the American Legation at Baghdad. The United States upgraded its diplomatic representation in Iraq from a Legation to an Embassy on December 28, 1946.

Arab Union

On May 28, 1958, the United States recognized the Arab Union that formed between Iraq and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on May 19, 1958. U.S. recognition of the new state was accorded in an exchange of notes between the American Embassy at Baghdad and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Arab Union. In announcing U.S. recognition, the Department of State noted that the Arab Union’s constitution stipulated that "external affairs will remain as they are at the present time" with the two Kingdoms that had joined to form the new state. Consequently, formal diplomatic relations were not established between the United States and the Arab Union, and diplomatic relations continued uninterrupted between the United States and Iraq, and the United States and Jordan.

Plan to oust Qasim

In February 1960, the United States planned a coup against the government of Iraq headed by dictator Abd al-Karim Qasim, who two years earlier had deposed the Western-allied Iraqi monarchy. The US was concerned about the growing influence of Iraqi Communist Party government officials under his administration, as well as his threats to invade Kuwait, which almost caused a war between Iraq and England.

According to the Church Committee, the CIA planned a "special operation" to "incapacitate" an Iraqi Colonel believed to be "promoting Soviet bloc political interests in Iraq." The aim was to send Qasim a poisoned handkerchief, "which, while not likely to result in total disablement, would be certain to prevent the target from pursuing his usual activities for a minimum of three months." During the course of the Committee's investigation, the CIA stated that the handkerchief was "in fact never received (if, indeed, sent)." It added that the colonel: "Suffered a terminal illness before a firing squad in Baghdad (an event we had nothing to do with) after our handkerchief proposal was considered."

Support for Ramadan Revolution

Qasim was killed on 8 February 1963, in the Ramadan Revolution, by a firing squad of the Ba'ath party in collaboration with Iraqi nationalists and members of the Arab Socialist Union. Of the 16 members of Qasim's cabinet, 12 of them were Ba'ath Party members; however, the party turned against Qasim due to his refusal to join Gamel Abdel Nasser's United Arab Republic.[1] Washington immediately befriended the successor regime.[2]

Writing in his memoirs of the 1963 coup, long time OSS and CIA intelligence analyst Harry Rositzke presented it as an example of one on which they had good intelligence in contrast to others that caught the agency by surprise. The overthrow "was forecast in exact detail by CIA agents." "Agents in the Ba’th Party headquarters in Baghdad had for years kept Washington au courant on the party’s personnel and organization, its secret communications and sources of funds, and its penetrations of military and civilian hierarchies in several countries....CIA sources were in a perfect position to follow each step of Ba’th preparations for the Iraqi coup, which focused on making contacts with military and civilian leaders in Baghdad. The CIA’s major source, in an ideal catbird seat, reported the exact time of the coup and provided a list of the new cabinet members....To call an upcoming coup requires the CIA to have sources within the group of plotters. Yet, from a diplomatic point of view, having secret contacts with plotters implies at least unofficial complicity in the plot."[3]

Qasim was aware of U.S. complicity in the plot and continually denounced the U.S. in public. The Department of State was worried that Qasim would harass American diplomats in Iraq because of this.[4]

The best direct evidence that the U.S. was complicit is the memo from NSC staff member Robert Komer to President John F. Kennedy on the night of the coup, February 8, 1963. The last paragraph reads:

"We will make informal friendly noises as soon as we can find out whom to talk with, and ought to recognize as soon as we’re sure these guys are firmly in the saddle. CIA had excellent reports on the plotting, but I doubt either they or UK should claim much credit for it."[5]

The Ba'ath was purged from the government in the November 1963 Iraqi coup d'état by the U.S.-backed President, Abdul Salam Arif. Arif was killed in a probable act of sabotage by Ba'athists in the military[6] in 1966 and his brother, Abdul Rahman Arif, assumed the presidency.

Support for the Kurds

After the 1966 Syrian coup d'état, the original Ba'ath Party split into two different parties of the same name.

Iraq broke relations with the U.S after the 1967 Six Day war with Israel. After Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr led the Ba'ath Party to seize the presidency in 1968, relations remained severed for 16 years and the U.S. Congress made arms sales to Iraq illegal. According to historian Charles R. H. Tripp, the Ba'athist coup of 1968 upset "the US-sponsored security system established as part of the Cold War in the Middle East. It appeared that any enemy of the Baghdad regime was a potential ally of the United States."[7]

Two men signing an agreement, with other men standing behind them
Alexei Kosygin (left) and Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr signing the Iraqi–Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Co-Operation in 1972

After Hussein's 1972 trip to Moscow, the CIA colluded with the Shah of Iran to finance and arm Kurdish rebels in the Second Kurdish-Iraqi War. When Iran and Iraq signed the Algiers Agreement in 1975, the support ceased.[8]

Continued hostility

In 1979, al-Bakr attempted to demote the Vice President, Saddam Hussein, to a position of relative obscurity. Saddam responded with a counter-coup, forcing al-Bakr to resign, conducting a ruthless purge of hundreds of Ba'athists and naming himself President. Al-Bakr died under mysterious circumstances in 1982.

Even though Iraqi interest in American technical expertise was strong, prior to 1980 the government did not seem to be seriously interested in re-establishing diplomatic relations with the United States. The Ba'ath Party viewed the efforts by the United States to achieve "step-by-step" interim agreements between Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, Iraq succeeded in getting members of the League of Arab States (Arab League) to vote unanimously for Egypt's expulsion from the organization.

From 1967 to 1984, there were no diplomatic relations between Iraq and the U.S.[9] However, a U.S. Interests Section was established in the Belgian Embassy in Baghdad on October 1, 1972.


A review of thousands of declassified government documents and interviews with former U.S. policymakers shows that U.S. provided intelligence and logistical support, which played a role in arming Iraq in its dual-use technology (items with both military and civilian applications), including chemicals which can be used in manufacturing of pesticides or chemical weapons and live viruses and bacteria, such as anthrax and bubonic plague used in medicine and the manufacture of vaccines or weaponized for use in biological weapons.

A report of the U.S. Senate's Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs concluded that the U.S. under the successive presidential administrations sold materials including anthrax, and botulism to Iraq right up until March 1992. The chairman of the Senate committee, Don Riegle, said: "The executive branch of our government approved 771 different export licenses for sale of dual-use technology to Iraq. I think it's a devastating record."[10] According to several former officials, the State and Commerce departments promoted trade in such items as a way to boost U.S. exports and acquire political leverage over Hussein.[11]

Relations between the U.S. and Iraq were strained by the Iran-Contra affair.

Rumsfeld, Ronald Reagan's then-special envoy to the Middle East meeting Saddam Hussein on 19–20 December 1983 during a visit to Baghdad. Rumsfeld later became the U.S. Secretary of Defense who led the coalition forces in 2003 against him.

The U.S. provided critical battle planning assistance at a time when U.S. intelligence agencies knew that Iraqi commanders would employ chemical weapons in waging the war, according to senior military officers with direct knowledge of the program. The U.S. carried out this covert program at a time when Secretary of State United States Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci and National Security Adviser General Colin L. Powell were publicly condemning Iraq for its use of poison gas, especially after Iraq attacked Kurdish villagers in Halabja in March 1988. U.S. officials publicly condemned Iraq's employment of mustard gas, sarin, VX and other poisonous agents, but sixty Defense Intelligence Agency officers were secretly providing detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning for battles, plans for airstrikes and bomb-damage assessments for Iraq. It has long been known that the U.S. provided intelligence assistance, such as satellite photography, to Saddam's regime. Carlucci said: "My understanding is that what was provided" to Iraq "was general order of battle information, not operational intelligence." "I certainly have no knowledge of U.S. participation in preparing battle and strike packages," he said, "and doubt strongly that that occurred." "I did agree that Iraq should not lose the war, but I certainly had no foreknowledge of their use of chemical weapons." Secretary of State Powell, through a spokesman, said the officers' description of the program was "dead wrong," but declined to discuss it. His deputy, Richard L. Armitage, a senior defense official at the time, used an expletive relayed through a spokesman to indicate his denial that the United States acquiesced in the use of chemical weapons.[12]

Concern about the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran and about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan prompted Iraq to reexamine seriously the nature of its relationship with the United States. This process led to a gradual warming of relations between the two countries. In 1981 Iraq and the United States engaged in low level, official talks on matters of mutual interest such as trade and regional security. In 1982, the United States extended credits to Iraq for the purchase of American agricultural commodities, the first time this had been done since 1967. More significant, in 1983 the Baathist government hosted a United States special Middle East envoy, the highest-ranking American official to visit Baghdad in more than sixteen years. In a U.S. bid to open full diplomatic relations with Iraq, the country was removed from the U.S. list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Ostensibly, this was because of improvement in the regime’s record, although former United States Assistant Secretary of Defense Noel Koch later stated, "No one had any doubts about [the Iraqis'] continued involvement in terrorism... The real reason was to help them succeed in the war against Iran."[13] In 1984, when the United States inaugurated "Operation Staunch" to halt shipment of arms to Iran by third countries, no similar embargo was attempted against Iraq because Saddam Hussein's government had expressed its desire to negotiate an end to the war. All of these initiatives prepared the ground for Iraq and the United States to reestablish diplomatic relations in November 1984.

In early 1988, Iraq's relations with the United States were generally cordial. The relationship had been strained at the end of 1986 when it was revealed that the United States had secretly sold arms to Iran during 1985 and 1986, and a crisis occurred in May 1987 when an Iraqi pilot bombed an American naval ship in the Persian Gulf, a ship he mistakenly thought to be involved in Iran-related commerce. Nevertheless, the two countries had weathered these problems by mid-1987. Although lingering suspicions about the United States remained, Iraq welcomed greater, even if indirect, American diplomatic and military pressure in trying to end the war with Iran. For the most part, the government of Saddam Hussein believed the United States supported its position that the war was being prolonged only because of Iranian intransigence.


April Glaspie meets Saddam for an emergency meeting.
On July 25, 1990 following tensions with Kuwait, Saddam Hussein met with United States Ambassador to Baghdad, April Glaspie, in one of the last high-level contacts between the two Governments before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2. Iraqi Government officials published a transcript of the meeting, which also included the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Tariq Aziz. A copy was provided to The New York Times by ABC News, which was translated from Arabic. The U.S. State Department has declined to comment on its accuracy.

Glaspie is quoted saying to Hussein:

I have a direct instruction from the President to seek better relations with Iraq. [...] I know you need funds. We understand that and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. I was in the American Embassy in Kuwait during the late 60s [during another Iraq-Kuwait border conflict]. The instruction we had during this period was that we should express no opinion on this issue and that the issue is not associated with America. James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction. We hope you can solve this problem using any suitable methods via Klibi or via President Mubarak. All that we hope is that these issues are solved quickly [...] Frankly, we can see only that you have deployed massive troops in the south. Normally that would not be any of our business. But when this happens in the context of what you said on your national day, then when we read the details in the two letters of the Foreign Minister, then when we see the Iraqi point of view that the measures taken by the U.A.E. and Kuwait is, in the final analysis, parallel to military aggression against Iraq, then it would be reasonable for me to be concerned. And for this reason, I received an instruction to ask you, in the spirit of friendship -- not in the spirit of confrontation -- regarding your intentions.[14]

However, Tariq Aziz told PBS Frontline in 1996 that the Iraqi leadership was under "no illusion" about America's likely response to the Iraqi invasion: "She [Glaspie] didn't tell us anything strange. She didn't tell us in the sense that we concluded that the Americans will not retaliate. That was nonsense you see. It was nonsense to think that the Americans would not attack us."[15] And in a second 2000 interview with the same television program, Aziz said:

There were no mixed signals. We should not forget that the whole period before August 2 witnessed a negative American policy towards Iraq. So it would be quite foolish to think that, if we go to Kuwait, then America would like that. Because the American tendency . . . was to untie Iraq. So how could we imagine that such a step was going to be appreciated by the Americans? It looks foolish, you see, this is fiction.[16]

The Gulf War cease-fire was negotiatated at Safwan, Iraq on March 1, 1991, taking effect on April 11, 1991.[17]

According to former U.S. intelligence officials interviewed by The New York Times, the CIA indirectly supported a bomb and sabotage campaign between 1992 and 1995 in Iraq conducted by the Iraqi National Accord insurgents, led by Iyad Allawi. The campaign had no apparent effect in toppling Saddam Hussein's rule.[18] The CIA was involved in the failed 1996 coup against Saddam Hussein.

In October 1998, regime change became official U.S. policy with enactment of the "Iraq Liberation Act."


Because of the primary roles taken by the United States and Britain in deposing Saddam Hussein and establishing interim governments to replace his regime, Iraq’s relationships with those countries, particularly the United States, are expected to remain paramount for the foreseeable future. Government and nongovernmental aid from the United States will continue as a crucial support in reconstruction. In 2006 formulation of more precise foreign policy priorities awaits the firm establishment of the permanent government. In the short term, Iraq’s relations with Western and Far Eastern economic powers are determined by debt forgiveness and reconstruction assistance, which have come from many quarters. Relations with the United States were strained in mid-2006 when Iraq criticized Israeli attacks on Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Harry Rositzke, The CIA’s Secret Operations: Espionage, Counterespionage, and Covert Action (Boulder, CO: 1977), 109–110.
  4. ^ Kennedy Library, "Telegram from Department of State to Embassy Baghdad of February 5, 1963," National Security Files, Countries, Box 117, Iraq 1/63-2/63.
  5. ^ JFK Library, Memorandum for The President from Robert W. Komer, February 8, 1963 (JFK, NSF, Countries, Iraq, Box 117, "Iraq 1/63-2/63", document 18), p. 1.
  6. ^ "Abdel-Rahman Aref, 91, Former Iraqi President, Is Dead" The New York Times. August 25, 2007.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Hitchens, Christopher, "The Ugly Truth About Gerald Ford", Slate
  9. ^ Tomkins, Adam (1998). The Constitution After Scott: Government Unwrapped. Oxford UP. p. 205. ISBN 0-19-826290-6.
  10. ^ Sunday Herald (Scotland) September 8, 2002, archived at
  11. ^ Washington Post, December 30, 2002, as archived at:
  12. ^ New York Times, August 18, 2002,
  13. ^
  14. ^ Excerpts From Iraqi Document on Meeting With U.S. Envoy, New York Times. September 23, 1990.
  15. ^ "The Gulf War", PBS Frontline. January 9, 1996.
  16. ^ "The survival of Saddam", PBS Frontline. January 25, 2000.
  17. ^ Torreon, B.S. (2011). U.S. Periods of War and Dates of Current Conflicts. CRS Report for Congress. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved from
  18. ^

External links

  • History of Iraq - U.S. relations
  • Embassy of Iraq - Washington, DC
  • Embassy of U.S.A - Baghdad
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