Foreign Relations between the United States and Iraq

Term Paper, 2002

31 Pages, Grade: 1,0 (A)



1. Introduction

2. The Political and Historical Making of the Modern Iraqi State

3. Chronology of U.S.-Iraqi Foreign Relations

4. Conclusion – The Shipwreck of U.S. Foreign Policy toward Iraq

5. List of References

1. Introduction

Since the terrorist plot against the World Trade Centre took place on September 11, 2001, the United States is not tired to reiterate its commitment to fight terrorism on a global scale and to oppose all states involved in harbouring or supporting terrorist activities. It did not take long for Bush’s War Cabinet to announce that the war in Afghanistan is only the beginning of a wider range of activities, which soon may be extended to countries like the Philippines, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Iran, Iraq and North Korea. In his State of the Union Address on January 29, 2002, President Bush depicted the latter three states as an “Axis of Evil”. Meanwhile this expression has entered public debate as a household term. America’s increased war rhetoric and it’s blunt ambitions to oust Saddam Hussein and finally settle Bushs´ unfinished family business raised open criticism not only in the Islamic world but also among NATO allies. Many conceive this term as inopportune, misleading, ideologically biased and even insulting. Despite widespread resentment, the United States is currently assessing its opportunities to stage a full-scale war against Iraq within the next months and is campaigning for diplomatic and if possible military support in the Middle East, Europe, Russia and China. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has already declared his support for American war plans. The strong stance of the White House was recently underlined by statements of Vice President Cheney and Minister of Defence Rumsfeld who announced that the United States is able and willing to rely on its own strength and act unilaterally if an international alliance against Saddam Hussein cannot be materialized. Against this background, it is likely that we soon will witness full media coverage of a new Gulf War and CNN footage of American soldiers operating in the Persian Gulf. It would be naive and inept to expect that the ousting of Saddam Hussein’s regime is an easy and bloodless task and could automatically bring long-term stability to the region. Although, most TV channels and newspapers will provide us anew with a version of a modern high-tech war absent of bloodshed and human suffering.

American aggression against a sovereign Arabic state could further fan the flames of fundamentalism and anti-Americanism in the region and could turn the Middle East into chaos. However, it would be mere soothsaying to predict the outcome of American military operations and it is still not fully clear whether a direct attack will take place at all. If Saddam Hussein perceives the American plans as a major threat to his grip on power, it is likely that he will back down and allow UN observers to access military facilities and gather information of Iraq’s alleged production of weapons of mass destruction. Iraq’s compliance with international law and U.N. resolutions could undermine the legitimacy of American use of force and could break ground for a diplomatic settlement of the current crisis.

Instead of embarking on the slippery slope of predicting the future I want to use my research paper to shed some light on the past of U.S.-Iraqi relations. The current political statements and most of the media coverage in the U.S directly or indirectly suggest that America and Iraq are natural antagonists. The United States views itself as a guarantor of world peace and justice and the harbinger of global economic prosperity whereas the Iraq is portrayed as a country ruled by a brutal and ruthless dictator willing to oppress the whole region and threaten the world through chemical and nuclear weapons. All to easy this antagonism drifts into the black-white dichotomy of good and evil governance. Such rhetoric is certainly a necessary tool to rally American citizens behind Bush’s crusade but it also well serves as a cover-up for America’s infamous past in cooperating with the same dictator during the Reagan and early Bush administration. The United States heavily supported the regime in Baghdad with a variety of financial and trade policies. For instance, the U.S. government granted Commodity Credit Cooperation (CCC) loans, approved licenses for the export of dual-use equipment and even shared intelligence, just to name a few actions. Economic assistance was given until the very last day before the invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990. It took the Bush administration only a few days to announce a complete embargo and to deny that the United States had ever been directly involved in building up Saddam`s weapon arsenal. Nevertheless, in the following months a huge body of evidence was collected that American business interests and Iraq’s attempts to produce chemical and nuclear weapons were considerably intertwined. Furthermore, the inquiries of Congressmen Henry B. Gonzales in the United States and Lord Scott in the United Kingdom revealed that high rank civil servants and even ministers turned a blind eye to semi-legal or illegal business practices.

The whole scandal became then known as “Iraqgate”. Today, it seems to be me that this part of the story is completely blacked out and the scandals of the past fell into oblivion. It would not be appropriate to analyse the conflict between Washington and Baghdad only by taking a snapshot of the current state of affairs and the acrimonious exchange of political statements.

I want to use my research paper to broaden the current debate and to put the current conflict into a larger historical context. The Gulf War itself generated an enormous body of scholarship and the recent history of international sanctions against Iraq, their impact on Iraq’s population and the U.N. oil-for-food program are time and again covered by the news. Given the limited amount of pages for this research paper, I decided to concentrate my analysis on the bilateral relations prior to the Gulf War.

The first part of the paper shall give the reader a background of Iraq’s historical role in the Middle East. Since its independence in 1932, Iraq projected itself as a model for the Arab world and has always possessed the potential to take a leadership role in the region.

Oil interests and the case of Kuwait are addressed separately from the historical overview because these issues involve Iraqi and American interests in a special way. Ba´athism became the state ideology of Iraq in 1968 and deserves some clarification to better understand Iraq’s deep rejection and mistrust of American involvement in Arab politics. The second part is the core of this paper and provides an overview of U.S.-Iraqi relations until the beginning

of the Gulf War. The last part gives a final assessment of the development of bilateral relations and the success of U.S. foreign policy behaviour towards Iraq. All sources used are listed at the end of the paper. Furthermore, an appendix is attached to provide additional information about the “Iraqgate” scandal. The appendix also includes a map of Iraq and Kuwait to better illustrate the perennial territorial disputes between both countries.

2. The Political and Historical Making of the Modern Iraqi State

From Iraq’s Origins to the Presidency of Saddam Hussein

Modern Iraq occupies an area of 437,072 sq km and has boarders with six countries: Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. It roughly covers the territory of ancient Mesopotamia. The region between the rivers of Tigris and Euphrates is considered to be one of the important cradles of human civilization. The fertile plains stretching along the streams attracted various tribes and peoples that were roaming the area between the Black Sea, Central Asia and Northern Africa thousands of years before Christ. Almost all of them left their specific cultural imprint and contributed to the historical uniqueness of this area. Here it was that first human settlements were established during the 8th and 9th millennia BC and huge empires like Sumer, Akkad, Babylon, Assyria and Persia spread. The cultural input to mankind was tremendous. The development of writing, codified legal systems, accounting, and primitive forms of agriculture through the use of irrigation systems and the invention of the plough laid the groundwork of modern society.[1]

Islam was brought to Mesopotamia in AD 637 when Arab incursions led to the fall of the Persian Empire. The Muslims established their first dynasty, the Umayyad, with their capital at Damascus in Syria. By 750 conflicts over the succession of rulers and discord between Arab and Persian Muslims led to a change in rule, and the Abbasid dynasty in Iraq[2] was established with its capital at Baghdad. As time passed the Abbasid caliphate came increasingly under the influence of the Turkish Seljuq Empire and withered away when Mongols conquered Baghdad in 1258. Iraq broke down into small kingdoms and it took almost 300 years until the Osmans captured Baghdad in 1534 and incorporated the territory into their empire. Iraq remained part of the Ottoman Empire until the British occupation in World War II. In 1920, Britain was given a mandate over Iraq under Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. Most Iraqis strongly opposed their dependence on British rule and vocally demanded a greater degree of freedom. As an attempt to overcome public discontent the British installed a puppet monarchy under King Fassil I –a member of the Hashemite familiy, which also ruled in Jordan– in 1921. Iraq finally gained independence in 1932 but remained a constitutional monarchy under the influence of Great Britain. In 1956 Iraq signed the so-called Baghdad Pact with Britain, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. The original idea of a “Northern Tier” defence organisation stemmed from U.S. Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, who envisioned a bulwark against possible Soviet expansion.

However, only two years later the highly unpopular monarchy was overthrown by a military putsch orchestrated by Brigadier-General Abdul Karim Kassem. King Fassil II and the crown prince were assassinated. In 1959, Iraq withdrew from the Baghdad Pact and it was renamed the Central Treaty Organisation (CENTO). Kassem´s grip on power was fragile and constantly challenged by various oppositional groups. Finally, the Ba´ath[3] Party toppled Kassem´s government in November 1963 and declared General Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr as prime minister and Colonel Abdul Salam Arif as president. Only nine months later, President Arif led a coup ousting the Ba´ath government. After his death in a plane crash in 1966, his brother General Abdul Rahman Mohammad Arif succeeded him. After a short intermezzo a second Ba´ath revolution ended the Arif regime by force on July 17, 1968. The former Prime Minister Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr re-emerged as the President of Iraq and chairman of the newly established Revolutionary Command Council (RCC). The Ba´ath revolution ended a nearly three decade long struggle for central power and marked the beginning of a politically strengthened state. Now, the Ba´ahist movement had learned from its previous mistakes and consolidated its power by brutally subduing any kind of dissent and keeping all state and social institutions under draconic surveillance. President Bakr resigned in 1979 and was replaced by Saddam Hussein, who had already been able to assert himself as the dominant person in the party hierarchy.

Imperial Oil interests in Iraq

Early Arab tribes already knew the presence of oil in the Middle East and oily substances were used for various purposes since centuries. But it took until the beginning of the 20th century that extractable oil was discovered on a large scale. Soon the region came into the focus of imperial ambitions.[4] In 1901, a wealthy Englishman, William Knox D'Arcy, obtained a concession from the Shah of Persia to explore and develop the oil resources in Iran. To meet the tremendous costs involved, he entered into a joint venture with the Scotland-based Burmah Oil Company in 1905. In 1909, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company was formed to develop the vast resources of the newly discovered Masjid-i-Suleiman oil field.

Burmah Oil held almost 100% of the shares until the beginning of World War I, when the British government became the majority stockholder to ensure the oil supply of the British fleet. In 1912 the Armenian businessman Calouste Gulbenkian founded another crucial oil company, the Turkish Petroleum Company (TPC).[5] It combined British, German and Turkish interests in gaining further oil concessions within the Ottoman Empire, especially in Iraq. Later on, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I led to intensive diplomatic haggling over Iraqi oil possessions. Based on the secret Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, Great Britain and France were eager to carve up the Ottoman Empire by themselves without the interference of other aspirants, like the United States. The British-French San Remo Conference of 1920 provided for permanent British control of any company established to develop Mesopotamian oil. In return, France got the German shares of TPC that had been seized as enemy property and founded the Compagnie Francaise Des Petroles (CFP), the predecessor of today’s Total Oil Company.

The United States was unwilling to accept its total exclusion from the “northern tier” of the Middle East and exercised enormous pressure on the British government to allow American business a fair share in the TPC. The major domestic lobbyist in the United States was the Rockefeller-owned New Jersey Standard Oil holding, which had already been active in sending geologists to British-controlled Iraq and had his own representative among the American delegation at the Paris Peace Conference. U.S. efforts were finally successful in 1929, when Britain allowed U.S. companies to buy shares of TPC´s successor company, the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC). Iraq’s oil industry was monopolized by the IPC and now jointly owned by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later BP), Royal Dutch Shell, the CFP, Gulbenkian (retaining his 5% share) and the American companies, New Jersey Standard Oil and Socony-Vaccum (later Mobil).[6] Iraq was excluded from this deal and fobbed off with royalty payments at a flat fee per ton. Western companies were able to retain their complete control over Iraqi oil until the Kassem regime. President Kassem strongly opposed Iraq’s exclusion from the Iraqi Oil Company and claimed 50% of the shares. When negotiations with an IPC delegation broke down in December 1961, Kassem announced the nationalization of 99% of the territory of ICP´s concession. Only producing wells and the areas already occupied by installations and pipelines were excepted.[7] When Kassem was ousted in 1963, rumours were afloat that the CIA had supported the coup.[8] However, the nationalization policy has never been revoked and Iraq’s oil deposits came under the control of the state-owned Iraqi National Oil Company. The remaining IPC concessions were expropriated in 1972. The lack of own exploitation expertise and equipment was made good through increased assistance from the Soviet Union.


[1] For an excellent overview of the different cultures that influenced Mesopotamia please refer to: Simons, Geoff. raq: From Sumer to Saddam. Second Edition. 1996. St. Martin´s Press: New York. pp. 113-180; a broader historical picture of the Middle East before Mohammed can be found in: Goldschmidt, Arthur Jr. A Concise History of the Middle East. Fifth Edition. 1996. Westview Press: Boulder. pp. 15-27.

[2] Iraq originates from the term Ieaq Arabi, used by the Muslim conquerors to depict the area of lower Mesopotamia.

[3] Alternative spellings of the party name are Ba'th and Baath.

[4] The following information is obtained from Simons: pp. 184 –188 and Thompson, Eric V. “A Brief History Of Major Oil Companies In The Gulf Region ”. Petroleum Archives Project. Arabian Peninsula and Gulf Studies Program: University of Virginia.

[5] When the Turkish Petroleum Company was founded in 1912, the ownership was divided between the Turkish National Bank, Deutsche Bank, Royal Dutch/Shell. Calouste Gulbenkian was granted a 5% stake, which made him for many years one of the richest persons on earth and became the source of his nickname “Mr. Five Percent”. The TPC was reorganized in 1914 with a 50% Anglo-Persian holding and 25% holdings of the Deutsche Bank and Shell (See Thompson:

[6] See Simons: pp. 186-187

[7] See „Kassem´s Decline and Fall“ in Lenczowski, George. The Middle East in World Affairs.1980. Cornell University Press: New York. pp. 296-299.

[8] On 4 February, four days before the coup, in an interview with Le Monde, Kassem revealed that he had received a threatening note from the US State Department. According to the Paris Weekly L´Express: “The Iraqi coup was inspired by the CIA. The British government and Nasser himself …were aware of the Putsch preparations. The French government was left out.” Le Monde reported from Washington: “… the present coup is not regarded as a menace to US interests; on the contrary, it is regarded as a pro-Western reorientation in the Middle East.” Quoted from Simons: p. 259.

Excerpt out of 31 pages


Foreign Relations between the United States and Iraq
York University  (Faculty of Arts)
American Foreign Policy
1,0 (A)
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ISBN (eBook)
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1211 KB
Foreign, Relations, United, States, Iraq, American, Foreign, Policy
Quote paper
Simon Drexler (Author), 2002, Foreign Relations between the United States and Iraq, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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