In addition to assessments of the continuing Kurdish activities, appreciations were also undertaken on the general threat to Iraq from Germany, Italy and Turkey in 1939. Although secret defence planning continued, especially oil denial schemes, the presence and legitimacy of British forces under the regime of Rashid Ali Gaylani was uncertain, and Britain feared he was in collusion with Germany. Ultimately, the significant strategic position of Iraq caused the British to land troops, but in 1941 relations were strained to breaking point. The British, tacitly at least, encouraged the coup led by the Regent which ousted Rashid Ali in 1941. To all intents and purposes, Britain then occupied Iraq and continued to evaluate security risks. In November 1941, attention was focused on the threat from the north.
Volume 4: 1942–1957
Volume 4 contains the records of war planning, a significant amount of which was undertaken by the Political Intelligence Committee, Middle East, in London, which reviewed various potential threats, such as the possibility of enemy advance through the north via Anatolia, Turkey, the use of Kurdish agents by the Germans, the threat from subversion, and from fifth columnists. At the same time, attempts were made to improve the standing army. During the war, Iraq was in a sense “protected” but served as a strategic base to serve the Allied cause. After the war the British garrison was run down, but the political rationale for the defence of Iraq altered: since Iraq was notionally independent the policy was no longer defence of Iraq but defence of British interests in Iraq. Emphasis was shifted to training local forces and supply of equipment. After all the financial pressures of the Second World War, in 1946 the Iraqi army was chronically short of equipment and of manpower, even with conscription of new recruits. When the Kurds again raised a rebellion, and the British advisors considered the new Soviet threat from the north, they advised that the Iraqi army should undergo serious modernisation. In 1948 a new Anglo-Iraqi Treaty, the Portsmouth Agreement, was agreed but despite major concessions by the British, such as giving up the airbases at Habbaniya and Shuaiba, it provoked such anti-British revolt in Baghdad that it could not be implemented and was shelved instead, ironically leaving the British still in control of the airbases.
By 1955, in the new climate of the ‘cold war’ the perceived threat of invasion or infiltration was from the Soviet bloc. It was hoped that the creation of the “Baghdad Pact” organisation (in which Turkey, Iraq, Persia and Pakistan would form a defensive cordon along the southern fringe of the USSR), would help meet the Soviet and other threats to the regime, for instance at the time of the Suez crisis in 1956. In fact tensions within Iraq boiled over and martial law had to be imposed. Iraq also suffered some financial loss due to damage to its pipelines running through Syria, which largely supported Egypt over Suez. Iraqi relations with Syria deteriorated further when Iraq pulled out troops stationed in Jordan since the end of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War but Syrian troops remained, potentially an occupying force. Iraq and Jordan joined in an attempt at an Arab Federation, and an attack on Syria by Iraq was considered in 1957.
Volume 5: 1958-1973
No less than five attempted, and actual, coups occurred in the period of the last volume, 1958–1973. Volume 5 begins with a review of the possible threat from Syria, supported by Egypt, which quickly pales in significance against the complete overthrow of the old royalist regime in the army coup d’état by Brigadier Qasim of July 1958. At this point, concerns grow for the security of other British allies in the region, such as Jordan, the Gulf States and Kuwait. An evaluation of the British legal position and presence was undertaken, in the face of growing physical threats to the RAF detachment at Habbaniya. The strategic significance of Iraq in December 1958 was re-evaluated, and it was concluded Iraq still held a special position in defence matters [DEFE 11/268 Chiefs of Staff Committee, 5 March 1968]. Initially Britain contemplated joint action with the USA against the new regime, but Iraq’s withdrawal from the Baghdad Pact in 1959 and other factors led instead to the evacuation of the RAF and, in effect, the British presence. Also in 1959 the Kurds rose in rebellion again under Mustafa Barzani, President of the KDP but the continually rumoured counter-coups did not materialise.
In a final reversal of policy, intelligence assessments and planning now aimed at protecting British strategic interests from Iraq and her allies. The Iraqi threat to Kuwait provoked a crisis in 1961, (and again in 1967), when Iraq’s capabilities to invade Kuwait were assessed. In the north, the Kurdish problem remained; operations to quell revolt were undertaken by the Iraqi army from June to October 1963.
In early 1963 a military coup, arising out of an alliance between nationalist army officers and the Ba’ath party, placed Deputy Prime Minister Aref in power. Conflict between more moderate and more extremist groups within the Ba’ath party culminated in purges against those seen as pro-Qasim, Kurdish or Nasserite. In 1968, “the bloodless coup” brought Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr to power, at the head of the Revolutionary Command Council, believed to be an alliance of the right wing of the Ba’ath party and members of an organisation called the Arab Revolutionary Movement. The new regime survived an abortive coup attempt in 1970, in which it was alleged that there was Iranian involvement. In 1971 Iraq severed diplomatic relations with Britain, expelling diplomats, alleging British involvement in a further failed coup that year and asserting British collusion with Iran in the matter of the disputed Gulf islands. However, by 1973, the concluding sections of Volume 5 increasingly show Iraqi hints at the desirability of relations with the West and also the British wish for renewed diplomatic and trade relations with Iraq, despite growing fears for the sovereignty and defence of Kuwait.