|Iraq Table of Contents
Iraq's disappointment in its relations with the Soviet Union gradually led to a tilt toward the West. This process began as early as 1974 when prominent Baathists such as Bakr, Saddam Husayn, and Aziz expressed the need for a more pragmatic, less ideological approach to relations with "the Western capitalist world." For example, the government stated in January 1974 that the West was not composed "totally of enemies and imperialists," that some countries were relatively moderate, and that there were contradictions among the principal Western nations. These views became the basis on which the regime established generally cordial relations with Britain, Italy, France, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), and Japan.
Iraq's closest ties were with France, which came to rank second to the Soviet Union as a source of foreign weapons. Iraq imported billions of dollars worth of French capital and consumer goods during the 1970s and signed several agreements with French companies for technical assistance on development projects. A major project was the Osiraq (Osiris-Iraq) nuclear reactor, which French engineers were helping to construct at Tuwaitha near Baghdad before it was bombed by Israel in June 1981. Because Iraq was a signatory to the nuclear weapons Nonproliferation Treaty and had previously agreed to permit on-site inspections of its nuclear energy facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency and because France expected to reap considerable economic benefits from Iraqi goodwill, France agreed to assist in the reconstruction of the nuclear power station; however, as of early 1988 no major reconstruction work had been undertaken.
Economic links with France became especially important after the war with Iran had begun. Arms purchases from France, for example, continued in the 1980 to 1982 period when the Soviet Union was withholding weapons supplies. France also provided Iraq generous credits, estimated at US$7 billion, during 1980 to 1983 when oil revenues were severely reduced on account of the warrelated decline in exports. To demonstrate its support further, in 1983 France provided Iraq with advanced weapons, including Exocet missiles and Super Etendard jets, which Iraq subsequently used for attacks on Iranian oil loading facilities and on tankers carrying Iranian oil.
Iraq's ties with the United States developed more slowly, primarily because the Baathists were antagonistic to the close United States-Israeli relationship. Relations had been severed following the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War, before the Baath came to power, but after 1968 the government became interested in acquiring American technology for its development programs. State organizations were therefore permitted to negotiate economic contracts, primarily with private American firms. In discussing the United States during the 1970s, the government emphasized, however, that its ties were economic, not political, and that these economic relations involving the United States were with "companies," not between the two countries.
Even though Iraqi interest in American technical expertise was strong, prior to 1980 the government did not seem to be seriously interested in reestablishing diplomatic relations with the United States. The Baath Party viewed the efforts by the United States to achieve "step-by-step" interim agreements between Israel and the Arab countries and the diplomatic process that led to the Camp David Accords as calculated attempts to perpetuate Arab disunity. Consequently, Iraq took a leading role in organizing Arab opposition to the diplomatic initiatives of the United States. After 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.
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 lowlevel , official talks on matters of mutual interest such as trade and regional security. The following year 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 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 Husayn'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 Husayn believed the United States supported its position that the war was being prolonged only because of Iranian intransigence.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress