Country Listing

Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union

Iran and Iraq

During the 1970s, the Soviet Union attempted to consolidate a closer relationship with Iraq while also maintaining normal relations with Iran. Soviet arms transfers to Iraq started in 1959 when, after Colonel Abd al Karim Qasim overthrew the pro-Western monarchy, Iraq withdrew from the Baghdad Pact. These arms transfers continued during the 1960s and increased after the signing of the Soviet-Iraqi Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in 1972. The Soviet Union increased arms shipments to support Iraq's counterinsurgency efforts against the Kurds (whom the Soviets had earlier supported). Iraqi relations with the Soviet Union became strained in the late 1970s after discovery of an Iraqi communist party plot to overthrow the leadership and because the Soviet Union was backing Ethiopian attempts to suppress the Iraqi-supported Eritrean insurgency. Nevertheless, the Iraqi policy of acquiring Soviet arms and military equipment in exchange for oil was continued by Saddam Husayn, who succeeded to the presidency of Iraq in 1979. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, however, Saddam's government condemned the invasion, and Iraqi-Soviet relations deteriorated further. When Iraq invaded Iran in September 1980, the Soviet Union halted arms shipments to Iraq, which drove Iraq to make desperate purchases in the private arms market. Relations thus became particularly strained between the Soviet Union and Iraq. Although normal relations between the two countries were resumed after 1982 when the arms shipments were renewed, Soviet efforts to draw Iraq into its political sphere of influence were not successful during the 1980s, and Iraq remained nonaligned.

The shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, responding to Iraq's military buildup and the irredentist ambitions of Iraq against Kuwait and Iran, himself concluded arms agreements with the Soviet Union in the mid- to late 1960s, while maintaining Iran's membership in the Western-oriented Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), which was formerly known as the Baghdad Pact. The Soviet Union maintained cordial relations with the shah until the end of 1978, when the deteriorating security situation in Iran signaled the imminent collapse of the dynasty. The Soviet Union initially supported Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini after his return to Iran in February 1979 (he had been exiled in 1963). During the initial phases of the Iran-Iraq War, the Soviet Union made overtures to Iran, but efforts to improve relations with Khomeini failed.

The hope of the Soviet Union had been to act as the broker of the Iran-Iraq conflict, much as it acted in the 1965 IndianPakistani conflict and as it attempted to do during the SomaliEthiopian conflict of 1977-78. Although the cease-fire agreed to between the two belligerents in 1988 owed little to Soviet offices, the related Soviet goal of achieving close relations with both Iran and Iraq remained a component of Soviet foreign policy. The ceasefire benefited the Soviet Union in that it relieved the Soviet Union from protecting Iraq from military defeat, a defeat that would have demonstrated to the Arab world and to the Third World generally that Soviet leaders were insufficiently committed to states that had signed treaties of friendship and cooperation with the Soviet Union.

Data as of May 1989