Russian-Iraqi Relations: A Historical and Political Analysis

By Ismael, Tareq Y.; Kreutz, Andrej | Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Russian-Iraqi Relations: A Historical and Political Analysis

Ismael, Tareq Y., Kreutz, Andrej, Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

RUSSIAN (BETWEEN 1917-1991 SOVIET)-Iraqi relations have been generally part and parcel of their relations with the Third World countries and their national liberation movements, particularly Arab nationalism, which for both historical and geostrategic reasons has been especially important for Moscow. However, at the same time, particularly between 1958 and 1990, Soviet-Iraqi relations were marked by some special features, putting them in contrast with Soviet links with other Afro-Asian nations and even some states of the Arab Middle East.

(1) Iraq was first of all the nearest of all Arab countries to the Soviet borders and because of that proximity the threat of Soviet expansion could have been seen as being much more real by its leaders than by the leaders of the other Arab states. (1)

(2) Different from the other Arab states of al-Mashreq, Iraq, since its very beginning in the 1920s, contained a very substantial (close to 25%) ethnic non-Arab Kurdish minority with specific constitutional rights, which were granted in 1925 as a condition for the incorporation of the largely Kurdish populated Mosul region into its borders. (2) The Kurdish people, other groups of which live in Turkey, Iran and Russia, have never completely submitted to their division and lack of national self-determination, and in Iraq since 1961 have constantly demanded territorial autonomy. Their aspirations towards which the Soviet Union could not remain indifferent, were, however, putting it in the awkward situation of having to make a choice between their recognition and its general support of Arab nationalism and the friendly Iraqi government.

(3) The Iraqi Communist Party, which was formally founded in 1934, was one of the most effective and socially influential Marxist organizations in the region. Although it was never strong enough to take power by itself, it nevertheless represented a by no means negligible political force in the country, being for Moscow after 1958, both a valuable asset and an embarrassment in its deals with the "progressive" but still often viciously anti-communist Iraqi government.

(4) Last but not least, Iraq's economic potential and relative wealth, especially after the 1973 October War and the subsequent rise of the oil prices, made this country a financially attractive partner and customer for Moscow. These economic aspects, which had never been absent in the past, have acquired additional importance since the collapse of the USSR and the emergence of Russia as a separate and pro-capitalist nation.

Post-Soviet Russia, rejecting Marxist ideology and the ideological support of the Communist parties and the national liberation movements of the Third World peoples, is nevertheless still interested in cooperation with Iraq, and since 1994 has been supporting Baghdad politically against the U.S.imposed punitive sanctions. As the authors want to show, the history, geopolitics and economics at both regional and global levels were inextricably interwoven in the process of shaping its attitudes and foreign policy decisions. Although the main focus of the paper is Post-Soviet Russia after December 1991, the Soviet background needs to be taken into account and analyzed in order to find the elements of continuity and change in the present policy.


Russian (Soviet) relations with Iraq have a relatively long and complex history. Diplomatic relations between the two countries were established for the first time on 9 September 1944 at the end of World War II. (3) The monarchic regime in Baghdad was nevertheless staunchly anti-communist and established its links with Moscow only because of its dependence on Britain and the British-Soviet alliance during the war. In January 1955 relations were broken off after the Soviets criticized the Iraqi government's decision to join the Baghdad Pact. (4)

When the pro-western monarchy was overthrown by a military coup on 14 July 1958, the new leader of the country, General Abd-al-Karim Quasim immediately re-established diplomatic ties with Moscow and started to buy Soviet arms. …

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