FOREIGN MILITARY TIES
Military Ties Prior to the Iran-Iraq War
Iraq's armed forces were heavily dependent on foreign military
assistance after the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of
World War I. In 1921 British Mandate authorities undertook the
training of Iraqi soldiers who had served under the Ottomans.
The British reorganized the former Ottoman units into a force
designed to uphold internal law and order and to serve British
interests by putting down frequent tribal revolts. Until 1958
British officers guided the development of the armed forces, and
British influence was reflected in the organization, training,
and equipment of the Iraqi military. Senior Iraqi officers regularly
were sent to Britain or to India to receive advanced training.
Iraq's generally Western-oriented military posture throughout
this period culminated in the 1955 Baghdad Pact.
The revolution of July 14, 1958, and the coming to power of Abd
al Karim Qasim completely altered Iraq's military orientation.
Disagreement with the British (and with the Western world's) stance
vis-a-vis Israel, and growing pan-Arab sentiment led Qasim to
abrogate the Baghdad Pact and to turn to the Soviet Union for
arms. Since 1959 the Soviet Union has been Iraq's chief arms supplier
and its most essential foreign military tie. In April 1972, the
two states signed a fifteen-year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation
in which Iraq and the Soviet Union agreed to "continue to develop
cooperation in the strengthening of the defense capabilities of
By no means, however, was Iraq a "satellite" of the Soviet Union.
Baghdad consistently insisted on its independence in policy making,
and on a number of key issues, including the ArabIsraeli conflict,
Syria's role in Lebanon, and the Nonaligned Movement, the two
states held opposing views. Furthermore, Iraq's Baathist ideology
remained fundamentally antithetical to communism. As a further
sign of its staunch independence, Iraq insisted on its freedom
to purchase weapons from Western sources, and in 1980 it demonstrated
its intention to diversify its source of armaments. Although France
and Britain both had sold some arms to Iraq during the 1966 to
1968 regime of Abd ar Rahman Arif, between 1974 and 1980 Iraq
increased its purchases from France by acquiring helicopters,
antitank missiles, and high performance Mirage jet fighters.
Despite these expressions of Iraqi independence, both mutual
interests and practical necessity dictated the Iraqi air forces's
reliance on Soviet support. Total Soviet military aid to Iraq
between 1958 and 1974 was estimated at the equivalent of US$1.6
billion; in 1975 alone such Soviet aid was estimated at US$1 billion.
Soviet deliveries of military hardware of increasingly higher
quality between 1976 and 1980 were estimated at US$5 billion.
In 1977, for example, Iraq ordered the Ilyushin Il-76 long-range
jet transport, the first such Soviet aircraft provided to a foreign
state. Until 1980 nearly 1,200 Soviet and East European advisers,
as well as 150 Cuban advisers, were in Iraq. Iraqi military personnel
were also trained in the use of SAMs, and observers estimated
that between 1958 and 1980, nearly 5,000 Iraqis received military
training in the Soviet Union.
Although receiving arms and training from foreign sources itself,
Iraq provided some military aid to irregular units engaged in
pro-Iraqi "national liberation movements" in the Middle East and
in Africa prior to 1980. Most of this aid was in monetary grants
and in armaments, which amounted to more than US$600 million annually.
Pro-Iraqi Palestinian groups, such as the Arab Liberation Front,
received the bulk of the aid, but some African organizations,
including the Eritrean Liberation Front, also received some. Volunteer
Iraqi soldiers fought on the side of Palestinian guerrillas in
Lebanon on at least two occasions, in 1976 against Syrian troops
and in March 1978 against Israeli troops.
Data as of May 1988