Foreign Military Ties
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 each."
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.
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