Iraq and Other Arab Countries
The war with Iran changed the Baathist perception of what constituted the principal threat to Arab unity. Prior to 1980, the Baath leaders had identified Zionism as the main danger to Arab nationalism. After the war had begun, Iranian nationalism was perceived as the primary force threatening the Arabs. Under the pressures of war, Iraq became reconciled with Egypt and moderated its once-uncompromising stance on Israel. This reconciliation was ironic, because Iraq had taken the lead in 1978 and in 1979 in ostracizing Egypt for recognizing Israel and for signing a separate peace treaty with the latter state. The war with Iran helped to transform Egypt from an excoriated traitor into a much-appreciated ally. Factories in Egypt produced munitions and spare parts for the Iraqi army, and Egyptian workers filled some of the labor shortages created by the mobilization of so many Iraqi men. As early as 1984, Iraq publicly called for Egypt's readmission into pan-Arab councils, and in 1987 Iraq was one of the countries leading the effort to have Egypt readmitted to the Arab League.
The Baath also abandoned its former hostility to countries such as Jordan, Morocco, and the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen). On a smaller scale than Egypt, Jordan provided Iraq with tanks and with laborers, and it served as a transshipment point for goods intended for Iraq.
The most ideologically significant consequence of the war was the evolution of Baathist views on the issue of Palestine. Prior to 1980, Iraq had opposed any negotiations that might lead to the creation of a Palestinian state on the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip on the ground that these territories constituted only part of historic Palestine. Accordingly, Iraq supported the most extreme Palestinian guerrilla groups, the socalled "rejectionist" factions, and was hostile toward the mainstream Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Thus, Iraq provided financial and military aid to such forces as George Habash's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Palestine Liberation Front, and the Arab Liberation Front. The latter group had actually been founded by the Baath in 1969. In addition, Iraq was widely believed to have links to various Palestinian terrorist groups such as the "Special Operations Branch" of the PFLP, Black June, the Arab Organization of the 15th May, and the Abu Nidal Organization.
Beginning in 1980, Iraq gradually retreated from its longheld position that there could never be any recognition of Israel. In 1983 Baath leaders accepted the de facto partition of pre-1948 Palestine by stating publicly that there could be negotiations with Israel for a peaceful resolution of the ArabIsraeli dispute. Consequently, Iraq cut its ties to the extremist Palestinian factions, including that of Abu Nidal, who was expelled from the country in November; he subsequently established new headquarters in Syria. Iraq shifted its support to the mainstream Palestinian groups that advocated negotiations for a Palestinian state. Yasir Arafat's Al Fatah organization was permitted to reopen an office in Baghdad. Arafat, whose proposed assassination for alleged treason against the Palestinians had been clandestinely supported by Iraq in the late 1970s, was even invited to visit the country. This shift represented a fundamental revolution in the thinking of the Iraqi Baath. In effect, by 1986 the Baath Party was saying that the Palestinians had to determine for themselves the nature of their relationship with Israel.
Iraq's most bitter foreign relationship was with the rival Baath government in Syria. Although there were periods of amity between the two governments--such as the one immediately after the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War and the one in October 1978, when Iraq and Syria both opposed Egypt's plans for a separate peace with Israel--the governments generally were hostile to one another. Relations began to deteriorate once again at the end of 1980 following the outbreak of the war with Iran. Syria criticized Iraq for diverting Arab attention from the real enemy (Israel) and for attacking a regime (Iran) supportive of the Arab cause. Relations worsened throughout 1981 as each country accused the other of assisting antiregime political groups. In April 1982, Syria closed its borders with Iraq and cut off the flow of Iraqi oil through the pipeline that traversed Syrian territory to ports on the Mediterranean Sea. The cessation of Iraqi oil exports via this pipeline was a severe economic blow; Iraq interpreted the move as a confirmation of Syria's de facto alliance with Iran in the war.
The hostility between Iraq and Syria has been a source of concern to the other Arab states. King Hussein of Jordan, in particular, tried to reconcile the Iraqi and Syrian leaders. Although his efforts to mediate a meeting between Saddam Husayn and Syrian president Hafiz al Assad were finally realized in early 1987, these private discussions did not lead to substantive progress in resolving the issues that divided the two countries. Intense diplomatic efforts by Jordan and by Saudi Arabia also resulted in the attendance of both presidents, Saddam and Assad, at the Arab League summit in Amman in November 1987. The Iraqis were irritated, however, that Syria used its influence to prevent the conference from adopting sanctions against Iran. The animosities that have divided the rival Iraqi and Syrian factions of the Baath appeared to be as firmly rooted as ever in early 1988.
|Country Studies main page | Iraq Country Studies main page|