Oil Sovereignty, American Foreign Policy, and the 1968 Coups in Iraq

By Brandon Wolfe-Hunnicutt
Submitted to Session P4742 (The Prize?: Energy, Security, and Expertise, 2017 Annual Meeting
Hist
Iraq;
Foreign Relations;
LCD Projector without Audio;
In July 1968, the Ba‘th Party of Iraq was involved in pair of coups d'état that overthrew the nationalist government of Iraqi Prime Minister Tahir Yahya. The Yahya government had, over the course of the preceding year, taken dramatic steps toward the nationalization of the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC) – a consortium of some of the largest multinational oil corporations. After taking power in July 1968, the Ba‘th party moderated its stance with regard to the IPC and deferred further steps toward nationalization. Recently published scholarship argues that the American CIA helped engineer the 1968 coups as part of an effort to preserve IPC control over Iraqi oil. In this paper, I analyze recently declassified U.S. documents and IPC records to argue that while prominent American business groups expressed sympathy for the new Ba'thist regime in Baghdad, there is, as yet, no available evidence that these business groups received any official support from Washington. On the contrary, key policymakers within the Lyndon Johnson administration had come to see the Ba‘ath as a Cold War “enemy” by the late 1960s. This case speaks to the difficulty of defining American “national interests” with regard to oil and to the tension between pro-Israeli and pro-IPC factions within the American foreign policymaking community.