An imminent invasion by Iraq, big power conflict: sun, sex and spies in the 1960s Middle East

In 1958, Abdul Karim Qasim seized power in Iraq. Many members of the West-friendly Hashemite regime were murdered by the military. This raised fears of a domino effect in the region. In March 1959 Iraq swapped alliances from the Baghdad Pact to the Soviet Union. In 1960 an Arab League declaration disputed the southern Iraq border. Iraq claimed Kuwait-based drilling tapped into their oil fields. As Kuwait approached independence from Britain in 1961, Qasim said Kuwait belonged to Iraq.  He threatened invasion. This is the background to Our Man In Kuwait. 

Much of the action in Our Man In Kuwait takes place in Al-Ahmadi, a town built in the 1940s to house employees of the Kuwait Oil Company. It’s social hub was The Hubara Club. With its Olympic sized swimming pool, formal dances and chatty bars, ‘the Club’ is where Gordon Carlisle and his wife hang out.

In Our Man In Kuwait Gordon Carlisle befriends Ian Fleming when he arrives in Kuwait. He is unaware that Fleming is working for Naval Intelligence and has been sent to check him out after a series of unexplained deaths. They discuss the  status of journalist Pip Foster who is supposedly working for MI6.  In real life,  Ian Fleming had been been commissioned to write a book on the oil industry by the Kuwait Oil Company. Although Fleming entitled it State of Excitement the book was never published because the authorities were unhappy with what he wrote.  

‘Ian Fleming goes on a private desert  trip into the desert with Gordon Carlisle to hunt. The prey is the houbara, a rare desert bird whose meat is prized as an aphrodisiac. The tradition of falconry goes back thousands of years. However today these birds are internationally protected.  In Our Man In Kuwait the party are followed by a gun-toting gang, leading Carlisle to suspect an attempted assassination. This photograph was taken from the real-life expedition.

When they meet up, Ian Fleming tells Gordon Carlisle he has been staying with the Beirut MI6 station chief Nicholas Elliot. The Lebanese capital was indeed a hotbed of spies in 1960 because of escalation of the Cold War. Beirut was the where Russian spy Kim Philby worked as Middle Eastern correspondent for the Observer and the Economist before his defection.  A romantic place of intrigue, with its casinos and illustrious nightclubs,mountains and seafront, it was considered the Paris of the Middle East. It is 800 kilmes from Kuwait. Later in Our Man In Kuwait we learn Gordon’s estranged wife has been sighted there at The Saint George Hotel which leads him to assume she is having an affair.

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