the War on Iraq by the Research Unit for Political Economy
essay, written well before the commencement of the war, is adapted from Behind the Invasion of Iraq by the Research Unit for Political Economy, now available from Monthly Review Press. Footnotes providing full documentation
are included in the book.
Three themes stand out in Iraq’s history over the last century, in the light
of the present U.S. plans to invade and occupy that country.
First, the attempt by imperialist powers to dominate Iraq
in order to grab its vast oil wealth. In this regard there is hardly a dividing line between oil corporations and their home
governments, with the governments undertaking to promote, secure, and militarily protect their oil corporations.
Second, the attempt by each imperialist power to exclude others
from the prize.
Third, the vibrancy of nationalist opposition among the people of
Iraq and indeed the entire region to these designs of imperialism.
This is manifested at times in mass upsurges and at other times in popular pressure on whomever is in power to demand better
terms from the oil companies or even to expropriate them.
The following account is limited to Iraq,
and it provides only the barest sketch.
Colony to Semi-Colony
Entry of Imperialism
the easternmost country of the Arab world, was home to perhaps the world’s first great civilization. It was known in
classical times as Mesopotamia (“Land between the Rivers”—the Tigris
and the Euphrates), and became known as Iraq
in the seventh century. For centuries Baghdad was a rich and vibrant city, the
intellectual center of the Arab world. From the sixteenth century to 1918, Iraq
was a part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, divided into three vilayets (provinces): Mosul
in the north, Baghdad in the center, and Basra
in the south. The first was predominantly Kurdish, the second predominantly Sunni Arab, and the third predominantly Shiite
As the Ottoman Empire fell into decline,
Britain and France
began extending their influence into its territories, constructing massive projects such as railroads and the Suez
Canal and keeping the Arab countries deep in debt to British and French banks.
At the beginning of the twentieth century Britain
directly ruled Egypt, Sudan,
and the Persian Gulf, while France
was the dominant power in Lebanon and Syria.
Iran was divided between British and Russian spheres of influence.
The carving up of the Ottoman territories (from Turkey to
the Arabian peninsula) was on the agenda of the imperialist powers.
a relative latecomer to the imperialist dining table, attempted to extend its influence in the region by obtaining a “concession”
to build a railway from Europe to Baghdad, Britain
was alarmed. By this time the British government—in particular its navy—had realized the strategic importance
of oil, and it was thought that the region might be rich in oil. Britain
invested A32.2 million in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (a fully British firm operating in Iran)
to obtain a 51 percent stake in the company. Gulbenkian, an adventurous Armenian entrepreneur, argued that there must be oil
in Iraq as well. At his initiative the Turkish Petroleum Company
(TPC) was formed: 50 percent British, 25 percent German, and 25 percent Royal Dutch-Shell (Dutch- and British-owned).
The First World War (1914–1918) underlined for the imperialists
the importance of control of oil for military purposes, and hence the urgency of controlling the sources of oil. As soon as
war was declared with the Ottomans, Britain landed a force
(composed largely of Indian soldiers) in southern Iraq, and
eventually took Baghdad in 1917. It took Mosul
in November 1918, in violation of the armistice with the Turks a week earlier.
During the war, the British carried on two contradictory sets of
secret negotiations. The first was with Sharif Husayn of Mecca. In exchange for Arab revolt against Turkey,
the British promised support for Arab independence after the war. However, the British insisted that Baghdad
and Basra would be special zones of British interest where “special administrative
arrangements” would be necessary to “safeguard our mutual economic interests.”
The second set of secret negotiations, in flagrant violation of
the above, was between the British and the French. In the Sykes–Picot Agreement of 1916, Iraq
was carved up between the two powers, with the Mosulvilayet going to France
and the other two to Britain. For its assent, czarist Russia
was to be compensated with territory in northeast Turkey.
When the Bolshevik revolutionaries seized power in November 1917 and published the czarist regime’s secret treaties,
including the Sykes–Picot Agreement, the Arabs learned how they had been betrayed.
Under British Rule
After the war, the spoils of the German and Ottoman empires were
divided among the victors. Britain’s promises during
the war that Arabs would get independence were swiftly buried. France
got the mandate for Syria and Lebanon,
and Britain got the mandate for Palestine
and Iraq. (The “mandate” system, a thin disguise
for colonial rule, was created under the League of Nations, the predecessor to today’s United
Nations. Mandate territories, earlier the possessions of the Ottomans, were to be “guided” by the victorious imperialist
powers until they had proved themselves capable of self-rule.)
threatened to go to war to ensure that Mosul province, which was known to contain
oil, remained in Iraq. The French conceded Mosul
in exchange for British support of French dominance in Lebanon
and Syria and a 25 percent French share in TPC.
However, anti-imperialist agitation in Iraq
troubled the British from the start. In 1920, with the announcement that Britain
had been awarded the mandate for Iraq, revolt broke out against
the British rulers and became widespread. The British suppressed the rebellion ruthlessly—among other things bombing
Iraqi villages from the air (as they had done a year earlier to suppress the Rowlatt agitation in the Punjab).
In 1920, Secretary of State for War and Air Winston Churchill proposed that Mesopotamia “could
be cheaply policed by aircraft armed with gas bombs, supported by as few as 4,000 British and 10,000 Indian troops,”
a policy formally adopted at the 1921 Cairo conference.
The British Install a Ruler
Shaken by the revolt, the British felt it wise to put up a facade.
(In the words of Curzon, the foreign secretary, Britain wanted in the Arab territories an “Arab facade ruled and administered
under British guidance and controlled by a native Mohammedan and, as far as possible, by an Arab staff....There should be
no actual incorporation of the conquered territory in the dominions of the conqueror, but the absorption may be veiled by
such constitutional fictions as a protectorate, a sphere of influence, a buffer state and so on.”) The British High
Commissioner proclaimed Emir Faisal I, belonging to the Hashemite family of Mecca,
which had been expelled from the French mandate Syria, as
the King of Iraq. The puppet Faisal promptly signed a treaty of alliance with Britain
that largely reproduced the terms of the mandate. This roused such strong nationalist protests that the cabinet was forced
to resign, and the British High Commissioner assumed dictatorial powers for several years. Nationalist leaders were deported
from the country on a wide scale. (In this period the whole region was in ferment, with anti-imperialist struggles emerging
in Palestine and Syria
as well.) The British also drafted a constitution for Iraq
that gave the King quasi-dictatorial powers over the Parliament.
In 1925, widespread demonstrations in Baghdad
for complete independence delayed the treaty’s approval by the Constituent Assembly. The High Commissioner could only
force ratification by threatening to dissolve the assembly. Even before the treaty of alliance was ratified—and before
there was even the facade of an Iraqi government—a new concession was granted to the Turkish Petroleum Company for the
whole of Iraq, in the face of widespread opposition and the resignation of two members of the cabinet. (Among other things,
the British blackmailed Iraq by threatening that, in the negotiations
with the Turks, they would cede the oil-rich northern province of Mosul
to neighboring Turkey—the opposite of what they were
demanding in the earlier-mentioned negotiations with the French. Thus even the borders of the countries in these regions were
set at the convenience of imperialist exploitation. The worst sufferers were the Kurds, whose territory was divided by the
imperialist powers among southern Turkey, northern Syria,
northern Iraq, and northwestern Iran.)
The terms of the concession, covering virtually the entire country
until the year 2000, were outrageous. Payment was four shillings (one-fifth of a British pound) per ton of oil produced. For
this extraordinary giveaway, the puppet king Faisal received a personal present of A340,000. It was this concession that the
oil corporations, for half a century thereafter, would fight to defend as their “legitimate” right.
Contention for Oil
defeat in the war, its stake in the Turkish Petroleum Company fell into Britain’s
lap. Thus Britain would almost completely dominate the company.
However, this was no longer tenable following the new correlation of the strengths of the different imperialist powers. Britain,
though it had the largest empire among the imperialist powers, was actually in decline. Unable now to compete with other industrial
economies, it desperately attempted to use its exclusive grip over its colonies to shore up its economic strength; whereas
the United States, now the leading capitalist power, demanded
what it termed an “open door” to exploit the possessions of the older colonizing powers. Two years after the end
of the First World War, Woodrow Wilson, the U.S. president,
It is evident to me that we
are on the eve of a commercial war of the severest sort and I am afraid that Great Britain
will prove capable of as great commercial savagery as Germany
has displayed for so many years in her commercial methods. (Joe Stork, Middle East Oil and
the Energy Crisis (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975, p. 14.)
American oil companies, with U.S.
government backing, demanded a share in the Turkish Petroleum Company, and by 1928 two American companies, Jersey Standard
and Socony (later known as Exxon and Mobil, and today as the merged Exxon-Mobil) got a 23.75 percent stake, on par with the
British, French, and Royal Dutch-Shell interests. Most of the major oil corporations in the world were thus represented in
the Turkish Petroleum Company (now renamed the Iraq Petroleum Company—hereafter IPC).
Contending with Nationalism
The continuous local opposition to British rule at last forced Britain
to grant Iraq “independence” in 1932. But this
Britain did only after extracting a new treaty stipulating
a “close alliance” between the two countries and a “common defense position”, continued indirect rule
by the British. Britain kept its bases at Basra
and west of the Euphrates, and Faisal continued to occupy the Iraqi throne.
Even such “independence” did not last long. In 1941,
sections in the Iraqi army and political parties staged a coup against the king and were about to ally with the Axis powers
to win freedom from the British. Britain invaded Iraq
once again and occupied it, installing once again the king and a puppet cabinet headed by their lapdog Nuri as-Said (who was
made prime minister fourteen times in the turbulent period 1925–1958).
After the war ended in 1945, British occupation continued. Martial
law was declared in order to crush protests against the developments in Palestine
in 1948 (the driving out of the Palestinians and the seizure of their lands by the new Zionist state). Just then, the Iraqi
government signed a new treaty of alliance with Britain, whereby
Iraq was not to take any step in foreign policy contrary to
British directions. A joint British-Iraqi defense board was to be set up. But when the prime minister returned from London
after having concluded this deal, a popular uprising took place in Baghdad, forcing
his resignation and the repudiation of the treaty. In the following years, nationalist forces demanded nationalization of
the oil industry (as Iran had carried out in 1951).
In 1952 another popular uprising occurred, carried out by students
and “extremists.” The police were unable to control the demonstrators, and the regent called on the army to maintain
public order. The chief of the armed forces general staff governed the country under martial law for more than two months.
All political parties were suppressed in 1954.
Intervention in the Region
The price of standing up to the oil corporations was made clear
in neighboring Iran. There, the regime headed by Mossadeq
nationalized British Petroleum in 1951, and after a devastating boycott by all the oil giants for the next two years, was
overthrown by a CIA-led coup in 1953. (The CIA man in charge of the operation later became vice-president of Gulf Oil.)
On the other hand, regimes throughout the region were under pressure
from the Arab masses. Gamal Abdul Nasser, who came to power in Egypt
in a 1952 coup, adopted a confrontational posture toward the United States
and Britain, nationalizing the Suez Canal
and taking assistance from the Soviet Union. Nasser’s stance won him popular
support in the Arab world, where Iraq and Egypt
contended for leadership. In that period an anti-imperialist wave swept the Arab countries, threatening the stability of pro-Western
The United States
became the new gendarme of the region to suppress any agitation against imperialism and its client states. For example, when
in 1953 both Saudi Arabia and Iraq crushed oil workers’ strikes by the use of troops and martial law regimes, shipments
of arms from the United States to both followed immediately. In 1957 the Jordanian king (the first cousin of the Iraqi king)
arrested his prime minister, dissolved the parliament, outlawed political parties, and threw his opponents into concentration
camps, with economic and military aid from the United States.
In 1958 the right-wing Lebanese regime used American equipment in its attempt to crush nationalist opposition. At American
insistence three pro-U.S.-U.K. regimes—Iraq, Turkey, and Pakistan—came together to form an alliance against the
USSR, the Baghdad Pact (later known as the Mideast Treaty Organization and the Central Treaty Organization; Britain and Iran
joined subsequently). Iraq, the only Arab country to join
this pact, had to face Nasser’s denunciation for doing so.
In July 1958 an army faction led by Abdel Karim Qasim seized power
in Iraq, executed the king and Nuri as-Said, and declared
a republic to wide public acclaim. This was the first overthrow of a puppet regime in an oil-producing country. The new regime
appealed to the popular anti-imperialist consciousness in its very first announcement: “With the aid of God Almighty
and the support of the people and the armed services, we have liberated the country from the domination of a corrupt group
which was installed by imperialism to lull the people.”
The United States
and the U.K. immediately moved their troops
to Lebanon and Jordan
respectively in preparation to invade Iraq.
Unfortunately for the United States, the deposed regime
was so widely despised in Iraq that no force could be found
to assist the American plan. Nevertheless, the United States
delivered an ultimatum threatening intervention if the new regime did not respect its oil interests. The coup leaders for
their part issued repeated declarations that these interests would in fact not be touched. Only then were American and British
troops withdrawn. Thus Iraq is no stranger to the threat of
Popular Pressure and the Companies’ Counterattack
Despite its assurances to the Americans, the new Iraqi regime remained
subject to popular pressure. The Iraqi masses expected the downfall of the puppet king to result in a renegotiation or scrapping
of the colonial-era oil concession to the IPC. (According to Michael Tanzer, the total investment made by the oil companies
in Iraq was less than $50 million—after this they received profits sufficient to finance all future investment; whereas
Joe Stork calculates their profits from Iraq at $322.9 million in 1963 alone.) Even Iran
and Saudi Arabia had obtained better terms than Iraq
because their earlier concessions did not cover their entire territories, whereas IPC owned the entire territory
However, the owners of IPC, principally the American and British
oil giants, owned fields elsewhere in the world as well, and it was not the cost of production but complex strategic considerations
that determined which fields they would exploit first. They were in no hurry to develop the Iraqi fields or build larger refining
capacity there—IPC’s existing installations covered only 0.5 percent of its concession area. When the Qasim regime
demanded that the IPC give up 60 percent of its concession area, double output from existing installations and double refining
capacity, the IPC responded by reducing output. The oil giants had decided to make an example of Iraq,
to prevent any other oil-producing country from showing backbone.
Qasim responded to the oil giants’ intransigence by withdrawing
from the Baghdad Pact, withdrawing from the sterling bloc, signing an economic and technical aid deal with the Soviet
Union in 1959, ordering British forces out of Habbaniya base, and canceling the American aid program. In 1961
he wound up negotiations with the IPC and issued Law 80, under which the IPC could continue to exploit its existing installations,
but the remaining territory (99.5 percent) would revert to the government.
The oil giants responded by further suppressing IPC production.
In turn, Qasim in 1963 announced the formation of a new state oil company to develop the non-concession lands, and revealed
an American note threatening Iraq with sanctions unless he
changed his position. He was overthrown four days later in a coup that the Paris
weekly L’Express stated flatly was “inspired by the CIA.”
1963 Coup and the IPC Negotiations
The coup was carried out by an alliance between the Ba’ath
Party (full form: Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party; Ba’ath means “renaissance”) and an army faction, but
the Ba’ath was soon ejected from power by its partners in the coup. The new rulers promptly granted the IPC another
0.5 percent of the concession area, including the rich North Rumaila field, which the IPC had discovered
but failed to exploit. IPC agreed to enter a joint venture with the new Iraq National Oil Company (INOC) to explore and develop
a large portion of the expropriated area as well.
The agreement, however, was condemned by Arab nationalist opinion,
and the regime hesitated for years to ratify it. Meanwhile the Arab-Israeli War, in which Iraq
participated, broke out in 1967. Israel, with American backing,
seized and occupied lands belonging to Syria, Egypt,
and Jordan. Diplomatic ties between Iraq
and the United States were broken. The strength of anti-American
and anti-British sentiment after the 1967 War made it impossible for the Iraqi regime to return North Rumaila
to the IPC. The Iraqi government instead issued Law 97, whereby the INOC alone would develop oil in all but the 0.5 percent
still conceded to the IPC.
Between 1961 and 1968, IPC increased production in Iraq
by only a fraction of the increase achieved in the docile regimes of Iran,
Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia
by the same oil giants who owned IPC. Since the size of IPC’s payments to the Iraqi government depended on the size
of its oil output, and since the government’s revenues depended heavily on these payments, the oil giants’ tactic
caused Iraq great financial stringency, and prevented it from
undertaking developmental projects. According to a secret U.S.
government report, the IPC actually drilled wells to the wrong depth and covered others with bulldozers in order to reduce
productive capacity. The prolonged deadlock had extracted a great price: “more than a dozen years of economic stagnation,
political instability, and confrontation.”
Saddam Hussein Comes to Power
The Ba’ath party returned to power in a 1968 coup (in which
Saddam Hussein became vice president, deputy head of the Revolutionary Command Council, and increasingly the real power),
and that party continued the course toward extricating the oil industry from the grip of the IPC. Finally in 1972 the IPC
was nationalized, its shareholders paid a compensation of $300 million (effectively offset by company payment of $345 million
in back claims). The country turned to France and the Soviet
Union for technical assistance and credit. The Soviets developed the North Rumaila field
more or less on schedule by 1972.
For the Soviets, Iraq
was an important breakthrough in the region: Iraq had vast
oil reserves, unlike Egypt and Syria
with whom the Soviets had ties (they were ejected from the former in 1972). It thus yielded lucrative oil contracts, investments
in Eastern Europe from its oil surpluses, massive arms sales, and the promise of greater Soviet influence
in the region. France, too, maintained ties with Iraq’s
oil industry. (Significantly, despite the overwhelming importance of oil to Iraq’s
economy, and the heavy price of its dependence on foreign firms, the country did not bring about the level of technological
self-reliance in this field that socialist China did during
the same years. Rather, it merely attempted to loosen the bonds to the U.S.-U.K. oil giants by tying up with other advanced
The Iraqi nationalization took place against the background of increasing
assertion by even pro-U.S. regimes in the region. Radical Arab oil experts (most prominently Abdullah Tariki) gripped the
popular imagination with their well-documented exposures of how the oil wealth of the Arab lands was being looted; the Organization
of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) actively demanded better terms for their oil; a group of young army officers led by
Muammar Qaddafi overthrew the Libyan monarchy in 1969 and called for confrontation with the oil giants; and the armed Palestinian
struggle was born. The defeat of the Arab armies in the 1973 war with Israel
further stoked anti-American sentiment. The process culminated with an Arab oil embargo against the Western states and a massive
increase in prices paid to oil producing countries. Iraq,
as a major oil producer (with the world’s second-largest reserves, after Saudi Arabia),
played a crucial role in mounting this challenge.
Until the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958, Iraq
remained largely agricultural. It was only after the removal of the puppet king that year that some developmental projects
were undertaken. After 1973, reaping the benefits of higher oil prices, the state’s welfare expenditures increased considerably.
The supply of housing greatly increased, and living standard improved considerably. However, the regime went further, initiating
a wide range of projects for industrial diversification, reducing the imports of manufactured goods, increasing agricultural
production and reducing agricultural imports, and substantially increasing non-oil exports. Large investments were made in
infrastructure, particularly in water projects, roads, railways, and rural electrification. Technical education was greatly
expanded, training a generation of qualified personnel for industry.
These measures stood in striking contrast to the Gulf sheikhdoms
of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait,
and the United Arab Emirates. In those countries, a part of
the huge increase in earnings after 1973 was spent on improving the standard of living of the kings’ subjects; the rest
was invested in foreign banks and foreign treasury bills, principally American. Thus the United
States was not fundamentally threatened by the oil price hike: while it paid higher oil prices,
most of the extra funds flowed back to its own financial sector. Iraq,
by contrast, invested far more of its oil revenues internally than other Arab states, and therefore had the most diversified
economy among them.
It is worth noting that Iraq’s
cultural climate and progress in certain areas of social life are abhorred by Islamic fundamentalists. Until 1991, literacy
grew rapidly in Iraq, including among women. Iraq
is perhaps the freest society in the entire region for women, and women are to be found in several professions.
Iran-Iraq War: Serving American Interests
In 1979, Saddam, already effectively the leader of Iraq,
became president and chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council. The entire region stood at a critical juncture.
For one thing, the pillar of the United
States in West Asia, the Pahlavi monarchy in Iran,
was overthrown by a massive popular upsurge that the United States
was powerless to suppress. This made the United States and
its client states deeply anxious at the prospect of similar developments taking place throughout the region.
For another, in Iraq Saddam had drawn on the country’s oil
wealth to carry out a major military buildup, with military expenditures swallowing 8.4 percent of GNP in 1979. Starting in
1958 Iraq had become an increasingly important market for
sophisticated Soviet weapons and was considered a member of the Soviet camp. In 1972, Iraq
signed a fifteen-year friendship, cooperation, and military agreement with the USSR.
The Iraqi regime was striving to develop or acquire nuclear weapons. Apart from Israel,
the only army in the region to rival Iraq’s was Iran’s.
But after 1979, when the Shah of Iran was overthrown, much of the Iranian army’s American equipment became inoperable.
The Iraqi invasion of Iran
in 1980 (on the pretext of resolving border disputes) thus solved two major problems for the United
States. Over the course of the following decade two of the region’s leading military
powers, neither of them hitherto friendly to the United States,
were tied up in an exhausting conflict with each other. Such conflicts among third world countries create a host of opportunities
for imperialist powers to seek new footholds, as happened also in this instance.
Despite its strong ties to the USSR,
Iraq turned to the West for support in the war with Iran.
This it received massively. As Saddam Hussein later revealed, the United States and Iraq decided to reestablish diplomatic
relations—broken off after the 1967 war with Israel—just before Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980 (the actual
implementation was delayed for a few more years in order not to make the linkage too explicit). Diplomatic relations between
the United States and Iraq
were formally restored in 1984—well after the United States
knew, and a UN team confirmed, that Iraq was using chemical
weapons against the Iranian troops. (The emissary sent by U.S.
president Reagan to negotiate the arrangements was none other than the present U.S.
defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.) In 1982, the U.S. State Department removed Iraq
from its list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” and fought off efforts by the U.S. Congress to put it back on
the list in 1985. Most crucially, the United States blocked
condemnation of Iraq’s chemical attacks in the UN Security
Council. The United States was the sole country to vote against a 1986 Security Council statement condemning Iraq’s
use of mustard gas against Iranian troops—an atrocity in which it now emerges the United States was directly implicated
(as we shall see below).
Brisk trade was done in supplying Iraq.
Britain joined France
as a major source of its weapons. Iraq imported uranium from
and Italy, and began constructing centrifuge enrichment facilities
with German assistance. The United States arranged massive
loans for Iraq’s burgeoning war expenditure from American
client states such as Kuwait and Saudi
Arabia. The U.S. administration
provided “crop-spraying” helicopters (to be used for chemical attacks in 1988), let Dow Chemicals ship its chemicals
for use on humans, seconded its air force officers to work with their Iraqi counterparts (from 1986), and approved technological
exports to Iraq’s missile procurement agency to extend
the missiles’ range (1988). In October 1987 and April 1988 U.S.
forces themselves attacked Iranian ships and oil platforms.
Militarily, the United States not only provided Iraq with satellite
data and information about Iranian military movements, but, as former U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) officers have
recently revealed to the New York Times, they also prepared detailed battle planning for Iraqi forces in this period—even
as Iraq drew worldwide public condemnation for its repeated use of chemical weapons against Iran. According to a senior DIA
official, “If Iraq had gone down it would have had a
catastrophic effect on Kuwait and Saudi
Arabia, and the whole region might have gone down—that was the backdrop of the policy.”
One of the battles for which the United
States provided battle-planning packages was the Iraqi capture of the strategic Fao peninsula
in the Persian Gulf in 1988. Since Iraq
eventually relied heavily on mustard gas in the battle, it is clear the United States
battle plan tacitly included the use of such weapons. DIA officers undertook a tour of inspection of the Fao peninsula after
Iraqi forces successfully retook it, and they reported to their superiors on Iraq’s
extensive use of chemical weapons, but their superiors were not interested. Col. Walter P. Lang, senior DIA officer at the
time, says that “the use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern.”
The DIA, he claimed, “would have never accepted the use of chemical weapons against civilians, but the use against military
objectives was seen as inevitable in the Iraqi struggle for survival.” (As we shall see below, chemical weapons were
used extensively by the Iraqi army against Kurdish civilians, but DIA officers deny they were “involved in planning
any of the military operations in which these assaults occurred.”) In the words of another DIA officer, “They
[the Iraqis] had gotten better and better” and after a while chemical weapons “were integrated into their fire
plan for any large operation.” A former participant in the program told the New York Times that senior Reagan
administration officials did nothing to interfere with the continuation of the program. The Pentagon “wasn’t so
horrified by Iraq’s use of gas,” said one veteran
of the program. “It was just another way of killing people—whether with a bullet or phosgene, it didn’t
make any difference,” he said. The recapture of the Fao peninsula was a turning point in the conflict, bringing Iran
to the negotiating table.
A U.S. Senate inquiry in 1995 accidentally revealed that during
the Iran-Iraq war the United States had sent
Iraq samples of all the strains of germs used
by the latter to make biological weapons. The strains were sent by the so-called Center for Disease Control and Prevention
and the American Type Culture Collection to the same sites in Iraq
that UN weapons inspectors later determined were part of Iraq’s
biological weapons program.
It is ironic to hear the United States
today talk of Saddam Hussein’s attacks on the Kurds in 1988. These attacks had their full support:
As part of the Anfal campaign
against the Kurds (February to September 1988), the Iraqi regime used chemical weapons extensively against its own civilian
population. Between 50,000 and 186,000 Kurds were killed in these attacks, over 1,200 Kurdish villages were destroyed, and
300,000 Kurds were displaced....The Anfal campaign was carried out with the acquiescence of the West. Rather than condemn
the massacres of Kurds, the United States escalated its support
for Iraq. It joined in Iraq’s
attacks on Iranian facilities, blowing up two Iranian oil rigs and destroying an Iranian frigate a month after the Halabja
attack. Within two months, senior U.S. officials were encouraging
corporate coordination through an Iraqi state-sponsored forum. The United States
administration opposed, and eventually blocked, a U.S. Senate bill that cut off loans to Iraq.
The United States approved exports to Iraq
of items with dual civilian and military use at double the rate in the aftermath of Halabja as it did before 1988. Iraqi written
guarantees about civilian use were accepted by the United States
commerce department, which did not request licenses and reviews (as it did for many other countries). The Bush administration
approved $695,000 worth of advanced data transmission devices the day before Iraq
invaded Kuwait (Alan Simpson, MP & Dr. Glen Rangwala,
“The Dishonest Case for War on Iraq,” Labour
Against the War Counter-Dossier, September 2002).
The full extent of U.S.
complicity in Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”
programs became clear in December 2002, when Iraq submitted
an 11,800-page report on these programs to the UN Security Council. The United States
insisted on examining the report before anyone else, even before the weapons inspectors, and promptly insisted on removing
8,000 pages from it before allowing the nonpermanent members of the Security Council to look at it. Iraq
apparently leaked the list of American companies whose names appear in the report to a German daily, Die Tageszeitung.
Apart from American companies, German firms were heavily implicated. (Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons, like
his suppression of internal opposition, has been continuously useful to U.S.
interests: condoned and abetted during periods of alliance between the two countries, it is routinely exploited for propaganda
purposes during periods of tension and war.)
Given this history, we need to understand the strategic and economic
aspects of the United States’ seemingly inexplicable
turnaround on Iraq since 1990.
Torment of Iraq
The Iran-Iraq war formally ended
in 1990 with both participants—potentially prosperous and powerful countries—having suffered terrible losses.
The “war of the cities” had targeted major population centers and industrial sites on both sides, particularly
oil refineries. Iran, lacking the steady flow of sophisticated
weapons and American help enjoyed by Iraq, had managed to
fight back Iraq’s attacks by mobilizing great “human
waves” of young volunteers, even teenage boys. While the tactic worked, the cost in lives was enormous. It was the fear
of an internal uprising that led the Iranian leaders to come to terms with Iraq
after the fall of the Fao peninsula in 1988.
economy, too, badly needed rebuilding. Developmental programs had been neglected for the previous decade. Exploration and
development of the country’s fabulous oil resources had stagnated. To pay for the war, the country had accumulated an
$80 billion foreign debt—more than half of that owed to the Gulf states.
Having nothing to show for the terrible price of the war, Iraq’s
rulers were desperate.
for the United States
For the United
States, however, this catastrophe for the two countries was a satisfactory situation, and
held promise of much greater gains. The exhausted Iran was
no longer a major threat to American interests in the rest of the region. And, as we shall see, Iraq’s unstable situation
was creating conditions for the United States to achieve a vital objective: permanent installation of its military in West
Asia.Direct control over West Asian oil resources—the world’s richest and most cheaply accessible—would
allow the United States to manipulate oil supplies and prices according to its strategic interests, and thereby consolidate
American global supremacy against any future challenger.
The world situation was favorable
to such a plan. The Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse, and would be unable to prevent American
intervention in the region. Nor would European, Japanese, or Chinese reservations be of much consequence. The real hurdle
was the opposition of the Arab masses to any such presence of American troops—even more to their permanent installation.
What was required, then, was a
credible pretext for U.S. intervention and continuing presence.
Shock to Iraq
After the close U.S.–Iraq
collaboration during the 1980–1990 Iran-Iraq war described above, it is hardly surprising that Saddam Hussein expected
some sort of compensation from the West for his war with Iran,
and felt confident that his demands would be given a sympathetic hearing. Given that the war was projected by the West and
the Gulf states (Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia) to be a defensive action against Iran’s overrunning
the entire region, Saddam assumed not only that Iraq’s debt to the Gulf states would be forgiven, but indeed that those
states would help with the desperately needed reconstruction of the Iraqi economy.
Instead the opposite occurred.
U.S. client regimes such as Kuwait,
Saudi Arabia, and the United
Arab Emirates began hiking their production of oil, thus prolonging the collapse in oil prices
that began in 1986. This had a devastating impact on war-torn Iraq.
Oil constituted half of Iraq’s GDP and the bulk of government
revenues, so a collapse in oil prices was catastrophic for the Iraqi economy. It would also curb Iraq’s
A further, remarkable development
was Kuwait’s theft of oil from Rumaila field by slant-drilling
(drilling at an angle, instead of straight down) near the border. (The Rumaila field lies almost entirely inside Iraq.)
Given that Kuwait is itself oil-rich, the theft of Iraq’s
oil appears a deliberate provocation. It is worth keeping in mind that not only did Iraq have specific border disputes with
Kuwait but had also, from time to time, advanced a claim to the whole of Kuwait. In this light it is difficult to imagine
that small, lightly armed Kuwait would have carried out such
provocative acts as slant-drilling the territory of well-armed Iraq
without a go-ahead from the United States.
It appears that Saddam believed
he could threaten invasion of, or actually invade, Kuwait
as a bargaining chip to achieve his demands—in particular the forgiveness of loans and a curb on the Gulf
states’ oil production. The transcript of Saddam’s conversation with the United
States ambassador to Baghdad, April Glaspie,
just a week before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, reveals
much about the relationship between the two states. Saddam does not emerge as a megalomaniac, nor does he stress Iraq’s
historical and legal claims to Kuwait. Rather, he emphasizes
his financial needs. He pleads for American understanding by pointing explicitly to Iraq’s
services to the United States and its client states in the
decision to establish relations with the U.S. [was] taken
in 1980 during the two months prior to the war between us and Iran.
When the war started, and to avoid misinterpretation, we postponed the establishment of relations hoping that the war would
end soon. But because the war lasted for a long time, and to emphasize the fact that we are a nonaligned country [i.e., not
part of the Soviet bloc], it was important to reestablish relations with the United States.
And we choose to do this in 1984....When relations were reestablished we hoped for a better understanding and for better cooperation....We
dealt with each other during the war and we had dealings on various levels....
came out of the war burdened with $40 billion debts, excluding the aid given by Arab states, some of whom consider that too
to be a debt, although they knew—and you knew too—that without Iraq they would not have had these sums and the
future of the region would have been entirely different. We began to face the policy of the drop in the price of oil....The
price at one stage had dropped to $12 a barrel and a reduction in the modest Iraqi budget of $6 billion to $7 billion is a
had hoped that soon the American authorities would make the correct decision regarding their relations with Iraq....But
when planned and deliberate policy forces the price of oil down without good commercial reasons, then that means another war
against Iraq. Because military war kills people by bleeding
them, and economic war kills their humanity by depriving them of their chance to have a good standard of living....Kuwait
and the U.A.E. were at the front of this policy aimed at lowering Iraq’s
position and depriving its people of higher economic standards. And you know that our relations with the Emirates and Kuwait
had been good....
have read the American statements speaking of friends in the area. Of course, it is the right of everyone to choose their
friends. We can have no objections. But you know you are not the ones who protected your friends during the war with Iran.
I assure you, had the Iranians overrun the region, the American troops would not have stopped them, except by the use of nuclear
weapons....Yours is a society which cannot accept 10,000 dead in one battle. You know that Iran
agreed to the cease-fire not because the United States had
bombed one of the oil platforms after the liberation of the Fao. Is this Iraq’s
reward for its role in securing the stability of the region and for protecting it from an unknown flood?...
is not reasonable to ask our people to bleed rivers of blood for eight years then to tell them, “Now you have to accept
aggression from Kuwait, the U.A.E., or from the U.S.
or from Israel.”...We do not place America
among the enemies. We place it where we want our friends to be and we try to be friends. But repeated American statements
last year make it apparent that America did not regard us
as friends (New York Times International, September 23, 1990).
Without the fact of America’s
intentions mentioned earlier, Glaspie’s response to Saddam’s statements would be puzzling. The conversation took
place even as Iraq had massed troops at the Kuwaiti border and declared that it considered Kuwait’s acts to be aggression:
it was plain to the world that Iraq was about to invade. Given the later American response, one would have expected
that, a week before the invasion, the United States would
send a clear message that its response to an invasion would be military intervention. Instead, the United
States ambassador responded in the mildest possible terms (“concern”), emphasizing
have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. I was in the American Embassy in
Kuwait during the late ’60s. The instruction we had
during this period was that we should express no opinion on this issue and that the issue is not associated with America.
James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction.
hope you can solve this problem using any suitable methods via Klibi or via President Mubarak. All that we hope is that these
issues are solved quickly. With regard to all of this, can I ask you to see how the issue appears to us? My assessment after
25 years’ service in this area is that your objective must have strong backing from your Arab brothers. I now speak
of oil. But you, Mr. President, have fought through a horrific and painful war. Frankly, we can see only that you have deployed
massive troops in the south. Normally that would not be any of our business. But when this happens in the context of what
you said on your national day, then when we read the details in the two letters of the Foreign Minister, then when we see
the Iraqi point of view that the measures taken by the U.A.E. and Kuwait is, in the final analysis, parallel to military aggression
against Iraq, then it would be reasonable for me to be concerned. And for this reason, I received an instruction to ask you,
in the spirit of friendship—not in the spirit of confrontation—regarding your intentions (Ibid.; emphasis added).
This clearly indicated that while
the United States would show “concern” at any
invasion, it would maintain a distance and treat the matter as a dispute between Arab states, to be resolved by negotiation.
Thus Saddam badly misread America’s real intentions.
His invasion of Kuwait, a sovereign state and a member of
the UN, provided the United States with the opportunity swiftly
to mobilize the UN Security Council and form a worldwide coalition against Iraq.
Crucially, his invasion of an Arab state created a situation where a number of other Arab states, such as Egypt,
Syria, and Saudi Arabia
could join the coalition.
Peaceful Withdrawal a ‘Nightmare
UN Security Council Resolution
661, passed in August 1990, demanded immediate and unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait,
and imposed sanctions on Iraq. Sanctions were tried only for
as long as it took for the United States to build up enough
troops in the region and secure international financing for the war effort. In November 1990, the United States got UN Security
Council Resolution 678 passed, providing for the use of “all necessary means” to end the occupation of Kuwait.
The United States scotched all diplomatic efforts by the USSR,
Europe, and Arab countries by continuing to insist that Iraq
A last-minute proposal was made
by the French that Iraq would withdraw if the United States agreed to convene an international conference on peace in the
region (this would include discussion of the continued illegal occupation by Israel of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan
Heights, the subject of the unenforced UN Security Council Resolution 242, as well as Israel’s occupation at the time
of south Lebanon). However, this too was shot down by the United States
and Britain. In December 1990, the press tellingly quoted
U.S. officials saying that a peaceful Iraqi withdrawal was
a “nightmare scenario.”
‘Fish in a Barrel’
The colossal scale and merciless
tactics of the 1991 assault on Iraq suggest that U.S.
war aims greatly exceeded the UN-endorsed mission of expelling Saddam from Kuwait.
The military power arrayed and employed by the United States,
Britain, and their allies was grotesquely disproportionate
to Iraqi defenses. Evidently, the intent was to punish Iraq
so severely as to create an unforgettable object lesson for any nation contemplating defiance of U.S.
wishes. The Gulf war’s aerial bombing campaign was the most savage since Vietnam.
During forty-three days of war, the United States flew 109,876
sorties and dropped 84,200 tons of bombs. Average monthly tonnage of ordnance used nearly equaled that of the Second World
War, but the resulting destruction was far more efficient due to better technology and the feebleness of Iraq’s
While war raged, the United
States military carefully managed press briefings in order to suggest that the bombing raids
were surgical strikes against purely military targets, made possible by a new generation of precision-guided “smart
weapons.” The reality was far different. Ninety-three percent of munitions used by the allies consisted of unguided
“dumb” bombs, dropped primarily by Vietnam-era B-52 carpet bombers. About 70 percent of bombs and missiles missed
their targets, frequently destroying private homes and killing civilians. The United States also made devastating use of antipersonnel
weapons, including fuel-air explosives and 15,000-pound “daisy-cutter” bombs (conventional explosives capable
of causing destruction equivalent to a nuclear attack—also used by the United States in Afghanistan); the petroleum-based
incendiary napalm (which was used to incinerate entrenched Iraqi soldiers); and 61,000 cluster bombs which dispersed 20 million
“bomblets,” which continue to kill Iraqis to this day. Predictably, this style of warfare resulted in massive
civilian casualties. In one well- remembered incident, as many as four hundred men, women, and children were killed at one
blow when, in apparent indifference to the Geneva Conventions, the United States targeted a civilian air raid shelter in the
Ameriyya district of western Baghdad. Thousands died in similar fashion due to daylight raids in heavily populated residential
areas and business districts throughout the country. According to a UN estimate, as many as 15,000 civilians died as a direct
result of allied bombing.
Meanwhile, between 100,000 and
200,000 Iraqi soldiers lost their lives in what can literally be described as massive overkill. The heaviest toll appears
to have been inflicted by U.S. carpet bombing of Iraqi positions
near the Kuwait-Iraq border, where tens of thousands of ill-fed, ill-equipped conscripts were helplessly pinned down in trenches.
Most were desperate to surrender as the ground war began, but advancing allied forces had little use for prisoners. Thousands
were buried alive as tanks equipped with plows and bulldozers smashed through earthwork defenses and rolled over foxholes.
Others were cut down ruthlessly
as they tried to surrender or flee. “It’s like someone turned on the kitchen light late at night, and the cockroaches
started scurrying. We finally got them out where we can find them and kill them,” remarked Air Force Colonel Dick “Snake”
White. According to John Balzar of the Los Angeles Times, infrared films of the United
States assault suggested “sheep, flushed from a pen—Iraqi infantry soldiers bewildered
and terrified, jarred from sleep and fleeing their bunkers under a hell storm of fire. One by one they were cut down by attackers
they couldn’t see or understand. Some were literally blown to bits by bursts of 30mm exploding cannon shells.”
Since resistance was futile and
surrender potentially fatal, Iraqi soldiers deserted whenever possible. By February 26, Saddam acknowledged the inevitable
and ordered his troops to withdraw from Kuwait. Surviving
soldiers commandeered vehicles of every description and fled homeward.
Although an overwhelming victory
already been achieved, U.S. and British forces staged a merciless
attack on the retreating and defenseless Iraqi troops. The resulting massacre, immediately dubbed the “Turkey Shoot”
by U.S. soldiers, took place along a sixty-mile stretch of highway leading from Kuwait to Basra, where U.S. planes cut off
the long convoys at either end and proceeded to strafe and firebomb the trapped vehicles. Many thousands, including untold
numbers of civilian refugees, were blown apart or incinerated. “It was like shooting fish in a barrel,” said one
Behind the Systematic Destruction
of Iraq’s Civilian Infrastructure
The bombing of Iraq
began on January 16, 1991. Far from restricting themselves to evicting
Iraq from Kuwait,
or attacking only military targets, the U.S.-led coalition’s bombing campaign systematically destroyed Iraq’s
civilian infrastructure, including electricity generation, communication, water and sanitation facilities. For more than
a month the bombing of Iraq continued without any attempt to send in troops for the purported purpose of Operation Desert
Storm; namely, to evict Iraqi troops from Kuwait.
That the United
States was quite clear about the consequences of such a bombing campaign is evident from
intelligence documents now being declassified. “Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities,” dated 22 January 1991 (a week after the war began) provides the rationale for the attack on Iraq’s
water supply treatment capabilities: “Iraq depends on
importing specialized equipment and some chemicals to purify its water supply.... With no domestic sources of either water
treatment replacement parts or some essential chemicals, Iraq
will continue attempts to circumvent United Nations sanctions to import these vital commodities. Failing to secure supplies
will result in a shortage of pure drinking water for much of the population. This could lead to increased incidences, if not
epidemics, of disease.” Imports of chlorine, the document notes, had been placed under embargo, and “recent reports
indicate that the chlorine supply is critically low.” A “loss of water treatment capability” was already
in evidence, and though there was no danger of a “precipitous halt” it would probably take six months or more
for the system to be “fully degraded.”
Even more explicitly, the United
States Defense Intelligence Agency wrote a month later: “Conditions are favorable for communicable disease outbreaks,
particularly in major urban areas affected by coalition bombing....Current public health problems are attributable to the
reduction of normal preventive medicine, waste disposal, water purification/distribution, electricity, and decreased ability
to control disease outbreaks. Any urban area in Iraq that
has received infrastructure damage will have similar problems.”
In the south of Iraq,
the United States fired more than one million rounds (more
than 340 tons in all) of munitions tipped with radioactive uranium. This later resulted in a major increase in health problems
such as cancer and deformities. While the United States has
not admitted any linkage between its use of depleted uranium (DU) shells and such health problems, European governments, investigating
complaints from their veterans in the NATO attack on Yugoslavia,
have confirmed widespread radiation contamination in Kosovo as a result of the use of DU shells there.
Manipulation to Justify Partial
During the conflict, the United
States decided not to march to Baghdad, and decided
instead to stop on the outskirts of Basra and Nasriyya. Evidently, the United
States hoped that the defeat would result in Saddam being replaced in a coup by a pro-U.S.
strongman from the same ruling circles. (The stability of such a regime would require the preservation of Saddam’s elite
military force, the Republican Guard, which was massed in defensive positions outside Baghdad
at war’s end.) The United States was uncertain of the
political forces that would be unleashed in any other scenario. For example, the United States
feared southern Iraq, predominantly Shiite, would come under
Iranian influence if it seceded. Formal independence for Kurdish regions in the north of Iraq
would destabilize the northern neighbor, the important U.S.
client state Turkey, which brutally suppresses the demand
of its large Kurdish population for independence.
While George Bush Sr., then president,
instigated a rebellion in southern Iraq with his calls to the people to “take matters into their own hands,” when
the rising actually took place, the massive U.S. occupying force still stationed in the region remained a mute spectator to
its suppression. Similarly, when Iraqi forces chased Kurdish rebels in the north to the Turkish border, Turkey
prevented their entry.
American complicity in these two
developments was designed so that the events could be cynically manipulated by the United States
to justify a permanent infringement of Iraq’s sovereignty.
The UN Security Council Resolution 688 of April 1991 demanded Iraq
“cease this repression” of its minorities, but did not call for its enforcement by military action. The United
States and Britain nevertheless used UNSC 688 to justify the enforcement of what it called “no-fly zones,” whereby
Iraqi planes are not allowed to fly over the north and south of the country (north of the 36th parallel, and south of the
32nd parallel). These zones are enforced by U.S.-U.K. patrols and almost daily bombings. After the withdrawal of UN
weapons inspectors in 1998, the average monthly release of bombs rose dramatically from .025 tons to five tons. U.S.
and U.K. planes could now target any part of what the United
States considered the Iraqi air defense system. Between 1991 and 2000 U.S.
and U.K. fighter planes flew more than 280,000 sorties. UN
officials have documented that these bombings routinely hit civilians and essential civilian infrastructure, as well as livestock.
After the war, Iraq
remained under the comprehensive regime of sanctions placed by the UN in 1990. These sanctions were to last until Iraq fulfilled
UNSC 687—elimination of its programs for developing chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, dismantling of its long-range
missiles, a system of inspections to verify compliance, acceptance of a UN-demarcated Iraq-Kuwait border, payment of war compensation,
and the return of Kuwaiti property and prisoners of war. Since the verification of compliance was bound to be a drawn-out
and controversy-ridden process, the sanctions could be prolonged indefinitely.
The result has been catastrophic—the
greatest among the catastrophes of that decade of great economic catastrophes worldwide. By 1993, the Iraqi economy, under
the crunch of sanctions, shrank to one-fifth of its size in 1979, and shrank further in 1994. Rations lasted only about
one-third to half of a month.
Although “humanitarian goods”
were excluded from the embargo, the embargo had not clearly defined such goods, which had to be cleared by the UN sanctions
committee. Later, in order to deflect growing criticism of the sanctions and in order to preempt French and Russian counterproposals,
the U.K. and U.S.
introduced UNSC 986. By this resolution proceeds from Iraq’s
oil sales would go into a UN-controlled account; and Iraq
could place orders for humanitarian goods—to be scrutinized by the UN Security Council.
States tried to limit the definition of “humanitarian goods” to food and medicine
alone, preventing the import of items needed to restore water supply, sanitation, electrical power, even medical facilities.
Among the items kept out by American veto, on the grounds that they might have a military application, were chemicals, laboratory
equipment, generators, communications equipment, ambulances (on the pretext that they contain communications equipment), chlorinators,
and even pencils (on the pretext that they contain graphite, which has military uses). The United
States and Britain placed
“holds” on $5.3 billion worth of goods in early 2002 alone. Even this does not tell the full impact, since the
item held back often renders imports of other parts useless.
The Economist (London),
although an eager supporter of American policies toward Iraq,
described conditions in the besieged country by the year 2000:
impinge on the lives of all Iraqis every moment of the day. In Basra, Iraq’s
second city, power flickers on and off, unpredictable in the hours it is available....Smoke from jerry-rigged generators and
vehicles hangs over the town in a thick cloud. The tap-water causes diarrhea, but few can afford the bottled sort. Because
the sewers have broken down, pools of stinking muck have leached through the surface all over town. That effluent, combined
with pollution upstream, has killed most of the fish in the Shatt al-Arab river and has left the remainder unsafe to eat.
The government can no longer spray for sand flies or mosquitoes, so insects have proliferated, along with the diseases they
Most of the once-elaborate array
of government services have vanished. The archaeological service has taken to burying painstakingly excavated ruins for want
of the proper preservative chemicals. The government-maintained irrigation and drainage network has crumbled, leaving much
of Iraq’s prime agricultural land either too dry or
too salty to cultivate. Sheep and cattle, no longer shielded by government vaccination programs, have succumbed to pests and
diseases by the hundreds of thousands. Many teachers in the state-run schools do not bother to show up for work anymore. Those
who do must teach listless, malnourished children, often without the benefit of books, desks or even black-boards (Economist,April 8, 2000).
During the first three years of
the oil-for-food regime, the annual ceiling placed by the UN was just $170 per Iraqi. Out of this meager sum a further $51
was deducted and diverted to the UN Compensation Commission, which any government, organization, or individual who claimed
to have suffered as a result of Iraq’s attack on Kuwait
could approach for compensation. (Within the remaining sum, a disproportionate amount is diverted under U.S.
direction to the Kurdish north—with 13 percent of the population but 20 percent of the funds—because this region
is no longer ruled by Baghdad. The cynical intention is to point to improved conditions
in this favored region as proof that it is not the sanctions but Saddam that is responsible for Iraqi suffering.) Later, the
UN removed the ceiling on Iraq’s oil earnings—but
prevented the rehabilitation of the Iraqi oil industry, thus ensuring that in effect the ceiling remained.
In 1998, the UN carried out a nationwide
survey of health and nutrition. It found that mortality rates among children under five in central and southern Iraq
had doubled from the previous decade. That would suggest 500,000 excess deaths of children by 1998. Excess deaths of
children continue at the rate of 5,000 a month. UNICEF estimated in 2002 that 70 percent of child deaths in Iraq
result from diarrhea and acute respiratory infections. This is the result—as foretold accurately by U.S.
intelligence in 1991—of the breakdown of systems to provide clean water, sanitation, and electrical power. Adults, too,
particularly the elderly and other vulnerable sections, have succumbed. The overall toll, of all ages, was put at 1.2 million
in a 1997 UNICEF report.
The evidence of the effect of the
sanctions came from the most authoritative sources. Denis Halliday, UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq
from 1997 to 1998, resigned in protest against the operation of the sanctions, which he termed deliberate “genocide.”
He was replaced by Hans von Sponeck, who resigned in 2000, on the same grounds. Jutta Burghardt, director of the UN World
Food Program operation in Iraq, also resigned, saying, “I
fully support what Mr. von Sponeck was saying.”
There is no room for doubt that
genocide was conscious U.S. policy. On May 12, 1996, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was asked by Lesley Stahl of CBS television:
“We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more than died in Hiroshima.
And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright replied: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price, we
think the price is worth it.”
of Imperialist Occupation
as a Tool of Provocation, Spying, Assassination
There can also be no doubt now
by that UNSCOM, the UN weapons inspections body, was made into a tool of the U.S.
mission to take over Iraq. Not only did UNSCOM coordinate
consistently with U.S. and Israeli intelligence on which sites
to inspect, but agents of these services were placed in the inspection teams. Scott Ritter, former UN weapons inspector, writes:
recall during my time as a chief inspector in Iraq the dozens
of extremely fit “missile experts” and “logistics specialists” who frequented my inspection teams
and others. Drawn from U.S. units such as Delta Force or from
CIA paramilitary teams such as the Special Activities Staff, these specialists had a legitimate part to play in the difficult
cat- and-mouse effort to disarm Iraq. So did the teams of
British radio intercept operators I ran in Iraq from 1996 to 1998—which listened in on the conversations of Hussein’s
inner circle—and the various other intelligence specialists who were part of the inspection effort. The presence of
such personnel on inspection teams was, and is, viewed by the Iraqi government as an unacceptable risk to its nation’s
security. As early as 1992, the Iraqis viewed the teams I led inside Iraq
as a threat to the safety of their president (Los Angeles Times,June 19,
Rolf Ekeus, who led the weapons
inspections mission from 1991 to 1997, revealed in a recent interview to Swedish radio that he knew what was up: “There
is no doubt that the Americans wanted to influence inspections to further certain fundamental U.S. interests.” The
United States pressure included attempts to “create crises in relations with Iraq, which to some extent was linked to
the overall political situation—internationally but also perhaps nationally....There was an ambition to cause a crisis
through pressure for, shall we say, blunt provocation, for example by inspection of the Department of Defense, which at least
from an Iraqi point of view must have been provocative.” He said that the United
States had wanted information about how Iraq’s
security services were organized and what its conventional military capacity was. And he said he was “conscious”
of the United States seeking information on
where President Saddam Hussein was hiding, “which could be of interest if one were to target him personally.”
By 1997, Ekeus reported to the
Security Council that 93 percent of Iraq’s major weapons
capability had been destroyed. UNSCOM and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certified that Iraq’s
nuclear stocks were gone and most of its long-range systems had been destroyed. (IAEA inspectors continue to date to travel
to Iraq, and report full compliance.) In 1999 a special panel
of the Security Council recorded that Iraq’s main biological
weapons facility (whose stocks were supplied, as mentioned earlier, by the United States)
had “been destroyed and rendered harmless.” Pressure began to build, especially from Russia
and France—for reasons we will mention later—for
the step-by-step lifting of sanctions, or at least clarity on what action by Iraq
would lead to the lifting of sanctions.
fulfillment of UNSC 687 was seen by the United States as a
threat to its continuing plans to strip Iraq of its tattered
sovereignty. Ekeus was replaced in 1997 by the Australian Richard Butler, who
owed his post to American support and paid scant heed to the other members of the Security Council. After a series of confrontational
attempts to inspect sites such as the defense ministry and the presidential palaces, Butler
complained of noncooperation by the Iraqis and withdrew his inspectors in November and December 1998, the second time without
bothering to consult the Security Council—apart from the United States.
This was in preparation for Operation Desert Fox—torrential bombing by the United States
and Britain throughout southern and central Iraq
from December 16 to 19, 1998. Significantly, the United
States and U.K. did not bother
to consult the Security Council before carrying out this action.
The Big Prize
Apart from the terrible direct
human impact of the sanctions, it is important to bear in mind another calculation of the United
States in prolonging the sanctions until it invades: as long as the sanctions stay, foreign
investment in Iraq cannot take place, nor can rehabilitation
of the country’s oil industry. Sanctions are thus an important instrument for the United
States to prevent other imperialist powers from getting a foothold in Iraq—recalling
an earlier theme of Iraqi history.
oil resources are vast, surpassed only by Saudi Arabia, and
as cheap to extract as Saudi oil. The country’s 115 billion barrels of proven oil reserves are matched by perhaps an
equal quantity yet to be explored. “Since no geological survey has been conducted in Iraq
since the 1970s, experts believe that the proven reserves underestimate the country’s actual oil wealth, which could
be as large as 250 billion barrels. Three decades of political instability and war have kept Iraq
from developing 55 of its 70 proven oil fields. Eight of these fields could harbor more than a billion barrels each of “easy
oil” which is close to the surface and inexpensive to extract. “There is nothing like it anywhere else in the
world,” says Gerald Butt, Gulf editor of the Middle East Economic Survey. “It’s the big prize.”
prewar production was three million barrels a day and present production capacity is put at 2.8 million barrels a day. In
fact, because of deteriorating equipment, it is hard put to reach that figure, and it currently exports less than a million
barrels a day. It is estimated that, with adequate investment, Iraq’s
production can reach million barrels a day within five years. That
compares with Saudi Arabia’s current production of 7.1
million barrels a day, close to 10 percent of world consumption.
This expansion of Iraqi production
is impossible as long as the sanctions stay in place. The UN warned in 2000 of a “major breakdown” in Iraq’s
oil industry if spare parts and equipment were not forthcoming. The United States
said any extra money should only be used “for short-term improvements to the Iraqi oil industry and not to make long-term
repairs.” The United States Department of Energy said: “As of early January, 2002, the head of the UN Iraq program,
Benon Sevan, expressed ‘grave concern’ at the volume of ‘holds’ put on contracts for oil field development,
and stated the entire program was threatened with paralysis. According to Sevan, these holds amounted to nearly 2000 contracts
worth about $5 billion, about 80 percent of which were ‘held’ by the United States.”
From the point of view of U.S.
oil interests, then, the sanctions are a double-edged sword: even as they keep international competition temporarily at bay,
they preclude the exploitation of oil reserves with an estimated value of several trillion dollars. The war against Saddam
Hussein is intended, among other things, to resolve this contradiction.
In June 2001, France
and Russia proposed in the Security Council to remove restrictions
on foreign investment in the Iraqi oil industry. However, the United States
and U.K. predictably killed the proposal. American companies
are barred by U.S. law from investing in Iraq,
and so all the contracts for development of Iraqi fields have been cornered by companies from other countries. The Wall
Street Journal compiled the following information from oil industry sources:
That Initiated Deals with Iraq in the 1990s, and Reserves of the Fields They Would Drill If Sanctions Are Lifted:
Reserves (billion barrels)
China National Petroleum
part of TotalFinaElf.
Wall Street Journal, September 19, 2002
Lukoil’s contract to drill
the West Qurna field is valued at $20 billion, and Zarubezneft’s concession to develop the bin
Umar field is put at up to $90 billion. The total value of Iraq’s
foreign contract awards could reach $1.1 trillion, according to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy
One of the major objectives of
the United States’ impending invasion of Iraq
is to nullify these agreements. “The concern of my government,” a Russian official at the UN told the Observerin
October 2002, “is that the concessions agreed upon between Baghdad and numerous enterprises will be reneged upon, and
that U.S. companies will enter to take the greatest share of those existing contracts....Yes, if you could say it that way—an
oil grab by Washington.”
too, fears “suffering economically from U.S. oil ambitions
at the end of a war.” But it may nevertheless back the invasion: “Government sources say they fear—existing
concessions aside—France could be cut out of the spoils
if it did not support the war and show a significant military presence. If it comes to war, France is determined to be allotted
a more prestigious role in the fighting than in the 1991 Gulf war, when its main role was to occupy lightly defended ground.
Negotiations have been going on between the state-owned TotalFinaElf company and the United
States about redistribution of oil regions between the world’s major oil companies.”
The “oil grab” was
made explicit by former CIA director R. James Woolsey in an interview with the Washington Post: “France
and Russia have oil companies and interests in Iraq.
They should be told that if they are of assistance in moving Iraq
toward decent government, we’ll do the best we can to ensure that the new government and American companies work closely
with them.” But he added, “If they throw in their lot with Saddam, it will be difficult to the point of impossible
to persuade the new Iraqi government to work with them.”
Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the
London-based “Iraqi National Congress,” which enjoys the tactical (and probably temporary) support of the Bush
administration but virtually none in Iraq, met executives of three U.S. multinationals in October in Washington to negotiate
the carving up of Iraq’s oil reserves after the U. S. invasion. Chalabi told the Washington Post: “American
companies will have a big shot at Iraqi oil.” He favored the creation of a U.S.-led consortium to develop Iraq’s
fields. So stark is American dominance that even Lord Browne, the head of BP (formerly known as British Petroleum) warned
that “British oil companies have been squeezed out of postwar Iraq
even before the first shot has been fired in any U.S.-led land invasion.”
The Logic of Invasion
Given this logic, it is hardly
surprising that Bush and his cabinet were planning the invasion of Iraq
even before he came to office in January 2001. The plan was drawn up by a right-wing think tank for Dick Cheney, now vice
president, Donald Rumsfeld, defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld’s deputy, Bush’s younger brother Jeb Bush,
and Lewis Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff. As Neil Mackay notes, the plan shows that Bush’s cabinet intended to
take military control of the Gulf region whether or not Saddam Hussein was in power:
United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent
role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq
provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue
of the regime of Saddam Hussein (“China Digs for Mid East Oil, U.S. Gets Fired Up” Reuters, September 24, 2002).
Another report prepared in April
2001 for Cheney by an institute run by James Baker (U.S. secretary
of state under George Bush Sr.) ran along similar lines: “Iraq
remains a destabilizing influence...in the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East.
Saddam Hussein has also demonstrated a willingness to use the oil weapon and to use his own export program to manipulate oil
markets.” The report complains that Iraq “turns
its taps on and off when it has felt such action was in its strategic interest to do so,” adding that there is a “possibility
that Saddam Hussein may remove Iraqi oil from the market for an extended period of time” in order to damage prices.
The report recommends that “therefore the United States
should conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq including
military, energy, economic, and political/diplomatic assessments.” The report was an important input for the national
energy plan—the “Cheney Report”—formulated by the American vice president and released by the White
House in early May 2001. The Cheney Report calls for a major increase in U.S.
engagement in regions such as the Persian Gulf in order to secure future petroleum supplies.
Within hours of the attacks of
September 11, with no evidence pointing to Iraq’s involvement
in the attacks, U.S. defense secretary Rumsfeld ordered the
military to begin working on strike plans. Notes of the meeting quote Rumsfeld as saying he wanted “best info fast.
Judge whether good enough to hit S.H. [meaning Saddam Hussein] at the same time. Not only UBL [the initials used to identify
Usama bin Laden].” The notes quote Rumsfeld as saying. “Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”
The Revival of Old Themes
At the start of the twenty-first
century, then, broad themes of Iraqi history from the first half of the twentieth century return: imperialist invasion and
occupation to grab the region’s resources, and rivalries between different imperialist powers as they strain for the
Yet we ought not to forget another
major theme from Iraqi history: the anti-imperialist resistance of the Iraqi masses. Even the most jaundiced Western correspondent
reporting from Baghdad has been struck by how today Saddam Hussein has become,
for the Iraqi people, a symbol of their defiance of American imperialism. Indeed, he has become a symbol of such defiance
for the entire Arab people.
The hour of the invasion draws
near. As we write this, on December 28, 2002, the Iraqi government has
told a solidarity conference in Baghdad that “he who attacks our country
will lose. We will fight from village to village, from city to city and from street to street in every city....Iraq’s
oil, nationalized by the president...from the hands of the British and the Americans in 1972...will remain in the hands of
this people and this leadership.”
The Iraqi armed forces may not
be able to put up extended resistance to the onslaught. But the Iraqi people have not buckled to American dictates for the
past more than eleven years of torment. They will not meekly surrender to the imminent American-led military occupation of
their country. And that fact itself carries grave consequences for American imperialism’s broader designs.
SUCK:there are some serious flaws.This
article was in a word document, the text in the same font (New Times Roman), not bold, spacing (1.5), and size (12), but it
is what you have above!
WAR MAKES MORE EVIL PEOPLE THAN IT KILLS—Immanuel Kant
The single greatest waste of human resources is war related activities.In the period from 1945 until 1985 the United states had consumed through its military expenditures enough to build
a second United States—from factories, roads to homes and consumer items.