Behind the War On Terror
Mossadeq Ahmed, based in the UK, is the executive director of the
Institute for Policy Research & Development. He is the author
War on Terror: Western Secret Strategy & the Struggle for Iraq
Let’s talk about your book. What is the Western secret strategy
It goes back to the beginning of the 20th century, when the British
and the French went into the Middle East and interfered in the operation
of the Ottoman Empire, with the very clear design on the huge oil
reserves in the region. They manufactured the collapse of the Ottoman
Empire. Previously, the Middle East was united, more or less, under
this empire. They basically co-opted various factions that didn’t
have popular support and used them to create conflict and division.
It was a very bloody process. In the end, they carved the Middle
East into 12 previously nonexistent nation states—Saudi Arabia,
Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Syria. This is the legacy that we live with
today. They gave a lot of financial and military support to these
regimes. The result was a great deal of repression because the Arab
people didn’t like this. It was a way of getting control of
of the interventions occurred in 1953 in Iran, when the conservative
parliamentary democracy of Mohammad Mossadeq was overthrown by a
and the Central Intelligence
Agency. What happened in Iran in 1953?
Mossadeq was a popular, democratically elected leader. He wasn’t
any kind of Islamic fundamentalist. He nationalized the oil industry,
which previously the United States and Britain had monopolized.
Both governments were extremely worried about this because it occurred
in the context of the Cold War. That was the justification for trying
to remove Mossadeq—that Mossadeq had connections to communism.
In reality, there was no meaningful Soviet presence in Iran. According
to declassified British Foreign Office documents, they were fully
aware that the communist Tudeh Party was marginal and had no real
relationship to Mossadeq. So this was, as one document mentions,
the Mossadeq brand of nationalism. That was the key problem.
also represented a wider threat to the region because if Iran was
able to successfully come out of the grip of this imperial system,
it would serve as the threat of a good example. Many other nations
could be inspired to do the same. So they arranged this military
coup installing the Shah of Iran, essentially reinstalled him. The
Shah went on to reverse everything that Mossadeq had done. He opened
the country up, under so-called free market principles, to the West,
which allowed them to have free rein over the entire country, undercutting
business, industries, and development. Most notoriously, with the
help of Israel, the United States and Britain set up the Savak secret
police, which imposed horrendous human rights conditions. It was
a police state. They were spying on anybody who said anything against
period culminated with the Islamic revolution of 1978 and 1979.
is no doubt that this policy of the United States and Britain ultimately
generated the grievances that led to that revolution, because the
Shah of Iran was very similar in some ways to Kemal Ataturk. It
was all justified that this was a secular democracy. Of course,
it wasn’t. It was a complete dictatorship. This is what partly
fueled the response of the Iranian people, that we have to go back
to our own culture, which is why it expressed itself in Islamic
terminology. As the revolution intensified, the Shah’s response
intensified as well, to the point that 10,000 Iranian civilians
were killed by Iranian troops firing into crowds of protesters.
There was one time when the demonstrations were very huge and the
Shah had completely cracked down on them, firing into crowds. Then
the Shah went to Washington and met with President Carter who said
something like Iran is an island of stability in a turbulent part
of the world. You could hardly imagine a clearer statement of support
for state terrorism.
of the explanations that the U.S. gives for its invasion and occupation
of Iraq is that by establishing democracy there, it will have a
domino effect. What kind of confidence can people have in those
kinds of expectations?
can have absolutely zero confidence in that. There is no doubt that
the United States and Britain have never had any concern for democracy.
It’s been the opposite. There are quite candid admissions about
this in the documents that have come out in both the state department
and the foreign office.
all of the discussion in the United States on the events of September
—and that has been amplified during the hearings
of the September 11 commission—have been on the mechanics:
How did it happen? Where were the failures of intelligence? Why
weren’t different agencies communicating? What about some of
discusses the why very much. Why did terrorists attack on September
11? If you look at the transcripts of some of Osama bin Laden’s
speeches, you can see what he’s talking about. He’s highlighting
very specific grievances about the Middle East—the sanctions
on Iraq, which killed—there is no disagreement about this—over
one million civilians, half of them children. He talks about the
occupation of Palestine by Israel and the apartheid. He talks about
the occupation of Saudi Arabia, considered by Muslims to be a holy
land. It’s very clear that U.S. and British policy in the region,
by oppressing the populations, by denying them the right of self-determination
and exploiting their resources, has created extreme anti- Americanism
and resentment. That’s not a case of legitimizing the attacks;
that’s an analysis to understand the causes, the social and
psychological causes, behind them.
talk a little about Spain and what happened in the election there
in March 2004. Trains were bombed. Tragically, almost 200 people
died. A few days later, the ruling pro-war party was voted out and
Zapatero, who promised to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq, was
elected. This election has been described in the liberal
, by its columnist, Thomas Friedman, as appeasement.
is absurd. We actually heard stuff like this in the British press
as well. The Madrid bombing was a backlash, which arose as a consequence
of the war on terror. It’s very important to understand that
the Spanish people experienced what it means when you go into a
country and you invade and you occupy them: there is going to be
resistance. As a result of that experience, they said, “We
don’t want our troops in Iraq.” They voted for the guy
who said, “We’re going to get our troops out.” It’s
insulting to the Spanish people to say that this is appeasement
because they were the ones who suffered.
like Bush, Powell, Rice, Cheney, and Rumsfeld now say that they
are quite surprised that there are no weapons of mass destruction
in Iraq, but, regardless, Iraq has now been liberated and the Iraqi
people and the world are better off without Saddam Hussein because
the world is a lot safer. Is it?
not. First off, in relation to the whole WMD thing—they knew
there weren’t any WMDs. There is a famous defector, General
Hussein Kamel, that everybody always quotes. In 1995 Kamel was head
of the WMD program in Iraq and he defected. He had this massive
pile of documents making clear what Saddam Hussein’s weapons
of mass destruction were. That’s what Powell quotes him as
saying: Saddam Hussein has this much anthrax now, blah, blah, blah.
But what they don’t say is that when Hussein Kamel was interviewed
by UNSCOM officials about the same documents, he said: Saddam Hussein
destroyed these weapons. He said, I ordered the destruction of these
weapons before the Gulf War because Saddam Hussein was afraid of
what would happen when people realized and it became public knowledge
that this is what happened. So he wanted to eliminate them so he
didn’t get too incriminated. They knew from the start that
there was no threat.
Iraq has been liberated. Aren’t
the Iraqis better off without Saddam Hussein?
the most interesting line that I could imagine to justify this war,
the lie that this is a war of liberation. If you look at reality,
what is happening on the ground in Iraq now, after they removed
Saddam Hussein and his immediate entourage, they didn’t go
about dismantling the Ba’athist apparatus. They always said
they were going to remove the Ba’athist regime. But this was
rhetoric. In reality, the war was won by buying off the entire Ba’athist
establishment. They paid money to key generals in the Republican
Guard, for example—people who were implicated in war crimes
and genocide and mass murder of the Iraqi people—to switch
sides. I think it was General Vincent Brooks, one of the generals
in Iraq, who basically said, some of these people, when they switch
sides, they’re going to have positions in the new Administration.
This is what has happened. For example, Saddam’s former head
of the interior ministry has been installed as the head of the police
in Baghdad. Six thousand Ba’athist loyalists, who were former
police—the Ba’athist police are notorious for torture—have
been unleashed, again, into the streets of Baghdad.
of the demands that al-Qaeda and bin Laden made was that U.S. troops
should get out of Saudi Arabia. Well, they
gotten out, but most of them have relocated to Iraq.
you look at the reasons why they got out of Saudi Arabia, it seems
to be because of the increasing unrest in that country. There are
reports about Saudi officials saying that there have been contingency
plans to grab the oil fields. The Pentagon has done studies of this,
to grab the oil fields in case of a coup. There has been more and
more unrest, not only on the streets, but also among members of
the royal family. There is the possibility that the current regime
might topple. There is a feeling within Saudi Arabia that
the United States is controlling the regime, controlling the repression.
That they are responsible for the torture, because they’re
the ones, as many reports document, providing the regime with weapons.
Pulling out of Saudi Arabia is a bit of a PR stunt. It’s like
saying, “Look, we are conceding. We’re pulling out of
Saudi Arabia.” But by establishing a military occupation in
Iraq, they’re hoping that they can transform the geopolitical
order in the region to one where the United States plays the role
of a regional imperial power.
are some very schizophrenic tendencies in U.S.-Saudi relations.
For example, Saudi Arabia, which has a particularly virulent form
of Islam, Wahabism, has been financing a lot of the international
terror. But at the same time the U.S. is a very close ally with
the ruling emirs in Riyadh.
says to me that the war on terror is very much a facade, because
if this was really about fighting terrorism, they would put sufficient
pressure on Saudi Arabia to crack down on the financial arteries
of terrorism. They have known since 1996. There was a report in
which revealed that National Security
Agency intercepts had revealed communications among Saudi royal
family members—obviously not the whole family, but people within
it—which proved, essentially, that they were funding al-Qaeda
to the tune of millions of dollars. Clinton knew about this, Bush
knew about this. But Saudi Arabia is consistently being protected.
of Bangladeshi origin and it’s one of the world’s most
populous Muslim countries. Within that arc of Islam from Morocco
to Indonesia how have U.S. actions in Afghanistan and Iraq been
went to Malaysia a couple of years ago to attend a few conferences
after the Afghan war. The majority of people there didn’t believe
that Osama bin Laden had anything to do with 9/11. The reason for
this was not because they love terrorism, but because they didn’t
believe anything that the United States said. They were so disillusioned.
Because of that, Osama bin Laden was seen as struggling against
U.S. imperialism. They can’t be blamed for that, because the
U.S. government and the British government have such a vast record
of deception and fabrication in the region.
about protracted genocide because I think that may trouble some
general argument is that we are living in a continuum; that imperialism
is not something divided into clear blocks, which are separated
from one another, but it has been an unbroken continuum for 500
years. There is a term which I think the journalist John Pilger
uses: “unpeople.” This concept transcends geographical
barriers and transcends ethnic distinctions and, in a sense, leads
us to a new conception of genocide. Genocide is being targeted against
groups that are politically, economically, and socially situated
because they are weak and because they are obstacles to the consolidation
of this global imperial system and therefore ought to be exterminated,
in part. I see that as an interconnected process, which you can
actually describe as an ongoing genocide against, say, the Third
World, if you want to call it that.
important thing about this concept is that it doesn’t imply
wholesale extermination or anything like that. An important definition
of genocide is that it is the targeting of a group, in whole or
in part. But what is common about these people is their situation,
is their social class and the fact that they are, in terms of the
system, viewed as a single entity. This categorization of “unpeople”
is very useful because they’re this single mass of people.
Just get rid of them; we don’t need those. An example would
be Stalin, when he targeted the peasant class. He wasn’t trying
to wipe out an entire population. But in a sense it was genocide.
Even though under the genocide convention it wouldn’t be described
as genocide, many scholars have said it was genocidal in its implications
because millions of people were killed. And millions of people are
dying in this overall process of decades and centuries. It amounts
to tens of millions of people—to me that seems genocidal.
Lewis is a scholar of Islam and regarded with great reverence in
the U.S. He coined the term
“clash of civilizations”
in a 1990 article he wrote in the
“Roots of Muslim Rage.” A few years later, Harvard Professor
Samuel Huntington picked up on that title for his book. It became
a bestseller, particularly after September 11. You talk about this
Behind the War on Terror
. What’s your analysis
creates this ideological framework for justifying a war on terror
which has absolutely nothing to do with this kind of civilizational
clash. If you look at Huntington’s thesis, and Lewis’s
writings, what they both do is buttress this kind of national security
discourse where you have us over here who are threatened by the
outsiders over there. Post 9/11 al-Qaeda has provided this wonderfully
convenient constant target. Everything can be blamed on al-Qaeda.
We can’t communicate with each other. They don’t understand
us, we don’t understand them. Therefore, the only thing we
can do is have a war on them to stop them from destroying us. In
reality, this veils the interests that are motivating this war.
If you look, for example, at the Project for the New American Century,
they don’t talk about a clash of civilizations, they talk about
expanding Pax Americana. They talk about accessing key regions—all
of which were listed, including the possibility of an invasion of
Iraq, prior to 9/11. The axis of evil that Bush mentioned post 9/11
was already listed in this document, which makes very clear that
the war on terror was not a response to 9/11. It was an imperial
geostrategy that had been planned for some time and 9/11 provided
the pretext to implement it.
if you look at the official parameters of the war on terror, it
doesn’t make sense. What does Iraq have to do with al-Qaeda?
There is no connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. There were reports
from the conservative Israeli news service, DEBKAfile, based in
Jerusalem, that Ramzi Binalshibh—he’s the Pakistani connected
to al-Qaeda, a top guy who’s now in U.S. custody—had passed
information to the United States about the Moroccan terror network
that was supposedly behind the Madrid bombings. DEBKAfile comments
that they didn’t do anything about this network that was there,
that there was absolutely no response. It does make us wonder, staying
within the parameters of the official discourse, why we are spending
so much money in Iraq and there is absolutely no concern for what
is happening in Madrid, for example, if we assume that this terror
network does exist and nothing was done? Terrorism is not the target.
The target is innocent people who stand in the way of
expansion of this imperial system.
those lines, what suggestions might you make?
I always tell people is that it starts at home. You can’t transform
the world in a day. What we need to be doing is generating awareness
of these issues and problems, generating awareness that going into
the Gulf is not the way to solve our problems. I think we
need fundamental structural change. We need to pull out of the Gulf,
which means transforming the way our society is organized. If we
want to, say, invest in renewable resources, we need to lobby about
this. We need to inform members of the public about the trajectory
of U.S. foreign policy. And we need to start in our local communities.
We can’t convince the entire world just like that, but if we’re
proactive and work together with people who agree with us, we can
have an effect.
have to remember that historical change takes time. In essence you
have to be optimistic about it. Once we focus on all these different
issues and get to the main point, get these issues out, I think
we can have change, we can have change in people’s consciousness.
And that’s where it really begins.
keeps your fires burning today?
very easy to be pessimistic about things, but I have this sense
of optimism and I feel that if you spread the information, then
things will change. That is how movements develop. Movements always
take time, and the important thing is planting the seeds. You have
to feed people information slowly so that they don’t fall into
denial, give them basic facts. I do talks and interviews because
the more people have access to information, the more likely the
information will be spread, the more people it will touch, and the
more people in society will be changed.
is the founder and director of Alternative Radio, based in Boulder,
Colorado. He is the author of
Decline & Fall
of Public Broadcasting
as well as a number of books. His
forthcoming book is with Arundhati Roy. He is a regular contributor