Iraq: What Went Wrong?

[Talk delivered July 22, 2004 to Roslindale Neighbors for Peace and Justice]


After invading Iraq, the leader of the conquering army proclaimed:


Our armies do not come in your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators … I am commanded to invite you to participate in the management of your own civil affairs.”


Was this George Bush, Tony Blair, Paul Bremer, or Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez? No, it was conquering British General Stanley Maude, in 1917.1,2

     This was after Iraq was conquered, during the First World War.

Soon, thereafter, their hopes for independence betrayed, the Iraqis launched a rebellion. The British used their superior weaponry to suppress it, including the new poison gas, recommended by T. E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia.3 Winston Churchill commented:


“I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas… I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes.”3


Approximately 450 British troops died while suppressing the rebellion. While then, as now, no one counted Iraqi deaths, estimates range from 8,000 to 10,000.1


Forty-seven year old Winston Churchill was appointed to come up with a solution. A ruler was found. He wasn’t Iraqi, but from Saudi Arabia, but that didn’t matter. Prince Faisal became a British-appointed king. A regime was set up with the minority Sunni religious group dominant and the majority Shiites kept largely powerless.


After a 40 years, the British lost control. But the Americans retained influence, helping the Ba’ath party attain — including young Saddam Hussein — attain power and giving them lists of thousands of Iraqis, communists and others, to be assassinated.4


We Americans may choose to ignore history, but Iraqis absorb these facts with their mother’s milk.


Fast forward. The US and Britain invade Iraq based on trumped up charges, as we now are all aware, but at the time, only those who read independent reporting knew.

Looting sweeps the country. The US does nothing to stop it. US Defense Secretary Rumsfeld likens the chaotic situation in Iraq to post-revolutionary America.5 Rumors and eyewitness accounts abound that at least some US troops encouraged looters.6, 7 Much of the Iraqi infrastructure is destroyed. Most government buildings are destroyed, with the exception of the Planning Ministry (with its intelligence files) and the Oil Ministry, which the US saw fit to protect.8, 9


While Americans are warily welcomed in parts of postwar Iraq, in others, they are not viewed so positively. April 28, 2003. 15 people are shot and killed by American troops in Falluja, who claimed they were fired upon. A reporter from the British paper the Independent examines the building the US troops were in and find no signs of bullet holes that could have come from the crowd outside.10 The US press ignores this. A few days later, more Fallujans are shot by US troops.11 Sheik Talid Alesawi, a Sunni cleric says: “We understood freedom by making demonstrations. But the shooting that greeted us was not freedom. Are there two types of freedom, one for you and one for us?”11


The Iraqi summer arrives. Tem

Leave a comment