Lessons of History

Should the imperialist power that conspired to put Saddam Hussein in power, that was directly complicit in his regime’s worst crimes, and that—through two wars and 13 years of sanctions—killed far more Iraqis than anything attributed to Hussein, now be entrusted with controlling Iraq and shaping its destiny? Should that power be believed when it now talks of being a force for liberation?

Of course not. Then why believe that the U.S. occupation of Iraq is in any way justified, or that anything good can come of it?

Many who opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq feel it’s now somehow wrong or “unrealistic” to demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the U.S. forces who are illegally, immorally, and unjustly occupying Iraq.

Bush and Co. claim that if the U.S. suddenly pulled out of Iraq now, a bloody civil war—a Rwanda-type or a Yugo-slavia- type scenario—would ensue. And this logic is accepted and put forward by leading Democrats and some people who say they oppose Bush.

But let’s look reality in the face: A bloody war is taking place right now —as U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies brutally attempt to crush anti-occupation opposition. Iraqis testifying at the recent World Tribunal on Iraq in Istanbul, Turkey, argued that the U.S. occupation is actually exacerbating ethnic and religious tensions and conflict.

The civil war that is already going on could very well escalate if the U.S. left. Iraq is riven with deep national, social, and class contradictions—thanks primarily to the legacy of imperialism—and the Iraqi resistance is a complex mix of fundamentalist Islamists, elements of the former Ba’ath regime, nationalists, and others in the mix.

But it has to be said straight up: Even if civil war were to intensify with the end of U.S. occupation, that would be better than the situation now. Allowing the U.S. to complete its “mission” in Iraq would be criminal—not only guaranteeing ongoing bloodshed and torture carried out by the U.S. and its Iraqi puppets, but also strengthening the oppression of the Iraqi people in many ways, shapes, and forms for decades to come—adding yet another dreadful chapter to imperialism’s long and savage history in this ancient land.

On the other hand, forcing the U.S. out of Iraq would be an enormous victory for the peoples of the world. It would remove the primary obstacle to genuine liberation for the Iraqi people. It could help change the present horrendous dynamic in Iraq and strengthen secular progressive and revolutionary forces there. Beyond Iraq, a U.S. defeat in Iraq would be a serious blow to the U.S. war on the world and could make further U.S.
aggression more difficult. This would give heart to people all over the world and possibly fuel new waves of anti-imperialist and revolutionary struggle.

The most important way people in the U.S. can come to the aid of the oppressed people of Iraq is to build a powerful movement demanding the U.S.
get out—NOW!


Learning from History

A quick review of history helps clarify what the U.S. is really up to—and why it is not doing, and will not do, anything positive for the Iraqi people.

Over the past 80 plus years, the U.S. and Britain have repeatedly intervened in Iraq and the Middle East. The record shows that their actions have never been motivated by concerns for the masses and for self-determination and liberation; they have been driven by the ruthless calculations of global imperialism and ensuring U.S. domination of the region and its vast energy resources.

In this quest, the U.S. has launched covert and overt wars, backed regional tyrannies, and supported Israel’s forcible dispossession of the Palestinians and aggression against neighboring states—inflicting enormous suffering and perpetuating brutal oppression in the process. The 2003 invasion of Iraq represents a savage leap in this history of aggression and domination.

Yes, deep national, social, and class divisions run through the societies of the region. But foreign imperialist domination—by the U.S. in particular—has been and remains the main obstacle to the people’s liberation. And that is more true today than ever—as witnessed in Iraq!


The Creation of Iraq

Britain created Iraq after World War 1, chose its government and shaped its future, not in accord with its promises of self-determination or Iraqi wishes, but to help insure British control of the Middle East for its strategic location and its vast oil reserves. The British realized petroleum was becoming the lifeblood of modern empire—a key economic input impacting production costs, profits, and competitive advantage; an instrument of rivalry whose control ensured leverage over other powers and the world economy; and a resource essential for projecting military power globally.

Britain combined three demographically distinct administrative units of the Ottoman Empire to form the new Iraqi state: Basra in the Shia south, Baghdad in the Sunni center, and Mosul in the Kurdish and Turkomen north. Iraq’s Kurds had been promised independence after World War 1. Instead, the British brutally suppressed the Kurds and incorporated them into Iraq because without the oilfields of Mosul and Kirkuk, the new state would not be economically viable.

A pro-British monarch was installed and a comprador-feudal elite cultivated from among the Sunni elites, exacerbating ethnic and religious tensions. One percent of the landowners owned 55% of the land, and the country’s petroleum wealth was signed away to British and American corporations for a song.

Iraq’s borders were drawn to prevent it from becoming a Gulf power—the small state of Kuwait was given 310 miles of Gulf coastline while the larger state of Iraq was given 36 miles—sowing the seeds of conflict and war for decades to come.

The Iraqi people, however, never welcomed foreign conquerors—with flowers or sweets! In June 1920, over 100,000 Shi’as, Arab nationalists and tribal leaders rose up against the British. The so-called standard bearers of the West retaliated with a rampage—destroying, sometimes burning, whole villages and executing suspected rebels on the spot. British forces bombarded Shi’a rebels with poison-gas-filled artillery shells, and over the years Britain developed a number of anti-personnel weapons for use in Iraq, including phosphorus bombs, war rockets, metal crowsfeet (to maim livestock), man-killing shrapnel, liquid fire, and delay-action bombs.


1958 to 1979: CIA Intrigues and Betrayal of Kurds

In 1958 the Iraqis finally overthrew the hated monarchy. The self-proclaimed champions of freedom in Washington and London responded with military deployments—including nuclear weapons—threats of war, and covert operations which would ultimately bring Saddam Hussein to power. In 1963, the CIA provided the Ba’ath Party with lists of suspected communists, left-leaning intellectuals, progressives, and radical nationalists—thousands of whom were promptly massacred in a Ba’ath-led military coup.

One Ba’ath cadre later admitted, “We came to power on an American train.”

In 1972 Iraq signed a 15-year friendship treaty with the Soviet Union and completed the nationalization of its oil industry. Did Washington accept Iraq’s right to exert control of its resources and future? No. The U.S. and its regional henchman, the Shah of Iran, immediately turned to Iraq’s Kurds and encouraged them to rise against Baghdad, providing millions of dollars in weapons, logistical support, and funds. The CIA saw the Kurds not as friends but as “a card to play” against Iraq and “a uniquely useful tool for weakening [Iraq’s] potential for international adventurism.”

In 1975, when U.S. and Iranian goals were met and Iraq was forced to sign the Treaty of Algiers, the Kurds were promptly abandoned, and then quickly decimated by Iraq’s military which had been forewarned of the betrayal. Between 150,000 and 300,000 Kurds were forced to flee into Iran. “Covert action,” Henry Kissinger infamously remarked, “should not be confused with missionary work.”


The 1980s: Fueling the Iran-Iraq War

During the buildup to the 2003 invasion, George W. Bush condemned Saddam Hussein for his actions in the 1980s—invading Iran, accumulating weapons of mass destruction, and using them against Iranian troops and Iraqi Kurds.

What Bush did not say, however, was that these crimes took place when Hussein’s government was closer to Washington than ever before—and that the U.S. directly facilitated every one of these crimes.

In effort to counter the 1979 Iranian revolution that overthrew the Shah and head off Soviet geopolitical moves (including Soviet efforts to turn Iraq into a regional ally), Washington fueled the Iran-Iraq War—by first supporting Iraq, then Iran, and then Iraq again, all the while making sure neither side won decisive victory. The U.S. moves turned the war into one of the longest and bloodiest conventional wars of the 20th century. “Doling out tactical data to both sides put the agency [CIA] in the position of engineering a stalemate,” Bob Woodward wrote. “This was no mere abstraction. The war was a bloody one…almost a million had been killed, wounded or captured on both sides. This was not a game in an operations center. It was slaughter.”

After the Iraqi military’s 1987-1988 Anfal offensive against the Kurds, including the use of chemical weapons, the U.S. didn’t punish the Hussein regime. On the contrary, Washington rewarded Hussein with increases in aid and trade in hopes Iraq could become a loyal ally in the region.


The 1990s: A Decade of War Crimes

After the end of the war with Iran, Saddam Hussein demanded that the other U.S.-backed regimes in the region, in particular Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, help with the huge debt that Iraq had incurred and raise oil prices to increase Iraq’s oil revenues. When the demands were met with hostile refusal, Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. (Just before the invasion, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq had signalled to Hussein that such a move would be acceptable.)

The invasion abruptly turned Baghdad from a U.S. ally to an enemy. However, U.S. aims in the 1991 Gulf War were never limited to expelling Iraq from Kuwait, much less preventing aggression; instead, coming at a time when the Soviet Union was spiraling into collapse, the war was an effort to radically deepen U.S. regional hegemony and usher in a “new world order” of unfettered U.S. dominance. These objectives demanded crushing Iraq as a regional power and forcefully demonstrating U.S. military might to the world. George H.W.
Bush publicly talked about going the last mile for peace while secretly telling his war cabinet, “We have to have a war.”

The U.S. rejected at least 11 different peace proposals. Bush I was literally “jubilant” when negotiations collapsed and enraged when it seemed they might succeed. He and his advisors viewed the UN as providing “a cloak of acceptability” to their war aims, as National Security Adviser Scowcroft put it.

These objectives dictated an extremely brutal military strategy—against both Iraq’s military and its civilian infrastructure. The Defense Department estimated the dead at 100,000 Iraqi soldiers killed and 300,000 wounded.

Many more Iraqis would eventually die as a result of the deliberate destruction of Iraq’s power grid and water systems. Article 54 of the Geneva Convention prohibits attacks on essential civilian facilities, including “drinking water supplies and irrigation works.” In other words, the U.S. bombing campaign was a war crime.

U.S. aims also dictated that the war continue after Iraq withdrew from Kuwait and combat formally ended. The main weapon was sanctions, which was justified in the name of disarming Iraq, but whose aims actually went far beyond disarmament. Sanctions were designed to cripple Iraq by preventing it from rebuilding its industry, economy, and military; block rival powers from making inroads in Iraq; and make life so miserable that rising mass discontent would compel elements in the Iraqi military to overthrow Hussein. This is why sanctions were never lifted even after Iraq had in fact disarmed ñ which is the simple reason why no weapons of mass destruction were found following the 2003 U.S. invasion.

As Iraqi doctors pointed out to me, destroying water and sanitation systems and then preventing them from being rebuilt—thus subjecting a country to water-borne disease—is a form of biological warfare.

No one knows exactly how many Iraqis were murdered by U.S. sanctions.
Estimates range from 500,000 to 1.7 million between 1990 and 2003. In 1998 UNICEF estimated that some 5,000 Iraqi children under five were dying each month thanks to U.S. actions. That the equivalent of a World Trade Center catastrophe—and more—every 30 days.


The New Millennium: Invasion, Conquest, Occupation

As brutal as this history has been, the 2003 war represents a quantum leap in U.S. aggression. Today’s war is being fought in the context of a new overarching global strategy: to secure U.S.’s position as the world’s only superpower for decades to come by forcefully suppressing any possible rivals; by crushing masses who resist, particularly revolutionaries; by restructuring global political, economic and military relations; and by imposing capitalist globalization.

This unbounded campaign for greater empire is being carried out under the rubric of the “war on terror.” Iraq was not a “diversion” from this “war.” The invasion of Iraq shows what the U.S. “war on terror” is really all about. U.S. strategists saw conquering Iraq as a key step in unfolding their broader global agenda: “shocking and awing” the world, strengthening the U.S. grip on the Middle East, turning Iraqi into a military and political platform for further aggression, and gaining tighter control of international energy supplies.

What the Bush regime calls “liberation” in Iraq is nothing but 21st-century neo-colonialism, with the U.S. trying to cobble together a new, reactionary pro-U.S. ruling class—at the moment comprised of Shi’ite theocrats and Kurdish warlords.


Larry Everest is a correspondent for Revolution newspaper and author of Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda (Common Courage Press 2004), which documents the history of U.S. intervention in Iraq.  This article is based on his testimony at the June 2005 World Tribunal on Iraq in Istanbul Turkey. A longer version is available at http://www.truthout.org/docs_2005/WTI062405V.shtml.



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