The Empire in Iraq

The Anglo-American invasion of Iraq has been couched in the language of benevolence, humanitarianism, and democratization. When President Bush rallied US troops in January 2003, he proclaimed that “you will be fighting not to conquer anybody but to liberate people.”{1}


By 14th December 2003, the world was shown sure proof of this endeavour in the form of a captured, haggard Saddam Hussein — a symbol of how US victory is bringing freedom and justice to an oppressed people. “It marks the end of the road for… all who bullied and killed in his name”, as well as for the “Baathist holdouts” who will be banned from returning to their former positions of “corrupt power and privilege”, proclaimed President George W. Bush. Indeed, “gone forever” will be the latter’s “torture chambers and secret police”, paving the way for “the rise of a free Iraq.”


Now by January 2004, the leading Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Ayatullah Seestani is calling loud and clear for nationwide democratic elections. The US Coalition Provisional Authority seemed nervous. Thomas Carothers — director of the Democracy Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace — explained bluntly: “Beneath the new interest of the United States in bringing democracy to the Middle East is the central dilemma that the most powerful, popular movements are ones that we are deeply uncomfortable with.”{2}


Hence, after rejecting the idea of democratic national elections that might bring to power “the most powerful, popular movements”, US officials proposed the caucus selection system instead: “an elaborate process of picking electors around the country, a process the US would control.” The initial pretext for this was that Iraq lacked an accurate census of Iraq‘s voting population.{3}


Reinstalling the Regime


But democracy has never been on the Iraqi agenda. When the Iraqis of Karbala decided “to try and take charge of their own affairs” in the wake of the US invasion promising “democracy and self-rule”, their endeavour constituted one of the first attempts at Iraqi democratization for decades. “Religious and community leaders got together and selected a city council to represent them, and a security force to protect them”, reported CBS News. “They had assumed that their experiment in democracy would be applauded by the American military.”{4}


But the harbingers of democracy had other ideas. Hence, “US troops disarmed the protection force, arrested popular city councilmen and put back into power some of the same people who had served Saddam.” Subsequently, CPA pro-consul L. Paul Bremmer installed as new Karbala police chief Gen. Abbas Fithel Abud, a veteran Ba’ath Party member with 24 years of loyalty to Saddam to his credit, placing a “well-armed force” under his command. In the words of CBS, “some of the same people who jailed, tortured and informed on [the Iraqi people] are once again in a position of authority: carrying weapons, communications equipment and driving official vehicles.”{5}


Dr. Hussein Shahrestani — a top nuclear scientist who had refused to help Saddam build a nuclear bomb — complains that under US control “the Ba’athists were actually reinstated back into government… The Baath Party is reorganizing itself. They are getting financial support from Saddam’s inner circles who are still loose, and they are holding meetings to organize their activities” — all with Ambassador Bremmer’s blessings.{6}


For example, the US installed Brigadier-General Zuheir Al-Nuami — “one of the Hussein regime’s top police officers” who headed the police force at Saddam’s Interior Ministry — to the post of “new chief of the city police” in Baghdad And less than two weeks after the ousting of Saddam, the London Guardian observed that “thousands of members of the Arab Ba’ath Socialist party, the all too willing instrument of Saddam, are resuming their roles as the men and women who run Iraq.”{7}


Simultaneously, as I point out in my new book Behind the War on Terror: Western Secret Strategy and the Struggle for Iraq, after having directly slaughtered 10,000 Iraqi civilians and destroyed Iraqi infrastructure in the bombing campaign due to which another half a million are likely to die,{8} US forces have crushed legitimate Iraqi protests against re-Ba’athification.


The crushing of indigenous protest has been accompanied by an indiscriminate policy of violent population control involving, as the London Independent reports, the US military’s “‘recon-by-fire’, its lethal raids into civilian homes, its shooting of demonstrators and children during fire-fights, its destruction of houses,… its refusal to investigate killings, its harassment — and killing — of journalists, its constant refrain that it has ‘no information’ about bloody incidents which it must know all too much about.” The culmination of such US military violence coupled with the “breakdown in law and order” under US rule has meant that “almost 1,000 Iraqi civilians are being killed every week — and that may well be a conservative figure.”{9}


In an effort to counter indigenous opposition to US rule, the Coalition Provisional Authority is working swiftly to establish Iraqi paramilitary death squads made up of former Ba’athist spies. The new death squads will “work with US Special Forces soldiers” under the orders of “US military commandersY


Terrorizing the “Terrorists”


The US-Ba’athist counterinsurgency programme has been characterized as a regional extension of the new ‘War on Terror’, occupation forces supposedly  being attacked by terrorists backed by Ba’athists working in alliance with a huge influx of foreign al-Qaeda forces entering through the Iraq-Syria border. US military commanders monitoring the border, however, disagree:  “there is no evidence” of such an influx, they confirm.{10}


But this absorption of the war on Iraq into the ‘War on Terror’ narrative means that all indigenous opposition to US control, whatever its form, automatically becomes “terrorism” — which can therefore be legitimately targeted. The inner logic of the ‘War on Terror’ in Iraq thus entails the demonization of any and all forms of dissent. “American soldiers handcuffed and firmly wrapped masking tape around an Iraqi man’s mouth after they arrested him for speaking out against occupation troops,” reported Reuters in November 2003. “‘This man has been detained for making anti-coalition statements.'”{11}


The Reuters example is representative. Thus, for instance, merely due to the fact that they had been “selected by Karbala’s leaders to serve on the city council,” two Iraqi representatives — Akram al Zubaidi and Najeeb al Shami — were labelled fugitives to be hunted down, arrested and detained by US forces. The former escaped, while the latter was captured and detained indefinitely, without charge, and without access to lawyers, humanitarian organizations or family visitations.{12}


There is a simple reason for this blackout regarding the fate of Iraqis detained by US forces in what used to be Saddam’s prison complexes:  they are, according to Amnesty International, facing forms of “torture” including “sleep deprivation, loud music, bright lights, hooding and prolonged restraint in painful positions”. Deprivation of food and water for days and weeks, indiscriminate seizing of property and cash, reckless destruction of property during searches, and shooting at demonstrators were other cases documented by Amnesty.{13}


The actual targets of the US-Ba’athist counterinsurgency campaign, therefore, are Iraqi civilians expressing any form of dissent or opposition to coalition policies.


The New Apartheid

Ba’athist corruption, torture chambers and secret police are flourishing in Bush’s “free Iraq.” But the state tools of repression have undergone significant enhancement under Bremmer’s democratic genius. The New York Times reported that in response to the Iraqi insurgency, “American soldiers have begun wrapping entire villages in barbed wire”, “demolishing buildings” supposedly used by the resistance, and “imprisoning the relatives of suspected guerrillas” without evidence, including women and children.Abu Hishma, for example, is  one of many “whole villages” that have been “surrounded by razor wire” in this manner, their residents forced to pass through checkpoints.”{14}


Here are the hall-marks of the new apartheid: a Western minority regime consolidates its occupation of indigenous territory through the forceful establishment of ghetto-style physical boundaries, fundamentally demarcating the ruled from the rulers, a strategy by which the regime can manipulate and control the movements of the population while instituting programmes of political and economic marginalization.


Behind the ‘War on Terror’


On 22nd May 2003 President Bush signed Executive Order 13303 providing oil companies working in Iraq with immunity from prosecution or civil litigation for any activities “related to” Iraqi oil. No protections were provided for groups involved in other aspects of Iraqi reconstruction. The Order signified the inception of “absolute power for US corporate interests over Iraqi oil”, a power beyond accountability and the rule of law that legally cancels the Iraqi people’s right to control their own resources.{15}


So what is the war against Iraq about? In my book, I discuss in detail the historical context of Western, primarily Anglo-American interventionism in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. Oil, obviously a highly significant factor, is only one critical aspect of a complex interplay of developing military, geostrategic, political and economic processes driving American and British imperial policy since the colonial era. Imperialism did not end with decolonization. On the contrary, the end-goal of decolonization was candidly described by Lord George Curzon, then British Foreign Secretary, who noted that what the UK and other Western powers desired in the Middle East was 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.”{16}


As I demonstrate in Behind the War on Terror, rather than signalling a reversal of this continuum of Empire-building, decolonization in reality signified its rehabilitation and its development into a new more sophisticated and effective world-system under US/Western hegemony.


The 2003 war on Iraq, for example, was very much concerned with reversing Iraq’s change of oil currency to the Euro (a move that fundamentally challenged the US’ dollar hegemony, particularly over oil-related financial transactions), as well as Iraq’s oil contracts with France and Russia. It was also an attempt to begin to shore-up the framework of order in the Gulf states and the wider Middle East, disintegrating under the pressure of indigenous populations growing increasingly vocal in their opposition to regional US policy, including the support of corrupt Arab dictatorships.{17}


It is perhaps no coincidence that the new ‘War on Terror’ was launched almost immediately after the peak of world oil production that likely occurred in or around 2000, foreshadowing the inevitable decline in production in coming years, and a full-scale global energy crisis within the next decades. This was documented in a joint study by the Council on Foreign Relations and the James Baker Institute for Public Policy drawn up for Vice-President Dick Cheney in early 2001, calling for a drastic “reassessment of the role of energy in American foreign policy”, in which oil was repeatedly cited as a “security imperative.”{18}


This fatal oil squeeze only means that the race to grab global resources via military interventions has become increasingly urgent. The race naturally implies the drive to prevent and undermine other major powers from doing the same. Both Europe and China are ultimately key targets in the end-game of the new Anglo-American imperial strategy. Smaller powers in various strategic regions, mainly the Middle East and Asia, are primarily pawns in this grand chess match of global hegemony. The new imperial strategy is being conducted from a US position of potential weakness, in which American global hegemony is on the decline, facing multiple challenges and crises.

There remains a critical factor in this historic trajectory that has as yet not been taken into account: we, the people. The British Empire retreated because the repressive imperial apparatus was repelled by indigenous opposition. Fifty years on, the American Empire that took its place has become unsustainable. The growth of multiple regional and global crises signals the disintegration of world order as we know it. What will take its place is unclear. Ultimately, it is our active dissent in words and actions that will determine the success of elite plans.





1.       BBC News, “US will liberate Iraq, says Bush,” 3 January 2003,


2.       Alissa J. Rubin, “Surging Shi’ite Demands Put US in a Bind,” Los Angeles Times, 18 January 2003.


3.       Matthew Rothschild, “Rigging Iraq’s Elections,” The Progressive, 4 December 2003,


4.       60 Minutes, “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” CBS News, 4 December 2003,


5.       Ibid.


6.       Ibid.


7.       Suzanne Goldenberg, “Ba’athists slip quietly back in control,” The Guardian, 21 April 2003.


8.       For documentation see Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, Behind the War on Terror: Western Secret Strategy and the Struggle for Iraq, New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, BC, 2003.


9.       Robert Fisk, “Secret slaughter by night, lies and blind eyes by day,” The Independent, 14 September 2003.


10.     Vernon Loeb, “Commanders Doubt Syria is Entry Point,” Washington Post, 29 October 2003.


11.     Reuters, “Iraqi arrested for criticising US,” 11 November 2003,


12.     60 Minutes, op. cit.


13.     Owen Bowcott, “Troops accused of torture,” The Guardian, 24 July 2003,,2763,1004821,00.html.


14.     Tom Karon, “Learning the Art of Occupation from Israel,” Time Magazine, 9 December 2003,,8599,558391,00.html.


15.     SEEN Press Release, “Groups Demand Repeal of Bush Immunity for US Oil Companies in Iraq,” Sustainable Energy & Economy Network, Washington DC, 23 July 2003,


16.     William Stivers, Supremacy and Oil: Iraq, Turkey, and the Anglo-American World Order, 1918-1930, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1982, pp. 28, 34. 


17.     Ahmed, Behind the War on Terror, op. cit.


18.     Strategic Energy Policy Challenges for the 21st Century, For extensive analysis of this report and other relevant sources, see my book, ibid. For specific documentation regarding the peak of oil production and its historical and contemporary geopolitical context, see especially Richard Heinberg, The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies, New Society, 2003.


© 2004 Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed


Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of BEHIND THE WAR ON TERROR: WESTERN SECRET STRATEGY AND THE STRUGGLE FOR IRAQ, published by New Society Publishers in the United States and Clairview in the United Kingdom.

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