Presentation on theme: "The 20 th Century International Relations since 1919 Why did events in the Gulf matter, c. 1970-2000?"— Presentation transcript:
The 20 th Century International Relations since 1919 Why did events in the Gulf matter, c. 1970-2000?
Framing Questions What was the nature of the Shah’s rule in Iran? What was the Iranian Revolution of 1979? Why was there a revolution in Iran in 1979? How did Saddam Hussein rise to power in Iraq? Why was Saddam Hussein able to come to power in Iraq? What was the nature of Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq? What were the consequence of the rule of Saddam Hussein up to 2000 for different groups in Iraq? What were the causes and consequences of the Iran-Iraq War, 1980-1988? What was the involvement of Western powers in the Iran-Iraq War? What were the causes, course, and consequences of the Gulf War, 1990-1991? Why did the first Gulf War take place?
A Sketch of Iran and Iraq in the 20 th Century The national boundaries of the Middle East were drawn by the British and French after WWI; consequently, the borders of Iran and Iraq were not drawn in accordance with the multi-ethnic character of the region. Both Iran and Iraq were gradually integrated into the world economy, and capitalist relations of production were extended continually throughout both countries. The central economic sector catalyzing the economic integration and capitalist transformation of Iran and Iraq was the extraction of oil and the processing of petroleum.
The Iranian and Iraqi states were instrumental in facilitating the processes of economic transformation in both countries and played increasing roles in the economy. Agrarian reform in both countries caused the political influence of the landed classes to wane significantly, led to the deterioration of agricultural production, and spawned increased migration into the urban centers. Major urban centers (especially Tehran and Baghdad) acquired squalid slums under the pressures of urban migration and as individuals searched for a better life in the towns and cities.
The working classes grew, and new intermediate classes, including salaried professionals, intellectuals, teachers, and a small indigenous bourgeoisie appeared in both countries. The political and social influence of the clerical and traditional petty bourgeoisie came under pressure from economic modernization in both countries. Socio-economic development in Iran and Iraq was highly skewed in favor of thin segments at the top of society, while increasing privation and social marginalization plagued the largest segments of the population. Political development did not correspond with socio-economic change in either country: Socio-economic transformations created new social expectations and demands among classes and groups, but the political avenues to address these demands were progressively closed off. In Iraq, the Arab Ba’th Socialist Party gained political control of the state in 1968; until 1979, Iran was ruled by the Pahlavi monarchy.
In both countries, because the oil/petroleum wealth was controlled by the state and because the state developed well-honed repressive apparatuses, the ruling regimes became considerably autonomous from the social classes. Political parties and alternative political organizations were systematically attacked and rendered ineffective. Increasingly, political opposition manifested itself in the form of direct attacks against the regimes and in protracted struggles in the countryside. The disjuncture between the political sphere and the socio- economic sphere in both Iran and Iraq produced extremely volatile political conditions for the ruling regimes, and in the case of Iran, the incongruity between the political and socio-economic worlds fostered the sustained struggles throughout the latter half of the 1970s that culminated in an Islamic revolution. Saddam Hussein and Mohammed Reza Shah (6 March 1975)
A Brief History of Iran (1925-1979) In a 15 December 1925 coup, Colonel Reza Khan came to power in Persia, installing himself as Shah and beginning the Pahlavi Dynasty. Reza Shah, an admirer of Adolf Hitler’s ways and means, changed the name of Persia to Iran (“Aryan”). While Iran was officially neutral in World War II, the Allied Powers considered Reza Shah too friendly toward the Axis Powers. An Anglo- Soviet invasion of Iran was launched (25 August to 17 September 1941) to secure Iran’s oil fields. On 16 September 1941, to preserve the Pahlavi Dynasty, Reza Shah abdicated in favor of his son, who ruled as Mohammed Reza Shah until 11 February 1979. Reza Shah (c. 1925) Mohammed Reza Shah (1939)
In power, the young Mohammed Reza Shah, like his father, autocratically presided over a constitutional monarchy. In response to the Shah’s rule, a series of politically motivated assassinations and assassination attempts struck Iran from 1946 to 1955, including a 4 February 1949 attempt on the Shah himself. In 1944, US President Franklin Roosevelt met with British Ambassador Viscount Halifax. Roosevelt sketched out a map dividing the Persian Gulf’s oil, informing Halifax: “Persian oil is yours. We share the oil of Iraq and Kuwait. As for Saudi Arabian oil, it’s ours.” In 1940, Britain controlled 72 percent of the Middle East’s oil reserves, while the US held only 10 percent; by 1967, the US controlled nearly 60 percent, while the British share had fallen below 30 percent. Ambassador Halifax and President Roosevelt (12 October 1942) Mohammed Reza Shah in Hospital (4 February 1949)
After WWII, the USA took assumed control of the colonial setup bequeathed by the British and French—maintaining the borders they had drawn across the Middle East, continuing (even while renegotiating) the oil concessions they had imposed, and generally defending the regimes they had installed. The CIA encouraged anti-colonialist struggles where the British and French held influence and suppressed nationalist and anti-imperialist struggles where Americans held influence. Iran provided the textbook case of the CIA’s Middle East operations. There, the USA worked to both edge out the British and to suppress Iranian nationalism. The British had monopolized Iranian oil through the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, plundering Iran. In 1949, Anglo-Iranian Oil paid more to the British government in taxes than it paid to the Iranian government in royalties. The Shah and President Eisenhower (1959)
Britain’s unrestrained enrichment from Iran’s vast oil wealth, juxtaposed with the crippling poverty, which was the lot of most Iranians, engendered explosive popular anger and widespread demands for nationalization of the oil industry. On 21 April 1951, the Majlis (Parliament of Iran) elected Mohammed Mossadeq as the new prime minister. The popular Mossadeq’s political goal was the overthrow of the Shah, and his economic goal was the nationalization of Iran’s oil resources. After receiving 99.5 percent support in a plebiscite on his government, Mossadeq attempted to nationalize the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1953. Above: Anglo-Iranian Oil’s Abadan Employee Shantytown—without Water or Electricity (1951); Below: Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq (1951)
In response to Mossadeq’s nationalization of Iranian oil, the CIA, at the request of the British, organized a coup (15-19 August 1953) overthrowing the Iranian government (with the Shah’s approval). Mossadeq was arrested and jailed. Following the 1953 CIA coup, a new petroleum agreement voided Roosevelt’s promise to Halifax. Five American companies gained control of 40 percent of Iran’s oil, reducing British Petroleum’s (formerly Anglo-Iranian) share to 40 percent and giving French and Dutch companies the remaining 20 percent. The 1953 Coup Mass Media vs. Alternative Media
The Shah would rule Iran for the next 25 years as an absolute monarch, imprisoning, torturing, and murdering many of his opponents through his secret police force (SAVAK), while loyally working for US interests in the region. As the Shah worked closely and happily with the USA in Iran, he, those close to him, and US companies all gained from what were called “modernizing” projects as, meanwhile, the lot of most Iranians steadily worsened. Poverty and illiteracy and repression were rampant. After the Mossadeq downfall, the Shah tried to contain the modern classes, while wooing the traditional classes, the bazaaris and the landed class. In the early 1960s, however, an economic crisis and American pressure for land reform—pressure to import US foodstuffs and to export cash crops—forced the Shah to implement reforms known as the White Revolution. In the Land Reform Law of 1962, the Shah broke the backs of the traditional landed class. Then, the Shah tried to diversify the oil- based economy through import-substitution-industrialization, but, as he did so, he came into direct conflict with the bazaar class of merchants and traders. By the 1970s, the monarchy had lost support of all classes in Iran, holding on to power through the repression of SAVAK alone.
By the 1970s, the Iranian urban classes included the bourgeoisie, propertied middle classes including the bazaaris, smaller entrepreneurs and some 90,000 clergymen, a salaried middle class of over half a million, and a large working class. In the Iranian countryside, there were absentee landlords, independent farmers, and agricultural laborers (khoshneshin) numbering at one million families. The Shah catered to the upper class through the oil rent, and maintained control over the middle and lower classes through the police state. In this political atmosphere, the socio-economic demands and grievances of the subordinated classes were repressed. An economic crisis in the mid-1970s and the Shah’s formalization of a one-party political system worsened social disenchantment. Increasing social agitation and protest from the modern and traditional middle classes, the working classes, and the urban poor culminated in a 6-month general strike in 1978. The Shah lost the support of both the rank and file of the army and of the USA. An extremely diverse collection of classes and groups had coalesced against the Shah, yet, when the urban-based political revolution overthrowing the monarchy occurred, it was an Islamic revolution.
Several factors explain the Islamic character of the 1979 revolution. First, an organic link existed between the bazaaris and the clergy. Both social classes felt increasingly frustrated by the secularizing and modernizing trends under the Shah. The Shah directly attacked the bazaaris in an anti-profiteering campaign. The bazaaris found ideological leadership in Islam, and the clergy cemented the relationship by sanctioning private property. In turn, the traditional petty bourgeoisie formed the primary social base of the ‘ulama. Second, Islam, ad an integral element of Iranian culture, naturally structured social grievances against a foreign-dominated, repressive state. Third, the charismatic figures of Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Shariati provided a rallying point for the revolution. Inside the CIA: On Company Business (1980)
Fourth, in the Shah’s Iran, there was a lack of alternative opportunities for political expression. In organizational terms, the mosque network was crucial for communication and mobilization within the repressive political atmosphere under the Shah. The religious network became a highly politicized venue. The mosque became a key rallying place for people to express grievances and to hold mourning ceremonies, where the people could express both religious and political sentiments. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 did not become an Islamic revolution because of any intrinsic quality of Shi’ism. Rather, the factors combined to insure that the revolution would have an Islamic character. Above: Ali Shariati with His Family Below: Ruhollah Khomeini with a Child
The aftermath of the overthrow of the monarchy represented an intense internal power struggle, and Iran’s foreign policy reflected this fact. As the power of the clerics rose, so did an aggressive campaign against Iraq. A central Islamic narrative is the overthrowing of impious states (futah). The Iranian people had united against the impious Shah, and, after the ouster of the Shah, the Iranian clerics maintained social cohesion in Iran by uniting against Iraq. The Islamic Republic’s foreign policy was not based on a culturally imperative religious struggle with Iraq but on the need of the new Iranian rulers to consolidate their power. Iran’s new rulers adroitly redirected popular frustrations against Satanic foes (the USA and Iraq). In the case of the US Satan, it resulted in the seizure of the American Embassy and the holding of 52 hostages for 444 days (4 November 1979 to 20 January 1981). In the case of the Iraqi Satan, it resulted in the Iran-Iraq War (22 September 1980 to 20 August 1988). Time Magazine (19 November 1979)
A Brief History of Iraq (1916-1979) In 1916, Britain, France, and Russia negotiated a secret treaty, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, to dismember the Ottoman Empire. The disclosure of Sykes-Picot by the Bolsheviks triggered outrage and revolt among the Arabs. An Arab Independence Party was formed in 1919 that demanded the withdrawal of Britain and France from the Middle East. Britain responded by convening the League of Nations to ratify its colonial actions. A May 1920 League of Nations conference at Sam Remo upheld Sykes-Picot. This provided Britain with a legalistic cloak of respectability for its de facto partition of the Middle East. The Sykes-Picot Partition of the Middle East
Britain sent troops to put down forcibly the Arab uprising. The British forces were brutal. T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) said, “By gas attacks the whole population of offending districts would be wiped out neatly.” Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill said, “I am strongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes.” The RAF dropped 97 tons of bombs and fired 183,661 rounds against the insurgency, killing up to 9,000 Arabs. A series of Kurdish revolts were also put down. At the Cairo Conference in March 1921, Churchill and forty Middle East experts determined the best means of ensuring British control of the Middle East. They created the country of Iraq (meaning “cliff” in Arabic) out of the Ottoman vilayets of Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul. British Troops Enter Baghdad (1917)
The British colonial authorities excelled at applying divide and rule policies to maintain British supremacy. The new country of Iraq was weakened by denying it access to the Persian Gulf through the creation of an independent Kuwait (traditionally an administrative unit of Basra) and by playing off the central authority of the Sunni population of Baghdad with the Kurdish population of Mosul and the Shi’i population of Basra. Left: The Forty Thieves, (including T. E. Lawrence and Winston Churchill) Cairo Conference (March 1921); Below: King Faisal
As monarch of Iraq, the British crowned Faisal, who was dependent on British troops to protect his throne. The British rigged a boycotted election in support of Faisal, and at Faisal’s coronation, a British military band played “God Save the King.” British political officers held key positions in the Iraqi government, controlled Iraq’s foreign relations, and had veto power in military and financial matters. British-owned firms dominated the main sectors of Iraq’s economy. The British created vast private estates, concentrating wealth, privilege and authority in a tiny percentage of Iraq’s population beholden to the British. Agricultural exports led to the formation of a latifundista style of agricultural production with the rise of a landowning class, a peasant class, and a mercantile bourgeoisie. IPC Oil Wells (Kirkuk, 1932)
The British then took control of all of Iraq’s oil, forcing Faisal to sign a concession giving up ownership of the oil fields to the foreign-owned Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC) in return for modest royalties. In 1923, Churchill reported that the British government had earned £25.6 million on an investment of £2. The USA demanded an Open Door policy in regards to Iraqi oil, and the 1928 Red Line Agreement gave US companies 23.75 percent of IPC. The Americans deliberately restricted Iraq’s oil production and development for decades in order to prevent an oil glut, which would weaken prices and lower profits. The oil industry largely charted the course of Iraqi economic and social development and provided the basis for the growth of an urban working class, resulting in the formation of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) in 1934. Iraq became a nominally independent nation in 1932, but the British continued to put down revolts and general strikes in Iraq, testing phosphorus bombs, war rockets, metal crowsfeet (to maim livestock), man-killing shrapnel, liquid fire, and delay-action bombs in Iraq, and the British occupied Iraq during WWII to assure control of Iraqi oil.
Sitting on the world’s second largest pool of oil did not benefit the people of Iraq. In 1952, 55 percent of all privately held land belonged to 1 percent of all landowners, just 2,480 families. So many Iraqi peasants tried to escape rural poverty that the monarchy passed a law forbidding them from leaving the land if they owed any debt, effectively making most rural-to-urban migration illegal. Over 10 percent of Baghdad’s population (92,000 people) lived in shacks made from palm branches. Over 80 percent of Iraqis were illiterate. There was but 1 doctor for every 6,000 people. Just 17 Baghdad families owned wealth equal to about 60 percent of all private corporate commercial and industrial capital. New Oil Wealth in Iraq (British Pathé, 1952) King Feisal Opens Giant Pipeline (British Pathé, 1952)
When IPC workers in Kirkuk went on strike in 1946, the police attacked the strikers, killing ten. In 1948, tens of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets in what came to be known as al-Wathbga (“the leap”) to protest the ongoing presence of British troops in Iraq. The urban working and middle classes became more nationalist, more anti-imperialist, and more revolutionary. On 27 January 1948, police killed as many as 400 people at an anti- government demonstration. In November 1952, al-Intifada (“the uprising”) began. For two months, Iraqis demonstrated in the major cities to protest the British presence in Iraq and the monarchy. In the uprising, police killed dozens of protestors. On 14 July 1958, General Abdul Karim Qasim and the “Free Officers” staged a coup to liberate “the beloved homeland from the corrupt crew that imperialism installed.” The King and the Crown Prince were shot dead in the palace. The parliament was abolished. The top levels of the government and of the military were purged. A republic was declared. Qasim received broad popular support.
Qasim enacted land reform, reducing the power of the landed elite. He recognized trade unions and peasant organizations, the ICP becoming the “best-organized party in the country.” He amnestied political prisoners. He promoted state-sponsored industrial and military development. He withdrew from the US-military Cold War alliance (the Baghdad Pact) and from the British sterling area. While demanding the removal of British forces from Iraq, Qasim established relations with the USSR and China. Qasim asked the IPC for increased royalties, part ownership, and the return of undeveloped areas in the IPC concession, but IPC would not negotiate. In response, Qasim held a 1960 meeting with Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and other oil producing nations in Baghdad, laying the groundwork for the creation of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Qasim also laid the groundwork for the 1964 creation of an Iraqi-controlled, national oil company. Iraq Bombshell (British Pathé, 1958)
In 1961, Qasim unilaterally withdrew IPC’s concession rights in areas where it was not producing, renewed Iraq’s claim to Kuwait, and blocked Kuwait’s entry into the United Nations and into the Arab League. Invoking the 1957 Eisenhower Doctrine, designating the Middle East as a vital interest that the USA would use force to defend, the USA reacted to Qasim’s republic with military deployments—that included nuclear weapons—threats of war and a covert campaign to undermine Iraq. US President Eisenhower stated Kuwait was essential to British financial stability; British Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd secretly cabled that Kuwait “must be kept in Western hands at all costs.” In April 1959, CIA Director Allen Dulles told Congress that the situation in Iraq was “the most dangerous in the world today.” Abdul Karim Qasim with Delegates at an Afro-Asian Solidarity Meeting (Baghdad, 12 August 1958)
By 1961, the USA had decided to change Iraq’s government, the CIA forming a “Health Alterations Committee” to assassinate Qasim. When assassination attempts failed, the USA ordered IPC to reduce oil production to bankrupt Iraq and independent oil companies “to stay out of Iraq.” Qasim did not share Iraq’s oil wealth with the Kurds; nor did he grant their demands for autonomy; the USA encouraged the Kurds to rebel. The USA tried to exploit the support of some Iraqi military officers for the right-wing Ba’th Party. The Ba’th Party was virulently anti- communist, supporting a state-sponsored, oil-funded, oil-funded form or capitalist industrial development and nationalization under the vague slogan “unity, freedom, socialism.” The Ba’th leadership thought Qasim was taking Iraq too far to the left and was alienating Arabs and the West through his policies on Kuwait, the USSR, and China. Abdul Karim Qasim Meets with Mustafa Barzani, Head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party
In 1958, Saddam Hussein, who had been born in 1937 to a family of landless peasants living near Tikrit and had been raised by an uncle who had been imprisoned for participating in an anti-British uprising, joined the Ba’th Party. In 1959, Hussein attempted to assassinate Qasim, fleeing to Cairo when it failed. In Cairo, Saddam Hussein became a CIA asset. According to former Ba’th leader Hani Fkaiki, “among party members colluding with the CIA in 1962 and 1963 was Saddam Hussein, then a 25- year-old who had fled to Cairo after taking part in a failed assassination of Qasim…. I often heard CIA officers, including Archibald Roosevelt, the grandson of Theodore Roosevelt and a ranking CIA official for the Near East and Africa at the time, speak openly about their close relationship with the Iraqi Ba’thists.” Saddam Hussein and Ba’th Party Student Cell (Cairo, c. 1960)
On 8 February 1963, with the support of the CIA, the Ba’thists launched a military coup. Qasim refused to arm the tens of thousands ICP members who came to his aid, allowing the Ba’thists to seize power. On the night of the coup, the CIA gave the Ba’thists a list of names of suspected communists, left-leaning intellectuals, progressives, and radical nationalists. Baghdad Radio broadcast Order No. 13 stating that military units, the police, and the national guard should summarily execute all “communist agents” and “supporters of God’s enemy, Abdul Karim Qasim.” Within three days, up to 5,000 communists fell victims to extra- judicial executions. Thousands more were placed in sports grounds turned into makeshift prisons. Assassination of Qasim (8 February 1963) The Revolt in Iraq (British Pathé, 1963)
Up to 35,000 people were executed, including lawyers, doctors, academics and students—as well as workers, women and children. As almost every family in Baghdad was affected by the killings, arrests, and torture—and both men and women were equally maltreated—the Ba’thists’ activities aroused a degree of intense loathing for them that has persisted among many Iraqis of that generation. The USA recognized the new Ba’th government within hours of Qasim’s killing. Kuwait provided the Ba’th with an $85 million loan. The USA flew arms from Iran and Turkey to help the Ba’th put down the Kurdish rebellion. One Ba’th Party member said, “We came to power on an American train.” The unpopularity of the Ba’th Party and divisions within it resulted in another coup, led by Abdul Salam Arif, on 18 November 1963. The Ba’thists failed in a 1964 bid to regain power, and Ba’thists, including Saddam Hussein, were imprisoned. Abdul Salam Arif
When Arif died in a helicopter crash on 13 April 1966, his brother, Abdul Rahman Arif, took over the government. Meanwhile, after Hussein's escape from prison, he was appointed Deputy Secretary General of the Ba’th Party. When General Arif invited French and Russian oil companies to develop Iraq’s oil industry, the USA sent former Treasury Secretary Robert Anderson to Baghdad to organize another Ba’thi coup. On 30 July 1968, the Ba’th Party, led by Ahmed Hassan al- Bakr staged a successful coup. Saddam HusseinAhmed Hassan al-BakrAbdul Rahman Arif
The Ba’th Party purged Iraq’s military and civil service, placing party loyalists in all government positions. A new Iraqi constitution made the Ba’th Revolutionary Command Council—in which Saddam Hussein was Vice Chairman—the supreme legislative, executive and judicial authority. By the early 1970s, Hussein was the most powerful figure in Iraqi politics. In 1979, he forced al-Bakr to resign, and Hussein became Iraq’s President. Despite having come to power with US assistance, once in power, Hussein challenged US hegemony concerning Israel and the USSR. Hussein refused to recognize or to negotiate with Israel, America’s chief ally in the Middle East, but he provided very limited support to the Palestinians. And under Hussein, Iraq became the USSR’s most important Middle Eastern ally, the USSR supplying Iraq with military, technical, and economic assistance. Hussein’s independent authoritarianism, however, was preferable to US leaders than the alternative: a democratic, anti- imperialist, or revolutionary Iraq. In 1972, Hussein nationalized the Iraq Petroleum Company, allowing OPEC to sharply raise crude oil prices throughout the 1970s.
The USA strengthened its relationship with Iran and Saudi Arabia to balance Iraq’s independence, and, once again, the USA (and Iran) cynically supported a Kurdish rebellion to weaken Iraq, providing $16 million in CIA money, weapons, and logistical support between 1972 and 1975. The USA did not desire a Kurdish victory, as that would have created difficulties for Turkey and for Iran and would have invited the USSR to intervene. Instead, support for Iraqi Kurds was used as a bargaining chip to gain control of the Shatt al Arab (Arvand Rud). Eight hours after Hussein agreed to US-Iranian terms on the Iran-Iraq border, formalized in the Algiers Agreement of 6 March 1975, Iran and the US cut off aid— including food—to the Kurds and closed Iran’s border, leaving the Kurds without a line of retreat. Kurdish Refugees on the Iran-Iraq Border (1974)
Hussein crushed the Kurdish revolt, resulting in 20,000 combined casualties. He forcibly relocated 250,000 Kurds and created 200,000 refugees. Commenting on US policy towards the Kurds, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger said, “Covert action should not be confused with missionary work.” The nationalization of IPC in 1972 gave Hussein the financial power necessary to act independently of any particular social class in Iraq. Hussein also relied on the repressive apparatus of the state, including the Amn (Internal State Security), the Estikhbarat (Military Intelligence), the Mukhabarat (Party Intelligence), the regular army, and the party militia to liquidate all alternative political organizations within Iraq. Iraqis who were discovered organizing secretly outside the Ba’th Party were punished by death. Public discourse and debate progressively narrowed, creating a political vacuum described as “the death of politics.” The Shah of Iran, US President Gerald Ford, and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (May 1975)
Oil revenues transformed the Ba’th Party from its petty bourgeois origins into an independent entity concerned primarily with regime maintenance. The Ba’th Party rested on an extremely narrow social footing. The Ba’th Party co- opted the ICP in the Progressive Patriotic National Front of 1973 and drove it underground. Strikes became illegal. The Ba’th Party choked off the means for expressing socio-economic and political interests. To deal with the grievances of peasant cooperative societies, trade unions, and women’s or youth organizations, the Ba’th Party penetrated and manipulated social organizations to further Ba’thi needs and interests or created its own interest groups. The General Federation of Iraqi Women, for example, furthered Ba’thi breeding requirements. By eliminating alternative mediums of political expression, the Ba’th Party disempowered aggrieved groups and classes within Iraqi society. General Federation of Iraqi Women Pamphlet (n.d.)
Iraq’s socio-economic development created extreme social dislocation, particularly as rural reforms eroded living conditions in the countryside and prompted massive migration into the urban centers. The rapidly shifting demographics contributed to deplorable living conditions in towns and cities. The slums of Madinat ath-Thawrah in Baghdad, originally designed to house no more than 300,000 people, came to house 1.5 million. Slum life bred social grievances, and Madinat ath- Thawrah was a stronghold of both ICP and Shi’i opposition. Modernizing and secularizing tendencies in Iraq threatened the material support and prestige of the clerical class. Iraqi ‘ulama reacted by forming the Fatimiyyah party in 1964. By the late 1970s, there were two Shi’i parties, as-Da’wah al- Islamiyyah (“Islamic Call”) and al- Mujahidin (“Muslim Warriors”). Madinat ath-Thawrah (2005)
Additionally, Islamic beliefs about legitimacy and political obedience gave form to existing social grievances arising out of the extreme poverty and political marginalization of the masses. Shi’ism was identified with the rebellion and struggle of the downtrodden and oppressed in the Islamic empire, and its doctrines accommodated aspirations for social justice and equality. Shi’ism structured and animated social struggles against the Ba’th. By the late 1970s, Islamic processionals in Iraq had become important political stages. Demonstrations in Shi’i towns and neighborhoods increased as did clashes with the police and guerilla attacks on the police, the Ba’th Party, and the army. In a 1977 processional between Najaf and Karbala, the crowd chanted, “Saddam, remove your hand! The people do not want you!” Hussein responded with tarhib (terror) and targhib (the proverbial carrot). The Day of Ashura—An Annual Protest against Tyrants (Karbala, 6 January 2009
In April 1980, prominent Shi’i leaders, including Baqir as-Sadr and his sister, were executed; concurrently, Hussein initiated a program of state- funded mosque building. The Ba’thi regime feared an Islamic revolution and took steps to prevent one. As well as using oil revenues to insulate himself from any social class, Hussein used oil revenues to deal with social classes and potentially explosive issues. The regime financed political base-building with the almost unlimited funds available for all kinds of educational, welfare, industrial and other capital projects. Periodic wage increases allowed the regime to avoid direct confrontations with the working class. State- funded mosque construction created employment in the building sector. The regime absorbed surplus labor in a notoriously inefficient and bloated public service sector. Oil revenues paid for tens of thousands of television sets and cash payments that were given to displaced Kurds. Thus, oil revenues were crucial for regime maintenance. Amina Haydar as-Sadr (Bint al-Huda) and Mohammad Baqir as-Sadr
Perhaps even more important to the Ba’th regime was the need to use oil revenues to feed the parasitic upper class of contractors, brokers, bureaucrats, and speculators fully dependent upon state development projects and frequently receiving concessions from the state by being allowed to bypass tax and labor laws. By 1975, for example, there were 2,788 contractors registered with the state. The parasitic bourgeoisie, in turn, formed an important base of support for the regime. Baghdad Railway Station (2002) French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac and Saddam Hussein Conclude Trade Agreement (December 1974)
The importance of oil revenues to control the lower classes and to enrich the upper class created special vulnerabilities for the Ba’th regime. Hussein needed to secure and to stabilize oil revenues. Besides fluctuations in the world market price for crude oil that could limit Iraqi oil revenues, Hussein was faced with structural and situational vulnerabilities arising from the fact that Iraq was essentially a landlocked country. Iraq’s limited access in the Persian Gulf limited the profitability of its offshore terminals, and the only other avenues for exporting oil were pipelines through Syria and through Turkey. Thus, Hussein was vulnerable to international political conditions. Indeed, the flow of Iraqi oil via the Syrian pipeline had been subject to numerous interruptions. Hussein sought to gain regional hegemony by enhancing his prestige within the Arab world, which would give him greater influence over OPEC production and pricing policy, and to gain control of the Shatt al-Arab as a means to secure oil revenues. Iraqi Dinar (1973)
The Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) The Iran-Iraq War was very destructive in terms of lost oil revenues, declining GNPs, material destruction, and human lives. About 1.2 million lives were lost; another 2.2 million were wounded. Up to 1.5 million people were displaced. About 1,800 border villages were wiped off the map. At least 157 Iranian towns with populations or more than 5,000 were damaged or wholly destroyed. Estimates of the direct and indirect costs of the war for both countries totaled $1.19 trillion: $627 billion for Iran and $561 billion for Iraq. While these quantifiable measures of destruction are bad enough, the social costs of the war were even most dramatic. Iran-Iraq War (Animation of Batttlefronts)
Thom Workman, a leading expert on the Iran-Iraq War, concludes, “The Iran-Iraq War profoundly affected the balance of social forces in both countries by eroding the social power of oppressed groups and classes and working exclusively to the advantage of the ruling regimes. These social costs are the greatest legacy of the Iran-Iraq War; its lingering social effects will be felt for many years to come.” The socio-economic transformations of the 20th Century set in motion distinct social and political struggles that culminated in three crucial political dimensions leading to the outbreak of war: (1) the inflamed Islamic rhetoric emanating from Iran in the aftermath of the revolution; (2) the alarmed Ba’thi response in the face of a perceived Shi’i uprising in Iraq; and, (3) the Iraqi Ba’th attempts to secure and stabilize oil export revenues. In other words, the broad socio-economic transformations in Iran and Iraq throughout the 20th Century created class and communal struggles because of the structural disjunctures between the political and socio-economic spheres, which created political aspirations that exposed political vulnerabilities that impelled both regimes to commit to a protracted war.
Dubious explanations for the cause of the Iran-Iraq War include: (1) the deeply rooted cultural enmity between Iran and Iraq in racial (Aryan and Semite), sectarian (Shi’i and Sunni), ethnic (Arab and Persian), or religious (secular and fundamentalist) terms; (2) the megalomaniacal tendencies of Saddam Hussein; (3) the declining Iranian hegemony in the Gulf region after the revolution, which created a power vacuum affording the Ba’th regime in Iraq an opportunity to extend its regional influence and to enhance its Arab stature; (4) Iran’s inflammatory Shi’i rhetoric was fuelling revolutionary sentiments among the Shi’i population in Iraq; and, (5)the territorial disputes between the two states arising from the Shatt al-Arab waterway, whether to establish the eastern shoreline as the boundary or to apply the mid-channel (thalweg) principle. These explanations fail to consider the complex social dynamics at work within each country.
Internal Shi’i unrest and vulnerability to fluctuating oil prices motivated Hussein to attack Iran. Hussein saw an opportunity for a quick victory because the Iranian military was in disarray after the Islamic revolution. Border skirmishes between Iran and Iraq escalated throughout the summer of 1980, culminating in a full-scale invasion of Iran on 22 September. Within three months, the Iraqis advanced 20 miles into Iran along the entire front, but, six months into the conflict, Iranian counter- offenses began to push the Iraqis back. Two years into the conflict, the Iranians advanced into Iraqi territory. By the third year, the conflict had become a deadlocked war of attrition with no end in sight. Attacks on oil tankers and mutual missile strikes did not break the deadlock. Notoriously, the war included human wave attacks and the use of chemical weapons. Hussein Inspects Iraqi Position
Attempts by Algeria, the Islamic Conference Organization, the UN, the Organization of Non-Aligned Countries, and the Warsaw Pact to negotiate an end to the war failed. Both Iranian and Iraqi leaders did not want to end the war because it helped maintain domestic political control. The war helped the clerics of Iran consolidate their power, and, while Iraq did publicly try to end the war, its continuation provided political advantages for Hussein. The USA, supplying aid to both combatants, did not want the war to end because, by weakening Iran and Iraq, it strengthened US power in the Persian Gulf. Victims of Chemical Weapons in Halabja, Iraq (Sayeed Janbozorgi, 16 March 1988) Soldiers in Trenches on the Iran-Iraq Border
After the Islamic revolution in Iran, the ‘ulama split into two factions: the line of the Imam faction promoted a radical platform appealing to the population as a whole while the conservative Hojjatiyeh faction maintained its ties with the traditional petty bourgeoisie and other propertied interests. The factions fought over issues such as the nationalization of foreign trade. The more conservative faction prevailed, and it sought political and social themes capable of transcending class and group consciousness. Without meeting their grievances, the regime needed to win the support of the peasants, working class, women and the urban poor. Ervand Abrahamian: “The [Iranian] clergy were unlikely to find another public enemy as unpopular as the Shah against whom they could rally the whole population—unless, of course, a foreign enemy invaded the country and threatened the existence of the nation.” Mahmoud Halabi (Founder of Hojjatiyeh)
The Iranian clerics exploited the war to establish their class hegemony. Iraq became the axiomatic common enemy, the brutal, “Great Satan,” confirming the fears of the populist Islamists. Xenophobic and Islamic themes were utilized to politically mobilize and to secure the support of the Iranian people for the regime, cementing the fractured Iranian society. The defense of Islam, by implication, became the defense of the theocratic regime. The Iranian ‘ulama used the war to legitimize the thorough and brutal repression of four oppositional forces: the secularists, the leftists, the regionalist/nationals (Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Qashqa’i Turks, Turkomanis, and Kurds), and women. By late 1981, opposition was destroyed in Iran, the oppositional political parties going into exile. Iranian Woman Sends a Soldier to the Front
In exile, Bani-Sadr, the liberal first president of the Islamic Republic of Iran (February 1980 to June 1981), the National Democratic Front, the Kurdish Democratic Party, and the Mujahidin established the Council of National Resistance in Paris. By 1983, Iranian left-wing parties that had cooperated with the regime, such as the Tudeh, were wiped out, as the anti-communist Hojjatiyeh faction gained control of the regime. During the war, the Iranian military attacked the Peshmergas as brutally as it did the Iraqis. The 2.5 million Iranian Kurds (10 percent of Iran’s population) were detained, resettled, or massacred. Khomeini and Bani-Sadr (1979) Pro-Socialist Demonstration (1979)
As the clerics desecularized Iranian society, oppressive conceptions of gender were reinforced. Women were encouraged to restrict themselves to bearing and rearing “alert” children and were forced to observe the hejab. The Iranian ‘ulama feared the Iranian army, which had a close relationship with Bani-Sadr. While the army was prosecuting the war, the clerics established the Ministry of Revolutionary Guards, transforming the Pasdaran into a permanent counterbalance to the army. The clerics also recruited young volunteers into a new paramilitary security apparatus, the Basijis (Mobilization of the Oppressed). Armed Women in Tehran (1979) Peshmergas with Captured Tank (1991)
Four different security groups policed the army, bringing it under clerical control. Additionally, by recruiting the young, urban poor and lower middle classes into the state security apparatus, the regime secured support. The Jahad-e Sazandeghi (Reconstruction Crusade) organized rural support for the Iranian regime, while the Shura (Council of Guardians), a clerical body, assumed the power to veto parliamentary legislations. The Iranian ‘ulama used the war as a pretext for purging the state bureaucracy and the mass media and for desecularizing Iranian society. The education system was reformed, including textbook revisions and the removal of teachers and students not sufficiently Islamic. Criminal, civil, and commercial statutes were re-written under the supervision of Shi’i jurists. In 1982, all secular laws were deemed null and void. Young Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guard) Soldier
The Iranian ‘ulama used the war as a pretext for the repression of any disruptive social action. The working class was suppressed. Labor sections were established within the Pasdaran and the Basijis. The shura (councils) of the workers were replaced with Islamic associations, which established maktabi (Islamic) management. The clerical regime proclaimed work as a religious duty. Khomeini told cement workers in Tehran, “To work itself is a jihad (crusade) for the sake of God; God will pay for this jihad—the jihad of labor which you [workers] are carrying out inside the barricade of the factory.” Thus, the Iran-Iraq War brought certain advantage to the clerics, and the Iranian ruling class resisted efforts to end the war. Aftermath of the Battle of al-Faw (March 1986)
In Iraq, Hussein was concerned by military setbacks and by the curtailing of Iraqi oil exports. Iranian attacks on Iraq’s southern port facilities and the closure of the Syrian pipeline caused a drastic decline in oil revenue, but Hussein exported oil overland by truck to Jordan and opened a pipeline in 1985 to Saudi Arabia. He also received large quantities of cash, credit, and oil exchanges from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. By the end of 1982, Hussein was prepared to negotiate an end to the war. To pressure Iran to negotiate, he attempted to internationalize the war, especially through tanker attacks. Contradictory pressures on Hussein, however, encouraged him to continue the war for another six years. As was the case in Iran, the war provided a pretext for the continuing repressive politics of Iraq’s Ba’th regime. The Tanker War
During the Iran-Iraq War, the Ba’th regime repressed labor and oppressed women. The labor code was rescinded; the federation of trade unions was abolished. A million Egyptian migrant laborers were brought into Iraq to provide the need for cheap labor and to keep labor disturbances to a minimum. Baghdad was plastered with anti-contraception posters exhorting mothers to breed for their country. Hussein used the war as a pretext to launch an extensive counter- insurgency campaign against Iraqi Kurds, including a massive relocation program, the establishment of sanitation zones along the Turkish and Iranian borders, and the use of chemical weapons. When the Iranians moved the front into Iraqi territory, Hussein fully exploited his position as defender of the Arab nation. Bombed-out shops in Basra were strewn with posters hailing Hussein as “the second great conqueror of the Persian Army.” The “Iraqi man” became the national symbol, transcending any class, religious, or ethnic fractures of Iraqi society. Hussein played up the Arab/Persian dimension to the war.
Importantly, the war allowed Hussein to embed a populist image of the Ba’th regime in social consciousness. The Iran-Iraq War caused the underground opposition movement in Iraq to fragment, especially among the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Kurdish Democratic Party, and the Iraqi Communist Party. This fragmentation strengthened the Ba’th regime. Hussein insulated the bourgeoisie from the negative effects of the war. Private sector expansion in Iraq continued unabated during the war. The Iraqi ruling class, seeing only the advantages of the war, made little effort to end the war. Moreover, a ceasefire was seen as a serious disadvantage: “After a ceasefire, Saddam Hussein would no longer be able to claim he was defending the homeland or to use the war as a justification and smokescreen for mass repression and terror in Iraq.” Iranian Soldier Wearing Gas Mask
The benefits of the Iran-Iraq War accrued almost exclusively to the regimes exercising power, which were able to extend oppressive relations in both countries. The social power of subordinate classes and groups—especially the urban poor, the Kurds, the working classes and women—slipped appreciably. By 1988, the ‘ulama of Iran had consolidated their power and faced no internal threat, although they still faced economic challenges, which included staggering unemployment, deplorable urban living conditions, and a stagnant economy. US involvement was also raising the stakes of the war. Additionally, in 1986, the price of a barrel of oil fell from $28 US to $10 US, only recovering to $18 US in 1988, placing great strain on both Iran and Iraq. Iraqi Mirage F1-EQ Pilots Prepare for a Mission
By 1988, Iran was ready to negotiate with Iraq, but, in 1988, Hussein was less inclined to negotiate than he had been in 1982. New Iraqi offenses had pushed the front back into Iranian territory. Iran unilaterally accepted UN Security Council Resolution 598, requiring an immediate ceasefire, a UN observer force, a release of prisoners of war, and the establishment of an impartial body to assess war responsibility. Reluctantly, Hussein accepted Resolution 598 as a basic framework for peace, and the United Nations Iran-Iraq Military Observer Group (UNIIMOG) occupied the 1,170-kilometer border between the countries on 20 August 1988, but no permanent official peace was established between Iran and Iraq. UN Weapons Inspectors (1988)
After the UN ceasefire, Iraq continued to occupy 1,600 square kilometers of Iranian territory. The disagreement over the Shatt al-Arab remained unresolved. The exchange of nearly 100,000 prisoners of war was delayed. After the Iraq-Kuwait War (the First Gulf War) (2 August 1990 to 28 February 1991), Hussein negotiated an uneasy peace with Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani. Iraq recognized Iranian sovereignty over the eastern half of the Shatt al-Arab. Iraq withdrew its military from Iran. And most of the prisoners of war were released, although final prisoner exchanges did not take place until 2003. Battlefield of the Iran-Iraq War
US Involvement in the Iran-Iraq War After the fall of the Shah, US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski argued, “Iraq was poised to succeed Iran as the principal pillar of stability in the Persian Gulf” and the USA could use Iraq to destabilize Iran. Iranian President Bani-Sadr claimed to possess intelligence on a Paris meeting of US and Israeli military experts, Iranian exiles, and Iraqis to plan an attack on Iran. In July 1980, Brzezinski and three CIA agents met Saddam Hussein in Amman, Jordan to discuss “Iran’s reckless policy” and to assure Hussein that the USA “would not oppose the separation of Khuzestan from Iran.” The USA convinced Hussein that the Iranian military was in disarray because shipments of spare parts for its American- made weapons were frozen and the Shah’s officer corps had been purged. Zbigniew Brzezinski and Jimmy Carter
In August 1980, Hussein traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with Prince Fahd, who was acting as an intermediary for US President Carter. Carter’s chief National Security Council aide on Iran, Gary Sick, stated that Prince Fahd allowed Hussein to “assume there was a US green light because there was no explicit red light.” US Secretary of State Al Haig, however, stated, “Carter gave the Iraqis a green light to launch the war against Iran through Fahd.” On 28 September 1980, the UN called for a ceasefire and for mediation of the conflict. The Western powers, however, were not outraged, did not impose punitive sanctions, and did not deploy troops to defend Iran. In short, the Western powers found Iraq’s aggression useful. Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al SaudGary SickAl Haig
On 18 October 1980, Carter informed Iran that the USA would provide military assistance to Iran in exchange for the release of the hostages held in the US Embassy in Tehran. Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, however, had already negotiated a secret agreement with Iran not to release the hostages until after the US presidential election in November in exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars in arms to be shipped to Iran from Israel. Reagan’s maneuver made a quick diplomatic solution to the war impossible. For two years, the Western powers did little to stop the war. A US State Department official said, “We don’t give a damn as long as the Iran-Iraq carnage does not affect our allies or alter the balance of power.” But when Iran advanced into Iraqi territory, Western powers started to give a damn. New York Times (21 January 1981)
In June 1982, President Reagan pledged the USA to doing whatever was necessary and legal to prevent Iraq from losing the war with Iran. The USA gave Iraq some $5 billion in economic aid and encouraged the Western powers to provide billions of dollars worth of arms to Iraq. The British sold Iraq tanks, missile parts, and artillery; the French provided howitzers, Exocet missiles, and Mirage jet fighters; and the Germans supplied technology used in Iraqi plants that reportedly produced nerve and mustard gas. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait transferred millions of dollars in US military hardware to Iraq and loaned Iraq $60 billion. In 1983, the USA launched “Operation Staunch” to block the flow of arms to Iran, and in 1984, the USA placed Iran on the State Department list of states that sponsor terrorism, after having removed Iraq from the list in 1982. Ronald Reagan and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz (26 November 1984)
CIA Director William Casey arranged for a Chilean arms manufacturer to provide Iraq with anti-personnel cluster bombs to be used against Iran’s human waves of attackers. US firms supplied Iraq with biological weapons, including 70 shipments over 3 years of anthrax, botulism, and E. coli bacillus. The Western powers armed Iraq with the tools for making chemical weapons. Chemicals, equipment for making chemical weapons, and artillery shells for delivering chemical weapons came from Singapore, the Netherlands, Egypt, India, Germany, France, Austria, Italy, Spain, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland. A US State Department report cited Iraq’s “almost daily use of CW [chemical weapons]” in 1983. The UN did not condemn the Western powers for facilitating and supporting Iraq’s chemical warfare. William Casey
While Churchill had advocated the use of poison gas to put down the Arab revolt in 1920, the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) did not object to Hussein’s use of poison gas. A DIA officer admitted the Pentagon “wasn’t so horrified by Iraq’s use of gas. It was just another way of killing people— whether with a bullet or phosgene, it didn’t make any difference.” The New York Times reported in August 2002 that over 60 DIA officers “secretly provided [Iraq] detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning for battles, plans for airstrikes, and bomb-damage assessments....” In December 1983 and in March 1984, Reagan sent Donald Rumsfeld as a special Middle East envoy to Baghdad. Diplomatic relations between the USA and Iraq were renewed in November 1984. The US then supplied Iraq with $4 billion in US government- guaranteed agricultural credits. Rumsfeld and Hussein (20 December 1983)
In May 1985, Graham Fuller, the CIA’s National Intelligence Officer for Near East and South Asia, recommended a shift in US policy away from Iraq and toward Iran. Fuller made this recommendation because Iran was considered a bigger prize than Iraq. Fuller wrote, “Our tilt to Iraq was timely when Iraq was against the ropes and the Islamic revolution was on a roll. The time may now have to come to tilt back.” In a secret arms-for-hostages deal, Reagan sold arms to Iran in return for the release of US hostages held in Lebanon. Reagan then used the money from the sale of the weapons to fund counter- revolution in Nicaragua, support expressly prohibited by the US Congress. Beginning in the fall of 1985, the USA began shipping TOW anti-tank missiles, Hawk missile parts, and Hawk radars to Iran, first via Israel, and beginning in early 1986 directly to Tehran. Graham Fuller
US military assistance allowed Iran to win a victory in the Battle of al-Faw (March 1986). In fact, the USA had provided Iraq with false intelligence to assist the Iranians in taking al-Faw. The USA began supplying both Iran and Iraq with altered satellite photographs, providing misleading military intelligence, and lying to both sides because Reagan would not allow either to win the war. A New York Times editorial: “In Henry Kissinger’s apt phrase, the ultimate American interest in the war between Iran and Iraq is that both should lose. The underlying hope is that mutual exhaustion might rid the Middle East of the aggressive regimes of both Ayatollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein….” After the Iran-Contra scandal broke in November 1986, US policy tilted back in favor of Iraq. The USA deployed 42 combat ships to the Persian Gulf, ostensibly to protect Kuwaiti tankers, which had been re-registered as American ships, from Iranian attacks. The primary goal, however, was to end the war. The US Navy began direct engaging Iranian forces, and France poured weapons into Iraq. In 1988, the USA helped Iraq claim victory in the Second Battle of al-Faw.
The USS Vincennes, on 2 July 1988, shot down an unarmed Iranian passenger jet—killing all 290 onboard. Iran interpreted the US action as a signal to halt the war or face further US attacks. Iran accepted the UN ceasefire resolution 16 days after the downing of Iran Air Flight 655. Iran Air Flight 655 Iran-Contra Scandal Editorial Cartoon Funeral of Iran Air 655 Passengers (7 July 1988)
The First Persian Gulf War (1990-1991) Miscalculations by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and the USA’s President George H. W. Bush were followed by an imperialist war against Iraq that has continued in various guises to this day (2014) and is ongoing.
Iraq emerged from the Iran-Iraq War a de facto ally of the USA but in financial difficulty. Its $36 billion in reserves before the war had become $90 billion in debt. And Basra, Iraq’s gateway to the Persian Gulf, had been heavily damaged, forcing Iraq to rely on pipelines running through Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The financial crisis threatened the political stability of the Ba’th regime. Anti- Ba’th graffiti appeared in Baghdad despite being punishable by death. Kuwait rejected an Iraqi request to lease the Warbah and Bubiyan Islands, located at the head of the Persian Gulf between the two countries. Moreover, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, US clients that relied entirely on US support for the maintenance of their highly unpopular monarchies, refused to forgive Iraq’s billions in debt. Additionally, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait were exceeding their OPEC oil production quota by 30 and 40 percent respectively, driving crude prices down to $12 a barrel and costing Iraq $14 billion in lost revenues. Iraq believed Kuwait was slant drilling into the Iraqi portion of the Rumalia oil field as well. Why did Iraq invade Kuwait?
Hussein was also concerned about the implications for the Middle East of the collapsing USSR. In June 1990, he told the Wall Street Journal, “It is now clear that the US can exert influence over the Soviets and make them abandon any position contrary to the USA. So, America thinks it can cast things anyway it wants in the region and in alliance with Israel can suppress any voice in support of Arab rights.” In 1981, Israel had bombed the Osiraq nuclear reactor near Baghdad; in 1990, Israel was harshly repressing the intifada of the Palestinian people, while expanding settlements of Jews in the West Bank. To meet the Israeli threat, Hussein began a nuclear weapons program and tried to develop a “supergun” to fire chemical or biological shells that could hit Israel. Osiraq Nuclear Reactor Ruins (2002)
The Kuwaiti regime was led by the despotic and decadent emirs of the Sabah family. Only 3.5 percent of the population—literate male citizens over the age of 21—were allowed to vote. Kuwaiti women were relegated to inferior, second- class status. Nearly two-thirds of Kuwait’s population of 1.9 million were non-citizens who performed 80 percent of the labor. Invading Kuwait would solve Hussein’s problems. Iraq’s debts to Kuwait would be cancelled, Iraq would have deep-water access to the Persian Gulf, and Iraq would control some 20 percent of world oil reserves. Hussein justified the invasion of Kuwait as a blow against the legacy of British colonialism: “The foreigner entered their [Arab] lands, and Western colonialism divided and established weak states ruled by families that offered him [the British] services that facilitated his mission…. Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah and George H. W. Bush
The colonialists, to insure their petroleum interests…set up those disfigured petroleum states. Through this, they kept the wealth away from the masses of this nation.” Before invading Kuwait, however, Hussein sought a green light from the USA, as he had done before invading Iran ten years earlier. On 25 July 1990, Hussein met with US Ambassador April Glaspie. Hussein told Glaspie that Iraq had forgiven the USA for its Iran- Contra treachery. Iraq understood that the USA needed an easy flow of oil. He reminded her that Iraq was giving the USA a $1 discount per barrel of oil. He complained that the USA favored the rights of 3 million Israeli Jews over those of 200 million Arabs. Then, Hussein announced his military intentions: “When planned and deliberate policy forces the price of oil down without good commercial reasons, then that means another war against Iraq…. Edward Gnehm, April Glaspie, and John Kelly Meet with Saddam Hussein (February 1990)
Because military war kills people by bleeding them and economic war kills their humanity by depriving them of the chance to have a good standard of living…. Iraq has the right to defend itself…. We know that the USA has nuclear weapons. But we are determined either to live as proud men, or we all die.” Glaspie responded by telling Hussein that fighting for one’s interests is legitimate, that he could be assured of overall US support, and that the USA would stay out of Iraq’s border dispute with Kuwait: “I clearly understand your message. We studied history at school. They taught us to say freedom or death…. I have a direct instruction from the President to seek better relations with Iraq…. We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait…. We hope you can solve the problem using any suitable methods….” April Glaspie Testifying before Congress (1991)
The USA sent mixed signals to Iraq. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said the USA was committed to defending Kuwait if attacked and to “supporting the individual and collective self-defense of our friends in the Gulf.” But Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs John Kelly told Congress, “We have no defense treaty relationship with any Gulf country. That is clear…. We have not historically taken a position on border disputes.” Bush sent Hussein a secret, conciliatory message: “We believe that differences are best resolved by peaceful means and not by threats involving military force or conflict. My Administration continues to desire better relations with Iraq.” On 28 July 1990, the CIA informed Bush that an invasion of Kuwait was imminent, but Iraq would probably only take the disputed Rumaila oil field and the Warbah and Buybian Islands. John Kelly Dick Cheney
The mixed signals represented confusion or conflicting views within the US government, yet overall, the US had signaled its willingness to tolerate limited Iraqi military action. The right-wing Washington Institute for Near East Policy concluded, “It is unlikely that Saddam Hussein would have invaded Kuwait had he not calculated both that the regional balance of power stood in his favor and that local and outside powers would not act vigorously.” Iraqi dissident Sami Yousif wrote, “My contention is that the US administration encouraged Hussein’s new criminal adventure because it suited US interests to do so. Simultaneously, the administration was backing and encouraging Kuwait to resist Iraqi demands. Hussein was the perfect bogeyman.” Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark wrote, “The US government used the Kuwait royal family to provoke an Iraqi invasion that would justify a massive assault on Iraq to establish US dominion in the Gulf.” Ramsey Clark and Saddam Hussein
On 2 August 1990, six elite Iraqi Republican Guard divisions entered Kuwait. They entered the capital of Kuwait City four hours later, effectively taking over the whole country. The Washington Post noted, “By seizing the entire country, Hussein thought he would have Kuwait under his thumb and could force its rulers to agree to cede the northern area.” Glaspie told the New York Times, “Obviously, I didn’t think, and nobody else did, that the Iraqis were going to take all of Kuwait.” The day after its invasion, Iraq offered to withdraw and to negotiate a peaceful settlement brokered by Arab leaders. Saddam Hussein’s occupation of the entirety of Kuwait stunned the Bush administration. When the National Security Council met to discuss the invasion, a participant reportedly said, “Hey, too bad about Kuwait, but it’s just a gas station, and who cares whether the sign says Sinclair or Exxon?” National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, groomed by Henry Kissinger, described the NSC meeting: “I was frankly appalled at the undertone of the discussion, which suggested resignation to the invasion and even adaptation to a fait accompli…. How did the USA respond?
There was a huge gap between those who saw what was happening as the major crisis of our time and those who treated it as the crisis du jour. The remarks tended to skip over the enormous stake the United States had in the situation, or the ramifications of the aggression on the emerging post- Cold War world.” On 3 August 1990, Scowcroft met privately with Bush, and they decided on a two-track policy: the public theater of diplomacy and the secret preparations for war, not to liberate Kuwait but to crush Iraq. Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft during Last Official Battle of the Vietnam War (14 May 1975) Propaganda Film Produced by the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs Celebrating the Twentieth Anniversary of the First Persian Gulf War (2011)
The “Gang of Eight,” President Bush, Vice President Dan Quayle, National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, Secretary of State James Baker, Deputy National Security Advisor Bob Gates, and White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, could not allow Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait with its military intact. They had to prevent Hussein from exerting greater influence over Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates, from eroding US hegemony, from bolstering Iraqi strength. The Bush administration were determined to break out of the “Vietnam Syndrome”—the difficulty in mustering domestic political support for foreign military interventions in the wake of US defeat in Vietnam. The “Gang of Eight” (1991)
During the Cold War, the USA relied on Saudi Arabia’s oil and its spare capacity as effective weapons—as important as nuclear weapons—for leveraging world energy markets and for weakening rivals who depended on oil revenues or who imported petroleum. Additionally, the recycling of Saudi Arabia’s “petrodollars,”—Saudi purchases of goods from Western companies and Saudi investments in the West—helped keep the US dollar stable and helped enable the US to run huge trade deficits. Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and its calls to invest petrodollars in Arab countries—rather than in the West—imperiled the US-led capitalist financial system. The Bush administration could not pass up the opportunity, with the USSR in crisis, to shift the balance of power in favor of US imperialism, particularly in the strategically important Middle East. On the one hand, the Gang of Eight were concerned that the Soviet collapse, as Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger put it, could trigger “violent centrifugal tendencies,” like Iraq’s invasion, since smaller states were no longer “worried about the involvement of the superpowers.”
On the other hand, they were aware that the US had been handed a rare opportunity to extend its imperial reach and control. Crushing Iraq would serve note to the world that the USA “henceforth would be obligated to lead the world community to an unprecedented degree.” Bush’s objectives demanded war, not peace. The problem for the USA was how to prevent the resolution of the crisis short of war yet appear willing to go, as Bush said, “the extra mile to achieve a peaceful solution.” Scowcroft privately said, “The question of how we would initiate the use of force…remained. How could we act without it appearing as aggression…?” Bush secretly made the decision to go to war on 3 August. “We have to have a war,” Bush told his top advisors. Bob Woodward, of theWashington Post, wrote, “Scowcroft was aware that this understanding could never be stated publicly or be permitted to leak out.” Bob Woodward’s The Commanders (1991)
When Air Force Chief of Staff General Michael Dugan let slip in September 1990 Bush’s intentions to launch a massive bombing campaign against Iraqi cities, which would target the country’s leadership and civilian infrastructure, Cheney fired him. And when Secretary of State Baker issued a joint statement with Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh on 30 January 1991 calling for a ceasefire provided Iraq agreed to leave Kuwait, Bush became angrier than Scowcroft had ever seen him. Only years later did Scowcroft acknowledge the truth: “…a ground campaign would be necessary no matter what air power accomplished because it was essential that we destroy Iraq’s offensive capability. This was also a major objective, although it had not been feasible to list it openly as such while a peaceful solution to the crisis was possible.” Behind the scenes, the USA prepared for war and sabotaged peace efforts; publicly, the USA demonized Hussein while pretending to negotiate. On 11 September 1990, Bush arrogantly proclaimed the beginning of a “new world order,” which really meant preserving much of the existing—and old—world order with the US more firmly on top.
Between Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the end of the First Persian Gulf War, the USA rejected at least 11 peace proposals from a variety of countries, including Iraq, the USSR, Jordan, Libya, France, Morocco, and Iran. When Jordan and Saudi Arabia reached a tentative peace agreement with Iraq that would have ceded a small piece of Kuwait, Cheney went to Saudi Arabia with false intelligence (faked satellite photographs) to persuade the Saudis not to implement the peace plan but to invite the USA to station tens of thousands of US troops in Saudi Arabia—Operation Desert Shield. How did the USA sabotage peace? Dick Cheney meets with Prince Sultan, Minister of Defense and Aviation, in Saudi Arabia (1 December 1990)
A number of peace proposals linked Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait with negotiations over Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza and called for the banning of all weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East, including Israel’s 200-plus nuclear warheads. The USA rejected any such linkage. As Scowcroft put it, it would change the US “path” and possibly give Hussein a “political victory.” Hussein contributed to US war plans by continuing to make miscalculations. On 8 August, he annexed Kuwait, the first annexation of a sovereign state since WWII, inviting comparisons with Hitler. He also held thousands of US, British, and other foreigners as human shields against a US attack until he realized the tactic was backfiring politically and began releasing them in late August. Saddam Hussein and 5-Year-Old British Human Shield Stuart Lockwood
The Bush team faced the difficulty of rallying the world behind their imperial agenda. After the war, Scowcroft described how they deliberately added various justifications for the attack in hopes of convincing the public to back the war: “The core of our argument rested on long-held security and economic interests: preserving the balance of power in the Gulf, opposing unprovoked international aggression, and ensuring that no hostile regional power could hold hostage much of the world’s oil supply. President Bush…added the Hitler, holocaust, and morality arguments, and Baker expanded the grounds to include American jobs.” By absurdly comparing Hussein and Hitler, Bush craftily invoked the theme of appeasement at Munich, conveying the idea that negotiation would only bring disaster. How was Hussein demonized? Dick Cheney meets with Prince Sultan, Minister of Defense and Aviation, in Saudi Arabia (1 December 1990)
US leaders expressed shock over Hussein’s long history of brutality against the Iraqi people and the Iranians, failing to mention how the USA had enabled Hussein to carry out those atrocities. While the history of Hussein’s brutality was bad enough, US leaders felt the need to hire public relations firm Hill & Knowlton (paid for by the Sabah family) to fabricate an even worse crime. In October 1990, the daughter of Kuwait’s ambassador to the USA pretended to be a 15-year-old woman identified only as Nayirah. She testified before Congress that Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait “took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators and left the babies to die on the cold floor.” The story was a complete fabrication, but Bush used the story to manipulate the public, while mainstream media coverage reinforced the lie. Nayirah al-Sabah Giving False Testimony to Congress (10 October 1990)
The USA viewed the UN Security Council as its primary vehicle for giving Operation Desert Storm— the US assault on Iraq—a veil of legitimacy. As Scowcroft put it, “Building an international response led us immediately to the United Nations, which could provide a cloak of acceptability to our efforts and mobilize world opinion behind the principles we wished to project.” The UN Security Council, however, did not represent the will of the world’s people. Dominated by its five permanent members— the USA, Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and China, the Security Council represented the will of the imperialist powers, the USA being dominant. These powers held a shared interest in suppressing an upstart Third World country and in maintaining Western control of Persian Gulf oil. How did the USA use the UN? Bush Addresses UN on Gulf War
While France and Germany had long-standing ties to Iraq and did not wish to see Iraq crippled or Hussein overthrown, the USA told its allies it would attack with or without their cooperation, so if they wanted a voice in post-war decisions in the Gulf, they had to join the US-led coalition. Bush cobbled together a coalition of 28 countries from 6 continents; the USA, however, would not be encumbered by the desires of its coalition partners, international law, or even UN resolutions. When any of these stood in the way of US objectives, Bush simply ignored them. The USA bribed Egypt to join the coalition by forgiving billions of Egypt’s foreign debts. The USA bullied Jordan into joining the coalition by threatening to cut off US aid. When Yemen refused to join the coalition, the US suspended its $70 million aid package to Yemen. A PSYOPS Pamphlet Dropped on Iraq
At the same time, the USA received pledges for $50 billion to cover the costs of the war: $16.8 billion from Saudi Arabia, $16 billion from Kuwait, $10.7 billion from Japan, and $6.6 billion from Germany. The UN Security Council passes 12 resolutions on Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, including Resolution 660, demanding that Iraq “immediately and unconditionally” withdraw from Kuwait; Resolution 661, which imposed a stringent embargo and economic sanctions; and, Resolution 678, which approved the use of “all necessary means” to force Iraq from Kuwait. Resolution 660 called for immediate “intensive negotiations for the resolution of differences…. support[ing] all efforts in this regard, and especially those of the League of Arab States” and subsequent resolutions carried similar language calling for a negotiated end to the crisis without war. The USA refused to negotiate in good faith. UN Security Council Votes on Resolution 678 (29 November 1990)
The Red Cross pointed out that Resolution 661 violated the UN Charter because the sanctions blocked food and medicine for Iraqi civilians. Moreover, Resolution 661 did not authorize the use of military force to impose the sanctions. Ignoring both facts, Bush unilaterally imposed and enforced the sanctions by force. Resolution 678 stated that the Security Council would “remain seized of the matter,” meaning that no action could be taken without further UN authorization, yet the USA went ahead with its attack on Iraq without securing the required UN approval. The UN resolutions called for Iraq to leave Kuwait. No UN resolution called for the destruction of Iraq’s military and civilian infrastructure, yet the USA did so anyway. The UN provided a “cloak of political cover,” Scowcroft later wrote. Scowcroft also acknowledged that the USA was not bound by the UN: “Never did we think that without its blessings we could not or would not intervene.” Neither Scowcroft nor other US official spoke so frankly while their war preparations were unfolding.
On 12 January 1991, the US Congress voted to give Bush the authority to use force against Iraq. On 16 January, Bush spoke publicly as the US bombing campaign began. As bombs rained down on Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, Bush mentioned the word “peace” 11 times in his speech. The military tactics of Desert Storm arose from Bush’s desire to avoid the Vietnam Syndrome. Bush believed two factors caused the Vietnam Syndrome: the deaths of US troops and the media coverage of the deaths of US enemies, which made Americans identify with the victims of US violence and which brought out popular revulsion at the horror and bloodshed of war. What was Desert Storm? The Bombing of Baghdad (1991) Anti-War Protest Sign (c. 2008)
To avoid Vietnam Syndrome, the Bush administration controlled the news through high level briefings run by Powell and Cheney, by restricting access to the battlefield, and by feeding the media so-called “gun camera” footage, which had been carefully selected by US generals to present an image of a clean, surgical war. Reporters in the official press pool were banned from the front, and their dispatches were vetted by the military. Newsday reporter Patrick Sloyan said, “More than 70 reporters were arrested, detained, threatened at gunpoint and literally chased from the front lines….” ABC, CBS, and NBC News, CNN, the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and seven other major news organizations issued a report concluding that the Pentagon restrictions constituted “real censorship.” US Military Briefing on Smart Bombs (1991)
As part of this censorship, the USA refused to provide estimates of either Iraqi civilian or battlefield casualties. General Norman Schwarzkopf, leader of coalition forces in the Gulf War, said, “I’m never going to get into the body count business.” The USA suffered casualties of 79 killed, 212 wounded, and 45 missing, but there are no precise figures for the tens of thousands of Iraqi casualties during the war and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths after the war. The Bush administration dictated a strategy of overwhelming force, minimal US casualties, and quick victory. Bush said, “This will not be another Vietnam. Our troops will not be asked to fight with one hand tied behind their back. I’m hopeful that this fighting will not go on for long and that casualties will be held to an absolute minimum.” Schwarzkopf said the goal was “to achieve the absolute minimum number of casualties on our side.” General Norman Schwarzkopf (1991)
What Bush and Schwarzkopf did not say was that the strategy, carpet- bombing from high altitudes and missile strikes, meant maximizing the destruction of Iraq and inflicting enormous civilian casualties. In an unprecedented bombing assault code-named “Instant Thunder,” 46 percent of the US Air Force’s combat planes (joined by British bombers) were deployed, and for 43 days and nights bombed Iraq with impunity. Coalition planes flew 109,876 combat sorties, dropping some 250,000 weapons—6,000 a day—the equivalent of 6 Hiroshimas. The USA claimed it was using “smart” bombs in its air campaign against Iraq. The Pentagon reported, “Careful targeting and expert use of technological superiority—including precision guided munitions— throughout the strategic air campaign minimized collateral damage and casualties to the civilian population.” But this was a hoax. At least 10 percent of “smart” bombs missed their targets, and only 8 percent of the munitions used were “smart” bombs. Dropped from up to 35,000 feet, 70 percent of the 92 percent of “dumb” bombs missed their targets, causing what the Pentagon euphemistically called “collateral damage.” And one- third of all US air attacks were directed at Iraq’s densely populated cities.
Ameed Hamid, Director of Iraq’s Red Crescent Society, said, “I have a son 5 years old. During the air raid he was shaking, shivering, saying ‘Bush is coming; Bush is coming.’ After the ceasefire, American airplanes were flying over Baghdad, crossing the sound barrier, making this explosive sound, frightening the children and writing with blue smoke, ‘USA.’ What was the purpose except frightening Iraqi children?” Air Force Lt. General Charles Horner, who commanded the air campaign, called psychological terror a “side benefit” of the air assault. The US-led coalition targeted Iraq’s leadership; command, control and communication; air defense; airfields; nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; Scud missiles; conventional military production and storage facilities; naval ports; and Republic Guard forces. Emir of Bahrain Honors Lt. Gen. Charles Horner
But they also purposely targeted Iraq’s economic and social infrastructure—the foundations of Iraq’s civilian life—including the electrical grid, power system, bridges, and telecommunications network. This US tactic provided post-war “leverage” by destroying “valuable facilities that Baghdad could not repair without foreign assistance.” French journalist and diplomat Eric Rouleau: “Electric power stations (92% of installed capacity destroyed), refineries (80 percent of production capacity), petrochemical complexes, telecommunications centers (including 135 telephone networks), bridges (more than 100), roads, highways, railroads, hundreds of locomotives and boxcars full of goods, radio and television broadcasting stations, cement plants, and factories producing aluminum, textiles, electric cables, and medical supplies….” With Iraqi electrical generation reduced to 1920 levels, the water, sewage, and medical systems collapsed, leading to a significant number of civilian deaths, particularly among the young and the elderly. Eric Rouleau
After the Gulf War, the USA blocked foreign assistance, causing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians to die. An Air Force planner explained, “We’re not going to tolerate Saddam Hussein or his regime. Fix that, and we’ll fix your electricity.” The USA held the population of Iraq hostage to its imperial desire. The US bombing campaign constituted a war crime, contravening Article 54 of the Geneva Convention, which prohibits attacks on essential civilian facilities, including “drinking water supplies and irrigation works.” “Instant Thunder” roused waves of protest around the world and frantic efforts in January and February 1991 to negotiate a ceasefire in the Gulf War. The USSR, in particular, was furious that the USA had gone far beyond the scope of UN resolutions. US Air Force F-16A, F-15C, and F-15E Fighter-Bombers Fly over Burning Kuwaiti Oil Wells (1991)
The USA rejected a Soviet-brokered peace. Scowcroft said, even if Iraq agreed to US demands, “it would be a disaster to take ‘yes’ for an answer.” On 15 February, when Iraq agreed to comply with UN Resolution 660, Bush privately said, “Instead of feeling exhilarated, my heart sank….” Publicly, Bush dismissed Iraq’s offer as a “cruel hoax.” The USSR informed the USA on 18 February and again on 21 February that Iraq would withdraw immediately if the USA halted its attacks. On 22 February, the USA rejected Iraq’s offer. On 23 February, Gorbachev informed Bush that “Saddam had caved” and would unconditionally withdraw from Kuwait. Bush replied, “It was too late for that now.” On 24 February, the US launched a ground war from Saudi Arabia. Marine and Army units attacked with infantry and armor along several fronts, retaking Kuwait and moving some 100 miles into southern Iraq to engage and cut-off retreating Iraqi forces. Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush (June 1990)
On 25 February, the USSR reiterated Iraq’s desire for a ceasefire to withdraw from Kuwait. Bush again rejected the surrender, allowing the single worst atrocity of the war on 26 February—the day Iraq said that it would accept any terms that the US dictated. Iraqi forces, many who had abandoned their weapons, and many non-combatants from a variety of countries tried to escape from Kuwait City to Basra on the six-lane Highway 80, forming a long convoy of tanks, personnel carriers, trucks, buses, and cars. Powell, who had been involved in the attempted cover-up of the My Lai massacre, ordered coalition forces to “cut them off and kill them.” Air forces attacked both ends of the convoy, blocking any escape. Over the next two days, the “highway of death” was a free-fire zone for coalition aircraft and ground forces. One US soldier said it was like “a medieval hell.” The Highway of Death (1991)
The massacre of retreating Iraqi forces and civilians constituted a war crime, violating both the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which prohibited attacks on soldiers who have withdrawn from combat, and the 1907 Hague Convention, which required withdrawing forces to be given quarter. The USA attempted to impose a media blackout, but when news of the Highway 80 massacre broke, the Bush administration justified its action, falsely claiming that Iraqi forces had been engaged in an “armed” retreat. Highway of Death Victim (Kenneth Jarecke, 1991) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell
Bush declared a ceasefire on 27 February 1991, and Iraq accepted US terms on 3 March, although no formal peace treaty was signed. During the 47-days of combat, an estimated 120,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed; an estimated 95,000 Iraqi civilians (including Shi’a and Kurdish rebels, civilians caught in the crossfire, and civilians who died from the destruction of water and power plants) died; and, an estimated 5,000 Kuwaitis died. The death toll, however, continued to mount after the ceasefire. The war caused massive oil spills and environmental destruction, releasing a toxic slew of chemical agents, pesticides, acid rain, soot, and smoke from burning oil wells into the atmosphere. Each side blamed the other for setting Kuwait’s oil wells on fire. Landsat Image of First Persian Gulf War (NASA/Earth Observatory, 1991)
In the Gulf War, US forces fired 1 million depleted uranium (DU) rounds—some 320 tons— generating tens of thousands of tons of dust and debris that are both radioactive and toxic. It takes 4.5 billion years for DU to lose half of its radioactivity. Upon impact, roughly 70 percent of the depleted uranium catches fire and oxidizes—forming clouds of black uranium oxide particles of various sizes. The smallest particles, about one micrometer in size, lodge in the lungs, emitting alpha particles, producing tissue prone to become cancerous. In 1991, Britain’s Atomic Energy Authority estimated that the use of DU in the Gulf War had the potential to cause 4 million cancer deaths. In the decade after the Gulf War, cancer rates among Iraqi children increased five-fold (by 38 percent for all Iraqis). Rates of leukemia tripled. Birth defects became six- times more frequent. Baby with Severe Birth Defects Attributed to DU Munitions and Other War Toxins in Fallujah (Samira Alani/Al Jazeera, 2013)
One third of the 700,000 US soldiers who served in the Gulf War contracted “Gulf War Syndrome” from exposure to the toxic atmosphere slew and to depleted uranium. Symptoms included chronic fatigue, aching joints, diarrhea, migraines, dizziness, memory loss, problems with balance and muscle control, and increased susceptibility to amyotropic lateral sclerosis. In the decade after the Gulf War, 8,306 US veterans died and 159,705 became ill. Chalmers Johnson concluded, “In light of these deaths and disabilities, the casualty rate for the first Gulf War is actually a staggering 29.3 percent.” Gulf War Syndrome Statistics (2005) Gulf War Syndrome (Herbert Block, September 1996)
The USA had encouraged Iraqi Shi’a and Kurds to revolt against Hussein. The Washington Post reported that the US bombing campaign was designed in part to “incite Iraqi citizens to rise against the Iraqi leader.” The USA dropped 21 million propaganda leaflets that read, “Saddam is the cause of the war and its sorrows. He must be stopped. Join with your brothers and demonstrate rejection of Saddam’s brutal policies. There will be no peace with Saddam. Rise up, brothers. This is your time. The American armed forces will help you. We need your help to change for democracy and freedom.” Iraqi Shi’a and Kurds rebelled on 2 March 1991. To the insurgents’ surprise, however, the USA refused to provide them with captured Iraqi weapons or to support their actions. Instead, Schwarzkopf gave the Iraqi military permission to fly helicopters as long as they did not approach US forces, allowing Hussein to put down the rebellion. US Gulf War Leaflet (1991)
While Bush and Scowcroft desired the Iraqi military to overthrow Hussein, they would not countenance a popular, democratic uprising. They allowed Hussein to suppress the revolt. For all their demonization of the Ba’th regime, they actually wanted to preserve it as a bulwark of the regional status quo. Revolution could have led to the fragmentation of Iraq into three countries. An independent Kurdish state in the north would threaten a US ally, Turkey; an independent Shi’i state in the south would strengthen a US enemy, Iran. Richard Haas, Director for Middle East Affairs on Bush’s National Security Council said, “Our policy is to get rid of Saddam, not his regime.” Scowcroft said, “It is true that we hoped Saddam would be toppled, but we never thought that could be done by anyone outside the military….” An Iraqi Tank Destroyed by Rebels (1991)
The end of the Gulf War did not bring a halt to US assaults on Iraq. Rather, it opened a 12-year chapter of economic strangulation and military attacks whose main victims were the Iraqi people, leading to a Second Gulf War launched by Bush’s son. And the placing of US soldiers on Saudi territory in the First Persian Gulf War led to the al Qaeda terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001. 11 September 2001 Terrorist Attacks US Marines Topple a Statue of Saddam Hussein in the Second Gulf War (9 April 2003)
Dual Containment in the 1990s The day the Gulf War ended, President Bush wrote in his diary, “It has not been a clean end—there is no battleship Missouri surrender. That is what is missing to make this akin to WWII, to separate Kuwait from Korea and Vietnam…. Saddam…. He has got to go….” The aims of the 1991 Persian Gulf War—crippling Iraq as a regional power, eliminating Hussein, shoring up US regional control, and demonstrating US military might— continued in the post-war years under President Bill Clinton via sanctions, arms inspections, and military attacks. The new Persian Gulf strategy was called “dual containment.” Rather than having to balance Iran and Iraq against each other, the USA directly intervened to weaken and to control both. Martin Indyk and Bill Clinton
The USA, after the fall of the USSR, no longer needed to worry about any Soviet response to American actions. And the Iran-Iraq War and the Gulf War had created a “regional balance of power…at a much lower level of [Iranian and Iraqi] military capability” making it easier, as Clinton National Security Council official Martin Indyk said, “to balance the power of both of them.” In 1995, Clinton declared Iran a “rogue state.” On 6 May 1995, Clinton signed Executive Order 12957 and Executive Order 12959, which banned almost all trade between the Iranian government and US businesses, implemented tight oil and trade sanctions on Iran, and made it illegal for US corporations to finance the development of Iranian petroleum resources. USA vs. Iran (1998 World Cup)
At the same time, Clinton took steps to bring Iran into a closer relationship with the USA. In 1996, Clinton agreed to compensate Iran for the 1988 downing of Iran Air Flight 655. In 1997, Clinton apologized for the 1953 coup that overthrew Mossadeq. And Clinton actually offered to open up an official dialogue with the Iranian government on renewing diplomatic relations. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei refused to accept Clinton’s offer for dialogue unless the US formally withdrew its support for Israel, lifted the 1995 sanctions, stopped accusing Iran of attempting to develop nuclear weaponry, and officially ended its policy of considering Iran a rogue state that sponsored terrorism. Clinton rejected these demands. Ali Khamenei
Despite failing to initiate an official diplomatic dialogue with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, Clinton eased restrictions on the export of food and medical equipment to Iran. In 2000, Clinton enabled Americans to purchase and import carpets and food products, such as dried fruits, nuts, and caviar, from Iran. The dominant influence of the Israel lobby on US international relations resulted in repeated and ongoing calls within the USA for military strikes against Iran if not outright war and for UN sanctions against Iran in regards to its nuclear program. Iran, refusing to subordinate itself to the USA during the Clinton presidency, became a member of President George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” on 29 January 2002. Mohammad Khatami
As for Iraq, the USA never stopped waging its war against Hussein. The USA interpreted and implemented UN resolutions on post-war Iraq. The UN resolutions left vague exactly what constituted Iraqi compliance, and the USA continually moved the “goalposts” for compliance. If Iraq met some UN demands, others were added. When they stood in the way of US aims, UN resolutions were re- interpreted, selectively enforced, or simply ignored. No matter what Iraq did, so long as Hussein remained in power, the USA kept the heat on—despite the fact that no UN resolution authorized regime change. The USA and the UK created “no fly” zones in northern and southern Iraq. The USA and the UK maintained a large military presence around Iraq, averaging over 20,000 troops, 200 planes, and 150 tanks, which frequently attacked Iraq. Between 1991 and 2001, American and British planes flew over 280,000 sorties against Iraq, routinely bombing military and civilian targets, killing hundreds of civilians.
In June 1993, Clinton claimed he had “compelling evidence” that Iraq planned to assassinate former President Bush. He launched 23 cruise missiles to punish Iraq: 3 of the cruise missiles missed their military targets, killing 8 civilians, including Layla al-Attar, one of Iraq’s most renowned artists. Kris Kristofferson’s “The Circle” Who killed this woman this artist this mother? Who broke the candle and snuffed out her light Along with her husband and wounded her children And sauntered away like a beast in the night? “Not I,” said the soldier, “I just follow orders and it was my duty to do my job well.” “Not I,” said the leader who ordered the slaughter, “I’m saddened it happened, but then, war is hell.” “Not us,” said the others who heard of the horror, Turned a cold shoulder on all that was done. In all the confusion a single conclusion, The circle of sorrow has only begun. Kris Kristofferson’s “The Circle”
On 16 December 1998, the USA launched Operation Desert Fox— without UN Security Council authorization. For the next 100 hours, the USA lashed Iraq with 415 cruise missiles and 600 laser guided bombs in an attempt to assassinate Saddam Hussein by targeting locations he frequented, including the private homes of his mistresses. The air strike relied on information illegally gathered during UN arms inspections. UN Security Council Resolution 687 demanded that Iraq destroy its ballistic missiles and its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Iraq was also required to destroy its weapons research, development, support, and manufacturing facilities and to foreswear any future weapons development. Desert Fox Bomb Assessment Photographs (1998)
Iraq’s supposed non-compliance with UN weapons inspections and its alleged pursuit of “weapons of mass destruction” were the primary rationalization for 12 murderous years of US aggression. Iraq did not immediately comply with Resolution 687. After the Gulf War, Hussein attempted to preserve at least the technical infrastructure for reconstituting Iraq’s weapons programs, if not the weapons themselves, through an elaborate and well-organized concealment system. Critical materials and documents were hidden or moved from place to place. UN inspectors were denied access to key sites. Records turned over to UN inspectors were inaccurate or incomplete. Iraq soon began caving in to the pressure of inspections, military assaults, and ongoing economic sanctions. Within 6 months of the end of the Gulf War, Iraqi weapons programs were being discovered and destroyed. In fact, while hiding its records of weapon design and engineering details as well as procurement information, Iraq destroyed all its unconventional weapons shortly after the Gulf War.
From 1991 to 1998, the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) sent 500 teams to Iraq staffed by nearly 3,500 inspectors. These teams examined some 3,400 sites, including 900 formerly secret military installations, and destroyed billions of dollars worth of weapons and equipment. UNSCOM had regular access to Iraqi factories and laboratories, used video cameras to monitor Iraqi industrial and military sites 24 hours a day, place chemical sampling devices around Iraqi labs, monitored the movement of Iraq’s industrial equipment, pored over Iraqi documents, and questioned Iraqi scientists and technicians. In August 1995, General Hussein Kamel Majid, the head of Iraq’s unconventional weapons programs and Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law defected. Kamel confirmed that “Iraq destroyed all its chemical and biological weapons stocks and the missiles to deliver them.” UNSCOM Weapons Inspectors
Former US Marine and UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter: “While we were never able to provide 100 percent certainty regarding the disposition of Iraq’s proscribed weaponry, we did ascertain a 90-95 percent level of verified disarmament…. If the Security Council were to reevaluate Iraq’s disarmament obligations along qualitative lines not quantitative, it would be very easy to come up with a finding of compliance.” The USA refused to recognize Iraqi compliance because once Iraq complied with Resolution 687 sanctions against Iraq would be lifted. In 1995 and 1996, intelligence collected by UNSCOM was illegally and deceitfully used by the CIA to plot to overthrow Hussein. Scott Ritter Hussein Kamel Majid
Before the coup could be organized, however, Iraqi intelligence uncovered the CIA operation and rounded up the conspirators along with some of their equipment. The USA pulled out its inspectors. By 1998, tensions built within the UN Security Council over weapons inspections because it became clear that Iraq had largely, perhaps completely disarmed. The Washington Post quoted a UN official saying, “UNSCOM directly facilitated the creation of an intelligence collection system for the United States in violation of its mandate. The UN cannot be party to an operation to overthrow one of its member states.” In 1999, the UN Security Council disbanded UNSCOM and created a new organization called the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). Iraq refused to accept UNMOVIC, arguing that UN weapons inspections were designed to create “recurrent and concocted crises to prolong sanctions.” Editorial Cartoon
Scott Ritter: “The inspection process…[was] abused by the United States in pursuit of its own unilateral objectives of destabilizing and eliminating Saddam Hussein. And the Iraqis would be damned fools to let such an inspection team back in....” The main weapon the USA used against the Iraqi people in the 1990s was an embargo. The USA controlled the UN’s “661 Committee,” which reviewed in secret all proposed contracts for Iraq’s imports and determined if they would be allowed to proceed. The 661 Committee blocked the importation of truck tires, hospital ventilators, vaccines, chemotherapy drugs, analgesics, water tankers, humanitarian supplies, spare parts for farm equipment, as well as equipment for refrigeration, firefighting, yogurt production, radiotherapy, the oil industry, water and sanitation, telecommunications…. Editorial Cartoon
The embargo prevented Iraq from repairing its electrical, water, and sewage systems. In 1994, less than 50 percent of Iraqis had access to safe drinking water (down from 96 percent before the Gulf War). Up to 40 percent of purified water was lost through leakage because Iraq could not import pipes or the earth-moving equipment necessary for laying pipes. By 1996, all sewage plants in Iraq had ceased operations. The destruction of Iraq’s electrical, water, and sewage system, a war crime violating the Geneva Convention, was deliberately planned by the Pentagon to accelerate misery so that the Iraqi military would launch a coup to overthrow Hussein. Iraq’s economy depended heavily on oil revenues, foreign trade, foreign investment, and foreign technology. Therefore, the embargo had an immediate and crippling impact. In 1991, 80 percent of the industrial workforce was unemployed. By 1999, unemployment had dropped slightly to 50 percent and per capita income stood at less than $500 per year, making Iraq one of the world’s poorest countries. The Iraqi middle class disappeared.
The agricultural reforms initiated in Iraq at US request during the 1980s had made Iraq dependent on imported food. The embargo led to severe food shortages. The Iraqi government rationed food, which prevented famine, but malnutrition was commonplace. Malnourished people have compromised immune systems, resulting in epidemics of diseases such as typhoid fever. Tens of thousands died from illnesses brought on by malnutrition. In 1999, UNICEF reported that one million Iraqi children under five years of age suffered from malnutrition and 23 percent of all Iraqi infants were born underweight. UNICEF concluded that 5,000 Iraqi children under the age of five were dying each month because of the embargo. The UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Denis Halliday resigned to protest the sanctions against Iraq. His successor, Hans von Sponeck also resigned in protest. Malnourished Iraqi Child
Denis Halliday: “You do not find bodies all over the streets. You do not find gross malnutrition that you see in photographs we’ve all seen in Somalia, and so on. But you hear unending stories of families who have sat there and watched a child die. Or families—daughters and sons— who’ve seen their parents die for lack of relatively simple surgery which would have been very easy many years ago…. And every day people are dying all over the country, in isolation…. A baby here, a baby there, a child here…it pervades the whole country and the attitude and the feeling of the Iraqi people….[The sanctions are] a deliberate, active program—it’s not just negligence, it’s active—it’s a deliberate decision to sustain a program that they know is killing and targeting children and people. Then it’s a program of some sort, and I think it’s a program of genocide. I just don’t have a better word.” Denis Halliday Hans von Sponeck
Americans were aware of the impact of the embargo. A New York Times editorial in 1991 rationalized the suffering of ordinary Iraqis: “To accept human suffering as a diplomatic lever is tormenting—but preferable to leaving the Persian Gulf allies with no credible way to compel Iraqi compliance but resuming military attacks…. This is the wrong time to relax the embargo.” Perhaps the most shocking rationalization of US violence against Iraqi citizens was made by Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who bluntly said on 12 May 1996 that the death of 500,000 Iraqi children because of the embargo would not deter the USA from pursuing its anti-Hussein policies. Clinton said “[the] sanctions will be there until the end of time or as long as [Hussein] lasts.” Madeleine Albright “60 Minutes” Interview (12 May 1996)
While control of Middle Eastern oil is considered by the USA to be a strategic interest, at least part of US hostility toward Iran, Iraq, and the indeterminate enemy called “terrorism” can be explained by the USA’s need for an enemy to maintain its war economy after the fall of the USSR. Before 11 September 2001, George W. Bush hinted at launching a Cold War against China. Al Qaeda, however, provided Bush with a better enemy—“terrorism,” which came to replace “communism” as the rationale for a continuing Cold War economy. Political Cartoon (Barry Deutsch)
US President Barack Obama only escalated Bush’s “War on Terrorism.” Political Cartoon (Barry Deutsch)