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History of US and UK Intervention in Iraq
by Larry Everest

During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, U.S. government officials and establishment pundits turned into self-proclaimed Middle East historians, energetically exposing the record of Saddam Hussein’s crimes - many real, some imagined. But mysteriously, these same experts studiously avoided examining the well-documented history of U.S. and British actions - and crimes - against Iraq and its people.

As a result, most Americans (and no doubt many around the world) would be astounded to learn that Iraq was created in the interests of British imperialism, not the peoples living in the region; that when the Iraqi people rose to overthrow their hated pro-Western monarch, the self-proclaimed defenders of freedom and democracy in London and Washington responded not with joy, but with threats of war - even nuclear war.

Many would be shocked to learn that the U.S. government helped bring the Hussein regime to power and was directly complicit in the very crimes for which it was indicted - the use of chemical weapons, aggression against neighboring countries, and atrocities against the Kurds. And they would be even horrified to learn that the UN sanctions - unjustly spearheaded and maintained on Iraq by the US and the UK - resulted in more Iraqi deaths than anything attributed to Saddam Hussein - yes, even after the Hussein regime had complied with UN demands by - as the world now knows - destroying its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Yet these are all well-documented historical facts, as I and others have detailed in our work.

So this morning, I’m honored to be contributing to the extremely urgent and timely work of the World Tribunal by offering a brief overview of the history of UK and US intervention in Iraq since World War I. It may be a “truism,” but it’s still true that we can’t understand events today without understanding their development over time - i.e., history. Of course, there is a much more thorough discussion of this record in my book.

The main themes that emerge from this history - which must be understood in the context of the global and regional agendas of the US and UK - are:

? First, for at least 100 years, U.S. and British actions in Iraq and the Persian Gulf have been guided by, not by the lofty concepts of freedom, democracy, self-determination, justice, human rights and international law bandied about so freely by imperial officials and their media stenographers, but by cold-blooded and ruthless calculations of global empire, regional dominance, and control of Persian Gulf oil - specifically, suppressing revolutionary and nationalist struggles for self-determination, including just struggles for self-determination by the Palestinian and Kurdish peoples; preventing rival imperial powers - most recently the former Soviet Union - from gaining influence in the region; and building Israel into a sub-regional gendarme for imperial interests and control.

? Second, in pursuit of these objectives, Washington and London have acted covertly and overtly, wielding the carrot of aid and the stick of military assault - installing and overthrowing governments, exerting economic, political and military pressure, waging wars, even threatening the use of nuclear weapons - committing enormous crimes, staggering duplicity, unfathomable hypocrisy, and cold-blooded betrayal along the way.

? Third, as a result, neither the UK nor the US have ever brought liberation to the peoples of Iraq or the Middle East, but have instead inflicted enormous suffering and perpetuated oppression. While deep national, social and class divisions run through the societies of the Middle East, foreign imperialist domination - by the U.S. in particular today - has been and remains the primary obstacle to justice and liberation.

? Fourth, US/UK actions have brought neither peace nor stability, but spawned a deepening spiral of resistance, instability, intervention and war. America’s current so-called “war on terror” is in reality a war OF terror against the peoples of the planet in service of greater and more dominant global empire -- and its 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq represent a further, horrific escalation of this deadly spiral of intervention - an arrogant, yet desperate, effort to forcefully resolve the growing contradictions that the imperial powers themselves have engendered in the region.

? Finally, the history of US/UK intervention in Iraq and the region shows that grand ambitions of conquest and control are one thing; realizing them is quite another. Oppression breeds resistance, actions provoke reactions, and events often careen beyond the control of their initiators in unexpected ways - as the resistance and struggle in Iraq once again demonstrates.

The Creation of Iraq

I want to illustrate these themes - including their continuity and evolution - by briefly examining the goals and results of US/UK actions in Iraq over several broad historical periods beginning with the aftermath of World War I.

In 1921, the country of Iraq was created, its first government chosen, and its future determined-not in Baghdad, but at a closed-door meeting of British officials and specialists in the Semiramis Hotel in Cairo. Two pro-British Iraqis were present.

When the British entered Baghdad in 1917, their commanding officer spoke words that sound eerily familiar today: “Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators.” In reality, the British considered such declarations, never formalized in treaties or binding agreements, as empty promises to be discarded when they were no longer useful. As the head of English intelligence put it, “Luckily we have been very careful indeed to commit ourselves to nothing whatsoever.”

In fact, the creation of Iraq was shaped not by the needs of the Iraqi people or principles of justice and self-determination, but by the interests and ambitions of British imperialism - to help insure British control of the Middle East for its strategic location at the crossroads between Africa, Asia and Europe, and its vast and oil reserves. The British understood that petroleum was the lifeblood of modern empire - a crucial prop of global power and wealth on many levels: an essential economic input impacting production costs, profits, and competitive advantage; an instrument of rivalry whose control ensured leverage over other powers and the world economy; and a resource crucial for the projection of military power globally.

Take three crucial dimensions of British actions: the creation of Iraq by combining three demographically distinct administrative units of the Ottoman Empire: Basra in the Shi’a south, Baghdad in the Sunni center, and Mosul in the Kurdish north, without regard to the aspirations of their peoples; the drawing of border’s to prevent Iraq from becoming a major power in the Persian Gulf; and the institutionalization of a pro-British ruling elite.

Consider Iraq’s Kurds. They had been promised independence by the world’s major powers after World War I. Yet their aspirations, like those of the Arabs, were betrayed and then suppressed for British imperial interests. The British wished to incorporate the former Ottoman Province of Mosul, an area populated mainly by Kurds and Turkomans, into the new state because without the oilfields of Mosul and Kirkuk, the new state of Iraq would not be economically viable.

Britain had no desire to see a strong state arise in the midst of the world’s greatest oil fields, so when, in 1922, British High Commissioner for Iraq Sir Percy Cox delineated the borders between Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait with the stroke of his pen, he made sure to limit Iraq’s access to the Persian Gulf: Kuwait, a much smaller country, was given a Gulf coastline line of 310 miles, while Iraq was given only 36 miles.

(Cox’s borders would wreck havoc for decades to come. Iraq’s claims on Kuwait and its desire for greater access to the Gulf nearly led to conflicts with Britain and the U.S. in 1958 and 1961. They contributed to tensions between Iran and Iraq during the 1970s and to Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980. And they were a major reason for Iraq’s August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which triggered the U.S. “Desert Storm” assault five and a half months later.)

The British held this new country together by installing a brutal comprador monarchy backed by feudal and tribal elites of the Sunni Arab center, backed by British arms, to rule over the Shi’a south and the Kurdish north. This oppressive configuration was supported by London and Washington-most glaringly in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War - up until the 2003 overthrow of the Hussein regime. The point was to prevent the emergence of a Kurdish state, which could threaten the stability of Iran to the east and Turkey to the north, and to prevent the rise of Shi’a power. Prior to 1979, this could have destabilized the Shah’s rule in Iran; after his fall it could have increased the regional influence of Iran’s Islamic Republic. Today, the U.S. occupation of Iraq has not resolved these deep ethnic and religious tensions; instead, they have the potential to help turn Washington’s conquest into a quagmire.

This arrangement proved a nightmare for the masses of Iraqis. Wealth and power were concentrated in the hands of a tiny land-owning elite linked with the monarchy, while the vast majority of Iraqis toiled in desperate rural poverty as tenant farmers or landless peasants. Iraq’s oil wealth remained in foreign hands, while the country remained poor and undeveloped. In 1952, 55 percent of all privately held land belonged to one percent of all landowners, just 2,480 families. Over 10 percent of greater Baghdad’s population-some 92,000 people at the time-lived in shacks made from palm branches. Over 80 percent of Iraqis were illiterate; there was but one doctor for every 6,000 people. Opposition was met with violent state repression.

The sordid history of UK and US actions in Iraq included may imperial “firsts”: In 1925, the British forced the new King Faisal to sign a 75-year concession granting the foreign-owned Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC) all rights to Iraq’s oil, in return for modest royalties - but no ownership. The U.S. got its first Middle East oil supplies and profits from Iraq, and the British-U.S.-controlled IPC became a model for oil cartel operations in other Third World countries.

Iraq was one of the first colonies policed with air power, and the British developed a number of anti-personnel weapons for use in Iraq, including phosphorus bombs, war rockets, metal crowsfeet [to maim livestock] man-killing shrapnel, liquid fire, and delay-action bombs.

The Iraqi people never welcomed foreign conquerors - with flowers or sweets! Kurds in Iraq rose for self-rule in 1919, but this and subsequent revolts were crushed, including by the RAF bombing of Suleimanieh in 1924.

In June 1920, over 100,000 Shi’as, Arab nationalists (many who had been officers in Hussein’s Arab army), and tribal leaders rose up against the British forces which had occupied Mesopotamia during World War I. British forces retaliated with a rampage - destroying, sometimes burning whole villages, and executing suspected rebels on the spot. The Iraqis fought so fiercely that British leaders demanded chemical weapons be used - shortly after their horrors had been graphically demonstrated in World War I.

The Royal Air Force didn’t drop gas bombs on the Iraqis- only because they hadn’t yet perfected the necessary technology - but British forces did bombard Shi’a rebels with poison-gas-filled artillery shells, and RAF conventional air assaults were murderous as well, as described by one wing commander: “Within forty-five minutes a full-size village can be practically wiped out and a third of its inhabitants killed or injured.” In crushing this first anti-British revolt, between 6,000 and 9,000 Iraqis were killed by March 1921.

In 1932, Britain’s League of Nations mandate ended and Iraq became formally independent, but London still effectively ruled. Its armed forces remained in Iraq to ensure the continuation of the monarchy, which was widely hated and rightly considered a tool of British interests.

1958 to 1979

After repeated failures, and great suffering and losses, on July 14, 1958, General Abdul Karim Qasim and the secret “Free Officers” group within the Iraqi military - with much popular support - overthrew the monarchy, seized power, and declared a republic. This opened a new chapter in Iraqi history - and in imperialist efforts - now spearheaded by the region’s new dominant power the US - to regain its control of Iraq, suppress radical Arab nationalism, protect foreign control of Middle East oil, and prevent the Soviet Union from moving into the region.

Today, George W. Bush and his cohorts claim that U.S. actions have always been guided by “friendship” for the Iraqi people. Yet when the hated monarchy fell and a bit of popular democracy reared its head in the region, U.S. did not respond with joy - or flowers and sweets -but with military deployments-including nuclear weapons- threats of war, and covert operations which would ultimately bring Saddam Hussein to power.

In 1963, the US directly assisted the Ba’ath rise to power by supporting its coup against the Republic and providing it with lists of suspected communists, left-leaning intellectuals, progressives, and radical nationalists. CIA-provided lists in hand, the Ba’ath then unleashed a reign of terror in which thousands were killed, including, according to one author, “people who represented the backbone of Iraqi society-lawyers, doctors, academics and students-as well as workers, women and children.”

Washington then helped the Ba’ath consolidate undivided power - dispatching former Treasury Secretary Robert Anderson to Baghdad to supervise the operation in 1967 - via a July 30, 1968 coup. Iraq’s chief of military intelligence would later write, “for the 1968 coup you must look to Washington.”

The U.S. preferred Ba’ath rule to the prospect of millions of politically energized Iraqis taking Iraq in a more democratic, anti-imperialist, or revolutionary direction. Yet tensions would soon grow between Washington and Baghdad. In 1972, Iraq signed a 15-year friendship treaty with the Soviet Union and completed the nationalization of its oil industry. These actions embodied some of the key challenges to U.S. Middle East hegemony in the late 1960s and early 1970s: the spread of Arab nationalism, expanding Soviet influence, and the nationalization of the region’s petroleum industry.

So Ba’athist Iraq was becoming a problem, and the U.S. would spend the next 30 plus years trying to subordinate it-sometimes with the carrot of aid and weapons, more often with the stick of force.

In 1972, Iraq’s Kurds became Washington’s weapon of choice. Iran and the U.S. encouraged them to rise against Baghdad and provided millions of dollars in weapons, logistical support, and funds.

The U.S. goal, however, was neither victory nor self-determination for Iraqi Kurds. According to CIA memos and cables, Kurds were seen as “a card to play” against Iraq, and “a uniquely useful tool for weakening [Iraq’s] potential for international adventurism.”
When US and Iranian goals were met, the Kurds were promptly - and without warning - abandoned. Deprived of support, Kurdish forces were quickly decimated by Iraq’s military and between 150,000 and 300,000 Kurds were forced to flee into Iran. The U.S.-Iranian covert campaign further poisoned relations between Baghdad and Iraq’s Kurds. The Pike Commission concluded that if the U.S. and the Shah hadn’t encouraged the insurgency, the Kurds “may have reached an accommodation with the central government, thus gaining at least a measure of autonomy while avoiding further bloodshed. Instead, our clients [the Kurds] fought on, sustaining thousands of casualties and 200,000 refugees.”114

“Covert action,” Henry Kissinger infamously remarked, “should not be confused with missionary work.”

The 1980s - Iran-Iraq War

The 1980s have been a goldmine for U.S. propagandists. During the buildup to the 2003 invasion, George W. Bush condemned Saddam Hussein for invading Iran, for accumulating weapons of mass destruction, and for using them against Iranian troops and Iraqi Kurds, “leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children,” as he it in his 2002 State of the Union message.

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

The story of the 1980s, however, is much more than a chronicle of U.S. hypocrisy. It is also the story of how Washington fueled the Iran-Iraq War and helped turn it into one of the longest and bloodiest conventional wars of the 20th century. It’s the story of mind-boggling and Machiavellian twists and turns in U.S. policy-first supporting Iraq, then Iran, and then back to Iraq again. It is the story of how Washington-including Donald Rumsfeld, the man later put in charge of destroying Saddam’s regime for the Bush II administration-helped Iraq obtain and use the very weapons of mass destruction that provided the alleged casus belli for war in 2003.

The abrupt reversal in U.S.-Iraqi relations from antagonism in the 1970's to alliance in the 1980's was fueled by three seismic jolts to U.S. power which occurred in rapid succession in 1979: the February revolution that toppled the pro-U.S. Shah of Iran; the November seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran; and the Soviet invasion of neighboring Afghanistan in December.

Encouraging, then manipulating, the Iran-Iraq War was one facet of a multi-dimensioned and aggressive U.S. response to these shocks, in order to protect pro-U.S. Gulf sheikdoms and prevent the Soviet Union from turning regional turmoil into geopolitical gain.
There numerous indications that the U.S. encouraged Iraq to attack Iran, initially as a means of weakening the Islamic revolution and pressuring Iran to release U.S. embassy personnel being held, but without fundamentally altering the Gulf balance of power.

However, when the tide of war turned in Iran’s favor in 1982, President Reagan decided the U.S. should do all it could to prevent Iraq from losing the war, and began providing Iraq with billions of dollars in credits, military intelligence and advice, and by encouraging third country arms sales to Iraq.
U.S. and its European allies were directly complicit in many of Iraq’s worst wartime atrocities, including its use of chemical weapons. For example, the Washington Post reported that Iraq used U.S. intelligence to “calibrate attacks with mustard gas on Iranian ground troops.” Iranian estimates of the dead and wounded from these gas attacks range between 50,000 and 100,000, including many civilians.

By the mid-1980s, US strategists were confronted with yet another twist: the possibility that Ayatollah Khomeini’s death could open the door to increased Soviet influence in Tehran. As one internal memo put it, “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.”

The nefarious, soon infamous, and ultimately failed “arms for hostages” plan was born; the U.S. would supply Iran with arms and military intelligence in return for the release of American hostages held in Lebanon, and more fundamentally, the possibility of a US geopolitical coup in Tehran.

U.S. maneuvers contributed mightily to the war’s murderous toll. “Doling out tactical data to both sides put the agency in the position of engineering a stalemate,” Bob Woodward wrote in Veil, his study of CIA covert operations in the 1980s. “This was no mere abstraction. The war was a bloody one... almost a million had been killed, wounded or captured on both sides. This was not a game in an operations center. It was slaughter.”96

And what of Washington’s support for Kurdish rights? Throughout the 1980s, it supported Baghdad’s attacks on the Kurds and steadfastly opposed recognizing their basic rights, let alone self-determination. After the 1987-1988 Anfal offensive, Baghdad was not punished by Washington, which still hoped Iraq could become a loyal ally in the region, it was rewarded with increases in U.S. aid and trade.

In the end, neither Iran nor Iraq would win a clear victory, but the suffering was enormous on both sides. Conservative estimates place the death toll at 367,000-262,000 Iranians and 105,000 Iraqis. An estimated 700,000 were injured or wounded on both sides, bringing the total casualty figure to over one million.

Despite the voluminous record of U.S. complicity in these horrors, one can be sure that when Saddam is put on trial for his role in these crimes, he won’t be allowed to call co-conspirators, like Don Rumsfeld and other Reagan-era officials, as witnesses.

The 1990s - Desert Storm and Sanctions

The tortured twists and turns of U.S. policy during the Iran-Iraq War were Machiavellian to be sure, but they also reflected the profound difficulties the American empire confronted in controlling a volatile region half way around the globe. For all Washington’s machinations, it still didn’t have a firm grip on either Iran, Iraq, or the Persian Gulf region.

This was brought home in dramatic fashion in the early morning hours of August 2, 1990, when six elite Iraqi Republican Guard divisions crossed into Kuwait heading south, and quickly seized the capitol. Overnight, Baghdad was transformed from a sometime U.S. ally into its main enemy in the region, beginning a confrontation that led to two wars and a decade of murderous sanctions, and that continues, albeit in a different form, to this day.

It is important to note first, that while Iraq’s brutal seizure of Kuwait may have been a surprise, it was not a bolt from the blue, coming without provocation or warning. In large part, it grew out of the destruction and tensions spawned by the eight-year Iran-Iraq War. And US officials even gave a direct “green light” to Saddam’s invasion.

Most importantly, US war aims were never limited to expelling Iraq from Kuwait and restoring the status quo ante; instead, coming as the then-Soviet Union spiraled into collapse and no longer constrained by the existence of a nuclear-armed superpower as it had been in the region and globally, the 1991 Gulf War represented a radical escalation of U.S. intervention in the region and an attempt to usher in a “new world order” of unfettered U.S. dominance. These objectives demanded crushing Iraq as a regional power and forcefully demonstrating U.S. military power to the world.

The Pentagon bragged that Desert Storm was “a defining event in U.S. global leadership.” National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft saw it as “the bridge between the Cold War and the post-Cold War eras.” Bush said the Vietnam syndrome “had been put to rest and American credibility restored.” Washington’s objectives demanded war, not peace, and a brutal, devastating war at that. “We have to have a war,” George H.W. Bush secretly told his war cabinet.

The last thing the U.S. wanted was for Iraq to negotiate its way out of Kuwait with its military in tact; war would also send a much clearer message of U.S. power and will than simply pressuring Iraq into withdrawing. Between Iraq’s August 1990 invasion and the end of the war in late February 1991, the US rejected or sabotaged at least 11 different peace proposals from a variety of countries. Bush I was literally “jubilant” when negotiations collapsed (for example during a January 9, 1991 meeting in Geneva between Secretary of State Baker and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz) and enraged when it seemed they might succeed (as, on January 30, 1991, when Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Bessmertnykh issued a joint statement calling for a cease-fire provided Iraq agreed to leave Kuwait).

Bush and Scowcroft wrote that they viewed the UN Security Council as its primary vehicle for building a coalition against Iraq and for giving Desert Storm 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.”

US imperialism’s objective of crushing Iraq as a regional power and demonstrating its might dictated an extremely brutal military strategy. The Defense Department estimated the dead in this 43-day war at 100,000 Iraqi soldiers killed and 300,000 wounded; it never provided an accounting of Iraqi civilian casualties. In 1991, Census Bureau demographer Beth Osborne Daponte estimated that 158,000 Iraqis were killed in the war and its immediate aftermath. One can add to this toll the Iraqis killed in the war’s aftermath after heeding George H.W. Bush’s February 15, 1991 call to rise against the Hussein regime, only to be slaughtered when the US decided it preferred Hussein’s regime to upheaval from below and the possible fragmentation of Iraq. Estimates of the dead in the rebellions in the Shi’a south and the Kurdish north range from 20,000 to 100,000.

88,500 tons of bombs were dropped on Iraq, the explosive equivalent of six Hiroshimas. But they were not only dropped on Iraq’s military, but on its economic and social infrastructure as well-the foundations of civilian life. Coalition bombs and missiles destroyed 11 of Iraq’s 20 power generating stations and damaged another six. By the war’s end, Iraq’s electrical generation had been slashed by 96 percent and reduced to 1920 levels. Without electricity, water could not be pumped, sewage could not be treated, and hospitals could not function. This directly contravened Article 54 of the Geneva Convention which prohibits attacks on essential civilian facilities including “drinking water supplies and irrigation works.” Thus, the U.S. bombing campaign constituted a war crime that would contribute to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in the decade after the war.

The U.S. never stopped waging war against Iraq even after the 1991 Gulf War formally ended. The US and UK have systematically lied about the decade of the 1990s and in particular the nature, terms, and purpose of UN sanctions, sanctions which have been responsible for staggering levels of death and suffering inflicted on the Iraqi people.

U.S. officials propagated three main myths about sanctions. First, their purpose was simply to compel Iraq to abide by UN resolutions and disarm. Second, they are aimed at Iraq’s rulers, not its people. Third, they were continued because Iraq did not comply with UN resolutions. Washington’s line has been that it would have gladly lifted sanctions if only Hussein had complied with UN demands. Iraq instead “answered a decade of U.N. demands with a decade of defiance,” according to George W. Bush.

This official storyline stands reality on its head. UN resolutions became weapons in this ongoing conflict, even as they were being violated more frequently by Washington than by the Hussein regime. In fact, Baghdad complied with UN demands more than it defied them, including on arms inspections and disarmament. This compliance is the simple reason that no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq following the 2003 invasion. They were destroyed early in the 1990s-a fact the Bush II administration knew perfectly well.

The goal of sanctions was never merely to disarm Iraq; the policy of slaughter by sanction was designed to further US/UK imperial aims - to cripple Iraq by preventing it from rebuilding its industry, economy, and military; block other global rivals from making strategic inroads in Iraq; and make life so miserable that Iraqis would rise up (preferably via a military coup) and topple the Hussein regime-shoring up U.S. regional control and demonstrating its power in the process.

No one knows precisely how many Iraqis died or were permanently injured as a result of the 1991 Gulf War and 12 years of sanctions. In 2002, the Iraqi government stated that 1.7 million children had died from disease or malnutrition since the imposition of sanctions in August 1990.

A 1999 survey by UNICEF and Iraq’s Ministry of Health reported that had sanctions not been imposed and infant mortality trends during the 1980's continued through the 1990's, “there would have been half a million fewer deaths of children under-five in the country as a whole during the 8-year period 1991 to 1998.” So roughly 5,000 Iraqi children under five were dying each month thanks to U.S. actions - more than a World Trade Center catastrophe every 30 days.

In a 1999 analysis published in Foreign Affairs, “Sanctions of Mass Destruction,” John and Carl Mueller concluded that all economic sanctions imposed after 1990, the most significant case being Iraq, “may have contributed to more deaths during the post-Cold War era than all weapons of mass destruction throughout history.”

The New Millennium: Invasion, Conquest, Occupation

The Bush administration offered so many rationalizations for its 2003 invasion, from links to al Qaeda to WMD to spreading democracy - that it was difficult to stay current with their “pretext du jour.” None, however, explained why the U.S. was hell-bent on war. But the sweep and enormity of its global and regional agendas did.

The swift and brutal stroke of war in 2003 was an attempt to resolve the Iraq “problem” that had plagued America’s rulers throughout the 1990s. Its policy of punitive containment through sanctions, subversion and military strikes was fraying, and the toll it was taking on Iraqis had become, in the words of former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack, “a major irritant [in] U.S. relations with the Muslim world in general.” Meanwhile, other powers had strengthened their ties with Iraq, and U.S. power and “credibility” in the region were being challenged.

So the problem was not that Iraq “threatened its neighbors,” as Bush II charged. The problem was that the Hussein regime’s survival could “threaten” to erode US regional hegemony. If sanctions were lifted US “credibility” could have been undercut. Baghdad might emerge with its regional ambitions intact and possibly enough oil wealth to pursue them. The US could end up with less control than before the 1991 war.

Yet the 2003 war was also a leap beyond past U.S. interventions: it was fought in the context of a new overarching strategy and its objectives went well beyond previous stratagems of balancing Iran against Iraq, or maintaining the Middle East status quo. It represented a radical leap in direct U.S. intervention, war, and colonization - as a key component of a sweeping new US global agenda of greater, more dominant empire.
A momentous shift in U.S. global strategy, in the making for over a decade following the Soviet Union’s collapse, was codified in a new National Security Strategy (NSS) on September 20, 2002. Its goal is “freedom” - that is freedom for America’s dominant corporate-political elite to impose its values, interests, and economic system on all others. It is an audacious declaration that the U.S. aims to remain the world’s sole imperial superpower for decades to come by preventing rivals from even emerging with overwhelming military superiority and the Orwellian doctrine of “pre-emptive self-defense” - i.e., striking potential rivals down before they can emerge.

This unbounded campaign to forcibly recast global political, military, and economic relations necessitates trampling on international law, casting aside global treaties, eviscerating international organizations, reordering traditional alliances, and reducing other world powers to clear, second-tier status. The national sovereignty of others is now conditional on US approval, while U.S. sovereignty is absolute - unrestrained by treaty, alliance or law.

The new strategy advocates greater freedom for U.S. business and accelerated capitalist globalization - demanding that U.S. capital have open access to key global markets and raw materials; that trade, investment, ownership and political barriers standing in the way be broken down; that global trade and economic relations be restructured to reflect and perpetuate U.S. dominance; and that conditions be created for the unchallenged exploitation of hundreds of millions of laboring people worldwide. Combined with the NSS’s insistence on U.S. military superiority and its right to use it to enforce “regime change,” the document’s economic principles can best be understood as capitalist globalization on U.S. terms, carried out at gunpoint.
“They have ambitions of essentially reshuffling the whole deck, reordering the whole situation, as Bob Avakian puts it, beginning with the strategic areas of Central and South Asia and the Middle East that are more immediately involved now-but, even beyond that, on a world scale. They’ve set themselves a very far-reaching agenda with gigantic implications.” U.S. strategists saw conquering Iraq as a key step in unfolding this broader agenda and facilitating a host of objectives in the Middle East and beyond: it would demonstrate U.S. might and determination; it could initiate the political, economic and social reordering of the entire Middle East; and it was part of an ensemble of actions undertaken to solidify U.S. control of the entire arc from Afghanistan through Egypt.

These goals in turn were linked to a larger struggle for global energy supremacy and overall dominance. Most broadly, the 2003 invasion and occupation were designed to solidify American political/military domination of the energy heart of world-the Middle East/Central Asian region, and are part of broader efforts to secure control of global energy sources and use that control to ensure the smooth functioning of U.S. capitalism, strengthen its competitive position in world markets, and increase U.S. leverage against potential rivals.

For Bush and the advocates of greater American empire, war wasn’t the last resort, it was the first, and a bridge to the brave new world they openly dreamed of creating. Thus, unlike the war of 1991, the war of 2003 would not seek to cripple Iraq while preserving Ba’ath rule: its aim was regime change and occupation; instead of refusing to march on Baghdad, the 2003 war began with one.

The US is attempting to cloak its imperial agenda in the rhetoric of democracy, yet it is clear from its plans for the “new” Iraq - the country’s relationship to the UN, its new government, its military posture, its economic structure, its foreign policy, its educational system, and its political system- that the US is attempting to create a colonial-client state which would more directly impose American authority over Iraq’s people and resources and facilitate broader U.S. objectives in the Middle East and Central Asia. In short, the Bush team’s brand of “liberation” is merely 21st century neo-colonialism.

In sum, the U.S. is striving to leverage an historic window of military (and to a lesser degree economic and political) supremacy into all-around political, economic and military dominance for the foreseeable future, and dealing with the many contradictions it faces at home and abroad. Half-way measures, negotiated solutions, and diplomatic settlements are anathema to this brutal campaign of radical transformation.

There are deep connections between Bush’s international and domestic agendas, and I must call attention to the grave and real danger of a Christian fascist theocracy in the U.S. - a development which would have horrendous consequences for the world’s people.

All of this demands the most urgent global resistance, resistance that aims squarely at stopping the Bush regime in its tracks, and forcing it from power. As a new call from the Not in Our Name statement of conscience declares, “The World Cannot Wait - Drive Out the Bush Regime! ... It is our responsibility to stop the Bush regime from carrying out this disastrous course. We believe history will judge us sharply should we fail to act decisively.”

I believe the World Tribunal on Iraq can and must play a vital role in this effort.


Author of Oil, Power and Empire: Iraq and the US Global Agenda, Everest has covered the Middle East and Central Asia for over 20 years for the Revolutionary Worker newspaper and other publications. In 1991, shortly after the end of the Persian Gulf War, Everest went to Iraq to document the impact of the war on the Iraqi people and filmed the award-winning video Iraq: War against the People. His also has a book entitled Behind the Poison Cloud - Union Carbide's Bhopal Massacre.


World Tribunal Iraq
Larry Everest
25 June 2005

Copyright: Larry Everest

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