The political friction between the United States and Iran was exacerbated by the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, and a new form of international hostility manifested itself in something like a “warm war” in which terrorist tactics and brinksmanship played a key role. After Vietnam the United States could not actively engage Iran in armed conflict to free the US embassy hostages – a new form of coercion was needed. Under Reagan the United States turned to its ally Iraq, hoping that a war-by-proxy could be fought with Iran, with the aim to topple the fledgling Islamic regime. The broader aim was to weaken both Iraq and Iran, to allow the United States to strengthen its position in the Gulf region at the expense of its major cold war foe, the USSR.
The Rise of Saddam and the Iran – Iraq war
With his ego and pension for self-aggrandizement, Saddam proved easy prey for America’s schemes re dominating the Gulf. When American interests intersected with Iraq’s on the Iran border question (eg arms sales offset by energy purchases) Saddam led Iraq into a bruising war versus Iran for eight long years. The Iraq-Iran war depleted Iraq’s resources and crippled its economy with debt and lost oil revenues. At least four-hundred thousand people were killed on both sides, however the exact number of war dead remains unknown. As Heikal recorded in Illusions of Triumph: whenever one side seemed in sight of victory Washington would secretly begin helping its opponent. The US intention was to “let them kill each other” a remark attributed to Kissinger. The Iraq-Iran war cost both sides about $390B USD.
The Iran-Iraq war coincided with a slack period in global arms sales, and at least fifty nations participated in meeting the demand for Iran-Iraq war weaponry. According to Adams in Trading in Death, twenty-eight countries (led by the permanent members of the UN Security Council) supplied Iraq and Iran with weapons, including chemical weapons. But US strategists were not content with the damage caused by the Iraq-Iran war. Ironically, Saddam was now seen as a growing militarist threat in the Gulf region, even though Saddam as militarist monster had been created by the United States itself. In the United States, Neo-conservative militarist ideology under Reagan replaced earlier ‘realist’ thinking in Washington; the growth of the Neo-conservative movement in the United States was led by former democrats who had become fervent Reaganite Republicans, with a core belief that the United States must use military might to enforce its hegemonic designs in the middle east, Africa, and elsewhere. US militarist ideology had armed Saddam versus Iran, but the United States was a victim of its own success as borne out by Iran contra and other scandals – not the least of which was Saddam’s emergence as a military threat to Israel and US energy interests in the Gulf after the Iran-Iraq war. During the late 1980’s Neo-conservatives developed the core belief that Hussein’s regime must go and they planned his demise, which included no provision for a true self-governing state.
But Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces provided the perfect foil for America’s new intentions in the Gulf. Saddam believed the United States would stand idly by while he attacked Kuwait, with intent to withdraw to new Iraqi boundaries under dispute with Kuwait for many years. The USA prudently secured approval from the UN for its subsequent actions in Iraq. Thus the UN became an implicit partner in America’s imperial designs for the Gulf region going forward. The first Gulf war (August, 1990) was characteristic of a resource “flash war” and was highly effective in achieving glamorous PR for the US and British armed forces.
First Persian Gulf War
Approximately 88K tons of explosives, with an equivalent destructive force of seven nuclear bombs, were dropped on Iraq in less than six weeks. America’s weapons of mass destruction included depleted uranium projectiles, fuel-air asphyxiation bombs, and cluster bombs. The United States and Britain targeted Iraq’s economic and industrial infrastructure, while Iraq’s oil-producing infrastructure was (ironically) largely left intact. As a further irony, liberation of Kuwait was purely incidental to the overall hegemonic goal. Brzezinski and Scowcroft asserted: “the United States is in the Persian Gulf to stay” (Foreign Affairs, May-June 1997).
For long-term US imperial strategic control in Iraq, and to control its oil resources, Iraq could not be allowed to succeed; whether by repressive dictator or democratically elected government, Iraq could only be controlled if its oil wealth and the political power of its people were marginalized in a global economy, to such an extent that external powers could easily maintain the geo-political status quo.
In other words, social unrest, economic and political instability, and Iraq’s corrupt political structure all served the interests of the United States and favored the influence of the United States in the region as the key hegemonic power. All of the foregoing factors contributed to George Bush the elder’s decision to leave a compromised Saddam in power in 1991, even after the United States urged the Iraqi resistance to rise up – and then promptly deserted them at the gates to Baghdad.
US/UN Sanctions versus Iraq, 1991*
In 1991 the UN, under pressure from the Bush regime and the United States, imposed a strict regime of sanctions on Iraq that were maintained for thirteen years and the ensuing devastation for Iraq’s people cannot be calculated, estimated, or even imagined. US/UN sanctions imposed on Iraq resulted in a genocidal war that is well documented. A Harvard School of Public Health team visited Iraq in the months after the war and found epidemic levels of typhoid and cholera as well as pervasive acute malnutrition. The Post noted:
‘In an estimate not substantively disputed by the Pentagon, the [Harvard] team projected that “at least 170,000 children under five years of age will die in the coming year from the delayed effects” of the bombing.’
However, the most disturbing accounts on the results of US/UN sanctions in Iraq came from UN agencies and their staff. In “Iraq: the Hostage Nation” Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck collated reports from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and reported that by 1995 “more than one million Iraqis have died- 567,000 of them children – as a direct result of the economic sanctions”.
Halliday and von Sponeck wrote: “The UK and the US have deliberately pursued a policy of punishment since the Gulf war victory in 1991. The two governments have consistently opposed allowing the UN security council to carry out its mandated responsibilities to assess the impact of sanctions policies on civilians. We know about this first hand, because the governments repeatedly tried to prevent us from briefing the security council about it. The pitiful annual limits, of less than $170 per person, for humanitarian supplies, set by them during the first three years of the oil-for-food program are unarguable evidence of such a policy.”
The Clinton shill Madeleine Albright thought that price was acceptable. Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq: “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”
Former Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright replied: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the pricewe think the price is worth it.”
Thus the American people and their leaders have murdered at least 500,000 Iraqi children to fuel their SUV’s, and they believe the price is “worth it”? (But today Albright does not believe the price of war in Iraq is worth it: Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright criticized the US invasion of Iraq, saying Monday it had encouraged Iran and North Korea to push ahead with their nuclear programs. Albright, who served under President Clinton, said “the message out of Iraq is the wrong one.”)
Meanwhile the carnage due to US/UN sanctions escalated despite the sham “oil-for-food program” introduced in 1996 and the ‘smart’ sanctions of 2000. The corrupt oil-for-food program was primarily a propaganda ploy to deflect growing public criticism re. the human costs of sanctions versus the Iraqi people. An entire generation of Iraqi children were blighted, hundreds of thousands perished, and highly qualified people left Iraq due to the policies and sanctions of one nation, the United States of America. And by the year 2000 Iraq had regressed to a pre-industrial age, as promised by no less a personage (political hack?) than James Baker. And all this prior to 911 and the New American Century’s plan (on paper) to attack Iraq by 2001.
Any Iraqi Diaspora on human rights abuse, deceptions, and misdemeanours committed before, during, or after Bush’s 2003 attack and subsequent occupation of Iraq is eclipsed significantly when compared to the determined attack unleashed on Iraq since the CIA installed Saddam Hussein in 1979. Iraq’s society, culture, and identity has been continuously under attack over a period of several decades, at the very least. Successive wars and UN-supported sanctions (effectively imposed by the USA and its henchmen) have resulted in cataclysmic and catastrophic shifts in Iraq’s demographic structure.
Can Arab nations support sustainable progress?
In addition, there are distinct indications that first world interests do not favor sustainable progress in the Arab world, driven by a prosperous and educated middle class. Emigration due to war, famine and western-imposed monarchies and/or dictatorships has caused Arab cultures to dilute or fracture over a period of many years. In some instances this has included outright assassination, whether externally or among Arabs themselves; the plight of the Palestinian state is given as one single example, however there are many more. The reason for foreign antipathy to progress in the Arab world is beyond the scope of this paper, however, it is clear that progressive nations are difficult to subdue, and progressive nations will not accede their resources to a usurper as readily as a more regressive state will. Contrary to American public utterances, progress, peace, democracy, independence and sovereignty are not desired outcomes for the Middle East. When Hamas won the Palestinian elections, the United States was first to denounce the result, and first to starve Hamas and Palestinians of their resources.
The American global hegemon can only run by possessing resources, and therefore America must control the resources of the Middle East. Period. Will we consult former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright again to determine whether the “price was worth it”? Or Condoleeza Rice? Or Donald Rumsfeld? Perhaps not, because it is a question that 72% of the American people have already answered in the negative. The question asked of America will not be put to Madeleine Albright, but should be asked of the Iraqi people after thirty years of death, horror and destruction.
* Economic sanctions are more damaging than military attacks
Economic sanctions against industrialized and industrializing countries, which include a ban on foreign trade, can be more lethal than limited military attacks. According to reports published in the New England Medical Journal and the Lancet (the main British medical journal), the UN sanctions on Iraq have claimed far more deaths than the deadly Gulf War in 1991. The reason is that by blocking foreign trade to a country which depends on foreign trade for its survival, the very life of civilians is threatened. Before the sanctions began Iraq imported up to 70 percent of its food. The lack of foodstuffs, medical supplies and spare parts in Iraq, due to the sanctions and the stringent constraints even on humanitarian imports imposed by the United Nations, have caused untold sufferings for the general population. One of the consequences of the sanctions is that child mortality in Iraq tripled, causing the estimated death of 2,000 of more children each week, in addition to previous mortality.