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  US Iraq War

The devastation of Iraq by war and sanctions

Posted: 2006-03-14
From: IAcenter
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essays on war and sanctions

fire and ice

Ramsey Clark

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
--Robert Frost


I. U.S. Strategy for Domination of the Gulf

The reasons for U.S. actions in the Middle East and Gulf are no mystery. The British withdrawal from the region, beginning fifty years ago, left up for grabs the vast oil resources and strategic area where southwest Asia and northeast Africa front on Europe. The whole region began to be shaken by anti-colonial nationalist movements. U.S. policy makers, as an excuse for intervention, used the argument that it was exposed to Soviet seizure, with Israel unprotected on its eastern flank.

By 1953, the U.S. had placed the young Shah on the Peacock Throne in Iran. For twenty-five years Iran was the U.S. surrogate in the region, and the most powerful military presence, purchasing tens of billions of dollars in advanced U.S. weaponry. It also served as a major regional distribution center for American products. William Colby, former director of the CIA, called this the CIA’s proudest achievement, even after the Shah’s disastrous demise. It assured U.S. domination of the region for one fourth of the twentieth century.

Shortly after the popular nationalist revolution came to power in Iraq on Bastille Day 1958, the CIA formed a "health alterations committee" to plot the assassination of the new Iraqi leader, Abdel Karim Kassem. At the same time, U.S. generals in Turkey devised a military plan, code-named Cannonbone, for invading northern Iraq and seizing the oil fields there, the same oil fields targeted by the U.S. severance of areas of Iraq it called "Kurdish" in 1991. In 1963, Kassem and thousands of his supporters were massacred in a bloody CIA-backed coup. Testifying before a Senate committee about the coup, a CIA member quipped, "The target suffered a terminal illness before a firing squad in Baghdad."

When Iraq nationalized its oil industry in 1972, the United States placed it on a list of countries that it claimed supported terrorism. In 1975, Iraq agreed to share control of the disputed Shatt-al-Arab waterway with Iran in a pact reached in Algiers. The United States and the Shah abruptly terminated their support for the Kurdish insurgents in Iraq, whose leadership abandoned the struggle and fled the country. But the fate of the Kurds left behind did not concern the U.S. government. As Henry Kissinger explained to an aide, "Covert operations should not be confused with missionary work."

Over the years, the U.S. has supported Iran, Iraq, and most directly and fatally, Turkey, in assaults on the Kurdish people. In 1991, the U.S. exercised its new-found concern to protect the Kurds from Iraq by excluding the government of Iraq from most of the northwestern part of the country. It then assisted Turkey when the latter sent division-strength ground forces and continuous air assaults to crush the Kurdish people in that region. Yet a major part of the demonization of Saddam Hussein has been based on the false portrayal of Iraqi government policy toward the Kurds.

The one constant in U.S. policy through all the years was the determination to dominate the vast oil resources of this region, not only for their wealth, but for the economic and military advantage this gave over both rich and poor oil-importing countries. Among scores of statements reflecting this policy is a warning in 1977 from Senator Henry Jackson’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee of the U.S. Senate: "A U.S. commitment to the defense of oil resources of the Gulf and to political stability in the region constitutes one of the most vital and enduring interests of the United States."

In February 1979 the Shah fled Iran, having killed as many Iranians as he dared, probably forty-five thousand in the previous year alone. The Iranian people had won their long struggle to overthrow U.S. control of their lives. That November the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, after months of protest demonstrations, was overrun by Iranian students, tens of thousands of whom had studied in the U.S. The small remaining U.S. staff was taken hostage.

U.S. policy then took another sharp turn. Adopting a supportive stance toward Iraq, National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski publicly encouraged Baghdad to attack Iran and take back the Shatt-al-Arab waterway—although just four years earlier Iraq had been pressured by the U.S. to cede control of this strategic route to Iran. Washington expressed no moral outrage at the 1980 Iraqi attack on Iran. The attack served U.S. interests as a means of weakening Iran—where U.S. Embassy personnel were still being held hostage—and the anti-U.S. influence of its Islamic government in the Muslim world. War against the much larger Iran would weaken Iraq as well. Washington did not want either side to win.

"We wanted to avoid victory by both sides," a Reagan administration official told the New York Times. Henry Kissinger has been quoted variously as stating, "I hope they kill each other" and "Too bad they both can’t lose."

In 1984 the United States increased its support for Iraq, becoming its principal trading partner by increasing purchases of Iraqi oil while encouraging Europe and Japan to do the same. The Reagan administration issued a still top-secret authorization for increased intelligence sharing with Iraq. Leslie Gelb, writing in the New York Times, reported that the authorization was interpreted as mandating that the United States "do anything and everything" to help Iraq prevail against Iran. That same year Vice President Bush, the State Department and the CIA began lobbying the Export-Import Bank to begin large-scale financing of U.S. exports to Iraq. And in 1986 the U.S. dispatched a high-level CIA team to Baghdad to advise the Iraqi military. The Pentagon encouraged and helped funnel billions of dollars worth of arms to Iraq through pro-U.S. governments in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and elsewhere.

During the Iran-Iraq war, the Reagan administration removed Iraq from the list of countries it charged with supporting terrorism. This allowed U.S. companies to sell directly to Baghdad such "dual-use" equipment as jeeps, helicopters, and Lockheed L-100 transport planes. The Agriculture Department extended $5 billion in credits to Iraq through a program, authorized for agricultural purchases only, that illegally funded many of these sales. Among the items sold to Iraq were forty-five Bell helicopters originally built as troop carriers for the Shah’s army.

The eight-year Iran-Iraq war was a clear consequence of U.S. actions in overthrowing Iran’s democratic Mossadegh government in the early 1950s and installing the Shah. He radically altered the country by pursuing U.S.-approved plans to make it a major industrialized nation. Then, after the fall of the Shah, Iraq was induced to attack Iran.

Isfahan, the wondrous city of Haji Baba, had been among the world’s ten largest cities in 1500 a.d., with half a million people. It remained nearly the same size and culturally pristine into the late 1960s. By 1978 this city in Iran had grown to 1.5 million people, the great majority of them peasants who had abandoned the land and millennia-old irrigation systems to live in squalid slums, hoping for work in Bell Helicopter and British Motors assembly plants.

Nearly a million young men died in the Iran-Iraq war, which radically militarized and divided the entire region.

While supporting Iraq against Iran during the war, the U.S. was planning to intervene militarily in the region as the only way remaining to regain domination after the fall of the Shah. Central to new U.S. intervention strategies was War Plan 1002. It was designed at the beginning of the Reagan administration to implement the earlier Carter Doctrine, which said that any challenge to U.S. access to Middle East oil would be met by military force. In addition, the Pentagon had created the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force in 1980, which in 1983 became U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and began secret construction of a more extensive network of military and surveillance bases in Saudi Arabia. Though U.S. military installations were already present in Saudi Arabia in the late seventies, the new facilities were more sophisticated, and would later provide essential in-place support for the assault on Iraq.

By the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the Soviet Union was withdrawing from Afghanistan and collapsing economically. It now became possible for the U.S. to intervene militarily in the region with little risk of Soviet opposition. Only the weak governments in the region and their Muslim populations remained as obstacles.

With the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, contingency plans for war in the Gulf region identified Iraq as the enemy instead of the USSR. In January 1990, CIA director William Webster testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the growing Western dependence on Persian/Arab Gulf oil. In February, General Norman Schwarzkopf told the same committee that the United States should increase its military presence in the region. He described new military plans to intervene in a conflict. With Japan and Western Europe’s much greater dependence on Gulf oil, the United States considered control over the region crucial to worldwide geopolitical power for decades to come.

In Schwarzkopf’s early 1990 testimony before the Senate, he said that CENTCOM should increase its military presence in the Gulf region through permanently assigned ground forces, combined exercises, and "security assistance," a euphemism for arms sales. In 1989, even before this testimony, CENTCOM’s War Plan 1002 was revised and renamed War Plan 1002-90. The last two digits of the war plan, of course, stood for 1990. CENTCOM began devising war games targeting Iraq.

In 1990 at least four war games, some premised on an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, were conducted before the invasion occurred. One of the first, a computer exercise called Internal Look, was held in January. In June 1990, General Schwarzkopf was conducting sophisticated war games pitting thousands of U.S. troops against armored divisions of the Republican Guard.

In May 1990 the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington-based think tank, had completed a study begun two years earlier predicting the outcome of a war between the United States and Iraq. This study, according to the CSIS’s Major James Blackwell (Retired), was widely circulated among Pentagon officials, members of Congress, and military contractors. Thus, far from being a surprise, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait had actually been the scenario for intense U.S. planning.

The cease-fire between Iran and Iraq took effect on 20 August 1988. Almost immediately the U.S. began a systematic propaganda campaign to demonize Saddam Hussein and prepare for its assault on Iraq. In early September, the U.S. announced that Iraq had used poison gas against the Kurds much earlier in the year. On the same day that Iraqi Foreign Minister Sa’dun Hammadi was scheduled to meet Secretary of State George Shultz in Washington for the first time since the war, State Department spokesperson Charles Redman made a blistering attack on Iraq, charging the U.S. was "convinced" chemical weapons were used against Kurdish guerrillas and calling the act "abhorrent." When Minister Hammadi, unaware of the charges, arrived at the State Department two hours later, he was delivered to the U.S. press. Surprised, he was unable to respond. Within twenty-four hours the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to impose sanctions that would cancel technology and food sales to Iraq.

Just when Iraq was struggling to recover from eight years of war, feeling the effect of unilateral U.S. sanctions and fearing default on its foreign debts, Kuwait began violating quotas on oil production set by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). This forced oil prices down at the same time that Kuwait was demanding repayment of $30 billion it had provided Iraq during the war. Kuwait also began excessive pumping from the Rumaila oil field, which it shared with Iraq. Kuwait accelerated its provocative and hostile actions toward Iraq through months of crisis up to the day it was invaded.

While this was happening, the U.S. took a number of steps designed to make Iraq believe that Washington did not oppose Iraq’s rehabilitation of its battered army. Assistant Secretary of State John Kelly in early 1990 had privately assured Saddam Hussein that the U.S. believed Iraq was a "force for moderation" and that the U.S. wanted to improve relations.

On 25 July—a day after the U.S. announced joint military exercises in the Gulf with the United Arab Emirates, while Iraqi troops were massing on the Kuwaiti border, and as General Schwarzkopf readied CENTCOM for war against Iraq—Saddam Hussein summoned U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie to his office in what seems to have been a final attempt to clarify Washington’s position on his dispute with Kuwait. Glaspie assured him: "We have no opinion on Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. ... [Secretary of State] James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction." She said she was expressing official policy. On 24 July, she had received a cable from the State Department explicitly directing her to reiterate that the United States had "no position" on "Arab-Arab" conflicts.

Iraq then invaded Kuwait on 2 August 1990. The Rubicon was crossed. The U.S. frustrated every effort to negotiate an agreement to resolve the Iraqi-Kuwait disputes and Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. The U.S., in confident control of the UN Security Council, imposed complete economic sanctions against Iraq on 6 August—Hiroshima Day—and steadily tightened the noose until the assault began nearly six months later. By 16 January 1991, when the bombings started, 540,000 U.S. troops were positioned against Iraq, the vast majority of all the forces, naval and land, arrayed by the so-called UN coalition.

As early as September of 1990, Air Force Chief of Staff Michael Dugan told reporters that, as far as targets went, the "cutting edge would be downtown Baghdad." The Washington Post reported that the list of targets Dugan proposed included Iraqi power grids, roads, railroads, and "perhaps" domestic petroleum production facilities.

Within days of that statement, Dugan was fired. Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney called his statements "inappropriate," but the real reason for his firing was that Dugan jeopardized both domestic and international support for military action against Iraq. President Bush had been insisting that the U.S. military buildup in Saudi Arabia was strictly defensive, but Dugan’s statements revealed that Washington was not only planning an offensive, but would target civilians. In late January 1991, after two weeks of bombing, the London Times observed that allied attacks were closely following Dugan’s description, "with the liberation of Kuwait as only part of the overall plan."

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