The beginning of 2003 saw the world media caught up in the debate on a prospected second US-led war on Iraq: the United States’ Administration made it clear that Iraq was an imminent threat, and that something had to be done quickly about it.
In other words, since the famous “Axis of Evil” speech, the United States started building a momentum on Iraq. In the following months, it became clear that a “regime change” would have been brought about in that country, no matter what.
An impressive series of events took place at a rather fast pace in the run-up to the Second Persian Gulf War: Bush Administration officials were releasing new statements all the time, the UN Security Council quickly revealed a sharp division among its Permanent Members, and both NATO and the European Union started feeling the heat, as respective member countries were taking one side or another.
To further complicate the matter, US President George W. Bush and his Administration were gradually adjusting and ultimately changing the justifications and reasons given for going to war, as the US government struggled to build a consensus for it. The world public opinion, along with the United Nations and the majority of the world’s regional powers (France and Germany, Russia and China) were clearly not convinced by the Administration’s arguments. Because of that, US officials started focusing on immediate and rather irrational arguments for the necessity of a war against Iraq. In particular, as we later found out, US officials started overstating and bluntly exaggerating the capability of strike of the Middle-Eastern state, which had actually been severely hit by ten years of international sanctions and, according to UN inspectors, bore no evidence of possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) .
Such complex and disputed events can only be interpreted if contextualized in their historical and geo-political framework. Today, much evidence make official explanations provided for the Second Gulf War seem unsatisfactory or outright implausible. This work wants to shed some light on current events through an analysis of historical foreign policy behaviours by world powers in the Middle East.
In particular, the purpose of this paper is to retrace the turbulent history of post-World War Two American-Iraqi relations, and put it in the context of the United States’ Middle East policy.
That will help clarify the reasons behind the two Gulf Wars and why the US has moved from supporting Saddam Hussein’s regime to fighting it.
The main issues that will be kept in mind throughout this analysis will be:
-What role did Iraq play, at that given time, for the United States?
-How did Iraq fit into American foreign policy towards the Middle Eastern region?
This paper will tackle the subject in three parts:
Firstly, it will examine historic American interests in the Middle East.
Secondly, it will focus on a post-1958 Iraq and its relations with the United States.
Finally, it will explore the possibility of finding one or more structural explanations for the Gulf Wars, other than official explanations provided by the United States and British governments (invasion of Kuwait for the 1991 war; 9/11, a supposed link between international terrorism and the Iraqi regime, the possession of WMDs by Iraq for the 2003 war).
1. American Interests in the Middle East before and after the Second World War
a. The legacy. Pre-war Near and Middle Eastern power balances: America
One of the main consequences of the Second World War has been the decline of European hegemony over the world. Just as the United States had done after 1898 with the colonies of the declining Spanish Empire, it did after 1945 with the Middle Eastern region. There, traditional interests, namely colonial ones, were driven out. Pax Americana followed Pax Britannica and the US gradually superseded the old colonial powers: Great Britain and France. The change has been gradual but sure: while France was quickly shut out, Great Britain became a useful business partner.
Some of the most clear-cut footprints of the former colonial domination were the British, or British-controlled, oil companies of the region.
Given that oil drilling had actually originated in the United States at the end of the XIX century, American capital, wishing to expand its business, naturally turned to the Middle East as soon as oil was discovered there. Nevertheless, before being able to exploit those new resources, they needed to be allowed in by the old imperialistic powers. That process actually began before World War Two.
Two oil companies were set up in the Near and Middle Eastern regions
by the British Empire.
The Anglo-Persian Oil Company (later Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, AIOC) had been founded by Winston Churchill in 1912 (oil in Iran had been discovered in 1908) and it was completely British.
The other one was the Turkish Oil Company (TPC) , also set up in 1912. According to the Federal Research Division of the US Library of Congress, the TPC was created for three main reasons:
a) seeking a concession to explore for Iraqi Oil,
b) eliminating rivalry among the three players who had economic interests in the Ottoman area (the British, the French and the Germans)
c) outflanking American concession seekers.
The actual discovery of oil in Iraq took place in 1927, in the northern (Kurdish)Iraqi region of Mosul. The British-French San Remo Conference of 1920 provided for permanent British control of any company established to develop Mesopotamian oil, while France was awarded the German shares of TPC that had been seized as enemy property. To hold their shares in TPC, the French formed the CFP (Compagnie Française des Petroles, now Total). The United States government, along with the Italian one, was initially excluded, but after prolonged and sharp diplomatic exchanges, American oil companies were permitted to buy into TPC. The final agreement, reached in 1928, provided that the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the Dutch Shell Group, the CFP, and the Near East Development Corporation (which represented the interests of five large American oil companies) each held 23.75 percent of the shares (the remaining, but nonvoting, 5% was awarded to Gulbenkian, a private businessman who had helped cut the deal).
A major obstacle facing United States firms had been a clause in the 1914 reorganization of the TPC, stipulating that any oil activity in the Ottoman Empire by shareholders must be shared by all partners. Gulbenkian had insisted on the clause so that the oil companies could not circumvent his interests by establishing other companies without him. This arrangement, which survived the 1928 reorganization, came to be known as the Red Line Agreement, as all TPC partners were forbidden to act independently within the boundaries of the now-defunct Ottoman Empire. This "red line" effectively precluded the United States and other TPC partners from concession hunting and from oil development in much of the Persian Gulf region until after World War II.
b. Post-war moves
Remarkably, the first-ever successful CIA coup aimed at overthrowing a foreign head of government, involved the control of one of these two oil companies, the AIOC. In 1951, the highly-popular nationalist leader Dr. Mossadegh got Parliament to pass a bill for the nationalization of the all-British AIOC, which, as we have seen, was the sole oil company operating in Iran. A month later, Dr. Mossadegh was elected prime minister. When the British were expelled from the country, they turned to the United States for assistance in toppling the democratically elected leader.
A harsh embargo plunged the country into an economic crisis and hence chaos, forcing Mossadegh to ask for additional powers and get closer to the Tudeh, the Iranian Communist party, which, like the nationalist leader and a vast majority of the population, backed nationalization of the oil industry and opposed the Anglo-American supported Shah.
In short, the CIA financed and aided a military coup d’état against Mossadegh, who was successfully toppled and arrested (while his foreign minister was executed).
The result was that, for the next 25 years, the Shah was the closest ally of the United States in the Third World: Iran joined the Baghdad Pact in 1955 and several US espionage posts were set-up at the border with the Soviet Union.
Most of all, one year after the coup, the Shah granted 40% of the Iranian oil business to the British, and another 40% to a consortium of American oil firms. Although the US government’s explanation for the coup, at the time, were the Cold War framework and the supposed ties between Mossadegh and “the Communists” (see also Eisenhower’s memoirs), that the CIA’s action in this case was prompted by private economic interests is not really in dispute. In addition, many observers, like William Blum, have cited some illuminating cases of “conflicts of interests”: one of the CIA agents who had helped stage the coup, Kermit Roosevelt, was later hired by one of the firms in the American consortium (Gulf Oil Co.), while Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had been the senior member of a New York law firm (Sullivan and Cromwell), which counted, among his clients, Standard Oil Co. (now Exxon), another member of the consortium.
Moreover, as Richard Crockatt puts it, the British oil monopoly in Iran
had been broken, and the United States had inherited a great economic and
political interest in maintaining the Shah in power.
At the same time, the CIA inaugurated a path of opposition to Third World nationalist movements seeking to gain control over their national resources.
c. 1956: a landmark year
In the Middle East, as noted by Bassma Kodmany-Darwish and May Chartouni-Dubarry, “the cornerstone of the American strategy is to prevent the emergence of a power or a coalition of countries hostile to the interests of the United States”.
With that in mind, it is easier to interpret and evaluate an event, such as the Suez crisis of 1956, widely regarded as a key episode in the passage from the former imperial domination of the Near and Middle Eastern areas to the influence of the Great Powers. That episode demonstrated how the US was eminently capable of aligning itself with the Soviet Union when the objective was to drive out the old colonialists. When Britain, France and Israel invaded Nasser’s Egypt, the United States and the Soviet Union unanimously condemned the European-led operation.
The Soviets were courting a leadership role with Third World countries,
in the Middle East in particular, by financing their development projects
without attaching political conditions to their financial sponsorship.
On the other hand, the United States was very much concerned about Communist containment and regional power balances, and thus more inclined to attach specific pre-conditions to their financial support. When Nasser asked the US to help finance the building of the Aswan Dam, a vital infrastructure for Egypt’s economical development, the US government wavered over the decision, initially granting its aid and finally withdrawing it. Main American concerns were Egypt’s refusal of the US request to join the Baghdad Pact (1954), its purchase of Czechoslovak military equipments (1955) and its willingness to recognize the People’s Republic of China (1956). The Americans regarded those decisions as a shift by Nasser towards “Communism”, whereas Nasser, as Mossadegh before him, regarded them as, simply, the free decisions a sovereign government could take.
On July 19, the United States officially withdrew their financial aid for the Aswan Dam. On the 26th, Nasser announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal, the only thinkable self-sufficient mean of financing the Dam. This move unleashed the crisis. Between October and November, after three months of fruitless negotiations, the above-mentioned countries invaded Egypt and regained control of the Canal. Both the USSR and USA voted a resolution providing for the cease-fire and the retreat of the invading forces.
It is interesting to notice how some observers ascribe this American behaviour, among other reasons, to the failure on the part of France and Britain to consult the US. It has also been noticed that any American direct intervention would have been improbable, as the Suez Crisis came while the Soviets where intervening in Hungary in order to remove the Prime Minister Imre Nagy, who had announced a series of groundbreaking democratic reforms in his country (i.e.: introduction of a multi-party system). A US intervention to replace Nasser, at that time, would have prompted an easy and uncomfortable comparison between the two world powers.
In the meantime, once again, the balances in the region had shifted. Egypt remained a non-aligned country, as Nasser did not show a great amount of gratitude to the USSR for financing the Great Dam . Overall, though, the French and the British were successfully driven out of the region.
The Suez Crisis had a great impact on the American role in the Middle East. Immediately after it, on 9 March 1957, the US Congress approved the so called “Eisenhower Doctrine”, which stated that “the United States regards as vital to the national interest and world peace the preservation of the independence and integrity of the nations of the Middle East” and that it was “prepared to use armed forces to assist [any Middle Eastern country] requesting assistance against armed aggression from any country controlled by international communism”. The Doctrine was an ideal continuation and expansion of the Monroe Doctrine and its Roosevelt Corollary (valid for the Western Hemisphere), and the Truman Doctrine (valid for Europe). The Doctrine was meant to fill the “power vacuum” left by the Europeans.
A Cold War framework was thus imposed on Arab countries in order to justify American interventions in the oil-rich and Soviet-bordering region, whereas the real tensions in the area were linked to nationalism, pan-Arabism , neutralism and the need for social justice , not to mention the Palestinian issue. These issues explain much of the political and social unrest these countries experienced during the ‘50s and ‘60s. All of these issues were closely related to each other and the major problems underlying them were decolonization and development.
d. Nasserism: a new “virus” spreads in the Middle East.
A case-study on the situation outlined above is provided by the course of events in Jordan. The ongoing power-struggle between the King and the Prime Minister, Nabulsi, saw the King firm in his pro-Western stands and Nabulsi leaning towards the Soviet Union. Riots and protests against the King, seen as a standard-bearer of colonial rule, broke out throughout Jordan. King Hussein, though, ended them by declaring martial law and abolishing all political opposition. Hussein did not ask for American intervention, nonetheless the US rushed the Sixth Fleet to the Mediterranean, ready to intervene if the situation worsened.
A similar case could be found in Lebanon. There, policies and behaviours by pro-Western Prime Minister Chamoun, like his failing to condemn the invasion of Egypt in 1956 or his immediate approval of the Eisenhower doctrine, alienated consensus from him and caused the break-out of a civil war between the pro-Western Christians and the pro-Egyptian Muslims, who wanted their government to walk down the path of emancipation set forth by that country. Protests mounted and Chamoun feared for his life. Instead of distancing himself from the Eisenhower doctrine, as asked by the people, he invoked it, and requested the US to send troops in order to defend his government. The Marines did not use force, but their presence successfully prevented the opposition to seize the government. The American administration feared the complete disintegration of Western influence in the whole Middle Eastern area: the day before the Iraqi monarchy had been overthrown.
Why were these crises emerging all at once? And why was the United States so prone to sending the Marines in defence of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern conservative establishments?
The answer is Gamal Abdel Nasser, an Egyptian nationalist leader whose example was a source of inspiration for all Arab people. Nasser meant the momentum for change had come. Since the decline of the Ottoman Empire, Arabs had been subject to foreign influence. After the dissolution of the Empire, they found themselves living in states which were mostly designed by the British according to their interests: borders were artificial and governments, for the most part, conservative and dictatorial monarchies. Pertinently, it has been observed that Nasser became the first true Egyptian to rule the country in several millennia.
e. The United Arabian Republic (UAR) and the quest for change in
the Arab world.
The project for a United Arabian Republic was the natural child of all the tensions and issues affecting the Arab world mentioned above. As reported in the Country Studies of the US Library of Congress:
For a variety of conflicting reasons, the political leaders of Syria in January 1958 asked Nasser for a union between their two countries. Nasser was skeptical at first and then insisted on strict conditions for union, including a complete union rather than a federal state and the abolition of the Baath (Arab Socialist Resurrection) Party, then in power, and all other Syrian political parties. Because the Syrians believed that Nasser's ideas represented their own goals and that they would play a large role in the union, they agreed to the conditions. A plebiscite was held in both countries in 1958, and Nasser was elected president. Cairo was designated the capital of the United Arab Republic. Nasser then visited Damascus, where he received a tumultuous welcome. Arabs everywhere felt a new sense of pride.
Several Arab governments viewed Nasser with less enthusiasm, however. The conservative monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Jordan saw his ideas as a potential threat to their own power. Nasser regarded these monarchs as reactionaries and as obstacles to Arab unity. The United States moved to strengthen these regimes as well as the government of Lebanon in an effort to offset the influence of Egypt. [Emphases added]
Under the Syrian-Egyptian merger arrangement, Communist Parties were banned as well. Nonetheless, the United States, fearing the power balance of the region would become unfavourable, supported the merger of Iraq and Jordan in the Arab Union as a counterbalance. The Arab Union succumbed after a mere six months, when the Iraqi monarchy, a British creation, was overthrown and a republic was established.
2. The New Iraq and Iraqi-American Relations in the Context of the
United States’ Middle East Policy.
Thus nationalisms, such as Nasserism, and their growth in the Middle East continued to be a somewhat uncomfortable element of disruption for the United States, as controlling them or foreseeing their implications seemed impossible. The overthrowing of the Iraqi monarchy in 1958 strengthened such a feeling on the part of US policy-planners. The Iraqi coup d’état presented many similarities with the 1952 coup of the Free Officers of Egypt. The two officers behind the coup, Abdel Karim Kassem and Abdel Salam Aref, had no ideological or partisan affiliation. Just like the Free Officers of Egypt, their main aspirations were a true independence for their country, modernisation, and more social justice. Like them, they came from modest families and shared the widespread sentiments of the Arab world: they wanted radical reforms. Unfortunately, their lack of affiliation paved the way for a bitter fight: the different parties and currents of the coalition that had backed them struggled for the leadership of the new governments. This fight for power led to the first attempt by the Baath party to seize power in 1959 (the then 23 year old Saddam Hussein took part in it).
Despite its short life, the Kassem governments achieved a number of important reforms in the social field (health, education, laws on the statute of family and women, public housing, agrarian reforms, etc…). Kassem directed his attention at national resources as well, and, with the law 80 (December, 1961) reformed the oil industry. He withdrew from the Iraq Petroleum Company 99.5% of the oil concessions granted by the Anglo-Iraqi agreement of 1928 and left the old consortium 0.44% of the Iraqi soil to exploit. The government then founded its own oil company, INOC (Iraq National Oil Company) to exploit the rest. All of this strained relations with Great Britain, even though the new law did not actually change anything.
The 0.44% of soil left to the international consortium corresponded
to 100% of the soil exploited up until then. In practice, the government
had simply withdrawn concessions for future oil wells, and reserved for
itself the right to future explorations. But as the government lacked the
resources to carry on such explorations, INOC did not undertake any activity
until as late as 1970.
In the meantime, Kassem was losing more and more popular support as he tried to suffocate the Communist Party (CP), which he considered a danger. After throwing the communist ministers out of the government and shutting down communist organisations and labour unions, as well as arresting their leaders, his government was turning ever-more fragile. Ironically, one of the official US preoccupations at that time was Kassem’s supposed tilt towards the USSR and the Communist Party. Apparently, such a wrong belief on the American part was due to the fact that Kassem had allowed, at the beginning, some Communists in government posts. Communists, however, were allowed into government along with all other factions of Iraqi politics. The United States remained on watch as things evolved quickly in Iraq and the Middle East.
According to Noam Chomsky , the 1958 Iraqi coup was a major drawback
for the “British-American condominium”, and prompted a painful re-evaluation
of the American approach towards the Persian Gulf. This was to lead to
three major responses:
Nationalisms were to be weakened by giving Anglo-American vassal states a nominal independence (an “Arab façade”): Kuwait became an independent Emirate (June 19, 1961).
The United States and Great Britain were to intervene whenever conservative
leaders of allied countries threatened to be overthrown by popular upheavals
or whenever their interests in the region were menaced. And so they did
(see Lebanon and Jordan; and, later, the two Gulf Wars).
As a “logic corollary” of the opposition to radical Arab nationalism, Israel, the only strong pro-Western power in the Middle East, was to be strengthened and aided. American policy-makers were confirmed in this opinion by Israel’s crushing victory against Egypt and Syria.
a. On the Baath or the unreliability of Iraq.
The Baath Party had been founded in Damascus, Syria in 1944 by three intellectuals: Michel Aflaq, an orthodox Christian, Salah Al-Din Bitar, a Syrian Sunnite, and Zaki Al-Arsuzi, an Alaouite. Its ideology drew heavily from European nationalisms and German romanticism, but it lacked the historical background of those currents. European nationalism came from a well-defined historical path, which gave birth to the European nation-state. Instead, Aflaq, Bitar and Arsuzi (three alumni of the Sorbonne) base their political objectives on a romantic vision: the sudden “awakening”, in the form of an inqilab (revolution), of a united Arab nation, seen as an enlarged family within which individuals can reach their own self-fulfilment. Unity of the Arab nation is put above all values. Only after that goal is attained can the Arab nation finally achieve justice within itself and set about serving the rest of humanity (the ideology contains a good amount of missionary zeal). Surely, such an ideology touched upon some crucial issues of the time. Nonetheless, since its conception, the Baath party has never enjoyed any popularity among the peoples of the Arab world, and its élite was quite conscious of the fact that it would have been difficult to obtain power by the means of free elections. It is likely that the main problem of Baathism lies in its assumptions: in reality, although Arabs do share a common language and, partly, a religion, they all have gone through quite different histories, regimes, colonial experiences, etc…
Although very far from it, Baathism contains some of the main features which made Nasserism successful: nationalism, emancipation of the Arab people and an appeal to unity: in Iraq, Nasserites and Baathists were united against Kassem.
In 1963, the Baath Party bloodily seized power in Iraq with Aref at its lead. A reign of terror was established, and vengeance was mostly directed at the communists and their sympathizers. During several months, Baathist paramilitaries committed atrocities and brutalities condemned by the whole world, and unknown to the previous history of the country. Arrests and tortures became every-day business. Movie theatres, houses and sport clubs were turned into detention centres. Witch-hunting was perpetrated thanks to lists whose source was mysterious: according to certain allegations, secret contacts would have been established between Baath members and American intelligence services. Chapour Haghighat notes: “It is true that the importance and the influence of the Iraqi Communist Party, one of the most powerful of the Middle East, worried Western environments and conservative countries of the region, countries which had all interest to discard it from the political scene.” Even Baath founder Aflaq criticized the terror created against the communists.
But the alliance between Nasserites and Baathists was not to last long. Aref excluded the Baathists from government, because of bitter inner conflicts between the party’s right and left wings, which were causing instability in the country. After the failure of a project of union with Egypt brought forth by the Nasserites, Aref excluded them too and formed a government composed of his relatives and fellow tribesmen. He died in a suspicious helicopter accident in August 1966. Aref’s death left confusion, economic stagnation and a political vacuum, which, inevitably, was filled by a new Baathist coup d’état.
b. Iraq after 1968 and the United States’ three way strategy.
When the Baath party regained power in 1968 it was still vulnerable and needed to consolidate power. One of the first moves it then undertook was establishing a special tribunal to judge the “people’s enemies”: Nasserites and Arab nationalists were charged with corruption and spying for Israel, Great Britain, the USA and Iran.
This list of enemies spoke volumes about the insecurity of Iraqi external relations at this point: internationally, the country had not yet found a direction and there was much instability.
The United States and Western interests still relied on Iran and Israel as their major allies in the Middle East. At the same time, border disputes with Iran were causing more and more tensions between the two countries.
The Iraqi regime thus found itself:
-isolated internationally in front of its Iranian enemy and its weighty ally, the US,
-internally incapable to resolve the Kurdish issue and to enhance its popularity.
Its response was to turn to the Soviet Union externally, and to approach the Communist Party internally.
In 1969, a cooperation agreement with the USSR was signed and the CP is legalised.
This was a crucial turning point with a number of notable consequences:
as the conflict with Iran over the borders escalated, the Baath party was forced to rely even more on the USSR and the CP. On the other hand, the Shah, supported by the US, tried to play a police role in the Gulf, and, along with Israel, to contain the ambitions of radical Arab countries of the region. At this point the United States envisaged a true “police patrol” role for the two countries: Israel in the Mediterranean and Iran in the Gulf.
oil balances changed: the Soviet Union aided and supported INOC exploration so that in 1972 oil production began. As a retaliation, the Western consortium of IPC cut its Iraqi production of almost 50%. That prompts the law 69, encouraged by Moscow and Paris (France had cut a deal for a special treatment of its interests): the nationalization of IPC, completed in 1973. Such a move had not been planned in advance as a party strategy, but rather, it came as a response to the moves of the international oil consortium. Nonetheless, the whole move was presented as planned all along and significantly contributed to better the image of the regime among the Iraqi people.
The US response to these developments was to support the Shah in his strategy of destabilization of Baghdad by playing the Kurdish card: arming and aiding the Kurds so as to destabilize the regime, but being careful at not letting them attain independence. That way, the Kurds constituted a continuous disruptive element. According to Blum, the strategy continued until Iran decided to strengthen its position within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) by bringing its support of the Iraqi Kurds to an end.
Saudi Arabia was another safe bet in the region: the monarchs there were ruling the country according to Western interests, and, at the same time, were successfully repressing nationalist threats. Although its relations with Iran and Israel were tense due to border issues, the country followed the same tactical guidelines of the two American allies.
To sum everything up, what we see here outlined, as far as Middle Eastern American foreign policy is concerned, is a three-way strategy, based on three reliable major partners: Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia. These partners were functioning as an element of “containment”, or cap, of “recalcitrant” emerging powers of the region: Egypt and Syria, which were threatening to spread their word in Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Jordan, the Palestinian territories….
c. The Islamic Revolution, the Iran-Iraq War and the Iran-Contra
Things evolved once again in 1979, the last year of the Carter presidency, year of the official investiture of Saddam and of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Suddenly, the US found itself deprived of a pillar in the Middle East. Probably, it was not by chance that the Shah did not survive the Carter era.
The US saw a great danger in the Islamic Revolution, and above all it
feared, once again, that a “domino effect” would be sparked throughout
the region, as Iranian religious leaders were predicating. Moreover, it
became clear that the instability inherent to the Near and Middle Eastern
regions made it extremely difficult to control the political situation
there: the best response would be to prevent any “independent, indigenous
force” from having “a substantial influence on the administration of oil
production and price” by weakening all players of the region (quotations
are from Chomsky, cited by Blum).
Revisionist historians thus charge the United States of having provided both sides in the Iran-Iraq war with military aid and intelligence information, in the hope that each would inflict severe damage on the other.
By all accounts, it was during this period that the US established relations with the now-stigmatized Saddam Hussein. In 1982, the US removed Iraq from its list of terrorist states, and in 1984 Washington re-established full diplomatic relations with Baghdad . Just a month had passed since the new American Embassy had opened its doors, when it began providing Saddam’s army with state-of-the-art intelligence technologies. Washington also increased its volume of credit to Iraq, from $345 million in 1984 to $1 billion in 1987.
In the meantime, Israel was playing for Iran (Saddam had taken an actively pro-Palestinian stand in the Arab-Israeli conflict). Weapons the US was selling Iran went through Israel. The purpose was not only financing the Nicaraguan contras, but also to inspire an anti-Khomeiny coup in order to restore the old alliance.
d. Saddam’s army.
Since the mid-seventies, the new leader of ancient Mesopotamia had been building up Iraq’s military arsenal (chemical and biological weapons included), but his real aim was to establish a nuclear-weapons-production capability.
To his disappointment, his Soviet ally would not assist with this endeavour. On the other hand, relations with France were very good: France seemed to appreciate the military and technological buying frenzy in which the dictator had launched into . Among other things, France sold the regime a nuclear reactor in 1976, but could not complete the transaction with the promised 72 kilos of enriched uranium because of protests that had arisen from the international community (in the end Iraq had to settle with a third of that quantity).
Osirak, Saddam’s brand new reactor, was razed to the ground in 1981
by an Israeli incursion. Among all the surface-to-air missiles protecting
the reactor, not one, not even the French ones, fired against the Israeli
fighter planes. The United Nations condemned the attack, but, as a French
engineer was killed, the most vibrant protests came from France. It turned
out that Paris was also the only capital to have been warned in advance
of the incursion: the condemnation was less a heart-felt statement than
a piece of theatre for French electors and the world media.
The episode merely added to the feeling of powerlessness and frustration of Saddam and helps explain his continued quest for hard power. His quest for nuclear capability was linked to his plans for regional leadership, rebirth of the Arab nation and, of course, enhancement of his personal power. Since the beginning, his rhetoric had been one of fierce opposition to all “imperialist powers” and the “Sionists”. Whether or not he was sincere when he declared that his aim was to free the Arab people, one thing is for sure: he spoke his mind.
According to him:
oil prices were kept excessively low by the OPEC, and oil, a “gift of God to the Arab people” was to be used as leverage at the benefit of Arabs themselves;
British-designed borders (like Kuwait’s) made no sense;
the pro-Western policies of conservative Emirates were counterproductive for all Arabs and Israel, the sole Middle Eastern nuclear power, was a continued threat to their security;
Iraq had to become a regional power so as to take the lead of change.
The war with Iran was also a means of assuring a constant flux of weapons from the West: according to some estimates, in the period between 1982 and 1989, Iraq would have purchased $42.8 billion worth of weapons , or 9% of the world’s weapons production in the eighties.
Why was the West arming Saddam? Two hypotheses do not seem unreasonable: first of all Saddam was awarding huge contracts to hundreds of Western (in the US and all over Europe) and Japanese companies (see Appendix); secondly, the greatest threat of the moment was the Islamic Revolution and not Saddam, who was simply impoverishing his country with a seemingly endless war .
3. The Gulf Wars.
The situation was different in 1990. The Cold War and the Iran-Iraq war were both over and Saddam Hussein seemed ambitious. His deeds actually matched up to his rhetoric. When he invaded Kuwait, he immediately ceased to be a friend of the United States, to take up his new role of Hitler’s reincarnation. Public opinion was quickly informed of how bloody and dictatorial his regime was and, in less than a week, the regional crisis became a world one, with all of the major powers, as well as the UN, involved.
The problem was not the price of oil, as OPEC countries quickly
made up for the Iraqi oil , but rather:
the potential power of price-setting Iraq could have gained. In fact, with Kuwait, Iraq would have controlled 25% of the world’s oil production, almost 50% of trade and 70% of the world’s reserves.
Also, by annexing Kuwait, he would have set a precedent of overthrowing of a Western-sponsored colonial legacy. All the other Emirates felt threatened and strongly favoured Western intervention: the risk was to stir up Arab enthusiasms and assist a revival of Arab nationalisms, whose consequences were unpredictable. Already, public demonstrations in support of Saddam were taking place throughout the whole Arab world .
Things were even more serious when we consider that Saddam Hussein’s
actual goal was to change regional balances and to undermine the Western
legacy in the region: worse of all, he had not tried to hide it at all.
The proof of this emerged when, in response to the famous American ultimatum, Saddam at first tried to “link” his compliance to the American requests with:
a) the retreat of Israel from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank;
b) the promise on the part of the UN Permanent Security Council to deal with all the issues in the Gulf: the Arab-Israeli conflict and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in the hands of Israel (meaning the atomic bomb);
c) the exclusion from power of the Kuwaiti royal family.
Two weeks before the expiration of the ultimatum, as the United States were rejecting all proposals, a and c were dropped, and the only condition Saddam was setting for his retreat was a formal engagement by the UN Security Council to hold an international Conference to resolve pending issues of the Middle East, namely, the Arab-Israeli conflict and the presence of WMD in the region. It was not asked to set a date for the conference as a condition for the retreat. The “allies”, though, would not “reward the aggressor” and preferred to intervene.
The menace was successfully thwarted, and furthermore warded off by establishing “no-fly zones” that severely impugned upon the country’s sovereignty (patrolled by the Anglo-Americans and not explicitly authorized by the UN) and with the impositions of heavy sanctions, probably the heaviest in history. These sanctions have had a high human cost, documented by the United Nations. The question begs itself: would it not have been simpler and less costly to bring about regime change at the time, instead of starving an innocent population of more than 50 million people?
Cardini observes that some of the factors that had cautioned against the intervention (opposed by a large part of the public opinion, French President Mitterrand and, of course, the Pope) were still standing. George Bush Senior realized that the lack of an adequate plan for the post-Saddam Iraq would have brought about:
the proclamation of independence by the Kurds (who live in the oil-rich region of Mosul), which could have inspired other Kurds like the ones in Turkey;
the rebellion of the Shiites in the South and perhaps even a dangerous rapprochement to their fellow believers in Iran;
an escalation of internal conflicts potentially undermining the unity of the country and the stability of the whole region.
Also, there were benefits coming from a permanence in power of the Baath
Saddam in power was a good pretext for maintaining occupation forces in the Gulf area;
all countries bordering Iraq were ready to spend heavily in order to ensure their own security: the West has handsomely profited from the security of the six states involved.
Saddam was thus spared but neutralized. Nonetheless, he continued to show a certain degree of assertiveness by undertaking military actions against the Kurds in the North and, most of all, by supporting the Palestinian resistance in the occupied territories. Also, at the end of 1997 he expelled all American inspectors working in Iraq on behalf of the UN, accusing them of engaging in spy activities.
a. The final chapter.
An Open Letter to the President of the 19 February, 1998 sent by the neoconservative Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf proposed to US President Bill Clinton a strategic plan to finally get rid of Saddam’s regime: the document underlined the strategic importance of the Iraqi territory for the United States, regardless of the dangers posed by the regime, which were nonetheless reasserted. The letter was signed by, among others, Elliott Abrams (of the NSC), Richard Armitage and John Bolton (State Department), Robert Kagan, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. Although Clinton did not want to go as far as suggested in the letter, he did however support the Iraqi Liberation Act, which awarded $96 million to the Iraqi opposition and gave more weight to the Iraqi National Congress in the US. Things changed in 2000, when George Bush Junior and his neoconservative team got into the White House. Although there had been some earlier signs coming from the Bush Administration of the will to attack Iraq, matters became clearer during the State of the Union Address of 29 January, 2002, when the President treated Al-Qaeda, Bin Laden and the Afghan conflict as they did not exist, and instead talked about three countries which, apparently, constituted the greatest danger in the world: Iraq, Iran and North Korea. This was the “Axis of Evil” threatening the world. By the summer of 2002, choices had already been made: thus, in September, the theory of “pre-emptive war” was put forth by the document called The National Security Strategy of the United States (NSS).
In November, it was clear that the United States favoured a direct intervention in Iraq. The world’s public opinion, the media, and the United Nations all started discussing the matter. The world was divided in two camps: for and against. The vast majority of the world public opinion was against, and France, Germany and Belgium followed suit. Strongly in favour of the intervention, with the US government, were the governments of Great Britain and Spain. The “for” camp was quite isolated, a major exception being the one of the “New Europe” (mostly Eastern European countries). Why did Bush champion the war so ardently? Factors can be categorized as internal and external.
Internal factors could be:
boosting the American military industry in a moment of economic depression;
activating a large financial and productive mobility around Iraq’s reconstruction ;
ensuring the direct control of Iraqi oil production for American corporations , given that French, Russian and Chinese interests were rivalling with American ones, and that Iraqi oil production is vital for European energetic needs (controlling Iraqi oil means controlling the European energy supply);
Enhancing the President’s popularity among the patriotic American lower classes with a war, as his father had done before him.
External factors that can be identified are:
as anticipated above, ensuring control on the most important source of energy for Europe, which depends on Iraqi oil for 80% of its total consumption;
warning all other OPEC countries which, like Iraq, have recently been tempted to use the euro as transaction currency standard;
the occupation of Iraq is in itself a good reason: Iraq borders with Iran and also with the Caspian region, regarded as strategic for the future. This region is rich in oil, still unexploited and much less problematic than the Near and Middle East. But in order to move there, it is necessary to establish a strategic partnership with Russia and China, whose leaders, for the moment, have halted talks. With a foot at the threshold, talks for a shared Asian hegemony might resume. Meanwhile, the occupation continues…;
decoupling from Saudi Arabia, an uncomfortable ally, would be possible if Iraqi oil drilling and marketing are enhanced and controlled by the Americans.
The writer of this paper meant to find explanations for the Gulf Wars residing in the structure of international relations, rather than explanations linked to contingent or, worse still, cultural grounds, too often used as a pretext.
As a reality check, though, it is interesting to remind the latter.
In 1990, a bloody dictator invaded a foreign sovereign country. The international community, represented by world powers, was shocked and awed and decided immediately to fight for the respect of international law. Order was restored, and the dictator was rightly punished and “kept down” by the imposition of severe economic sanctions on his country.
Eleven years later, the world was shocked by an unprecedented terrorist attack. Fortunately, US government officials identified those responsible, their location, organization and motives in a few hours. As it is that easy to identify responsibilities and motives, it makes sense to anticipate evil-doers by acting before them. By waging on-the-ground wars, the forces of evil will be defeated and terrorist attacks prevented. As stated in the NSS, it is not wrong to speak in terms of good and evil, as the world really is divided in these two factions. The faction of “evil” comprises two different categories of entities: evil men, like Bin Laden and his shady terrorist organization; and evil states, which, you guessed it, form an “Axis of Evil” threatening to destroy the world thanks to their WMDs. All that said, the US and its allies set out to attack Afghanistan and Iraq, in order to destroy evil states and governments and to arrest evil men. The attack on Iraq was moreover justified by the clear evidence that its regime had stockpiled dangerous WMDs, and had links with terrorist organizations. In the process, the US also spread democracy, furthermore adding to the world’s security.
A supposed “cultural” reason of the world’s present situation is fundamentalism, a deviation of the Muslim religion caused by the sheer cruelty of men, who enjoy blowing themselves and others up in order to establish a reign of infinite terror. The best way to combat these deviations is not to try to understand their causes and, eventually, to implement specific “soft” policies aimed at them, but, on the contrary, to wage “long” wars with a grand show of hard power.
Indeed, it is a shame that these gangs of nasty men ruined the party of the end of the Cold War.
The section above meant to be a brief sketch of official explanations
and grounds for US foreign policy as stated by US government officials
in their documents and public speeches.
This paper tried to show how this kind of politics, based on fear and detached from the needs of the peoples of both the developed and under-developed worlds, does not address those issues lying behind the global threat of terrorism, but, rather, tend to nourish and perpetuate them, to the point that they actually seem to end serving completely different political goals.
Blum, William, 1998: Killing Hope. Black Rose: Montreal.
Blum, William, 1998: The United States vs. Iraq: A study in hypocrisy. In: Mid-East Realities, 2 October.
Cardini, Franco, 2003: Astrea e i Titani – Le lobbies americane alla conquista del mondo. Gius. Laterza & Figli: Roma and Bari.
Crockatt, Richard, 1995: The Fifty Years War – The United States and the Soviet Union in World Politics, 1941 – 1991. Routledge: London and New York.
Emiliani, Marcella, 2003: Leggenda Nera – Biografia non autorizzata di Saddam Hussein. Edizioni Angelo Guerini e Associati Spa: Milano.
Haghighat, Chapour, 1992: Histoire de la crise du Golfe: des origines aux conséquences. Editions Complexe: Bruxelles.
Chartouny-Dubarry, May / Kodmani-Darwish, Bassma, 1991: Golfe et moyen orient – Les conflits. IFRI: Paris.
Various Authors, 1991: La guerre du pétrole. EPO: Bruxelles.
b. Web sites.
The Country Studies on Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria by the Federal Research Division of the US Library of Congress. Visited on January 2, 2004: HYPERLINK "http://countrystudies.us/" http://countrystudies.us/
Third World traveller. Visited on December 10, 2003: HYPERLINK "http://www.thirdworldtraveler.org" http://www.thirdworldtraveler.org
Documents on Iraqi reconstruction contracts vedi anche mia email. Visited
on December 10, 2003:
HYPERLINK "http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/27c/111.html" http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/27c/111.html
HYPERLINK "http://www.uiowa.edu/~c030162/Common/Handouts/POTUS/TRoos.html" http://www.uiowa.edu/~c030162/Common/Handouts/POTUS/TRoos.html
c. Other sources.
Burdy, Jean-Paul, 2003-2004: Questions d’Orient, questions d’occident. Cours fondamental d’histoire de 2e année à l’Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Grenoble.
The National Security Stategy of the United States: from the official
web site of the White House.
See the scandal surrounding the death of Dr. David Kelly, one of the scientists who had contributed to the drafting of a British government report on Iraqi WMDs. The report had been used by the British government as a case for going to war. According to an interview released to a BBC journalist, Dr. Kelly thought that the government had manipulated the document in order to overstate the danger Iraq posed.
It is also worth mentioning that the whole Kurd-populated region of Iraq, north of the 36th parallel, and the entire southern region, south of the 33rd parallel (that means the majority of the country), were directly under the aerial control of Anglo-American forces, since “no-fly zones” had been established there after the First Gulf War. No specific U.N. resolution had requested the measure, but U.S. officials had said that the “zones” were necessary in order to enforce U.N. resolution 1441.
The TPC was founded by the Armenian millionaire Calouste Gulbenkian on behalf of British banking interests. “The Deutsche Bank and Royal Dutch/Shell each held a quarter of the new company. The largest share, half of the total equity, was held by the British. From 1912 onward, once the Turkish Petroleum Company had come into existence, the British government directed its efforts” at ousting German influence. With the “Foreign Office Agreement” of March 19, 1914, the British maintained their predominance in the consortium (50%), and Gulbenkian was given a 5% share in the business, drawn from the other two partners’ shares. After WW1, the French took over German interests as part of war reparations. Quotations are from the Pulitzer Prize-winning book INCLUDEPICTURE "http://service.bfast.com/bfast/serve?bfmid=2181&sourceid=32165776&bfpid=0671799320&bfmtype=book" \* MERGEFORMATINET HYPERLINK "http://service.bfast.com/bfast/click?bfmid=2181&sourceid=32165776&bfpid=0671799320&bfmtype=book" \t "_blank" The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power , by Daniel Yergin (Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, 1992), while other data are drawn from the classes on Middle Eastern history of Prof. Jean-Paul Burdy (Sciences Po Grenoble).
Iranian oil was boycotted, Iranian assets were frozen and its
foreign trade was brought to a standstill. The embargo was called upon
by the British and supported by the US.
See Crockatt’s account of the crisis.
When the Baath party seized power in Iraq in 1958, Nasser arrested hundreds of Communists in Egypt. He was alarmed by the fact that the new Iraqi leaders declared to be “friends of the Soviet Union”.
See attempt by Egypt and Syria to form a United Arab Republic and widespread anti-western and anti-colonialist sentiment among the populations of Near and Middle Eastern countries, then and today. Pan-Arabism is also one of the main features of the Baath ideology.
For instance, social justice was an issue much dear to the “Free Officers” who came to power in Egypt in 1951, and also to the Iraqi “Free Officers” who staged the coup of 1958. They all came from modest families and supported ideas such as having free education and health care, as long as gaining actual independence from Britain. All these were the main motives behind their coups: as a matter of fact the Officers were not attached to any particular political ideology. The lack of a coherent ideology caused them difficulties later, when these men set about the task of governing. On this respect, the Egyptian and Iraqi experiences were similar.
Après la guerre froide, la guerre réelle, essay included in La guerre du pétrole (see bibliography)
In his speech to the American people communicating the deployment of the Marines in Lebanon, President Eisenhower implicitly suggested that the overthrowing of the Iraqi monarchy the day before was a reason for sending troops to Lebanon (“the grave developments which occurred yesterday in Baghdad whereby the lawful government was violently overthrown and many of its members martyred.”). As a matter of fact, Chamoun had requested American aid in May, and Eisenhower agreed in July, the day after the Iraqi revolution.
See Haghighat, pages 150-156.
In 1969 the Shah claims sovereignty over the Shatt el-Arab. In 1971, Iran invades three small islands in the Gulf.
Several authors agree on this point. Among my sources: Haghighat and Chomsky. Chomsky notes that the use of regional “police patrols” is in accordance with the Nixon Doctrine, which postulates that regional powers have to face problems of their own areas by themselves within the “global order framework” kept by the United States. Another source sticking with this account is US Senator Henry Jackson, an eminent expert on oil issues.
According to Chomsky, within this framework, a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be counterproductive for the United States: this would be the reason why, for a long time, the US officially supported the “Shamir Plan”, which did not provide for the creation of a Palestinian state, nor for the retreat of Israel from the occupied territories.
It is the young Donald Rumsfeld who is charged with re-establishing bilateral relations in 1983: he has a series of meetings with Saddam. Relations had been interrupted in 1967.
Several books deal with the many contracts between Western countries and Iraq, and with the “special” relationship Iraq had with France.
This amount represent a significant part of the entire Iraqi GDP in the period concerned.
William Blum: “The United Nations inspectors have uncovered evidence that Iraq was conducting research on pathogen enhancement and biological warfare-related stimulant research on many of the identical types of biological agents shipped to the country from the United States. These shipments continued to at least November 28, 1989 despite the fact that Iraq had been reported to be engaging in chemical warfare and possibly biological warfare against Iranians, Kurds, and Shiites since the early 80s”.
The rise of prices were actually due to speculation by oil companies: this is eloquently documented by these companies’ tremendous rise in profits between October and December 1990: Mobil, +46%; Amoco +69%; Texaco +35%; Elf-Aquitaine +46% (percentages compared to the same period of the previous year). It is also worth noting that it is not in the interest of any oil-producing country to halt production or reduce its share of the market.
Some commentators have recently observed how pro-Saddam demonstration in Arab countries were even more during the first Gulf War, where Saddam was the aggressor, than in the second one, were he was the aggressed!
The first contracts for Iraqi reconstruction were awarded by
the US government even before the war began. When the world and the UN
were still debating, those contracts were already written and signed. Secretary
of State Colin Powell went to the UN on the 6 February, 2003 to show the
world “evidence” the US had gathered of the existence of WMD in Iraq. As
all media reported the next day, that evidence was highly inconclusive.
However, “reconstruction” began before “destruction”, as the first contract
was signed on 7, February, 2003: it was worth $18,286,094 and it was awarded
to the International Resources Group (IRG) for “technical expertise for
reconstruction”. The second contract was awarded on February, 17 to AFCAP
and it was worth $91.5 million. Data are from the official website of USAID,
a government agency.
On 16 January, 2003, the “Wall Street Journal” reported of an informal meeting between US government officials from the White House, the Department of State and the Department of Defense with important executives from Halliburton, Schlumberger, Exxon Mobil, Chevron Texaco and Conoco Phillips. The subject was how to expand oil production in the period immediately after the end of the war.