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Blood, Oil, and Sand:
The Hidden History of America’s War on Iraq
by Cliff Pearson, Dallas Peace Center
In the 1920s, American and European oil companies discovered and exploited the first oil fields in the Middle East. But World War II changed everything. Despite being victors, both France and England began to lose control of their former colonies. The Middle Eastern nations recognized their potential to become economic world players through their oil. Many of them—much to the chagrin of London, Paris, and Washington—attempted to nationalize their oil reserves, only to have the West retaliate.
In 1953, Iran’s President Mossadegh nationalized its oil reserves and kicked the British out of the country. The United States responded by having the CIA assist in a coup that re-established the Shah of Iran as ruler. General Abdel Karim Qassem, the ruler of Iraq, also attempted to nationalize. United States CIA Director Allen Dulles immediately and publicly declared General Qassem’s actions to be “Communist,” but also added that he didn’t think the situation “was hopeless.” Almost immediately afterward General Qassem was assassinated in a coup led by Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party.
…a former Ba’ath Party member named Al Saadi spoke openly of having been trained for their successful coup by the CIA.
“This coup came as a result of an oil deal between Iraq and a French company, IRAB,” says Ahmed Al Bayati, London Representative of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution In Iraq. “This contract upset the West and the Americans in particular. So they encouraged a coup in Iraq at that time.” In 1972, according to former Iraqi Oil Minister Fadel Chalabi, a former Ba’ath Party member named Al Saadi spoke openly of having been trained for their successful coup by the CIA.
Also in 1972, OPEC, the international cartel of oil-producing nations, raised the price of crude oil from $3 per barrel to $22 per barrel in an effort to profiteer from the West’s dependence on their product.
President Saddam Hussein reacted to this price-gouging opportunity by immediately nationalizing Iraq’s oil fields. The United States reacted by branding Saddam Hussein “unreliable,” a “terrorist leader,” and throwing its primary Middle Eastern support to Iran, led by the pro-Western Shah.
“For 25 years, from 1953, the Shah of Iran was the US surrogate in the Persian Gulf and in the Middle East region,” says former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark.“The hope of control by the West of the Middle East faded in 1979 when the Shah was overthrown by anti-Western, fundamentalist leader Ayatollah Khomeini. By then, Saddam Hussein became again a viable card in Washington’s hand. He became the actual president of Iraq after 11 years of being its acting vice president, and then perpetrated a sweeping purge of his opponents and attacked Iran—without provocation or apparent reason.”The Stockholm Peace Research Institute shows that, during the Iran-Iraq War, nations lined up to sell arms to both sides in the conflict. According to their online database, 52 nations sold to either Iran or Iraq and 29 countries supplied arms to both sides.
David Welch, former Iraq Program Director for the US State Department, admits that the United States sold some arms to Iraq during the war but insists that it was very little, citing an “arms embargo” on both countries that made such sales illegal in most cases.
…the CIA and the State Department were very much aware that Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons, made by and bought from American companies…
In truth, however, a Congressional investigation found in 1992 that the CIA and the State Department were very much aware that Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons, made by and bought from American companies, against Kurdish civilians and Iranian soldiers.
Ramsey Clark reports that, from as early as 1972, the CIA and State Department had been monitoring Saddam Hussein’s ambitious determination to acquire “non-conventional weapons of mass destruction.” Documents obtained by Congress show that in the 80s, during the height of the Iran-Iraq War, the United States knew that a $1.7 billion “agricultural aid” package to Iraq was actually being used by Saddam Hussein to purchase helicopters, trucks, pesticides, and even anthrax. One document shows the purchase from the United States of “bacillus anthracis (ATCC 240) Batch #05-14-63 [3 each] Class III pathogen.”
Immediately, Congressional leaders began questioning these practices. According to Clark, the State Department and CIA, under former presidents Reagan and Bush, Sr., began to systematically quell all Congressional inquiries about US support for Iraq’s military build-up, and eventually the inquiries faded away.
As a result of Saddam Hussein’s unprovoked war with Iran and massive arms purchases, by the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988 Saddam Hussein had managed to ruin Iraq’s economy and place it about $40 billion in debt. Because of this debt, Iraq was desperate to nationalize its oil fields so it could profiteer and help offset its war-related economic woes.
…investigative reporters…were shocked to see no evidence whatsoever of an Iraqi military build-up.
“OPEC keeps the price of oil stable by limiting how much oil each OPEC member country can produce,” says Siu Hin Lee, an international oil market analyst. “In 1989, after the end of the Iran-Iraq War, Kuwait suddenly exceeded its quotas by 20%, driving the price of oil down on the world market. As a result of Kuwait’s production hike, Iraq lost almost a third of its oil income. This was at a time when Iraq was desperate for money.” Kuwait, a major source of oil to the West, is an artificially created country, set up by the British Empire during the “Mandates Period,” and carved out of the southern tip of Iraq. The creation of Kuwait by the British took Iraq’s access to the Persian Gulf away from them and set up as rulers a British-picked royal family, or “emirate,” that was friendly to the West.
The territory had been in dispute for nearly a century. When Kuwait’s newfound wealth added to Iraq’s already miserable economic woes, many Iraqi government leaders suddenly “remembered” that Kuwait was theirs, and Saddam Hussein decided it was time to re-annex Kuwait.
As late as six days before Iraq’s invasion, the State Department was assuring Saddam Hussein that the United States had “no security agreement with Kuwait.” Taking his cue, in 1990 Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, convinced that the United States would not react. But in reality, the Pentagon was more than ready to react.
…the State Department was assuring Saddam Hussein that the United States had “no security agreement with Kuwait.” Taking his cue, in 1990 Saddam Hussein invaded…
Within days of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, State Department and Department of De-fense officials were in Riyadh meeting with Saudi Arabian officials in an attempt to convince them that Iraq was determined to invade Saudi Arabia. US representatives argued that Iraq posed a grave threat to Saudi Arabia and that the United States must be allowed to deploy hundreds of thousands of soldiers in their country to help protect the Saudis. As part of this attempt at persuasion, the American officials showed the Saudis military satellite photos of a massive build-up of Iraqi troops in Kuwait, apparently poised to invade Saudi Arabia at any moment.
But some of the American media didn’t buy it. The St. Petersburg Times and ABC News had asked repeatedly for permission to view the military satellite photos of the Iraqi build-up and were repeatedly denied access to them. Finally, in frustration, investigative reporters from The St. Petersburg Times acquired commercial satellite pictures of the same area and time period and were shocked to see no evidence whatsoever of an Iraqi military build-up. Investigative reporter Jean Heller says:The airport in the Kuwaiti capital appeared to have been abandoned, which it wouldn’t be. If you think about it for a minute, if you’re trying to supply a quarter of a million troops, it takes a lot of food, a lot of camping equipment, a lot of fuel for the tanks. They didn’t see tank tracks in the sand in the desert, and they would not have worn away because satellites are still picking up images of sand tracks in the desert of Northern Africa that were left during World War II.
I happened to know the Press Secretary of Defense personally, and I asked him, “Look, you know me, we’ve known each other for a long time. Let me look at some of the US intelligence satellite photos. Prove to me that I’m wrong. I don’t need to take them out of the building, I don’t need to copy them. Prove to me that we are wrong and we won’t run the story.” And he refused to do that. He refused to do it on a number of occasions.
As a reporter, I’m not supposed to conclude anything, but everyone else who was familiar with this story and familiar with the satellite photographs has concluded that the [Bush] administration lied to the Saudis, to the world, in order to get the invitation to come into the Middle East to protect the innocent. What does it say about the government? If in fact the government lied, does that surprise anyone?
What purpose would the United States have in deceiving the Saudis? “Well, you have to understand that there were principal focuses over the world amounting to military commands,” says General Norman Schwarzkopf. “But there were certain areas in the world that had no focus. The Middle East was such an area. The problem was that no Arab country wanted a major US military headquarters in their country.” The Saudi government was sufficiently frightened by the United States’ scare tactics. On August 7, 1990, the Saudis officially accepted the American delegates’ offer of “protection.”
“…the United States deliberately planned the destruction of the economic support system for the Iraqi population.”
Within 24 hours of the agreement, the US military steamrolled into Saudi Arabia without even notifying Congress. Within a few short months, more than 500,000 American soldiers were deployed in Saudi Arabia to “protect” the Gulf nation from Iraqi aggression.
“Saddam Hussein had indicated a willingness to compromise, mediate and withdraw his troops,” says Denis Halliday, former director of the United Nation’s Oil-for-Food Program in Iraq. “Also, the Arab states were given a chance to mediate but they were given 48 hours, I believe, by President Bush. So in summary, I think the Americans didn’t want a diplomatic solution at that late stage. I am talking about after the invasion.” Phyllis Bennis, a former UN journalist and author, reported in her book, Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s UN, that Yemen voted against the use-of-force resolution. She says, “No sooner had the Ambassador of Yemen put down his hand after the vote than there was a US representative at his side saying, ‘That will be the most expensive no vote you will ever cast.’ And sure enough, three days later, the US cut off its entire aid budget to Yemen, the poorest nation in the Arab world.” Despite widespread international opposition to war, on November 29, 1990, the UN Security Council caved in to pressure from the United States and passed the war resolution with a deadline for Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait by January 15, 1991.
Two days after the deadline, the United States and her allies launched a bombing raid on Baghdad.
“Typically, the US military claimed that its bombing of Iraq was highly accurate,” says Ramsey Clark, former US Attorney General.
Nothing could be further from the truth. There were 110,000 aerial sorties and 85,000 tons of bombs—the equivalent of seven and a half Hiroshimas—in 42 days.
You could see the indiscriminate nature of the bombing. It probably killed 150,000, maybe 200,000 people—thousands and thousands of civilians indirectly.
There is no question from the evidence of the bombing that the United States deliberately planned the destruction of the economic support system for the Iraqi population. If you just take water, they knocked out reservoir dams in the north, they knocked out pumping stations for water pipelines bringing the water down, they knocked out filtration plants to purify the water so you can drink it without getting sick. On food, they systematically attacked the food chain from one end of the country to the other.
They knocked out all electrical power within hours. They knocked out transportation. They showed you can destroy a country and deprive it of essential life support systems without ever setting foot on it, through cruise missiles and aerial bombardments.
On February 23, 1991, five weeks after the start of the bombing campaign, the coalition sent their ground forces into Kuwait. American soldiers who were part of the invasion force say they got deep into Kuwait very quickly without encountering significant resistance.
But the Bush administration’s response was…to step back and wait for Saddam Hussein to quash the popular rebellion.
General Schwarzkopf agrees that the Iraqi forces in Kuwait were minuscule. “A very large portion of Saddam’s army never came into Kuwait. He kept a large part of his army back along the border with Iran and within the capital, his Republican Guards specifically.” On February 28, 1991, the United States shocked the world by announcing a cease-fire when the coalition forces were already pushing deep into Iraq.
On February 26, 1991, two days prior to the declaration of the cease-fire, a new situation had developed in Iraq. Tired of 12 years of ruthless dictatorship, a huge number of the Iraqi people had risen up against Saddam Hussein’s regime.
By early March 1991, the popular rebellion in Iraq had spread all across the country. Everywhere people were fighting the regime. But the Bush administration’s response was to end all aggression against Iraq and to step back and wait for Saddam Hussein to quash the popular rebellion.
It is abundantly clear from past evidence that helping to install a self-determined democratic government in Iraq has never been the goal of the United States. Far from it, we’ve committed genocide against their children.
©2002 Cliff Pearson
Cliff Pearson is a freelance journalist specializing in human rights reporting. He has traveled to southern Mexico, Kosovo, Turkey, Macedonia, and Quebec to report on human rights. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.