CIA Support of Saddam Hussein|
Shatt al-Arab Dispute & the Kurds
Iranian Hostage Crisis & Iraqi Invasion
Iraqi-U.S. Rapprochement (1980-84)
The Iran-Contra Affair
U.S. Support during Saddam's Great Crimes|
The 1991 Gulf War
The Sanctions Regime
The Policy of Regime Change
Subversion of UNSCOM by U.S. Espionage
The U.S. invasion of Iraq and its disastrous consequences has been justified by a constantly shifting narrative: protection from terrorism, weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), enforcement of UN resolutions, punishment of war crimes, and establishing democracy. These rationalizations of a policy that failed to meet classical just war criteria as well as modern international law and American national interests is predicated on a cynical manipulation of reality in which the public has been expected to forget what the government said and did only a few years ago. The obvious rush to war in late 2002 and early 2003 has been reinvented as an innocent mistake due to faulty intelligence, and the mass murders of Saddam Hussein are now condemned, while neglecting to mention that most of these were committed with the full support of the Reagan administration. Even more absurd is the war apologists' claim to have been concerned with violations of UN resolutions, when the UN was satisfied with Iraq's compliance and it was the U.S. that twice forced weapons inspectors out of Iraq. All of these facts are a matter of public record, making it all the more frightening that they can be routinely denied.
This blatant attempt to rewrite recent history is reminiscent of the totalitarian regime in George Orwell's 1984, which declared, "We are at war with Eurasia. We have always been at war with Eurasia." Anyone who pointed out that Eurasia had been our ally last year was swiftly re-educated. Similarly, Americans have been repeatedly asked to disregard the past as they remembered it a few years ago and to accept the new official history. For the benefit of those who dimly recall things being quite different from what we were later told, but lack the energy to research the matter, I present the documented history of U.S. involvement in Iraq, extracted, as it were, from the memory hole.
If the runup to the invasion of Iraq has been obscured by the fog of disinformation, the 1980s are downright prehistoric. Yet it is necessary to tell the tale of this prehistory in order to properly establish the background for the two wars against Iraq. This prehistory is the story of Saddam Hussein when he had a quite different relationship with the U.S. Not only did the Americans tolerate the devil, they armed and supplied him, and encouraged some of his greatest crimes.
Saddam's dealings with the U.S. date back to his early political life. Saddam was recruited by the CIA in 1959 to kill Iraqi dictator General Abd al-Karim Qasim, who had started buying Soviet arms and appointing Communists to his government, and threatened to nationalize the oil industry. On 7 October, Saddam and his assassination squad botched their attempt on Qasim, so Saddam fled to Beirut, Lebanon via Syria with the help of Egyptian agents. The CIA paid for his apartment in Beirut, and helped him get to Cairo, where Saddam regularly visited CIA agents in the American embassy. All of these facts have been independently verified by British scholars, former U.S. diplomats and former CIA agents, and compiled in a 2003 report by United Press International.
General Qasim was eventually deposed in a February 1963 coup by members of his own Ba'ath Party. Accounts of former CIA officials conflict as to whether the agency was involved in the coup. One "very senior" official adamantly insisted that the agency was taken by surprise by the event. Regardless of the level of prior involvement, the CIA was pleased with the result, and regarded the coup as a policy success. Since the ruling Baathists were now purging Communists, the CIA provided lists of suspected Communists to Iraqi National Guardsmen. Many of these suspects were summarily executed; others were jailed and interrogated first, then killed. A former senior State Department official told UPI: "We were frankly glad to be rid of them. You ask that they get a fair trial? You have to get kidding. This was serious business." Jim Critchfield, a senior CIA official in the Middle East, called the mass killings "a great victory," an attitude verified by a friend and fellow operative: "Jim was an old Middle East hand. He wasn't sorry to see the Communists go at all. Hey, we were playing for keeps."
The Ba'ath Party was overthrown months later, and Saddam ended up in jail until the party was restored to power in July 1968. In November 1969, he was appointed deputy to President Hassan al Bakr and Deputy Secretary General of the Iraqi Ba'ath. In a meeting with British ambassador H.G. Balfour Paul, Saddam outlined his position with regard to the West, here related by the ambassador:
Firstly, then, it was no good trying to separate the Palestine problem from others since by now it coloured the thinking of all Arabs on all subjects. Britain and the West could not wholly escape the burden of history. Yet France, though its past standing in the Arab world could not compare with Britain's, had by a few simple gestures (for that was all that was required) acquired the friendship of the Arab world. He would welcome the restoration of warm and meaningful relations with Britain (and with America too for that matter) which would follow if we could only bring ourselves to show a little greater determination over Palestine. Secondly, we were totally wrong if we believed the Iraqi Ba'athists to have any natural affinity with the Soviet bloc. Ba'athism had nothing to do with Communism. He well knew that the long-term aims of the Soviet Union were to communize the world and subject it to Muscovite domination. He was aware of the risks involved in Iraq's present close association with the Soviet bloc, which was forced upon it by the central problem of Palestine....His Government had repeatedly told the Russians that, whatever its relations with the Eastern bloc, it had no intention of turning its back on the West. (20 December 1969)
Iraq's relationship with the West was complicated by the Palestine issue, as was the case with other Arab nations. When Lyndon Johnson assumed the U.S. presidency in November 1963, he would shift his nation's Middle East policy to unrestrained support of Israel, alienating much of the Arab world. Arab nations opposing Israel had to turn to the Soviet Union for military support. When Israel seized territories from three of its Arab neighbors after the Six-Day War of 1967, Arab outrage magnified, as did the urgency to militarize further. Iraq renounced diplomatic relations with the U.S. in the wake of the war. Americans who are blissfully unaware of their nations disastrous Palestinian policy are unable to appreciate the reasons for anti-U.S. sentiment in the Arab world. The Palestine issue is not a mere excuse for hostility toward the U.S., but a chief grievance throughout the Arab world, with substantial implications for many of its nations. Iraqi passion for the Palestine issue is a manifestation of Arab nationalism, and dates back at least to the late 1930s, when the British and Jews suppressed the Arab revolt in Palestine, and many Palestinians fled to Iraq afterward.
In 1972, the U.S. cooperated with Iran and Israel to attempt to destabilize Iraq by fomenting rebellion among the Kurds in the north. Israel and Iran had attempted a similar scheme to arm and train Kurds for revolt back in 1958. President Nixon and the Shah of Iran provided millions of dollars in weapons and logistical support, and the CIA gave the Kurds $16 million in funding from 1972 to 1975. A Congressional investigation, the Pike Commission, concluded that "none of the nations who were aiding [the Kurds] seriously desired that they realize their objective of an autonomous state." The committee also concluded:
The president, Dr. Kissinger, and the Shah hoped that our clients would not prevail. They preferred instead that the insurgents simply continue a level of hostilities sufficient to sap the resources of our ally's [Iran's] neighbouring country. The policy was not imparted to our clients, who were encouraged to continue fighting.
By 1975, 45,000 Kurds, supported by Iranian troops, had engaged 80% of the Iraqi army. Kissinger did not want to cause the collapse of the Iraqi regime, but only to weaken it as a regional power that could threaten Israel, and also to discourage other Arab nations from seeking Soviet patronage. Eight hours after Iraq agreed to U.S.-Iranian terms (expressed in the Algiers Accord of March 1975), Iran and the U.S. cut off all aid to the Kurds, including food. With their supplies and lines of retreat cut off, the Kurds were at the mercy of the Iraqi army. Their fighting force in tatters, about 200,000 Kurds fled to Iran. The U.S. refused humanitarian assistance to the Kurdish refugees, and denied political asylum even to those who qualified. Iran forcibly expelled 40,000 of the refugees, while Iraq undertook a massive relocation program displacing 250,000 Kurds to central and southern Iraq. The Pike Commission strongly condemned the cynical betrayal of the Kurds, which cost them thousands of casualties and a humanitarian crisis affecting hundreds of thousands. Kissinger's response was infamous: "Covert action should not be confused with missionary work." It should be noted that Kissinger's top aide during these events was Brent Scowcroft, who would advise the elder Bush during the Persian Gulf War.
In the Algiers Accord of 6 March 1975, Iran agreed to "put an end to all infiltrations of a subversive nature," in exchange for Iraq agreeing to resolve a long-standing border dispute favorably to Iran. Saddam Hussein personally represented Iraq in direct negotiations with the Shah of Iran. The border between Iran and Iraq south of Basra was roughly defined by the Shatt al-Arab waterway, but the precise location of the border had been disputed for centuries between the Ottomans and Persians. Since Arab tribes lived on both banks of the river, the Ottomans claimed a right to this entire area. The Persians, on the other hand, believed the river itself was the boundary, so the waterway should be split between the two empires. The Persians, and their successors in the modern state of Iran, favored a division along the thalweg line, defined by the deepest point of the river, which was close to the Iraqi side. Since no treaty had clarified this dispute, Iran and Iraq had tentatively used the median line, equidistant between banks, as the border. The Algiers Accord specified that the thalweg line would define the border, giving Iran most of the waterway, albeit the shallower part.
After the crisis had passed, the Iraqis sought clarification as to where they now stood with respect to the United States. Kissinger met with Sadun Hammadi, the Iraqi minister of Foreign Affairs, on 17 December 1975, and engaged in a frank discussion of the most sensitive issues. Kissinger sought to persuade the Iraqis that there was no "basic clash of national interests between Iraq and the United States."
Hammadi strongly objected to the U.S. military buildup of Israel, and noted the incompatibility of American support of Israel with the Iraqi position that Israel has no right to exist, being "established by force" and "a clear-cut case of colonialism." Most importantly, Israel was "a direct threat to Iraq's national security," due to its sophisticated weaponry supplied by the U.S. "We think the U.S. is building up Israel to have the upper hand in the area.... A strong powerful, nuclear Israel...". Hammadi believed that as long as Israel existed, there could be no peace,
because Israel is not a state to stay within what they are. Because if there is an opportunity, they will expand. The record shows it. And they are supported by the biggest power in the area. What the United States is doing is not to create peace but to create a situation dominated by Israel, which will create a new wave of clashes.
Kissinger tried to allay Iraqi fears by informing him that Nixon's Middle East policy since 1973 was independent of the Jewish lobby, which had dominated previous American policy. Past American support for Israel had been motivated by domestic politics, not imperial ambitions. "We don't need Israel for influence in the Arab world. On the contrary, Israel does us more harm than good in the Arab world." While Kissinger and Nixon were unwilling to compromise on Israel's right to exist, they could agree to "reduce its size to historical proportions." With Israel limited in size, and the Arabs continuing to develop technologically, Kissinger anticipated that "in ten to fifteen years, Israel will be like Lebanon -- struggling for existence, with no influence in the Arab world." Kissinger also indicated that new weapons would not be delivered to Israel "in the foreseeable future."
Kissinger also anticipated that financial aid to Israel, currently $2-$3 billion per year, would be reduced, since this was financially unsustainable. Moreover, anti-corruption legislation would reduce the leverage of the Jewish lobby, and much of the American public and its leaders had become hostile to uncritical support of Israel.
According to Kissinger, the Israelis intended to provoke Arabs in Lebanon and Syria into a war they believed they could win. They also sought to promote legislation against arms sales to Arab nations, so the Arabs would adopt an anti-American stance. "So they can say they are the only American friend in the Middle East."
Lastly, Kissinger indicated that the Nixon administration was open to the idea of a Palestinian state, and even negotiating with the Palestine Liberation Organization, if the PLO would recognize Israel and accept UN Resolution 242. It did not matter whether Israel recognized the PLO, Kissinger reasoned, since, "With all respect, what Israel does is less important than what the United States does." The U.S. could work with Arab leaders on the Palestine issue, drawing a strong line against the destruction of Israel, yet allowing for the possibility of reducing Israel's size and strength.
Hammadi was equally frank with Kissinger, and broached the issue of American support of the Kurds in the recent conflict. Kissinger replied,
When we thought you were a Soviet satellite, we were not opposed to what Iran was doing in the Kurdish area. Now that Iran and you have resolved it, we have no reason to do any such thing. I can tell you we will engage in no such activity against Iraq's territorial integrity and are not.
The U.S. no longer believed that Iraq was a Soviet satellite. "We think you are a friend of the Soviet Union, but you act on your own principles." Kissinger even allowed that the Iraqis were free to pursue an economic relationship with the Soviet Union.
Hammadi was not satisfied, understanding well that Iraqi relations with the Soviet Union "led the United States to intervene and encourage a movement that would cut our country to pieces." Kissinger asked Hammadi to forget the past, and consider the Americans' tolerance of Syria's relationship with the USSR as evidence that the U.S. respects Arab sovereignty. Notwithstanding these assurances, the road to restoring diplomatic relations would have to be slow and cautious, due to understandable Iraqi mistrust.
Kissinger's mission to Baghdad was unsuccessful, as the Iraqis insisted on a militant stance against Israel, and ultimately would abrogate the Algiers Accord in 1980. By the time that happened, however, U.S. policy had altered considerably.
In 1979, the Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown in a revolution that established an Islamic Republic headed by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The autocratic Shah had been widely perceived as a Western puppet, in part because of the CIA-sponsored coup that brought him to power in 1953. The Shah's secret police force was organized with the help of the CIA and the Israeli spy agency Mossad. His regime was notorious for its use of torture and extrajudicial killings.
The U.S. refused to extradite the exiled Shah to stand trial for his numerous crimes. On 4 November, several hundred militant Iranian students took 66 hostages from the American embassy in Tehran. The women and blacks were released, leaving 52 in captivity. The new Iranian government endorsed the capture of these Americans after the fact, and in February 1980, issued demands for the hostages' release. These included the return of the Shah to Iran, an American apology for its involvement in Iran, including the 1953 coup, and a promise not to interfere in Iran's domestic affairs in the future.
President Jimmy Carter would not meet any of these demands, as he was a strong advocate of the exercise of American power, contrary to popular portrayals of him as a dove or an internationalist. Carter's unilateralism was in evidence when he repeatedly opposed UN security resolutions condemning Israeli human rights violations or upholding Palestinian rights, often with the U.S. being the sole dissent. This was a departure from Nixon's moderate policy and a return to the old uncritical endorsement of the Jewish lobby. Carter also aggressively engaged the Soviet Union in a proxy war in Afghanistan, abandoning Nixon's policy of detente. He imposed stiff economic penalties against the Soviets and boycotted the Moscow Olympics, defending his actions in his January 1980 State of the Union address, where he articulated what would be called the Carter Doctrine:
Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.
To back up this doctrine, Carter built up a Rapid Deployment Force in the Persian Gulf and increased the U.S. naval presence in the Indian Ocean. Despite his alarmist claims about the "outside" Soviet threat to the region, Carter knew that internal strife in the Middle East posed a more likely threat to U.S. economic interests (the "vital interests" of the U.S. are invariably commercial). His national security adviser admitted that the primary purpose of the RDF was "helping a friendly government under a subversive attack."
Carter dealt with the Iranian crisis with similar forcefulness, imposing economic sanctions, deporting some Iranians from the U.S., and freezing $8 billion in assets. He secretly ordered Operation Eagle Claw, a complex military rescue mission with eight helicopters and twelve other aircraft, supported by the elite Delta Force counter-terrorism group and over 100 Army Rangers. After the Americans had infiltrated the country, the mission went horribly awry as a helicopter crashed into one of the cargo planes, exposing the mission. The wrecked aircraft was a propaganda coup for the Iranians, and in the U.S. came to symbolize Carter's supposed weakness or softness.
In July 1980, the Shah died in Cairo, Egypt, rendering one of the Iranian demands moot.
On 22 September 1980, Saddam Hussein, now President of Iraq (having forced al-Bakr into retirement in 1979), invaded Iran and bombed the Tehran airport. There had been skirmishes over the Shatt al-Arab waterway for ten months, and Saddam saw the political chaos in Iran as an opportunity to obtain exclusive rights over both banks of the river and several islands held by Iran since 1971, and at the same time cripple the Iranian military. Saddam had the support of CIA-backed Iranian exiles wishing to reverse the radical Shi'ite revolution, and apparently from President Carter. When Reagan's Secretary of State Alexander Haig first visited the Middle East in April 1981, he reported in a top secret presidential briefing that "President Carter gave the Iraqis a green light to launch the war against Iran through [Saudi prince, later king] Fahd." Carter has emphatically denied complicity in the invasion.
Haig also learned from Prince Fahd and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat that Iran had been "receiving military spares for U.S. equipment from Israel." Since Iran had long been a U.S. client, it was dependent on American military hardware upgrades and replacement parts. The Iraqi invasion suddenly made the Iranians dependent on the U.S. for military supplies, giving Carter important negotiating leverage for the hostages' release. Israeli arms trafficking undermined Carter's diplomacy, yet it was hardly plausible that Israel would support the virulently anti-Semitic Iranian regime on its own initiative.
It is likely that Republicans independently negotiated with the Iranians for the hostages' release, in order to prevent Carter from getting an electoral boost in October. Most of the details of these negotiations cannot be verified, nor can we conclusively determine whether the Iranians were asked to delay release of the hostages until after Reagan won the 1980 presidential election and was inaugurated the following January. Still, there are some potent testimonies from which we may sketch an outline of events. Former Israeli intelligence official Ari Ben-Menashe claimed in sworn testimony before Congress in 1991-92 that in October 1980 he saw George Bush and William Casey in a Paris hotel as they headed to a meeting with Iranian cleric Mehdi Karrubi. The testimony that Bush and Casey were in Paris the weekend of 18-19 October has been corroborated by other witnesses, including a CIA-backed arms dealer, Jamshid Hashemi, who claimed that his brother Cyrus had organized shipments from Israel to Iran after a secret meeting in Madrid in July. The chief of French intelligence, Alexandre deMarenches, affirmed that he helped Casey arrange meetings with Iranians in Paris in 1980. On 21 October, Reagan publicly commented that he had a "secret plan" to release the hostages.
A detailed account from the Iranian perspective is given by Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, who was Iran's first president after the revolution. Bani-Sadr learned of a Republican "secret deal" in July 1980 from the Ayatollah Khomeini's nephew Reza Passendideh, who had met with Cyrus Hashemi and Republican lawyer Stanley Pottinger in Madrid on 2 July. Bani-Sadr was told by Passendideh that if he refused the Republicans' proposal, they would make the same offer to his political rivals. "He further said that they [the Republicans] have enormous influence in the CIA. ... Lastly, he told me my refusal of their offer would result in my elimination." Bani-Sadr claims to have resisted these threats, seeking an immediate release of the hostages. He was opposed by Ayatollah Khomeini, who favored the Republican scheme, yet agreed to reopen secret talks with Carter in early September, leading to a tentative agreement for the hostages' release.
The Iranian negotiator, Sadegh Tabatabai, named four conditions for the hostages' release: "a U.S. pledge not to interfere in Iranian internal affairs, the unblocking of Iran's frozen assets, elimination of all economic sanctions and U.S. claims against Iran, and the return of the Shah's wealth in the U.S." (Time, 2 Feb. 1981) These demands were repeated by Khomeini in a public speech on 12 September. As Saddam had not yet invaded Iran, there was no need to demand arms shipments, even if that had been politically feasible. Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher met with Tabatabai in West Germany on 18-19 September, and came to a tentative agreement to release the hostages immediately in exchange for a broad statement of principle by the U.S., with details to be determined later.
After Saddam invaded Iran on 22 September, the Iranian deal with Carter evaporated, as the need for arms became critical. The Iranians turned back to the Republicans, meeting with Reagan campaign director William Casey and possibly George Bush on 18-19 October in Paris. Bush has adamantly denied attending the Paris meeting, and produced partial Secret Service records for his whereabouts that weekend, though refusing to release complete records. No evidence could be found regarding Casey's whereabouts on those dates in 100,000 pages of campaign documents. A 1992 congressional investigation exonerated Bush and regarded the claim that the Reagan campaign had dealt with Iran as lacking sufficient evidence, accusing several witnesses of perjury yet declining to press charges. A less credible witness, arms dealer Richard Brenneke, was charged with perjury in 1990, but acquitted. Nonetheless, there remain credible witnesses, such as those previously named, establishing that negotiations were at least attempted.
The secret Republican negotiations with Iran may have been unwittingly attested by Reagan himself in 1991, when the senile ex-president told reporters while golfing, "This whole thing that I was worried about [the hostages' release] as a campaign thing is absolute fiction. I did some things to try the other way . . . from the very beginning that they were ever held there, every effort on my part was made to get them home." When asked if his campaign made contact with Iranians, he replied he could not "get into details," and said that "some of those things are still classified," although he was not yet president in 1980.
The Madrid and Paris meetings were confirmed by Russian secretary of the subcommittee on state security Nikolai Kuznetsov in 1993, who frankly stated that the Republicans had outbid the Carter administration in their offer of arms, procuring a delay in the release of hostages. Yasser Arafat told ex-President Carter in 1996 that Republicans had approached the PLO in 1980 to help arrange a hostage deal. (Diplomatic History Fall 1996)
Carter, for his part, told the Village Voice that shortly before the 1980 election,
The Iranian parliament was meeting and we had every information from Bani-Sadr and others that they were going to vote overwhelmingly to let the hostages go. And at the last minute on Sunday [two days before the election] for some reason they had adjourned without voting. ... The votes were there but the ayatollah or somebody commanded them to adjourn.
Whatever the extent Republican negotiations may have had in getting Iranians to postpone the release of hostages, the following events are not in dispute. After Reagan won the November election, Carter sent Warren Christopher to Algeria on 10 November, in order to finally give a detailed response to Khomeini's demands. Two weeks later, Iran expressed interest in continuing negotiations, and on 2 December, Christopher proposed ways to resolve the issue of frozen Iranian assets. On 21 December, the Iranians demanded $24 billion in cash and gold, equal to the value of the Shah's estate and the frozen Iranian assets with interest. When Washington ignored this request in its next proposal, the Iranians revised their estimate on 6 January 1981 to less than $10 billion. Negotiations accelerated at this point, and Carter set a deadline of 16 January, later extended to 20 January, Reagan's inauguration day. The last sticking point was how to deal with loans the Iranians owed to American banks, but the Iranians agreed to deduct this from their settlement. Ultimately $7.9 billion in Iranian assets were returned, and the hostages were released on 20 January, shortly after Reagan's inauguration.
Carter certainly deserves credit for obtaining the release of the hostages. The Algiers Accords signed on 19 January 1981 resolved several issues that were indispensable to the Iranians. The United States pledged "not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran's internal affairs." The U.S. also agreed not to prosecute Iran before the International Court of Justice for seizing hostages, and to prevent individuals from making such legal claims. All Iranian assets were unfrozen and returned to Iran, together with the Shah's estate. This agreement met all four of Khomeini's demands, and obtained the release of the hostages.
Still, the Republican contacts with Iran addressed another need, that of military weaponry to fight Iraq. The modest shipments during 1980 would be increased in 1981 and onward, and William Casey would become head of the CIA and one of the architects of the Iran-Contra illicit arms trafficking. The U.S. and Israel had good reason to publicly deny shipping arms to the rabidly anti-American and anti-Zionist Iranian regime. Israel even denied that Ari Ben-Mashe had worked for them, until his records were located and publicized. Israeli and American military support of revolutionary Iran, whether it began in 1980 or 1981, was a solid reality that would affect the course of history in the Middle East.
Iraqi relations with Iran had deteriorated after an April 1980 assassination attempt on Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz by the Iranian-supported Ad Dawah, a religious Shi'ite political opposition party in Iraq. This and other acts of terrorism were performed in response to Saddam Hussein's arrest of the Shi'ite religious leader Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Baqur as Sadr in 1979, as a precaution against Shi'ite radicalism in Iraq. In response to the Shi'ite terrorism, Saddam banned Ad Dawah, ordered the execution of Sadr, and rounded up Ad Dawah members, deporting thousands of ethnically Iranian Shi'ites to Iran.
Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in September 1980 in the hopes of acquiring long-disputed territories: the east bank of the Shatt al-Arab, the province of Khuzestan, and several islands. These areas had Arab Shi'ite populations, so their acquisition was an imperative to Saddam's Arab nationalist ideology, and they also had strategic significance, as the Shatt al-Arab was essential to Iraqi commerce, and Khuzestan was an oil-rich area containing most of Iran's crude. Saddam postured as the liberator of the Arabs in Khuzestan, which he called Arabistan, and unsuccessfully encouraged Shi'ites to rebel against the Islamic government of Iran. Saddam expected a quick victory over Iran as the local populations revolted against the government, as Iranian exiles persuaded him would be the case.
On 22 September 1980, Iraq launched a surprise bombing raid on Iranian air bases in the hopes of crippling the air force on the ground, but most of the aircraft were protected by reinforced hangars. At the same time, the Iraqi army launched a three-pronged blitzkrieg into northern, central, and southern Iran. The main thrust was in the south, where Iraq crossed the Shatt al-Arab and made deep incursions into Khuzestan. Within a few weeks of the invasion, Saddam formally abrogated the 1975 Algiers treaty, claiming the entire Shatt al-Arab for Iraq. Most foreign observers agreed that Iraq would win the war in a matter of weeks.
Iranian resistance proved unexpectedly stiff, as the government was able to bring an army of 200,000 to the front by November 1980, consisting of fanatical volunteers and veterans of the Shah's army. Although poorly equipped, they fought fearlessly, and halted the Iraqi advance. The three million of Arabs of Khuzestan did not revolt against the government, but instead many of them joined the volunteer army.
When the war began, the Soviet Union immediately withdrew its current arms shipment to Iraq, and halted further arms shipments for a year and a half. Saddam repressed the Iraqi Communist Party, which relayed broadcasts from the USSR in March 1981, calling for Iraqi withdrawal and an end to the war. New U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig saw an opportunity to exploit the rift between Iraq and the USSR, and got the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to approve the sale of five Boeing jetliners to Iraq.
After the release of the U.S. hostages, Secretary of State Haig approved the Israelis' sale of U.S. arms to Iran on 20 February. (Wall Street Journal 12 Dec. 1986, p. 54) These shipments began within weeks, as did parallel shipments of U.S. arms to Iran by Cyrus Hashemi, who claimed this was "part of an effort necessary to get the hostages released," implying linkage with the 1980 hostage negotiations. Whatever the cause, it is clear that U.S. arms were entering Iran from multiple channels, even as Haig was promoting a conciliatory policy toward its rival Iraq. This was the beginning of a long history in which the U.S. would indirectly support both sides of the most destructive war in the modern Middle East.
On 18 July 1981, an Argentine cargo jet crashed (probably shot down) in Soviet Armenia after delivering its third shipment of arms (360 tons of American-made tank spares and ammunition) to Iran from Israel. This public exposure of the illicit arms shipments forced the State Department to assert on 21 August that they had Israeli assurance that further sales to Iran would not involve American equipment. Somehow, American arms continued to pour into Iran for years afterward. The extent of the Reagan administration's complicity in these sales is unknown, since the Iran-Contra investigations only examined sales that took place after 1985.
Other reported deals of arms to Iran included a 1980 "Jews for arms" deal negotiated by Israel's deputy defense minister in Paris. Iranian Jews were allowed to emigrate to Israel, and in exchange Iran was sold spare parts and ammunition for its American-made tanks and aircraft. These supplies were sold through a private Israeli arms dealer, until 1984, when Iran was delinquent in payment. In 1981, Yacov Nimrodi sold $135 million worth of anti-aircraft missiles, mortars, and other ammunition and weapons. In 1984, Radio Luxembourg reported another Nimrodi arms deal that resulted in shipments of 40 truckloads of weapons a day to Iran through Syria and Turkey, according to Swiss government sources. According to the Israelis, many private European arms dealers, French in particular, sold American-made arms to Iran in defiance of the official U.S. embargo, which was accepted by European governments.
While the Israelis and others were arming Iran, the U.S. attempted to gradually open relations with Saddam Hussein's regime. As early as April 1981, a State Department cable praised the benefits of the official U.S. arms embargo against Iran, including "increased Iraqi commerce and contacts with the U.S." Although it was premature to restore formal diplomatic relations, the Iraqi intelligence chief was already encouraged to make U.S. government contacts, and promises of greater economic cooperation were made.
In April 1981, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Morris Draper visited Baghdad, in the first high level meeting between the U.S. and Iraq since 1977. There were no formal diplomatic relations between the two countries since 1967, and the Palestine issue was still the main obstacle to restoring relations. On 12 April, Draper met with Muhammad al-Sahhaf, chief of Iraq's First International Department (who would later achieve comic notoriety as Iraq's information minister in 2003), and with Foreign Minister Hammadi. Sahhaf told Draper that formal diplomatic relations would be impossible until the U.S. altered its basic Middle East policies, meaning Israel. Hammadi reiterated this message, declaring that Palestine is the "key to stability in the Middle East, and the means through which the Soviets were gaining influence at the expense of the U.S. He characterized the U.S. position toward Israel as one-sided and he ruled out a settlement achieved through the Camp David process. The U.S. cannot have both Israeli alliance and the friendship of the Arabs at this time and he stressed that." Americans may not appreciate how important the Palestine issue is to the Arabs at their own peril. Draper was unable to satisfy the Iraqis on Palestine, but regarding the Iran-Iraq war, he assured them that the U.S. "would not sell lethal equipment to either side, having made this position clear to other governments, but nonetheless believed that it is in the world's overall interest that the war be concluded as soon as possible."
The meeting with Hammadi was followed by an even higher level meeting on 28 May between Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council spokesman Tariq Aziz and William Eagleton, head of the United States Interests Section in Iraq. (The U.S. often has an "interests section" in nations where it does not have an embassy, but nonetheless wants to do business.) Tariq Aziz was recognized by the Americans as "the highest level spokesman on foreign policy after Saddam Hussein." Aziz expressed a desire to increase contact and trade with the U.S., while standing firm against any attempts by the U.S. to oppose Iraqi or Arab interests. The Iraqi leadership was satisfied that the U.S. had stopped interfering in Iraq's internal affairs, but relations could not be fully reopened until the U.S. re-evaluated its one-sided Palestine policy.
Eagleton reiterated the U.S. position of neutrality in the Iran-Iraq war, but Aziz complained that the Iranians were somehow acquiring American arms and spare parts. Eagleton assured Aziz that the U.S. opposed such sales, and offered to investigate these illegal transactions.
Overall, Aziz presented an Iraq that was independent, nationalistic, and socialist, yet preferring to trade with the more affluent and technologically advanced nations of the West. Eagleton said his government supported "the participation of American firms in projects designed to restore Iraq's oil facilities as rapidly as possible after the war." Already, oil infrastructure had been targeted by both sides in the conflict. Eagleton reported to the State Department that the meeting "should be helpful to our position and that of U.S. business interests in Iraq." Since the U.S. was neutral with regard to Iraq's internal politics and its war with Iran, the overtures to Iraq were motivated primarily by business interests.
In February 1982, the U.S. State Department, without consulting Congress, removed Iraq from its list of nations sponsoring terrorism, notwithstanding that Achille Lauro hijacker Abu Nidal was based in Baghdad. The removal of Iraq from the list (where it had been since late 1979) enabled the sale of dual-use technology to Iraq. In 1983, a State Department report concluded that Iraq continued to support groups on its terrorist list, but Iraq's status was not changed.
The Iraqis, less tolerant of casualties than the fanatical Iranian volunteers, began to retreat after Iran's successful penetration of their lines in March 1982. In May, Saddam announced a withdrawal from all Iranian territory, in the hope that Iran would accept a ceasefire. Offers of negotiations in June were rebuffed by the Iranians, who pressed the attack with Operation Ramadan in July, advancing into Iraqi territory near Basra. After this turn of events, the USSR ended its arms embargo on Iraq, and supplied it with tanks, rocket launchers, and helicopter gunships in order to fortify lines of defense.
Although the official U.S. policy of neutrality was scrupulously enforced by the State Department, President Reagan used the CIA to help Iraq more overtly. In June 1982, U.S. satellite intelligence showed the positions of an Iranian invasion force that threatened to break through a gap in Iraqi defenses. Reagan issued a national security directive establishing a policy of taking any legal measures necessary to prevent Iraq from being defeated. CIA director William Casey led the effort to ensure Iraq received military supplies from third-party sources. Since Iraq used Soviet-made weaponry, the U.S. embargo did not need to be violated. No authorization was needed to simply ask third parties to sell non-U.S. arms to Iraq. In particular, Gates advocated the sale of cluster bombs and armor penetrating munitions in order to enhance Iraqi military capability.
As the war turned against Iraq in 1982, Iranian troops reported the use of chemical weapons against them for the first time in the conflict. The U.S. was already aware of Iraq's chemical weapons capacity, and a 1980 Defense Intelligence Agency report stated that Iraq had been "actively acquiring" chemical weapons capabilities since the mid-1970s. In September, some U.S. firms asked the state department to authorize the sale of crop-dusting helicopters and fixed wing aircraft to Iraq in June 1983, despite the fact that these were a common means of chemical weapons deployment. Reports of chemical weapons attacks by Iraq would increase significantly in the last half of 1983. According to a 1991 Los Angeles Times report, American helicopters were in fact used for chemical weapons attacks.
In early 1983, congressional opposition to the Reagan administration's relations with Iraq arose out of concern with Iraqi sponsorship of terrorist groups, particularly Palestinian groups that targeted Israel. The influence of the Jewish lobby guaranteed that U.S. congressmen would be more concerned with Iraq's threat to Israel than its use of chemical weapons, which did not become an issue until 1988. Facing the possibility of legislative measures that would curtail the relationship with Iraq, Secretary of State Haig asked Aziz in May to take actions showing a rejection of international terrorism.
Iraq presented another problem to the U.S. in its nuclear program. Israel had bombed Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981, with the U.S. being the sole country besides Israel refusing to condemn the action in the UN General Assembly (Resolution 36/27, 13 November 1981). A 1983 CIA report concluded that Iraq's nuclear program continued to develop despite the setback, with the goal of generating nuclear energy and probably eventually nuclear weapons. Iraq sought fuel cycle materials from Italy to rebuild its nuclear reactor, but there was still "no identifiable nuclear weapon program in Iraq." Without "significant added foreign help", they would "not be able to produce the material for a nuclear weapon before the 1990s. Attaining that capability, even then, depends critically on the foreign supply of a nuclear reactor - preferably a power reactor - of substantial size fairly soon." This meant that even with a reactor and foreign help, it would take an additional five years or more to develop weapons capability. When President George W. Bush raised the specter of mushroom clouds in 2002-03, Iraq did not even have a nuclear reactor. In the 1980s, the nuclear danger was even less plausible since any rebuilt reactor would be monitored by France or Italy in addition to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the high energy output necessary for creating weapons material would be easily detected.
In October 1983, the State Department began to consider a shift from its neutral position in the Iran-Iraq war to favor Iraq. The position of neutrality had been motivated by a concern with protecting the Arabian peninsula, where the U.S. imported most of its petroleum, being much less dependent on Iraq and Iran. U.S. neutrality prevented the conflict from expanding south "to threaten Gulf oil supplies." Now that U.S. relations with Iraq had improved, and the regime was in danger of collapse through war and economic pressure, it seemed advisable to support Iraq more overtly. Strict neutrality had already been abandoned when Iranian forces crossed into Iraq in the summer of 1982. The U.S. favored Iraq financially and diplomatically, and provided "tactical intelligence."
As soon as the State Department shifted its policy, new reports came from Iran about Iraqi use of chemical weapons on 22 October. On 1 November, a State Department memorandum informed Secretary George Shultz (who replaced Haig in July 1982) that the Iraqis were using chemical weapons "almost daily." The Iraqis were also able to produce their own chemical weapons, "primarily from Western firms, including possibly a U.S. foreign subsidiary." Reasoning that Iraq resorted to these extreme measures due to its disadvantageous position in the war, the report considered that an offer of assistance to Iraq would be "our best present chance of influencing cessation of CW use." The Iraqis had used tear gas and skin irritants against Iranians in July 1982, and in October 1982, they used lethal chemical weapons in the Mandali area. In July and August 1983, they used lethal chemicals against Iranians at Haj Umran, and more recently against Kurdish insurgents. The U.S. confronted Iraq over the issue in November, and chemical weapons use are believed to have ceased for several months.
On 20 December 1983, Reagan's special envoy Donald Rumsfeld met with Saddam Hussein and Tariq Aziz in Baghdad. Rumsfeld conveyed Reagan's wishes to bring the war to a speedy end. An important part of Rumsfeld's mission was to help restore the export of Iraqi oil, which had been blocked in the Gulf by the Iranians. Reagan had even prepared a rapid deployment force in case the Iranians should try to block all shipping into the Gulf.
Saddam Hussein demonstrated an astute understanding of Middle East politics and great power interests in the region. Iraq was a non-aligned country, having relations with the USSR, yet opposing Soviet efforts to dominate the region. Saddam realized that the U.S. was not trying to bring Iraq into its orbit, but merely wished to keep Soviet influence out of the region so that commercial activity could continue unimpeded. Iraq, for its part, needed the West in order to modernize and achieve prosperity. Recognizing their common commercial interests, Saddam was willing to cooperate with the U.S. on pipelines through Jordan or Saudi Arabia in order to restore Iraqi export levels. He also recommended that the U.S. provide more aid to poorer Arab nations in order to avert the class conflict that made Soviet influence possible.
Saddam found fault with recent U.S. policies, such as its initial indifference to the Iran-Iraq war, effectively deciding to "Let this group of lunatics bash each other." (This was eerily similar to an actual comment by Henry Kissinger in 1985: "I hope they kill each other. Too bad they can't both lose.") Neutrality was not in the U.S.' strategic interest, since Iraq protected the Gulf states from being overrun by Iran. Since the Israelis wanted the Arab world, including Saudi Arabia, to be crippled, they shipped military supplies to Iran.
Rumsfeld assured Saddam that the U.S. recognized its interest in not allowing Iraq to be weakened, and respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations. The U.S. had successfully closed off shipments of U.S.=controlled military equipment to Iran.
In a private meeting with Tariq Aziz the next day, Rumsfeld learned that many countries were still smuggling arms to Iran, but nonetheless, Iraqi technological superiority was such that there was no danger of Iraq losing. Aziz passed the details about smuggling to Rumsfeld, urging that the war could not end until Iran ceased to be re-armed.
On 22 December, Under Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger authorized the Export-Import Bank to provide supplier credits to Iraq, since the Iraqi government had finally expelled Abu Nidal from the country and ended financial aid to his terrorist group.
In January 1984, Secretary Shultz decided to impose anti-terrorism export controls on Iran, since Iran had sponsored terrorist bombings in Baghdad and Kuwait earlier in the war. Importation of petroleum from Iran to the U.S. would not be affected. The State Department also considered allowing the sale of all dual-use equipment to Iraq. They even considered selling extra tanks to Egypt so Egypt could sell its old tanks to Iraq. At this point, the U.S. was fully supporting Iraq, constrained only by political and financial considerations.
On 30 January, Shultz approved the sale of dual-use heavy trucks to Iraq, accepting that the defensive stance of the Iraqis made it unlikely these trucks would "contribute significantly to the destabilization of the region." The Reagan administration wanted to help Iraq defend itself and restore its economy, without prolonging the war or enabling one side to overrun the other. The State Department noted that European nations were already selling "non-lethal" military supplies to Iraq and Iran, including tank parts and "trainer" aircraft, so Shultz was asked to consider the possibility of exporting non-lethal military supplies such as surveillance, navigational, and communications systems. Shultz rejected this proposal, preferring to continue the official U.S. policy of denying export of military supplies to both nations, in order to maintain public neutrality.
In February, the Export-Import Bank expressed concern that the war would not end soon, making it unlikely that Iraq would be able to repay its supplier credits. Although in the long run, Iraq could be a major importer of U.S. agriculture, it was currently unable to export oil through the Gulf or through Syria, dramatically reducing its revenue base. While recommending restraint in the issuing of further credits, the bank nonetheless supplied a list of $1.5 billion in Iraqi civil engineering projects to be potentially awarded to Combustion Engineering, General Electric, Lockheed, Westinghouse, Bechtel, and Halliburton, among other U.S. companies.
On 21 February, the Iraqi military warned that the Iranians were planning a major offensive, and that Iraq would respond with strikes deep into Iranian territory. The statement included a veiled threat to use chemical weapons: "The invaders should know that for every harmful insect there is an insecticide capable of annihilating it whatever their number and Iraq possesses this annihilation insecticide."
In early March, the State Department held up a shipment of 22,000 pounds of phosphorous fluoride to Iraq. The chemical was ostensibly to be used for manufacturing insecticides, but could also be used to make chemical weapons. Secretary Shultz ordered that previous warnings to Iraqis regarding the use of chemical weapons be reiterated, and that they be made aware that the U.S. would "not allow itself knowingly to become a source of chemical weapons elements." The administration began to prepare a statement for public condemnation of the use of chemical weapons.
The Reagan administration publicly condemned Iraq's use of chemical weapons and sought to pursue an international ban on their manufacture. The March press release also censured attacks by both sides on civilian populations, as well as human rights violations and failure to treat prisoners of war humanely. Interestingly, the condemnation was accompanied by this statement:
The United States finds the present Iranian regime's intransigent refusal to deviate from its avowed objective of eliminating the legitimate government of neighboring Iraq to be inconsistent with the accepted norms of behavior among nations and the moral and religious basis which it claims. [Emphasis added.]
It is hard to ignore the irony of this statement, in light of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 orchestrated by prominent Republicans who served in the Reagan and Bush, Sr. administrations. The government of Saddam Hussein is declared to be legitimate at the same time that the U.S. acknowledges he is using chemical weapons and committing other human rights violations.
Notwithstanding its recognition that Iraq was using chemical weapons, the State Department proceeded to authorize the sale of 2,000 heavy trucks to Iraq. When asked whether the trucks were to be used for military purposes, a department official responded, "We presumed that this was Iraq's intention, and had not asked." The Iraqis were nonetheless highly displeased with the verbal condemnation of their tactics, and Saddam publicly accused the U.S. of supporting Iran. Meanwhile, Belgian researchers discovered traces of mustard gas and mycotoxin (yellow rain) among Iranian war wounded.
Although the U.S. had publicly stated on 5 March that "the available evidence indicates that Iraq has used lethal chemical weapons," the American delegation to the UN was instructed by Secretary Shultz to oppose an Iranian proposal to have Iraq's action condemned by the Security Council. The delegation was told to pursue a motion to take "no decision" on the resolution, and failing that, to abstain from the vote. Ultimately, no resolution was passed, but instead a statement drafted by the Dutch was issued by the Security Council president (Peru), strongly condemning the use of chemical weapons, though not mentioning Iraq by name, and calling on both parties to recognize their obligations under the Geneva Conventions.
Despite recognizing Iraqi use of chemical weapons, the Reagan administration's stance toward Iraq was unchanged. Rumsfeld continued to pursue closer dialogue with Iraq, and to reassure the Iraqis that the U.S. still supported an Iraqi pipeline through Jordan, among other commercial projects. Although the U.S. would ban exports of certain chemicals to Iraq and Iran, there would be no air strikes against suspected Iraqi chemical weapons production facilities, nor would there be any encouragement of a boycott against Iranian oil. On 5 April, President Reagan authorized Shultz to consult with the CIA and the Department of the Defense to "prepare a plan of action to avert an Iraqi collapse." Any condemnation of chemical weapons use "should place equal stress on the urgent need to dissuade Iran from continuing the ruthless and inhumane tactics which have characterized recent offensives."
On 12 December 1984 UN General Assembly passed Resolution 39/65, calling for a convention to prohibit chemical and biological weapons. Section B of the resolution called for states "to refrain from the production and deployment of binary and other new types of chemical weapons, as well as from stationing chemical weapons in the territory of other States." Resolution 39/65B passed with a vote of 84-1, the sole opposing vote coming from the United States. The United States continued to stockpile chemical weapons, and reserved the right to use them in retaliation of an enemy's first use of chemical weapons. This stance was at odds with the Reagan administration's claims in early 1984 to support a convention prohibiting chemical weapons. In 1993, the Clinton administration signed the UN-sponsored Chemical Weapons Convention, which took effect in 1997, and required the U.S. to destroy all its chemical warfare materials and production facilities by 2007.
Iraq and the United States restored full diplomatic relations on 26 November 1984, when Tariq Aziz met with President Reagan at the White House. The U.S. had no illusions about the government with which it was dealing. A Defense Intelligence Agency briefing dated 25 September described Saddam Hussein as "ruthless but pragmatic," and noted how he had eliminated all domestic opposition groups, in part "by executing, jailing, and deporting suspected members" of the Shi'ite, Iranian-supported Dawa Party. The report dispassionately noted the likely repeated use of chemical weapons:
On the battleground, Iraq will continue to rely upon strong defensive positions, especially physical barriers, and the threat to use all weapons in its arsenal, to include chemicals, to dissuade any Iranian attack. In the event Tehran does launch an offensive, Baghdad will carry through with its threats to extract maximum Iranian casualties while attempting to keep its own losses to a minimum. [Emphasis added.]
U.S. support of Iraq continued despite this belief that they would continue to use chemical weapons. The report further projected that the Iraqi military would "continue to develop its formidable conventional and chemical capability, and probably pursue nuclear weapons." Still, it was judged unlikely that Iraq would use its arsenal against Israel, for fear of disproportionate retaliation. No similar concern is shown for potential attacks on Iran or Syria. U.S. support of Iraq arose from opposition to Iran, and yielded the benefit of a reduction in Iraqi-sponsored terrorism. In the future, the U.S. expected to broaden commercial ties with Iraq, and the vast majority of Iraq's trade would be with the West. Saddam had correctly surmised that the principal U.S. objectives in Iraq were commercial.
On 17 June 1985, National Security Advisor Robert "Bud" McFarlane sent a memorandum to Secretary of State George Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, suggesting a re-evaluation of U.S. policy toward Iran, in light of accelerating instability in that nation. Iran faced the possibility of political upheaval due to the pressures of the war and the failing health of Ayatollah Khomeini. Since the USSR was well-positioned to increase its influence in Iran, it was in the United States' interest to prevent the disintegration of Iran, so it could serve as "an independent strategic buffer which separates the Soviet Union from the Persian Gulf." In order to prevent Iranian gravitation toward the Soviet Union, the U.S. needed to change its policy, encouraging allies "to help Iran meet its import requirements so as to reduce the attractiveness of Soviet assistance.... This includes provision of selected military equipment as determined on a case-by-case basis." The U.S. should also exploit political fragmentation by "discreetly communicating our desire for correct relations to potentially receptive Iranian leaders" and "providing support to elements opposed to Khomeini and the radicals."
This was a major departure from several important points of U.S. policy. Most notably, the U.S. would now actively encourage some limited arms shipments to Iran, even as it was supporting Iraq in the same war. The U.S. had supported Iraq for fear of the consequences of its defeat by Iran or internal destabilization. Now, its policy of holding off Iran had been so successful, that the Iranian government teetered, raising the possibility of stronger Soviet influence in the region. While the U.S. made no effort to topple Saddam Hussein, and in fact strongly opposed Iranian attempts to foment revolt among Iraqi Shi'ites, it was quite willing to promote a favorable regime change in Iran. This had to be done in a way that would not create a power vacuum that the USSR might fill, so it was necessary to seek better relations with the Iranians while Khomeini was alive. American attempts to support opponents of Khomeini would belie official claims that the U.S. did not meddle in the internal affairs of other countries.
An important goal of U.S. policy was the elimination of Iranian sponsorship of terrorism, and it was not long before the sale of arms of Iran would be directly linked to concessions on terrorism by the Iranians. Thus began the "arms for hostages" portion of the Iran-Contra affair, for which President Reagan later accepted responsibility. McFarlane sent consultant Michael Ledeen to authorize Israel's limited sale of munitions to Iran in exchange for the Iranian government's efforts to obtain the release of American hostages by Shi'ite terrorist groups. Israeli munitions would be replenished by the U.S. From 1985 to 1986, six covert transactions took place, the most notorious being a botched November 1985 shipment of eighteen anti-aircraft missiles.
Shortly after the failed delivery, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger noted in his diary that he met with Maj. Gen. Colin Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage regarding a National Security Council plan. The U.S. would let the Israelis give the Iranians fifty Hawk anti-aircraft missiles and 3300 TOW missiles "in return for 5 hostages". The NSC would "present it as a means of helping group that wants to overthrow gov't". Since the NSC is answerable to none but the President, the plan was to be presented to Reagan. Reagan wanted to overthrow the Iranian government, so the NSC plan was presented in a way that would seem to meet that goal, though Weinberger privately admitted that there was no assurance that sending weapons to the Iranian army would serve this purpose.
Weinberger's diary description of the 7 December meeting of the NSC with President Reagan provides a startling contrast with popular narratives of the Iran-Contra affair. It was not unscrupulous advisers, but the president himself, who was the driving force behind the decision, despite pleas for him to reconsider. As Weinberger describes it:
Met with President, Shultz, [White House Chief of Staff] Don Regan, [CIA Deputy Director] John McMahon, McFarlane, [National Security Adviser] John Poindexter
re NSC Iran proposal
President wants to free hostages - Thinks Hawks + TOWs would only go to "Moderate Elements in Army" + would help overthrow Iranian gov't. I argued strongly that we have an Embargo that Makes Arms Sales to Iran illegal + President couldn't violate it + that "washing" transaction thru Israel wouldn't make it legal - Shultz, Don Regan agreed. President sd. he could answer charges of illegality but he couldn't answer charge that "big strong President Reagan passed up a chance to free hostages." President left to do his noon radio
Saw Don Regan + Shultz - Don will try to talk President out of it
Called McFarlane in Washington - he is going to London to advise President's decision that we will not ransom our hostages - he will discuss with UK Possibility of their selling some arms to negotiators.
Called Colin Powell in Washington - re above
Shultz and Weinberger had opposed previous arms for hostages transactions, being made aware of them only after the fact. McFarlane claimed to have Reagan's personal approval for the shipments through November, though Reagan himself could not recall giving such authorization, when questioned in 1987. The botched November shipment was certainly approved by Reagan after the fact on 5 December, as proven by a signed authorization. The 7 December meeting was the first opportunity for the entire NSC to openly debate the policy, which until now had bypassed Shultz and Weinberger. Reagan showed an astonishing lack of regard for the American arms embargo against Iran, and strangely believed that it was a show of strength for him to effectively pay a ransom for the hostages. Don Regan was able to persuade the president to change his mind, so McFarlane went to London to inform the Iranian arms dealer that the U.S. would not link arms to hostages.
This suspension of the arms-for-hostages policy was short-lived. On 9 December, Lt. Col. Oliver North submitted a memo to John Poindexter proposing that the U.S. should deliver arms directly to Iran in exchange for the release of hostages. North had been involved in previous shipments, including the failed November delivery, which he tried to rectify by having the CIA arrange the flight. Only 18 of the 80 promised missiles were delivered, so no hostages were released. Now, in December, Lt. Col. North continued to discuss an arms-for-hostages proposal with Michael Ledeen and others, so a new proposal would be put before the President in early January.
On 7 January 1986, the new arms-for-hostages proposal was discussed in a meeting attended by President Reagan, Vice-President George Bush, Secretary of State Shultz, Defense Secretary Weinberger, Attorney General Ed Meese, CIA Director Bill Casey, White House Chief of Staff Don Regan, and John Poindexter. According to Shultz, everyone at the meeting except Weinberger and himself was in favor of the proposal. On 17 January, President Reagan approved for the first time the direct sale of arms to Iran, as 4,000 TOW missiles would be provided through the CIA. The U.S. was now providing significant arms to Iran in defiance of its own embargo.
Apparently on his own initiative, Lt. Col. North diverted funds from at least one of the Israeli sales of arms to the Nicaraguan contras, which was also an illegal action. Although Reagan supported the contras, he claimed in his diary to have been unaware of this diversion of funds.
On one of the arms shipments the Iranians pd. Israel a higher purchase price than we were getting. The Israelis put the difference in a secret bank acct. Then our Col. North (NSC) gave the money to the 'Contras.' This was a violation of the law against giving the Contras money without an authorization by Congress. North didn't tell me about this. Worst of all John [Poindexter] found out about it & didn't tell me. This may call for resignations.
For our purposes, the diversion of funds to the contras is less important. The primary significance of the Iran-Contra affair is that the U.S. was now arming both sides of the Iran-Iraq war. When the arms deals were exposed in late 1986, the Arab world was outraged by the American double dealing, causing the U.S. to tilt once again toward Iraq in order to restore good faith with its Gulf allies.
By 1986, the carnage of the Iran-Iraq war had escalated considerably. Since 1984, both sides had repeatedly targeted oil tankers in the Persian Gulf (Iraq had employed this tactic since 1981); 111 neutral tankers were attacked in 1986. Since 1985, both sides repeatedly targeted civilian populations and industrial targets with air raids and missile strikes. In March 1986, the UN Secretary General, Javier Perez de Cuellar, finally condemned Iraq by name for its use of chemical weapons against Iran. The U.S. was the sole country to vote against a Security Council statement condemning Iraqi use of mustard gas against Iran.
The U.S. had long supported Iraq by providing dual-use hardware, supplier credits, and satellite data about Iranian troop movements. After the embarrassment of the Iran-Contra scandal, the Americans supported Iraq even more overtly. On 17 May 1987, the USS Stark was accidentally struck by Iraqi missiles. The U.S. used this opportunity to condemn Iranian escalation of the conflict, and reflagged Kuwaiti tankers with U.S. flags. Thus the Iranians could no longer target Arab tankers, but Iraq could still attack Iranian tankers. The U.S. attacked Iranian ships and destroyed an Iranian oil platform in October 1987, and again in April 1988. On 3 July 1988, the USS Vincennes, inside Iranian territorial waters, shot down an Iranian commercial airliner, killing all 290 aboard.
In July 1987, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 598, calling for a ceasefire and Iranian withdrawal. Iran was not willing to withdraw immediately, until responsibility for the conflict had been determined by the impartial commission mandated by Resolution 598. The Iranians were willing to accept an informal ceasefire in the meantime, but the U.S. opposed UN attempts at a compromise, and pressed for an arms embargo against Iran, as Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy had personally promised Saddam Hussein in May.
American stonewalling prevented a ceasefire from occurring in early 1988. This had fateful consequences, as the final months of the war witnessed an escalation of Iraqi use of chemical weapons against Kurds and Iranians. The most monstrous crime was the genocidal use of chemicals against the Kurds beginning in February 1988, in a campaign that killed 100,000 civilians and destroyed over 1,200 villages. From April to August, the Iraqis used large-scale attacks with mustard gas and nerve gas to drive out the Iranians. During this period, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency continued to assist the Iraqis with battle planning and intelligence gathering. 65,000 Iranians were killed during this campaign, and Iran finally accepted a ceasefire and withdrawal in August in order to prevent further attacks. After the ceasefire, Saddam ordered further chemical attacks against the Kurds in northern Iraq.
U.S. support of Iraq did not abate, but actually increased as Iraq committed its greatest atrocities in 1988. After the gassing of the Kurds in February and March, the U.S. approved exports of dual use items to Iraq at double the previous rate. The Reagan administration blocked a Senate bill that would have cut off loans to Iraq. As noted previously, the U.S. also took a more active role in the war against Iran, attacking oil rigs and ships.
Stunningly, the U.S. government showed little discretion in exporting chemical and biological weapons materials to Iraq in the last years of the war. According to Center for Disease Control records released in 1995, strains of anthrax, botulinum toxin, and gas gangrene bacteria were exported to Iraq in May 1986. All of these materials were later admitted by Iraq to have been used to make biological weapons. In April 1988, the Department of Commerce approved the export to Iraq of chemicals used to manufacture mustard gas. In December, Dow Chemical sold $1.5 million in pesticides that would be used for chemical weapons.
At the close of the war, the United States was Iraq's largest supplier of civilian imports, mostly agricultural, in the amount of $700 million in 1987. U.S. companies were also looking to develop Iraqi oil technology and support major public works projects.
Nearly all of Saddam's greatest crimes were committed during the Iran-Iraq war, yet he continued to receive the unequivocal support of the United States government, which facilitated his crimes with materials, intelligence, and direct military intervention in his favor. Years later, in a turn of black hypocrisy, former members of the Reagan administration would invoke the same crimes they abetted as a justification for turning against their former client. Saddam "gassed his own people", the American public would be told, without hearing that he had received the continued military and economic support of the U.S. after committing this crime. They would also be told that Saddam killed hundreds of thousands of people, without hearing that nearly all of these were in a war in which he was continually supported by the U.S., and at least 165,000 of these died as a result of deliberate U.S. attempts to prolong the war in 1988. Some of Saddam's enablers, such as Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Cheney, Colin Powell, and George Bush, Sr. would shamelessly preach war against the monster they helped create.
Secretary Shultz strongly protested the gassing of the Kurds in August and September of 1988. In response to this criticism, Tariq Aziz declared on 17 September that Iraq abided by international law prohibiting the use of poison gas. On 13 October, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy told Congress that Aziz's statement was a formal renunciation of the use of chemical weapons. A congressional bill for sanctions against Iraq was defeated. In December, a CIA report surmised that Iraq would not use chemical weapons unless its survival was threatened, for fear of international condemnation and a U.S. embargo. The report expressed concern with Iraq's renewed attempt to develop nuclear weapons, since that might encourage an Iranian program and destabilize the region.
In September 1989, the State Department under the new presidency of George Bush, Sr. met with the Iraqi foreign ministry to discuss human rights issues. On 27 October, new Assistant Secretary of State John Kelly declared in a formal policy statement: "Iraq is an important state with great potential. We want to deepen and broaden the relationship." In the U.S. Senate, legislation was proposed that would require the President to determine whether Iraq committed gross human rights abuses prior to providing foreign assistance. The Bush administration opposed this bill, claiming Iraq was "impervious to leverage." A State Department official complained, "Congress is not very protective of our relationship with Iraq." The bill remained in limbo at year's end.
Although Reagan had called for an international conference on chemical weapons in September 1988 in response to the gassing of the Kurds, the conference held in Paris in January 1989 did not directly address the Kurdish issue. Reiterating the validity of the Geneva Protocols, the conference was "determined to prevent any recourse to chemical weapons by completely eliminating them." Iraq was not condemned by name, and the Kurds could not send a delegation since they had no state, and the conference only dealt with interactions among states.
In its 1989 session, the UN Human Rights Commission attempted to address the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds, and called for "a thorough study of the human rights situation in Iraq." The Bush administration did not support the resolution, fearing it was "too confrontational" toward Iraq, though it was endorsed by its allies Canada, the United Kingdom, West Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and Australia, among others. France, a long-time military supplier of Iraq, also declined to sponsor the resolution. U.S. exports of dual-use technology and Export-Import Bank credits to Iraq continued through 1989.
In December 1989, President Bush briefly propped up his sagging popularity by invading Panama and deposing Manuel Noriega, a long-time U.S. client who helped the Reagan administration distribute weapons to the contras. As director of the CIA in 1976, Bush paid Noriega $110,000 a year. Removed from CIA payroll under Carter, Noriega's CIA connections were renewed under Reagan in 1981, and his salary increased to $200,000 by 1985. Fully aware of Noriega's ties to drug dealers, the U.S. continued to support him, and even commended him for his help in the "war on drugs" by identifying his competitors in the Medellin drug cartel. Now, Bush hypocritically denounced his former client and sent a massive invasion force to remove him, so business-friendly Guillermo Endara could take power, having won the presidential election in May. 1000-4000 Panamanians were killed during the invasion, which was condemned by the Organization of American States and the UN General Assembly. Bush's selective dethronement of a dictator reflected political expediency more than principle, and a similar calculus would soon be employed against Iraq.
Bush's surge in popularity did not last long, and his approval rating plunged from 80 percent in January to 60 percent in July, as a weak economy and an astronomical federal deficit continued to plague his administration. Soon an opportunity would arise for Bush to save his flagging presidency.
After the Iran-Iraq war ended, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates extracted petroleum in excess of OPEC production quotas, keeping oil prices low and adversely affecting the revenue of other Arab states. The heavily indebted Iraqi economy was particularly hard hit by this illicit activity, and Saddam Hussein accused the Kuwaitis of waging "economic warfare." An unresolved border dispute enabled Saddam to further accuse Kuwait of slant drilling under Iraq's Rumaila oil field during the Iran-Iraq war, stealing $2.4 billion with of petroleum. Kuwait had also built military and civilian structures on Iraqi-claimed territory. Most Arab states agreed with Saddam's view of the facts, especially Kuwait's serious violation of OPEC quotas.
As Kuwait refused to recognize Iraq's territorial and financial claims, and continued to refuse to honor its OPEC quota, Iraq began large-scale troop deployments near the Kuwaiti border in July 1990.
The first indication that the U.S. might go to war over Kuwait came from Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, who stated on 19 July that the U.S. would keep its commitment to defend Kuwait made during the Iran-Iraq war. Ironically, during the war, the U.S. feared an attack on Kuwait by Iran, not Iraq, and actually defended Iraq during the war. Cheney was promptly chastised by the White House, "You're committing us to war we might not want to fight." On 24 July, the State Department issued a statement to allay concerns that the U.S. was committed to war: "We do not have any defense treaties with Kuwait, and there are no special defense or security commitments to Kuwait." The State Department also affirmed, somewhat vaguely: "We remain strongly committed to supporting the individual and collective self-defense of our friends in the gulf with whom we have deep and longstanding ties."
Saddam believed that he was still in the good graces of the United States, but he sought reassurance. As recently as April, Senator Bob Dole had personally assured Saddam that the Bush administration opposed economic sanctions against Iraq. Now, on 25 July, the Iraqi dictator met with U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie, who made the now-infamous remark:
We have no opinion on your Arab - Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary [of State James] Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America.
The last part of the comment is by far the more telling. The "Kuwait issue" in the 1960s meant Iraq's opposition to Kuwaiti independence. Iraqis had long maintained that the British colony of Kuwait ought to be returned to Iraq (much as Hong Kong would eventually be returned to China), since historically Kuwait belonged to the same legal division of the Ottoman Empire as Iraq. Glaspie was now effectively saying that the U.S. had no position on Iraqi claims over Kuwaiti territory. She did reiterate the administration's publicly expressed concern that all parties should avoid violence.
The Bush administration's position was not dramatically different from that of most Arab states, which recognized Iraqi claims, yet objected to the enforcement of those claims through military invasion. Saddam attempted to justify his actions by claiming that Kuwait's "economic warfare" was "parallel to military aggression." On 28 July, President Bush personally warned Hussein against using force. Just the previous day, his administration had opposed congressional measures to impose economic sanctions against Iraq for human rights violations.
All the way until 31 July, U.S. policy remained ambiguous, as Assistant Secretary of State John Kelly, before Congress, agreed with the statement that the U.S. did "not have a treaty commitment which would obligate us to engage U.S. forces" if Iraq "charged across the border into Kuwait." Kelly stated, "We have historically avoided taking a position on border disputes or on internal OPEC deliberations."
When Iraq invaded Kuwait on 31 July (1 August in the U.S.), the Bush administration immediately declared its unequivocal opposition to the action, in startling contrast to its carefully worded ambiguous statements of the preceding days. Saddam Hussein had strong reason to believe he had been deceived by the U.S., and his argument appeared to be strengthened by a document recovered from Kuwaiti intelligence files, describing a November 1989 meeting between CIA Director William Webster and the head of Kuwaiti intelligence.
We agreed with the American side that it was important to take advantage of the deteriorating economic situation in Iraq in order to put pressure on that country's government to delineate our common border. The Central Intelligence Agency gave us its view of appropriate means of pressure, saying that broad cooperation should be initiated between us on condition that such activities be coordinated at a high level.
Other Arab leaders corroborated the view that Washington was trying to create an impasse between Kuwait and Iraq. Yasser Arafat claimed that the U.S. sabotaged Iraqi attempts to resolve the border dispute at an Arab summit in May by "encouraging Kuwait not to offer any compromise, which meant there could be no negotiated solution to avoid the Gulf crisis." King Hussein of Jordan claimed that the Kuwaiti foreign minister had told him shortly before the invasion: "We are not going to respond to [Iraq]... if they don't like it, let them occupy our territory ... we are going to bring in the Americans." According to Hussein, the Kuwaitis were misled into thinking that U.S. support would be immediate, as the emir told his officers that they needed to hold off the Iraqis for twenty-four hours, at which point "American and foreign forces would land in Kuwait and expel them." Hussein's testimony on this point was later reinforced by the Kuwaiti finance minister, who said:
But we knew that the United States would not let us be overrun. I spent too much time in Washington to make that mistake, and received a constant stream of visitors here. The American policy was clear. Only Saddam didn't understand it.
This assurance that they would be backed by the U.S. helps explain why the Kuwaitis repeatedly rebuffed attempts to negotiate the dispute at Arab summits. Without the guarantee of U.S. support, it would have been suicidal for the Kuwaitis to oppose Iraq so brusquely, especially when most of the Arab world favored Iraq on several of the points of dispute.
Bush, for his part, was remarkably passive in the days preceding the invasion, and took no action to prevent the invasion despite satellite images showing Iraqi troop concentrations. Even a small-scale U.S. deployment would have provided a powerful deterrent against Iraq, which certainly did not seek war with a superpower. Ambassador Glaspie claimed that no one expected Saddam to take all of Kuwait, yet this is contradicted by the Kuwaitis themselves, and Iraq's public history of claiming all of Kuwait throughout the twentieth century. Her claim is flatly incredible, as military planning routinely involves accounting for all contingencies. Even if only a partial invasion was expected, it is difficult to account for American passivity in both the military and diplomatic arenas, unless Bush actually wanted the invasion to occur.
The most obvious motive for allowing Iraq to invade Kuwait was to justify a much larger military response than would otherwise be politically acceptable. This would achieve the objectives of projecting a greater long-term U.S. military presence in the region, crippling Iraqi ambitions at becoming a regional power, and justifying an escalation in the U.S. military budget, which had recently seen dramatic cuts as a result of the end of the Cold War. Former Secretary of State Shultz, now working for Bechtel, warned the company to withdraw from a project in Iraq in the spring of that year. "I said something is going to go very wrong in Iraq and blow up and if Bechtel were there it would get blown up too."
The Bush administration soon ordered troop deployments in Saudi Arabia, in order to protect the oil-rich Gulf states upon which the U.S. energy supply depended. This direct implementation of the Carter doctrine was called Operation Desert Shield, continuing a novel practice of naming military operations for propaganda purposes, beginning with the Orwellian label "Operation Just Cause" for the illegal invasion of Panama. Many Americans were able to see through this obvious manipulation. Former Assistant Secretary of Defense James Webb warned, "Many are claiming that the buildup is little more than a 'Pentagon budget drill,' designed to preclude cutbacks of an Army searching for a mission as bases in NATO begin to disappear." Among such critics was former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb, who said the U.S. military deployment in Saudi Arabia "seems driven more by upcoming budget battles on Capitol Hill than a potential battle against Saddam Hussein."
Bush's supporters were not shy about linking Iraqi aggression to the Pentagon's budgetary demands. Senators invoked the Iraqi threat as justification for funding the B-2 stealth bomber, despite the fact that existing U.S. armaments were already overwhelmingly superior to those of Iraq, as would be demonstrated in a few months. Senator Bob Dole said, "If we needed Saddam Hussein to give us a wake-up call at least we can thank him for that." Bush himself claimed that the invasion "underscores the need to go slowly in restructuring U.S. defense forces."
Although the Bush administration was content to let Iraq invade Kuwait in order to justify a military buildup, it had not yet committed to actually fighting a war. So-called Operation Desert Shield achieved a shift in congressional attitudes, as legislators funded the deployment and left intact much of the Cold War era funding for a potential Soviet invasion of Europe. The total military budget, which had dropped in FY91, would increase for FY92. Bush's approval rating, meanwhile, rose to 74% in August, feeding off the militarist zeal of the American public, which could afford to be belligerent since there was no danger of a draft.
In preparation for a potential war, the Bush administration pursued a strategy that would be repeated on later American military adventures, the formation of an international coalition to provide a figleaf of legitimacy to what was essentially a unilateral U.S. action. This coalition would be forged in large part through bribery, waiving billions of dollars in Egyptian debts, and giving military or economic aid to Syria, China, Turkey, and the Soviet Union. When Yemen dared to vote against a Security Council resolution authorizing the war, Secretary of State Baker responded, "I hope he enjoyed that applause, because this will turn out to be the most expensive vote he ever cast." U.S. aid to Yemen dropped sharply within days. Although the war was not waged under UN auspices, as the Korean conflict had been, the U.S. at least obtained a Security Council resolution "authorizing" the war, which is more than it would bother in later conflicts.
Bush employed another propaganda technique that would become a staple of later military adventures, inflating a much weaker enemy to monstrous proportions. In order to persuade the American public that the Iraqi regime was a serious threat to the United States, Bush compared the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait with the German invasion of Poland in 1939 and likened Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler, even threatening Nuremberg-style trials. Considering all we know about the Reagan-Bush administration's support of the Iraqi regime, this required breathtaking contempt for reality. Similarly, Bush's characterization of the invasion as "without provocation" and refusal to acknowledge Iraqi grievances constituted a deliberate distortion. When Bush went so far as to say Saddam was worse than Hitler, for using U.S. citizens as "human shields", even his own administration saw the need "to get his rhetoric under control."
By all accounts, the Iraqis were genuinely surprised at the severity of the American reaction to the invasion, and Saddam made offers in August and October to withdraw from all of Kuwait except the disputed Rumaila oil field, in exchange for the lifting of sanctions and resolution of the oil price dispute. As a diplomatic gesture, he released all foreigners who had been trapped in Kuwait or Iraq during the invasion by mid-December.
Bush systematically rejected any offers of a peace settlement, whether from Saddam or a third party. The State Department denied "categorically" that Saddam had even made the August offer, until the White House later confirmed it. Bush was understandably unwilling to accept any deal that would seem to reward the invasion, but his opposition to a peace settlement soon moved beyond such reasonable grounds. A congressional review would later conclude that "a diplomatic solution satisfactory to the interests of the United States may well have been possible since the earliest days of the invasion." Former Assistant Defense Secretary Korb claimed that in late November the defense establishment was pushing for action in order to justify their continued funding. He accurately predicted that over 400,000 troops would be deployed, including battle groups from all of the armed services, as if they were competing to show their worth. Fortune magazine, in defense of Bush, plainly acknowledged his aversion to any form of peace settlement:
The President and his men worked overtime to quash freelance peacemakers in the Arab world, France, and the Soviet Union who threatened to give Saddam a face-saving way out of the box Bush was building. Over and over, Bush repeated the mantra: no negotiations, no deals, no face-saving, no rewards, and specifically, no linkage to a Palestinian peace conference [a point raised by Iraq on several occasions].
In a sign that Bush had moved away from the realpolitik of his predecessors, the president seemed excessively concerned with appearing strong, rather than considering the most practical means of resolving the conflict. His approval rating slipped back down to 60% by October, as the American public respected strength more than sobriety. In this atmosphere, it became common to regard the Germans as "cowards" for favoring a peaceful resolution of the conflict, an ironic accusation, considering all the effort a previous generation of Americans had made to expunge militarism from German culture.
The American commitment to war certainly seemed fixed by the end of November, when the U.S. secured a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the use "of all necessary means" to compel Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait after 15 January. Over Christmas, President Bush apparently quelled any lingering doubts about the proper course of action after reading an Amnesty International report detailing the war crimes being committed in Kuwait. "It's black and white, good versus evil. The man has to be stopped." One wonders where George Bush was during the 1980s. Saddam Hussein had not forgotten: "You are talking about an aggressive Iraq ... if Iraq was aggressive during the Iran war, why then did you speak with [us] then?" Only a few years previously, Bush supported a policy of direct diplomacy with Iraq, when Saddam was committing much more heinous crimes than anything that happened in Kuwait.
Saddam Hussein, for his part, was needlessly obstinate and overly concerned with saving face. As the 15 January deadline approached, he continued to link withdrawal from Kuwait to an international conference on Palestine and a resolution of disputes between Iraq and Kuwait. These were reasonable requests, but Saddam foolishly decided to delay any withdrawal until at least a day or two after the deadline, to show he was not intimidated. This gave the U.S. all the pretext it needed for its desired war.
Even on the naive assumption that George Bush discovered a newfound horror for the human rights violations of Saddam Hussein, we must recognize that the president was astute enough to realize that this would not suffice to persuade his political opponents to support a war. Selling the war entailed exaggerating the threat posed by a Third World nation to ludicrous proportions. Bush told the American public with a straight face:
Our jobs, our way of life, our own freedom, and the freedom of friendly countries around the world will suffer if control of the world's great oil reserves fell in the hands of that one man, Saddam Hussein.
On one level, we must appreciate Bush's candor in openly using the Carter doctrine as a motivation for war. On the other hand, Iraq hardly posed a credible threat to oil reserves in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that were under the protection of the U.S. The Carter doctrine had been conceived in opposition to the Soviet Union; its application against Iraq bordered on the ridiculous, requiring us to imagine Iraqi forces overrunning American defenders and marching on Riyadh, then attacking the United Arab Emirates as the U.S. Navy watched helplessly. The CIA and DIA knew full well that Saddam had no designs on Saudi Arabia, and said as much in their intelligence reports. Nonetheless, Defense Secretary Cheney told the Saudis on 5 August that they were in grave danger, a brazen lie that persuaded King Fahd to allow a large American force on his soil. Yet even if such a scenario somehow transpired, making Saddam Hussein master of the Gulf's oil reserves, the effect on the U.S. would be purely economic. There would be no danger of Americans losing their "way of life" or "freedom", unless these terms are interpreted in a crassly commercial sense.
Bush's ambiguous rationale for war allowed many critics to accuse him of being purely motivated by the narrow interests of the oil industry. However, it is not at all clear what those interests ought to have been. The disruption in Iraqi-U.S. relations was actually bad for many companies that hoped to have contracts in Iraq. As for the price of oil, the U.S. received only a small fraction of its supply from Iraq and Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia more than made up the difference after the invasion. There was no danger of an oil price spike, nor was it clear that the U.S. oil industry would have been averse to a price increase. In fact, in January 1990, the Bush administration had asked Saddam to persuade OPEC to raise prices to $25 a barrel, as reported in the Observer in October. At any rate, countries such as Germany and Japan, which were far more dependent on Gulf oil than the U.S., did not see themselves as endangered by the Iraq situation, further undermining the view that there was any economic necessity to Bush's uncompromising policy.
If Iraqi human rights violations and the specter of an oil crisis were not enough to persuade the American public to fully support the war, Bush invoked another rationale, focusing on Iraq's chemical weapons and nuclear program. Of course, Bush knew that Iraq was nowhere near nuclear weapons capability, which is why he had no problem maintaining good diplomatic relations with Iraq as recently as early 1990. Chemical weapons, while certainly reprehensible, hardly constituted an existential threat to the United States, and Bush also had full knowledge of this capability long before he decided to end his partnership with Saddam. We have already noted how the Reagan administration mitigated UN condemnations of Iraqi chemical warfare, and materially encouraged such war crimes by helping to prolong the war in 1988. Thus we can hardly avoid the conclusion that Bush's invocation of a chemical and nuclear threat was thoroughly disingenuous, being motivated purely by politics.
War was a foregone conclusion months before the 15 January deadline, when the U.S. military finally was unable to unleash its might with overwhelming force, dropping 177 million pounds of bombs on Iraq over a month. The conduct of this war established precedents that would be repeated in other conflicts of choice in the years ahead. Subsequent U.S. policy belied the Cold War myth that U.S. military interventions were strictly in defense against Soviet aggression. With end of the Cold War, U.S. military interventions actually increased, as the sole remaining superpower could now have a freer hand over unruly Third World nations. Of course, even before the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the U.S. exceeded the post-Stalin USSR in military adventures, waging many more wars and killing many more civilians. The American love of warfare had been dealt a serious blow, however, by the debacle of Vietnam, which exposed an entire generation to the unglamorous, amoral brutality of modern warfare. A new approach would be needed in order to sell new military adventures and keep the defense industry churning.
A critical aspect of the new made-for-television brand of warfare was the suppression of battlefield journalism. There would be no repetition of Vietnam-era footage showing American soldiers killing and being killed; the new warfare would be completely bloodless. Journalists were not even free to enter the war zone, except under strictly controlled conditions as "embedded" reporters. All information came from military briefings, so reporters had no job other than to parrot the official line. The major news outlets seemed to relish this cheerleading role, opening their broadcasts with sharp graphics proclaiming "America at War" and boasting of the nation's high-tech armaments, whose deadly capabilities were described in loving detail. Once at war, there would be no more strong criticism from the major media, none of the self-doubts that plagued the Vietnam era. One of the common myths about Vietnam among Americans, incapable of admitting defeat, is that the war was lost due to a lack of political will and a failure to stand behind the troops. A similar myth was held among Germans after World War I, blaming the defeat on so-called "November traitors". There would be, on this and later adventures, no latter-day Walter Cronkite urging withdrawal and no Congress with the gumption to exercise its power of the purse to rein in a conflict. Even critics of the administration took care to emphasize their "support" of "the troops", which was understood synonymously with support of the war.
Support for the war was made easy, not only because Americans were insulated from graphic images of the effects of war, but also because it would be an overwhelming military success with minimal casualties. New technologies and tactics were responsible for this, as was the choice of adversary. Never again would the U.S. fight a nation as populous as Vietnam, with ground cover that forced the use of ground combat and high casualties. The U.S. would fight its wars almost entirely from the air, against nations with negligible air forces. Bombing from an altitude beyond the reach of antiaircraft fire, the "war" was actually mostly an air raid against a virtually defenseless nation. Nearly all of the U.S. fatalities, numbering less than 400, were from the brief ground conflict or numerous vehicular accidents.
New military technologies were employed in the war, guaranteeing lucrative long-term defense contracts, as well as allowing Americans to kill without fear of being killed in return, turning warfare into simple slaughter. The most highly touted of these were so-called "smart weapons" which used global satellite positioning systems enabling fighter planes or warships to destroy specific buildings with an accuracy of a few meters. This bombardment by remote control removed any element of skill or chance, reducing missile strikes to simple videogames. Lost in the media hype was the fact that the vast majority of bombs used were old-fashioned "dumb" bombs, and even the smart weapons were subject to human error in targeting. This predictably resulted in massive civilian casualties, or as they were now known, "collateral damage."
Other technologies included radar-evasive stealth aircraft and night vision capabilities that enabled the Americans to attack their targets without being seen, like a thief in the night. The ancient Greco-Roman taboo that it was dishonorable to attack at night was routinely flouted by the results-oriented Americans, who boasted that they ruled the night. As if the technological lopsidedness of the war were not enough, they insisted that their opponents be blindfolded.
The anti-ballistic Patriot missiles were heavily promoted by the major news media, as if they were advertising for Raytheon. After the war, the failure rate of the missile turned out to be much higher than what was boasted during the conflict, but this did not prevent Raytheon from procuring lucrative long-term contracts. Patriot missiles and smart weapons had advantages beyond their effectiveness; they were enormously expensive, generating huge revenues for the industry and justifying a bloated military budget.
Some of the newly favored armaments would have long-term humanitarian and environmental consequences. Unexploded cluster bombs would remain in Iraq for years afterward, and the U.S. would resist international efforts to ban the weapons. The use of depleted uranium warheads is almost certainly correlated with the 500% increase in Iraqi birth defects, dozens of which are too horrific to be believed unless seen. The sheer number of these extraordinarily monstrous deformities is a strong indication of environmental contamination, either radioactive or chemical. For those with the stomach to view these horribly deformed infants, or the charred and dismembered carcasses of adults, it is clear that the new kind of war is much like the old: callous, inhuman, and at times, pure evil.
Clothed in a self-righteous, ends-justifies-the-means mentality, the Bush administration continued the bombardment of Iraq for a month. A total of 2,800 fixed-wing aircraft flew 109,000 sorties, of which 20,000 were bombing missions, dropping 250,000 bombs, including only 244 laser-guided "smart bombs" and 88 cruise missiles. In equivalent tonnage of TNT, this amounted to over 85,000 tons, of which only 8,000 tons were precision-guided missiles. According to the air strike planner, Gen. Buster C. Glosson, precision-guided munitions nonetheless accounted for 75 percent of the damage inflicted. These "surgical strikes", as they would come to be known, reduced civilian casualties, or "collateral damage." Still, it is clear that 90% of the explosives rained down on Iraq were of the old-fashioned, non-surgical variety. This does not even count the additional 20,000 to 30,000 tons of artillery shells from battleships and rocket launchers. Media coverage emphasizing low-casualty "smart" weapons was misleading propaganda.
Based on the Pentagon's FY1991 request to replenish its munitions, a Greenpeace report estimated that 2,095 HARM anti-aircraft missiles, 44,922 cluster bombs and rockets, and 136,755 conventional bombs were used in the Gulf War, as opposed to a mere 4,077 guided bombs. The U.S. is also known to have used fuel air explosives (FAEs), or firebombs, against Iraqi troops, burning them alive. The biggest munition of all was the 15,000-pound "daisy cutter", whose concussive force could rupture internal organs and eardrums, and whose firestorm sucked oxygen out of the area, asphyxiating or incinerating those within the area. Hypocritically, the Pentagon during the war leaked stories of possible Iraqi use of fuel air explosives, to stoke fears of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. In fact, the Iraqis never used FAEs, nor biological or chemical weapons, while the U.S. did in fact use firebombs and concussive bombs with the combined explosive force of more than five times the 15,000-ton Hiroshima bomb in the span of a month. It is hard to characterize Bush's demonization of so-called weapons of mass destruction as anything but dishonest.
Similarly, Defense Secretary Cheney's statement on 23 January that in contrast to Iraq's "highly inaccurate" Scud missiles, "we've carefully chosen our targets and bombed them with precision" was a baldfaced lie, since he had to know that the vast majority of munitions used were non-guided bombs. The Gulf War was fought no differently from other modern wars, deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure and resulting in enormous civilian casualties. Given the overwhelming military superiority of the U.S. over the Iraqi army, it was militarily needless to destroy bridges and industrial targets deep inside of Iraq, if the mission was simply to liberate Kuwait. The choice of targets reveals the true intent of the Gulf War, which was to cripple Iraq and thwart its ambitions of becoming a regional power. To this end, the U.S. knocked out electricity in most of Iraq, and bombarded bridges, such as that in Nasiriyya, killing 100 civilians, and that in Falluja, killing 200. Another raid on the same bridge in Falluja on 14 February leveled a nearby market, killing hundreds and maiming hundreds more. After initial denials, the coalition admitted that a precision bomb had missed its target. Given the unreliability of precision weapons (only 75 to 90 percent accurate, according to British defense officials), we can scarcely extrapolate how many civilian casualties were caused by non-guided weapons, which were the overwhelming majority of munitions used.
Similar "targeting errors" occurred in other Iraqi cities as well. An attack on a bridge in Samawa killed over 100 civilians in a nearby market and maimed others. 150 were killed in a market in al-Kut on 5 February, and the Ashshar market in Basra was bombed four times during the war, though there were no military targets, bridges or government structures in the area. Another 200 to 300 civilians were killed when an air raid shelter in western Baghdad was bombed without warning, in violation of the laws of war. The effects of these bombings were the same everywhere: large craters, leveled buildings, and dismembered human body parts littering the ground.
Other civilian targets included government food warehouses south of Baghdad, a dairy factory, north of Basra, grain storage warehouses, water-treatment facilities, and four hydroelectric facilities. This created a severe humanitarian crisis, as hospitals lost power, food and medicines could not be refrigerated, and the water supply was contaminated. Iraq's mechanized agriculture was reduced to pre-industrial conditions. The systematic destruction of Iraq's power supply made a lie of the administration's claim not to be attacking the Iraqi people, and Dick Cheney's assertion that no country had done more to minimize civilian casualties was a shameless falsehood.
In reality, the Defense Department was concerned only with conveying the appearance of low civilian casualties, for the sake of propaganda purposes, but they could not have cared less about actual civilian casualties. This is obvious to anyone familiar with the culture of the U.S. military, which places a high importance on metrics, measuring and counting everything, whether it is the percentage of targets destroyed, number of sorties flown, amount of munitions used, or the number of bolts or resistors purchased. Every quantifiable variable of at least marginal significance is meticulously measured and catalogued. The mere fact that the military made no effort to count civilian casualties and expressly disavowed any efforts to do so speaks volumes about how little the Defense Department actually cares about civilian casualties. They count hardware because they care about hardware. If they truly cared about minimizing civilian casualties, they would analyze such casualties with their usual thoroughness in order to assess how well they were doing.
After the war, a Commerce Department demographer estimated that 13,000 civilians were killed directly by Allied forces in the conflict, and another 70,000 civilians died within a year afterward due to damage inflicted on the electric power grid and water system, and the resulting lack of adequate medical facilities. Combined with the 40,000 Iraqi soldiers killed, a total of 158,000 Iraqis were killed, including approximately 86,000 men, 40,000 women, and 32,000 children. The demographer was summarily fired, and a new report was issued, reducing the estimates, though the original report's methodology was supported by the American Statistical Association.
In one sense, Bush was accurate when he said the war was chiefly directed against Saddam Hussein and not the Iraqi people. Crippling the Iraqi civilian infrastructure was calculated to incite rebellion against Saddam, especially in the majority-Shi'ite south. Like the Kurds in the 1970s, the Shi'ites would find themselves abandoned by the Americans after being urged to revolt, and Saddam's army would mercilessly suppress their insurrection. This cynical policy of creating a humanitarian crisis in order weaken the Iraqi regime would continue throughout the decade, as we will see later in detail.
The goal of overthrowing Saddam Hussein was adopted in August 1990, when President Bush authorized the CIA to engage in covert operations to "destabilize" the government. According to Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Bob Woodward, Bush ordered a thorough effort to support Iraqi resistance groups and strangle the Iraqi economy. A few senior members of Congress were informed of these efforts in December, according to The New York Times. Creating chaos in the civilian sector in order to encourage regime change was a deliberate U.S. policy, aimed to "isolate and incapacitate the Iraqi regime," as a July 1991 Defense Department report stated. To this end, Iraqi telecommunications and television stations were destroyed, another war crime that would be repeated in the bombardment of Yugoslavia eight years later. We noted previously that most of the destruction of civilian infrastructure was completely unnecessary, if the objective was merely to liberate Kuwait, since the U.S. could have easily forced the Iraqi army to flee by directing its overwhelming might against the troops in Kuwait. Instead, the bombing campaign was a deliberate attempt to inflict suffering on the Iraqi people in order to get them to turn against their government. An Air Force bombing planner interviewed by the Washington Post candidly admitted that the message of the bombing was, "We're not going to tolerate Saddam Hussein or his regime. Fix that, and we'll fix your electricity." Somehow, the Americans are still able to wonder why they are despised in the Middle East.
This campaign of disrupting electricity and other basic services, which would be repeated in Yugoslavia, was a clear violation of the Geneva Protocols' distinction between military and civilian targets, expressed in Article 51(2) of Protocol I: "The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited." Bush's bombing of civilian infrastructure clearly had the intent of demoralizing the population so that they would encourage a change of government or a surrender. This deplorable tactic has stained many wars in modern history, and the idea that the U.S. military has operated on a higher moral plane in this regard is risible. The Gulf War was just one more slaughter committed in the name of freedom, motivated in reality by cynical balance-of-power geopolitics.
Iraq's offensive efforts in the Gulf War were limited to Scud missile strikes, primarily on coalition positions in Saudi Arabia and on Riyadh. Saddam attempted in vain to expand the conflict by firing missiles into Tel Aviv, but the U.S. persuaded the Israelis not to retaliate, as that would have almost certainly brought other Arab nations into the conflict, and risked alienating Arab allies who would refuse to support the Israeli side of a war. Despite early reports that nerve gas was used in strikes on Tel Aviv, it turned out that all Iraqi warheads were conventional. Patriot anti-aircraft missiles were used to engage Scuds, and they were highly touted in the war as a success, with claims of success rates in the vicinity of 80-90%. After the war, the Army said the Patriots had success rates of only 70 percent in Saudi Arabia and 40 percent in Israel, but continued to defend the system and favor lucrative contracts for its manufacturer, Raytheon. A 1992 investigation by the General Accounting Office found that only in 9 percent of cases was there evidence in the form of debris or radar data indicating that a Scud was actually destroyed by a Patriot. A study by MIT scientists concluded that the television images showing Patriots launched against Scuds were misleading, since in a number of cases the Scuds were merely deflected, and debris from both missiles would hit the ground. In fact, the amount of damages and casualties per Scud strike in Israel increased after the deployment of Patriots. Once again, selling a system and securing the interests of the defense industry took precedent over saving lives.
After a full month of needless mayhem and destruction, the U.S.-led coalition finally addressed the supposed casus belli and launched a ground assault on Kuwait. The ground campaign, designated "Operation Desert Sabre", began on 24 February with an attack into Iraq west of Kuwait in order to circumvent Iraqi fortifications and encircle Iraqi forces. Within 90 hours, U.S. forces destroyed 1,300 tanks, 1,200 other vehicles, 285 artillery pieces, and 100 air defense systems. They also captured nearly 22,000 soldiers. The Iraqis destroyed 7 Abrams tanks, 15 Bradley fighting vehicles, 2 armored troop transports, and an Apache helicopter. The Defense Department did not keep count of how many Iraqi troops were killed, once again revealing its sense of priorities.
Two years later, an Air Force-sponsored survey conducted by Johns Hopkins University estimated 10,000 Iraqi casualties due to the ground war. The survey found that the deployed Iraqi Army "probably numbered no more than 336,000 when the war began," (contrary to the 540,000-600,000 publicly cited before the war) and declined to 220,000 after the air campaign "due to casualties and desertions." Iraq possessed only 3,475 tanks, 3,080 armored personnel carriers and 2,475 artillery pieces prior to the war, making Iraqi ground forces hopelessly outnumbered and overmatched. Worse, they had not expected the air strikes to be sustained for weeks before the ground war even began. When the ground battle began on the 24th of February, the Iraqi infantry quickly scattered before the air strikes as the coalition forces advanced from three directions. On the 25th, Saddam announced a general withdrawal from Kuwait, to which President Bush responded, "He is not withdrawing. His defeated forces are retreating. He is trying to claim victory in the midst of a rout."
On the 26th and 27th of February, when Iraqi forces were already in full retreat, the U.S. inflicted heavy casualties, taking care to destroy as much military equipment as possible. Although the war, by President Bush's own admission, was already over tactically, the real mission was to cripple the Iraqi military, so repeated sorties were sent for a "turkey shoot" of retreating or abandoned vehicles. This "highway of death" included hundreds or thousands of dead, according to conflicting accounts. The Iraqis nonetheless did manage to salvage some units in their retreat to Basra, at which point the U.S. declared an armistice. The Iraqis were left with only 842 tanks and 279 artillery pieces at the end of the war. The 1993 survey clearly shows that Iraq was no longer a conventional military threat, as its equipment had been decimated and a third of its army scattered.
Although it was no secret that Iraq was no longer a threat, continued punitive measures against Iraq needed justification, so the specter of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) was invoked to justify a crippling economic sanctions regime against a nation that had just been bombed into a pre-industrial age. The U.S. returned to its policy of the mid-1970s, using the Kurds and Shiites to destabilize the Baath regime, without any real intention of allowing these groups to gain power. The Shi'ites were betrayed once again by the Americans, who stood by as Saddam brutally suppressed their revolt after the Gulf War.
The long-term resolution of the Iraq-Kuwait situation was debated in the UN Security Council on 3 April 1991. The Kuwaiti representative, Abulhasan, deplored Iraq's attempt to "extinguish" Kuwait's national identity through "coordinated vandalism and looting" (as confirmed by the UN Secretary-General's representative in postwar Kuwait), and its abrogation of the October 1963 agreement between the Iraqi and Kuwaiti prime ministers recognizing "the independence and complete sovereignty of the State of Kuwait" within borders specified by mutual agreement in 1932. The Kuwaiti delegate also referred to the draft resolution as reflecting "the content and concepts of the new world order that the international family is determined to establish." He added significantly, "The international community is also determined to encourage a commitment to that new world order, and if need be, to impose it." The resolution in question is therefore highly significant in identifying what was meant by George Bush's oft-quoted expression, "new world order." A hint may be given in Abulhasan's statement:
It was no exaggeration to say that the United Nations Charter, with all its lofty principles, became law when the international community effectively dealt with the brutal Iraqi aggression against Kuwait. It proved that the Organization, with its Security Council, is an effective instrument for collective security and the maintenance of world peace and security...
A key aspect to the "new world order" would be using the Security Council to organize collective enforcement of the UN Charter through military force. This would give the charter the unprecedented status of enforceable law.
The Iraqi representative, Al-Anbari, naturally rejected these claims of high-minded internationalism, contending that the use of force against Iraq was motivated by the objectives of a single country or group of countries. The Gulf War was not conducted under the UN flag, and was directed according to U.S. objectives, which differed from those of the UN. Iraq accepted Resolutions 660 and 678 (passed in August and November 1990) calling for full Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, and authorizing "all necessary means to uphold and implement resolution 660 and subsequent relevant resolutions". Al-Anbari claimed that the aerial bombardment of Iraq went well beyond the objective of forcing Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, but was motivated by the U.S. strategic objective to cripple Iraq. Explosives amounting to seven Hiroshima bombs (88,500 tons) were dropped on Iraq, using mostly "dumb" bombs dropped from over 30,000 feet, making civilian casualties inevitable. The Iraqi delegate also noted the American establishment's use of the hideous Orwellian term "collateral damage" to describe civilian casualties of indiscriminate bombing. Citing statements by the Commander of the U.S. Air Force, General Merrill A. McPeak, in the Washington Post on 16 March 1991, only 7% of the bombs dropped on Iraqi cities and villages were guided, and only an estimated 30% hit their targets. Quoting the report of the UN mission to Iraq from March 1991 regarding civilian infrastructure:
It should... be said at once that nothing we had seen or read had quite prepared us for the particular form of devastation which has now befallen the country. The recent conflict has wrought near-apocalyptic results upon the economic infrastructure of what had been, until January 1991, a rather highly urbanized and mechanized society.
The report stated, further:
Now, most means of modern life have been destroyed or rendered tenuous. Iraq has, for some time to come, been relegated to a pre-industrial age, but with all the disabilities of post-industrial dependency on an intensive use of energy and technology.
Iraq was actually worse off than if it had been merely a pre-industrial country, since its society was already organized on a non-agrarian basis, and thus dependent on industrial goods and modern infrastructure. The U.S. bombing created a humanitarian crisis of massive proportions that would extend for a decade. This level of destruction can hardly be justified by the limited UN objective of obtaining Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait. To make matters worse, the draft resolution in discussion would continue to impose economic sanctions against Iraq, even after the objectives of Resolution 678 had been achieved.
The Yemeni delegation supported Iraq in its opposition to the proposed embargo, arguing that there was no legitimate reason to prohibit the importation of books, clothing, construction materials, and consumer goods, especially in light of the humanitarian crisis caused by the devastation of Iraq infrastructure.
Notwithstanding these objections, the resolution was passed as UN Security Council Resolution 687 on 3 April 1991. This resolution called upon Iraq and Kuwait to respect the border defined in the October 1963 agreement. This unprecedented attempt by the Security Council to define an international border by its own authority rather than bilateral negotiations rested on the fact that the 1963 agreement had been registered with the UN and published among its treaty documents. This is a dubious basis for asserting the authority to define borders, as sovereign states reserve the right to re-negotiate their boundaries with other states. Nonetheless, Resolution 687 guaranteed the "inviolability" of the 1963 border.
The heart of Resolution 687 is in its call for unconditional Iraqi disarmament as a prerequisite for removing the sanctions imposed by Resolution 661 (passed 6 August 1990). Resolution 661 prohibited the import of all commodities other than medical supplies or "in humanitarian circumstances, foodstuffs" into Iraq. In the resolution's own words, these sanctions were imposed as a consequence of Iraq's failure to comply with Resolution 660 calling for withdrawal from Kuwait. Now that Iraq had withdrawn from Kuwait, the Security Council moved the goalposts, by imposing a detailed list of disarmament criteria as a condition for removing sanctions. The Americans and their allies practiced dishonest diplomacy, getting the sanctions approved in 1990 when there was widespread outrage against the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and now, when it would have been much more difficult to justify new sanctions, they left the original sanctions regime in place, avoiding a new vote, though the original pretext for sanctions no longer existed. This leverage would be repeatedly used throughout the nineties, as the U.S. could threaten to use its veto power to block any end to the sanctions, as if the sanctions ought to continue by default, when really a new resolution ought to have been passed after Iraqi withdrawal. Since the real motive of the Gulf War was to cripple Iraq as a military and economic power, it is only logical that relief from the embargo should be linked to these stringent conditions:
Iraq shall unconditionally accept the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless, under international supervision, of:
(a) All chemical and biological weapons and all stocks of agents and all related subsystems and components and all research, development, support and manufacturing facilities;
(b) All ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometres and related major parts, and repair and production facilities;
Iraq shall unconditionally agree not to acquire or develop nuclear weapons or nuclear-weapons-usable material or any subsystems or components or any research, development, support or manufacturing facilities related to the above;
These demands exceeded Iraq's obligations under international law, particularly in the demand that its missiles not have a range greater than 150 kilometers. Even setting aside the hypocrisy of forbidding even minimal Iraqi nuclear weapons research while turning a blind eye to Israel's dozens of nuclear warheads, there is no lawful basis for imposing this limit on their ballistic missile range. As with the imposition of border conditions, the Security Council is arrogating new authority to itself, holding unruly nations in check by arbitrary punitive measures. This attempt to give teeth to the Security Council is the essence of the "new world order" described by the Kuwaiti ambassador.
The trade embargo against Iraq was modified to exempt foodstuffs, provided that the Security Council was notified of such imports. The U.S. and its allies acted on the dubious legal assumption that the embargo was to remain in place unless a new resolution was passed to end it, when in fact the conditions upon which the embargo declared by Resolution 661 was explicitly predicated no longer existed. Thus a trade embargo with Iraq was imposed on all UN member states due to the machinations of a privileged minority in the Security Council. Since food imports into Iraq had to be vetted by the Security Council, the opportunity for corruption was ripe. The sanctions regime was guaranteed to stay in place at least until Iraq allowed international inspectors to verify full compliance with Resolution 687.
Despite the obvious fact that continued sanctions would cripple the Iraqi economy, Resolution 687 required Iraq to "adhere scrupulously to all of its obligations concerning servicing and repayment of its foreign debt." The noble language of disarmament rings hollow when coupled with this usurious demand. If it were not enough to demand timely payment of debts while bleeding the nation's economy, the Security Council further found Iraq to be:
...liable under international law for any direct loss, damage, including environmental damage and the depletion of natural resources, or injury to foreign Governments, nationals and corporations, as a result of Iraq's unlawful invasion and occupation of Kuwait.
The Iraqis would have to make reparations not only to Kuwait, but to foreign oil companies for setting oil fields ablaze. Meanwhile, the U.S. owed nothing to Iraq for systematically destroying sewage treatment facilities, power plants, and other civilian infrastructure hundreds of miles away from Kuwait. As always, only the poor are forced to honor their debts. If this rich man's justice was a sample of the "new world order" to come, it would behoove the poorer nations of the world to align themselves in firm opposition, as would eventually be the case.
Two days later, the Security Council passed Resolution 688, condemning Iraq's postbellum repression of the Kurds in northern Iraq and the Shi'ites of southern Iraq (though not mentioning the latter by name). Responding to complaints by Iran and Turkey, the Security Council sought to avoid a new international conflict and at the same time prevent a humanitarian crisis. Thus the resolution called upon Iraq to cease its acts of repression and to "allow immediate access by international humanitarian organizations to all those in need of assistance in all parts of Iraq and to make available all necessary facilities for their operations." It also appealed "to all Member States and to all humanitarian organizations to contribute to these humanitarian relief efforts."
The U.S. and U.K., acting on their own initiative and without UN authorization, imposed "no-fly zones" in northern and southern Iraq, shooting down any Iraqi aircraft that attempted to fly in the Kurdish or Shi'ite areas. Any anti-aircraft battery that fired upon an American or British fighter would be targeted in kind. The allies pretended to justify this blatant violation of Iraqi sovereignty by appealing to Resolution 688. The resolution in fact did not authorize the use of force, as it did not invoke Chapter VII of the UN Charter, nor did its language ask anything of Member States besides contributing to humanitarian relief. The Americans and the British argued that the "no-fly zones" were necessary in order for humanitarian relief to take place, as if this judgment was theirs to make. Knowing that they could not muster the votes necessary to authorize force in the Security Council, the Anglo-Americans took matters in their own hands, revealing a new hypocrisy in the "new world order." The Anglo-Americans would appeal to the UN's authority only when it rubber-stamped their national interests; otherwise, they would act independently, offering at best a fig-leaf justification under international law.
The real motive of the no-fly zones was not altruistic humanitarianism, but the desire to topple the central government of Iraq. With the Baathists unable to impose air power in the north or south, it was hoped that Kurdish and Shi'ite rebellions might succeed where they failed in the 1970s. This new attempt to dismember Iraq and destroy the government would fail, due to the allies' unwillingness to commit ground troops. Neo-imperialists are much less willing to risk blood than treasure, hence the increasing tilt towards air power over ground forces. As for their supposed humanitarian concern, this would be belied by the murderous effects of the brutal sanctions regime.
Living conditions in Iraq plummeted after the Gulf War, as the import-dependent Iraqi economy was constricted to the breaking point by the sanctions. Saddam's military spending certainly did not help the situation, but even a government budget of zero would not have saved Iraqis from poverty, since money is useless without goods to buy. Without importation of construction materials, the rebuilding of Iraq's infrastructure was painstakingly slow, and mortality increased as water supplies were contaminated by sewage due to U.S. targeting of treatment plants, as well as from the carcinogenic effects of depleted uranium munitions. Shortly after the war, birth defects in Iraq skyrocketed, including numerous monstrosities too horrific to describe. Both infant mortality and child mortality (ages 1-5) more than doubled between 1990 and 2000, though Iraq once boasted of an advanced healthcare system. Malnutrition and disease were rampant in central and southern Iraq, yet the British and Americans were the most obstinate in opposing the relaxation of sanctions, notwithstanding their supposed humanitarianism.
Increasingly isolated from global opinion as years passed, the U.S. and Britain had to threaten Security Council vetoes in order to keep the sanctions in place. The intent of continuing the sanctions was clearly to cripple the Iraqi economy, for one could have kept Iraqi oil off the market while still allowing the importation of consumer goods. The Bush and Clinton administrations claimed their intent was to punish Saddam, but any intelligent person must know that those in power are the last to starve. The only plausible rational motive for the Iraq sanctions was the cynical hope that economic desperation would drive the populace to despise their ruler and dethrone him. Any way one looks at it, the suffering of the Iraqi people was a tool for the advancement of Western strategic interests.
The bulk of the Arab world made a similar deduction, including moderate, secular observers. The overwhelming majority of Iraqis, including anti-Baathist political exile groups, opposed the sanctions that were supposed to benefit them. Admittedly, the Iraqi humanitarian crisis was sensationalized in the Middle East, but this overexposure guaranteed that Arabs were at least more aware of the basic facts and issues than most Westerners, who, by contrast, received a largely sterilized view of the consequences of the sanctions. They have been spared the horrific images of babies born with skulls like jelly or torsos turned inside out, or of adults and children who were emaciated or maimed. The glorification of military victory has no room for the moral ambiguity that such images might impose.
Since the sanctions were an extension of an unresolved war, criticism of the sanctions in the U.S. exposed one to the same accusations of anti-Americanism normally reserved for pacifists. American political leaders downplayed, ignored, or even ridiculed reports of Iraqi suffering. In 1999, UNICEF estimated the excess deaths of children under five was about 500,000. Official Clinton administration responses usually disputed the accuracy of these estimates, or used Bush's rhetorical trick of blaming the death toll entirely on Saddam Hussein. In a 1996 television interview, Secretary of State Albright once departed from this tactic, and instead explicitly admitted that the deaths of a half a million children were the result of “a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price was worth it.” This comment sparked a torrent of outrage in the Arab world, but the mainstream American media was largely silent. This media self-censorship enabled most Americans to sustain the myth that U.S. policies were not the cause of a humanitarian crisis, even though the Secretary of State had acknowledged as much.
Albright believed that the calculated infliction of suffering upon Iraqis was the morally correct choice, in view of the long-term good of containing Saddam's regime. This justification presumes that Americans somehow have the authority to make grand moral calculations and decisions for other peoples. A similar assumption would prevail in rationalizing the invasion of Iraq. Albright's comment probably would not have rattled too many consciences even if it were widely publicized, since many Americans share the unconscious assumption that they have the right to make moral calculations for the supposed benefit of other nations, even against their will. Consciously, most Americans uphold the right of self-determination and reject imperialism, but their actions and attitudes toward foreign nations often betray a set of values inconsistent with a belief in self-determination.
The UN Security Council was not blind to the humanitarian crisis caused by the sanctions, and took steps to remedy the situation beginning in August 1991, when Resolution 706 authorized the sale of Iraqi oil to cover humanitarian needs and UN expenses, with 30% of revenue going toward war reparations. The Iraqis protested that they needed a five-year grace period on their debts in order to rebuild their infrastructure and restore their prior standard of living, especially as their British and US assets were frozen. They also objected to UN control of the distribution of revenues and of purchased goods, especially as Iraq would have to pay for associated UN administrative expenses. This effective confiscation of $1.6 billion in oil revenue to be distributed at the Secretary-General's discretion was an unprecedented assertion of authority by the UN. The shipment of food and medicine to Iraq, however, could not by itself compensate for the economic disaster wrought by the sanctions. The Yemenis warned that famine and the collapse of the Iraqi healthcare system would ensue if the current sanctions regime persisted, and indeed that would prove to be the case.
The level of punishment inflicted on Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait greatly exceeded anything the UN had dared to impose on any other nation, including those who participated in the Arab-Israeli wars. This is because the Security Council was dominated by Western interests that sought to prevent Iraq from being an economic power. Without the Soviet Union as a counterweight, the West would have free rein to dictate terms to unruly Third World nations on how their debts would be paid and how their revenues would be invested.
We should not allow Anglo-American geopolitical ambitions to distract us from the fact that the Iraqi regime was similarly unconcerned with the economic welfare of the Iraqi people. The Baathist government refused to comply with the oil revenue program of Resolution 706, insisting on full control of both revenue and the distribution of goods. While these demands on their face might have been reasonable, and the Iraqi representative correctly noted that the sanctions had gone beyond their original purpose of achieving withdrawal from Kuwait, Baathist concerns for the economic welfare of the populace were almost certainly insincere. As Gen. Kemal Hussein would reveal in 1995, the regime still harbored intentions of eventually restoring its weapons programs and invading Kuwait, and placed its military concerns above humanitarian issues. Had the UN allowed the Iraqi government greater leeway in the administration of oil revenue, it would certainly have been abused by the regime. The Baathist government, being concerned principally with its own survival and military ambitions, bears a large share of the blame for the humanitarian crisis that afflicted Iraq, which they exploited as diplomatic leverage to end the sanctions. The regime was duly condemned by UN Security Council Resolution 778 (2 October 1992) for refusing to implement the aid program. If the Iraqi government had been deeply concerned with the welfare of its people, it would have implemented the program, flawed as it was, rather than allow greater suffering. Instead, the Iraqis haggled over terms, unsuccessfully requesting the revenue ceiling to be raised from $1.6 billion to $2 billion.
In 1993, the UN's Boundary Demarcation Commission completed its work of marking the border between Iraq and Kuwait. The Commission's job was simply to carry out the technical task of marking the border defined by the 1963 Iraq-Kuwait agreement, not to allow any re-negotiation of territorial claims. Thus the UN truly did arrogate to itself the right to define international borders for the first time, and the Iraqi government capitulated, formally recognizing Kuwaiti sovereignty within these defined borders in 1994.
Although the Iraqi-Kuwaiti territorial dispute, the reason for the sanctions, had been resolved, the punitive embargo persisted. In April 1995, Resolution 986 authorized an "oil for food" program allowing up to $1 billion in oil sales every 90 days. Since Iraqi oil revenue could only be used for consumable goods like food and medicine, the nation was denied any opportunity to rebuild its economy, while the West could still reap the benefits of Iraq's petroleum. Hypocritically, the top purchaser of Iraqi oil under the oil for food program was the United States, the most ardent supporter of the sanctions. In 1998, the revenue ceiling was raised to $5.256 billion over 180 days. Numerous resolutions were issued in the years that followed, re-negotiating which imports ought to be permitted and how the revenues were to be administered. The basic parameters remained in place, so that the UN effectively managed all the foreign revenues of Iraq.
This neocolonial subjugation of Iraq could hardly be justified on the basis of its previous invasion of Kuwait, so Iraq was repeatedly found to be non-compliant with its obligations under resolutions requiring its disarmament. Iraq repeatedly denied weapons inspectors access to its presidential palaces, declaring these sites off-limits in September 1997. The Iraqis also accused the inspections teams of espionage, and demanded that the number of inspectors from the United States be limited. The UN Security Council rejected Iraqi demands and condemned Iraq for non-compliance with Resolution 687 on several occasions: Resolution 707 (15 August 1991), Resolution 1115 (21 June 1997), Resolution 1134 (23 October 1997), Resolution 1137 (12 November 1997), Resolution 1194 (9 September 1998), and Resolution 1205 (5 November 1998). Note that the last time the UN condemned Iraq for non-compliance was in 1998, four and a half years before the Iraq invasion, contrary to the Bush administration's portrayal of Iraq as routinely flouting the weapons regime. All of Iraq's weapons inspection violations occurred from 1993 to 1998, and as we shall see, not all of these were without justification.
In the early 1990s, Iraq was genuinely non-compliant, in the sense of secretly continuing its biological and nuclear weapons programs. The United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), established in 1990 to conduct weapons inspections, aggressively investigated every claim of illicit Iraqi weapons development, often employing espionage. As part of its enforcement of Resolution 687, UNSCOM not only investigated possible biological and chemical weapons development, but any missile development, as Iraq was forbidden to produce missiles with a range over 150 km. Nuclear inspections were conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Iraq denied the continued existence of its nuclear weapons program until October 1991, when the discovery of enrichment and reprocessing-related equipment forced Iraqi admission that a weapons program existed. The IAEA began destruction of all material components of Iraq's nuclear program immediately, and effectively dismantled the program by November 1992. In its 1997 progress report, the IAEA found "there are no indications of Iraq having retained any physical capability for the indigenous production of weapon-usable nuclear material in amounts of any practical significance" (as reported to the UN Security Council on 27 July 1998), with any remaining materials having been "unilaterally destroyed by Iraq." At the peak of its program in April 1991, Iraq was close to success in producing highly enriched uranium, yet it never produced more than a few grams of weapons-grade material nor was it able to obtain such material from other sources. This rudimentary program, defunct for well over a decade, was the basis of President Bush's scaremongering invocation of mushroom clouds in the leadup to the 2003 invasion.
Iraq's biological weapons program was much more substantial than its nuclear program, and may have continued a few years longer. Iraq nominally accepted inspections in April 1991, but they obstructed UNSCOM on several occasions, most notably in July 1992, when inspectors were denied entry into the agricultural ministry and assaulted by a mob of demonstrators. Early setbacks like this encouraged Rolf Ekeus, director of UNSCOM, to pursue increasingly sophisticated and aggressive surveillance measures. In September 1991, Scott Ritter was brought into UNSCOM to help create an Information Assessment Unit, which would collect photographs from U-2 spy planes and have them analyzed by experts. The line between inspections and espionage was erased, as CIA experts were employed by UNSCOM, as was Israeli intelligence. In fact, according to Ritter, UNSCOM became heavily dependent on Israeli information from 1995 to 1997. This dependence was kept secret, as the Arab world would have been outraged to learn that the UN was relying on the accusations of their archenemy as a basis for weapons inspections. It was probably naive of UNSCOM to trust the Israelis, who clearly had a selfish interest in prolonging the sanctions, and had a long track record of double-dealing, going back to the Suez crisis and their own covert nuclear program. With U.S. help, UNSCOM was able to intercept and decode encrypted Iraqi radio transmissions, and employed virtually every type of surveillance bug used by the NSA. In short, the Iraqis were right: UNSCOM was spying on Iraq, in a very intrusive, thorough, and technologically sophisticated way.
While UNSCOM's espionage program might be justified if its use were restricted to identifying illicit weapons programs, the CIA was conducting its own spying missions through UNSCOM. This created conflicts of interests for Americans in the commission, as Ritter felt it was his duty as a patriot not to reveal the specifics of these activities. The love of country, it seems, is a strange love that demands lies and deception for the sake of honor. Mr. Ritter's patriotism remaining unblemished, we may nonetheless deduce that the CIA was using the intelligence on Iraq to help orchestrate the failed coup of 1997. The Iraqi government had penetrated the coup plot at an early stage, which is why they were able to make accusations of U.S. espionage with such certitude. Americans in UNSCOM were further conflicted by their government's insistence that the CIA should have control over any foreign intelligence interactions involving a U.S. citizen. Thus, if an American member of UNSCOM was interacting with British intelligence, the CIA needed to be involved. Thus, all U.S. members of UNSCOM would be effectively agents for the CIA.
Before all this espionage would come to a head in 1997, UNSCOM did accomplish some important work with regard to Iraqi disarmament. Half of Iraq's chemical munitions had already been destroyed by the Gulf War bombing or by the Iraqis themselves shortly after the war. As Iraq's chemical weapons were an open secret since the 1980s, the Iraqis immediately acknowledged the existence of this program, and destroyed the remaining munitions under UNSCOM supervision from 1992 to 1994. Most of this was mustard gas (600 tons), which was of good quality and could have lasted for years. The much more deadly nerve gas existed in relatively small quantities (30 tons of tabun and 70 tons of sarin), and were of such poor quality that they would have degraded shortly anyway. Iraq's developmental VX nerve agent was abandoned after 1988, having never existed in large quantities (less than half a ton), though there were several hundred tons of chemical precursors, also destroyed.
Though the Iraqi chemical program was unilaterally dismantled starting immediately after the Gulf War, Hussein's regime continued the development and production of biological weapons for a brief period after UN inspections were in place. Biological weapons did not require industrial scale facilities, and they were easier to produce since they could simply be grown, making it more feasible for this weapons program to continue covertly. Despite these advantages, the biological weapons program was identified by UNSCOM's intelligence arm by 1995, around the same time Gen. Hussein Kamel, Saddam's son-in-law, defected from Iraq. Contrary to depictions by the U.S. government, Kamel did not provide evidence that the Iraqi biological weapons program was still in existence. Rather, he explicitly stated that all agents and weapons were destroyed in response to UNSCOM's effective inspections in the early 1990s. All centrifuges, chemical and biological munitions, and long range missiles were destroyed, though blueprints and molds remained, as the regime harbored intentions of eventually reviving some of the programs. Kamel stated his reason for defecting was to disclose all of Iraq's past weapons programs so that the sanctions might end and Iraq could move forward. The U.S. had no interest in Iraq moving forward, however, and no interest in the truth of Kamel's revelations becoming known. The world needed to be frightened into accepting the American objective of crippling and toppling the Iraqi regime, regardless of whether they disarmed. Glimpses of this disingenuous game appeared in 1997 and 1998.
By now, it should be clear that the principal objective of the United States and its closest allies was not simply to remove the threat of non-conventional weapons, but to eliminate Iraq even as a conventional military or economic power. This objective was part of a broader Anglo-American policy of keeping the Arab world fragmented, so no single regime could control the majority of the world's petroleum, nor could the Arab world ever constitute a geopolitical power to rival the West, or even Israel for that matter. As international support for continuing the sanctions began to wane in the late 1990s, the American objective of toppling the Baath regime acquired greater prominence.
On 26 March, 1997, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright delivered a scathing speech detailing Iraq's past non-compliance with Security Council resolutions, and its current refusal to fully cooperate with UNSCOM inspections. She referred to the new oil-for-food program established in 1995 as an "experiment" that was unrelated to any possible lifting of the sanctions. While admitting that great progress had been made in the disarmament of Iraq, she was unconvinced that all unconventional weapons had been destroyed, and warned that the lifting of sanctions and ending of inspections would encourage Saddam to resume his earlier ambitions and restart the forbidden weapons programs. Her desire to use the sanctions as a means to weaken Iraq strategically and topple its leader was undisguised:
Meanwhile, six years of sanctions and isolation have taken their toll on the regime in Baghdad. Saddam Hussein has become by far the most divisive force in Iraq, and several coup attempts have been made. Members of his own somewhat dysfunctional family have turned against him. His inner circle of advisers has been purged repeatedly. Today, his power rests on an increasingly narrow foundation of intimidation and terror.
After candidly admitting that the sanctions were aimed at the broader goal of regime change, rather than simply prevention of military aggression and non-conventional weapons, Albright declared that this policy of "containment" should continue regardless of Iraq's future compliance.
We do not agree with the nations who argue that if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted. Our view, which is unshakable, is that Iraq must prove its peaceful intentions. It can only do that by complying with all of the Security Council resolutions to which it is subject.
Is it possible to conceive of such a government under Saddam Hussein? When I was a professor, I taught that you have to consider all possibilities. As Secretary of State, I have to deal in the realm of reality and probability. And the evidence is overwhelming that Saddam Hussein's intentions will never be peaceful.
In this ill-advised statement, which was published globally, Albright revealed to the Iraqi government that no matter what they did, the sanctions would remain in place as long as they were in power. The mere presence of Saddam Hussein constituted a threat to peace, as far as the Clinton administration was concerned. This is an astonishing claim from a government that started more wars than Saddam Hussein, wreaking far more death and destruction against nations many times weaker. Albright also had the chutzpah to chastise Saddam's aggression against Iran, while ignoring the U.S.'s prominent role in that conflict. Apart from the hypocrisy in this statement, it was also foolish to deny the Iraqi regime any incentive to comply with the weapons inspections.
Albright's demand for regime change fell beyond the pale of international law, as the UN resolutions regarding Iraq only required compliance with weapons inspections and the abandonment of military aggression against Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. For the Clinton administration, the inspections were simply a means of perpetuating the sanctions, which is why Albright's speech ignored the possibility of ending the sanctions but continuing inspections to ensure permanent compliance.
The American position linking the ending of sanctions to regime change undermined UNSCOM's mission, and Iraq refused to co-operate with inspections that summer, and even fired upon surveillance helicopters. The new director of UNSCOM, the Australian Richard Butler, was willing to work much more closely and trustingly with U.S. intelligence than his Swedish predecessor. In September, an UNSCOM inspection team boldly demanded access to Saddam's residence, the Al Hyatt palace, after receiving evidence that security staff there may have been involved in biological weapons research. Naturally, the Iraqis denied entry to the inspectors, precipitating the first major confrontation over inspections.
Iraq's contention that presidential sites should be off-limits to inspectors was judged a flagrant breach of compliance in UN Security Council Resolution 1134, issued on 23 October. At this time, the Iraqis voiced accusations of espionage on the part of the Americans in UNSCOM, knowing that the U.S. was indeed attempting to foment a coup against the government. Indeed, in March, Secretary Albright said the U.S. would "continue to support the establishment of a coherent and united Iraqi opposition". Up to their old tricks, the Americans again sought to manipulate Iraqi politics, squeezing the regime out of power with the pressure of sanctions, making them just as cynically culpable for Iraqi suffering as the Baathists.
Iraq continued to cooperate with UNSCOM with regard to the destruction of chemical weapons and related equipment, yet the government insisted that all U.S. citizens working for UNSCOM should leave the country, and claimed the right to shoot down American U2 spy planes. On 30 October and 2 November, Iraq denied entry to two American UNSCOM officials, resulting in condemnation by the Security Council on 12 November (Resolution 1137).
The U.S. sought the use of military force against Iraq, but was opposed by a Security Council coalition of Russia, China, and France, forged by the Russian Foreign Minister Evgenii Primakov. By 20 November, the Russians persuaded Saddam to allow inspectors back into the country, in exchange for the promise that Russia would work to remove the sanctions. From this point onward, the sanctions issue would divide the Security Council between the belligerent Anglo-American axis, seeking regime change no matter what, and the Russian-Chinese-French coalition, motivated in no small part by economic self-interest. The Russians would especially benefit from the lifting of sanctions, so Iraq could pay its $7 billion debt to Russia and purchase Russian armaments, as well as allow Russian companies to develop oil and gas projects.
Despite the efforts of Russian diplomacy, the Iraqis remained uncompromising in their opposition to the inspection of presidential palaces. UNSCOM Director Richard Butler failed to reach an agreement with the Iraqis in December, and in January 1998 the Iraqis added the further demand that Scott Ritter's team be permanently banned from Iraq, openly accusing Ritter of being a U.S. spy. Ritter has since openly, even proudly, acknowledged cooperating with the CIA in spying on the Iraqi government, at a time when the Clinton administration was plotting an insurrection. His patriotism was ill-rewarded, as the Clinton administration would soon turn against him and make him a scapegoat.
In late January, things became strange and downright Clintonian. With the breaking of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, President Clinton threatened military action against Iraq. In Ritter's view:
The U.S. wasn't a big supporter of UNSCOM to begin with, at that point in time; we were merely a means of implementing the continuation of sanctions. So, suddenly, you had to fall in love with UNSCOM all over again, and decide that you were willing to go to war for the inspection process.
Albright had already indicated the previous year that the U.S., contrary to its international mandate, sought sanctions against Iraq regardless of whether it disarmed. On 26 January, the same day Clinton issued his infamous denial about "relations with that woman," the neoconservative Project for a New American Century (PNAC) sent a letter to the President, urging that the U.S. pursue a policy of regime change in Iraq even if inspections resume. Among the signatories to the letter were Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Zalmay Khalilzad, who would all have roles to play in a later Iraq adventure. Days later, Secretary Albright was sent to Europe to defend the U.S. position on the use of military force. While the Clinton administration had already committed to extending the sanctions no matter what, using disarmament inspections as an excuse, it is probable that the domestic scandal added pressure to act quickly.
Since the Clinton administration and other advocates of regime change did not respect or understand the weapons inspection process that they deemed ineffective, they did not accurately represent the threat level Iraq posed, which was actually known to the weapons inspectors. According to Ritter, Iraq had "seed stock" to reconstitute a biological weapons program, but their weapons factories had been destroyed by UNSCOM. Scaremongering by Defense Secretary William Cohen holding up a bag of anthrax (a scene that would be repeated in the run-up to the second Iraq war) was not based on Iraq's real capability. In Ritter's words, "Yeah, there's a handful of Special Security Organization guys, running around with briefcases that have plans and ideas for larger activity. Iraq's not clean, in any sense of the word. But there's not this great factory." Without industrial facilities, Iraq's weapons plans posed no immediate threat. By devaluing how effective the weapons inspections had been so far, the administration was able to greatly exaggerate the danger.
In a major miscalculation, the Clinton administration arranged a televised town hall meeting at Ohio State University on 18 February, where Secretary of State Albright, Defense Secretary Cohen, and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger fielded questions from students and faculty. The meeting soon became hostile, with heckling, chanting, and pointed questions and accusations coming from the audience. Broadcast on CNN in anticipation of Saddam Hussein's viewing habits, this attempt to show American solidarity in fact revealed deep divisions over the threatened war, and even over the sanctions themselves. Attempts by Albright and Cohen to spin the disaster as evidence of our vibrant, free democracy rang hollow, especially as the administration disregarded the concerns of dissenters. It is a common rhetorical tactic to use the existence of an opposition to boast of a free society, while hypocritically ensuring that the opposition has no real political influence. Americans apparently should be proud that they can speak against their government, even if it has no effect on policy. Freedom of speech is a way to appease the masses so the real powers can proceed as they would anyway.
Nonetheless, the unexpected show of opposition may have forced the Clinton administration to give diplomacy another hard look. Two days later, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1153, doubling the oil-for-food cap to $5.256 billion. On 23 February, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan signed a memorandum of understanding with the Iraqi government, in which the latter agreed to comply with UNSCOM and IAEA inspections. This agreement was endorsed by the Security Council on 2 March in Resolution 1154. Since Iraq would agree to inspection of the eight disputed presidential sites, the pretext for war was eliminated.
As Iraq finally agreed to admit inspectors to presidential sites, the U.S. took advantage by secretly taking control of UNSCOM's intelligence operations, effectively turning the commission into a tool of U.S. espionage. While UNSCOM had long cooperated with U.S. intelligence, which provided U-2 surveillance data since 1992, now the U.S. used inspection teams to penetrate Saddam's security forces, providing information that would later be used for military targeting. The UN disarmament commission was subverted to further the U.S. policy of regime change.
UNSCOM had crossed the line from inspections into espionage years earlier. Beginning in 1995, Israel provided inspectors scanning and recording equipment to intercept short range Iraqi radio communications, which evaded satellite and aerial reconnaissance. Inspectors carried surveillance devices in their backpacks, and conversations were deciphered by British intelligence specialists. Beginning in 1996, at the request of UNSCOM Director Rolf Ekeus, the U.S. provided sophisticated surveillance devices designed by the CIA and NSA's Special Collection Service, a secret organization created in the late 1970s. By September, Ekeus complained that U.S. had been consistently withholding data from UNSCOM, a sure sign this data was collected for purposes other than weapons inspections. In 1997, new UNSCOM Director Richard Butler adopted a more trusting attitude toward the United States, which would lead to the domination of UNSCOM by U.S. intelligence.
In March 1998, DIA agents posing as UNSCOM operatives planted newly designed surveillance devices in Baghdad. These devices could transmit intercepted signals directly to NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, eliminating the need for inspectors to act as spies. A supercomputer would search for key words in order to identify conversations of potential interest, greatly reducing deciphering time. With this new system, the U.S. had full control over all data collection and distribution. The U.S. stopped issuing intelligence reports to Scott Ritter's team, reserving these for only the most senior UN personnel. Now that the U.S. was the gatekeeper of all data, UNSCOM was only allowed to use international personnel with U.S. security clearance to work with surveillance equipment or data. The U.S. had effectively taken ownership of UNSCOM's espionage operations.
U.S. orchestration of UNSCOM's espionage was at times not only indifferent to the cause of weapons inspection, but hostile to it. Inspectors on the field such as Scott Ritter were denied access to intelligence reports, though the surveillance was supposedly being conducted for the benefit of weapons inspections. The U.S repeatedly urged UNSCOM to abort inspections that met Iraqi protests or were likely to result in a confrontation. Ritter viewed this as capitulation to the Iraqis, but it is also possible that the U.S. viewed confrontational inspections as jeopardizing their intelligence gathering operations.
By the summer of 1998, it was clear that the U.S. was not concerned with weapons inspections, but with a massive espionage campaign. Ritter recalls an Australian "collection" specialist who suspected he was being used as part of a spy campaign.
In early August, when I went to Baghdad, he pulled me aside and told me he had concerns about what was transpiring. He said there was a very high volume of data, and that he was getting no feedback about whether it was good, bad, or useful. He said that it was his experience that this was a massive intelligence collection operation — one that was not in accordance with what UNSCOM was supposed to be doing.
In early August, Tariq Aziz insisted that the inspections must end, and Iraq should be declared free of weapons of mass destruction. There was dishonesty on both sides, as Iraq certainly intended to resume developing such weapons at the earliest opportunity, while the weapons inspections were increasingly subverted to facilitating American espionage aimed at regime change. On 5 August, Iraq suspended cooperation with UNSCOM, on the grounds that the agency was spying for the Americans. Though Iraqi motives were disingenuous, the accusation was entirely correct.
Clinton again threatened war with Iraq in August, and again the timing was questionable, coming immediately after his admission that he had lied about the Lewinsky affair. At the same time, he ordered cruise missile attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan in response to the East Africa embassy bombings committed by terrorists earlier that month. The unusually aggressive response appeared to be a distraction from the president's domestic problems, so that the Arab press disdainfully spoke of the "Monica missiles." Such cynicism seemed reinforced by the revelation that the Sudanese target bombed by Americans was an innocent pharmaceutical factory. Naturally, the U.S. government conducted these attacks without regard for the sovereignty of Sudan or Afghanistan and without a declaration of war.
Ritter resigned from UNSCOM in late August 1998, in response to requests that he desist from confrontational inspections. Little did he know, at the time, that his team was actually being used for espionage, so he thought that the undercutting of his mission was a capitulation to the Iraqis. The administration attempted to discredit Ritter by accusing him of being an Israeli spy.
As the U.S. accused Iraq of having chemical weapons in some of its destroyed warheads, Iraq cancelled all UNSCOM inspections on 31 October. On 13 November, Clinton ordered an air strike against Iraq, but cancelled it as Iraq agreed to cooperate. When the inspection teams returned, Iraq again gave only limited cooperation, resulting in another confrontation.
On 13 December, with an impeachment vote pending, Clinton secretly authorized a military strike on Iraq. This would take place on the 16th, forcing a delay in the vote. On the 15th, Richard Butler reported Iraq's failure to cooperate, providing a pretext for attack. Naturally, Iraq refused to comply with UNSCOM, as by now it was abundantly clear that it was a tool of American espionage. The Iraqi government openly accused UNSCOM of spying for the Americans. The U.S. government dismissed these complaints as mere propaganda, a denial about as truthful as Clinton's January statement on the Lewinsky affair. In fact, the U.S. government was secretly doing everything in its power to use UNSCOM as a tool for covert warfare against Iraq. The data gathered would provide targets for air strikes. Inspectors withdrew from Iraq in anticipation of these strikes.
The bombing campaign, Operation Desert Fox, lasted four days (16-19 August), and resulted in Iraq's refusal to allow UNSCOM back into the country. This suited the U.S. well, as such non-cooperation provided a pretext for continuing the sanctions, though it had the disadvantage of discontinuing the espionage.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's office leaked knowledge about U.S. spying through UNSCOM on 4 January 1999, precipitating a cascade of more detailed revelations. Within days, the Boston Globe and New York Times reported that U.S. spies had been planted on UNSCOM teams, resulting in an immediate denial by the State Department. As more details emerged, it became clear that the U.S. had arranged a system whereby Canadian, Australian, British, and New Zealand nationals with U.S. intelligence clearance would serve on UNSCOM to operate eavesdropping equipment. Thus the operation would have the appearance of an international effort when in fact the U.S. was in control. Nationals of these countries share U.S. intelligence clearance per the secret 1948 UKUSA treaty, which enables the U.S. intelligence agencies to circumvent constitutional barriers to spying on the American public.
As it became widely reported that UNSCOM had indeed spied on Iraq, and not solely for the purpose of weapons inspections, the credibility of UNSCOM was destroyed. This did not seriously affect American policy, since weapons inspections had become merely a front for espionage, as far as the administration was concerned, for they did not believe inspections could ever be effective.
Documentation of U.S. espionage through UNSCOM can be found in these references:
The UNSCOM espionage episode provides an instructive example of the systematic deception and manipulation that is routinely perpetrated by the U.S. government and major news media. The facts of this espionage were made public in 1999, being published on the front pages of the New York Times (7 January), Washington Post (2 March) and Boston Globe (6 January). The administration at first denied these reports, but ultimately, as more officials came forward, they refused to repeat these denials. So the U.S. spied on Iraq, denied that it had done so, then admitted to having spied only for the purpose of weapons inspections, and eventually officials acknowledged having gathered intelligence for the purpose of pursuing regime change. In effect, the government lied to the American people and the international community. Yet three years later, when the Bush administration was looking for an excuse for war, major American media outlets either ignored the fact that UNSCOM had spied on Iraq or referred to Iraqi "allegations" of spying, though the UNSCOM espionage had been presented as factual front-page news by the same media sources in 1999. In a mere three years, a pliant, amnesiac populace was persuaded to forget about the fact of American spying, and could even be sold the stale propaganda that the U.S. government would never deliberately lie to the American people. Such breathtaking Orwellian reversals can only take place in a shallow culture that has no appreciation of even the most recent history, being totally immersed in the present.
The oft-repeated myth that Iraq expelled the weapons inspectors stands in disregard of two facts: (1) The inspectors actually left voluntarily, in anticipation of the American bombing campaign of December 1998. (2) Inspectors were not allowed to return because of their espionage activities, which facilitated Operation Desert Fox and American attempts to overthrow the Iraqi government. Both of these inconvenient facts are completely ignored in later mainstream narratives of the Iraqi conflict.
After the spying scandal broke in 1999, UNSCOM was disbanded by the UN and eventually replaced by the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) under Security Council Resolution 1284 (17 December 1999). Richard Butler, the head of UNSCOM who almost certainly was aware of U.S. espionage despite his repeated denials, was not on the new commission. In fact, all members of UNMOVIC were employees of the United Nations, to avoid the scandalous subversion of weapons inspections to the covert operations of a member state, such as the U.S. had orchestrated. Iraq, however, would not accept Resolution 1284, and refused to admit inspectors until 2002. This suited the U.S. perfectly, as Iraqi non-compliance with weapons inspections provided an excuse to continue the sanctions and the pursuit of regime change.
Continue to Part II
© 2008 Daniel J. Castellano. All rights reserved. http://www.arcaneknowledge.org