The spoil of the oil makes true freedom impossible
The area that contains the modern Iraq has seen much strife and bloodshed over its long and storied history. The spoils and land of the area have been fought over by the Romans, Mongols, Ottomans, British, and most recently the United States. The early aggressors had no public relations campaigns, just pure un-tempered aggression in their imperial quest. More recently, the United States has used extensive diplomatic and information campaigns highlighting the ‘seeming’ lack of maleficence for controlling aspects of the region. The latest example, Operation Iraqi Freedom, was a United States venture with the stated goals of freeing the Iraqi people of the brutal leadership of Saddam Hussein and capturing the weapons of mass destruction stockpiled within the borders. The eight year campaign left nearly one million dead and the region in shambles. The operation was launched with a large public relations build up that vehemently claimed safety of both the region and world was hanging in the balance. Ten years after the initial invasion and almost two years after the official end of combat, these statements are rightly under scrutiny. Thorough analysis of United States involvement in Iraq over the course of the last fifty years reveals that neither the people of Iraq, nor the people of the world have benefited; rather, they have suffered greatly as a result of conflict in the area.
The United States joins Britain in imperial influence in the area
Decades before the United States became interested, Britain was very involved in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. Nationalization of Iranian oil prompted the British to enlist the help of the United States in overthrowing Iranian leadership. Even though the World Court had decided in favor of the democratically elected leadership of Iran in oil nationalization, a coup (Operation Ajax) was successfully accomplished by agents of the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and the American Central Intelligence Agency in 1953. This helped maintain the corporate oil monopoly of British Petroleum in the area. Renamed from Anglo-Persian Oil in the same year, the company was largely British government owned at the time. This was a time when the major nations of the world were fully aware of the true power of oil, thus the need to have influence in the oil rich nations became paramount. This birth of United States colonial efforts is the beginning of what would be a much storied affair. The fallout from the Iranian coup would greatly affect the people of Iraq several decades later as detailed later in this paper.
The United States helps to create an ally in the fight against ‘its enemies’
The United States had cut its clandestine teeth in the area in the early 1950’s with a watchful eye on the future of the region. At the height of the Cold War, fears of pro-communist government in Iraq were used by the CIA to back the Ba’ath Party in its rise to power in 1963. James Akins, United States diplomat to the Baghdad Embassy, recollects the events of the time in saying: “I knew all the Ba’ath Party leaders and I liked them. The CIA were definitely involved in that coup. We saw the rise of the Ba’athists as a way of replacing a pro-Soviet government with a pro-American one and you don’t get that chance very often. Sure, some people were rounded up and shot but these were mostly communists so that didn’t bother us.”
Former State Department foreign service officer Roger Morris corroborates this claim while going one step further. He claims that future Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was actually on the payroll of the CIA during this time. This claim would seem to serve a pivotal role for the United States in the coming years both as a war of proxy ally, and as a source of revenue.
Spoils of Iraq and the region
Looking at the United States position on Iraq and the Middle East in the 1960’s, two things are readily clear. The United States had a vested interest in stopping the spread of communism and they also sought access to oil in the most oil rich place on the planet. While these two facts could easily explain interest in Iraq, there was a new more shadowy interest about to enter the fold.
The United States had grown to be the largest power in the world in the latter half of the 20th century. The currency of the United States was unanimously used as reserve currency by the nations of the world. This was in large part due to the role of United States currency in the Bretton Woods system. This system basically regulated currency exchange in trade. It was set up after the Second World War in an effort to stave off some of the elements that led to the two great conflicts of the 20th century. President Nixon removed the essential vestige of the Bretton Woods system when he moved United States currency off of the gold standard in late 1971. When this was coupled with the oil embargo of 1973, economic shock waves were sent across the world. The United States knew it had to do something to secure its spot atop the economic food chain in preventing the nations of the world from revising Bretton Woods.
The oil embargo resulted in significant attitude and policy changes for Arab nations and for the western countries reliant on them. Arab countries realized the power of their vast resources and strengthened its ties within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). In the United States, people on Wall Street and the political leaders were of the opinion that such an embargo could never again be permitted to happen. Where Bretton Woods ties into this quandary is that oil would be the new backing for the United States dollar in place of gold… but with no international decision on the matter. Also by linking the dollar to oil, embargos would be much more difficult. The “petrodollar” was born out of this. As Bretton Woods regulated the exchange of money, the same affect would be set when the United States brokered agreements with Saudi Arabia to invent this pseudo-currency backing. The agreements offered by the United States had been baited based on oil revenue riches for the kingdom and civil works projects to bring Saudi Arabia into the 20th century. The United States also brought technical support and military hardware to the disposal of the kingdom. By aligning so deeply with Saudi interest, this made the United States dollar the default trading currency for much of the world oil production. Now most nations would have to exchange their currency to procure this very necessary item. This power shift is detailed by John Perkins in his book Confessions of an Economic Hitman. Perkins acquired this knowledge in his time as an agent of finance working in front groups for the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The groups he worked in were vetted and semi-controlled by the United States National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency. Perkins shows the vested interest of the United States in controlling the entirety of the Middle East from the fiscal standpoint.
Where Bretton Woods and the ‘petrodollar’ tie into Iraq is the idea of colonial control. A friendly oil-producing Iraq increases the power of the United States currency. But those applications would seem small when examining the human element in this equation. An Iraqi state-run by a despot able to police other states in the region would be an attractive tool for further protecting interests in the Middle East. Such a state would serve well in a proxy war…and indeed Iraq did.
The fall of Iran, the rise of Saddam and his usefulness to the United States
The late 1970’s were a time of revolution in Iran. A vocal Islamic fever was mounting against the Shah. The twenty plus year violent rule of the United States controlled Shah was beginning to crumble. Demonstrations started in 1977 and revolution took place in 1979. The result was that the secular Iranian state-run by a controlled a despot was replaced by a militant Islamic republic. The end result was predicted in Central Intelligence Agency papers on Operation Ajax. “Blowback” from the 1953 hostile takeover was a possibility…and indeed they were correct. Fallout was swift. Americans were killed, Americans hostages were taken, and the United States solution was to illegally trade weapons for the hostages. This swap of weapons for hostages (‘Iran Contra’) would again scar the American public still war-weary from Vietnam, and serve to arm Iran for its upcoming war. A war of proxy it seems.
As mentioned prior, the Ba’ath Party rise to power was in part, facilitated by the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The claims that Saddam was on the pay roll of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1963 impose on the events of 1979. While there may be no historical consensus, Saddam and his timely rise to power in reference to the Iranian situation should not be glossed over as coincidence. Only months after the Shah left Iran for exile in 1979, Saddam would take the office of Chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council of Iraq. This was the ultimate decision post in Iraq at the time. While border disputes were touted in the news as the reasons why Iraq invaded Iran in 1980, there is no ignoring the fact that colonial retribution interest for the United States was at stake.
The Iran Iraq war was a bloody affair with more than a million dead. While that is the negative side, war is profitable for some. In this case, it was the American government and munitions manufactures. With the market drying up since the end of the Vietnam War, there was a surplus to move, and a willing administration in the United States and other countries. The aforementioned ‘Iran Contra’ affair would supply Iran to an extent, but a more menacing supply chain would go to Iraq.
According to the New York Times: The Reagan Administration secretly decided to provide highly classified intelligence to Iraq in the spring of 1982 — more than two years earlier than previously disclosed — while also permitting the sale of American-made arms to Baghdad in a successful effort to help President Saddam Hussein avert imminent defeat in the war with Iran, former intelligence and State Department officials say.
Tethered with the sale of weapons sales to Iran, this may sound bad, but it is nothing compared to other items sold to Iraq in this time.
As confirmed in the congressional ‘Riegal Report’, the United States made many shipments of the items necessary for chemical weapons to Iraq during the Iran Iraq War. These chemical weapons (‘weapons of mass destruction’) would account for 60,000 of the 600,000 Iranian dead and 5,000 of the Kurdish in northern Iraq. In arming Iraqi military with intelligence, conventional, and chemical weapons, the United States ensured that the violent rule of Saddam would stay in place. The United States may have also sent a message to the new Islamic Republic of Iran. While Iran had escaped the grasps of colonial control, they were not free to export this revolution to other countries in this key region.
There was a twofold grave reality would mark Iraq for this period. The collateral murder of Iraqi and Iranian civilians at the hands of weapons banned by international law was one dire consequence. The other would emerge in the early 21st century… and possibly prove more costly to the Iraqi people.
Hubris of Saddam and the Gulf War
With the Iran Iraq war over, relations between the United States and Iraq remained open and beneficial to both parties. Saddam seemed to be a good steward of United States policy in the region, but also seemed to be slipping into megalomania. He was observed on several times as mentioning that he was the successor to epic figures from Iraqi history. He is reported to have lamented his connection to Nebuchadnezzar II and Saladin. He even built one of his palaces on top of the remains of Nebuchadnezzar’s palace in Babylon. This ego would undoubtedly help lead him to war in Kuwait in the early 1990’s.
While this conflict was also about land disputes, controversy involving the United States would also affect this move. In the summer of 1990, U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie would meet several times with Saddam. In what some would presume to be an attempt to open dialog, Ambassador Glaspie was ambiguous on the topic of conflict with Kuwait when meeting with Saddam. When the cables of her discussion were leaked, it was revealed that she communicated less than ambivalent feelings to Saddam regarding Iraqi invasion into Kuwait. Some pundits would regard this exchange as an example of poor foreign policy, but others would infer that a seedier ‘green light’ to invade had been given to Saddam by the United States.
Convinced that an invasion of Kuwait would draw no American response, Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1991. Perhaps hubris gripped Saddam, perhaps it was the faith that he was playing his part as a United States sanctioned aggressor like in the past, or perhaps a bit of both. The consequent action was something that Saddam did not expect. A swift invasion into Kuwait by the United States would take place and crush the military of Iraq. The United States would chase the retreating forces back into Iraq and murder them as they fled in what came to be known as the “Highway of death.”This assault was an international war crime in some estimations. The United States did all of this while procuring military basing rights with what some sources say was falsified intelligence in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The basing rights and destruction of the Iraqi military would again fortify colonial control of the region. Over the course of thirty years the United States had now firmly made its mark in the largest oil producing region in the world. They had done so through overt, covert, proxy, and direct force. Iraq was very central in the entire process. But the suppression of Iraqi freedoms and implementation of force does not end with the Gulf War.
Sanctions of Iraq
Iraqi people had now endured decades of suffering under Ottoman, British, and United States intervention. The suffering would continue for the next decade in the form of sanctions as punishment for the Kuwaiti foray. The sanctions were launched days after the Iraqi invasion into Kuwait and lasted until several months into 2003. While the sanctions were aimed at hurting Iraqi military, there was not much to hurt after much of the ground and air forces were decimated by coalition troops in the Gulf War. Almost all of the major military technology sites in Iraq had been destroyed through air strikes, so there was really no way for Iraq to rebuild in the near future. While sanctions certainly starved Iraq of what it would need to rebuild a military, the sanctions were also credited by the United Nations as killing half a million children under the age of five. While the ‘oil for food’ program would ease these numbers, it was also exploited by Saddam and used as one of the reasons by coalition forces for the invasion in 2003. When doing a cost benefit analysis of the sanctions, the cost seems to far outweigh the gains. Since the United States had gained permanent basing rights in Saudi Arabia, coupled with the stifling defeat of the Iraqi military at its peak, it is hard to estimate that a non-sanctioned Iraq would have gone on the offensive with any success. Still the world sat by as the Iraqi people suffered.
Removing Saddam under the guise of world security and Iraqi freedom
With the election of the son of former President George H.W. Bush, a new Iraqi war was on the horizon in what may appear as a family tradition. What seemed like a decision made in the 2002 or 2003 timeframe based on intelligence reports signaling danger, was actually a decision that was some time in the making. Paul O’Neill, the Treasury Secretary under newly elected George W. Bush, furnished internal White House national security documents that showed that the new Bush administration had been talking about war with Iraq ten days after his inauguration in 2001…and many months prior to the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001 in New York. After the tragic events of September 11th, the Bush administration wasted little time capitalizing on the sense of fear and revenge simmering in the American public.
While no direct link to the perpetrators of September 11th could be made to Iraq, the specter of fear was still easy to exploit. United States intelligence reports indicated that Saddam had revitalized his ‘weapons of mass destruction’ program even under the crippling sanctions of the past decade. British intelligence reports also signaled this. What was conveniently left out of the conversation was the fact that the United States had supplied Iraq with many items to help them build their weapons of mass destruction in the 1980’s. Even though the United States congress had furnished a report detailing this, there was no notable mention of this fact in the press or administration. The possibility that the United States was seeking to invade to retrieve weapons that they had helped to build was never a thought in the American public. Not only were these facts not brought to light, but United Nations weapons inspectors that had been canvasing Iraq for years had said that the American and British claims had no merit. The truth would seem that Saddam did indeed disarm after the Gulf War. Israeli intelligence services were aware of this fact and that the weapons of mass destruction claims were false, but they chose not to say anything until after the invasion. Just as the lies of Iraqi forces throwing babies out of incubators to die in Kuwait had forged American resolve to go to war in 1991, a new blatant lie would be used against the American people to war in Iraq.
So war was launched against the regime of Saddam in 2003. Since the world body could not be convinced due weapons inspections that indicated American claims to be false, the United States enlisted a small coalition of countries for a war that was supposed to be over in a matter of months. The reality was much graver. The war in Iraq would last for nearly a decade. With its official conclusion in 2011, the death toll is estimated at just over one million people. Terrorists flocked into Iraq to fight coalition troops and have grown regionally with succession. The Al-Nusra Front was forged in Iraq (Alias for Al Qaeda in Iraq) and has now spread to Syria where they are allegedly making and using chemical weapons on the people of that country in an effort to take control of the government. In May of 2013 more than one thousand Iraqis were killed in a month of violence sparking fears of a new civil war. The Iraqi infrastructure and economy that had billions spent for improvements is still decimated. In some estimates, the conditions are worse than when Iraq was under sanctions prior to 2003. With the local economy, safety, and living standard in an abhorrent state…coupled with the terrorist organizations that metastasized in Iraq during the war that are now spreading…it would be hard to imply that the safety and wellbeing of Iraq has been improved, or that the world is more secure. This is a tragedy for Iraq and the rest of the world.
The benefactors from the years of colonial exploits in Iraq are certainly not the people of Iraq. Through engineered despotic leadership, proxy wars, chemical weapons attacks, murderous sanctions, invasions, and a world in contempt of their recent historical plight…the people of this storied area are the ultimate losers. Other non-benefactors would be the American public. A barrage of public relations campaigns and lies have brought the nation to war twice against Iraq. Trillions of dollars from the public coffers have been spent in the names of security and benevolence towards the Iraqi people. Neither has been achieved in any measurable way. Also not to benefit would be the people of the Middle East and the rest of the world. Perceived as a beacon for freedom and democracy, the United States has greatly tarnished its image around the world while leaving millions dead in the wake with spreading violence in the area. The Middle East has been experiencing just as much, or perhaps more bloodshed than any time in the recent past. With no perceivable stop to this, the people of the world are left to wonder if this is organic, or the product of years of colonial exploits and modern provocation.
Notable government figures such as Alan Greenspan have gone on the record to express what a tragedy it is that the war and domination has all been centered on oil, yet this is not acceptable discussion. Many other prominent figures around the world share these views. With respected people of finance, industry and politics expressing this opinion, it is safe to say that there is merit to their claims. Beginning in 2002, weapons sales among the one-hundred largest providers of military equipment and services have increased 60%. Companies such as Halliburton and Kellogg Brown and Root have seen massive profits through no bid contracts and ‘cost plus’ scandals. Select politicians and business oligarchs have cashed in while the world suffers through a recession. They have been the true winners of the years of colonial exploitation in Iraq.
The horrors that Iraqis have faced over the past fifty years have been many. The wars launched to free them and bring them to a decent standard have failed miserably. Public relations campaigns of lies and truth stretching have cost countless lives and dollars. Neither the people of Iraq, nor the people of the world are better off since United States colonial efforts began over fifty years ago.
Author: SB, the author of this essay, has asked that we publish it anonymously due to the nature of his profession.