On the U.S.-British Occupation of Iraq

Bush and Blair Take the First Step Toward Reconquest of the Middle East

by Tom Barrett

From the first threats made by the United States against Iraq in 2002, nothing about this war has made sense. And now, with U.S. troops occupying Baghdad and British troops occupying Basra, a fact accomplished in about three weeks, people all over the world are wondering, “What just happened here?”

Only a very few people on this planet know how the U.S.–U.K. alliance achieved its blitzkrieg victory, and this correspondent is not one of them. One who possibly does is Saddam Hussein, who seems to have disappeared into thin air. All we have is circumstantial evidence, speculation, and a whirlwind of rumors circulating throughout the Arab world. Was Saddam Hussein killed along with his two sons by a U.S. bomb? Did the Saudis succeed in brokering a deal between Bush and Saddam, in which Saddam gave up his country for a comfortable exile? Why did Iraqi resistance, which was surprisingly strong in the southern regions of the country during the first two weeks of the war, suddenly stop?

On May 1 (an ironic date), Bush declared that major combat was completed in his misnamed “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” but he did not declare victory or even an end to the war. Airmen and sailors are coming home, but as yet most of the Army soldiers and Marines are continuing to occupy Iraq.

Only one thing appears certain: the U.S. government is hiding the truth from the working people of this country. How successful they can be in this age of the internet and global news services, such as the Qatar-based satellite TV network al-Jazireh, remains to be seen. The Bush administration has promoted an image of this war as a video game, in which the bad guys have been obliterated by “shock and awe” firepower. And the U.S.-based media, both the major networks and the cable television news services, have hidden death and suffering from their audiences.

Bush’s Middle East Policy: A Construction of Lies Built on a Foundation of Lies

In the nearly twelve months of build-up to this war, the Bush administration has openly lied, hidden and distorted the truth, and exploited ignorance and racism in an attempt to rally public support behind a military attack on Iraq. What is surprising is not that a capitalist government would do such a thing, but how ineffective its deception actually was. Though opinion polls indicated that a majority of Americans supported military action against Iraq (depending, of course, on how the questions were phrased), support for “Gulf War II” was not nearly as strong as it was for George Bush the Elder’s “Gulf War I.”

Actually, most popular support for the war was based on a lie that even Bush’s loyal lieutenants could not defend: the accusation that the Iraqi government was involved with the destruction of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Evidence published widely in both print and broadcast media showed conclusively that not only was Saddam Hussein not in any way involved with September 11, but that Usama bin Ladin considered him to be an “infidel” because he was a secular nationalist rather than an Islamic theocrat. Any investigation of Arab history and politics showed that in no way could there be a connection between Saddam’s Ba’athist movement and bin Ladin’s al-Qa’ideh network. Nevertheless, even though the Bush administration denied accusing Iraq of being involved with the September 11 attacks, they continued to postulate a connection between the Baghdad government and al-Qa’ideh, usually based on one of bin Ladin’s associates receiving medical treatment in Iraq.

Though the Bush administration would strenuously deny it, it has built its support for its war policies and “antiterrorism” measures on a foundation of anti-Arab and anti-Islamic racism. It has not responded to Christian fundamentalists such as Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham (son of Billy Graham, the preacher who called on God to bless the first hydrogen bombs), who have made comments that Islam is a terrorist religion. It has done little to put a stop to racial profiling by the airlines and law enforcement agencies, which have targeted Arabs, Turks, Pakistanis, and other Muslims for special surveillance as potential “terrorists.” And when all is said and done, only the logic of racism can enable anyone to link Saddam Hussein and bin Ladin, with the notion that all Arabs and all Muslims belong to an “axis of evil.” Administration spokespeople on the Sunday morning talk shows can deny all they like: talk to anyone with an American flag bumper sticker or a yellow ribbon on his lamppost, and there can be no doubt about the ugly racist undercurrent flowing just below the surface of support for this war.

But of all the lies this administration has told, the most glaring has been its basic pretext for military action: Iraq’s possession of so-called “weapons of mass destruction” — that is, nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. At this writing, over four weeks after the capture of Baghdad and the disappearance of Saddam Hussein, over four weeks after U.S. and British forces have taken complete control of Iraq, no such weapons have been found. During the course of the war, when Saddam Hussein’s power and even his life were in question, no such weapons were used, and no one has ever doubted that Saddam Hussein had any hesitation about using such terrible weapons on anyone.

There is a big contradiction here that ultimately the Bush administration will be unable to resolve: if the U.S. and U.K. were able to “take Saddam out” so easily and so quickly, then how could Iraq have been such a threat to American and British security? After all, countries in the region, including countries which share borders with Iraq, did not feel threatened, including Iran, which fought a ten-year war against Iraq, instigated by this same Saddam Hussein. Iraq had no friends whatsoever among its Middle Eastern neighbors, and yet none joined the Bush-Blair “coalition of the willing.”

The Truth about the “Weapons of Mass Destruction”

If one seeks proof that Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, and Rice have been lying about the threat of Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction,” one needs look no further than retired Marine Major Scott Ritter, who served as the UN’s chief weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. A self-described conservative Republican, who served in Gulf War I as a Marine intelligence officer and voted for Bush in the 2000 election, Ritter has no reason to lie. But he is blowing the whistle on this administration’s lies, and he has been one of the most eloquent speakers in opposition to Gulf War II. He has the evidence to prove the truth of his assertions.

He also has no love for Saddam Hussein, whom he calls a brutal dictator. Unfortunately, Ritter’s description of the Iraqi president is accurate. And even worse, his rise to power — and his acquisition of an arsenal of deadly chemical and biological weapons — was facilitated by none other than the United States of America.

Christopher Dickey and Evan Thomas, writing in Newsweek in September 2002, say the following:

The history of America's relations with Saddam is one of the sorrier tales in American foreign policy. Time and again, America turned a blind eye to Saddam's predations, saw him as the lesser evil or flinched at the chance to unseat him. No single policymaker or administration deserves blame for creating, or at least tolerating, a monster; many of their decisions seemed reasonable at the time. Even so, there are moments in this clumsy dance with the Devil that make one cringe. It is hard to believe that, during most of the 1980s, America knowingly permitted the Iraq Atomic Energy Commission to import bacterial cultures that might be used to build biological weapons. But it happened.

And in 1983 the Reagan administration’s Middle East envoy was sent to Baghdad to sit down with Saddam Hussein and offer assistance in his murderous war against Iran. That envoy was none other than Donald Rumsfeld.

Ritter acknowledges freely that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons and that Iraq was well on its way to developing nuclear weapons. Most of the weapons and technology that Iraq had were supplied by France, Germany, and the U.K., and to a lesser extent the United States, during its war with Iran. However, Ritter, in his capacity as senior weapons inspector, saw the destruction of these capabilities. In an interview with LA Weekly he says the following about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program:

Clearly Iraq had a nuclear weapons program. Of the four categories of prohibited weapons, nuclear is the one we most thoroughly eradicated. Especially the part of their nuclear program that was dedicated to enrichment, to producing the highly enriched uranium needed for the fissile core of a nuclear device. This was wiped out; there was nothing left. For Iraq to reconstitute that would require not only tens of billions of dollars of investment, but also the reconstitution of entire industrial facilities that are easily detected by our intelligence services. It would also require technology to be purchased abroad, which is tightly controlled and not something Iraq could do without being detected. I find it hard to believe the vice president when he says Iraq is close to developing a nuclear weapon — they weren’t anywhere near close in 1998, when inspectors left. If some new development has transpired in the last four years, I wish the White House would share that evidence with the American people.

Concerning chemical weapons, Ritter says this:

Iraq had a massive chemical weapons industry, with gigantic factories dedicated to the production of these deadly agents. They did use them against the Iranians and against the Kurds, which is one reason why the international community outlawed them in 1991. Once inspectors went into Iraq, we not only destroyed the factories and equipment that produced these agents, we also rounded up the weapons and the precursor chemicals that are mixed together to produce the deadly agent, and we eliminated them. We achieved tremendous success in this area. We eradicated their mustard-agent and their sarin- and tabun-agent production capability. If Iraq managed to hide some of their nerve agent from us, it has a shelf life of only five years, so today, with their factories destroyed, Iraq has no nerve-agent capability — unless they reconstituted their manufacturing base, which no one has demonstrated.

VX is a different subject altogether. Iraq lied to us from day one about VX. They said they never had a VX program. But we uncovered their entire research-and-development plant, which had been bombed during Desert Storm and destroyed. Using documentation recovered from that, we were able to track down and discover Iraq’s stockpile of VX, confirming that it had been destroyed. We also exposed another Iraqi lie — that they had never stabilized VX. We even proved that they put it in warheads, contrary to what they had declared. [But] the bottom line is — even though the Iraqis lied to us about VX, and we still might have some concerns about this program, there is no VX production capability in Iraq today — unless Iraq went out after 1998 and acquired all this technology that we had destroyed.

Ritter’s account of Iraq’s biological weapons program is similar. Again, the biological agents which Iraq possessed have degenerated to the point that they are useless and no threat to anyone, least of all people in the United States of America.

Scott Ritter’s conclusion is that George W. Bush and all the top spokespeople of his administration have lied to Congress, to the United Nations, to the American people, and to the world’s people. His opinion is that if Congress had any courage they would enact articles of impeachment in the House of Representatives and remove President Bush from office by action of the Senate. We will not debate the effectiveness of that course of action here, but suffice it to say that the death and suffering which George Bush has caused, motivated by lies to the Congress and to the people, are far more worthy of impeachment than a sexual tryst with a White House intern.

The failure to date of U.S. and British forces to find anything resembling a “weapons of mass destruction” threat proves eloquently the truth of Ritter’s words. It is too late now for the Bush administration to come up with credible evidence for their prewar assertions. No one will believe it, nor should they. A placard carried by a young woman in the April 12 demonstration in Washington against Gulf War II says it all: “Weapons of mass destruction, my ass.”

A Strange End to a Strange War

Actually, it should be understood: U.S. and British forces have ousted Saddam Hussein and are in control of Iraq, but in no way can it be said that this war has ended. Only the first phase of Gulf War II has been concluded. The Iraqi people are regrouping and reorganizing their resistance, and different political and religious forces are vying to assume the leadership of the struggle to defeat the occupation forces. But even if the bombing has ceased and Saddam is gone (to a destination that few know and no one is telling) the fighting continues. American soldiers and Marines are still dying, as are Iraqi civilians.

But the first phase of the war, the ouster of Saddam’s government and the occupation of Iraq, has been concluded victoriously for the U.S.-U.K. imperialist coalition. And the circumstances of their victory have left the entire world perplexed as to what actually happened.

The actual war began in a surprising way, with the bombing of a location in Baghdad where it was rumored that Saddam and his sons were meeting with Ba’ath Party officials. The ground invasion began almost immediately thereafter, with British forces attacking Basra and the U.S. forces marching on Baghdad.

It had been assumed by nearly everyone, supporters and opponents of the war alike, that the war would begin with massive bombing of Baghdad, the most destructive bombing the world had ever seen, the “shock and awe” campaign that U.S. military leaders publicly threatened. It was also assumed that the Iraqi army would be no match for U.S. and British forces and would be defeated rather quickly, especially in the Basra region. The real test, it was thought, would be the Republican Guard forces on the outskirts of Baghdad and within the city itself.

The conventional wisdom, as usual, was completely wrong.

The bombing of Baghdad, though murderous and completely unjustified, was not nearly as intense as initially feared. Many civilians were killed, and many more were injured, and quite seriously in most cases. But it could have been much worse.

When the ground fighting began, it was reported that “coalition” forces were securing their objectives with little difficulty. Then the truth came out. British forces met stiff resistance in their assault on Basra, and U.S. forces were stopped in their tracks at a small city called an-Nasiriyeh, a place no one outside of Iraq had ever heard of. The forces which gave the British and Americans so much trouble again were fighters whom no one had heard of before, the feday’een, a paramilitary unit originally organized by of one of Saddam Hussein’s sons. No one, least of all the U.S. and British intelligence agencies, had expected the feday’een (in Arabic, “men of sacrifice”) to put up such a fight.

At an-Nasiriyeh and at the nearby Shi’eh religious centers of Karbala and an-Najaf the U.S. Army and Marines found themselves in the fight of their lives, taking casualties they never expected. A supply unit took a wrong turn and met an ambush, Most of them were killed, and Private First Class Jessica Lynch was taken prisoner.

Suddenly, the specter of a much longer war, a quagmire on the order of Vietnam or the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, seemed on the agenda. Additionally, the brutal heat of the southern Iraqi desert was threatening to become the mirror image of the Russian winter that contributed to the destruction of Nazi forces during World War II. And then three weeks into the fighting, Iraqi resistance suddenly collapsed.

The Disintegration of Saddam Hussein’s Regime

Near the end of March, the American forces decided to abandon their effort to secure an-Najaf, Karbala, and an-Nasiriyeh, and instead marched toward Baghdad. At the same time, there was a bombing attack on a location where they believed they could hit Saddam Hussein and his two sons. To this day it is not known whether or not they either killed or injured Saddam or his sons, but after that bombing raid, the Iraqi resistance suddenly fell to pieces. Within days the Americans secured the Baghdad airport and started making probes into the city. They met only sporadic resistance from Iraqi troops. When the Americans made a full-scale assault to occupy the capital, they found that the Republican Guards had abandoned their posts and dispersed into the civilian population. In the north, the alliance of the Americans with the Kurdish forces of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan also captured the major cities, Kirkuk, Mosul, Suleimaniyeh, with almost no fighting. Even Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s birthplace and the center of his power base, fell without the intense fighting that all had predicted.

This has led to intense speculation throughout the Arab world, where rumors and conspiracy theories are as ubiquitous as the neighborhood tea houses where men gather to drink tea or coffee, smoke, play dominoes and backgammon, and talk. The Arabic word one most commonly hears or reads is “as-safqeh.” It is difficult to translate, but it means essentially a secret agreement, or a secret betrayal. It is widely believed that the Saudis brokered an agreement whereby Saddam turned Iraq over to the Americans and British and that he has left the country. It is well known that the Saudis tried to get Saddam to resign and go into exile before the war started and that he refused. There is no hard evidence now that he changed his mind and agreed to the arrangement, but the circumstances of the Iraqi capitulation — and that is the best word to use for it — raise many questions.

One explanation is that the bombing raid on Baghdad killed Saddam Hussein. However, the U.S. has not sent a forensic team to investigate the site. That is circumstantial evidence that the American leadership knows that Saddam was not there and that he is still alive.

Iraq’s majority Shi’i Muslims, who have always considered Saddam an enemy and an oppressor, find this to be an attractive theory, that the Sunni dictator betrayed Iraq into the hands of the infidel invaders. The belief may very well be true, but we may never know one way or another, unless Saddam himself makes his presence known — the most popular theory is that he has gone to Mecca — or someone in the U.S. occupation forces discloses what happened. What we do know is that the Iraqi people want the Americans and British out of their country immediately. And resistance is growing.

So This Is What Iraqi Freedom Looks Like?

After one month of “liberation,” Iraqis can be forgiven for wondering what kind of “freedom” the United States has brought them. They have been unable to venture from their homes from dusk until dawn. They have electric power only an hour or two per day, if they are lucky. They do not yet have clean water, and a cholera epidemic is breaking out in Basra. Street crime, unknown during Saddam’s dictatorship, is rampant. Of course, the massive looting that took place after Baghdad’s fall dominated the news media; it has tapered off, probably only because there is nothing left to steal.

In one month of “democracy,” Iraqis have seen a conference to create a new Iraqi government at which all the delegates were hand-picked by the U.S. They have seen the Ba’ath Party banned and dissolved, and all former members of that group excluded from government in the future. And to understand what that means, it is important to remember that the Ba’ath Party had under Saddam Hussein’s leadership abandoned any pretext to an ideological program. Its program was whatever Saddam Hussein said it was — and it was subject to change at Saddam’s pleasure. Furthermore, party membership was required for any position in civil service, university faculty, and most professions. Saddam Hussein was an open admirer of Joseph Stalin, and he modeled his Ba’ath Party on the bureaucratized Soviet Communist Party, prior to perestroika, and with no proletarian foundation whatsoever. The American occupiers’ decree that no former Ba’ath Party member can be involved in government is a blanket exclusion of people who joined the party simply to advance in a chosen career and may not have had any special loyalty to Saddam Hussein. And the key fact is this: it was a decision not by any Iraqi at all, but by the American military officers who are in fact ruling Iraq. To call this “liberation,” and to do so with a straight face as George Bush is doing, is as big a perversion of the truth as anything imagined by George Orwell in his most pessimistic fictional stories.

What is really on the agenda, euphemistically called “reconstruction” of Iraq, is an economic gang rape the like of which has not been seen in the Middle East since the reign of the Shah of Iran, who was installed by a CIA coup in 1953 and overthrown by a people’s revolution in 1979. The same companies who made billions in Iran during the 1960s and 1970s are flocking to Iraq like hyenas around a dead antelope. The principal player is the Halliburton Company, one of the biggest oilfield supply and construction companies in the world. Prior to 2000 its Chief Executive Officer was none other than Richard Cheney.

In 1962 Halliburton acquired the Dallas-based construction firm Brown & Root. A year later Mohammad Reza Pahlevi Shah began his infamous “White Revolution” in Iran, a forced march of false modernization, intense repression, suppression of national minorities, and uprooting of traditional social patterns, leading to economic dislocation in the rural areas of Iran, where most of the population lived then and continues to live now. Brown & Root made billions of dollars in profits in Iran, but in 1979 the new Islamic revolutionary government expelled them.

Today they are known as KBR (for Kellogg Brown & Root, since Halliburton acquired Kellogg Energy in 1992). Dick Cheney, who has put his Halliburton stock in a blind trust but still maintains contact with the top executives at his old firm, was one of the principal proponents of war against Iraq. The occupation of that country has opened up opportunities for Halliburton and its KBR subsidiary on a vast scale. It has been active in other regions of the Middle East, and in the former Soviet Central Asian republics, but political instability in the region has continually threatened their ability to build the infrastructures necessary to exploit the region’s resources. Gulf War II has been the first step in imposing U.S. control over this region, in the interests of making profits, profits, profits for multinational corporations.

In fact, oil resources are only the beginning. It is likely that the oil companies will not be the biggest winners in the so-called “reconstruction” of Iraq. One might make an analogy to Atlantic City, New Jersey, after the legalization of casino gambling in that city: the Mafia was excluded from any role in ownership or management of the casino hotels. However, Mob families controlled all the businesses providing the infrastructure for the gaming industry, from paving contractors to laundry services. Similarly in Iraq, oil is only the beginning of the story. The United States occupiers will very likely not turn Iraq’s oilfields over to Exxon-Mobil and Texaco. However, American firms like Halliburton and its subsidiaries will provide all the drill bits, pumping engines, pipelines, and construction equipment. So even though the Americans can piously claim that they have left Iraq’s oil resources in the possession of the Iraqi people (and say it with a straight face), the infrastructure of the Iraqi oil industry will be built and under the control of the Americans. The next item on the agenda will be the development projects to follow: housing and hotels, transportation — including roads, trucking, airport improvement and new airports, telecommunications, and broadcast media. And who knows? Maybe the next new architecture to rise in the ancient city of Baghdad will be the golden arches of McDonald’s.

In the United States the antiwar movement has been set back but by no means destroyed. Activists throughout the country are regrouping and discussing what to do next. The demand for immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops remains valid and important, and there seems to be broad consensus around that demand. Saddam Hussein may have been defeated, but the Iraqi people have not yet been, and neither has the antiwar movement. Some slightly different tactics may be appropriate, but the overall struggle to put a stop to U.S. imperialist aggression and the occupation of Iraq must continue. Not only does the United States continue to occupy Iraq, but the threat that the United States will invade additional countries, particularly Iran or Syria, is very real. The occupation of Iraq must stop; invasion of Iran or Syria must not start. That is the challenge facing the broad working masses, the only force which can truly challenge the world’s only imperialist superpower.