Thursday, March 16, 2006

Iraq: this is part of a pattern. Part III

"Doesn’t it seem... cowardly to drop napalm bombs on defenseless villages?"

"In the 1920s, Britain pieced together Iraq from three Ottoman provinces, won as war booty in WWI.

"Control of Iraq furnished British companies with access to newly discovered oil fields in Kurdistan and along Iraq’s border with Iran.

"A puppet king was installed to create the illusion of Iraqi autonomy and a domestic army was built to quell minor internal uprisings, but was kept weak enough that it wouldn’t be able to challenge continued British domination."

All we know for sure, says Stephen C. Pelletiere, a former professor at the US Army War College, and the CIA’s senior political analyst during the Iraq-Iran war, was that the “Kurds were bombarded with poison gas that day at Halabja,” not that “Iraqi chemical weapons killed the Kurds.”

The following extract is taken from
http://gowans.blogspot.com/2006/03/weve-done-it-before-so-why-all-shock.html

The Invasion’s and Occupation’s Toll in Lives

Over 2,000 US soldiers have been killed since their government plunged them into a war of conquest, and more than 16,000 have been wounded (New York Times, January 1, 2006).

The figures for the aggressors are bad enough, but they don’t begin to compare with the death and destruction visited upon the victims, Iraqis.

A study by the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University estimated that 100,000 Iraqi civilians were killed as a direct or indirect result of the Anglo-American invasion.

(New York Times, October 29, 2004).

The Iraq Body Count estimates that 30,000 Iraqis have been killed since March 2003. The UN Human Rights Commission found that a year and a half into the occupation, almost twice as many Iraqi children were malnourished as before US and British troops began their assault on the country.

Close to eight percent of Iraqi children under the age of five – 400,000 kids - suffer from acute malnutrition, up from four percent two years earlier (Workers World, April 6, 2005).

And there are other blights:

Limited access to potable water;

irregular and limited electricity generation;

a degraded health care system;

and schools destroyed.

Those who say Iraq would be plunged into disarray if the US cut and run, are either blind to the reality that the humanitarian crisis is deepening under the Anglo-American occupation (indeed, was set in motion by the decision of the US to wage war on Iraq), or don’t particularly care.

The Resistance

Asked by a French reporter whether it was cowardly to use women’s baskets and handbags to carry explosives to kill innocent people, Larbi Ben M’hidi, leader of the resistance against the French colonial occupation of Algeria, turned the question around.

“And doesn’t it seem more cowardly to drop napalm bombs on defenseless villages so that there are a thousand times more innocent victims? Of course, if we had your airplanes it would be a lot easier for us. Give us your bombers, and you can have our baskets.”

Contrary to the impression that could be easily formed from media accounts of armed resistance to the US and British occupation of Iraq, those engaged in hostile acts against occupation forces and collaborationist Iraqi police and military personnel are not, in the main, al-Qaeda fighters who have poured into Iraq from other predominantly Islamic countries.

They’re Iraqis retaliating against the invasion of their country. All but a small percentage of political prisoners held by US forces are Iraqi citizens (Washington Post, May 10, 2005).

Likewise, the impression created by the media of resistance activities being comprised largely of an endless series of attacks on Iraqi civilians by suicide bombers is also wrong.

To be sure, suicide bombings that kill Iraqi civilians occur, and they occur regularly enough, but they do not occur with anywhere near the frequency of attacks on occupying military forces, their adjuncts, and Iraqi collaborators.

Over the 12 month period ending last summer, the number of attacks on occupying and collaborationist forces averaged 65 per day (New York Times, July 24, 2005).

And there’s every indication the resistance is growing despite (indeed, because of) stepped up efforts to quell it, including an intensification of air attacks with its inevitable growing mountain of by-stander victims.

The number of attacks by resistance forces in March 2004 nearly doubled over the previous summer, while attacks by the end of last year were 250 percent higher than in March 2004.

At the same time, resistance attacks on Iraqi collaborationist forces had grown 200 percent from March 2004 to December 2005 (New York Times, February 2006).

Imperialism has only ever been defeated by the recalcitrance of the natives, and the resistance of Iraqis to the blatant attempt by Anglo-American forces to dominate Iraq to exploit the country’s land, labor and resources, is progressive, necessary and inevitable.

As author Tariq Ali told the Stop the War Peace Conference held in London, last December, “the resistance is fighting for us all”

(Proletarian, February-March, 2006, http://www.cpgb-ml.org/index.php?secName=proletarian).

The Façade of Sovereignty

The tribunal trying Saddam Hussein and other leading figures of the ousted Iraqi government with various crimes is an instrument of US policy, barely concealed behind a thin Iraqi façade. It was established by a decree passed by the American occupation authority.

The US provides the funding – more than $75 million (New York Times, June 6, 2005).

Washington furnishes the tribunal with US lawyers, forensic experts and others “who work in an agency known as the Regime Crimes Liaison Office, financed by the US Justice Department and housed in the US embassy” (New York Times, July 18, 2005).

The Iraqi judges take “pains to proclaim their autonomy” but “work closely with dozens of US Justice Department lawyers and forensic specialists” who “have screened tons of physical and documentary evidence, offered guidance to Iraqi prosecutors on strategy and run them through a mock trial” (New York Times, October 18, 2005).

The US even holds Saddam Hussein in its own prison near the Baghdad airport, under a special arrangement that allows the ousted president to be nominally, though not actually, in the custody of Iraq.

The Justice Department cajoles and threatens until it gets its way, at one point threatening to take Hussein to The Haque if Iraqi politicians didn’t stop interfering in the tribunal’s work (New York Times, July 20, 2005).

The US, accordingly, is declared to be “the real power behind the tribunal, advising and often deciding on almost every facet of its work, always behind a shield of anonymity” (New York Times, October 18, 2005).

This is a microcosm of the larger relationship between the US and Iraq, in which Washington is the real power behind the Iraqi government, advising and often deciding on almost every facet of its work, always behind a shield (though a not particularly opaque one) of anonymity.

Contrary to the poorly constructed illusion, Iraq is not sovereign, nor even semi-sovereign.

The United States sets the drum beat to which its Iraqi functionaries march, and will, through the operation of the institutions, laws, and ownership claims the US has created, always march, unless toppled by the resistance.

That Iraq is in no sense sovereign is clear, not only in the reality that the tribunal is US-run and directed, but in the fact that the US is creating an army in Iraq whose function is not to defend the country, but to put down uprisings against the occupation.

Washington “envisions Iraq as having little air force, and presumably little ground defense against enemy air weaponry.”

“U.S. officers tend to describe what they are training as a counterinsurgency force, rather than an army” (Washington Post, November 20, 2005).

In other words, Iraq’s military will defend US interests against internal opposition, but will not be capable of mounting a defense against outside aggressors – which includes, objectively, the US and British militaries. Iraq’s army is woefully under-equipped.

Its officers importune US officials for equipment: assault rifles, tanks, attack helicopters and command and control equipment, but their requests are turned down, with vague promises that equipment will be furnished in good time.

A properly equipped Iraqi army could turn on the occupiers.

This echoes the strategy the British used to dominate Iraq.

In the 1920s, Britain pieced together Iraq from three Ottoman provinces, won as war booty in WWI.

Control of Iraq furnished British companies with access to newly discovered oil fields in Kurdistan and along Iraq’s border with Iran.

A puppet king was installed to create the illusion of Iraqi autonomy and a domestic army was built to quell minor internal uprisings, but was kept weak enough that it wouldn’t be able to challenge continued British domination.

The task of dealing with major uprisings fell to Britain.

Under Britain’s first Labour government, terror bombing of Iraqi villages was authorized, to keep restive Iraqis in line, and to enforce Britain’s domination of the country and its prized oil assets.

This wasn’t the first, nor the last, time an avowed socialist would act as a good imperialist.In the same tradition, the US is building four major airbases in Iraq.

General John Jumper, the US Air Force Chief of Staff, says American warplanes will remain in Iraq “more or less indefinitely.”

A US troop presence will also remain to protect the airbases (New York Times, August 30, 2005).

The indefinite American military presence, says Jumper, is necessary to protect US “interests in that part of the world,” a curious statement from the standpoint of democracy and geography, but perfectly understandable from the standpoint of imperialism.

What purpose does the nominally-sovereign, US-directed tribunal service?

To some, it’s to justify the invasion because the weapons of mass destruction that formed the original basis for the war were never found.

One analysis argued, “For the Bush administration, which found no weapons of mass destruction after ousting Hussein, a string of successful prosecutions could help to defend the decision to invade Iraq by focusing attention on the crimes of the ousted regime” (New York Times, October 18, 2005).

This could be interpreted to mean Washington sincerely believed weapons would be found (which is why it went looking for them), and when it discovered it had blundered, established the tribunal to provide evidence that would form the basis of the justification it needed to save face.

But this ignores the evidence that the Bush administration knew all along there were no weapons of mass destruction, but invoked the threat of hidden banned weapons as the strongest pretext for an invasion.

There was Dearlove’s report to Blair that the intelligence was being fit to the policy; the debriefing of the defector Hussein Kamel, Saddam’s weapons chief and son-in-law, who told the CIA he had ordered the destruction of all Iraq’s weapons; and the subsequent cover up.

This all pointed to Washington knowing that Iraq was disarmed.

Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told Vanity Fair that “for reasons that have a lot to do with the US government bureaucracy, we settled on the issue that everyone could agree on: weapons of mass destruction.”

While this can be interpreted to mean the hidden weapons claim was accepted because everyone believed it to be true, it can also mean (and this seems far more likely) that the claim was seized on because the deception that Iraq had reconstituted its weapons program made the best public relations case for war.

Significantly, Wolfowitz’s words indicate the Bush administration was looking for a pretext, not that it discovered Iraq had banned weapons and proceeded from there.

Recall, too, that the real reason for the invasion of Iraq, in Wolfowitz’s words, was that economically Iraq could not be overlooked – “it swims in a sea of oil,” he said (The Guardian, June 9, 2003).

A pretext had to be found to justify the ousting, by force, of the economically nationalist regime of Saddam Hussein, which had walled off a vast sea of oil, and other investment and trade opportunities, from US capital.

American officials have kept the tribunal’s charges within narrow limits, ensuring the indictments are not broad enough to include events connected with the Iran-Iraq war.

The goal is to shelter Iraq from the obligation to pay war reparations to Iran (New York Times, June 6, 2005), to avoid reducing the attractiveness of Iraq as a potential bonanza of profits for US transnationals, and to prevent infusions of capital from flowing to a country Washington has also targeted for regime change.

So far the Tribunal has only dealt with the former regime’s response to a botched attempt on the life of Saddam Hussein in the village of Dujail in 1982.

If the deposed president is found guilty of having ordered the execution of 140 residents of the village, the tribunal hearings, at least they respect Saddam Hussein, may come to an end. Under a new law, all death sentences must be carried out within 30 days of a failed appeal, regardless of pending charges (Times Online, February 19, 2006).

If the tribunal rules against Hussein (as it must, for reasons explained below), other charges will be dropped, including the charge the ousted president “gassed his own people” at Halabja in March 1988.

The Halabja Incident

Iranian forces had occupied Halabja, part of the Kurd region of Iraq, in the latter days of the Iraq-Iran war.

Iraqi forces launched an attack to drive the Iranians out of the village. In the battle, both sides used poison gas.

Caught in the middle, 5,000 Kurd civilians died horrible deaths. But who was responsible for their deaths – Iraqi forces, Iranian forces, or both – was never clear.

All we know for sure, says Stephen C. Pelletiere, a former professor at the US Army War College, and the CIA’s senior political analyst during the Iraq-Iran war, was that the “Kurds were bombarded with poison gas that day at Halabja,” not that “Iraqi chemical weapons killed the Kurds.”

(Stephen C. Pelletiere, “A war crime or an act of war?” New York Times, January 31, 2003).

The condition of the dead, however, suggests that it was Iran, not Iraq, which bears responsibility.

According to Pelletiere, “The condition of the dead bodies indicated they had been killed with a blood agent…which Iran was known to use.

The Iraqis, who are thought to have used mustard gas in the battle, are not known to have possessed blood agents.”

Hence, rather than Saddam Hussein ordering the use of poison gas to kill Kurd civilians, the ultimate culprit may have been the Iranian forces that had occupied the village.

Even if we accept, against the evidence, that it was Iraqi mustard gas that killed the residents of Halabja, the context makes clear that Saddam Hussein did not deliberately order the gassing of his own people, contrary to the impression US pro-war propaganda has created.




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