Thursday, March 16, 2006

Iraq: this is part of a pattern that reaches back to the founding of the US, and has characterized the behavior of all advanced capitalist states.

"The first conspicuous peace-time demonstration of strategic bombing…was the bombing of the villages of Iraq by the first (British) Labour government in 1924." Bombing civilians was "a more economic way of punishing villages for non-payment of taxes than the old fashioned method of sending an expedition"

“The Americans brought electricity to my ass before they brought it to my house” - Abu Ghraib prisoner.

Why was Iraq invaded?

The following is an extract from a post at the excellent gowans.blogspot

Many people seem to forget, or perhaps never knew, that the United States, like other advanced capitalist countries, has been aggressively expansionist from the beginning.

From the moment of its founding, it has been driven to extend its domain on behalf of the dominant economic group and has used force to do so.

The logic of the US slave system drove the United States to annex Texas and wage war on Mexico.

Later, the logic of capitalism drove the US state to acquire the Philippines, Cuba, Guam, Hawaii and Samoa as colonies and semi-colonies and dependencies, and to intervene militarily over and over again in Latin America to establish an effective suzerainty over the Western hemisphere.

The same logic demanded wars be fought in the post WWII period, on north Korea, Vietnam, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, as the weakening of Japan, Germany, Britain, and later the collapse of the Soviet Union, opened up space for the US to pursue profit-making opportunities for its corporations on a worldwide basis.

(I use corporation throughout in its broadest sense, to include manufacturing, service, resource-extractive and financial corporations.)

Countries that stood in the way, that nationalized assets owned by US corporations and closed their doors to further exploitation by US economic interests, were attacked, if not militarily, then in other ways.

The same logic is behind aggression, by threat of military intervention, economic blockade, and the financing of internal subversion, carried out today against Cuba, north Korea, Belarus, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and Iran – all countries which rank at the very top of the list of states considered by Washington to be economically "unfree" (that is, that block, limit or place conditions on US investment and exports.)

Viewed within the context of US history, and the social and economic forces which have shaped Washington’s foreign policy, the US aggression against Iraq can be seen to be part of this coherent whole, not an anomaly that has sprung from an immanent lust for power residing deep in the psyches of George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, nor a consequence of a unique set of events arising out of a social-economic vacuum.

This has important implications for understanding what realistic options are available to those who seek to change this recurrent pattern of war, of domination, and of spoliation of foreign countries.

New personalities won’t do it, because personalities aren’t the cause.

Third parties alone won’t do it, because third parties, as any other, are subordinate to the same systemic logic that has driven all parties in power, whether conservative, liberal, socialist and even communist (e.g. Yugoslavia) to pursue policies that facilitate the profit-making of the dominant economic class, including by the use of force to extort or secure opportunities from unwilling third countries.

The solution is to step outside (to overthrow) the logic that compels this behavior, not to tolerate it or assume wrongly it can be tamed and harnessed.

The Lead-Up to the Invasion

Two events are distantly critical to the decision of US planners to target Iraq for regime change:

*The 1958 revolution that overthrew the British-dominated monarchy,

* and the expropriation of British and US oil companies in the early 1970s.

*The first established Iraq’s nominal political independence;

*the second imbued the first with significance, by giving Iraq control over important economic assets.

The constitution under Saddam Hussein held that "natural resources and the basic means of production are owned by the People."

Oil revenue was used to "underwrite a handsome program of social supports, including free education through university" and medical care considered "the finest in the Middle East" (Workers World, August 20, 2005).

The price of basic goods was subsidized, and a largely state-owned economy was used to provide jobs – and income – to millions of Iraqis.

While not socialist, Iraq’s economy had many features of a socialist economy, and all the hallmarks of an economy advanced capitalist countries love to hate: restrictions on foreign ownership; preferential treatment of domestic firms; state intervention in the economy to achieve public policy goals; and limits on the sphere of private investment.

Henry Kissinger pseudonymously wrote an article in "the March 1975 issue of Harper’s, titled 'Seizing Arab Oil’" in which he "unabashedly outlined plans for a U.S. invasion to seize key Middle East oil fields to prevent Arab countries having control over the U.S.’s most vital raw material"

(Linda McQuaig, "History will show US lusted after oil," The Toronto Star, December 26, 2004).

Iraq was at the center of the plans.

Owing to the dangers of a possible Soviet response, Kissinger’s plan was never carried out.

But after the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, all kinds of possibilities opened up for the US.

"Kissinger’s old idea was taken up by the Project for a New American Century, whose membership included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz" (McQuaig).

The Project members, some of whom would soon become key figures in the Bush administration, urged then President Bill Clinton to step up efforts already in place to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s government, "whose control over 'a significant portion of the world’s oil’ was considered a liability" (McQuaig).

The liability, however, wasn’t one of the US being dependent on Arab countries for access to a vital resource, but of US oil companies being cut out of the action.

It’s widely believed that the US is highly dependent on imports of Middle Eastern oil, and that Arab control over the region’s petroleum resources leaves the United States in a highly vulnerable position. It’s true that production decisions made by oil-producing Arab countries can affect the price of oil on the world market, but the US depends on the Middle East for comparatively little of the oil it consumes.

For the US, maintaining tight control over the Middle East isn’t crucial to ensuring US manufacturers and consumers have uninterrupted access to a vital resource. Half of the oil the US consumes is produced domestically. Of the remaining half, the bulk, 80 percent, comes from two neighbors, Canada and Mexico. And a significant part of the remainder comes from Venezuela, also close by. Only a small fraction comes from the Middle East, and most of that, from Saudi Arabia.

James Arlin, US ambassador to Saudi Arabia under Kissinger, told author and journalist Linda McQuaig that "the plan to take over Iraq [was] a revival of the old plan that first appeared in 1975. It was the Kissinger plan" (McQuaig).

But the aim of the plan wasn’t to safeguard US access to vital oil supplies. In reality, Middle Eastern oil mostly flows to Europe, China and Japan.

Instead, the aim was to carve out and reclaim investment opportunities for US-based oil companies in the Middle East, which would sell oil from the Middle East to Spain, France, Germany, China and Japan.

Other US-based transnationals could profit too.

If Iraq was turned over to the control of a Washington-selected puppet government, US engineering giants, like Bechtel, could snap up contracts to build Iraq’s infrastructure. American capital could invest in Iraq’s public utilities. Iraq’s military could be integrated into a US-led military alliance, to become a customer for war machinery produced by Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, Boeing and other key Pentagon contractors, some of the largest and most influential corporations in the US.

In the summer of 2003, then US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was asked why Iraq, which didn’t have weapons of mass destruction, was invaded, while north Korea, which claimed to have a nuclear deterrent, wasn’t.

One of the reasons is plain enough, though Wolfowitz didn’t mention it. North Korea’s claimed nuclear arsenal makes Washington think twice about a ground invasion; Iraq, on the other hand, was easy pickings.

But Wolfowitz decided to draw attention to another reason.

"Let’s look at it simply," he said. "The most important difference between north Korea and Iraq was that economically we had no choice in Iraq"

("Wolfowitz: Iraq war was about oil," The Guardian, June 4, 2003).

With Britain’s investments in Iraq having been nationalized after the revolution against British rule, and corporate America on the sidelines owing to Washington’s sanctions and Baghdad’s hostility, European transnationals were busily working deals in Iraq.

The French oil giant, Total Fin Elf, landed a $4 billion contract to develop Iraqi oil.

The Russian oil firms, Lukoil and Zarubneft, netted drilling agreements worth tens of billions of dollars.

Scores of German firms inked deals to furnish Iraq with weapons and industrial machinery.

But the problem for the Russian, French and German companies that signed deals with Baghdad was that with Iraq crippled by sanctions, the country was in no position to become the bonanza of profits the European transnationals desperately wished for.

But if sanctions were lifted, and Iraq was allowed to get back on its feet, the profits might start rolling in, with competition from their effectively frozen out British and American rivals held at bay.

Through the late 90s pressure to lift the sanctions started to build.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, many of them children under the age of five, died from otherwise easily preventable diseases that had spread unchecked as a result of the privations imposed by the sanctions regime.

The political scientists, John Mueller and Karl Mueller, writing in Foreign Affairs, pointed out that sanctions had "contributed to more deaths during the post Cold War era than all the weapons of mass destruction throughout history" (Foreign Affairs, May 1999).

The sanctions had become weapons of mass destruction themselves, "sanctions of mass destruction" the Mueller’s called them – far deadlier than the chemical weapons Iraq and Iran had lobbed at each other in the 80s, and deadlier than the invasion of Kuwait the sanctions were ostensibly meant to punish Iraq for.

What’s more, after years of UN inspectors supervising the destruction of Iraq’s banned weapons, it had become clear that Iraq had been effectively disarmed.

Saddam Hussein’s weapons chief, and son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, told UN weapons inspectors and the CIA in 1995 that he had ordered the destruction of all of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

A transcript of his debriefing, obtained by Newsweek (March 3, 2003) has Kamel telling UN and CIA interrogators, "All chemical weapons were destroyed. I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons – biological, chemical, missile, nuclear – were destroyed"

("Missing From ABC’s WMD 'Scoop’, Star defector Hussein Kamel said weapons were destroyed," FAIR Action Alert, February 17, 2006, ).

The justification for continuing to uphold the sanctions regime had melted away.

The US and Britain, however, weren’t going to relinquish their grip on the noose they had wound tightly around Iraq’s neck.

Kamel’s admission that Iraq had destroyed its weapons was hushed up (Newsweek, March 3, 2003).

If sanctions were lifted, French, Russian and German firms would share in the bounty of Iraq’s oil economy, while American and British transnationals looked on enviously.

It was clear to US planners what had to be done.

Despite Iraq’s being crippled, wracked by war, and deprived of the means of defending itself from attack by the US, it had to be presented as a clear and present danger.

A US-led war would be necessary to change the regime in Baghdad.

The war would be said to be necessary to force Iraq to comply with UN demands that it disarm.

A new government would be installed, with much fanfare about democracy and freedom.

The new government would change Iraq’s laws to usher US and British corporations back into the county.

Beginnings of the War

The war didn’t begin in March 2003.

In fact, it can be said to have continued uninterrupted from the moment the Gulf War began in 1991, shifting form and intensity in the interim, but never coming to a close.

The period between the formal cessation of the Gulf War and the invasion of March 2003 was marked by sanctions and blockade, their object the same as that of the Gulf War: to bring down the regime of Saddam Hussein and replace it with a puppet government that would open the country to exploitation by US- and British-based transnationals.

The outcomes, too, in terms of death and misery, were the same, if not greater in magnitude.

Over a million Iraqis were estimated to have perished as a result of sanctions, enforced during the presidency of the Democrat, Bill Clinton, victims of hunger and water-borne diseases, easily prevented if Iraq had been allowed to rebuild the water and sewage treatment facilities US and British forces had deliberately destroyed.

During the Gulf War, coalition forces bombed Iraq's eight multi-purpose dams, destroying flood control systems, irrigation, municipal and industrial water storage, and hydroelectric power plants.

Major pumping stations were targeted, and municipal water and sewage facilities were razed.

These attacks were prohibited under Article 54 of the Geneva Convention.

But illegal US attacks on civilian infrastructure had been carried out by US forces before, in other wars.

In the war on north Korea, to name just one example, the US leveled north Korean dams, causing extensive flooding, even though dams, as civilian infrastructure, are outlawed as military targets.

US compliance with international law and conventions and the rulings of international courts is notoriously spotty and invariably one-sided.

The US does what it likes, when it likes, and complies with international law when there’s nothing to be lost.

It can do this, because there is no overarching sovereign to enforce compliance, and because the information environment is controlled by the US state to make Americans believe the United States is an upholder of international law and all that is good.

The Gulf War attacks on Iraq’s civilian infrastructure were aimed at throwing Iraq to the mat.

The straightjacket sanctions that followed were aimed at keeping it there.

Accordingly, materials vital to the wellbeing of the population, chlorine for water treatment, for example, were blocked from entering the country on grounds they could be used to make chemical weapons.

The consequences for the Iraqi population were grim, but they had been fully anticipated by US planners, and accepted.

Washington knew sanctions would prevent Iraq from rebuilding, and that epidemics would ensue.

But the results, said Bill Clinton’s secretary of state Madeleine Albright in a 1996 60 Minutes interview, were "worth it."

Writing in the September 2001 issue of The Progressive, Thomas Nagy, a George Washington University professor, cited declassified documents that showed the United States was aware of the civilian health consequences of destroying Iraq's drinking water and sanitation systems, and knew that sanctions would prevent the Iraqi government from repairing the degraded facilities.

One document, written soon after the bombing, warned that sanctions would prevent Iraq from importing "water treatment replacement parts and some essential chemicals" leading to "increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease."

Another listed the most likely diseases: typhoid, hepatitis A, diphtheria, pertussis, meningitis and cholera. As anticipated, disease ravaged the population, carrying off the weakest.

At least a half a million Iraqi children died needlessly, by UNICEF’s estimates.

Fitting the Intelligence to the PolicyAfter more than a decade of sanctions, Washington made the improbable claim, at the point pressure was building to lift sanctions and a pretext to invade had to be found, that Iraq had reconstituted its weapons of mass destruction program.

That a country that had been blockaded and harassed for over a decade could pull off such a feat was beyond belief, but no claim then, or since, as ever been shelved by Washington on grounds of absurdity.

The techniques of mass persuasion, aided amply by the compliance of the mass media, ensure that obvious lies can be readily passed of as truths, and are, on an almost daily basis.

The passing of the war from one of slow strangulation with deaths coming in small numbers ever day, to renewed military intervention where deaths come all at once, began, not in March, 2003, with the unleashing of the terror bombing campaign dubbed "shock and awe," nor in October, 2002, when the US Congress authorized the Pentagon to launch a land invasion.

The new phase of the war began secretly, without authorization from the US Congress and without the imprimatur of the UN, in May, 2002, soon after British Prime Minister Tony Blair privately pledged Britain’s full cooperation in the conquest of Iraq at a summit meeting with President Bush in Texas (Los Angeles Times, May 12, 2005).

In May of that year, US and British pilots begin to fly secret bombing raids.

The aim of the raids, which the British Foreign Office warned in a leaked internal memo were illegal under international law, was to weaken Iraqi air defense and provoke a reaction from Baghdad that could be used as a pretext for war (Times Online, June 19, 2005).

By the summer, Iraq had not reacted and Washington was left without its desired pretext for war.

Bush decided he could delay no further and that a land invasion must go forward.

On July 23, 2002, Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, returning from a visit to Washington, told Blair that Bush "wanted to remove Saddam through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and [weapons of mass destruction.]

But, said Dearlove, "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

"The case was thin,"

"Saddam was not threatening his neighbors," and Iraq’s "WMD capacity was less than that of Libya, north Korea or Iran" (Los Angeles Times, May 12, 2005).

The thinness of the case hardly mattered.

Intelligence could be readily fit to the policy, and lies could be told, on top of innuendo and sly suggestion.

By August, Vice-President Dick Cheney was warning that "Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction" and that "there is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, our allies and against us" (Times Online, June 19, 2005).

This was all duly reported, with hardly a jot of skepticism.

Similar nonsense issued from the mouths of other Bush administration figures in the months that followed, amplified and passed along uncritically by a jingoistic media.

On September 12, 2002, Bush said: "Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons."

On October 5th: "We have sources that tell us Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons – the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have."

The State of the Union address on January 28, 2003, was a model of prevarication.

"Saddam Hussein has upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents," Bush warned. "Saddam Hussein has recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa" and had "attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons productions."

Iraq had "a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas."

This was a farrago of half-truths, bald-face lies, and deliberately misleading insinuations crafted to present a crippled, war-ravaged and disarmed country as a clear and present danger. (Canada has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that can be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas too: its commercial aircraft and weather balloons.)

The warnings built toward a critical date, February 5, 2003 – when US Secretary of State Colin Powell would present the US casus belli to the UN Security Council.

The presentation, as Dearlove’s words adumbrated more than half a year before, was based on cherry-picked intelligence and outright falsifications fixed around a policy of war decided on long before.

Picasso’s haunting painting Guernica, which hangs outside the doors of the Security Council chamber, was covered over for the occasion.

The painting depicts the horrors of Nazi bombing of the Spanish village of Guernica, one of the first uses of bombing civilians as the main method of war, though not the first.

"The first conspicuous peace-time demonstration of strategic bombing…was the bombing of the villages of Iraq by the first (British) Labour government in 1924." Bombing civilians was "a more economic way of punishing villages for non-payment of taxes than the old fashioned method of sending an expedition"

(R. Palme Dutt, Problems of Contemporary History, International Publishers, New York, 1963, p. 62).

Torture Chambers

When, after the invasion, the team of US weapons experts sent to Iraq to find banned weapons failed to find any, George Bush increasingly turned to Plan B: depicting the deposed Iraqi government as a criminal regime whose ouster had been a humanitarian necessity.

To reinforce this claim, Bush repeatedly referred to the "dictator’s rape rooms and torture chambers."

What Bush didn’t point out was that the United States was exercising its own dictatorship in Iraq, that its troops were engaged in the sexual abuse and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners, and that it was operating its own torture chambers, not only in Iraq, but elsewhere, in secret prisons in Eastern Europe and most notoriously on a strip of land the US had long ago effectively stolen from Cuba and was refusing to give up, Guantanamo.

Guantanamo, a concentration camp, may yield to another prison as a shibboleth for the brutality of the US state’s treatment of political prisoners.

That prison is the US prison at Bagram, in Afghanistan.

With the US Supreme Court ruling that prisoners at Guatanamo must be given basic due process rights, the US has redirected the flow of prisoners to Bagram, where there are no due process rights.

The conditions at Bagram are even more primitive than those at Guantanamo, with men penned in overcrowded cages (New York Times, February 26, 2006).

The horrors of Washington’s own torture chamber at Abu Ghraib, the US run prison in Iraq, were not hushed up, though not for lack of trying.

Leaked photographs were flashed around the world: of blood-streaked cells; of the battered face of a corpse packed in ice; of guards threatening cowering prisoners with dogs; of hooded prisoners being forced to masturbate; of naked prisoners being forced to lie in a heap; of men being made to wear women’s underwear on their heads; of a prisoner "standing on a box and wearing a hood and electrical wires" (The Guardian, February 17, 2006).

There are other images, which depict the cruel, brutal reality of occupation: The US soldier exonerating himself for desecrating the Koran, explaining that only a few drops of urine had splashed onto the Islamic holy book. The desecration was never intended, he said. He was only urinating on the head of a prisoner.

The horrors of the US occupation seemed to be summed up in the words of one Iraqi who had been picked up by US forces and thrown into prison –and as is the practice - without charge: "The Americans brought electricity to my ass before they brought it to my house"

(Abu Ghraib prisoner, cited in "What I heard about Iraq in 2005," London Review of Books, Vol. 28, No. 1, January 5, 2006).

Human Rights Watch, which presents itself as a neutral human rights watchdog, but is in reality connected to the US foreign policy establishment, functions, whether intentionally or not, to furnish the US state with human rights pretexts to intervene in countries that impose restrictions on US investment and exports.

The group’s standard operating procedure is to provide fodder that can be used by Washington to justify military intervention in countries too weak to defend themselves, as crusades for human rights.

It serves another function of upholding the fiction that the United States is the world’s champion of formal civil liberties by acknowledging US human rights abuses, but painting them as anomalies, regrettable departures that call into question an implicitly assumed American moral authority.

Even so, while the organization’s indictments of US behavior serve the purpose of reinforcing the deception that the US is a defender of human rights, and not one of the world’s most zealous enemies of the exercise of any right that stands in the way of the profit-making activities of US corporations, its complaints against the US state are telling.

"In the course of 2005, it became indisputable that the U.S. mistreatment of detainees reflected not a failure of training, discipline or oversight, but a deliberate policy choice," the group said. "The problem could not be reduced to a few bad apples at the bottom of the barrel" (New York Times, January 12, 2006).

The US Navy’s general counsel foresaw the horrors that would be perpetrated by US occupation forces at Abu Ghraib two years before the US practices of torture and humiliation came to light. His conclusions were based on the fact that the US state was operating on the basis of "legal theories granting the president the right to authorize abuse despite the Geneva Conventions" (Washington Post, February 20, 2006).

Last month, Robert Grenier, the head of the CIA’s counter-terrorism center was sacked "because he opposed detaining al-Qaeda suspects in secret prisons abroad, sending them to other countries for interrogations and using forms of torture" (Times Online, February 12, 2006).

Also last month, a UN Human Rights Commission report condemned the United States for "committing acts amounting to torture at Guantanamo Bay" and seriously undermining "the rule of law and a number of fundamental universally recognized human rights" (Times Online, February 15, 2006).

The US state has adopted mistreatment and torture as a policy choice.

Embarrassed by the revelations of systematic abuse at Abu Ghraib, and persistent evidence that "battlefield detainees" were being tortured at the US concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay, US legislators sought to impose restraints on the state, limiting the latitude of US government employees to practice torture, or what is euphemistically called "enhanced interrogation techniques."

This didn’t sit well with the Bush administration, which wanted carte blanche to treat prisoners in any way it desired.

Vice-President Dick Cheney and CIA Director Porter J. Goss asked the US Congress to exempt the CIA from the legislation banning "cruel and degrading treatment of any prisoner in U.S. custody" (Washington Post, November 2, 2005).

In Cheney’s and Goss’s view, the CIA would continue to humiliate, degrade and torture Iraqis and others in US custody for resisting US domination and invasion of their homelands – that is, doing to the Americans what the resistance movements throughout Europe did to the Nazis.


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