June 9, 2011

Saddam Hussein and the 1991 Gulf War

Saddam Hussein’s Iraq

Saddam Hussein became the dictator-president of Iraq in 1979 when Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr stepped down. Before that he had helped al-Bakr take power from Abdul Rahman Arif in a CIA-supported bloodless coup in 1968.

Hussein became the leader of the Ba’ath party, which was “socialist” by Middle Eastern standards, meaning that Hussein built schools to educate the illiterate, while never touching the whackier social values associated with leftist parties in the West. Hussein filled key positions in the Shia-dominated country with Sunnis, which gained him the approval of other Sunni dictators in the Gulf and of the U.S. He suppressed Islamist movements ruthlessly, further gaining the approval of Washington, as these movements were irrevocably critical of Israel.

Under Saddam Hussein Iraq became one of the most prosperous countries in the Middle East, and one of the most modern. Christians ran liquor stores in Baghdad, Western-style rock concerts were held (ABBA was big in Iraq), and his Minister of Foreign Affairs was a Catholic Assyrian, Tariq Aziz.

Donald Rumsfeld, then special envoy of Ronald Reagan, shaking hands with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, December 20, 1983

The Iraq-Iran War

In 1979 the Iranian people overthrew the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who had taken power in a CIA-supported coup in 1941 (by the CIA known as Operation Ajax). Washington was not pleased, as the new Iran was opposed to Israel and Israel-friendly Arab rulers. Sunni rulers were not pleased either, as they feared the Iranians would spread their message of Shia freedom westward across the Gulf.

Saddam Hussein was considered the bulwark against the Iranian masses. He was “our man in the Gulf” as far as Washington was concerned. He invaded Iran in September 1980, declaring that the oil-rich Iranian province Khuzestan was now an Iraqi province. The war was supported and partially funded by Washington. Hussein hoped that the sizable Arab minority in Khuzestan would support the invasion, but they didn’t. Eight years of war followed, in which two million people would die.

In this war Saddam Hussein used mustard gas both against Kurds in the north and against Iranians. It should be noted that Iraq’s chemical weapons were supplied by America and Britain. The U.S pressured the United Nations not to condemn the use of poison gas. The U.S. even protected Iraqi oil tankers. When the U.S.S. Vincennes shot down an Iranian jetliner, killing 290 civilians, it was while protecting Iraqi waters.

Causes for the Invasion of Kuwait

The oil-producing countries in the Gulf had organized through the OPEC cartel. Since oil is a “price-elastic” good, the oil price rises significantly if supply is held back, and OPEC’s purpose was to allocate a production quota to each member state. The risk with all cartels is that a member can start breaking its quota, selling more than its share while counting on the other members to keep the price high. This was exactly what Kuwait’s Emir al-Sabah was doing. 

Worse than that, Kuwait had started drilling for oil diagonally under the Iraqi border, tapping into Iraq’s Rumaila oil field. Iraqi calls for the Emir to cease and desist this slant-drilling went unheard. An attempt to negotiate a treaty brokered by U.S. diplomats failed when the Emir didn’t even show up. At this time Kuwait was receiving strong U.S. support, so Emir al-Sabah might have thought he could get away with murder and the U.S. still would back him up.

In the summer of 1990, Iraq started preparing for an invasion. Emir al-Sabah still refused to negotiate. But even then Saddam Hussein would not invade before asking permission from Washington first. He met with April Glaspie, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, on July 25 and received the following response:

“I admire your extraordinary efforts to rebuild your country. I know you need funds. We understand that and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. I was in the American Embassy in Kuwait during the late 60's. The instruction we had during this period was that we should express no opinion on this issue and that the issue is not associated with America. James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction.”

This was taken as a green light for an invasion. On August 2, four days later, Iraq amassed troops on the border and invaded, with no objection from the U.S. government.

The State of Kuwait

In the Gulf States the invasion was met with disinterest. The Gulf States were OPEC members and they considered “the Kuwait problem” to be Iraq’s responsibility. Diplomats in Washington knew that Kuwait had always been an Iraqi province in the past, although not under the name “Iraq.” It was only in 1961 that the country gained independence from Britain. When Britain withdrew from Iraq in 1932 (before a brief invasion again in 1941 to remind them who was boss), Kuwait was cut off to serve as British Petroleum’s gas pump. Like in the other Gulf states a puppet ruler was installed who could be trusted to be loyal to British, later Israeli and American, interests.

The country was the size of New Jersey and had only 1.9 million inhabitants in 1990. Of these only 12 percent were considered first-class citizens as they belonged to tribes that had lived in the region before 1900, and only the men, 6 percent of the total population, had the right to vote in the weak National Assembly. The National Assembly was, incidentally, dissolved by the Emir two weeks before Iraq’s invasion.  The second- and third-class citizens were Arabs and other immigrants from the 20th century, notably 400,000 Palestinians who were all pro-Iraqi and resented the Emir. There were also several hundred thousand Shiites, who along with the Palestinians were not considered citizens.

Real power in Kuwait rested with the al-Sabah family, whose members controlled all top-level positions in the government and military. Kuwait was basically a private oil business.

Diplomatic Reaction

Washington diplomats were not enthusiastic at the prospect of war. They knew that Saddam Hussein was “our man,” who had attacked Iran with American improval, and who was holding down Islamists critical of Israel and Sunni puppet rulers. They knew perfectly well what kind of economic warfare Kuwait’s Emir had engaged in. 

On July 26, the Washington Post had reported that “some officials” in the White House, Pentagon and State Department “asserted yesterday that an Iraq attack on Kuwait would not draw a U.S. military response.”

On July 30th, assistant secretary of state John Kelly confirmed to the House Middle East subcommittee that nothing obligated Washington “to engage U.S. forces there.”

Bush’s Reaction

Unfortunately for Saddam Hussein he had made one mistake: he had angered Israel and the all-powerful Israeli lobby in Washington. He had given diplomatic aid to the Palestinian resistance in Arab League debate. And worse, he had given financial aid to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. Despite his complete loyalty to American interests in the Middle East, he was therefore a target. The Israeli lobby in Washington, and the Zionist “neoconservatives” in the Republican Party, wanted him dead.

George Bush started rushing troops to Saudi Arabia as soon as Iraq invaded and declared his intention to “protect Kuwait’s legitimate government.” Iraq then interned 2,500 American citizens, which was portrayed as “taking hostages” in U.S. media. Iraq only did what the U.S. had done when imprisoning German citizens and U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry during WWII; they did not want the citizens of an enemy nation to walk around freely in the country.

The Saudis were at first reluctant to allow American troops access to their country. Bush then told them that Iraq was massing troops on the Saudi border, preparing an invasion. American military satellites had taken photographs of this. The Saudis then agreed U.S. troops access. Only much later was this discovered to be false: Russian and commercial satellites showed that there had been no such Iraqi troops on Saudi Arabia’s border. But by that time Saudi Arabia had already agreed to allow U.S. military bases inside its borders, where they remain to this day.

For home consumption, Bush announced that James Baker would go to Baghdad and travel the “last mile for peace,” on “any date between now and the U.N. deadline of January 15th” that Iraq picked. But the offer was fake. When Hussein agreed and picked January 12, Bush denounced him and cancelled the deal.

Iraq privately expressed a willingness to leave Kuwait the weekend of August 4-6, after having “taught Kuwait a lesson.” Iraq’s conditions was that it not be condemned by the Arab League and the U.S. Immediately, Bush denounced Iraq in a speech, and James Baker pressured the Arab League to condemn Iraq.

Bush also always made sure to use insulting language about Saddam Hussein personally, talking about “kicking his ass” and mispronouncing his name (as SADdam instead of SadDAM).  Being the former director of the CIA, Bush no doubt knew of his old agency’s psychological arm’s assertions about “Arab psychology”. An insulted Saddam Hussein could not withdraw without a fight.

The False Incubator Story

For his part, when the invasion came Emir al-Sabah immediately got into his limousine and had his chauffeur drive him across the Saudi border. There he hired the Washington-based PR firm Hill & Knowlton with the intent to sway American public opinion and make them support an attack on Iraq.

A witness was produced, “Nayirah,” a 15-year-old volunteer nurse who had escaped from Kuwait. She told the Congressional Human Rights Caucus how Iraqi soldiers stormed into the al-Addan hospital, where they tore newborn babies from their incubators and threw them to the floor. The incubators were stolen and shipped to Iraq, which apparently had an incubator shortage.

The story was enormous. It was told in every newspaper and every news channel over and over again. Nayirah’s tearful eyes were seen everywhere. The atrocity was as big as the story of German soldiers in World War One killing babies with their bayonets. 

Reactions were strong across the country. “A pacifist by nature, my brother was not in a peaceful mood that day," recalled Christian Science Monitor columnist Tom Regan, describing his sibling's reaction to Nayirah’s testimony. “We've got to go and get Saddam Hussein – now, his brother insisted. 

John MacArthur, author of The Second Front, a book about media manipulation during the Gulf War, noted: “Of all the accusations made against the dictator, none had more impact on American public opinion than the one about Iraqi soldiers removing 312 babies from their incubators and leaving them to die on the cold hospital floors of Kuwait City.

Suddenly every Senator in Washington knew that if they opposed an attack on Iraq, they would not get re-elected. “Siding with the baby killers” is not something the voting mothers in a senator’s home state would forgive.

Only after the war was the story revealed as a hoax. The girl was not named Nayirah; she was in fact the daughter of Saud Nasir al-Sabah, Kuwait's ambassador to the United States. Her story had been fabricated by the Hill & Knowlton firm, whose plan for getting America into war had been supervised by Bush’s chief-of-staff Craig Fuller. The girl had been coached by H&K’s vice president.

The hoax worked. Congress voted on January 13, by a narrow, five-vote margin, to support George Bush in a declaration of war. There is no doubt the incubator story helped push the narrow margin in Bush’s favor.

Consequences of the War

During the war Washington imposed food sanctions against Iraq with the purpose of starving the Iraqi people. Sanctions were broadened and continued after the war. The United Nations would later estimate that half a million Iraqi children had been killed by the sanctions because of starvation and malnutrition; even baby formula was forbidden. When asked by the MSNBC about the 500,000 dead children, Bill Clinton’s (Jewish and pro-Israeli) Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, “We believe it was worth it.” (The video of this interview was briefly hosted by the MSNBC website, but when it drew attention it was quickly removed.)

Iraq’s infrastructure was bombed on average once a week for twelve years. The bombings were carried out by American and British planes. They deliberately targeted power plants and water refineries, to leave the Iraqis without clean water and without air conditioning in the blistering summer heat. The old and the children were hurt the most. Bridges, road crossings and a wide range of buildings were also targeted. Iraq went from being one of the wealthiest Gulf states to being the poorest.

A no-fly zone was imposed in northern and southern Iraq. In the north, to prevent the Iraqi government from fighting Kurd rebels, which therefore became a de-facto separate state (which before the second Gulf War hosted an al-Qaeda training camp). In the south, to prevent an attack on Shia citizens. (These had followed Bush's encouragement to revolt during the war, believing that the U.S. would help them overthrow Saddam Hussein's government. It turned out the U.S. did not want the Shias in control, knowing that the leaders of their political parties had been in exile in Iran for decades. The Shia rebels were killed in large numbers.) The no-fly zones enforced by the U.S. and Britain were entirely illegal according to international law.

UN inspectors were given access to Iraqi military sites to examine its “weapons of mass destruction.” The inspectors, led by Hans Blix, confirmed many times that Iraq had drawn up some plans for nuclear weapons in the past, but had abandoned those plans. Iraq had also destroyed the chemical weapons that remained after the Gulf War. (Weapons supplied by the U.S. and Britain.) For this the inspectors were denounced as naïve and possibly liars by Zionist “neoconservatives” in the Republican Party. Hans Blix for his part complained that the U.S. had clearly planted spies among the inspectors.

Another consequence of the war and the sanctions was the radicalization of a wealthy Saudi called Usama bin Laden. Having worked together with the U.S. in the past, by training Arab volunteers fighting against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Usama bin Laden was angered when the U.S. was allowed to build military bases in Saudi Arabia. He had opposed Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, but he wanted an Arab alliance to fight Iraq, not the foreigners. He was further outraged during the 1990s when the U.S. sanctions killed Iraqis in the hundreds of thousands, and when Iraq’s infrastructure was destroyed by montly bombings. Together with the U.S. funding and arming of Israel, which was building “settlements” on the last remaining 22 percent of Palestinian land, this made Usama bin Laden demand that the House of Saud react. When they did not he decided to take matters in his own hands and fight back, both against the Washington-Tel Aviv axis and the Arab rulers it supported.