U.S. hypocrisy and media lies
by Sharon Smith
International Socialist Review, November-December
No credible evidence has emerged to link Iraq with the terrorist
attacks on the U.S., yet speculation on this subject has been
a recurrent theme, prominently featured throughout the media's
"crisis coverage" since September 11. Within hours of
the attacks on the World Trade Center, the warmongers began lining
up to seize the opportunity provided by the attacks to drag their
hawkish agendas from the margins to the mainstream of political
discussion. Media outlets have been only too happy to comply.
The media have contributed directly to the anti-Iraq hysteria.
The Weekly Standard featured a "WANTED" sign, above
sinister-looking photos of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.
On October 22, the New York Post carried the screaming headline,
"Heads up, Hussein, you're next," and an op-ed piece
declaring, "Saddam is a Hitler, a Stalin, a Pol Pot.... It's
now time to go full speed ahead and see that Saddam departs- from
Iraq if not from this earth." On October 18, Washington Post
columnist Richard Cohen was equally vitriolic, writing, "Saddam
and his bloody bugs have to go."
Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was among the
first of the hawks to take to the airwaves to call for a war against
multiple targets, including Iraq, in retaliation for September
11. For the most part, the mainstream media neglected to mention
Wolfowitz's public statements before September 11 calling for
the U.S. to strike Baghdad as soon as "we find the right
way to do it." The Pentagon's Defense Policy Board-a group
of hard-line conservatives whose careers peaked long ago, from
Henry Kissinger and James Schlesinger to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich-shuttled
former CIA director James Woolsey off to Britain to gather evidence
of a link between Osarna bin Laden and Iraq.
Ostensibly on a mission to construct a "legal case against
Iraq," Woolsey came up short on evidence-and what little
he had was exceedingly thin. Woolsey's claim that Mohammed Atta,
one of the alleged September 11 hijackers, had met with Iraqi
intelligence officials in Prague last year was later denied by
the Czech officials who were Woolsey's main witnesses to the meeting.
"Czech officials say they do not believe that Mohammed Atta...met
with any Iraqi officials during a brief stop he made in Prague
last year," wrote reporter John Tagliabue in the October
20 New York Times. A week later, Czech Interior Minister Stanislav
Gross reversed that statement, saying that the meeting had in
fact taken place between Atta and an Iraqi agent in April 2000.
Furthermore, security experts in Germany were following up on
a claim by Israeli intelligence sources that Iraqi agents gave
Atta anthrax spores at the meeting, which he then carried in his
luggage to the United States.
Woolsey has put forward a number of claims, thus far without
substantiation. He has claimed that Iraq provided fake passports
for all 19 September 11 hijackers. He also claims to have intelligence
reports that Osama bin Laden sent an al Qaeda delegation to Baghdad
on April 25, 1998, to attend Saddam Hussein's birthday party-and
that Saddam Hussein's son agreed to train al Qaeda recruits and
establish a join force. Another bit of intrigue that Woolsey has
been exploring while in Britain involves a convicted Kuwaiti terrorist
known as Ramzi Youssef, whose real name is Abdul Basit. Woolsey
claims that Youssef is an Iraqi agent who kidnapped Basit and
stole his identity. Woolsey's sleuthing has made him something
of a laughingstock among British police and intelligence, who
are "bemused" by his activities, according to one British
official. But Woolsey's own lack of credibility hasn't stopped
the mainstream media from quoting him extensively to whip up anti-Iraq
hysteria. The Wall Street Journal, for example, opened its op-ed
page to him on October 18 to postulate both that Iraq had ties
to the bin Laden network and was the likely perpetrator of the
While in Britain, Woolsey also met with the Iraqi National
Congress, the opposition coalition pieced together and funded
by Washington. "We ought to seriously consider removing Saddarn's
regime if he has been involved in any terror in recent years against
us," declared Woolsey on October 26.
I think some day-hopefully soon-[Iraq] will come to the same
conclusion that Admiral Yamamoto did after Pearl Harbor, which
was to remark that Japan had awakened a sleeping giant. If the
American government chooses, based on the information it has,
to take military action against any other state outside of Afghanistan,
I believe that the world will see our reaction in that case will
be ruthless, relentless and devastating. In the American vernacular,
you ain't seen nothing yet.
Major media outlets have advanced the theory of former United
Nations (UN) weapons inspector Richard Butler that Iraq is the
number one suspect behind the anthrax attacks. Butler's case,
as laid out in an op-ed piece in the New York Times on October
18, amounts to the following bit of psychobabble:
I found one rule of thumb to have merit: The vigor with which
Iraq conspired to defeat any given step toward arms control was
a good indicator of how interested Mr. Hussein was in the weapons
system at issue. I concluded that biological weapons are closest
to President Hussein's heart because it was in this area that
his resistance to our work reached its height.
In response, another former UN weapons inspector, Scott Ritter,
argued that Butler is "irresponsible to speculate about a
Baghdad involvement" in the anthrax attacks. "Under
the most stringent on-site inspection regime in the history of
arms control, Iraq's biological weapons were dismantled, destroyed
or rendered harmless during the course of hundreds of no-notice
inspections," wrote Ritter in the London Guardian the next
day. No U.S. major media outlet bothered to feature Ritter's countervailing
In fact, much of the evidence about the anthrax attacks points
at a source much closer to home. "Anthrax probe shifts to
homegrown hate groups," announced the New York Post on October
25, a story that received little attention elsewhere in the mass
media. The Post said, "Ultra-right-wing organizations-including
a particular West Coast group-have become a key focus of the massive
federal investigation into the murderous anthrax attacks."
The organizations in question all either obtained or attempted
to obtain deadly anthrax from several U.S.-based laboratories
before the recent attacks, according to the report. And on October
26, the International Herald Tribune reported that the spores
found in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office had been
treated with a chemical additive that only three countries are
believed to be capable of making: the U.S., the former USSR, and
[a] government official with direct knowledge of the investigation
said that the sum of the evidence at hand-involving not just the
coatings, bur also genetic analysis of the bacteria and other
intelligence-suggested that it was unlikely that the spores were
originally produced in the former Soviet Union or Iraq. The source,
who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to discuss the implications
of that conclusion.
And, as Douglas Valentine wrote recently in CounterPunch:
[I]f the FBI is looking for motive and method (meaning modus
operandi), the CIA must rate as a prime suspect in the anthrax
black valentines that are currently being sent across the country.
The motive, of course, is to keep the threat of terrorism alive
and widespread, so more assaults can be made on our civil liberties,
thus strengthening the national security elite. The method of
sending envelopes packed with poison, as we know, was developed
and perfected by the CIA.
Hawks vs. doves?
The hawks have been undeterred by the lack of substantiated
evidence connecting Iraq either to September 11 or to the anthrax
attacks. Woolsey has been explicit in this regard. In his Wall
Street Journal editorial, he argued against those demanding proof
of Iraq's complicity: "If we define the problem in such a
way as to require proof (and make it proof beyond a reasonable
doubt) of state involvement in the September 11 attack itself,
we will quite likely define ourselves out of being able to understand
who is at war with us."
The Journal's editors carried this logic even further in an
adjoining editorial, arguing:
We already know [Saddam Hussein] has the motive to strike
the U.S., after his Gulf War humiliation. And we know he has the
means.... We know a sworn enemy of America, a man who called us
"the Great Satan," has biological weapons. Are we supposed
to wait until we know beyond a reasonable doubt that he used them,
or until more people are killed, before we do anything about it?
An open letter to Bush signed by, among others, Richard Perle,
Jeanne Kirkpatrick, and William Bennett, stated:
It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in
some form to the recent attack on the United States. But even
if the evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any
strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors
must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from
Pundits have made much of the division in the Bush administration
between the "hawks" grouped around Wolfowitz and the
"doves" grouped around Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Clearly, there are disagreements over strategy. If the Wolfowitz
gang had gotten its way, the U.S. would have initiated an all-out
war against Iraq when it began bombing Afghanistan in early October.
Powell successfully argued that the first phase of the new "war
on terrorism" should focus exclusively on Afghanistan. The
appearance that Powell's levelheaded approach has won out greatly
benefited the Bush administration's war aims, both domestically
Key to Powell's strategy is that the U.S. maintain the appearance
of an "international coalition," similar to U.S. strategy
in the buildup to the Gulf War a decade ago. The hope is that
the coalition will provide the moral authority of a united "international
community" weighing in on behalf of U.S. war aims. However,
in order for this strategy to succeed, the U.S. must maintain
its fragile coalition with Arab and Muslim nations whose own shaky
and corrupt regimes face massive popular opposition to U.S. policy
in the Middle East-including the continued bombing and sanctions
against Iraq since the end of the 1991 Gulf War. In addition,
Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are Iraq's biggest trading
partners (with Russia dose behind).
The hawks do not share the desire to maintain the international
coalition. As Woolsey argued, "[I]s a large coalition that
doesn't move against a state that is at war with us better for
the nation as a whole than a small coalition that moves effectively
against a state that is attacking us?" Conservative columnist
Robert Novak was even more explicit: "There is a strong feeling
among American conservatives that an attack on Iraq is essential
to protect U.S. national interests and that keeping Arab states
as members of the antiterrorist coalition is neither possible
There is friction, to be sure, but the differences between
the hawks and doves within the Bush administration have certainly
been exaggerated. There are no doves-only warmongers-in the Bush
administration. The division lies between those arguing for an
immediate strike against Iraq and those who prefer to wait until
later. The Powell/State Department wing of the Bush administration
has made sure to fan the flames of anti-Iraq hysteria even while
postponing any decision about striking Iraq until after the U.S.
finishes destroying Afghanistan. Powell made these two messages
clear on CNN on October 21, when he said of the anthrax attacks,
"I don't put it past Iraq," and then proceeded to warn,
"It would be wise for all of us to take a deep breath and
let our investigative agencies figure this out before we...get
the country all excited." When National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice, who is part of the Powell wing, was asked by
the Arab satellite television network al-Jazeera to deny that
Iraq is a target in a second stage of the war, she replied, "We
worry about Saddam Hussein. We worry about his weapons of mass
destruction that he's trying to achieve. But for now, the president
has said his goal is to watch and monitor Iraq. And certainly,
the United States will act if Iraq threatens its interests."
Striking Iraq has never left the Bush administration's agenda-or
Clinton's, for that matter. In 1998, Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation
Act into law. The act states, "It should be the policy of
the United States to seek to remove the regime headed by Saddam
Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic
government to replace the regime." The U.S. has bombed the
"no-fly zones" over Iraq regularly for the last 10 years,
killing many hundreds of Iraqi civilians. And the U.S.-sponsored
sanctions against Iraq have killed well over a million people
since the end of the Gulf War.
Long before September 11, the Bush administration was looking
for a reason to escalate the bombings. In August, Rice warned
on CNN's Late Edition, "Saddam Hussein is on the radar screen
for the administration," and said Bush was already considering
"military force in a more resolute manner and not just a
manner of tit-for-tat with them every day." The war against
terrorism may provide the U.S. with just the excuse it has been
looking for, with the mass media dutifully whipping up anti-Iraq
hysteria to justify it.
Within days of the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration
issued a public warning: If any link were found between prime
suspect Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and Iraq, the U.S.
would not hesitate to strike Iraq. On October 7, U.S. Ambassador
to the UN John Negroponte issued a "stern warning" to
Iraq: "Don't try to take advantage of the situation or there
will be a price to pay." Two days later, Negroponte notified
the UN Security Council that the U.S. "may find that our
self-defense requires further actions with respect to other organizations
and other states." On October 11, after the outbreak of the
anthrax attacks, Bush singled out Saddam Hussein as the potential
perpetrator: "After all, he gassed his own people. We know
he's been developing weapons of mass destruction...and so we're
watching him very carefully," Bush said. On October 15, Democratic
Senator Joe Lieberman called on Bush to remove Saddam Hussein
from power in Iraq as phase two of its war on terrorism. Lieberman
argued that "the pursuit of coalition" should not stop
the U.S. from targeting Iraq or insisting that Syria and Iran
renounce support of "terrorism."
On October 21, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers
was asked on ABC's This Week whether he had "started to prepare
targets in Iraq." He replied, without responding directly
to the question, "This is a global war on terrorism and weapons
of mass destruction. Afghanistan is only one small piece. So of
course, we're thinking very broadly. I would say, since World
War Two, we haven't thought this broadly about a campaign.
According to a Reuters/Zogby poll released on October 25,
almost three-quarters of Americans would like to see the U.S.
expand its war to Iraq (with 56 percent "strongly" supporting
attacking Iraq). The results of a Harris poll released on October
17 show a similar margin of support, with 71 percent of respondents
agreeing that the U.S. should use military action to remove Saddam
Hussein from power as part of the war on terrorism. An October
6 Newsweek poll showed that a 60 percent majority opposes ending
economic sanctions against Iraq.
Throughout the last decade, opinion polls have consistently
showed strong majority support for U.S. hostility toward Iraq.
A Gallup poll taken in February 2001 asked the open-ended question,
"What one country anywhere in the world do you consider to
be America's greatest enemy today?" Iraq topped the list,
with 38 percent of respondents choosing it (China was a distant
second, chosen by 14 percent). This broad support for U.S. policy
on Iraq has translated into strong majority support for the U.S.-sponsored
economic sanctions that have been in place since just prior to
the Gulf War in 1991. In a Gallup poll taken on February 19-21,
1999, 83 percent of respondents answered that "the United
Nations should continue [economic] sanctions until Saddam Hussein
complies with all UN resolutions." In that same poll, 74
percent support using military force to remove Saddam Hussein
from power in Iraq-margins virtually identical to those after
the September 11 attacks.
It is no exaggeration that the U.S. mainstream media has played
the central role in demonizing Iraq in the eyes of the majority
of Americans. Nor is it the slightest exaggeration to say that
the news media have knowingly collaborated with the Pentagon and
the State Department in fabricating the lies used to justify the
decade-long sanctions that have killed more than a million Iraqis
and the nearly continuous bombing of Iraq. Most people in the
U.S. have no idea of the atrocities have been committed against
the people of Iraq in their name. Instead, they get straight-faced
reporting of George W. Bush's televised statement on October 11,
responding to reports of "vitriolic hatred for America in
some Islamic countries." He said, "Like most Americans,
I just cannot believe it because I know how good we are."
Media complicity should not be too surprising, given the role
they played during the 1991 Gulf War. In the buildup to that war,
the U.S. media aided the Pentagon's disinformation campaign and
increased the anti-Iraq hysteria, for instance, erroneously reporting
that soldiers had dragged babies out of their incubators during
the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990- a charge that was later
proven false. Once the war began, news reporters, often dressed
in Army fatigues and surrounded by army vehicles, were complicit
in the government's efforts to conceal the actual number of Iraqis
killed and the annihilation of Iraq's infrastructure. That war's
round-the-clock coverage managed to leave out the most important
First, between January 16 and February 27, 1991, some 88,000
tons of bombs-the equivalent of seven Hiroshimasized atomic bombs-were
dropped on Iraq. As author Geoff Simons observed, "For the
period of the war, Iraq was subjected to the equivalent of one
atomic bomb a week; a scale of destruction that has no parallels
in the history of warfare."' Second, between 100,000 and
200,000 Iraqis were killed during the more than six weeks of carpet
bombing, with 300,000 to 700,000 injured, according to British
MP Paul Flynn, writing in the Guardian in 1991. Third, U.S. bombs
missed their targets nearly 75 percent of the time; even the much-touted
"smart" bombs hit their targets only about 60 percent
of the time. Fourth, the U.S.-led forces deliberately destroyed
the entirety of Iraq's infrastructure, having a "near apocalyptic
impact" on the country.
No major media outlet covered, for example, the "Highway
of Death," when U.S. warplanes bombed thousands of Iraqi
soldiers, mostly conscripts, burning them alive as they tried
to flee; nor were U.S. viewers informed that U.S. troops used
plows attached to tanks to bury thousands of Iraqi soldiers alive.
When the U.S. bombed a civilian air-raid shelter on February 13,
killing 1,500 civilians, many of them women and children, the
U.S. claimed the shelter was a cover for a military outpost-which
the media obediently gave plenty of spin. After the Gulf War,
news commentators such as NBC's John Chancellor lamented that
Saddam Hussein was "slaughtering" his own people. Yet,
as Norman Solomon has argued, "Chancellor managed to not
use the word 'slaughter' during the six weeks that U.S.-led forces
were killing as many as 30,000 Iraqis per week."
The mass media has continued to function as the U.S. government's
mouthpiece in the decade since the Gulf War, keeping alive the
notion that Saddam Hussein poses a threat to world security while
systematically downplaying the consequences of U.S. policies on
ordinary Iraqis. As Sam Husseini has argued, "Dying Iraqi
children are dubbed 'propaganda points for Saddam' and U.S. missile
strikes are called 'pinpricks."
One frequently repeated assertion is that Saddam Hussein "ejected"
UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) weapons inspectors at the end of
1998 (presumably to hide a renewed buildup of weapons of mass
destruction). In reality, UNSCOM head Richard Butler removed the
inspectors at the behest of President Clinton days before the
U.S. and Britain began the Desert Fox bombing of Iraq on December
16,1998. Saddam Hussein had ejected the weapons inspectors in
August 1998, accusing them of spying on behalf of U.S. intelligence
and demanding an end to U.S.-imposed sanctions, but Iraq accepted
inspectors back unconditionally in mid-November and cooperated
As it turned out, Iraq's claims of UNSCOM espionage were proven
true-although this fact quickly disappeared from media discourse.
The Boston Globe, which broke the story on January 6, 1999, reported
that a U.S. official had asked the paper to withhold the details
of UNSCOM's role in spying for the U.S. because it "would
compromise U.S. intelligence activities in Iraq." The Globe
reported that, beginning in February 1996, "U.S. intelligence
agencies, working under the cover of the United Nations, carried
out an ambitious spying operation designed to penetrate Iraq's
intelligence apparatus and track the movement of Iraqi leader
Saddam Hussein." The U.S. supplied the UNSCOM team with "eavesdropping
equipment, including commercial scanners and U2 spy photographs,"
according to the Globe. The report concluded,
It remains unclear whether the United States used the intelligence
it gathered from the operation to select its targeting during
Operation Desert Fox, the four-day bombing operation that ended
Dec. 19. But key figures and organizations under scrutiny by the
United Nations-the Special Security Organization, the Republican
Guard Headquarters, and the Iraqi Intelligence headquarters-were
blown up during the operation.
More than 1,000 newspapers carried stories about the Operation
Desert Fox bombing during the week of December 15-22, 1998, but
only ten percent made any mention of "civilian casualties."
Sanctions of mass destruction
The Iraqi death toll has continued to mount since the end
of the Gulf War, now topping one million. In the last decade,
more than 500,000 Iraqi children under the age of five have died
because of the sanctions, imposed by the U.S. under the auspices
of the UN. The scale of the killing can easily be appreciated
through simple mathematics: Fully 5,000 Iraqi children-roughly
the same number of the total killed in the September 11 attacks-die
each month due to starvation and disease caused by the sanctions.
Yet major media outlets rarely acknowledge the massive Iraqi death
toll. "Baghdad claims the economic sanctions have had a devastating
impact on civilians, especially children," said National
Public Radio's Linda Wertheimer on June 17, 199941-as if the "claims"
were suspect-in a typical example of reporting.
On the few occasions when the media has reported the actual
death toll of the sanctions, it has done so through the lens of
the U.S. State Department-literally. On May 12, 1996, then-Secretary
of State Madeleine Albright was asked by Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes,
"We have heard that half a million children have died. I
mean that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And-you know-is
the price worth it?" Albright replied, "I think this
is a very hard choice, but the price-we think the price is worth
Most media reports on Iraq simply ignore the human casualties
of the sanctions. On October 2, MSNBC featured an "eyewitness
report" live from Baghdad by reporter Ned Colt. Colt confidently
told viewers that Iraq was doing well economically and that, using
oil money, Saddam Hussein had rebuilt entirely Iraq's infrastructure-including
water and sewerage treatment facilities. Colt's written report,
on October 5, informed readers that the UN's "oil-for-food"
program "has helped millions of Iraq's most vulnerable-the
very old and the very young-survive. In three years, the caloric
intake of those receiving food aid has almost doubled to 2,200
calories daily, just below the optimum amount suggested by the
United Nations." And, he added, "[H]undreds of millions
of dollars every year go toward food and medicine." That
cheery description contradicts the situation reported by the International
Committee of the Red Cross last year: "Deteriorating living
conditions, inflation and low salaries make people's everyday
lives a continuing struggle, while food shortages and lack of
medicines and dean drinking water threaten their very survival."
Iraq's collapsed health system and badly damaged water sanitation
system pose the "gravest threat," the report said.
The mass media also routinely claim that responsibility for
the suffering of Iraqis lies with Saddam Hussein, not the sanctions-particularly
since the implementation of the "oil-for-food" program
in 1996, which allows Iraq to sell a limited amount of oil for
cash. "Some U.S. officials say that Iraq is undermining the
program to use the suffering of its people as a public relations
tool. Humanitarian supplies are stockpiled instead of distributed,
they charge, and Iraq has not used all the money available to
buy more," wrote the Los Angeles Times on October 19. But
George Sommerwill, a UN spokesperson, said, "the government
of Iraq is cooperating." Hans von Sponeck, former UN humanitarian
coordinator for Iraq, argued in January 2001 that the Iraqi government
distributes more than 90 percent of available supplies each month.
The problem is not with Iraq, but with the UN committee that enforces
the sanctions, which "must certify that none of the commodities
purchased with the money had a dual military use. Since most items
needed to rebuild the infrastructure-or, in many cases-to provide
health care-can have some dual use, about $4 billion in contracts,
some going back to 1998, has been put on hold by the committee,"
said the Los Angeles Times. Not just equipment, but a wide range
of basic supplies and medicines-from antibiotics and pain killers
to cleansing agents such as chlorine and pencils for schools-have
been banned because they can allegedly serve a dual military use.
Iraq will not be able to rebuild its shattered infrastructure
until the sanctions end. Today, nearly half of the Iraqi people
do not have access to safe drinking water. As Yusef Ahmed Abdullah
of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization explained, "If
you feed the population, but the water is contaminated, people
will eat, get diarrhea, and die. At the same time, there are no
medicines, so you get more mortality, even though you're distributing
food. [If] you don't have electricity, you don't have water and
sanitation, you don't have health."
The U.S. and Britain declared northern and southern Iraq to
be "no-fly zones" at the end of the Gulf War in 1991,
banning Iraq from flying any aircraft, including helicopters,
in these parts of the country-ostensibly to protect Iraq's oppressed
Kurdish and Shia populations from Saddam Hussein. U.S. and British
warplanes have patrolled these areas ever since, dropping bombs
on a regular basis. Between December 1998 and the summer of 2000
alone, the U.S. flew more than 20,000 sorties into Iraq-more than
in NATO's seven-week carpet bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. "After
eight years of enforcing a 'no-fly zone' in northern [and southern]
Iraq, few military targets remain," wrote the Wall Street
Journal in October 1999. "We're down to our last outhouse,"
said one U.S. official. "There are still some things left,
but not many," said a Pentagon source. Journalist John Pilger
has written that one UN report covering a five-month period showed
that 41 percent of those killed through U.S. bombing were Iraqi
This is the longest U.S. bombing campaign since the Second
World War, yet it rarely qualifies for even a mention from U.S.
media outlets. When it does, the media dutifully repeats the Pentagon's
claim that U.S. bombs are dropped in "self-defense."
CNN's report of bombs dropped on Iraq on October 13, for example,
issued the patented Defense Department phrase that the strikes
were carried out "in response to hostile Iraqi threats against
coalition pilots and aircrews conducting routine monitoring of
the southern no-fly zone."
On June 19, U.S. and British war planes bombed an Iraqi soccer
field at Tel A'fer, killing 23 people-the vast majority of whom
were children under the age of 17. Voices in the Wilderness activists
documented the bombing, saying the soccer field was strewn with
bomb debris, including two pieces with English writing. On June
20, CNN merely repeated Defense Department denials of the bombing,
including its accusation that "Iraqi claims of casualties
from an air strike in the northern no-fly zone may have resulted
from one of Iraq's own surface-to-air missiles."
As Pilger has shown, U.S. and British claims that the "no-fly
zone"-righteously dubbed "Operation Provide Comfort"-is
a humanitarian gesture are a sham:
Pilots patrolling the so-called no fly zone in the north
of the country have spoken angrily about how they have been ordered
to return to their base in Turkey in order to allow the Turkish
air force to bomb the Kurds in Iraq-the very people [the U.S.
and] the British are meant to be "protecting"...
Last December , more than 10,000 Turkish troops invaded
northern Iraq, killing untold numbers of civilians and fighters
of the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK British and American aircraft
"protecting" the Kurds did nothing to prevent the invasion;
indeed, most patrols were suspended to allow the Turks to get
on with the killing.
Human Rights Watch noted:
It appears that in return for Turkey's support for Operation
Provide Comfort, the U.S. has agreed not to publicly criticize
what Turkey does with its own Kurdish citizens, located directly
across the border from the zone protected by U.S. warplanes....
[E]lements within the U.S. government possess detailed knowledge
of the full scope of Turkish abuses as well as the key role played
by U.S. weapons.
Imperialism's double standard
The U.S. double standard, as evidenced toward its NATO ally
Turkey, underlies its entire Iraq policy. As sanctions specialist
Eric Herring said of the no-fly zone:
They have no desire for the Shi'ite majority to take control
or for the Kurds to gain independence. Their policy is to keep
them strong enough to cause trouble for Saddam Hussein while ensuring
that Saddam Hussein is strong enough to keep repressing them.
This is a direct descendent of British imperial policy from the
First World War onwards [and is about the control] of Iraqi oil....
Divide and rule was the policy.
The two regions designated to be under U.S. and British control
in the no-fly zone, happen to be where Iraq's main oil reserves
are located-constituting 10 percent of the world's known reserves.
Hawks in the Bush administration have insisted that the great
mistake of the first Bush administration was not "finishing
off" Saddam Hussein at the end of the Gulf War. But the U.S.
had dear reasons for not doing so at the time. After urging Iraqis
to rebel against Saddam Hussein at the war's conclusion, Bush
ordered U.S. troops to stand by and do nothing while Iraqi troops
ruthlessly put down the rebellion. Leaving Saddam Hussein in power
in Iraq gave the U.S. the excuse it needed to continue to use
the Gulf as a military staging area throughout the 1990s. "The
massive military presence in the Gulf today" writes Nafeez
Ahmed, "legitimized by the no-fly zones over Iraq purportedly
established to monitor Saddam's treatment of his people and ensure
their protection, in fact plays the role of continuing the war
against the Iraqi people." The U.S. had no intention of supporting
a democratic rebellion in Iraq, particularly one that might result
in Shi'ite Muslims coming to power, as they had in the Iranian
Revolution of 1979. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman reported
in July 1991 that the Bush administration would have preferred
a coup by Iraqi generals to overthrow Saddam Hussein, "and
then Washington would have the best of all worlds: an iron-fisted
Iraqi junta without Saddam Hussein."
Indeed, the U.S. had no problem backing the rule of Saddam
Hussein until 1990. As one former Reagan administration official
put it, "Hussein is a bastard. But at the time he was our
bastard." The U.S. even helped turn the eight-year Iran-Iraq
War in Iraq's favor-knowing that Iraq was using chemical weapons
against Iran, yet supplying a wide range of arms to Iraq while
preventing arms from reaching Iran. Nor was the U.S. deterred
when, in March 1980, Saddam Hussein launched mustard- and nerve-gas
attacks against Kurds in Halabja. As Geoff Simons wrote,
In the months following the Halabja massacre the U.S. government
issued licenses for the delivery of biological products to the
Iraqi Atomic Energy Agency. for the delivery of electronics equipment
and machine tools to an Iraqi missile design center, a bomb plant,
a missile factory, defense electronics factories and a weapons
manufacturing complex. In July Bechtel secured a $1 billion deal
m provide Iraq with a petrochemicals complex that the Iraqis intended
to use in the production of mustard gas weapons, fuel-air explosives
and rocket propellants.
The Reagan administration also opposed the introduction of
sanctions against Iraq after the scale of the Halabja atrocity
became public. After the Halabja massacres, the U.S. granted licenses
for dual-use technology exports at a rate 50 percent greater than
before, including missile technology and chemical-biological agents.
Between 1985 and 1989, the U.S. approved 17 licenses for exports
of bacterial and fungal cultures to Iraq (anthrax among them).
These friendly relations came to an end not because of Saddam
Hussein's flagrant human rights abuses, but because, as Nafeez
[I]n February 1990, Saddam made a speech before an Arab summit
that certainly seemed to show that his days of subservience to
the West could be ending. Condemning the ongoing U.S. military
presence in the Gulf, Saddam warned: "If the Gulf people
and the rest of the Arabs along with them fail to take heed, the
Arab Gulf region will be ruled by American will," and that
the United States would dictate the production, distribution and
the price of oil, "all on the basis of a special outlook
which has solely to do with U.S. interests and in which no consideration
is given to the interests of others."
Only then did the U.S. take issue with Saddam Hussein's "weapons
of mass destruction" and human rights abuses, labeling him
the "new Hitler." A leaked Pentagon draft document stated
the real concerns behind the U.S. condemnation of the Iraqi invasion
of Kuwait in August 1990:
In the Middle East and Southwest Asia, our overall objective
is to remain the predominant outside power in the region and preserve
U.S. and Western access to the region's oil.... As demonstrated
by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, it remains fundamentally important
to prevent a hegemon or alignment of powers from dominating the
This is the guiding principle behind U.S. Middle East policy.
Righteous indignation about human rights abuses and preserving
the sanctity of international law are merely the selling points
for bloody U.S. interventions that are motivated by economic interests,
not morality. George Bush's declaration as he was bombing Iraq,
"What we say goes," far more accurately depicted U.S.
motivation in the Gulf War than did its stated concern for Kuwait.
In the name of enforcing UN resolutions on Iraq, the U.S.
has committed the most flagrant violations of international law
against the Iraqi people, through both war and sanctions. Ironically,
some of these are the same laws violated by Saddam Hussein. For
example, UN General Assembly Resolution 32/84 (December 12, 1977)
condemns weapons of mass destruction, which are defined as "atomic
explosive weapons, radioactive material weapons, lethal chemical
and biological weapons." Depleted uranium ordnance and fuel-air
explosives, widely used by the U.S. during the Gulf War, certainly
fits this category. Similarly, the deliberate destruction of Iraq's
civilian infrastructure-including electricity, water treatment
plants, sewerage systems, agriculture, industry, and hospitals-violates
the Geneva Convention's Article 52, which states, "Civilian
objects shall not be the object of attacks or reprisals."
And the massive civilian death toll was the result of bombing
raids that were "indiscriminate, in that they failed to distinguish
between military and civilian objects," according to Middle
East Report. This deliberate bombing of Iraqi civilians-which
is a dear violation of the Nuremburg Charter banning the "wanton
destruction of cities, towns, or villages"-is otherwise known
as a "crime against humanity."
As Mushahid Hussain has argued, "This gap between what
America says at home-liberties, rule of law, democracy-is rarely
practiced in American foreign policy." This is true of imperialist
ventures historically. As Frank Furedi wrote in The New Ideology
of Imperialism, "The moral claims of imperialism were seldom
questioned in the West. Imperialism and the global expansion of
the Western powers were represented in unambiguously positive
terms as a major contributor to human civilization."
Should the U.S. military once again go to war against Iraq,
expanding the "war against terrorism" will be nothing
more than a convenient excuse to justify it. Defense Policy board
member Newt Gingrich candidly stated in Newsweek's September 26
issue the real reasons why the U.S. would attack Iraq- a week
before the anthrax scare surfaced. Gingrich said the U.S. should
strike against Iraq simply because bombing Afghanistan is not
an adequate U.S. response to September 11 :"There's a feeling
we've got to do something that counts- and bombing caves is not
something that counts."
And once again, the Iraqi population will pay the price.
Sharon Smith is a contributor to Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly
Impact of Sanctions and War, edited by Anthony Arnove, (South
End Press, 2000).