After the War on Saddam
A War on Iraqi
By ZOLTAN GROSSMAN
carrot-and--stick strategy at first seemed ingenious, or at least crafty.
In the days leading up to the U.S.-led war on Iraq, the "stick" of looming
invasion would pressure Iraqi military or political officials into
arresting or killing Saddam Hussein. The "carrot," or their incentive to
oust Saddam and his sons, would have been to prevent foreigners from
overrunning their country. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer put it most
directly when he told Iraqis that "a single bullet" would be less costly
than a war
Yet in the vaunted 48-hour warning period that led
up to the war, the Bush Administration pulled the rug out from under any
potential Iraqi coup. Ari Fleischer (or at least it appeared to be
Fleischer and not a body double) stated unequivocally that even if Saddam
was ousted, or left the country voluntarily, the U.S.-British forces would
still invade Iraq in a "peaceful entry" to search for "weapons of mass
The signal was unmistakable: it did not matter what
Iraqis did to topple their own tyrant, the Americans were going to rule
their country anyways. If any Republican Guard officer was ready to
confront Saddam to save his country, the pistol would have gone back in
his holster. Why bother? The "carrot" had been yanked away. The potential
self-liberation of Iraqis had turned into a foreign war of conquest. The
tragedy is that this final squashing of Iraqi self-determination is fully
consistent with U.S. historic policy toward the Iraqi people.
The Iraqi people historically had a reputation of
determining their own destiny. In 1920, the Ottoman Turks left Iraq in
defeat. In 1932, Iraqis overturned the British colonial mandate. In 1958,
they threw out the Hashemite monarchy and declared a republic. These were
a people who could overthrow dictators against overwhelming odds. Why did
they not similarly topple Saddam? Because at every step along the way, the
U.S. has stepped in either to prop up Saddam, or to make sure that it
would be the only alternative to his rule.
Since Saddam's Ba'ath Party took power in 1968, the
U.S. has exhibited a schizophrenic policy toward the Arab nationalist
government. President Nixon backed a Kurdish revolt against Iraq, but sold
out the Kurds in 1975 after Baghdad signed a peace treaty with his friend
the Shah of Iran. Iraqi Kurds still remember this betrayal with bitterness
Five years later, after Iranians overthrew the Shah,
the new Ba'ath supreme leader Saddam Hussein invaded Iran's oil fields
with U.S. blessing. President Reagan supplied Baghdad with intelligence
and U.S. naval protection for Iraq's oil shipments, and his Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warmly shook Saddam's hand in Baghdad. When both
Iraq and Iran launched chemical attacks in the Kurdish region along their
border, U.S. officials pointed fingers at Iran alone, and minimized or
blocked UN condemnations of Saddam until the war's end in 1988.
After Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990, the first Bush
Administration assembled a Coalition to defend the self-determination of
the oil-rich monarchy, but grassroots Iraqi opponents of Saddam were
nowhere to be seen in the successful military strategy. Washington instead
encouraged the formation of an Iraqi exile opposition (led by former Iraqi
generals and the banker Ahmed Chalabi) which became not only internally
divided but unpopular within Iraq.
Bush had encouraged Iraqis to rise up against
Saddam, yet when southern Iraqi Shi'ites liberated their own cities in
March 1991, the U.S. troops within view of their positions were ordered
not to help. The Allies temporarily lifted the wartime No-Fly Zone,
allowing just enough time for Saddam's helicopters to strafe Shi'ite
rebels before restoring the flight restrictions. Saddam drained the
region's marshes to finish his slaughter.
The reasons for the U.S. betrayal of the Shi'ites
was threefold, and instructive for the present crisis in 2003. First,
Washington assumed that Iraqi Shi'ites would seek to emulate Iran's
Shi'ite regime, even though they had fought as troops against Iran in the
1980s. (Saddam's Mukhabarat secret police promoted this linkage by
postering Shi'ite rebel cities with poster of Iran's Ayatollah
Second, U.S. allies in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait
feared the dangerous example of a secular democratic republic across their
borders, at a time when domestic opposition was rising to their
monarchies. The Sunni princes and sheikhs had supported U.S. military
bases and oil interests, and were more important than Iraqis'
Third, a truly democratic revolution led by the
Iraqi people would insist on taking full control of their oil fields, and
keeping the profits from oil development. When Iran's popular Mossadegh
government in Iran nationalized U.S. and British oil interests in 1953,
the CIA overthrew that government. Washington viewed Saddam as a
preferable and predictable factor for Sunni rule and regional "stability,"
and his reign of terror continued.
Weakening the Internal
The final blow to the self-determination of the
Iraqi people came from the Clinton Administration in the 1990s, as
U.S.-led economic sanctions sapped any potential strength left in the
populace to oppose Saddam. The sanctions were supposed to pressure Iraqis
to overthrow Saddam. Instead, Saddam successfully diverted blame for
economic hardships to the U.S., and not without evidence. Educated Iraqis
and working people spent all their waking hours scrambling to get enough
basic goods for their families to survive. They grew too weak, distracted
and frightened to organize against the regime, and grew to resent the U.S.
for targeting them instead of Saddam.
The stage was set for the second Gulf War of 2003.
Without a viable civilian or military opposition to Saddam, President
George W. Bush could portray a U.S.-British invasion as "Operation Iraqi
Freedom." In just the key 48-hour period when a few military officers or
Ba'ath officials had the option to head off an invasion by taking out
Saddam, Ari Fleischer took away the option.
Either Americans would oust Saddam, or nobody would.
The goal became not to eliminate a dictator or his alleged bio-chemical
weapons (so far unused) but conquering and ruling Iraq. Liberating Iraq
becomes a prime opportunity not only to secure control over Iraqi oil
fields, but more importantly to extend new U.S. "sphere of
Every U.S. intervention since 1990 (in the Gulf,
Balkans, and Central Asia) has left behind clusters of new, permanent
military bases in the strategic "middle ground" between emerging economic
competitors in the EU and East Asia. It is little wonder that Germany,
France, Russia and China were the main opponents of this war. Iraq and
Iran have been the only obstacles blocking U.S. domination of the region
between Hungary and Pakistan, as the lynchpin of a new military-economic
The inhabitants of this U.S. "sphere of influence"
are simply not allowed to overthrow their own dictators. The antiwar
movement has understandably focused on the prospect of mass casualties in
Gulf War II, and the humanitarian crisis that has already begun. But the
real crime has been Washington's denial of self-determination to the Iraqi
people over the past three decades, up to and including Gulf War II, even
if relatively few Iraqis die.
It would not be unusual for some weary and scared
Iraqi troops or civilians to initially welcome the invading troops
(whatever the U.S. motives for the invasion), as a human reaction to the
toppling of Saddam's nightmarish rule. But so what? Some Saudis welcomed
U.S. troops in 1990, until they overstayed their welcome in the Islamic
holy land after the Gulf War I victory. Somalis similarly welcomed U.S.
forces when they landed in Mogadishu in 1992, until the U.S. started
taking sides in the clan-based civil war and paid the consequences in the
infamous "Black Hawk Down" battle.
By conquering Iraq, the U.S. military is stepping
into a country that is far more far more ethnically and religiously
divided than Somalia, and rivaling Bosnia and Afghanistan. In the
intricantly complex country, the U.S. will soon start its pattern of
defining "good guys" and "bad guys," and taking sides in internal
conflicts. Iraqis could be throwing flowers at American troops in 2003,
but grenades in 2004.
With their proud history of self-determination,
Iraqis will not be content to be ruled by an American military commander
or appointee. They will not simply acquiesce to a Karzai-style Iraqi
puppet such as Chalabi, who has set up headquarters in northern Iraq. Nor
will Kurds accept Turkish troops in northern Iraq, even as a quid pro quo
for U.S. overflights over Turkey to attack Saddam.
Shi'ites in the south may greet Americans who free
them from the Sunni dictator Saddam, but will certainly resent American
rulers who prevent them from taking their rightful place as the majority
Iraqi population, and improving their second-class economic status. Urban,
educated Iraqis, and anti-Saddam leftist parties, will similarly not be
content to "meet the new boss, same as the old boss."
Winning is the easy part. President Bush may easily
win Gulf War II, but lose the peace. The hard nut to crack will not be
resistance from Saddam's followers, but resistance from his opponents.
Like in the Philippines a century ago, the U.S. has arrived to "liberate"
a people from tyrannical rule, but may ultimately find itself as an
imperial power fighting the democratic rebels it had come to
Zoltan Grossman is
an Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin- Eau
Claire, and a longtime peace, environmental, and anti-racist organizer.
His peace writings can be seen at www.uwec.edu/grossmzc/peace.html
and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
From Waiting to
War: a Day and a Night in Baghdad
Was a Soldier Once
Kevin Alexander Gray
Did We Become an Outlaw Nation?
Solidarity: Glimpses of Life in Baghdad on the Eve of War
Waiting on the
Baghdad Skies to Crack
Rahul Mahajan and Robert
Myths and Facts
About the War on Iraq
About Halliburton and Iraq
If War is
Business as Usual, There Should be No Business as Usual
About the Iraq War
US Air Force
Veteran on the Coming Air Campaign
On Democrats, Stand Up for Peace
Website of the Day
Tax-Deductible Donation Today Online!
home / subscribe
/ about us / books / archives / search / links /
CounterPunch Available Exclusively to
- Turkish Delights: a Pre-War Diary by Tariq Ali;
- The Plot to Frame the Zapatistas:
Talkers and Cowards;
- Drugging Kids: The Plague of Neuroleptics;
- The Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal:
Remember, the CounterPunch website is supported
exclusively by subscribers to our newsletter. Our worldwide web audience
is soaring , with about seven million hits a month now. This is inspiring,
but the work involved also compels us to remind you more urgently than
ever to subscribe and/or make a (tax deductible) donation if you can
afford it. If you find our site
useful please: Subscribe
home / subscribe
/ about us / books / archives / search / links /
Take a Bite Out of
Phil Knight's Bottom Line: Buy No Sweat Apparel!
Moran and the
Dixie Chicks; Hitchens and Horowitz
Terror of the
Professionals for Sanity
Anger and Tears
at Israel's Wall of Apartheid
Liberals Love the War
The Fire Last
Time: Remembering the Tokyo Air Raids
If You Care
About Elizabeth Smart, Why Not the Kids of Iraq?
Endgame in Baghdad: a
Human Shield Returns Home to Protest
The Grunts of
World and the West: the Roots of Conflict
Dr. Susan Block
Superpower of Peace
Smart: the Face of War?
In the Grip of
the Permanent War Economy
Do You Know
What War Is?
Becker, Perelman and Katz
March 8 / 9,
Elegy for Two
Giraffes and a Zebra
of Peace and War
Patriot Act II's
Attack on Punishment
A Warning from
Clausewitz on 4th Generation Warfare
Why So Long for
Iraq to Comply? Follow the Policy
Usual in Bolivia?
Race and the
Death Penalty in Pennsylvania
There a Eurologist in the House?
with William Blum
The Clash of
and the Writer: Maurice Blanchot
There's Got to be
a Better Way
The White House
Meet the New
Yorker's Chief Hack: Jeffrey Goldberg
A Plea for
The UN: Tool
for Peace or War?
Sharpton and the Soul of the Democrats
Off the War
Biological Weapons: Why the World Needs More of Them
M. Shahid Alam
Is This a Clash
Juries and Judges:
Tongues: a Guide to Gibberish in the Age of Bush
Preemptive War is to Declare a Bankrupt Imagination
the Nose to Kill Iraqi Kids
Right Hates America
Talk I Never Gave
Jung and the
Space Shuttle Revisited
Chronicle of a
What If the
Firebombing of Baghdad Were a Nightclub Fire?
Eliot Katz and
Website of the
Whiteout and Find Out How the CIA's
Backing of the Mujahideen Created the World's Most Robust Heroin Market
and Helped to Finance the Rise of the Taliban and Osama bin
CIA, Drugs & the Press
by Alexander Cockburn
and Jeffrey St.