The Socialist 20 September 2002 |
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When The West Backed Saddam
SADDAM HUSSEIN is "a significant problem and a serious threat and something this country must deal with", says George W Bush. But while the US president and his ally Tony Blair prepare a military attack on the Iraqi dictator, it's worth reminding these 'freedom loving' leaders that Saddam's regime only exists because of the backing of previous US and British governments.
During the 1980s Saddam was built up as a regional strongman by imperialism, notably the US, Britain, France and Germany. These powers made lucrative arms deals, trade agreements and brokered massive financial loans to help Saddam wage a bloody war against Islamist Iran. They feared the spread of Iran's theocratic, anti-Western ideology which threatened imperialist interests in the region. (It's ironic that, today, Bush and Blair claim Saddam is abetting "Islamic fundamentalists".)
The brutal repression of Kurds and Shi'ites within Iraq along with the banning of trade unions, political parties and the imprisonment and murder of the regime's opponents, was conveniently overlooked by the West.
The leaders of the former Soviet Union also cultivated Saddam as an important ally in the Gulf despite the Baathist leader's murderous suppression of the Iraqi Communist Party.
THE IRAN-IRAQ War which lasted from 1980 to 1988 cost one million lives and an astronomical $1,190 billion. Western arms companies grew rich by ignoring UN arms embargoes and supplying both Iran and Iraq.
One of the factors leading to the war was the assumption of full state power by Saddam Hussein in July 1979. Encouraged by the chaos of the revolution in Iran and by the deepening hostility between Tehran and the Western powers, Iraq attempted to unseat Khomeini's Islamist regime.
Pre-revolutionary Iran had been a large market for British arms exporters but as relations between the two countries soured, Iraq became the new market. In February 1982 Baghdad signed a contract with London to repair 50 Chieftain tanks captured from Iranians on the battlefield.
The Thatcher government encouraged neighbouring Kuwait to register its oil tankers in Britain thus allowing British Naval involvement in the Gulf against Iran.
Although British arms sales were formally banned in 1985 non-military exports to Iraq soared to $665 million in 1986. However, an illegal flow of arms to Baghdad continued with Tory cabinet approval and despite their full knowledge of Saddam's gassing of 5,000 Iraqi Kurds in Halabja in 1988. Within one month of this atrocity Tory MP Alan Clark representing the Department of Trade flew to Baghdad and offered £340 million in export credits. Iraq was by now Britain's third largest market for 'dual use' machine tool exports.
Astra, an arms company, according to its former chairman was 'taken over' by MI6 and used as a channel to Iraq. The subsequent Scott inquiry into this murky trade whitewashed the Tory government leaders, including Margaret Thatcher and John Major.
IN THE mid-1980's the US, anxious to secure the release of American hostages held in the Lebanon by pro-Iranian guerrillas, got colonel Oliver North to secretly negotiate with Tehran an 'arms for hostages' deal involving Israel. The revelations (known as 'Irangate') severely damaged president Reagan's domestic and international standing - Reagan was publicly pursuing an anti-Iran policy.
Stung by this foreign policy failure and alarmed at Moscow's increasing bilateral trade with Baghdad, the US in 1987 offered Saddam $1 billion in agricultural commodity credits - a vital prop to war-torn Iraq.
Washington also increased its military cooperation with Saddam's regime to frustrate Iran's attacks. At this time (July 1988) an Iranian civilian jet aircraft was shot down by the US navy in the Gulf killing 290 people. The US administration expressed no sympathy. Against the overwhelming weight of imperialism Iran was forced to accept a ceasefire on 20 August 1988.
Without the massive financial and military backing of the US and Britain, it is an open question as to whether or not Saddam's regime would have survived the Iran-Iraq war - an irony which George Bush and Tony Blair must be rueing.
Iraq -Britain's Former 'Colony'
AFTER World War One the imperialist powers of Britain and France seized the Middle Eastern territories of the Turkish Ottoman Empire and divided the spoils; reneging on independence agreements made with Arab leaders.
France grabbed Lebanon and Syria while Britain took Iraq, Trans-Jordan and Palestine to rule over the people of these countries as virtual colonialists.
This plunder was sanctified by the newly created League of Nations (the precursor of the United Nations), scathingly described by the Russian revolutionary, Lenin, as the "League of imperialist Bandits".
In 1920 an Iraqi revolt against British rule was put down after RAF bombing had contributed to the deaths of 9,000 civilians. But even after a stooge monarchy was installed by the British colonial secretary, Winston Churchill, uprisings and skirmishes with Kurds and Iraqis continued, along with regular RAF bombings (Churchill wanted to use Mustard gas!).
Only after British and US oil companies had secured a grip on the country's vast oil fields did Iraq gain nominal independence in 1932.
United Nations: A Fig-Leaf For Imperialism
PRESIDENT BUSH went to the United Nations (UN) on 12 September, demanding UN assistance in his war against Iraq, or else Saddam Hussein could face attack and overthrow by US-led forces.
Bush asked: "Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding or will it be irrelevant?" But what is the purpose of the UN? Many people - such as the leaders of Britain's TUC - still seem to see it as an 'impartial' body, working to international laws and above the petty interests of individual nations.
Bush wanted the invasion of Iraq to get a UN seal of approval as a smokescreen to encourage critical countries' leaders to back the war and even 'sell' it to worried people at home.
In reality, far from being impartial, the UN reflects the world's balance of power. Five big powers are on the Security Council and particularly since the USSR collapsed, the planet's only military and economic superpower - US imperialism - dominates it.
After 11 September 2001 US forces started bombing Afghanistan with UN approval, rather than getting direct UN assistance. Widespread international opposition to attacks on Iraq, however, forced Bush to beg them to put their name to this adventure.
The US is years behind with its UN dues. While at the UN Bush signed his government up to UNESCO, the international educational, scientific and cultural organisation after an 18 years absence. Bush said it was "a symbol of our commitment to human dignity" but it was a cynical sop to UN delegates.
Blair talks about giving Saddam a final warning. Unless he lets in the UN-approved arms inspection body Unmovic to investigate his chemical, biological and nuclear capacity, he would face attack. Saddam though remembers what happened last time. Unmovic's predecessor, Unscom, was found to have been stuffed full of spies planted by the US government.
But several US government officials have made it clear that Saddam's compliance or non-compliance with weapons inspectors is an irrelevancy - they want US imperialism to take action against Iraq, regardless.
Weapons control - US hypocrisy
What's more Bush's administration has hypocritically been blocking international controls on biological weapons. Last year they even forced the sacking of the head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons because he planned to inspect five countries without consultation - including the USA.
Bush of course opposes any such inspections on US soil - he has the world's largest stock of chemical and biological weapons and nuclear bombs.
Bush's government even wants American UN 'peacekeepers' exempted from prosecution by the new International Criminal Court, ostensibly the first standing court for war crimes. A compromise with the UN gives a year's exemption.
Bush though, wants US forces to act untrammelled by any laws. He says he sees the US as "the peacemakers" under his command while other lesser powers, the US's allies, would just be "peacekeepers".
In the 1990/91 Gulf War Bush senior's government used the UN as a fig leaf for a US-led war. Then he threatened economic sanctions against countries such as Yemen that opposed the vote in the UN chamber.
Now, with less support than in 1990, the US must again call on the UN. But socialists should have no illusions that the UN can act in workers' interests.
Bush and Blair say Saddam's regime had breached 23 UN resolutions. But Israel - an ally of the US - has openly flouted no less than 70 UN resolutions; yet there are no bombers hovering over Tel Aviv, no punitive sanctions like those which have killed over half a million children in Iraq since 1990.
The capitalist powers, alone or in the UN, have failed to remove from government or bring to justice those guilty of crimes against humanity. The UN didn't even discuss the growing threat of war between India and Pakistan despite both powers having the ultimate weapon of mass destruction - nuclear bombs.
The United Nations, dominated by the wealthy and powerful capitalist nations of the world, cannot solve these problems. That's why we fight to unite the working class worldwide in the battle to create a socialist world.