The tenth anniversary of the Iraq war has seen the repetition of many excuses for the invasion. One of the commonest is that UN sanctions on Iraq killed millions of Iraqi civilians, with the pretence that sanctions which killed millions of Iraqis through shortages of food and medicines couldn’t be lifted or else Saddam’s regime would become a serious threat. Another is that it was necessary to end Saddam's genocides and massacres. These are lies; the US could have stopped Saddam's genocides and massacres but either kept supporting him (while he committed genocide against the Kurds) or did nothing (while he massacred Shia and Marsh Arabs); and sanctions could have been lifted at any time ; here’s why.
Saddam couldn’t even defeat Iran in the 8 year Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s; and that was with almost the entire world’s governments supporting him with arms, funding, intelligence and political support. This included as Saddam used chemical weapons on Iranians and in his genocidal Anfal campaign against the Kurds, even after Halabja (see post on this link for sources and more details).
(The Halabja attack used US Apache Bell helicopters, whose sale was approved by the Reagan administration, supposedly for “crop spraying”, even though they already knew Saddam was using chemical weapons (1) – (3). After Halabja the US government issued one statement of condemnation, then continued supporting Saddam and suggested that maybe the Iranians had done it (4).)
Saddam showed during the 1991 war that he didn’t dare to use chemical weapons on other countries or the Iraqi Kurds after 1991. He had chemical warheads for his scud missiles, but only used conventional warheads (5).
He could only massacre Shia rebels and their families in Southern Iraq (including Marsh Arabs) at the end of the 1991 war because Bush senior ordered his troops not to intervene ; a massacre that would never have happened if Bush hadn’t given Iraqis the false impression that his forces would aid them if they rebelled (he actually wanted a military regime to replace Saddam) (for details and sources see this post).
Saddam did carry out one horrific campaign of torture, massacres and genocide against Iraqis after 1991; against the Marsh Arabs and other Shia rebels and their families who fled to the southern marshes in 1991 (6).
However US and British aircraft patrolling the Southern No-Fly Zone could have stopped most of this by bombing Saddam’s artillery, trucks, tanks and bulldozers; but made no attempt to do so, probably for the same reason Bush senior didn’t help the other Shia rebels ; the Marsh Arabs are also mostly Shia and so they were seen as potential allies of Iran (7).
Throughout the 1990s Saddam’s forces shelled Marsh Arab villages and towns with tanks, artillery and mortars, including chemical weapons according to some reports, drained the marshes by diverting rivers, killed many rebels, bulldozed houses, left many civilians to die in deserts; and forcibly relocated most of those who didn’t leave to live elsewhere in Iraq, or weren’t among the unknown number who were killed (one estimate being 120,000), or the estimated 40,000 to 120,000 who fled to Iran (8) – (11).
By comparison dozens of Coalition offensives on Iraqi cities during the occupation killed hundreds of civilians in each assault – e.g 600 in the April 2004 assault on Falluja alone (12). Coalition offensives, Saddam’s earlier campaigns and sectarian fighting had left 2.8 million Iraqis “internally displaced people” (homeless refugees inside Iraq) and 2.2 million refugees in other countries at the highest point (during the occupation in the late 2000s). Today an estimated 1.3 million Iraqis remain “internally displaced” and 1.4 million are refugees in other countries While some have returned home , unfortunately other reasons for the reduced numbers include Iraqi refugees who fled to Syria deciding it’s even more dangerous there (13) – (15).
By the end of the 1990s Saddam’s campaign of genocide against the Marsh Arabs was complete. All but an estimated 20,000 Marsh Arabs were gone from the area they had lived in, compared to an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 in 1991, the last major rebellion being crushed in 1998. Only 1,600 still lived in their traditional reed houses on floating platforms in the marshes (16) – (18).
That’s why Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch concluded in 2004 that the 2003 invasion of Iraq “was not a humanitarian intervention” as no massacres or genocide were being planned or carried out by Saddam’s forces (19).
He could have added that none had been carried out or planned for over a decade. Any war was now bound to kill far, far more Iraqis than Saddam was killing. That’s before we even get into the constant firing on civilians and ambulances in many US offensives on Iraqi cities during the occupation which led western aid workers and Iraqi doctors and civilians to conclude they were being deliberately targeted – e.g Fallujah in April 2004 and in Samarra in October 2004 ; or the US trained Iraqi paramilitary torture and death squads, of which more in my next post (20) – (21).
(Many Marsh Arabs, who have survived only by becoming bandits or extortionists, also went to war with Coalition forces after the invasion in a rebellion against attempts to disarm them – many joining Al Sadr’s Madhi army or other anti-occupation militias. (22)
Dennis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck, two successive heads of the sanctions programme who resigned in protest over it, said it was not Saddam's regime causing the starvation and shortage of medicines under sanctions, but that the sanctions imposed a limit on oil sales too low to support Iraq’s population ; both opposed the war (23) – (25).
The UN sanctions on Iraq had been demanded by the US and British governments at the end of the 1991 war – a war which began with an invasion of Kuwait which resulted largely from US and Kuwaiti co-operation to put economic pressure on Iraq by slant-drilling across the border into Iraq, by Kuwait exceeding it’s agreed OPEC quotas for oil sales and by it demanding immediate repayment of loans made to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war (see this post for sources and details).
We’ve already shown that their reason for not wanting them lifted was not that this would end Saddam’s “containment” and allow him to conquer the Middle East or massacre Iraqi rebels again.
The real reasons were avoiding loss of face; and ensuring US and British firms got oil contracts on favourable terms. The US had punished Saddam in 1991 and put him on their enemies list. If his regime now survived, the US would look weak and this would encourage other governments to defy it.
Even worse, after the 1991 war Saddam had negotiated oil contracts with Russian, French and Chinese oil companies. If sanctions were lifted and Saddam survived in power they would get the oil contracts, with US and British firms excluded.
As the Washington Post reported on the 15th of September 2002 ‘A U.S.-led ouster of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could open a bonanza for American oil companies long banished from Iraq, scuttling oil deals between Baghdad and Russia, France and other countries, and reshuffling world petroleum markets, according to industry officials and leaders of the Iraqi opposition...."It's pretty straightforward," said former CIA director R. James Woolsey, who has been one of the leading advocates of forcing Hussein from power. "France and Russia have oil companies and interests in Iraq. They should be told that if they are of assistance in moving Iraq toward decent government, we'll do the best we can to ensure that the new government and American companies work closely with them." But he added: "If they throw in their lot with Saddam, it will be difficult to the point of impossible to persuade the new Iraqi government to work with them."’ (26).
The US however failed to get the Oil Law it wanted the Iraqi parliament to pass during the occupation (it’s main reason for it’s war with the Shia Iraqi nationalist Al Sadr, whose Shia Sadrist MPs joined Sunni parties’ MPs in opposing the oil law;) and as a result failed to get contracts on the terms it wanted for most US oil companies (27).
Anglo-American oil giant BP has managed to get a very lucrative contract for one giant Iraqi oil field on terms extremely favourable to it ; and is seeking others in Iraqi Kurdistan which is in disputes with the central government in Baghdad over the regional government negotiating oil contracts rather than the central government ; and over how favourable the terms of contracts are to oil companies (28) – (31). BP took over the US oil firm Amoco (formerly Standard Oil of Indiana and one of the ‘Seven Sisters’ oil giants) in 2001.
Oil and arms company profits and global power were the US aims in Iraq, not protecting Iraqis or promoting democracy – as I’ll show in my next post on how US and Coalition forces and the new Iraqi government still torture and kill Iraqis using all Saddam’s methods short of actual genocide.
(1) = Mark Phythian (1997) Arming Iraq: How the U.S. and Britain Secretly Built Saddam's War Machine, Boston: Northeastern University Press
(2) = Washington Post $1.5 Billion in U.S. Sales to Iraq; Technology Products Approved Up to Day Before Invasion’,
(3) = LA Times 13 Feb 1991 ‘Iraq Arms: Big Help From U.S. : Technology was sold with approval--and encouragement--from the Commerce Department but often over Defense officials' objections.’, http://articles.latimes.com/1991-02-13/news/mn-1097_1_commerce-department-approved-millions/3 , page 3 of online version of article
(4) = Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting 01 Sep 2002 ‘The Washington Post's Gas Attack -Today's outrage was yesterday's no big deal’, http://fair.org/extra-online-articles/the-washington-posts-gas-attack/
(5) = Nye , Joseph S. & Smith , Robert K. (1992), ‘After the Storm' , Madison Books , London , 1992 , - pages 211-216 (Nye is a former member of the Clinton administration)
(6) = Chicago Tribune 05 Aug 1993 ‘Briton: Iraq Is Wiping Out Arabs In Marshes’,
http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1993-08-05/news/9308050117_1_marshes-chemical-weapons-arabs ; 3rd Paragraph ‘She said doctors and other experts aiding the Arabs estimate that 120,000 may die from the terror campaign being waged against them by the regime of Saddam Hussein. There are an estimated 200,000 marsh Arabs, and she said more than 300,000 other people from nearby towns and cities fled to the marshes for refuge when Hussein crushed a Shiite Muslim uprising after the Persian Gulf war.’
(7) = Guardian.co.uk 19 Nov 1998 ‘Rebellion in southern marshes is crushed’ ,
(8) = See (6) above
(9) = See (7) above
(10) = BBC News 03 Mar 2003 ‘Iraq's 'devastated' Marsh Arabs’,
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/2807821.stm ; 6th to 7th paragraphs
(11) = The Oregonian 14 May 2003 ‘IRAQ'S MARSH ARABS, MODERN SUMERIANS’,
(12) = Iraq Body Count 26 Oct 2004 ‘No Longer Unknowable: Falluja's April Civilian Toll is 600’, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/analysis/reference/press-releases/9/
(13) = Internal Displacement Monitoring Center ‘Iraq: Response still centred on return despite increasing IDP demands for local integration’, http://www.internal-displacement.org/countries/iraq
(14) = 2013 UNHCR country operations profile – Iraq,
(15) = BBC News 29 Oct 2012 ‘Iraqi refugees flee Syrian conflict to return home’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-20131033
(16) = Juan Cole (2008) ‘Marsh Arab Rebellion : Grievance, Mafias and Militias in Iraq’ Fourth Wadie Jwaideh Memorial Lecture, (Bloomington, Indiana : Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Indiana University, 2008), Page 7,
(17) = BBC News 03 Mar 2003 ‘Iraq's 'devastated' Marsh Arabs’,
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/2807821.stm ; 7th to 8th paragrahs
(18) = Guardian.co.uk 19 Nov 1998 ‘Rebellion in southern marshes is crushed’ , http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/1998/nov/17/2
(19) = Human Rights Watch 26 Jan 2004 ‘War in Iraq: Not a Humanitarian Intervention’,
(20) = BBC News 23 Apr 2004 ‘Picture emerges of Fallujah siege’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/3653223.stm
(21) = Independent 04 Oct 2004 ‘Civilians Bear Brunt as Samarra 'Pacified'’,
http://www.commondreams.org/headlines04/1004-02.htm (no longer exists on the Independent newspaper’s website – is this connected to Tony Blair’s biographer and apologist John Rentoul being the paper’s Politics Editor?)
(22) = Juan Cole (2008) ‘Marsh Arab Rebellion : Grievance, Mafias and Militias in Iraq’ Fourth Wadie Jwaideh Memorial Lecture, (Bloomington, Indiana : Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Indiana University, 2008), Pages 7-17,
(23) = BBC News 30 Sep 1998 ‘UN official blasts Iraq sanctions’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/183499.stm
(24) = BBC News 14 Feb 2000 ‘UN sanctions rebel resigns’
(25) = Guardian 29 Nov 2001 ‘The hostage nation - Former UN relief chiefs Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday speak out against an attack on Iraq’,
(26) = Washington Post 15 Sep 2002, 'In Iraqi War Scenario, Oil Is Key Issue : U.S. Drillers Eye Huge Petroleum Pool',
http://pqasb.pqarchiver.com/washingtonpost/access/177755831.html?FMT=ABS&FMTS=ABS:FT&date=Sep+15%2C+2002&author=Dan+Morgan++and++David+B.+Ottaway&pub=The+Washington+Post&edition=&startpage=A.01&desc=In+Iraqi+War+Scenario%2C+Oil+Is+Key+Issue%3B+U.S.+Drillers+Eye+Huge+Petroleum+Pool ; or read full version at
(27) = Greg Muttitt (2011) ‘Fuel on the Fire – Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq’, Bodley-Head 2011
(28) = Observer 31 Jul 2011 ‘BP 'has gained stranglehold over Iraq' after oilfield deal is rewritten’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/jul/31/bp-stranglehold-iraq-oilfield-contract
(29) = Wall Street Journal Online 27 Jan 2013 ‘Iraq, BP Considering Kirkuk Field Deal’,
(30) = BBC News 20 Mar 2013 ‘Kurdish oil exports stall in row over revenue-sharing’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-21793783
(31) = CNN 12 Dec 2011 ‘Oil power struggle as U.S. leaves Iraq’, http://edition.cnn.com/2011/12/12/world/meast/iraq-oil