An analysis from the International Action Center (IAC) After the bombing, what is next?
by Brian Becker
January 7, 1999
The writer was a member of the Iraq Sanctions Challenge that returned from Iraq three days before the latest U.S. bombing campaign.
Today the U.S. government admitted that it has secretly used the UN weapons inspectors (UNSCOM) as a U.S. spy operation to penetrate the Iraqi leadership, to listen to its internal communications, to track the movements of Iraqi leaders.
Think back for a moment to February 1998. That's when UNSCOM demanded access to the Iraqi Presidential homes and other sensitive sites. Iraq finally acquiesced to these demands and signed an agreement with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan allowing access to these sites. This February 22, 1998 agreement narrowly a averted a U.S. bombing war. The Iraqis thought that they were promised an end to sanctions in return for this humiliating and dangerous concession.
This Iraqi concession, however, ended only in the UNSCOM's Richard Butler issuing new negative reports about Iraq's so-called non-compliance and "hiding."
But now we know that this was all a U.S. spy operation, a precursor to a new war. An attempt to collect information so that the U.S. and Britain could then try to assassinate Iraq's political and military leaders with aerial bombardment -- after the country had been effectively disarmed.
UNSCOM is not a neutral weapons disarmament agency. It is a tool of humiliating aggression.
The whole world should take this new revelation as "the final straw." Sanctions on Iraq have been maintained for eight long years, based exclusively on the reports of UNSCOM that their work is not yet done. That after 9,000 weapons inspections UNSCOM "still has reason to believe that Iraq is hiding its weapons of mass destruction. This whole effort has now been exposed as a lie. It is a spy operation. Period. Its continued existence now would be an exercise in criminality, for it is a violation of international law and especially the UN charter for one member country to manipulate the UN to overthrow the government of another member country.
This horrendous covert operation has a human price tag. Six thousand Iraqis, 4,500 of them children, will die this month from disease and hunger caused by sanctions. This many will die every month until the sanctions are ended. More than 1.6 million innocent human beings have perished in this awful manner in the past eight years.
What is coming next in the U.S. war against Iraq
Sanctions should be lifted but will they? Or will there be a new war against Iraq? Will the genocidal sanctions be kept on indefinitely? What is the next stage in the ongoing U.S.-Iraq conflict likely to produce?
It is obvious that there is turmoil inside the U.S. ruling class about its Iraq policy. Yes, the Pentagon did a lot of damage went it struck Iraq with 415 cruise missiles and at least 600 other bombs on December 16-19. But the Clinton administration is being pilloried in the U.S. media for not having an effective follow-up plan to bring down the Iraqi government. Moreover, this criticism of Clinton suggests that the vast suffering on the Iraqi people from economic sanctions will ultimately result in more and more sympathy accumulating for Iraq, especially from the people of the Middle East.
So what are the options open to the imperialists? A new bombing, a ground invasion of Iraq, continuation of sanctions, or a retreat from its aggressive policy and some kind of rapprochement with the Iraqi government which it has so demonized in the last eight years?
First though a quick assessment of the military situation. The Iraqi government does not appear weakened by the latest bombing. In fact, since December 19, Iraq declared that they would now fire on U.S. and British planes that have patrolled Iraq's air space since 1991. And they have been shooting at these planes.
Until now Iraq has been unwilling to confront these planes in the no-fly zone although it certainly has had the legal right to do so. The no-fly zone is an incredible act of imperialist interference and aggression. The United States, Britain and France declared in 1991 and 1992 - long after the Gulf war -- that Iraq could no longer fly planes in either the southern or northern half of the country. They announced that they would shoot down any Iraqi aircraft that ventures into Iraq's own air space in these areas. This was not a UN decision. It was the decision by the United States and British government. The French later pulled out of this project.
The U.S. says the no-fly zone is designed to protect "minority peoples" in those regions. That's a lie. The people in the south are Shiite Moslems. They are the majority group in Iraq, not a minority. The people in the north are Kurds. But the U.S. is supporting the massacre of Kurds by its NATO ally, Turkey, in the same region. The truth is that Iraq's vast oil deposits are located in the no-fly zones. Oil that once belonged to U.S. and British oil companies before it was nationalized in 1972.
A preliminary report of non-military sites that were damaged or destroyed by the U.S. and British bombing attack includes many factories including the main cotton factory in Baghdad, a grain storage building in Salahiddin, hospitals in Baghdad, Salahiddin and Basra. Apartment complexes and residential housing were hit, according to eyewitness observers from the United States who visited the victims. Many people were killed and wounded. The Iraqi government lists more than 100 dead with a much larger number of wounded. Some humanitarian groups, like the Islamic Relief Organization, put the combined dead and wounded figure in the thousands.
Iraq predicted the bombing
The recent military aggression against Iraq has created new hardships for the Iraqi people but it has not substantially weakened the regime. So what will come next? To answer this question it is first necessary to identify the objectives or goals of U. S. imperialist strategy toward Iraq.
The Iraqi government has clearly developed its own view on this issue and it was revealed to members of the Iraq Sanctions Challenge delegation who were in Iraq just days before the bombing. The assessment that the Iraqis presented, and the sequence of events leading up to the bombing, are noteworthy.
"We will be bombed and we think it will be in the next week," Saleh Al-Mukhtar told our delegation of 16 U.S. residents on December 9, 1998. This was exactly one week before the bombing began. Mukhtar spoke with great urgency about the need for peace and anti-war activists to be alerted about the coming confrontation. Mukhtar is the chairman of the Iraqi Solidarity and Friendship Organization.
"President Clinton is going to Gaza in a few days [that trip occurred on December 13-14] to meet with the Palestinian leadership in public ceremonies. This trip is meant to appear to offer concessions to the Arab people. Clinton hopes to neutralize certain Arab governments by this gesture. When he returns to Washington D.C. from Gaza we believe that they will begin bombing Iraq," Mukhtar told our group which included Ramsey Clark, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, representatives from the American Muslims for Global Peace and Justice and others. We had traveled to the country between December 6-13 as part of the Iraq Sanctions Challenge, delivering $250,000 worth of donated medicine.
Mukhtar continued, "We know the U.S. game. It is part of a long term strategy. They want to do to Iraq what they have already done to Yugoslavia. They want to break us up just as they have already broken up Yugoslavia. That is how the U.S. and British imperialists intend to re-conquer this region to dismember our country, our lands and our natural resources. That is why the United States and Britain have divided up our country already. The no-fly zones cut Iraq into three pieces. They refuse to allow our planes to fly in our own air space."
Mukhtar asserted that the Iraqi government and the people would resist the machinations of the U.S. and Britain to re-establish full control and domination over Iraq, a country with 10% of the worlds known oil reserves. Oil reserves, by the way, which are greater than those of the United States, Canada and Mexico combined!
Mukhtar's opinion was not that of a single voice issuing apocalyptic warnings. The next day Sa'dun Hammadi, the speaker of Iraq's National Assembly and one of the very top rung leaders in Iraq, held a meeting with our group. "We now view our situation in a way that is quite similar to that of the Yugoslavia," Hammadi told us. "The U.S. has chosen to use its military forces and the expansion of NATO and of NATO's role - even at the expense of the UN -- to push the U.S. agenda and it is a U.S. agenda for domination in Central and Eastern Europe. They are pursuing a very similar strategy toward us in the Middle East," Hammadi said in a small meeting that lasted nearly an hour on December 10, 1998.
Because Iraq is a predominantly Moslem country it will come no doubt as a surprise for some that Iraq's leaders look sympathetically at Yugoslavia in its ongoing confrontation with the United States. Too often the struggle in Yugoslavia has been portrayed as an ethnic struggle between Serbs and Albanian Muslims, or Bosnia Muslims, or Catholic Croatians, etc. This is as false as seeing the historic struggle inside Ireland as a Catholic-Protestant conflict without noticing Britain's colonial role. Would it be possible to understand the ongoing conflict between predominantly Moslem Pakistan and predominantly Hindu India without taking into account that British imperialism deliberately fostered ethnic divisions in the Indian subcontinent as a way of controlling both colonized people? Keeping India the Pakistan divided and fighting with each other at the time of independence in 1945-47 was a conscious move by British imperialism to weaken the potential of either country.
The truth is that the United States, following in the British tradition, feigns concerns over national minority peoples and supports their struggle only if it is helpful to U.S. imperial designs. Is this hyperbole and rhetoric? Look at the situation with the Kurds. The U.S. proclaims itself the protector of Kurdish rights in northern Iraq. It sets up a CIA support operation and declares a no-fly zone in the Kurdish area of Iraq. But right across the border the U.S. actively supports Turkey's horrendous war against the Kurds of Turkey. Why? Turkey is a NATO country, a principal ally of the United States and Israel, the third largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the world.
The U.S. doesn't have any special feelings or support for the Muslim peoples in former Yugoslavia. But that doesn't stop the U.S. in pretending to champion their cause as part of a larger dismemberment strategy of Yugoslavia.
U.S. wants to eliminate regional powers
When Iraq's leaders make a comparison with Yugoslavia, while it may not be a precise analogy, it is significant in another way. Both Iraq and Yugoslavia contained the elements that made them potential regional powers in strategic areas of the world in which the United States wanted undiluted authority.
In the case of Yugoslavia it is eastern and central Europe. Since the collapse of the USSR and the socialist bloc governments of eastern Europe in 1989-1991, the U.S. has moved in to become the dominant power. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have been transformed from Warsaw Pact countries to being members of NATO - a subservient part of the chain of command of a U.S. military-led alliance. The oil-rich parts of the Soviet Union around the Caspian Sea have likewise become the virtual puppets of the U.S. government and major U.S. banks and oil monopolies.
It was only Yugoslavia that resisted this trend. It had a strong military, a relatively developed economy and was resisting the U.S.-sponsored privatization schemes for the region. Yugoslavia, which had maintained relatively friendly relations with the U.S. during the Cold War, became perceived in the 1990's as an obstacle to U.S. plans for total hegemony in a vital region.
Yugoslavia, like Iraq, is a sanctioned country, a country that was bombed by U.S. and NATO warplanes, and then ripped apart by western powers who armed and financed ethnic armies inside the country. These sanctions have hurt all the people regardless of ethnic origin.
The U.S. objectives in both the Persian/Arabian Gulf and in Eastern Europe is to prevent the emergence of any regional power that dilutes U.S. plans for regional domination. Any socialist government is certainly a target. But so is any nationalist regime that has the power and potential to pursue its own aims.
There are only two countries in the Gulf region who have the size, natural resources and military clout capable of aspiring to be regional powers. They are Iran and Iraq. After Iran's revolution in 1979 overthrew the U.S.-puppet government of the Shah, the policy of the United States was to encourage Iraq toward a boundary war with Iran. The U.S. provided military aid and shared intelligence with Iraq in its war with Iran while covertly sending smaller amounts of military equipment to Iran.
But as soon as the war ended, as soon as Iran was effectively weakened, the U.S. revamped its military strategy. Starting in the summer of 1989, the Joint Chiefs of Staff revised U.S. military doctrine in the Middle East now targeting Iraq for war. By June 1990 - two months before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait - General Norman Schwarzkopf was conducting sophisticated war games pitting hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops against Iraqi armored divisions (Newsweek January 28, 1990).
The hidden purpose of the 1991 Gulf War
The numbers of Iraqis killed by the 42 days of bombing in 1991 was very high. For political and public relations reasons the U.S. policy was to ignore the numbers who were killed. Where in Vietnam the Pentagon released a daily "body count" it was decided to whitewash this data in 1991. But in the days after the war, General Norman Schwarzkopf said, "We must have killed 100,000 . . . There's a very large number of dead in these [Iraqi] units. A very, very large number of dead." On March 20, 1991, the Wall Street Journal reported that the figures provided to Congress by Schwarzkopf and his top officers also indicated 100,000 dead [soldiers]. (Ramsey Clark, The Fire This Time, Thunders Mouth Press). There was also a very large number of Iraqi civilians who died. The Commission of Inquiry on U.S. War Crimes in the Gulf, led by Ramsey Clark, estimates that up to 150,000 civilians perished in the war. The U.S. lost 148 war dead, many from friendly fire by overzealous U.S. pilots.
The goal of the U.S.-sponsored war in 1991 was not simply to kill a huge number of essentially defenseless Iraqis - in and out of uniform. No, the goal was to reduce Iraq to an earlier level of modern, industrial society. It was a calculated effort to combine long term economic sanctions, coupled with the strategic military destruction of Iraq's infrastructure. Why? So that Iraq would be dramatically weakened as a regional power. The goal of the U.S. was to hinder, stop, subvert and strangulate Iraq's modern development.
"The bombing of Iraq's cities and infrastructure had nothing to do with driving Iraq from Kuwait. It was intended to cripple a developing Third World country that was a politically independent military power in the region; and that was rich in oil and committed to its own economic development. Before the Gulf crisis, Iraq was making considerable economic progress, despite the ravaging effects of its war with Iran," wrote Ramsey Clark in his 1992 book, The Fire This Time.
The physical infrastructure was modern and growing. Thousands of miles of modern highway; major dams and modern hydroelectric, flood control, and irrigation systems; efficient telephone service, electric grid networks, and other facilities evidenced a rapidly developing country.
The overall U.S. war plan was described in the June 23, 1991 Washington Post. After interviews with several of the war's top planners and extensive research into how targets were determined, reporter Barton Gellman wrote:
"Many of the targets were chosen only secondarily to contribute to the military defeat of [Iraq]. . . Military planners hoped the bombing would amplify the economic and psychological impact of international sanctions on Iraqi society."
Col. John A. Warden III, whom Gellman quoted, made the additional point that damage to Iraq's life-support systems would make Iraq economically dependent on Western help: "Saddam Hussein cannot restore his own electricity. He needs help. If there are political objectives that the UN coalition has, it can say, `Saddam, when you agree to do these things, we will allow people to come in and fix your electricity.' It gives us long-term leverage."
One Pentagon planner was quoted in Gellman's article explaining the relationship between the bombing and sanctions:
"People say, `You didn't recognize that it was going to have an effect on water and sewage.' Well, what were we trying to do with sanctions_help out the Iraqi people? No. What we were doing with the attacks on the infrastructure was to accelerate the effect of sanctions."
Since day one of the crisis eight years ago, the strategy of the United States was to weaken Iraq. It would like to create a puppet regime in Baghdad. But with or without a change in the Iraqi regime, the imperialists want a diminished Iraq. A Iraq forced by economic and military aggression to return to a dependent, semi-colonial relationship with the United States and Britain.
The Iraqi government, because it is still capable of resisting this onslaught, is attempting to find a way out of the stranglehold. The Iraqis are now challenging US and British war planes in the so-called no fly zones. They are reasserting their sovereignty. The Iraqi people have suffered greatly but they have not been defeated.
The U.S. is now frustrated that they haven't succeeded in rolling back the historical clock so that they can return Iraq and all of the Middle East to a form of colonial-type domination, whereby the country's rule would be in the hands of out-and-out puppets. The U.S. appears to more and more of the world as an aggressor, as a bully.
The logic of the situation would seem to dictate a shift in U.S. policy away from aggression and sanctions. But just because a shift in policy is logical doesn't at all mean that the U.S. governing politicians will effect such a logical change. The Vietnam war wasn't "logical" and yet it dragged on for nearly thirteen years until mass pressure and U.S. battlefield defeats brought that madness to a conclusion.
In all likelihood the possibility exists for new open confrontations between the U.S. and Iraq. As regard sanctions, the U.S. will only relent when mass pressure in the Middle East and inside the United States make the continuations of sanctions politically undesirable for the political establishment.
It is the obligation of all people of conscience, of all anti-racist and anti-imperialist fighters to intensify the solidarity actions with the Iraqi people. This struggle is far from over.
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