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The Bloody Legacy of Western Imperialism in Iraq

Sat on the sofa, we watched as grainy green night vision footage interspersed the almost still image of Baghdad’s horizon being lit up with a seemingly never ending procession of aerial bombardment. Operation “Shock and Awe” had begun in earnest.

As the bombs rained down with explosions lighting up the night sky, few stories were told of the families whose homes had become the targets. The homes set on fire by the bombs, the children injured and maimed by shrapnel, the screams of the widows only drowned out by the silence of fathers holding their motionless, lifeless children in their arms.

The story of the Iraq War did not start in 2003. Indeed, it started many years before with the sanctions placed upon Iraq during the 1st Gulf War.

Rise of Saddam Hussein

During the height of the cold war with the Soviet Union, the CIA was starting coups wherever they could. Fresh from a failed attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro, the Central Intelligence Agency turned its attention to Iraq. The US agency meticulously orchestrated the Iraqi army revolt of 1963 led by a man who would become one of the most notorious in history: Saddam Hussein. As the late James Critchfield, CIA head in the Middle East, would later say: “We really had the T’s crossed on what was happening. We regarded it as a great victory.”[1]

General Abdul-Karim Qassem was Iraq’s populist leader having, in 1958, overthrown the puppet Hashemite monarchy installed by Great Britain at the end of the First World War. General Qassem began to offend Anglo-American sensitivities immediately by withdrawing from the Baghdad Pact – a British backed anti-Soviet alliance in the Middle East signed only three years earlier. In 1961, General Qassem with credible links to Communism, nationalised part of the concession of the British-controlled Iraq Petroleum Company and resurrected a long-standing Iraqi claim to Kuwait.

The Anglo-American alliance was not impressed. In 1959 CIA Director Allen Dulles, informed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: “Iraq today is the most dangerous spot on earth.” Attention turned to the Ba’ath party with strong connections with the Iraqi Army and Saddam Hussein in particular.  That same year Saddam Hussein, aged just 22, gained prominence and credibility within the Ba’ath Party with his failed assignation attempt on General Qassem. Saddam Hussein fled to Cairo where he was groomed by CIA and Egyptian intelligence officers to become the future leader of Iraq.[2]

During his stay in Cairo, Saddam Hussein frequently visited the American Embassy where he, together with CIA stations across the Middle East, would draw up death lists. Said Aburish states he believes the list contained 5,000 names including doctors, lawyers and teachers. Said Aburish noted: “The American agent who produced the longest list was William McHale, who operated under the cover of a news correspondent for the Beirut bureau of Time [magazine].”[3]

A deal was struck between President John F Kennedy’s CIA and leading Ba’ath party members. In return for CIA assistance, Ba’ath Party leaders would “undertake a ‘cleansing’ programme to get rid of the communists and their leftist allies.”[4]

Once the coup began, the CIA death lists were acted upon, with Saddam Hussein taking center stage. Aburish states: “Saddam Hussein, who had rushed back to Iraq from exile in Cairo to join the victors, was personally involved in the torture of leftists in the separate detention centres for the fellaheen [peasants] and the muthaqafeen, or educated class.”

On February 9, 1963, General Abdel-Karim Qassem surrendered, perhaps to save his people from further Ba’athist bloodletting. A swift trial and execution followed with him shouting: “Long live the people”. The day after the bloody takeover, Robert Koomer, a National Security aide, wrote to President John F. Kennedy: “Almost certainly a gain for our side.”[5] How history would disagree.

Soon after the bloody coup, western companies such as Mobil, Bechtel and BP were doing business in Iraq. In 1968 another coup followed led by a Ba’athist General who would bring Saddam Hussein to the threshold of power.

The man from Tikrit enjoyed a fantastic relationship with his American master, with Ronald Regan and George H.W. Bush supporting him against the common foe of Iran. This unwavering support continued despite Hussein’s murderous rule over his people, including the use of chemical weapons on his own people.

Contrary to popular opinion, during the 70s and 80s Iraq was known as the jewel of the Middle East with female literacy rates at 87%.[6] Using Iraqi oil wealth, the Ba’athist party stressed the importance of liberating women from the ‘backwardness’ of colonialism.[7] In fact, equal rights for women were enshrined in Iraq’s Constitution in 1970, including the right to vote, run for political office, access education and own property. George W. Bush claimed, in 2004, in a speech to commemorate International Women’s Day, that the women of Iraq and Afghanistan were now “learning the benefits of freedom” thanks to the United States. Yet these same rights were all but absent under the US-backed government of sectarian Nouri al-Maliki and subsequent regimes.

Invasion of Kuwait

Relations soured rapidly with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. A week before Hussein’s invasion, US ambassador April Glaspie and Saddam Hussein met for two hours. Much has been mooted about the meeting. Did the US give the green light or not? Whatever the truth, what cannot be denied is the ferocity of the United Nations’ sanctions.

Even after Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait, the sanctions continued for almost 13 years, only to be brought to an end by foreign occupation. In May 2003, the UN Security Council Resolution allowed the free flow of oil exports for the new conquerors of Iraq: President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Yasmin Al-Jawaheri writes: “It is believed a prominent aim of the Gulf War in 1991 was to inflict severe damage on Iraq’s civilian infrastructure in order to aggravate the impact of economic sanctions.” Al-Jawaheri cites as her evidence a US Air Force planner: “What we were doing with the attacks on infrastructure was to accelerate the effect of the sanctions.’[8]

In June 1991, the UN Security Council modified the sanctions to allow a limited export of Iraqi oil.  It became the notorious, even offensive by definition, ‘Oil For Food Programme’. It should be underscored that the Oil For Food Program was not ‘humanitarian aid’, no country or NGO donated an ounce of food to the Iraqi people.  It was all paid for with Iraqi oil exports.

The Oil For Food perpetuated the sanctions regime whilst at the same time allowed for the generous funding of UN tasks in Iraq, not least inspection costs and lucrative salaries. Between May 1996 and May 2003 Iraq had over $100 billion worth of oil transactions through UN controlled sales. However, only $37 billion worth of contracts for food and services had been approved by the UN Secretariat.[9]  The reader is left to do the sums.

The undeniable truth is that the UN Oil For Food Programme obscenely enriched Saddam Hussein and his henchmen, all the while Iraq’s helpless civilians were made to suffer hunger, disease and death. By September 1998, the UN’s Department of Humanitarian Panel estimated that 4 million Iraqis (20%) were living in extreme poverty.[10]

Kofi Anan, the then UN Secretary-General, condemned the Oil For Food Programme pointing out that it left the Iraqi nation with $75 per person annually (20 cents a day) when the World Bank’s threshold of absolute poverty was $1 per day.[11]

People of conscience spoke out. Among them, Dr Hans Christof Von Sponek, UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Iraq who said: “I can no longer be associated with a programme that prolongs suffering of the people and which has no chance of meeting even the basic needs of the civilian population.”

Health Catastrophe

Starving a people to death was not the only weapon of war. Cancer is a word that causes panic and fear in equal measure, and yet, for many people in Iraq it was a cruel inescapable fate caused by the munitions dropped by allied forces. Under the economic sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council, Iraq was prohibited from obtaining equipment or expertise to clean up its contaminated lands; lands known to Iraqis as Ali’s home or Sajjad’s farm or the playground for Fatima and her friends, but to the allied forces as legitimate battlefields.

The allied bombing campaign in only the 1st Gulf War dropped more than 88,000 tons of explosives on Iraq over a 6 week period – more than was dropped by the US in the entire 20 year Vietnam War. Official Iraqi government statistics show that prior to the First Gulf War rates of cancer cases was at 0.04%, yet after the First Gulf War this dramatically rose four times as high to 1.6%[12]. To put things in perspective, according to the World Cancer Research Fund International, Denmark has the highest rate of cancer at 338 per 100,000, with the UK ranking number 23 with 272 per 100,000.[13] Iraq, by the most modest estimate is at least 1,600 per 100,000. It may not escape the reader’s attention that Iraq does not appear on this list (please see link), nor does any Muslim majority country.

What is worse than cancer? Arguably, congenital birth defects. In 2004, the US military carried out two massive military sieges of the city of Fallujah using large quantities of depleted uranium ammunition, together with white phosphorous.

Dr Savabieasfahani is an environmental toxicologist based in Michigan and has conducted research into war pollution and the rising epidemic of birth defects in Iraqi cities. Dr Savabiesfahani stated:

The Iraq birth defects epidemic is, however, surfacing in the context of many more public health problems in bombarded cities” and “Childhood leukemia, and other types of cancers, are increasing in Iraq.”[14]

Dr Alani a Paediatric specialist and other medical personnel have been reporting a significant rise in birth defects in Fallujah. These range from congenital heart defects, to babies born with two heads, or some born with only one eye, or some babies with multiple tumours.[15]

On 6 August 1945, the USA was the first and only country to have ever used a nuclear weapon. In studies conducted by Japanese medics, the rate of birth defects which they believe is due to the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is between 1-2%. Dr Alani has logged the rate of birth defects in Fallujah to be 14%.[16] It is devastating to note that genetic mutations can pass from parent to child and through generations. So it seems the very lasting legacy of the American annihilation of Iraq will be suffered by generations of Iraqis.

Water as a weapon

During the Gulf War, allied forces bombed nearly every large water treatment plant and 7 out of 8 dams were destroyed. This systematic destruction, together with the fact that chlorine (essential for water purification) was banned under the embargo, strongly suggests a deliberate and malicious targeting of the Iraqi water supply for “postwar leverage” – a concept US government officials admitted was part of military planning.[17]

Eid Mubarak

In 1996, only 5 years into the UN sanctions, US Secretary for State Madeleine Albright was asked:

Interviewer: “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.”[18]

The sanctions would continue for another 8 years, so only ar-Rahman knows how many children had died in total. Perhaps a million, maybe more. As the world focuses on the long-awaited Chilcot report we remember the million dead Iraqi children. As we celebrate Eid by purchasing presents for our own children, we cannot help but think of the child genocide which has occurred in Iraq over the past quarter of a century.

We can only say as was said when,

“Abu Hassan recalled: ‘I said to Abu Hurayrah: Two of my sons have died. Can you narrate to me any hadith from the Messenger of Allah (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) which will console us for our loss? Abu Hurayrah said: “Yes”: ‘Their little ones are the little ones (da’aamees) of Paradise. When one of them meets his father, or his parents, he takes hold of his garment, or his hand, as I am taking told of the hem of your garment, and he does not let go until Allah admits him and his father to Paradise’.”[19]

Source: www.islam21c.com


[1] Saddam’s Bombmaker, Khidmir Hamza and Jeff Stein

[2] Saddam Hussein, The Politics of Revenge: Said K Aburish

[3] Saddam Hussein, The Politics of Revenge: Said K Aburish

[4] A Brutal Friendship: Said K Aburish

[5] New York Times, March 2003

[6] http://www.unicef.org/evaldatabase/index_29697.html

[7] Women in Iraq, Yasmin Hussein Al-Jawaheri

[8] Quoted in Gellman (1991) and Nagy (2001)

[9] Women in Iraq, Yasmin Hussein Al-Jawaheri

[10] UNHP (1999a)

[11] Kofi Annan, 1998

[12] Al-Jazeera, March 2013

[13] http://www.wcrf.org/int/cancer-facts-figures/data-cancer-frequency-country

[14] Al Jazeera, March 2013

[15] Al Jazeera, March 2013

[16] Al Jazeera, March 2013

[17] Washington Post, June 1991

[18] 60 Minutes, December 1996

[19] Sahih Muslim, Book 32, Number 6370


About Dr Izzadeen Chowdhury

One comment

  1. It is so sad & depressing to know that millions of our muslim brothers, sisters & children had to pay the price with their life only so that western politicians could play their game of power by meddling with these greedy leaders of muslim lands. I wonder, is it natural of christian power leaders’ to purposely destroy muslim lands & muslim people only to serve their purpose or to destroy islam, either ways, Islam & Muslims will prevail till the end of times & Allah will be with us till the end. The words coming out of these hypocrital power hungry politicians about freedom & humanitarian rights is so fake, it is truly revolting to say the least. I pray to the Almighty to guide our brothers & sisters in faith to follow the right path & gain good knowledge of our deen, so they will not be able to play these games of power. May Allah gives us all patience to live through this ordeal.

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