Nov 10, 2014
This article is from the October 10th issue of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.
The great powers talk of the violence of the so-called “Islamic State” ISIS, to justify new wars they are leading in the Middle East. But in the past 25 years they have put forth other pretexts to justify two other wars against Iraq, in 1991 and in 2003, paid for with the dramatic impoverishment of the country and the building up of reactionary militias.
In just four days in February of 1991, imperialist bombing crushed Iraq, leading to a slaughter of the Iraqi army and of its civilian population: between 150,000 and 200,000 dead out of a population of 17 million. The coalition of 37 countries led by the United States, France and Saudi Arabia lost perhaps 100 troops. This was the price paid by Iraq for going into Kuwait, a little oil monarchy it had occupied for six months! Imperialism had not led a coalition of such breadth since the difficulties created by the Viet Nam war.
“Desert Storm,” as they called their 1991 plan, marked a reversal of the previous support given by the U.S. to the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, whose attacks weakened its neighbor, Iran. The Irani regime of ayatollahs had refused to remain under U.S. control. Iraq had fought a war against Iran from 1980 to 1988 with the assistance of imperialism, especially arms from the U.S. and France. But the war left thousands dead and Iraq’s economy weakened.
Saddam Hussein thought he could collect on the service he had rendered the imperialists by annexing the oil fields of Kuwait. But his imperialist masters opposed this gesture, as it gave the appearance to everyone in the Middle East that it was possible to go against the Western oil companies, even sticking a knife into the policies decided by the imperialists.
So the West called Hussein “a new Hitler.” However, the U.S. had no intention of overthrowing Hussein in this 1991 invasion, because his regime was useful for controlling a very diverse population that was constantly in conflict, with Kurds in the north and Shiite Muslims in the south.
During the 10 years following, Iraq faced the consequences of a strict embargo as it was trying to rebuild itself. The water system, the power system, the health system, the delivery of food, all were so deeply impacted that Iraq suffered the death of half a million children.
Even when Iraq was allowed to recover a little bit of food in exchange for oil, their standard of living did not reach survival levels – especially since the U.N. deducted a commission from Iraq for “management expenses and war reparations,” amounting to 30% of Iraq’s oil exports.
But imperialism did not relax its grip on Iraq; in fact it prepared a new attack. The mood created by the attacks of September 11, 2001 allowed the U.S. to obtain the support of a part of its population. However, the attackers of September 11 had no connection with the Iraqi regime. So George Bush’s administration invented stories of “weapons of mass destruction” and al-Qaida commandos in Iraq. These accusations were simply the justification for launching another war against Iraq, on March 20, 2003, under pressure from the oil companies that wanted to get their greedy hands on Iraqi oil reserves.
One month later, Saddam Hussein’s regime was overturned. The U.S. official, Paul Bremer, was sent in to disband the Iraqi army and reorganize it. Militias based on religious groupings took the place of Iraq’s army. Among these were the Sunnis, who called for an Islamic state. The government put in place by the U.S. was based on religious divisions, and was predominantly Shiite Muslim.
During the eight following years of U.S. occupation, the new government did not succeed in imposing itself on Iraq, despite the use of repression, as in the Fallujah battle in 2004 in which U.S. troops massacred Sunni rebels. The general collapse of the Iraqi state was a favorable situation for the fundamentalist militias, whether Sunni or Shiite, to recruit young people driven to despair.
The horrors inflicted on hostages held by al-Qaida or ISIS militias are a reflection of the horrors inflicted on the Iraqi population – trying to survive, thousands in refugee camps, after two hideous wars led against them by the imperialist forces.
The third war beginning now, with troops from the U.S. and France, adds even more horrors to what they have already suffered in the previous interventions.