The U.S. Can't Be Liberators

U.S. Hand in Iraq: A History of Coups, Puppets, Wars, and Murder of Dissidents

Revolutionary Worker #1184, January 26, 2003, posted at

As part of justifying their plans for a new war in the Persian Gulf and conquest of Iraq, Bush administration officials insist that the U.S. aims to "liberate" the people of Iraq. They say they seek to help the Iraqi people get rid of tyranny and achieve "democracy," "prosperity," and "self-determination."

But decades of U.S. intrigue and intervention in Iraq reveal what U.S. actions have really meant for the people of Iraq--and show that U.S. intentions in Iraq have nothing to do with liberation and helping the people.

The following is a brief and partial chronology of U.S. intervention in Iraq. (For a more overall chronology of U.S. intervention in the Middle East, see "Timeline of Empire: U.S. Intervention in the Middle East" in RW #1125, Nov. 4, 2001; online at


1920-28: U.S. pressures Britain, then the dominant Middle East power, into signing a "Red Line Agreement"--providing that Middle Eastern oil will not be developed by any single power without the participation of the others. Standard Oil and Mobil obtain shares of the Iraq Petroleum Company.

1944: U.S. State Department memo refers to Middle Eastern oil as "a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history." During U.S.- British negotiations over control of Middle Eastern oil, President Roosevelt sketches out a map of the Middle East and tells the British ambassador, "Persian oil is yours. We share the oil of Iraq and Kuwait. As for Saudi Arabian oil, it's ours." On August 8, 1944, the Anglo-American Petroleum Agreement is signed, splitting Middle Eastern oil between the U.S. and Britain. Between 1948 and 1960, Western capital earns $12.8 billion in profits from the production, refining and sale of Middle Eastern oil.

1958: The merger of Syria and Egypt into the "United Arab Republic," the overthrow of the pro-U.S. King Feisal II in Iraq by nationalist military officers, and the outbreak of anti- government/anti-U.S. unrest in Lebanon lead the U.S. to dispatch 70 naval vessels, hundreds of aircraft, and 14,000 Marines to Lebanon to preserve "stability." The U.S. threatens to use nuclear weapons if the Lebanese army resists. And to prevent an Iraqi move into the oilfields of Kuwait, the U.S. draws up secret plans for a joint invasion of Iraq with Turkey. The plan is shelved after the Soviet Union threatens to intervene.

1960: U.S. works to covertly undermine the new government of Iraq by supporting anti- government Kurdish rebels and by attempting, unsuccessfully, to assassinate Iraq's leader, Abdul Karim Qassim, an army general who had restored relations with the Soviet Union and lifted the ban on Iraq's Communist Party.

1963: U.S. supports a coup by the Ba'ath party to overthrow the Qassim regime, including by giving the Ba'ath names of communists to murder. Soon after the U.S.-backed coup, Saddam Hussein becomes the head of the Ba'ath party. According to one account, "Armed with the names and whereabouts of individual communists, the national guards carried out summary executions. Communists held in detention...were dragged out of prison and shot without a hearing... [B]y the end of the rule of the Ba'ath, its terror campaign had claimed the lives of an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 communists."

1973-1975: U.S. supports Kurdish rebels in Iraq in order to strengthen Iran and weaken the then pro-Soviet Iraqi regime. When Iran and Iraq cut a deal, the U.S. withdraws support from the Kurdish rebels, denies the Kurds refuge in Iran, and stands by while the Iraqi government kills many Kurdish people.

1979: U.S. President Jimmy Carter designates the Persian Gulf a vital U.S. interest and declares the U.S. will go to war to ensure the flow of oil.

September 1980: Iraq invades Iran with tacit U.S. support, starting a bloody eight-year war. The U.S. supports both sides in the war--"tilting" to one side or another at various times-- in order to prolong the war and weaken both sides, while trying to draw both countries into the U.S. orbit. The U.S. opposes UN action against the invasion, removes Iraq from its list of "terrorist" nations, allows U.S. arms to be transferred to Iraq, provides Iraq with intelligence on Iran, economic aid, and political support, and encourages its Gulf allies to lend Iraq over $30 billion for its war effort. Meanwhile, the U.S. also provides Iran with arms.

1988: The Iraqi regime launches poison-gas attacks on Kurdish villages in northern Iraq. (Iraq also uses poison gas against Iranian troops.) Thousands of Kurds are killed in the gas attacks, and many Kurdish villages are bulldozed. The U.S. responds by increasing its support for the Iraqi regime. According to journalist Jeremy Scahill, "U.S. intelligence sources told the L.A. Times in 1991, they `believe that the American-built helicopters were among those dropping the deadly bombs.' " A U.S. intelligence officer recently told the New York Times, "The use of gas on the battlefield by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep strategic concern" to the U.S.

July 1988: A cease-fire ends the Iran-Iraq war with neither side victorious. Over one million Iranians and Iraqis are killed during the eight-year war.

July 1990: April Glaspie, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, meets with Saddam Hussein, who reveals Iraq's intention to take military action against Kuwait for overproducing its oil quota, slant drilling for oil in Iraqi territory, and encroaching on Iraqi territory--seriously harming war-weakened Iraq. Glaspie replies, "We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait."

August 1990: Iraq invades Kuwait. The U.S. seizes the moment to assert its hegemony in the post-Soviet world and strengthen its grip on the Persian Gulf. The U.S. condemns Iraq, rejects a diplomatic settlement, imposes sanctions, and prepares for an all-out military assault on Iraq.

January 16, 1991: After a six-month military buildup, the U.S.-led coalition launches Operation Desert Storm. For the next 42 days, U.S. and allied planes pound Iraq, dropping 88,000 tons of bombs, systematically targeting and largely destroying its electrical and water systems. U.S. officials claim that "smart bombs" destroy only military targets--but many ordinary people are killed, including hundreds at a civilian air raid shelter in Baghdad hit by cruise missiles.

February 22, 1991: the U.S. coalition begins its 100-hour ground war. Heavily armed U.S. units drive deep into southern Iraq. U.S. jets attack defeated and retreating Iraqi troops on the road from Kuwait to southern Iraq, massacring hundreds. Overall, 100,000 to 200,000 Iraqis are killed during the war.

Spring 1991: Shi'ites in southern Iraq and Kurds in the north rise up against the Hussein regime--believing they will receive support from the U.S., which had encouraged such uprisings during the war. But the U.S. government, fearing turmoil and instability in the region, refuses to support the anti- Hussein forces. The U.S. denies the rebels access to captured Iraqi weapons and allows Iraqi helicopters to attack them.

1991: Iraq agrees to a UN-brokered cease-fire, but the U.S. and Britain insist that devastating sanctions be maintained. The U.S. declares large parts of north and south Iraq "no- fly" zones for Iraqi aircraft.

1991-present: U.S. military deployments in the Persian Gulf continue after the war. U.S. and British warplanes continually bomb targets in Iraq, often killing and injuring civilians.

March 1992: U.S. Defense Department drafts new post-Soviet "Defense Planning Guidance" paper stating, "In the Middle East and Southwest Asia, our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region and preserve U.S. and Western access to the region's oil."

1995: With U.S. backing, Turkey launches a major military offensive, involving some 35,000 Turkish troops, against the Kurds in northern Iraq.

1998: Congress passes the "Iraq Liberation Act," giving nearly $100 million to groups attempting to overthrow the Hussein regime--a squabbling collection of reactionary forces and CIA agents, including those who want to bring the monarchy back to Iraq.

December 16-19, 1998: U.S. and Britain launch Operation Desert Fox, a bombing campaign supposedly aimed at destroying Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs. For most of the following year, U.S. and British planes strike Iraq every day with missiles.

January 2001: Tenth anniversary of the U.S. war on Iraq: sanctions are still in place, and the UN estimates that 4,500 children are dying per month from disease and malnutrition as a result. U.S. planes, which have flown over 280,000 sorties in Iraq over the past decade, continue to attack from the air.

Fall 2002: News leaks reveal that Washington war planners are considering a U.S. general to be the future ruler of Iraq--like some Roman proconsul ruling in a distant corner of the empire.

November 2002:Medact, an organization of British health care professionals, publishes a report on possible civilian casualties from a new U.S. war on Iraq. The report estimates that the coming war could kill half a million people--overwhelmingly Iraqi civilians. Even in the case of an extremely short war, Medact estimates that 10,000 civilians would die, "more than three times the number who died on September 11." In a more protracted campaign of weeks and months, Medact estimates as many as 260,000 could die in the conflict and its three-month aftermath, with a further 200,000 at risk for death after that from famine and disease. And if a "regime change" in Iraq triggers civil war and attempts at secession, there could be tens of thousands more deaths. The report also includes a "worst-case scenario" in which the U.S. or Israel launches nuclear weapons at Iraq, leaving almost four million people dead.

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