By Tracy Sorensen
PRAGUE — Before the invasion of Kuwait, Iraqi dissidents had for years tried to persuade world leaders and public opinion to end military assistance for the Iraqi regime. They were mostly ignored.
Now, says Iraqi dissident and journalist Abdul Wahed, the Western media's sudden discovery of the repressive nature of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship can only be seen as "window dressing for the current onslaught against the Iraqi people".
And while the US government publicly expressed surprise and outrage at the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait last August, Abdul Wahed insists that White House policy makers had not only known that it was imminent but had deliberately provoked the invasion in order to pursue US interests in the region.
"When the West speaks to us now about the methods and policies of Saddam Hussein, it is nothing new for us. We know even more about it, we have everything in documented form", Wahed told Green Left in an interview here on January 30.
Since 1979, the Association of Iraqi Democratic Intellectuals, of which Wahed is a member, has published information concerning the real nature and policies of the Iraqi regime.
"Almost all the important countries were approached. Some of the countries responded to our appeals, but the majority were not listening to us, whether from the West or from the East.
"We pointed out time and again that the Iraqi regime was oppressing its own people ...
"What I believe is that when the Western media now speak about the methods of Saddam Hussein, it is just as a window dressing to justify the aggression which is now directed against the Iraqi people."
Human rights abuses in Iraq reached new depths with the chemical bombing of the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988, in which 5000 to 6000 people died within five minutes; international support for the Iraqi military machine continued unabated.
"The East and West made of Hussein what he is now", says Wahed. "The assistance given by the West to Iraq is very clear. Before the current dispute, for example, Iraq owed Italy some $80 billion; France was owed about $6 billion; Britain $1 billion and the US also about $1 billion.
"I once pointed out in an article that among the 53 countries
giving assistance to the divergent parties in the Iran-Iraq war, there were 15 countries from the Eastern bloc that were giving assistance to both countries at the same time.
"I remember I once jokingly asked someone from one of those countries how he could justify this in Marxist terms. He replied: 'The day will come in which we will criticise ourselves'."
The US withdrew its support for Hussein, according to Wahed, only when it became clear that he was beginning to overreach himself in terms of US interests.
Well before the invasion of Kuwait, it was clear to the West that "Saddam Hussein had already played out his role in the Gulf region, and had even overplayed that role, and was looking to becoming the leader of the most powerful state in the Gulf".
Since the fall of the pro-US shah of Iran, US policy makers had been obsessed by the prospect of Iranian domination of the region; Iraqi military power had been a counterweight to this.
While it lasted, the Iran-Iraq war neutralised both potential power bases. With the end of that war, Hussein's military might represented a threat to the stability of US hegemony in the region.
"For the US, the most important thing in this region is the question of oil", says Abdul Wahed.
"This has been made explicit by both US President Bush and secretary of state Baker, who have said that they could not and would not leave the most important source for their economy at the mercy of one person."
The main objective of the US in the Gulf region evolved from support for Hussein's regime against Iran to one of containment, or preferably destruction, of Iraqi military-industrial capacity.
This could most effectively be achieved through a devastating war. To this end, says Abdul Wahed, the US deliberately drove Hussein into the occupation of Kuwait.
"There are a number of documents that reveal that this is the case. The most important is the minutes of the meeting that took place between Saddam Hussein and the US ambassador in Iraq on July 27."
At this meeting, Hussein told the ambassador, April Glaspie, that Kuwaiti oil price policies were detrimental to Iraqi interests. He said that if there was "some hope" of changing Kuwaiti policy, then "nothing would happen". On the other hand, if attempts at negotiated solutions failed, then Iraq "could not accept its own destruction".
Glaspie, in turn, told Hussein the US would not take a position in the border dispute between Iraq and Kuwait.
It has since been argued that Glaspie's report to the White House of this meeting did not make plain the significance of Hussein's comments, and that Bush was therefore ignorant of the impending invasion. Glaspie's comments to Hussein are held to have been mistaken.
Interestingly, according to the February 6 International Guardian Glaspie is now being held virtually incommunicado in Washington, forbidden to speak to either the press or Congress. Her friends insist that she is a victim of White House scapegoating rather than her own incompetence.
But even if there was a major oversight on the part of the ambassador, Iraqi intentions were also clear from other sources: the January 28 edition of the German magazine Der Spiegel notes that on July 27, the CIA handed the US government satellite photographs which showed that Iraqi forces were massing near the Kuwaiti border.
Yet Bush continued signalling Saddam that the US would look the other way if he crossed the border. In Washington on July 31, undersecretary of state John Kelly was asked by a member of the Middle East Committee of the House of Representatives whether it was true that there was no treaty, no duty, nothing which would force Bush to send US troops to defend Kuwait.
The reply: "That is correct".
This statement was reported in the US media and went out on the BBC World Service. There can be no doubt that it was heard in Baghdad, where, as Der Spiegel commented, it could not have been heard as a anything but a guarantee of non-involvement.
Thus, those rejecting the theory that the US deliberately laid a trap for Hussein can explain US moves in July and August only in terms of bumbling and incompetence.
Taking this line, the day after the Iraqi invasion the British International Guardian ran an article by Washington correspondent Simon Tidsdall which argued that "The bloody but essentially secondary upheavals in Liberia and then Trinidad have distracted US attention and there has been a failure to impress on the Iraqis the weight and depth of US concerns."
But it beggars belief that events in Liberia and Trinidad were enough to make the White House forget itself in its dealings with one of the most strategically important areas in the world.
Finally, Abdul Wahed points out that there is information which hints at something far more than the US simply encouraging Iraq to believe that there would be no response if it invaded Kuwait.
On October 21, the British Observer published information about a reported meeting in New York in January 1990 between a high minister in the Iraqi cabinet and a former US ambassador.
"In that meeting, it was agreed that both sides would like to see the price of oil ... rise. Iraqi strategy in this particular area was approved of, including the idea that it would be accompanied by military backup on the part of Iraq."
The secret agreement, according to the Observer's report, involved a coordinated campaign within OPEC to raise prices; this would solve Iraq's drastic economic problems and benefit powerful US oil companies.
"An earlier secret agreement was signed between Iraq and the United States in 1986, during the Iran-Iraq war when the US Rapid Deployment Force was in the Gulf. The agreement prescribed that US navy vessels would give particular signals to the Iraqi bombers when they were on missions over Iran or over the Gulf", says Wahed.
"Usually in such situations, mistakes happen, and this was no exception. One Iraqi bomber bombed a US naval ship, causing multiple casualties."
This mishap had no bearing on the agreement.
"Just two weeks before the deadline for Iraqi forces to withdraw from Kuwait, Saddam Hussein requested to renew the agreement with the US. There was no response from the US. Perhaps Hussein's intention was to unmask the existing relationship between the two countries."