Saddam, imperialism and the Kurds


By Peter Boyle

I also think vigorous debate has a place in left politics, though I would hope it might take place without immediately reaching for extreme accusations, such as that of collusion with imperialist propaganda.

I do not support United States military intervention in Iraq or anywhere else. The Kurds have called for a United Nations peacekeeping force, and I would support such a call provided the force is made up of genuinely neutral troops.

Secondly, much of the media coverage of the Kurds' plight is not imperialist propaganda but fairly accurate reportage of a human disaster. Moreover, it is coverage that embarrassed the Bush government, which would have preferred to let Saddam Hussein deal with the Kurds without the glare of international publicity.

Yes, chaos and civil disaster are an inevitable outcome of war, but the flight of more than half the Kurdish population of Iraq does not fall simply within this category. The Kurds fled out of fear that they would be slaughtered by the Iraqi army in retaliation for their abortive uprising.

I accept there is some ambiguity in my phrase "United States forces occupying southern Iraq ... did nothing to stop Saddam Hussein from brutally crushing the Kurdish revolt". But this phrase reflects the opinions of the Kurdish representatives I spoke to.

They have a point. Their grievances against the regime are of long standing, and when Bush called for a revolt against Saddam, the Kurds and Shiites took him seriously. They didn't realise that only a revolt within the army would be acceptable to Bush, that he simply wanted a more tractable general in power, and that unacceptable mass revolts would be left, unarmed or very lightly armed, to face the full force of the Iraqi army.

I think the US should get right out of the Middle East, but since the US was at least partly responsible for this latest Kurdish uprising, might not the Kurds have reasonably expected some support — such as, for example, no-strings-attached military and material aid? What about diplomatic initiatives at the United Nations and elsewhere in support of Kurdish self-determination? As with the whole Gulf War, military intervention was only one option.

Of course, the Kurds were rather credulous in expecting assistance from the US, but that doesn't excuse Bush's callous acceptance of a mass slaughter resulting, at least partly, from a call he made for an uprising.

As for my supposed demonising of Saddam, it's true I held Saddam responsible for the policies of the Iraqi government, just as I hold Bush responsible for the policies of the US government. Would John blame the Iraqi parliament instead?

It's worth filling in a little background on Saddam. This is no glorious anti-imperialist fighter. He heads the Baath Party, a group -wing elements in the army in 1951. It emerged in reaction to a huge rise of popular struggle led largely by the Iraqi Communist Party. Ideologically, Baathism drew directly on some aspects of Nazism.

Formed in 1934, by 1959 the Communist Party was leading demonstrations of up to 500,000 in Baghdad, calling for fundamental social and economic change and land reform. CIA boss Allen Dulles said the situation in Iraq was the most dangerous in the world.

From late 1958, the Baath Party, aided by police, organised murder squads and terror against the Communists and the mass movement. In these gangs, Saddam Hussein began his rise to the top of the Baath Party.

Slowly, the mass movement declined, but still the Communist Party was a mass force, so in 1963 the Baathists unleashed nine months of bloody terror in which Communist Party members and mass leaders were shot in the street, herded into concentration camps, tortured to death and executed after mock trials. During all this, the CIA fed the Baathists lists of names.

In recent years, Saddam has zigzagged politically, and at one stage the Communist Party fell into the trap of an alliance with the Baathists. But through all this, the Iraqi regime has been one of the most repressive in the Middle East. This leaves aside its role in launching the Iraq-Iran war, the poison gas attacks on the Kurds etc.

I came on the scene far too late to demonise this vicious dictator. He did that himself, long ago. The imperialist propagandists didn't even need to tell many lies about him!