UNITED STATES: Gulf War lies recycled for Operation Enduring Freedom

October 24, 2001


CHICAGO — George Bush says that he wants to bomb Afghanistan in the name of "freedom and democracy". His father said the same thing when he went to war against Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. But at every step of the way — from the run-up to the war, to Operation Desert Storm itself, to the aftermath — the Gulf War was about the opposite.

Iraq's Saddam Hussein was an old ally of the US — dating back to his Baath party's rise to power in a 1963 coup that was aided by the CIA. But he stepped out of line in invading the small oil kingdom of Kuwait on Iraq's southern border.

Suddenly, Bush senior and other US politicians were denouncing their ally Saddam as a new Hitler for attacking "poor little Kuwait". Little was said about Kuwait — a semi-feudal society ruled with an iron fist by the al-Sabah dynasty. The US war to defend democracy restored a political system in Kuwait where only 3% of residents had any political rights at all.

The Gulf War wasn't a "war" as much as it was a one-sided slaughter. The US and its allies started with saturation bombing — dropping more tonnage of ordnance on Iraq faster than in any other aerial bombardment in the history of warfare. After a month of this, the Iraqi government caved and said it would abide by a UN resolution calling on it to withdraw from Kuwait.

But that wasn't good enough. The US led a six-day ground invasion that swept across Kuwait and into southern Iraq. Iraqi forces withdrew in a full-scale retreat.

Still the US wasn't finished. In the last 40 hours of the war before Bush called a cease-fire, US and British warplanes bombed, strafed and firebombed Iraqis as they fled Kuwait. The 65-kilometre stretch of road from Kuwait to the Iraqi city of Basra was turned into the "highway of death".

The US was sending a message: Don't mess with us.

But it sent a message of another kind as soon as the war ended. Bush had called on "the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands, to force Saddam to step aside". Popular uprisings of Kurds and Shiites — minority groups long oppressed by Saddam's regime — erupted within days of the end of the Gulf War.

In southern Iraq, Shiite soldiers began to revolt, and in the north, Kurdish guerillas launched a coordinated uprising. There were reports of ordinary Iraqis storming Saddam's police headquarters, barracks and prisons. Political prisoners were freed from their cells, and masses of people lynched representatives of a regime they hated. The revolt spread to 14 of the 18 provinces in Iraq. The government was near collapse.

This was what the Bush administration wanted, right? Wrong. As ABC News anchor Peter Jennings later put it: "The United States did want Saddam Hussein to go, they just didn't want the Iraqi people to take over."

Instead, the White House had hoped for a military coup to get rid of Saddam — with one dictator taking the place of another. A democratic, popular uprising to topple a hated regime would have sent the wrong message to people living under US-allied dictatorships elsewhere in the Middle East.

"I frankly wished [the popular uprisings] hadn't happened", pouted Brent Scowcroft, Bush's national security adviser, in a 1998 interview. "I envisioned a postwar government being a military government."

Ultimately, Saddam got some unexpected help — from the US Even as the rebellions were taking place, the US agreed to let the Iraqi military fly helicopters into the "no-fly" zones that the US had established over southern Iraq — supposedly to help protect Shiites.

As US planes patrolled nearby, Saddam's generals used helicopters to firebomb small towns and fleeing rebels. In the north, the Kurdish rebellion was overwhelmed.

US support for the regime was "the most significant factor in the suppression of the uprising", said Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress: "They made it possible for Saddam to regroup his forces and launch a devastating counterattack with massive firepower on the people."

So much for all of the talk about democracy. The US saw the beginnings of a democratic uprising in Iraq — and chose to support the dictator it had just defeated in war.

[From Socialist Worker, weekly paper of the US International Socialist Organization. Visit <http://www.socialistworker.org>]

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