Washington promotes deadly divisions
Thirty-five years of U.S. subversion, intervention and then direct occupation of Iraq are the primary cause of the violent sectarian divisions now pulling that country apart.
Any further U.S. intervention will have even more disastrous consequences for the population as a whole and the entire region. This may well be Washington’s plan.
Since the Iranian Revolution, the U.S., through Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other absolute monarchies in the Persian Gulf, has exacerbated religious and national differences in Iraq to destabilize the entire region. It has funded and supported the most extreme sectarian organizations to divide Sunni and Shia Muslim Iraqis and Kurdish and Arab Iraqis. Divide and conquer has been a consistent option through six U.S. presidents, Republicans and Democrats.
President Barack Obama’s announcement on June 19 that he was sending 300 U.S. Army Special Forces into Iraq shows the continued danger to the entire region.
Obama promised there would be no U.S. boots on the ground — ignoring the 1,500 troops already there. He said he was just sending “advisors,” plus additional troops to guard the largest U.S. embassy in the world.
But he added that the U.S. “will be prepared to take targeted and precise military action if and when we conclude that the situation on the ground requires it.” (National Journal, June 19) Six U.S. warships are in the Persian Gulf and 5,000 U.S. soldiers are just across the border in Kuwait. A total of 30,000 U.S. troops are in the region to back up the real possibility of military action.
In a June 18 White House press conference, Obama said the U.S. is acting because “obviously issues like energy and global energy markets continue to be important.” Control over oil is the real reason for decades of divisive U.S. policy.
U.S. role in Iran-Iraq war
In 1979 the repressive and corrupt U.S.-supported Pahlavi monarchy in Iran, which had ruled for 25 years, was overthrown by a popular revolutionary upsurge that the U.S. was powerless to prevent or reverse. It shook the entire region. Wall Street and its client states were deeply concerned for their future as anti-imperialist sentiment swept the Muslim world.
National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski publicly urged Iraq to use the opportunity to attack Iran and take back the Shatt-al-Arab waterway. This conflict was posed as a Sunni-Shiite struggle.
The U.S. arranged for massive loans to Iraq from client states such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. U.S., British, French and German firms collaborated in helping Iraq. Iraq took the bait and attacked Iran.
Before this, ever since the 1959 overthrow of its British-installed monarchy, Iraq had been outside Western imperialist control. With Soviet assistance, it had developed a modern infrastructure, advanced full and free education, a free health care system, and a nationalized oil industry to pay for it all. It was a secular state with a rich mosaic of religious and national cultures.
From 1980 to 1988 the two major powers of the region were tied up in an exhausting and destructive conflict against each other. The U.S. found ways to send arms to both — openly to Iraq and in secret to Iran, as the Iran-Contra scandal confirmed.
The most cynical description of U.S. strategy in this war came from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who said: “I hope they both kill each other” and “Too bad they can’t both lose.” Over 1 million soldiers died in the war.
When both countries were exhausted, they finally reached a ceasefire. Iraq was now tied to the West and the Gulf monarchies through an unpayable debt of $80 billion.
Iraq found itself almost immediately a target of U.S. imperialism. Disarray in the Soviet Union in 1990 whetted the appetite of Wall Street to regain total control over Middle East oil resources.
Suddenly Kuwait demanded immediate repayment of war loans. Through slant drilling, it tapped into Iraqi oil fields. Overproduction of oil created a glut; oil prices dropped so low that Iraq was in crisis.
Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, appeared to have U.S. approval and blessing, as revealed in a taped conversation on July 25 between Saddam Hussein and U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie. But it was a setup. The Pentagon immediately froze Iraqi funds and rammed a resolution imposing an international economic blockade on Iraq through the U.N. Security Council. The Pentagon began a massive military mobilization. The U.S. war on Iraq started Jan. 16, 1991.
In 42 days of relentless destruction, with a bombing attack once every 30 seconds, U.S. aircraft destroyed 90 percent of Iraq’s power plants and communications. Most damaging was the destruction of the water system. Water pumping stations, storage dams, hydroelectric power stations and sanitation, sewage, drainage and irrigation systems were destroyed. Cluster bombs, napalm and thousands of tons of radioactive and toxic depleted uranium rounds were used.
Iraq’s agriculture — food processing, warehousing, distributing, fertilizer and pesticide facilities — was systematically destroyed. Hospitals, clinics and pharmaceutical factories were targeted. All major cement plants were destroyed, along with Iraq’s oil refineries, pipelines and storage tanks.
At the end of the bombing campaign, then-President George H.W. Bush tried to unleash a sectarian war. Bush called on the Kurdish population in the north and the Shiite Muslim population in the south to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s government.
The U.S. military imposed a no-fly zone on both regions, and a U.S.-protected Kurdish Autonomous Republic was established, dividing Iraq.
Sanctions imposed on all imports and exports from 1990 to 2003 then killed more than 1.5 million people, or 10 times as many as had died in the U.S. bombing. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, asked about the half million Iraqi children who died of starvation and disease due to sanctions, said in a televised interview in 1996: “We think the price is worth it.”
2003 U.S. invasion
But the U.S. ability to enforce the sanctions waned. So in 2003, using the completely fabricated charge that Iraq was producing “weapons of mass destruction,” the Pentagon launched “shock and awe,” a bombing campaign that far exceeded the 1991 destruction.
After the bombing, more than 200,000 U.S. and NATO forces rolled into a destroyed Iraq.
From the first day of occupation, the U.S. promoted Iraqi organizations founded on religion, ethnicity, nationality or sect while outlawing political parties, especially the secular Ba’ath Party.
Sectarianism was brought to Iraq by the U.S. This was a foreign concept for a population that had been religiously and ethnically mixed for hundreds of years.
Under the U.S. occupation every ID card, checkpoint and neighborhood was divided by sect. Funds, resources, food and government positions were allocated by sect. Meanwhile, intelligence networks and thousands of secret operatives carried out horrendous crimes aimed at keeping sectarian fires burning.
As resistance to the brutal U.S. occupation gained momentum across Iraq, sectarian militias were established. U.S. administrators employed the “Salvador option” in Iraq to divide the national resistance. This was a form of organized mass terror the U.S. used in Central America, especially in El Salvador and Guatemala, against revolutionary movements in the 1980s.
John Negroponte, who had implemented the murderous U.S. policy in Central America, was named ambassador to Iraq. Sectarian death squads were created to divide Iraq along sectarian lines. Kissinger’s formula of “Let them kill each other” became a guiding policy.
U.S. supports religious militias
More recently, Negroponte’s top aide in Iraq, Robert S. Ford, was named U.S. Ambassador to Syria, just two months before the armed insurgency and orchestrated destabilization began there.
The Saudi and Kuwaiti monarchists funded reactionary mercenaries and religiously based militias like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Both Turkey and Jordan provided secure bases, while Israel provided medical care and safe havens in the Golan Heights — territory seized from Syria — for this well-funded army. ISIS weapons overwhelmingly came from the Pentagon, but the process of acquisition was covert.
This same sectarianism has been sustained by Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, who came to power in 2006 under the U.S.-led occupation. Maliki’s corruption and repression have earned him hatred throughout Iraq. But the U.S. may be interested in dumping the Maliki government because it made deals with Iran — much to the frustration of the imperialists who put him in office to serve Wall Street’s interests. Washington is far more concerned about Iran’s growing influence in Iraq than they are about ISIS seizure of cities.
The greatest crime in Washington’s eyes was the Maliki government’s refusal to sign a 2011 agreement that would leave thousands of U.S. troops in place. The sentiment in Iraq against the occupation was so great that even the U.S.-vetted Iraqi Parliament refused to accept this insult. Official U.S. troops had to depart, but covert operatives remained to subvert social cohesion.
Now, as the ISIS militia have captured key cities with little or no resistance from the Iraqi Army, there is growing speculation that the central government may collapse. There is controversy, however, as to whether ISIS or other Iraqi elements — tribal, Baathist — are the major force behind the uprising.
As demonstrated years ago in the Iran-Iraq war, the U.S. is not against arming both sides of a conflict — one side openly, the other through covert operations. At the same time U.S. politicians piously call for peace, unity and reconciliation. This destabilization policy is so well understood that it has a name: “constructive chaos.”
Anti-imperialist unity the only solution
Baghdad still has up to 1 million Kurds. Approximately 20 percent of Basra’s population in southern Iraq is Sunni. Samarra, a mostly Sunni city north of Baghdad, is home to two sacred Shia shrines. Every tribe and town in Iraq contains Sunnis and Shia.
A three-way national breakup of Iraq, so often discussed by U.S. think tanks and policy makers, means continuing chaos and a permanent state of war in which only the oil companies, the arms suppliers and the warlords prevail.
Wall Street has no interest in strong, unified states, whether secular, Sunni or Shia. The imperialists want an all-out Sunni-Shia civil war that would spread and weaken Iraq, Syria and Iran.
Opposing every form of U.S. intervention is the only way forward.
Sara Flounders is co-director of the International Action Center and has contributed to four books on Iraq. She has traveled to Iraq and Syria and helped coordinate major anti-war demonstrations in the U.S.