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By lara keller (last updated 14th April 2017)

The Iraqi Genocide Never Again (4)

Iraq is a clear example of bad intervention and ineffective protest. In the 1980s the US encouraged and equipped the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to pursue a war with post Islamic Revolution Iran. Saddam Hussein’s object was a demonstration of power, and the seizure of oil fields (as most onshore Iranian oil fields are near the Iran-Iraq border). This war lasted eight years and killed a million people (around half of them Iraqi).

The US government knew that Saddam Hussein intended to invade Kuwait and gave the appearance of compliance by omission. Sanctions against Iraq started in 1990 after Iraq’s invasion. By February 1991 a US-led coalition had forced the Iraqi army out. Sanctions continued because of the allegation that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction and additionally intended to supply them to terrorist groups. Sanctions continued until 2003 and according to UNICEF half a million Iraqi children died as a result, although this is likely to be an underestimate. An “oil for food” scheme was offered, but only accepted in 1996. Little of this money was used by Saddam for the welfare of Iraqi people.

In highly public speeches in February and March 1991 US President George Bush Snr encouraged Iraqis to rise up against Saddam’s regime by giving the impression of US support. The uprising quickly led to the regime losing effective control of more than two thirds of the country. This rebellion was mostly crushed in a month using helicopter gunships and extensive shelling. It is true that a minority of these rebels were from Shia fundamentalist and traditionalist Kurdish groups. No help was given to any of the rebels and around 60,000 Iraqis died as a result, many tortured to death. No Fly Zones in the North and South of the country were then enforced until 2003. They prevented use of aircraft (more effective in the North) and allowed the monitoring of any ground offensives. This did not prevent Saddam’s ecological and humanitarian vandalism, due to the deliberate draining of the extensive Tigris-Euphrates marshes to punish the rebellious Marsh Arabs.

The Northern No Fly Zone allowed the creation of an autonomous Kurdish region, which was equally split between a traditionalist KDP (Kurdish Democratic Party) in the more mountainous north, and the more progressive PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan). In the 1980s Saddam Hussein’s regime had inflicted a genocidal campaign against Iraqi Kurdish areas. Between 100,000 and 180,000 Kurds died. In 1988 as a part of the much larger Anfal campaign a series of chemical attacks were inflicted against Kurds. This included the infamous Halabja attack that killed 5000 mainly women and children were killed with a combination of mustard and nerve gasses.

After the largest anti-war protests in the Western world, there was a US invasion of Iraq in 2003, based on incorrect and essentially contrived intelligence that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. The regime was quickly overwhelmed, but the occupation was lengthy and disastrous. Government institutions had been abolished and infrastructure severely damaged. The resulting security vacuum led to sectarian violence, and an extreme Islamist insurgency. The number of civilian causalities has become a political matter, but the most reliable survey appears to be the PLOS Medicine Survey, which concludes that excessive deaths in Iraq between 2003 and 2011 were half a million. The US elite’s policy objective in Iraq appeared to be the creation of the chaos needed to promote a new government compliant to their interests (particularly oil drilling concessions).
This list of events ignores those Iraqis killed by the Saddam Hussein’s security forces, as part of a strategy of instilling fear into the population. Estimates from Iraqi and International human rights groups vary between a quarter and half a million people. In addition the use of torture by the regime was systematic.

The Iraqi Baathists seized power in a coup in 1968. They began taking complete control of the army by effectively merging it with the Baath party. Saddam Hussein removed the existing President Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr in 1979. He then purged 500 of the top party members, uniquely insisting the surviving leadership form the firing squads. In an echo of Hafez Assad in Syria he aimed to create a “coup-proof” regime by the use of systematic torture, intrusive security forces and endless informers.

The Iraqi exile Kanan Makiya summarized how Saddam’s regime internalised fear in the Iraqi people:

“The show trials of 1969 (Chapter 2) affirmed the power of the fledgling Baathist state by a stage-managed, intentionally excessive display of cruelty that dramatized the imbalance between victim and victimizer. This came at a time when the state was still weak. After those early experiences, all through the eight gruelling years of war with Iran (Chapter 8), few Iraqis dreamed of publicly protesting the harsh punishments to which they were routinely subjected. For nearly twenty years every Iraqi knew that he or she lived in a torturing state, but the omniscience and omnipotence of the state’s repressive capability lay in the fact that all opposition to it had been crushed—in other words, it lay in the silence and deep secrecy that now surrounded all State operations. Everything was secret where punishment was concerned, from the arrest to the charges, the interrogation, the extraction of the evidence, the trial, the judgment, and the execution of the sentence. If there was a corpse, bearing in its markings that last record of the whole affair, even it was returned to the family in a sealed box. These were the rules of the game in the extraordinarily effective state system described in this book.”

[“The Republic Of Fear: The politics of modern Iraq”, Kanan Makiya, Updated version 1998 (originally published 1989), Introduction: xiv ]

In an echo of Syria, Kanan Makiya complains in the same introduction from the perspective of late 1990s Iraq:

“…. and a veritable American obsession with containing the adversary, as opposed to getting on with the obvious business of helping Iraqis to topple him. This clumsy, unprincipled, hands-on/hands-off policy of a musclebound superpower saved Saddam Hussein in 1994 [aborted build up for reinvasion of Kuwait], just as it saved him from the retribution of ordinary Iraqis at the end of the 1991 war [Kuwait invasion].”

In 1990 Human Rights Watch published an account of the constant stream of reports of human rights abuses from the initial two decades of Iraqi Baathist rule. Extract from “Human Rights in Iraq” 1990:

“But while vociferously denying charges of torture, Iraq has never allowed a private human rights group or United Nations body to visit its prisons and to interview prisoners or victims of torture. In the meantime, voluminous reports of torture committed over the years by Iraqi jailers continue to emerge–reports from victims of torture, from relatives of victims and from others, corroborated in many cases by medical evidence.” [page 58, “Human Rights in Iraq”, 1990, Human Rights Watch]

“Large numbers of persons have unquestionably died under torture in Iraq over the past two decades. Each year there have been reports of dozens–sometimes hundreds–of deaths, with bodies of victims at times left in the street or returned to families bearing marks of torture: eyes gouged out, fingernails missing, genitals cut off, and terrible wounds and burns. The brazenness of Iraqi authorities in returning bodies bearing clear evidence of torture is remarkable. Governments that engage in torture often go to great lengths to hide what they have done by burying or destroying the bodies of those tortured to death. A government so savage as to flaunt its crimes obviously wants to strike terror in the hearts of its citizens and to inflict gratuitous pain on the families of the victims.

Torture has been reportedly used not only against men and women but also against children, either to obtain information from them, to punish them for acts of opposition, or to punish their parents. Kurdish children have been among the victims of detention and torture. A former Baghdad University student, arrested as a sympathizer of the outlawed Kurdish Democratic Party and released in April 1985 after having been tortured, reported that his mother, aged seventy-three, three brothers, three sisters, and five of their children between the ages of five and thirteen were arrested, beaten, and subjected to electric shocks. This witness testified, ‘Infant children are kept in [the] detention center together with their parents. Usually they keep such children in a separate cell next to [the] mother in order to force [the] parent to confess. I saw a five-month-old baby screaming in this state.’

In September and October 1985, some 300 Kurdish children and teenagers were reportedly arrested in Suleimanieh. The bodies of three children were reportedly found afterward on the outskirts of the city, bloodstained and bearing the marks of torture. Some of these children were transferred to a security prison in Baghdad, according to the testimony of a detainee released at the end of 1985, who described in these terms what he saw:
‘Each hour, security men opened the door and chose 3 to 5 of the prisoners–children or men–and removed them for torture. Later, their tortured bodies were thrown back into the cell. They were often bleeding and carried obvious signs of whipping and electric shocks …. At midnight, the security men took another three of the children, but because they were so savagely treated they were taken from the cell to a military hospital. It was clear that the security authorities did not wish them to die like this. However when their wounds healed they were returned to the cell. Some children tried to sleep on the floor. A child who had been in the hospital lay down and finally, we thought, fell asleep. But . . . we knew he was dead. . . . When I was released, there were still some children in our cell. I don’t know what happened to the others.

In January 1987, it was reported that twenty-nine of these children had been executed and their bodies returned to their families, some with eyes gouged out and other marks of torture. Although the Iraqi government vehemently denied these reports, the European Parliament deemed them sufficiently credible to speak out about them. In its resolution ‘on the detention and torture of children in Iraq,’ the European Parliament condemned ‘these crimes which disgrace the government which perpetrates them’ and appealed for ‘the immediate release of all the children and young people detained on the basis of political activities undertaken by their parents or relations.’
That torture is used routinely as a method of political repression in Iraq, and that it frequently involves acts of great savagery, is credited by a wide range of nongovernmental human rights groups as well as the U.S. State Department.”
[pages 62-64, “Human Rights in Iraq”, 1990, Human Rights Watch]

Then there are actions of calculated contempt that echo Bashar Assad’s regime:

“Since 1980 a number of political opponents have been reportedly poisoned. In May of that year, two Iraqis who reached London after detention in Iraq were examined by doctors and found to be suffering from poisoning by thallium, a heavy metal used in commercial rat poison which is odorless, colorless, and tasteless. One, Majidi Jehad, testified before dying that he believed the poison had been given him in an orange-juice drink he was offered at the Baghdad police station where he went to pick up his passport.”
[page 74, “Human Rights in Iraq”, 1990, Human Rights Watch]

To the committed hard-left radical any information that is even shared by the US State Department must be utterly untrue. All human rights groups are secretly in collusion with US elites, and are guilty of the bizarrely labelled “humanitarian imperialism”. By extension any denial from a self-proclaimed revolutionary left regime is true. Such inhumane chauvinism underlines the reality that both the extremes of left and right cannot ever be progressive, and demand equal contempt.

In summary nearly two million Iraqis died between 1980 and 2011 because of the combination of Saddam Hussein’s regime and US (and its allies) policies. Iraq is now a deeply corrupt pseudo democracy, where political blocks fight for power, and reforming political activity is suppressed by violence. External powers Iran, Turkey and the US attempt to influence its politics, while sectarian nationalists and former militia leaders have become powerful politicians.

A powerful example of this is Masoud Barzani the leader of the Kurdish KDP since 1979. In the 1980s the main Iraqi Kurdish parties the KDP and the PUK fought the Saddam’s regime with backing from Iran. In 1996 Barzani invited Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army to join with the KDP in a Kurdish civil war against the PUK. The same Iraqi army who eight years earlier had been conducting genocidal assaults on Kurds in the Anfal campaign, some of which were conducted against KDP areas. In 1983 eight thousand Kurds from the Barzani clan were disappeared and murdered by the Saddam’s regime. The Iraqi army used the opportunity given to them by Masoud Barzani to eliminate opponents to Saddam’s regime in Kurdish areas. Later in the 1990s Barzani aligned the KDP with the Turkish government in the fight against the Kurdish PKK (fighting to create a Turkish Kurdistan autonomous region).

Masoud Barzani is now president of a deeply corrupt Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government. He spouts nationalist Kurdish rhetoric, lives in one of Saddam’s former palaces, and seems more interested in creating a dynasty and stashing away personal wealth. This behaviour is less strange if you consider that Saddam had Kurdish as well as Arab collaborators. The Kurdish “Jash” militias actually worked with the Iraqi army in the Anfal genocide. There had to be an amnesty for collaborators in Iraqi Kurdistan after Saddam was toppled.

In 2010 a journalistic Sardasht Osman wrote a satirical poem “I want to marry Barzani’s daughter”, it begins:

“If I become Massoud Barzani’s son-in-law, we would spend our honeymoon in Paris and also we would visit our uncle’s mansion in America. I would move my house from one of the poorest areas in Erbil to Sari Rash [Barzani’s palace complex] where it would be protected by American guard dogs and Israeli bodyguards ….”

As a result of speaking out he was arrested, beaten, and his body found with two bullet holes through the mouth. In 2013 Human Rights Watch Sarah Whitson said:

“These are dark days for freedom of expression in Iraq’s Kurdistan region. Instead of ensuring the justice system investigates high-level corruption, the Kurdistan Regional Government is ignoring its own laws to protect free speech and assembly, and using ‘laws’ that are not in force to silence dissent.”

The history of Iraq in the last 40 years has created a humanitarian disaster, with around 2 million deaths. The blames for this rests with the Saddam Hussein regime and the policies of US (and other Western) elites. The protests of Western progressives have been largely ineffective. The only claim made is that maybe protests stopped a subsequent invasion of Iran. Iraq is still in a chaotic and corrupt state.

The foreign policy of the US and its Western allies, towards Iraq and Iran, is not just random incompetence or inhumanity, but is part of a strategy of “containment” that stretches back to the Second World War. Containment started as a policy response to Stalin’s expansionist Soviet Union, and Mao Zedong’s newly created Communist China. Western Europe and Japan were aided back to democratic health. While in less favoured nations surrounding these communist states, right-wing “anti-communist” dictatorships were enabled. The elites of these dictatorships were dependent on the West, who shared their countries economic wealth with Western elites. When these states failed to keep control, or stopped taking orders they were invaded. Vietnam is a tragic case where the US supported an authoritarian corrupt regime under Ngo Dinh Diem, leaving the communists to portray themselves as true nationalists and progressives. Two million Vietnamese died due to the US genocidal war, which was pursued to the bitter end because successive US administrations could not admit the weakness of the “containment” ideology. A similar “containment” approach was used in the Middle East to “contain” communism, Arab nationalism and fundamentalist Islam. It also explains the muted response to the Arab Democratic Uprising since 2011. Just enough support to allow revolutions to take control, and then be slowly strangled by the counter-revolution backed by established dictatorial regional powers (notably Saudi Arabia and Iran). In the end of course “containment” will lead to a world dominated by the authoritarian governments of China and Russia.

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