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Iraqi History


Project: History of US Interventions

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The following gives a summary of Iraq's history from WWI up to the first Gulf War, focusing on how US and British actions have shaped this history. This historical context is important to understand when looking at what is happening in Iraq today (see the in-depth section on the Iraq War).


       During World War I, the Arab nations fight against the Turkish forces (aligned with Germany), contributing substantially to the Allied victory. In return they are promised aid and independence. [, n.d.; Parliament Website, 12/5/2000]


       The war has made everyone realise the strategic importance of oil, so even before the peace conference begins in Paris in 1919 some underhand oil trading takes place. France, for example, gives Britain the oil-rich area around Mosul in Iraq, in exchange for a share of the oil and "a free hand" in Syria. Unfortunately, Britain had already promised Syria to the Syrians. It becomes obvious to the Arabs that the guarantees of freedom and independence made during the war by Britain and France would now mean nothing.

This is confirmed at the peace conference when the oil companies press their governments to renounce all wartime promises to the Arabs - oil concessions and royalties would be easier to negotiate with a series of rival Arab states, lacking any sense of unity, than with a powerful independent Arab state in the Middle East. [Independent, 8/4/02; n.d.; Parliament Website, 12/5/2000]



       A commission set up by President Wilson warns that independence for states such as Palestine, Syria and Iraq, should be granted as soon as possible. Further, the idea of making Palestine into a Jewish commonwealth should be dropped. [Australian Parliament Website, 12/5/2000; 8/4/02; n.d.; n.d.; n.d.; n.d.] The report is ignored, and rather than grant the Arab nations their promised independence, the whole Arab rectangle lying between the Mediterranean and the Persian frontier, including Palestine, is placed under mandates to suit the foreign policies of Britain and France. The Arabs have simply exchanged one imperial ruler, Turkey, for another, the West. [Independent, 8/4/02; n.d.]


       At the Paris Peace Conference, Lawrence of Arabia warns England and the world that unless the Arab world are granted their promised freedom and independence, his great-grandchildren might one day have to fight a war in Iraq wearing gas masks. [WorldNetDaily, 8/31/2000; of Arabia website, n.d.]


       Britain, France, and the U.S. seize the rights to 95% of the oil in Iraq. [ 1/16/1999] Revolution begins almost immediately. The Iraqis try to kick out the British by raiding British establishments and killing British troops. The British army retaliates with collective punishment, burning to the ground every village from which any such attack was mounted. Lawrence of Arabia writes to The Times suggesting, with heavy irony, that burning villages was not very efficient. "By gas attacks, the whole population of offending districts could be wiped out neatly, and as a method of government, it would be no more immoral than the present system."

The grim truth was that something along these lines was being considered. Churchill, then Secretary of State for Air and War, suggested that the RAF should take on the job of subduing Iraq: '<i>It would ... entail the provision of some kind of asphyxiating bombs calculated to cause disablement of some kind but not death ... for use in preliminary operations against turbulent tribes.</i>' In the end the RAF stuck to conventional high-explosive bombs, a method we are still using today. [WorldNetDaily, 8/31/2000; 8/4/02]



       Feisal wins the election to become kind by one of those suspiciously high majorities 96.8%, and he and his descendants hold power (interrupted by a few coups) for 30-odd years. Meanwhile, Britain installs Feisal's brother Abdullah as king of Jordan, and provides him with money and troops in return for his promise to suppress anti-Zionist activity. [Independent, 8/4/2002; 8/31/2000; Internationalist, 9/1999; n.d.]


       England installs Feisal as king of Iraq, kidnapping his popular opponent Sayid Taleb - who had gained popular support by threatening a nationwide revolt if the Iraqis were not allowed to choose their own leader - and dispatching him to Ceylon (what is now Sri Lanka). [WorldNetDaily, 8/31/2000; 8/4/2002; Internationalist, 9/1999]


       The US and UK back a coup against King Faisal II (who had himself been installed by the British), following a pattern whereby British intelligence had murdered almost every Iraqi leader and king since the first world war, usually because they all called for the return of Kuwait. He is killed and replaced with Abdel Karim Qassim. [ 1/16/1999; Internationalist, 9/1999]


       CIA employs Saddam Hussein in a botched attempted assassination of Kassim. The CIA then helps Saddam escape through Tikrit into Syria, where the CIA pays for his apartment and puts him through a brief training course. [United Press International, 4/10/03]


       CIA attempts to kill Kassim using a poisoned handkerchief, following orders from CIA chief Allen Dulles. [New York Times, 9/14/03; Atlantic Monthly, 8/1979]


       Current president (Abdul Karim Kassim) nationalises part of the concession of the British-controlled Iraq Petroleum. He further annoys the US by restoring diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, lifting a ban on the Communist Party in Iraq, and calling for the return of Kuwait. [, 8/1997; York Times, 9/14/03]


       Following the coup, the Ba'ath party slaughters at least 800 communists using a list provided by the CIA. [United Press International, 4/10/03; Moscow Times, 3/21/03]


       The new Ba'athist regime has little popular support, and is replaced by rival army officers after only 9 months in power.

Feb 1963

       CIA aids Saddam Hussein and his Ba'ath party in a bloody military coup (in which around 5,000 are estimated killed) which overthrows president Kassim and puts the Ba'ath party into power. [BBC, n.d.; 8/1997; York Times, 9/14/03; Journal, 10/31/02; 1/29/03; Moscow Times, 3/21/03; 9/16/02]


       A second successful coup by the Ba'ath party, again with CIA cooperation. Following the coup, the party comes to be dominated by Saddam Hussein. [The Moscow Times, 3/21/03; n.d.; 12/15/03]


       Right up to the time of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, US Department of Defense training manuals sang the praises of Saddam Hussein, noting how he had vastly improved education, medical care, and the standard of living of his people. His regime was called one of the most enlightened, progressive governments in the region. This was in an official DoD document used in the education of high-ranking officers of all the military services. [ 1/16/1999]


       Iraq fights a war with Iran. During this war, Saddam commits the atrocities which the Bush administration now condemns him for - the use of chemical weapons against the Iranians. Despite these atrocities being well known to the US, the US continues seelling many chemical/biological agents to Iraq during this time, including many strains of anthrax. The US also provides cluster bombs and intelligence. [The Washington Post, 12/30/02; Guardian, 12/31/02; News, 8/18/02] Throughout the war the US also provides strategic operational advice to the Iraqis, such as a secret message from Reagan to Saddam in 1986 telling him that Iraq should step up its air war and bombing of Iran, and intelligence assistance to Iraq during the war in the form of satellite photography to help the Iraqis understand how Iranian forces were deployed. [NBC News, 8/18/02]

April 14, 1980

       US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski allegedly meets with Saddam two months before the war, assuring Saddam that the US would not oppose intervention in Iran. [Z Magazine, 9/5/02; 1/16/1999; Worker, 9/1/02; Final Call, 10/1/02] US Secretary of State Alexander Haig would confirm in now declassified documents the following year that "President Carter gave the Iraqis a green light to launch the war against Iran." [Haig, 1981; News, 3/27/03; Magazine, 9/5/02; Final Call, 10/1/02]


       Shortly after the secretary of state, George Shultz, is passed intelligence reports of "almost daily use of CW [chemical weapons]" by Iraq, Ronald Reagan signs a secret order instructing the administration to do "whatever was necessary and legal" to prevent Iraq losing the war. Donald Rumsfeld meets Saddam Hussein the following month in Baghdad and passes on the US willingness to help his regime and restore full diplomatic relations. [The Washington Post, 12/30/02; Guardian, 12/31/02; Dreams, 8/2/02; News, 8/18/02]


       US releases following statement: "The United States finds the present Iranian regime's intransigent refusal to deviate from its avowed objective of eliminating the legitimate government of neighboring Iraq to be inconsistent with the accepted norms of behavior among nations and the moral and religious basis which it claims." [The National Security Archive, 2/25/03]


       Despite backing Iraq in the war, the US secretly sells weapons to Iran to fund the Nicaraguan contras in what later becomes the Iran-Contra scandal. [CNN, 2001]


       US destroys three Iranian offshore oil platforms as part of the Iraq-Iran war. Iran is currently sueing the US for compensation through the International Court of Justice. Iran is further sueing the US for supplying Iraq with dangerous chemicals and deadly viruses during the war. US newspapers fail to pickup the story as the US prepares for war against Iraq over these very WMD the US supplied in the first place. [BBC, 2/18/03; Spiegel, 2/17/03]

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