The relationship is often a complicated one. The messages the United States has given Iraq have been mixed. In this essay I will address and react to the various conflicts and situations that have linked the two, including the rise of Saddam, the Iran-Iraq war and both Gulf wars. In 1970 there was an agreement set out to include the Kurds in the Iraqi government. But then on 29th September 1971, the Baghdad security (allegedly on Saddam Hussein's orders) attempted to assassinate the Kurdish leader, General Barzani.
At this point the Kurds realised this government couldn't be trusted and knew an invasion of their settlement would be inevitable, so both parties began looking for allies. The United States supported Mustafa Barzani, opposed to the ruling Ba'ath regime from 1973-1975. I agree with Dr. Sami Abdul-Rahman who says, "I believe America wanted from that relationship a lever inside Iraq to be able to pressure the Iraqi government. "1 But in 1975, Iran reaches an agreement with Iraq and seals the border. Iraq slaughters Kurds and U. S. denies them refuge.
Kissinger secretly explains that "covert action should not be confused with missionary work,"2 and support for the Kurds ceases. Iraq had been disappointed with the Soviet and as a result the USA started to trade with Iraq, signalling improving relations. Perhaps no coincidence that there are reports of twenty-four US companies supplying Iraq with various weapons of mass destruction since 1975. The next large-scale event occurred after Saddam Hussein's appointment as head of state in 1979. In his intentions to war with all his enemies, passions escalated between Iraq and Iran.
The Iran-Iraq war broke out in 1980 and there are many reports that the US helped fund Iraq with economic assistance, political support, arms, satellite intelligence and the assistance of a US naval battle group. Saddam's repression continued with a harsh campaign against the Kurds in the North, though both the United States and the UK governments deflected attention from the widespread human rights violations and the regular use of chemical weapons by their ally. Iraq felt betrayed to hear that the US had also been offering limited funding to Iran through the crisis.
The war, from 1980-88 (the longest conventional war of the 20th century) was fiercely bloody. It caused hundreds-of-thousands of deaths, and incalculable damage to industry and property. It was then that the US policy reversed, and as a result of human rights atrocities that had occurred against the Kurds, there was talk of supporting them. The US was giving Saddam mixed messages of its policies, and when the US weren't praising him for holding off Iran, he thought there was a conspiracy to overthrow him while his regime was weary from war.
Post-war, Saddam's only income was from oil, and upon discovering that Iraq's neighbour Kuwait had been pumping over its OPEC quota, reducing the price of petrol (when the price is reduced by one dollar, Iraq loses one billion), he felt Kuwait was being used, just as it was when posting the CIA in the overthrow of Kassem (the Iraqi leader at the time) in 1963. Saddam felt it was being used again, this time to overthrow him by reducing its profits from oil. To this end Saddam would invade Kuwait.
He didn't expect the US to respond and by all accounts thought he had their backing. A transcript from an interview between Saddam Hussein and US Ambassador, April Glaspie reads, "We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary (of State James) Baker has directed me to emphasise the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960's, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America. (Saddam smiles)"3 Four days later, Saddam invaded Kuwait.
It wasn't the threat of devastating conflict that made the US get involved, but the fact that they couldn't trust Saddam to control the flow and price of oil in the Middle East. George Bush Sr. declared: "Our jobs, our way of life, our own freedom … would all suffer if control of the world's great oil reserves fell into the hands of Saddam Hussein. "4 Following Iraqi forces failure to exit Kuwait by a UN set deadline, on 16th January 1991, the Gulf War began. The US led coalition bombed the capital Baghdad, and then sent in troops to engage in ground combat.
Saddam was forced out of Kuwait, and by March Iraq conceded to peace negotiations. Immediately following the war, the US let Saddam go, fearing that his removal from power would result in the disintegration of Iraq into several countries that would cause yet more havoc in the Middle East. They had no plan for a post Saddam Iraq. The Kurds and the Shiites revolted while Saddam was weak and he responded by devastating these populations with chemical weapons. The US and Allied forces often did not act, and simply set up safe-zones with humanitarian aid for those affected by the backlash.
But disturbingly they helped quash the rebellion by stopping rebels reaching arms depots; flying planes over Saddam's helicopters as they killed the rebellious; and giving the Republic Guards safe passage through American lines to reach certain rebel positions. It is these actions that make the United States' intentions and relations with Iraq baffling. The US didn't want to see the suffering that was taking place in Iraq, so they teamed with Saddam to stop the uprising, and suppress its peoples. After the Gulf War, the UN Security Council imposed comprehensive sanctions on Iraq including an embargo.
To stop the sanctions, Saddam would have to renounce his claim to Kuwait, dismantle weapons of mass destruction and fairly treat Iraq's minorities. Iraq was in economic turmoil. The situation did improve when following pressure for the US Saddam no longer hankered for Kuwait. As the other conditions were not met, the UN extended the sanctions and by August 1995, his economy in state of collapse, Saddam's position was insecure.
In December 1996, an impoverished Iraq was given permission to sell $2 million of oil every six months (extended to $5.3 million in 1998) in order to buy food and medical supplies, called the Oil-for-Food program. 5 Saddam was criticised by the US for not halting black market sales of these newly found rations for money, by particularly poor people. The US and UK often hindered Iraq's rehabilitation by using its veto power in the UN to prolong sanctions and no-fly zones. They also stopped Iraq from acquiring equipment that could be deconstructed and used to build military equipment, known as 'dual-use'. Of fifteen Council members, two often used their power to put selected imports on 'hold': the US and the UK.
In July 2002, $5. 4 million6 in contracts were on hold, the majority imposed by the US. Unconvincingly the US is inconsistent in what it will allow to pass. On one occasion it may hold something of dual-use that another day it may be happy to give to the same company requiring it. It is this inconsistency that depicts the US as trying to be problematic, to suppress Iraq. Less than 60% of orders purchased from oil sales have actually arrived in Iraq since December 1996, seriously stunting repair to Iraq's deteriorated infrastructure, including water treatment, electricity and public health.
This really undermines the credibility of the sanctions applied on Iraq. It is as if the US doesn't even want to see Iraq recover economically, yet they have no real reason. The Security Council could be in violation of its responsibilities for not closely monitoring the state of humanity in Iraq when the sanctions were applied. And realising that the system was not for them, the US did encourage so-called 'Smart Sanctions' that would target the leaders and not the Iraqi people, preventing them international travel and freezing their assets.
This never came to pass, though may be a technique used in the future; a personal touch. The US, UK and France (although the latter later withdrew) applied a no-fly zone to the North of Iraq in April 1991 and another in the South in August 1992. These zones were laid down to try and curb the amount of damage that Baghdad was doing to these areas, and to the Kurds and the Shi'a respectively. Although the US regularly patrolled these zones, they didn't cover all the areas where there was pillage, and Turkey was still able to persecute Kurds there, while forces were still able to enter these regions other than by air.
Following Iraqi infringements of these rules, US air strikes targeted Iraqi radar and missile sites in January 1993. And in June of that year, following an alleged plot to kill George Bush Sr. , Iraqi intelligence headquarters in Baghdad were hit. As a protest to sanctions and an attempt to highlight the plight of the Iraqi's poverty to the West, Iraq massed troops in Kurdish regions of Northern Iraq in September 1996. The US responded by bombing military targets in the south.
Iraqi-backed Kurds secured most of Kurdistan, prompting the US to embark on a full-scale air offensive. In October 1997, Iraq refused to allow US citizens and aircraft to serve with Unscom, believing that their presence was an excuse to maintain sanctions. Saddam also accused U-2 surveillance planes of spying for the US. This stance forced the UN to threaten tougher sanctions in November 1997. And by December, following a US military build-up and diplomatic pressure from Russia, the Iraqi government backed down.
To lift sanctions Iraq had to be more open to weapons inspections. They were, but the report delivered in December 1998 by Richard Butler (head of Unscom) suggested how Iraq had not complied with UN requirements on the destruction of nerve gas and other weapons of mass destruction. So the US president, Bill Clinton, organised the widely condemned Operation Desert Fox, aimed at destroying Iraq's military infrastructure. The Pentagon said that it had delayed Iraq's missile programme by one year.
It was the West's intention to contain Saddam militarily, and when Iraq fired anti-aircraft missiles at the US over the southern no-fly zone, in December 1998 and January 1999, US-UK forces were permitted to target these defences. Tensions between the two were rising, culminating in further attacks in late January and February. Also in January, the USA announced plans to support seven Iraqi opposition groups, opposed to Saddam's regime. Notably, the Iraqi National Congress (INC) in an attempt to overthrow the leader.
US and UK aircraft bombed northern and southern Iraq again in August 2000, after Saddam refused to allow Unmovic in for weapons inspections in exchange for a higher oil-for-food quota, causing a few civilian casualties. They were finally allowed in to inspect various sites, but Iraq often made it difficult, and the US was sceptical as to how worthwhile this new wave of inspections would be. They were particularly cynical about the fact that Hans Blix was head, after devastating weapons were being manufactured right under his nose when he was head of the IAEA during the eighties.
In 2002, the infamous resolution 1441 was drafted that forced tougher inspections on Iraq. And finally, President George W. Bush stated that either the UN confronts the "grave and gathering danger" of Iraq, or stand aside as the United States and likeminded nations act. 7 This spelt the beginning of the end for diplomacy, and brings us to the so-called Gulf 2, which sees US and British forces invading Iraq, to supposedly remove Saddam, once and for all, hence 'liberating' Iraq. The US is also keen to be part of Iraq's rebuilding, and more poignantly, the management of its resources.
In conclusion, the US has always been involved in Iraqi affairs over the past three decades, but their allegiances have often changed. One moment they are supporting the Kurds against the Saddam regime, and the next they are arming him for war against its neighbours, only to then fight for the opposing side. These arms are often used on its own citizens and the US seems content to stand by and watch. Now the US is considering all parties and at the same time none of them, by waging war on Iraq for what has been assured to be the last time.
I'm sure that events in the future will be the next chapter in the US-Iraq relationship. Saddam enjoys American technology; in fact he is surrounded by it (including the weapons he possesses). But simultaneously he has never trusted them politically, and makes no secret of this. There is no doubting that Iraq is a menace to the Middle East, but at the same time it could be argued that Saddam has been antagonised by Western hypocrisy. There is a love-hate relationship between Saddam and the US; there must be some leeway bestowed upon Saddam as he has survived five presidents.
The US has had ample opportunity to remove him, yet they decide not to because they don't know how a post-Saddam Iraq would work. As one leader of the Iraqi opposition said, "They want Saddamism without Saddam," a dictator without the massacre. Instead they cooperate with other countries as they attempt to remove him, but without the US arsenal, this is never going to be easy, and the possibility of revolution is small. As always though the US acts in its own interests, and the more the current conflict evolves, the easier it is to hypothesise that it is the wealth of oil that is driving the conflict.
Footnotes 1 Dr. Sami Abdul-Rahman is Deputy Prime Minister and member of Kurdish Democratic Party. Interview from http://www. pbs. org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/saddam/interviews/rahman. html 2 U. S. House of Representatives, Select Committee on Intelligence, 19 Jan. 1976 (Pike Report) in Village Voice, 16 Feb. 1976. The Pike Report attributes the quote only to a "senior official"; William Safire (Safire's Washington, New York: Times Books, 1980, p. 333) identifies the official as Kissinger.