The article provides a good crash course on the occupation itself, but obvious space limitations only permit a condensed history lesson summed up in a "5000 Years of Invasion" timeline. William Polk's "Understanding Iraq" provides a good survey of this history, framing current events in terms of the country's painful past.
Barry Lando's book "Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush" more closely examines 20th century Iraq in the context of Western imperialism. He surveyed this history on Democracy Now!:
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back in time, Barry Lando, because you start the history of Western complicity in Iraq from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush. Talk about how Iraq was formed, the current modern state of Iraq, and the central role of oil.
BARRY LANDO: Well, it was formed out of the collapsing Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I. The British and the French went in to kind of divide up much of the Ottoman Empire. And the British took essentially what is Iraq today. It was three provinces of the Ottoman Empire, and they put them together around 1920, ’21, into one country, which became known as Iraq.
These were peoples who had lived under the Ottoman Empire, but they had never been put together into one state, sort of living side-by-side politically and administratively. And it was a recipe for disaster. The British were warned about it at the time, but the reason they wanted to put these people -- the Shiites, the Sunnis, and particularly the Kurds -- in one place is the British wanted the petroleum, particularly the petroleum that the Kurds had. Kurdistan is a major petroleum area. They suspected -- they weren't pumping petroleum at the time, but they knew that it was there, and the British wanted that.
And they also wanted bases, too, in that part of the world, to protect their Persia, which was an important part of the British Empire, and India. So bases there became very important for them, too. So you had two things: petroleum and military bases, which are basically exactly the same motives, I think, that are keeping the United States in that part of the world today.
AMY GOODMAN: How did the US first get involved with Iraq?
BARRY LANDO: They came in as the British Empire was weakening, beginning to fall apart in the ’50s. The United States became active in that part of the world, and as the Cold War was going on, too, they looked at any attempts by leaders in that part of the world to become more independent from the West, to get more of their -- take more of their own petroleum resources for the benefit of their own country. To seek any kind of outside help from the Soviets, that became a sign that these people had to go. You had Eisenhower, Dulles, the CIA went in and overthrew leaders in that part of the world at that time.
AMY GOODMAN: John F. Kennedy and the CIA in Iraq?
BARRY LANDO: Well, before Kennedy, you had Eisenhower and Dulles, too, the overthrow of Mossadegh in 1953 in Iran. Then you had John Kennedy: in 1963, you had a nationalist ruler in Iraq, Qasim, and Kennedy's CIA and the Egyptians, who also didn't like him, joined together and they helped organize a coup in Iraq that overthrew Qasim. The Baath Party, which was -- Saddam Hussein was then a junior member of the Baath Party -- came into power.
They were -- the US liked them at the time. They were secular, strongly anti-communist, anti-Soviet. So they were seen as allies by the CIA. When they took over in 1963, the CIA supplied them with lists of suspected communists, militants, left-wing intellectuals, professionals, to be taken care of. They were picked up, tortured, and many of them were killed. We're talking about hundreds, maybe thousands, of people. Saddam Hussein then was one of the young torturers at that time.
AMY GOODMAN: And then, explain how he rose to power.
BARRY LANDO: Well, then, back in -- the Baath fell out of power again in 1968. There was another coup, and they came back in, and Saddam became the power behind the throne. It took him ten years to become formally head of Iraq, of the government in Iraq, but for most of that time he was already seen as the man behind the throne. He ran the secret police, and he used Stalinist methods to take over. He was a great admirer of Stalin. So in 1979, Saddam formally became the leader of Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: President Carter's role here?
BARRY LANDO: Well, at this time, Khomeini had come to power in Iran, after the Shah was overthrown. Khomeini came to power. He was seen as an enemy of the United States, which he was. And you had the hostages taken. American hostages were taken from the embassy in Iran. And so, Carter did anything -- he wanted to do anything he could to weaken Khomeini. So did the other states of the Gulf. The Saudis, the Kuwaitis were terrified of Khomeini and what he could represent to their hold on that region, because Khomeini viewed them as dictators, and he was for the national -- taking over the oil, petroleum resources of those countries, as well, not for himself, but for the people of those countries. He represented a major threat.
Jimmy Carter encouraged Saddam, via the Saudis, to invade Iran. That started a war, which lasted for eight years, longest war of the 20th century, resulted in at least a million people dying on both sides. And, of course, the United States, other Western countries, Soviets, sold arms, continued to support the Iraqis during that period, and when it looked, though, that the Iraqis might win -- because they didn't want either side to win, really -- they also sold arms to the Iranians, as well. So the battle kind of went back and forth for eight years, with many countries selling arms to both sides. And the United States, in fact, even gave intelligence aid to both sides. And in the end, as I said, a million people died because of that war.
AMY GOODMAN: Gave intelligence on where Iranian soldiers were, to be gassed by Saddam Hussein.
BARRY LANDO: Exactly. The US gave satellite information, more to the Iraqis, enabling them to target Iranian troop concentrations, even though the US knew that the Iraqis were using chemical weapons.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the effect of the sanctions period, largely through President Clinton?
BARRY LANDO: Yeah, well, that started after Saddam had been thrown out of Kuwait. And you had -- an uprising took place, that was a whole other story.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, speak briefly about that uprising, because it's very significant for Iraqis’ view of the United States, too, and it involved President Bush, Sr.
BARRY LANDO: Yeah. To me, the uprising and what happened is really key, in a way, to what's going on there today. As Saddam had invaded Kuwait in August of 1990, and the United States moved in to push him out of Kuwait, when they did, George Bush called on the people of Iraq publicly, called on them to rise up and overthrow Saddam Hussein. This call was relayed by the CIA’s secret radio stations all over Iraq, and US airplanes also dropped millions of pamphlets over Iraq, telling the people of Iraq to rise up and overthrow Saddam. And they did. And the uprising spread like wildfire across southern Iraq. These were among the Shiites. The Kurds also rose up.
Then, the US, Bush Sr. and James Baker, became worried, because they realized they weren’t going to be able to control this uprising. They had wanted a military coup, a nice, neat military coup that in the end they could really control. But what, in fact, happened was a popular revolt. They were worried that perhaps Iran would come in, would try to make use of it; that the Kurds would try to set up an independent country that would disturb Turkey, their allies; that the Saudis wouldn’t like what was going on there. And so, they turned their back on the uprising.
They allowed Saddam to continue using his helicopters to attack the villages, and the Shiites had no way of fighting back against these helicopters. And when the Shiites came to American lines -- I spoke to a Special Forces officer who was just a few kilometers away from where the uprising was going on -- you had the Shiites coming to the American lines and saying, “Look, we're not asking you to fight for us. Just give us weapons. We will fight ourselves.” The Americans had hundreds of millions of dollars of arms that they had seized from the defeated Iraqi military. They destroyed those weapons, rather than turn them over to the rebels.
In another case, we were told that they blocked one rebel column from trying to march on Baghdad. They refused to meet with any of the insurgent leaders, who were desperately trying to talk to the Americans. The Americans refused to even talk to them, on the Kurdish side and on the Shiite side. So, finally, the revolt was over, and Saddam came in and killed, slaughtered, anywhere from 100,000 to 150,000 Shiites.
AlterNet is featuring an excerpt from Lando's book, in which he delivers a searing indictment of how Bush I encouraged, then betrayed the Iraqi intifada following the first Gulf War. Think Three Kings--without George Clooney leading the charge as America saves the day, helping the rebels triumph over the Republican Army.
From their base, Rocky and his units watched as Saddam's forces launched their counterattack against the rebel-held city. Thousands of people fled toward the American lines, said Gonzalez. "All of a sudden, as far as the eye could see on Highway Five, there was just a long line of vehicles, dump trucks, tractors -- any vehicle they could get -- coming to us in streams."
"The rebels wanted aid, they wanted medical treatment, and some of the individuals wanted us to give them weapons and ammunition so they could go and fight. One of the refugees was waving a leaflet that had been dropped by U.S. planes over Iraq. Those leaflets told them to rise up against the regime and free themselves."
If only we knew our history.