The Iraqi Rebellions And The United Nations
On April Fool’s Day the British Foreign Secretary replied to appeals for help by the Kurdish and Shia rebels in Iraq This reply took the form of a statement to the British media, assuring the British public that “we should not get into the business of using force which would involve British and American soldiers” in the effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
A month earlier Hurd had given the world to understand that it was the intention of the United Nations that Saddam Must Go. Under that front page headline on March 2nd the Guardian reported: “The Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, yesterday made clear that the victorious alliance against president Saddam Hussein would not rest until the Iraqi leader had been toppled from power.”
On the same day the Secretary General of the United Nations expressed disagreement with the proclaimed policy of overthrowing the Government of Iraq. He said:
“As Secretary General, I cannot agree with overthrowing the government of a country which is a member of the United Nations”.
But who gives a damn what the Secretary General thinks? Certainly not the United Nations.
The Government of Panama was overthrown by the United States army in December 1989 without a semblance of authority from the United Nations Yet the United Nations connived at that action. The United States might, with infinitely greater justification from a United Nations viewpoint, have overthrown the Government of Iraq in March. Its failure to do so had nothing to do with scruples that it might be exceeding its mandate from the UN. The UN resolutions had been freely interpreted by Britain and America during the previous month in a way that gave them ample authority to overthrow the Government of Iraq. And the overthrow of the Iraqi Government by the agents of the United Nations in the first week in March would have been infinitely more humane than either the United Nations bombing of defenceless cities, precisely destroying the utilities on which urban life depends, during the previous six weeks, or the policy of overthrowing Saddam by stimulating civil war, which followed during the next four weeks.
David Howell, Chairman of a Westminster backbench committee on foreign affairs, who has been flying kites for Douglas Hurd ever since August 2nd, was interviewed on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme on March 25th. He said:
“Saddam should go … but these things aren’t going exactly to script, as the land war did… It may not even be practical to insist that Iraq should stay in one piece … “
After all, he said, Iraq was made up by Britain in 1920, and it might not be practical to keep it on into the 21st century.
On March 25th, it still seemed possible, to those who indulged in wishful thinking, that the rebellion which had been instigated by the United Nations would succeed. And, on the political level, the British and American Governments have engaged in nothing but wishful thinking since last August. Douglas Hurd in particular has been a Machiavellian fantasist. As Northern Ireland Secretary he made a great peace settlement which halted the downward curve in sectarian killing and sent it soaring up gain. And now, as Foreign Secretary, having won a war by virtue of a vast superiority of machinery, he utilised that victory to instigate a civil war in Iraq, without any earnest intention of supporting the rebellions in any decisive way, and apparently without having figured out the fairly simple realpolitik of the region.
Anglo-American policy at the beginning of March was to overthrow Saddam by inciting rebellion against him, by facilitating the flow of arms to the Shi a rebels in the South, and by restricting under the ceasefire terms, the Government’s means of putting down the rebellions. According to a Guardian report of March 18th, “The US position is … to create what one Pentagon official called ‘a level playing field’ while the people of Iraq fight out their own future”. And James Baker, who has grown to love the world “collateral”, explained that assistance to the rebels “may be a collateral effect of the suspension of hostilities agreement that we entered into in military talks with the Iraq forces”.
The “level playing field” prolonged the civil war, and maximised casualties, without giving the rebellions any real prospect of success. They had no prospect through their own efforts, because they were not Iraqi rebellions but secessionist movements. Heterogeneous elements were thrown together by the British Colonial Office in 1920, called Iraq, and required to function as a nation-state. The Ba’ath regime is the most successful effort to date to generate national life in the state.
Great publicity was given by the Western media in mid-March to a conference of Iraqi opposition groups organised by Syria and held in Lebanon. The Kurdish representatives were induced to say that they did not want a Kurdish state, and the Shia representatives that they did not want an Islamic state, and it was pretended that the secular democrats represented a substantial force in Iraqi society. The scene was enough to turn one’s stomach-a great democratic alliance of irreconcilables organised by Assad!
Of course Syria and Turkey, those valiant crusaders for freedom and justice in the United Nations Coalition, might have transformed the situation in the twinkling of an eye by ceasing to oppress their own Kurds, and arranging for the establishment of a state of Kurdistan. Since they did not do that, the Kurdish rebellion on “the level playing field” of Iraq was bound to be suppressed. And, in the South, Saudi Arabia knew that it did not want a Shia state on its borders.
Britain and America incited the rebellions of the Kurds and the Shia, prolonged them by placing curbs on Iraqi military activity, and then on April Fool’s Day washed their hands of the whole business.
In the Autumn of 1944 the Russian Army ( according to the later Western view) incited Warsaw to rebellion and then from across the river watched the Nazis put it down. Britain and America declare that Saddam is another Hitler. And they have behaved towards the Kurdish and Shia rebellions exactly as they say the Red Army did towards the Warsaw Rising.
The Kurdish leaders declared in January that they had been used as stooges too often by outside interests and then left in the lurch, and that they would not allow that to happen again. Unfortunately, they allowed themselves to believe the United Nations was more genuinely committed to them than the Shah of Iran proved to be sixteen years ago. But, in the moment of truth, the United Nations proved to be only their other oppressors, Turkey and Syria.
As for the United Nations in its universal dimension: the latest motion on Iraq is, as we go to print, being referred to the full membership of the Security Council, having been negotiated over for a week by the five Vetoist Powers. The analysis we made last Autumn is now plain for all to see. It has been said in recent weeks that the War has strengthened the Security Council. It has actually reduced the Security Council to an obvious hulk.
For practical purposes the United Nations is the Vetoist Five. When they act together they need four of the ten elected, transient members as a rubber stamp. The General Assembly is of no consequence.
Brendan Clifford Irish Political Review April 1991
[When there were rebellions by religious Shia after Saddam’s defeat, the West decided that this was not what they had meant. They let them be crushed. Then inflicted years of suffering on Iraq, in a vain effort to get a leader who would be secular like Saddam, but be more obedient to Western wishes.]
This article is one of six that appeared in Irish Political Review in 1991, at the time of the Gulf War. It was also republished in July 2014, in Issue 15-16 of Problems magazine.
Irish Political Review is a magazine which has been in existence in 1986. It was a follow-on from the Irish Communist.
You can find more at the Problems page on the Labour Affairs website. A PDF of the whole magazine is available there.