Iraq and The West
“The West”, the United Nations, the Allies, the Coalition- one of those – has bombed Iraq again.
Iraq was formed by Britain, with the approval of the League of Nations, by putting together three administrative provinces of the Ottoman Empire – almost. Those three provinces had no prior history of acting together. And yet if one of them had not been mutilated by Britain in the construction of Iraq there would have been no ‘Gulf War’.
The administrative province of Basra included Kuwait. Britain intent on extending its Empire into the Arab world, began in the 19th century to filch a bit here and there. It made a secret Treaty with a local chieftain in Kuwait while in public making solemn declarations saying that it recognised the integrity of the Ottoman Empire. In November 1914 it launched a war of conquest in Mesopotamia. But it took four years of hard fighting to conquer an Empire which had been assumed to be incapable of self-defence in all-out war. Then it formed the colony of Iraq, but withheld from it the Kuwaiti part of the province of Basra.
If the administrative region of Bosnia is sacrosanct, why was the administrative region of Basra not so?
The UN has adjudicated on the border dispute between Iraq and Kuwait. It ignored the fact Kuwait had formed an integral part of the province of Basra until 1914. And it awarded to Kuwait a part of Iraq on which Kuwait had no claim. (As a product of furtive British diplomacy Kuwait could have no historic claims on anything.)
The region of Iraq transferred to Kuwait was not uninhabited desert. But the Sabah family has no need to feel uneasy about the inhabitants. They have been given vacant possession of their new territory. It was ethnically cleansed by the United Nations before handing over. The Iraqi inhabitants were swept off it so that they might continue to be ruled by the tyrant, Saddam Hussein, instead of enjoying liberty in liberated Kuwait.
And apropos ethnic cleansing: why has it not been pointed out by our media commentators and international statesmen that this kind of thing was, in its recent recurrence, pioneered by liberated Kuwait under the auspices of the United Nations in the second half of 1991. Palestinians, many of them Kuwaiti-born and therefore Kuwaiti nationals according to the United Nations’ own decrees and definitions, were shovelled out of Kuwait by the hundred thousand, after a war in which a quarter of a million Iraqis were killed in six weeks for the purpose of showing what liberty, as understood by the United Nations, was. By what common standard could ethnic cleansing secure UN approval in 1991 in Kuwait – a make-believe state which could not possibly have flouted the will of ‘the international community’ – and be judged a war crime in Bosnia in 1992?
A supercilious BBC journalist located in Baghdad, reporting on the response of ordinary Iraqi citizens to President Bush’s last act of ‘international law’, said that, of course, the ordinary Iraqi could not speak frankly to Western journalists, but could only repeat the Government line. That sounds very bad. But was the BBC journalist himself behaving differently? Can we believe that the questions we have been asking here never occurred to him? If so, we must judge him a moron. But if they did occur to him, and if he made them part of his methods of inquiry and report, he would be out of a job fast.
We think it much more likely that the ordinary citizen of Baghdad is in sympathy with the Government of Saddam Hussein, and is not dissembling when probed by BBC journalists, than that the BBC journalist has not sold his soul in order to keep his job.
The United Nations killed two hotel receptionists in Baghdad with a Cruise missile because Saddam Hussein would not guarantee flights by UN planes across the “no fly” airspace dominated by British and American warplanes. “Well done!” said John Major. And “Well done!” echoed John Smith. There was momentarily some doubt that the firing of Cruise missiles into an undefended city was actually done on UN authority. But the Secretary General said it was. John Smith expressed profound satisfaction that the killing of the hotel receptionists had been legal. But, he was asked, was he quite happy about it? With puzzlement clearly evident in his voice, he replied, “Well, it is either a fact [that it was legal] or it is not a fact, that’s all.” (Today, Radio Four, January 20). No doubt there were lawyers in plenty who said that about the hanging of pickpockets. But we do not know, do we, that the hotel receptionists even picked pockets?
Michael Meacher, once a great campaigner against Cruise missiles, was a cheer-leader giving encouragement to President Bush to get on with the job. On January 16 (The Week in Westminster, Radio Four) he urged that sanctions be continued and that Iraq should be bombed. Two years ago the UN deliberately disrupted public utilities in Iraq, and American enforcers of international law were pleased to see sewage getting mixed up with the water supply. The main effect of continuing sanctions to delay the restoration of public utilities, and thereby to kill people by germ warfare. Some estimates put the deaths due to sanctions at 50,000 a year, mainly children. Meacher wants them continued along with regular bombing.
His reason: “He [Saddam] committed genocide repeatedly against the Kurds.”
The “no fly zone” in northern Iraq is said to be there “to protect the Kurds”. But the Iraqi Kurds have been bombed regularly by Turkey during the past two years. But that’s OK because Turkey is a member of “the Coalition”, an agent of international law. And Meacher, who knows what’s proper, made no mention of it.
The Iraqi Kurds were incited to insurrection in early March 1991 by the American, British and French Governments – the United Nations for short – in order to “finish the job”, i.e., get rid of Saddam, without any cost in valuable Western lives. The only natural object of a Kurdish insurrection is a Kurdish state. But the establishment of a Kurdish state would infringe on Turkish sovereignty. Turkey, which made a valuable contribution to international law-enforcement, could not be required to suffer an erosion of its own sovereignty because of it. The stimulus given to Kurdish nationalism in Iraq was dangerous to Turkey. That is why the Iraqi Kurds have to be simultaneously bombed and defended from bombing by United Nations forces.
Britain, after its Middle Eastern war of conquest (1914-18), threw two and a bit provinces of the Ottoman Empire together as a colony which it called Mespot A couple of years later the British government changed its mind and Mespot was declared to be a “nation” called Iraq. Britain gave Iraq ten years of training in modem methods of government. It rigged the most important election (that of King, in 1921)by kidnapping the popular candidate and deporting him, and by policing the outlying regions with heavy bombers. It pretended to concede independence in the early thirties, but in 1941 it invaded in order to overthrow a government which was neutral in the War and set up a puppet government as an ally.
The call for Kurdish · insurrection in 1991 was far from unprecedented. Even when the Baghdad Government was friendly, the stirring up of Kurdish unrest by ‘the West’ was considered a legitimate bargaining tactic in oil negotiations.
Britain once saw itself as having a constructive mission in the world, and, until 1914, it applied itself more or less earnestly to achieving it. That mission was to transform the world into a system of nation states with representative governments, stabilised and harmonised by British influence. Iraq was its last and worst creation. It was created when British imperial culture had gone rotten. It was part of the fraud practised on the Arab world in order to get its support for the First World War, and of the Balkanising which followed the war.
But Iraq, however misconceived, exists and will continue. Little David Howell and his backbench Committee may dream of remaking the Middle East, but they have no power to enact their fantasy.
Saddam’s methods are not essentially different from Britain’s methods in the 1920s. But his problems are greater. No great power was trying in the twenties to pull apart what Britain had concocted. But today Britain itself, along with America and France, are doing their damndest to make this state created by Britain impossible to govern. And their purpose is sheer mischief-making. They have no intention of trying to set up a state of Kurdistan, or of transferring the Shia regions to the great Shia state which now exists.
Imperial honour was once a real factor in British life. It has now gone rotten. Nothing else has taken its place. And Michael Meacher and David Howell, with their reckless warmongering, are not untypical of what remains.
Meanwhile, the Indonesian conquest of East Timor in defiance of a Security Council Resolution is not even mentioned. Nor is the Israeli annexations of East Jerusalem and Golan, also in defiance of Security Council Resolutions.
[Widespread complaints did in the end get East Timor resolves. Iraq remains unresolved. Imposing a multi-party system on it has only encouraged sectarianism.]
This is part of an editorial that appeared in January 1993, in Issue 33 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs. The first part, about the Labour Party, is no longer very relevant, though you can read it from the PDF. The second, about Yugoslavia, is a separate web page.
You can find more from the era at https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/very-old-issues-images/ and https://labouraffairsmagazine.com/very-old-issues-images/m-articles-by-topic/.