[Last update: 14 August 2002]

Blood, Oil, and Sand: The Hidden History of America's War on Iraq

by Cliff Pearson

August 13, 2002 / Reading Between the Lyin's

"In the 1920s, American and European oil companies discovered and exploited the first oil fields in the Middle East. Since Western Europe had no oil of its own, this discovery was of particular importance to them. But World War II changed everything.

Despite being victors in the war, both France and England were taxed severely by the World War II and began to lose control of their former colonies. Having taken advantage of the war, new leaders had come to power in the Middle East, deposing monarchies that had been set up by the Europeans, and which because of the war were no longer being protected by their former colonial masters.

But the big winner in World War II, the United States, became the real player in Middle Eastern oil politics over even the British and French. Despite its own oil resources, the U.S. saw the strategic importance of controlling the flow of Middle Eastern oil: to "contain" the Soviet Union, to rebuild Western Europe (according to their own agendas), and to boost their industries.

But America had hoped to cash in on the Middle Eastern oil bonanza of before World War II. But the new regimes in the Middle East saw it differently. The Middle Eastern nations recognized their potential to become economic world players through their wellspring of oil productivity. Many of them much to the chagrin of London, Paris, and Washington attempted to nationalize their oil reserves, only to have the West retaliate.

In 1953, Iran's President Mossadegh nationalized their oil reserves and kicked the British out of their country. The United States responded by having the CIA assist in a coup that re-established the Shah of Iran as ruler. The Shah was very pro-Western, and pro-privatized oil, and Iran remained a Western oil colony until the Khomeini-inspired student revolt in 1979.

In 1956, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser seized the Suez Canal built by the Egyptian people yet controlled by the British and declared it to be the property of the Egyptian people. Nasser's plan was to gain international economic staying power by not only beginning a plan to nationalize his country's oil reserves, but to control the very strategically-located canal. Britain, France and Israel immediately waged war on Egypt to take back control of the canal. As part of a peace deal in 1979, the Suez Canal became an international port.

General Abdel Karim Qassem, the ruler of Iraq, also attempted to nationalize his nation's oil. United States CIA Director Allen Dulles immediately and publicly declared General Qassem's actions to be "Communist," but also added that he didn't think the situation "was hopeless." Almost immediately after General Qassem moved to nationalize Iraq's oil, he was assassinated in a coup led by Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party.

"This coup came as a result of an oil deal between Iraq and a French company, IRAB," says Ahmed Al Bayati, London Representative of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution In Iraq. "This contract upset the West and the Americans in particular. So they encouraged a coup in Iraq at that time."

In 1972, according to former Iraqi oil minister Fadel Chalabi, a former Ba'ath Party member named Al Saadi spoke openly of having been trained for their successful coup by the CIA.

Also in 1972, OPEC, the international cartel of oil-producing nations, raised the price of crude oil from $3 per barrel to $22 per barrel in an effort to collectively profiteer off the West's dependence on their product. President Saddam Hussein reacted to this price-gouging opportunity by immediately nationalizing Iraq's oil fields. The United States reacted by branding Saddam Hussein "unreliable" and a "terrorist leader" and throwing their primary Middle Eastern support to Iran, led by the pro-Western Shah.

"For 25 years, from 1953, the Shah of Iran was the U.S. surrogate in the Persian Gulf and in the Middle East region," says former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark. "The U.S. sold him about $22 billion in arms from 1972 to 1976. The Shah was our man. The hope of control by the West of the Middle East jades in 1979 when the Shah is overthrown by anti-Western, fundamentalist leader Ayatollah Khomeini. By then, Saddam Hussein becomes again a viable card in Washington's hand. He becomes the actual president of Iraq after 11 years of being its acting vice president, and then perpetrates a sweeping purge of his opponents and attacks Iran without provocation or apparent reason."

The Stockholm Peace Research Institute shows that, during the Iran-Iraq War, nations lined up to sell arms to both sides in the conflict. According to their online database, 52 nations sold to either Iran or Iraq and 29 countries supplied arms to both sides.

David Welch, former Iraq Program Director for the U.S. State Department, admits that the United States sold some arms to Iraq during the war but insists that it was very little, citing an international "arms embargo" on both countries that made such sales illegal in most cases.

In truth, however, a Congressional investigation found in 1992 that the CIA and the State Department were very much aware that Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons, made by and bought from American companies, against Kurdish civilians and Irani soldiers.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Ramsey Clark reports that, from as early as 1972, the CIA and State Department had been monitoring Saddam Hussein's ambitious determination to acquire "non-conventional weapons of mass destruction." Documents obtained by Congress show that in the 80s, during the height of the Iran-Iraq War, the United States knew that a $1.7 billion "agricultural aid" package to Iraq was actually being used by Saddam Hussein to purchase helicopters, trucks, pesticides and even anthrax. (One document shows the purchase from the United States of "bacillus anthracis (ATCC 240) Batch #05-14-63 (3 each) Class III pathogen).

Immediately Congressional leaders began questioning these practices. But, according to Clark, the U.S. State Department and CIA, under former presidents Reagan and Bush, Sr., began to systematically quell all Congressional inquiries about U.S. support for Iraq's military build-up, and eventually the inquiries faded away.

As a result of Saddam Hussein's unprovoked war with Iran and massive arms purchases, by the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, Saddam Hussein had managed to ruin Iraq's economy and place them about $40 billion in debt.

Because of this debt, Iraq was desperate to nationalize their oil fields so they could profiteer off their oil productivity and help offset their war-related economic woes.

"OPEC keeps the price of oil stable by limiting how much oil each OPEC member-country can produce," says Siu Hin Lee, an international oil market analyst. "In 1989, after the end of the Iraq/Iran war, Kuwait suddenly exceeded its quotas by 20 percent, driving the price of oil down on the world market. As a result of Kuwait's production hike, Iraq lost almost a third of its oil income. And this was at a time when Iraq was desperate for money."

Kuwait a major source of oil to the West is an artificially created country, set up by the British Empire during the "Mandates Period," and carved out of the southern tip of Iraq. The creation of Kuwait by the British took Iraq's access to the Persian Gulf away from them and set up a British-picked royal family, or "emirate," that was friendly to the West, as the rulers. The territory had been in dispute by Iraq for nearly a century. But when Kuwait's newfound wealth added to Iraq's already miserable economic woes, many Iraqi government leaders suddenly "remembered" that Kuwait was theirs, and Saddam Hussein decided it was time to re-annex Kuwait.

As late as six days before Iraq's invasion of Iraq, the U.S. State Department was assuring Saddam Hussein that the United States had "no security agreement with Kuwait." Taking his cue, in 1990 Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, convinced that the United States would not react. But in reality, the Pentagon was more than ready to react.

"We went ahead and did an exercise, what is called a command post exercise, which is what Internal Look was, to test our ability to deal with this particular scenario, and also to uncover any command and control problem that might exist, any doctrine problem that might exist between the Air Force, the Navy and the armed forces," says former Gulf War Commander-in-Chief General Norman Schwarzkopf. "And it just so happened that we were in the middle of conducting the Internal Look command post exercise at the same time when the crisis developed in the Gulf."

Within hours after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iraq, the United States had managed to freeze all of Iraq's assets and the U.S. Navy had started a blockade of the Persian Gulf before the United Nations even had a chance to convene to discuss the crisis.

Within days of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, U.S. Department of State and Department of Defense officials were in Riyadh meeting with Saudi Arabian officials in an attempt to convince them that Iraq was determined to invade Saudi Arabia. U.S. representatives argued that Iraq posed a grave threat to Saudi Arabia and that the United States must be allowed to deploy hundreds of thousands of soldiers in Saudi Arabia to help protect the Saudis. As part of this attempt at persuasion, the American officials showed the Saudis military satellite photos of a massive build-up of Iraqi troops in Kuwait, apparently poised to invade Saudi Arabia at any moment.

But some of the American media didn't buy it. The St. Petersburg Times and ABC News had asked repeatedly for permission to view the military satellite photos of the Iraqi build-up and were repeatedly denied access to them. Finally, in frustration, investigative reporters from The St. Petersburg Times acquired commercial satellite pictures of the same area and time period and were shocked to see no evidence whatsoever of an Iraqi military build-up. Investigative reporter Jean Heller says:

"The airport in the Kuwaiti capital appeared to have been abandoned, which it wouldn't be. If you think about it for a minute, if you're trying to supply a quarter of a million troops, it takes a lot of food, a lot of camping equipment, a lot of fuel for the tanks. They didn't see tanks tracks in the sand in the desert and they would not have worn away because satellites are still pickling up images of sand tracks in the desert of Northern Africa that were left during World War II.

"I happened to know the Press Secretary of Defense personally, and I asked him, 'Look, you know me, we've known each-other for a long time, let me look at some of the U.S. intelligence satellite photos, prove to me that I'm wrong. I don't need to take them out of the building, I don't need to copy them. Prove to me that we are wrong and we won't run the story.' And he refused to so that. He refused to do it on a number of occasions.

"As a reporter, I'm not supposed to conclude anything, but everyone else who was familiar with this story and familiar with the satellite photographs has concluded that the [Bush] administration lied to the Saudis, to the world in order to get the invitation to come into the Middle East to protect the innocent. What does it say about the government? If in fact the fact the government lied, does that surprise anyone?"

But what purpose would the United States have in deceiving the Saudis?

"Well, you have to understand that there were principal focuses over the world amounting to military commands," says General Schwarzkopf. "You had the focus of the European Command on the NATO situation, you had the focus of the Pacific Command, for instance on the Pacific, the Atlantic on the battle in the Atlantic, but there were certain areas in the world that had no focus. The Middle East was an area. The problem was that no Arab country wanted a major U.S. military headquarters in their country."

The Saudi government were sufficiently frightened enough by the United States scare tactics to respond as desired. On August 7, 1990, the Saudis officially accepted the American delegates' offer of "protection" via American troops.

Within 24 hours of their agreement, the U.S. military steamrolled into Saudi Arabia without even notifying Congress. Within a few short months, more than 500,000 American soldiers were deployed in Saudi Arabia to "protect" the Gulf nation from Iraqi aggression.

But now that the Saudis had been convinced of the Iraqi threat, it was time for the U.S, government to persuade the American public and the world that the Iraqi threat was serious enough to justify a monumental military build-up in the Gulf.

But the United Nations had other plans. At U.N. headquarters in New York, officials worked desperately to find a diplomatic and peaceful solution to the crisis. U.N. Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar even went so far as to fly to Baghdad to meet with Saddam Hussein in an attempt to convince him that the international military threat will be real if he chooses to remain in Kuwait.

"Saddam Hussein had indicated a willingness to compromise, mediate and withdraw his troops," says Denis Halliday, former director of the United Nation's Oil-for-Food Program in Iraq. "Also the Arab states were given a chance to mediate but they were given 48 hours, I believe, by President Bush. So in summary, I think the Americans didn't want a diplomatic solution at that late stage, I am talking about after the invasion."

Phyllis Bennis, a former U.N. journalist and author, reported in her book Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today's U.N. that Yemen voted against the use-of-force resolution. She says, "No sooner had the Ambassador of Yemen put down his hand after the vote that there was a U.S. representative at his side saying, 'That will be the most expensive no vote you will ever cast.' And sure enough, three days later, the U.S. cut-off its entire aid-budget to Yemen, the poorest nation in the Arab world."

Despite widespread international opposition to war, on November 29, 1990, the U.N. Security Council caved in to pressure from the United States and passed the war resolution with a deadline for Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait by January 15.

Two days after the deadline, on January 17, 1991, 3:00 a.m. Iraq-time, the United States and her allies launched a bombing raid on Baghdad. Televisions all over the world started broadcasting images of a supposedly fool-proof, high precision "surgical strike" campaign, which allegedly would hit nothing but Iraqi military targets. But a little over a decade later, we have learned the truth of what was wrought on Iraq.

"Typically, the U.S. military claimed that its bombing of Iraq was highly accurate," says Ramsey Clark, former U.S. Attorney General. "Nothing could be further from the truth. 110,000 aerial sorties and 85,000 tons of bombs the equivalent of seven and a half Hiroshimas in 42 days you could see the indiscriminate nature of the bombing. It probably killed 150,000, maybe 200,000 people thousands and thousands of civilians indirectly.

"There is no question from the evidence of the bombing that the United States deliberately planned the destruction of the economic support system for the Iraqi population. "If you just take water, they knocked out reservoir dams in the North, they knocked out pumping stations for water pipelines bringing the water down, they knocked out filtration plants to purify the water so you can drink it without getting sick. On food, they systematically attacked the food chain from one end of the country to the other.

"They knocked out all electrical power within hours, they knocked out transportation, they showed you can destroy a country and deprive it of essential life support systems without ever setting foot on it, through cruise-missiles and aerial bombardments."

On February 23, 1991, five weeks after the start of the bombing campaign, the coalition sent their ground forces into Kuwait.

American soldiers who were part of the ground invasion force say that they got deep into Kuwait very quickly without encountering significant resistance. The reported massive Iraqi military build-up was nowhere in sight and the Iraqi troops still present in Kuwait were simply no match for the modern Western armies.

"When we went to Kuwait, we were expecting, you know, this 5 million-man army, these big monsters, and when we got there, they were like chihuahuas," says Morocco Omari, an American Marine who was part of the ground force. "I mean, the mosquitoes and flies put up a bigger fight than they did. These people were just like regular Joe's. Hey somebody comes to your house and says, 'Either fight the Americans or I kill your family,' of course, you're gonna say, 'Gimme the gun!' You know, they had no other choice. These guys didn't even know how to shoot their weapons. They wore regular clothes, you'd pick up an AK 47, and they're filled with sand. It is just like, what is it?"

General Norman Schwarzkopf agrees that the Iraqi forces in Kuwait were miniscule. "A very large portion of Saddam's army never came into Kuwait. He kept a large part of his army back along the border with Iran and within the capital, his Republican Guards specifically."

On February 28, 1991, the United States shocked the world by announcing a cease-fire when the coalition forces were already pushing deep into Iraq.

"We took Kuwait, all of Kuwait, in less than 24 hours, the Marines," says Omari. "The army went through Southern Iraq and took it within a 24-hour period. And we stopped. And everybody was like, 'Wow, why didn't we get Saddam? You felt like you went over there, you did your job, but you didn't get to finish your job."

Ramsey Clark says the United States military could have moved at the end of the bombing period straight into Baghdad in less than 24 hours. "It was a political decision not to," he says.

On February 26, 1991, two days prior to the declaration of the cease-fire, a new situation had developed in Iraq. Tired of twelve years of ruthless dictatorship, a huge number of the Iraqi people had risen up against Saddam Hussein's regime.

President George Bush. Sr. immediately ordered the cessation of the war in Iraq to General Colin Powell, over the vocal objection of General Schwarzkopf.

"If we had been allowed to go on for one or two more days, we would have totally destroyed the Iraqi forces and that would have been a battle of annihilation. I said that when they first called me from Washington and asked me what my plans were, I said, 'We plan to continue the operations.' "

By early March 1991, the popular rebellion in Iraq had spread all across the country. Everywhere people were fighting the regime. But the Bush administration's response was to end our aggression against Iraq and to step-back and wait for Saddam Hussein to quash the rebellion.

For the next two years, there was no real attempt made by the United States to overthrow the Iraqi regime in Baghdad. President Bush threatened many times to go back to war against Iraq, but real fighting did not happen, real war didn't happen.

Now, a little over a decade later, the Iraqi forces are long gone from Kuwait but the economic sanctions are still in place in Iraq. For over ten years, the targets of the Gulf War have shifted from Saddam Hussein to the innocent children and civilians of Iraq. The death toll is staggering. UNICEF estimates that about 5,000 children under the age of five die each month in Iraq from the lack of adequate food, and the lack of medicine. Some estimates say that as many as 2 million children have died in Iraq from the sanctions.

In light of this hidden history of America's war on Iraq, calls for a new war against Saddam Hussein are beyond frightening.

Despite patriotic drum-beating, it is abundantly clear from past evidence that helping to install a self-determined democratic government in Iraq has never been our goal. Despite Bush administration propaganda, Iraq is clearly not a threat to our gargantuan military might. Despite tear-jerking rhetoric by U.S. pundits and politicians, the American government has never been concerned about protecting the people of Iraq from anything.

With this revealed hidden history of America's real agenda in Iraq, it is urgent that Americans oppose all plans to once again wage war against Saddam Hussein.

The last time a world leader waged an unprovoked war on a weaker nation to change their government into one more to his liking after years of committing genocide we were talking about Adolf Hitler. How is what George W. Bush proposes any less evil than Nazism?

In the time it took you to read this article, more than two dozen children in Iraq died.

How many more will die if we don't stop this planned ludicrous war?

(c) 2002 Cliff Pearson
Cliff Pearson is a freelance journalist specializing in human rights reporting. He has traveled to southern Mexico, Kosovo, Turkey, Macedonia, and Quebec to report on human rights. He can be reached at cliffpearson@netzero.net.

SOURCES: The Center for Defense Information, the Federation of American Scientists, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, the National Security Archives, the Dallas Public Library, The Dallas Morning News, the Associated Press, St. Petersburg Times (Florida), UNICEF, Covert Action Quarterly, Agence-France Presse, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, the Institute for Policy Studies, the International Action Center, the National Gulf War Resource Center, and the World Policy Institute.

Back to Iraq Resources
Back to "War on Terrorism" Resources
Back to ProgressiveAustin main page
Back to Austin Against War main page

Contact this site