American and British diplomats thought Saddam Hussein spoke “with great warmth”, was “remarkable” and “pragmatic”.
The United States may not have intentionally created ISIS, but the 2003 Iraq invasion laid the foundations for its emergence. Analysts such as Graham Fuller, a former CIA operations officer for 20 years, said the attack on Iraq was “the basic cause of the birth of ISIS”.
Many educated Iraqis compare the American-led attack to the Mongol invasions of the mid-13th century, which have never been forgotten. The Mongol armies, led by Genghis Khan’s grandson, Hulagu Khan, committed waves of atrocities in Iraq. They ranged from the widespread slaughter of men, women and children, to the plundering of cities such as Baghdad – looting and destroying hospitals, mosques, libraries, and so on.
Indeed, Baghdad remained depopulated for centuries thereafter. It only ever recaptured part of its former glory as “one of the most brilliant intellectual centres in the world” that it was in the pre-Mongol era. Because of Khan’s invasion, it is likely that hundreds of thousands died.
In the early 21st century, the West’s attack finished off the remaining architectural splendour and wealth of Iraq. Once more hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would perish – in line with the Mongol invasion, an accurate death toll cannot be ascertained because the crimes were never seriously investigated.
The George W. Bush/Tony Blair invasion further uprooted millions in the region, while sowing divisive sectarian conflicts that stand to present times. In Baghdad, up until 2002, people mingled comfortably in the city, with Sunnis and Shiites residing in the same areas and often intermarried. The invasion radically altered attitudes. By 2006, there was enormous hostility between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, who are now all separated from each other.
What preceded the attack, starting in the early 1990s, was over a decade of “genocidal” sanctions on Iraq’s citizens – as described by two UN Coordinators forced to implement them, Denis Halliday and Hans-Christof von Sponeck. Both diplomats later resigned in protest, having become appalled at the suffering the sanctions inflicted, especially upon Iraq’s malnourished children.
Such measures also served to copper-fasten Saddam Hussein’s grip on the population. The despot had been a valued ally of the West for years, and would likely have been toppled by popular resistance, had the civilian society not been devastated.
By 2003, however, Hussein had long outlived his usefulness to the West. Where once he was described as “a moderate” in the region, now the “dictator” tag was applied, as the gears of war reached fever pitch.
In the early days, the British embassy in Baghdad described Hussein as “a presentable young man” who spoke “with great warmth and what certainly seemed sincerity” – and that he might “mellow” with further responsibility. Glencairn Balfour-Paul, the British ambassador to Iraq at the time (1969), outlined that Hussein was “singularly reserved” but had “an engaging smile”. Balfour-Paul felt that, “If only one could see more of him [Hussein], it would be possible to do business”.
These would prove far-sighted words. In 1975, the American diplomat Alfred L. Atherton – future US ambassador to Egypt (1979-83) – called Hussein “a rather remarkable person”, who was “running the show” with “pragmatic, intelligent power”. Atherton felt that Hussein’s Iraq was, “projecting the image of a country that wants to play a very dynamic and accurate role in the Arab world”.
Just five years later, in 1980, a US-sponsored Iraq invaded Iran, beginning a conflict that lasted almost eight years. The Iran-Iraq War cost hundreds of thousands of lives on each side, with countless billions of dollars worth of damage in its wake. It was indeed a “dynamic” function this new Iraq was performing in the Middle East.
Western support of dictators has been known to have a time span, however. By the early 21st century, the Bush administration was promulgating the claims Hussein was tied to Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden – and was further involved in the September 11 attacks. In order to dupe the public, these outrageous pretexts were invented to gain support in launching a devastating ground invasion.
The Bush cabinet’s propaganda efforts, spread far and wide by the mainstream media, proved remarkably successful. In February 2003, weeks before the Iraq invasion, a CNN-Time poll revealed that 76 per cent of Americans “felt Saddam provides assistance to Al Qaeda”.
Another 72 per cent thought it “very or somewhat likely” that Hussein was “personally involved” in the 9/11 atrocities. No polls were conducted asking how Al Qaeda came into existence to begin with. The terror group’s formation can be traced to 1998. That year, President Bill Clinton ordered the bombings of Sudan, in north Africa, and Afghanistan – which “effectively created” Al Qaeda, and “also put Bin Laden on the map”.
Clinton’s cruise missile assault – such as the attack on Sudan’s al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in August 1998 – was a serious war crime. Before the attack order was given, Human Rights Watch had extensively outlined to Clinton the consequences of any such action.
The factory’s destruction would result in the deaths of “several tens of thousands” of Sudanese, according to Germany’s then ambassador to Sudan, Werner Daum. His claims were supported by the likes of Jonathan Belke, regional director of the well-regarded Near East Foundation, who had field experience in Sudan.
In a poor African country, “90 per cent of Sudan’s major pharmaceutical products” were wiped out in an attack also publicly backed by Blair, Britain’s then prime minister. The day after the plant was destroyed which left 100,000 patients without drugs for tuberculosis, among other deprivations, Blair said: “I strongly support this American action against international terrorists”.
The missile assault on the factory stands as a vastly worse crime than the 9/11 attacks. However, it was also rigorously defended afterward by Clinton’s administration, who said they thought it was “a disguised chemical weapons factory”. Clinton himself further defended the attack in his bestselling 2004 autobiography. Such claims proved mere fantasy but seeing as the victims were Africans, and not Americans or Israelis, it could be rather easily brushed aside.
The bombing of Sudan in particular enraged people in the Arab world, flocking supporters toward Al Qaeda and Bin Laden. Twenty years ago, terrorist groups were confined to tiny tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Today, they have spread across the world, even infiltrating and attacking major European cities like Paris, London and Brussels.
Each subsequent assault – from Bush’s attacks on Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), to Barack Obama’s massive drone terror campaigns – has provided one boost after another for extremist groups.