Iraq under U.S. Occupation?

From the White House, reports leak out about plans for an Iraq after the Ba’th (the ruling party of Iraq). The main scenarios do not allow for the development of democracy in Iraq. Each of them is built on a racist assumption: that the Iraqis either need a military dictator or else a monarch – any form of democracy is impossible to imagine.

The denials came fast after the press ran a story in early October 2002 that the White House contemplates the occupation of Iraq by U.S. forces and the creation of an Occupation regime, as in Japan post-1945. Close to a hundred thousand troops will enter Iraq, General Tommy Franks will take over as Supreme Commander of the occupied lands, the regime will arrest 'war criminals' and try them, and 'de-Ba’thize' Iraq.

The U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan, National Security Council’s expert on West Asia, and a point man on the aftermath scenarios, Zalmay Khalilzad, conceded that 'the costs will be significant' (at least $16 billion per year), but that the U.S. will commit the necessary resources 'and we would have the will to stay for as long as necessary to do the job.'

When asked about the plans for occupation, Secretary of State Colin Powell said, 'Should it come to that, and the president hopes that it does not come to that, but should it come that we would have an obligation to put in place a better regime,' the military will take charge. 'We are obviously doing contingency planning, and there are lots of different models from history that one could look at: Japan, Germany.'

Japan is the example most often provided by those in the know. In Japan, the MacArthur-led Occupation dismantled sections of the fascist bureaucracy, but also dislocated the capacity for the socialists to rebuild their political bases. Trade unions came under the gun as MacArthur privileged the zaibatsu, the industrial cliques that continue to dominate Japanese society. In 1951, MacArthur laid out his basic, racist, theory for the Occupation: 'Measured by the standards of modern civilization, [the Japanese] would be like a boy of twelve as compared with our development of 45 years.' Because of the slow development of the misbegotten Japanese, MacArthur argued, the U.S. Army could 'implant basic concepts there,' such as a respect for authority and for institutional power (for an excellent primer on the Occupation, see the first few chapters in John Dower’s Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, 1999).

The parallel with Japan perhaps fluffs the glory of the Pentagon, but it is not fully accurate. The real comparison for the region is the period of Iraq’s rule by the British Mandate (1914-1932).

In November 1914, British forces landed in Basra, occupied Baghdad and Mosul, and set up the new state of Iraq out of these three provinces of the Ottoman Empire. Afraid of the Shi’i mujtahids (clerics), the [Kurds] as well as the largely merchant communities of the region (drawn from among the Assyrians, the Jews, the Yazidi, Sabaean and others), the British turned to the old Ottoman elites for their allies, who came mainly from the Sunni notables living in the provinces around Baghdad. By 1920, the masses in Iraq revolted, only to be crushed by British power (over 6,000 Iraqis and only 500 British and Indian soldiers died in the conflict).

Eager to rule by proxy, the British invited Saudi King Faisal to become king of Iraq. The son of the Hashemite Emir Hussein, keeper of the holy sites in Arabia and brother of the recently enthroned Abdullah of Jordan, Faisal ruled from 1921 till 1932 under the Mandate, before he inaugurated the autonomous Hashemite Monarchy from 1932 to 1958. While Faisal was king (but the British wore the crown), the Royal Air Force cracked down on a Kurdish rebellion with brutal force (the first major aerial bombardment), and the British (with U.S. assistance) divided Iraqi oil among the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (23.75 percent), Royal Dutch Shell (23.75 percent), Compagnie Francaise des Petroles (23.75 percent), Standard Oil and Mobil (23.75 percent) and the legendary middleman Cyrus Gulbenkian (5 percent). The Mandate created the framework both for the suppression of the Shi’i and the Kurds as well as for the oil concession.

The desire for a return to monarchy was played out for a few months in Afghanistan (with Zahir Shah), and then rejected in favor of the pliant Karzai. In Japan, despite questions about the retention of a monarchy steeped in fascism, MacArthur (advised by anthropologist Ruth Benedict) opted to retain the Hirohito dynasty. In Iraq, obviously the U.S. would like to have a military base or two in the country, a steady hand on the oil and a friend in power. That friend may either be a puppet front like the Iraqi National Congress (the Hamid Karzai of Iraq) or another manufactured monarch.

Saddam Hussein was never the Arab Karzai, but he was a close ally of the White House when it suited the strategic interests of global corporations and the Pentagon. Ever since the 'Seven Sisters' (the major global oil conglomerates) got involved in west Asia, the region entered U.S. strategic plans.

In 1958, the U.S. went so far as to make an alliance with the Saudis, to treat Arabia as an extension of the United States. The U.S.-backed and engineered coup against Mossadeq in Iran (1953) sought to preserve its role as the U.S. gendarme in the region. Of the 1963 Ba’th coup, its Secretary General noted, 'We came to power on an American train,' meaning the Ba’th enjoyed U.S. government funds (alongside Kuwaiti money) and the support of CIA-run radio stations that broadcast from Kuwait. With Israel’s victory in the 1967 war against the Arab armies, it took over the role of U.S. subsidiary in west Asia: Israel provided the muscle, while the oil Sheikhs provided the diplomatic finesse against the other Arab states. Iraq’s relationship with the U.S. formally ended with the 1967 war, in protest against the new U.S. arrangement with [Israel].

With the revolution in Iran in 1979, and with Saddam Hussein only recently in power, the U.S. turned eagerly to Iraq for an alliance. In 1983, President Reagan’s people opened channels with a December meeting between Saddam Hussein and Donald Rumsfeld. On March 24, 1984, Rumsfeld met with Foreign Minister (now Deputy Prime Minister) Tariq Aziz, the very same day that the UN released a report on Iraq’s use of chemical weapons in its war on Iran. The Pentagon was there when Saddam released his gas, and it cheered him along from the sidelines (this is the context for Saddam Hussein when he felt he had the 'green light' from U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie to invade Kuwait for its lateral oil drilling in the Rumaila fields in 1990).

The U.S. backed its new ally with arms and expertise. 'U.S.' did not only include the military and the government, but also corporations. In 1975, Pfaulder Corporation of Rochester, New York, according to Hussein biographer Said Aburish, 'supplied the Iraqis with a blueprint which enabled them to build their first chemical warfare plant.' In 1983, Aburish claims, the U.S. merchants and the Iraqi regime did a deal for Harpoon missiles and other such treats to use in the war against Iran, in the repression against the Kurds and in the invasion of Kuwait. As William Rivers Pitt puts it, Saddam Hussein 'is as much an American creation as Coca-Cola and the Oldsmobile.' He was the 'factor of stability' until he over-extended his hand in 1990.

Is there a Saddam-like replacement in the wings? Is there a real Arab Karzai? The closest candidate is Ahmad Chalabi, an academic who comes from a wealthy Iraqi family. In 1992, in Vienna, a host of Iraqi exiles came together to form the Iraqi National Congress (INC). Later in the year, in Salahuddin (in the Kurdish 'safe haven'), the INC elected Chalabi to lead them. At the time, the largest number of constituents of the INC came from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and the INC troops, with U.S. backing, began to engage the Iraqi army in 1995. The next year, however, the KDP cut a deal with Saddam Hussein, allowed the Iraqi army into their territory and sat back as they demolished the INC in the region.

In 1998, the U.S. Congress passed the Iraq Liberation Act to fund the moribund INC. Said Aburish argued, in 1997, that the INC’s program 'is utterly unrealistic,' but 'it still functions and issues press releases to maintain the anti-Saddam mood of Western governments and the Western press.' The INC, he argues, contains many former associates of Saddam Hussein and members of the Ba’th who conducted violent crimes in the war against Iran and against the Kurds. 'Because they are members of a pro-Western organization,' he notes, 'their crimes are overlooked' (this is from A Brutal Friendship: The West and the Arab Elite, 1997).

Even as they have no credibility, the INC has begun to talk to the French and the Russian oil merchants about access to Iraqi oil. In September 2002, Chalabi told the Washington Post, 'American companies will have a big shot at Iraqi oil.' In mid-October 2002, the INC said that 'it would open the oil sector to all companies, including U.S. majors, and give particular attention to contracts made with Russia and France.' This was a patently obvious way of winning support in the Security Council not only for a war on Iraq, but also for the INC to find favor in the post-Ba’th future.

All indications point to the U.S. army’s Occupation regime for the short term, then either a return to the monarchy, the creation of a military dictatorship or else the formation of a 'democratic' regime under someone like Chalabi. Whoever rules will have to work under the U.S. dispensation, being the protectors of the second largest proven oil reserves in the world (115 billion barrels) as well as the main political-military force to counteract Iran and Saudi fundamentalism.

The war aim is not to create a democratic Iraq, but to ensure U.S. military dominance over the area, and therefore to enable the free enterprise of global corporations. Freedom for the Iraqis is not in the offing, only free transit for the fat cats.

Vijay Prashad is the author, most recently, of Fat Cats and Running Dogs: The Enron Stage of Capitalism, Common Courage Press and Zed Press, 2002. This article is excerpted with permission from the author based on a longer article in Nov. 1 Counterpunch, www.counterpunch.org