Thursday, March 3, 2011

Libya 2011-Iraq 1991

Rebels rise up to overthrow a bloody dictator and the world looks on as the revolt turns into a stand-off.  Libya in 2011 is a distant echo of Iraq in 1991, when Iraqi Shiites and Kurds erupted after U.S. forces defeated the Saddam’s military after Iraq invaded Kuwait.

That led to one of the more shameful episodes in America’s dealings with Iraq:  an American president calling for an uprising, then turning his back, leaving tens, possibly hundreds of thousands to be slaughtered. I recounted that sorry affair in a documentary about “The Trial of Saddam Hussein”,excerpted on Youtube. See part5 and part 6.

In fact, it was President George H.W. Bush who, in February 2001, as the Iraqi army was being driven from Kuwait, called on the people of Iraq to rise up and overthrow Saddam Hussein.

That call was rebroadcast in Iraq by clandestine CIA radio stations and printed in millions of leaflets dropped by the U.S. Air Force across the country. Problem was, the Iraqis didn't realize until it was too late that Bush and James Baker, his pragmatic secretary of state, didn't really mean it.

When it looked as if the insurgents might actually succeed, the American president turned his back. The White House and its allies wanted Saddam replaced not by a popular revolt which they couldn't control but by a military leader more amenable to U.S. interests. They were also fearful that Iranian influence might spread in the wake of a Shiite takeover. In fact, however, American officials refused to meet with rebel leaders desperate to explain their cause.

Though Washington explained later explained they had turned against the uprising because key Arab allies in the region, like the Saudis, were fearful of a Shiite victory in Iraq, in fact, the U.S. later turned down a Saudi proposal to continue aiding the Shiites.

So, as the United States permitted Saddam's attack helicopters to devastate the rebels, American troops just a few kilometers away from the slaughter were ordered to give no aid to those under attack. Instead they destroyed huge stocks of captured weapons rather than let them fall into rebel hands. According to some of the former rebels in Iraq, American troops prevented them from marching on Baghdad.

Then, as Saddam's forces began carrying out the horrific acts of repression, American forces were ordered to withdraw from Iraq. And all the while George H.W. Bush answered calls for the U.S. to act with denials that the U.S. had any responsibility in fomenting the rebellion in the first place.

In the end he agreed to provide a no-fly zone to protect the Kurds in the North, but that was only because the plight of the Kurdish refugees was being dramatically broadcast around the globe by CNN. Bush had no choice. There was no such TV coverage of the slaughter of the Shiites in the South. So no need for Bush to react.

(The description of the U.S. role in the 1991 uprising is recounted at length in my book Web of Deceit-a History of Western Complicity in Iraq from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush--and (as mentioned above) in video form, from a segment of a documentary I did on the Trial of Saddam Hussein, which is posted on Youtube )

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