The End of the Cold War and the possibility of Peace.
On the 2nd August, 1990 Iraqi troops under the orders of Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and started the Gulf War. It was a momentous event in world history partly because it occurred exactly when the end of the Cold War could have led to an era of peace. Shortly before it happened, the world had watched as the Soviet Union came to an end after over seventy years as a world-changing state. On the 8th June,1990 the Russian Federation had declared itself a sovereign state, superceding the existence of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, the USSR, after two years of obvious disintegration in the Superpower. In December, 1988 President Gorbachev had announced a plan to very substantially reduce USSR nuclear and conventional weapons; they were unilaterally withdrawing from the Arms Race. Amid great friendliness Presidents Bush and Gorbachev declared the end of the Cold War on the 2nd December, 1989, and, as 1990 developed, the USSR dismembered into several much more independent states. By 1st July, 1990 Eastern Germany had joined with West Germany and the Communist Party had given up control. Discussions were underway on the independence of the Warsaw Pact countries. The USSR, the second Superpower, was gone and the sky was clear for peace.
During 1990 the USSR and Warsaw Pact arms companies collapsed, because their main clients had become bankrupt. Other Cold War related sales also fell dramatically. World arms sales went into fall from $46.5bn in 1987 to $39.5bn in 1988, $38.3bn in 1989, $31.3bn in 1990 and to $25.8bn in 1991, a 45% fall in five years. No other industry would face a collapse like this in their market. It was a point of panic and the major issue for the companies was whether a new enemy could be found for the United States, for if it decided there was no external threat and cut back on its voluminous demand for weapons the great American companies faced implosion, to use a suitable metaphor. At this point the world could have become post-military. For nearly fifty years the Cold War had made arms the central feature of world politics, and now it was gone. Major international tensions could cease and disarmament become normal as Gorbachev had already suggested. (The final spasm in this collapse was the attempted USSR military coup of August 1991 trying to preserve the old military system. It fizzled out because even the military could see that it could not work; militarism had bankrupted the USSR.) The end of the Cold War was a blue sky point in history when peace in international relationships seemed possible. Militarized Communism had gone; everybody could be friends – if Communism was the problem. We lament the failure to disarm, but largely it did not happen because the logic of the arms companies requires War or the Fear of War. Radical disarmament could happen, but it required a deeper understanding. The world waited, and, while we waited, Iraq invaded Kuwait.
Iraq has dominated much of the news for the last three decades as a problem that the West has to address, or finds it difficult to address. The teaching of Jesus always puts the finger on the cancer, but most western elites do not listen to Jesus. So, here he is. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matt.7:3-5) The West judges Saddam Hussein for militarism and going to war, but, as it turns out, not only did the United States and the United Kingdom go to war against Iraq without cause in 2003, but it formed the situation in which Saddam invaded Kuwait to an extraordinary degree. Even further back it had largely formed the necessity of a military dictatorship out of which many of Iraq’s problems have grown. We need to see the extent to which we, the West, are the problem and examine the plank which is in our own eye. The plank is so long that it will require several chapters. Western self-righteousness has the form: Oh look, Iraq is in a mess and we must sort things out, but ignores the fact that it is our interfering mess that we are addressing. This is especially important, because this western hypocrisy is the truth which gives middle eastern terrorism its strength. If we fail to address it, terrorism will continue. If we address it, and repent, this terrorism will die.
Iraq’s military history in relation to Britain.
The year 1990 and the Gulf War has a long history in relation to the West. During the eighteenth and early 19th century Iraq was ruled by the Mamluks, a kind of Islamic military caste, and in 1831 the Ottoman Empire gained control and ruled until the First World War. Britain had her eye on the territory, partly because of its significance as a route to India and partly because oil was beginning to be a military fuel. Germany had eyes on an overland route to the East through the area to add a touch of rivalry. In the First World War there was a major confrontation with the Ottoman Empire over Iraq; the siege of Kut turned out to be one of the most humiliating British defeats ever, with 13,000 surrendering. Overall the British lost 92,000 soldiers in the area and eventually won only when the War ended and both King Feisal and Lord Allenby entered Damascus to bring an end to Ottoman rule. During the War the French and British formed the Sykes-Picot agreement which carved up the Middle East between them. This conflicted with the United States emphasis on countries moving quickly towards independence and with the promises made to the Arabs, and especially those given through Lawrence of Arabia and in the McMahon-Hussein correspondence that the groups fighting with the British against the Ottoman Empire would be given independence after the War. At the end of the War both Allenby and King Faisal entered Damascus to bring an the promises made to the Arabs were more or less ditched and a revolt began in Damascus and on 30th September, 1918, which led to Faisal being proclaimed as King of the Arabs. The San Remo Conference from the 19th-26th April, 1920 tried to square the circle and the outcome was that the French were given a mandate to govern Syria and Faisal was proclaimed King of Iraq which was a British protectorate. Really, both France and Britain wanted colonial control in the area and not to follow the proper understanding of mandated territories, which saw then en route to independence.
This became evident not long after the San Remo Conference. The Iraqi people did not much like having a King foisted on them from a Conference in Italy and rebellions broke out, adding to the troubles which Churchill was facing as Minister of War given the task of clearing up after the end of the War. The Iraqis were looking forward to independence and did not much like being occupied, an understandable reaction. They thought they could govern themselves, but were not given the chance, and in May, 1920 they began a revolt among the Shi’ites in the South, army officers and others. It spread. At the same time in the North the Kurds made a bid for independence. Soon Shia and Sunni groups were co-operating. It became an armed revolt in June. When he heard about this rebellion, Churchill has anxious that it would not spread and become established, and he decided to use aerial bombardment to cut out the revolution. He sent in two squadrons of bombers to bomb the insurgents and thought of using gas attacks as well. He engaged Hugh Trenchard to organize the first ever bombing campaign outside Europe to subdue the Kurds and others in August 1920. Bomber Harris learned his trade here. As Catherwood points out, Churchill’s impetus was largely to save money on the military; this was efficient warfare. The Kurds were duly killed or subdued and ceased their revolt. In retrospect, perhaps independence to the Kurds then would have saved us all a lot of trouble. The British dropped about 100 tons of bombs in thousands of hours of sorties. Churchill was happy to drop bombs on the natives to show them who was in charge. This was British colonial military control stamped on the Iraqi political system.
The Client Kingdom, Oil and Militarism.
Colonial powers form the political structure and its culture. King Faisal was installed as a client ruler, which meant that although he was king, Britain was really in charge and not looking towards independence. Much of this control was geared towards oil, which was gradually becoming the fuel of the future as cars, aviation and oil fired ships became dominant transport forms. Initially, the oil had been located in the north near Mosul, and in 1918 British forces had raced to take Mosul so that it, and not France would be in control of these fields. The French were furious. Both France and the United States wanted to be in on the act, and the Iraq Petroleum Company was formed with Shell, BP, French and American companies having roughly a quarter each. There was enough oil for world demand in this period, and so the oilfields were only slowly developed, partly so that British fields in Persia and elsewhere would be more profitable. In October, 1927 a British exploration team hit a gusher near Kirkuk and from that time big oil was an important part of the picture. This was exploitative colonialism, and it meant control through technology, supply routes and above all the military. The Iraqis had to be subdued into accepting this British domination of their major economic asset.
At this time the British also established the policy of governing through the Sunni minority population, which introduced a colonial content to the Sunni-Shia relations in the country which became embedded; the Sunnis ruled and the Shi’ites were excluded from power. The influence of the Iraqi political establishment gradually increased, because they were in effect running the country, and Iraq was technically made independent in 1932, though it remained in effect under indirect British control, with British military bases and strong protection of the oil installations and routes. The Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1930 cemented this pattern. It guaranteed British interests in the area and it also set up a process whereby the British would sell and supply arms to the Iraqis. But still there was resentment. There were attempts at military coups against the client King Ghazi during the thirties, but it remained. And
The Second World War was a threat to this position as Britain seemed to have other things on its mind. In April, 1941, when Britain was more preoccupied fighting the Nazis at home, there was an uprising. It looked as though the colonial power might be ousted. But British troops moved quickly on the 2nd May, 1941 and attacked from their Basra and Habbaniya bases, capturing substantial amounts of arms. Soon German arms arrived from Syria, but in other confrontations Fallujah was captured and defended, and further north, Glubb Pasha, who became a British legend, led legionnaires to control the area and they then moved forward to Baghdad to control the country again until a British sympathizing Government was re-installed. Churchill, the arch colonialist, was not going to let go of Iraq. British forces remained in Iraq until October, 1947 to protect oil interests, but by now direct British military power in the region was weakening. In 1948 there was an Anglo-Iraqi Treaty and in 1955 a Baghdad Pact each giving Britain privileges in Iraq, especially in relation to oil. By now the population was beginning to dislike these links with the British, as the British would have if Iraq had owned its coal mines throughout the Industrial Revolution. Britain was the cuckoo in the oil nest and eating a lot. So the British colonial system stayed in place from 1918 to 1958, forty years. It made military control paramount, put Sunni and Shia in a power relationship, controlled oil externally, retarded democratic development and milked the state of its main source of wealth. We, Britain, were substantially responsible for the kind of state Iraq was to be even from early in the 20th century.
Britain retained its military bases until 1953 and King Faisal II was broadly sympathetic to Britain; he had attended Harrow School in NW London, so that was not surprising. On the 14th July, 1958 there was finally a successful revolution against the monarchy and the British. A military dictator, British-trained Brigadier-General Abd al-Karim Qasim, came to power. He in turn was overthrown by Colonel Abdul Salam Arif in February, 1963, who in turn was overthrown by the Ba’ath Party in 1968. The Ba’ath (rebirth) Party had its origins in Syria and was a Pan-Arab Socialist party. Its most prominent move was between 1958 and 1961 when Egypt and Syria united as the United Arab Republic, but a split occurred in 1961 and a further split emerged between the Syrian and Iraqi Ba’ath Parties. The focus was Arab nationalist rather than Islamic. The 1963 coup, which was anti-Communist, was the first run of this policy. The new regime received strong support from the United Kingdom’s Macmillan Government and the United States, so that the two countries could retain their oil interests. Ba’athist organisation was anti-democratic and strongly militaristic. General Saddam Hussein gradually controlled the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council and became military dictator in July 1979 in a Sunni dominated government. We have to conclude that the long military presence of the British in Iraq made it more or less inevitable that military dictatorships would follow, as they did.
For a while the Iraqi regime, fed up with the way it had been treated by the West, linked up with the USSR for the supply of arms. Saddam began purchasing large quantities, and when the price of oil went up around 1980, he suddenly had a lot of money to spend either on his own people or on arms. Sadly he chose the latter and became the biggest purchaser of arms in the Middle East. The West saw its opportunity and moved in, and we look at the result in the next chapter as the war between Iran and Iraq gathered momentum.