by Eric Margolis
To mark the tenth anniversary of the 1991 Gulf War, a jaunty-looking,
cigar-puffing, rifle-firing Saddam Hussein presided over a six-hour
military parade in Baghdad. The beaming Iraqi strongman proclaimed himself
victor of the Mother of All Battles.
Saddam has a point. It's hard to discern winners from losers in the black
comedy and tragic-farce of the 1991 oil war and its aftermath. Iraq, a
smallish nation of only 22 million with a World War I quality army,
provoked the fury of the US and Britain by invading their protectorate,
Kuwait, yet managed to survive the biggest military assault since World War
II. More important, at least for Saddam, he managed to take on the world's
great powers, survive, and cling to power to this day - in spite of umpteen
plots to overthrow or kill him by his enemies, whose number is legion. By
not losing, in a sense he won the war.
Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was not part of a nefarious plot to seize
Mideast oil, as President George Bush Sr. claimed, but a typical Arab
tribal raid provoked by an intolerable insult to honor. Arguing over
repayment of money Kuwait had loaned Iraq to fight Iran, Kuwait's boorish
Crown Prince reportedly told Saddam to `kiss my ass.,' Worse, the prince
then offered to cancel the debt if Saddam sent Iraqi war widows to
An enraged Saddam ordered his army to invade Kuwait and loot it. Just
previously, the US Ambassador to Iraq had advised Saddam the US would `take
no position' in squabble with Kuwait. Saddam saw this as a green light from
Washington to punish Kuwait. After all, Saddam had been a close American
ally in the long war against Iran.
President George Bush Sr. seized on the invasion as an ideal way to cut
Iraq down to size and eradicate its primitive but still dangerous
nuclear/chemical/biowar weapons programs. It should be noted most of these
biowarfare programs were supplied by the west and run by British and
European technical advisors. Just before the war began, this writer
discovered in Baghdad the principal British scientific team that had been
seconded to Iraq by Her Majesty's Government to produce anthrax germs for
the Iraq armed forces to use against Iran. So long as Muslims were being
killed or maimed by Iraq's gas and germ weapons, that was fine with the
west. The United States supplied numerous other biowarfare agents to
Some Mideast specialists believe the US actually lured Saddam into war.
Whatever the case, Saddam could not pull out of Kuwait under US pressure
without losing his grip on power. Hitler faced the same dilemma at
Stalingrad. So he hunkered down, wrongly believing Russia would prevent the
US-led coalition from attacking Iraq.
Bush Sr.'s US $85 billion crusade against Saddam Hussein bombed Iraq, then
the Arab World's most modern nation, with a living standard equal to
Greece, back to the 17th century. Subsequent US-British air attacks, which
continue to this day, made the rubble bounce.
Kuwait was liberated and made safe for its disco-dancing oil sheiks. But
the Saudis and Gulf emirates were forced to accept permanent US military
bases and garrisons, and to nearly bankrupt themselves buying US and
British arms they couldn't use.
The Americans and British didn't overthrow Saddam in 1991 because they
needed him to keep running Iraq, an artificial, unstable, eternally
rebellious nation created to serve Britain's colonial interests. If Saddam
fell, Iraq, with the Mideast's second largest oil reserves, would splinter
into Sunni, Shia and Kurdish regions, then be carved up by neighboring
Iran, and Turkey.
Better Saddam, the Arab Stalin, running Iraq than some unknown general...or
worse, the wild Iranians with their subversive ideas that the region's vast
oil wealth should serve all its people, not just a tiny oligarchy of
western-backed oil sheiks and generals. Shias and Kurds, who were urged to
rebel against Baghdad by Bush Sr. and promised American support, were
quickly abandoned to Saddam's vengeance.
Iraq's people have suffered horribly from US-British sanctions, and from
Saddam's stubborn refusal to allow Washington to control Iraq through
so-called `UN arms inspectors' -who turned out to be a front for US and
Israeli intelligence. Comically inept attempts by the US to stage coups
against Saddam were mercilessly crushed by his secret police.
According to the UN, 500,000 Iraqi children have died as a direct result of
decade-long sanctions. When asked about this, US Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright memorably replied `it is a price worth paying.'
Sanctions against Iraq are crumbling as the world begin normalizing
relations with oil-rich Iraq. Intense efforts by the US, Britain, and
Israel to keep Iraq isolated are faltering. Though Arab leaders and Iran
detest Saddam, and despite his brutality and blunders, he remains a hero
across the Mideast because of his defiance of America's Mideast oil Raj.
America's ferocious punishment of Iraq - which went as far as denying Iraqi
schools lead pencils - has brought hatred of the US in the Muslim world
and provoked attacks against US interests. Thanks to the Gulf oil war, and
the Clinton Administration's total policy alignment with Israel, the US is
increasingly seen by many of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims as a
Meanwhile, Saddam keeps thumbing his nose at the US and now faces the son
of Bush, who, in turn, may end up facing the sons of Saddam. No matter who
rules in Baghdad, Iraq will remain, to paraphrase Churchill's assessment of
Germany, `either at your feet or at your throat.' So long as
nuclear-armed Israel and populous Iran are enemies, Iraq will strive for
weapons of mass destruction and dominance in the Gulf. But Iraq, however
aggressive, will also remain the stopper that keeps Iran bottled up.
The Clinton Administration used data gleaned by UN `arms inspectors' to
attempt to assassinate Saddam with missile strikes. Then, in frustration,
it even resorted to dropping concrete-filled bombs on Iraq. Washington
couldn't decide whether to kill or keep Saddam. The ongoing US war against
Iraq costs some $27 billion a year ..and for what? Meanwhile, Iraq has
become America's sixth largest source of imported oil.
In 1942, Hitler observed that once he conquered the Soviet Union, he would
put Stalin - `the only man who knows how to deal with Russians' - back into
power. Saddam, the Arab Stalin, no doubt knows this story and that's while
he's smiling in Baghdad's winter sunshine.
[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster, and
author of the just released War at the Top of
the World - The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet which was reviewed in
The Economist, May 13, 2000]
Copyright © 2001 Eric Margolis - All Rights