"It's an old story, we've all got stories like this, you want out but there are certain formalities, certain annihilations that need to be concluded, a white flag won't help. You can accept all the Soviet peace plans you'd like, it's too late, the spokesperson says, ‘Meaningless', ‘An outrage,' says the President, he promises more war ‘with undiminished intensity', leaving Kuwait is irrelevant, you are slaughtered on the highway home, where are your Scuds now? You are bumper to bumper and slaughtered with impunity, it's you versus the whole electromagnetic spectrum, and you are slaughtered until the slaughter stops" (J. Sacco, Diary of a Defeatist).
Nobody knows for sure how many were slaughtered on the road from Kuwait back into Iraq in one infamous instance of the Gulf War of 1991; tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, maybe? A press-ganged conscript Iraqi army fleeing bumper to bumper with civilian men, women and children. Then the British and American jetfighters arrived, circled, and the slaughter began. Bombs, rockets, cannon, all the latest weaponry. Those that tried to leave the road were followed, targeted and carbonised - just like those who stayed on it. The bourgeoisie chortled about ‘the turkey shoot' and privately viewed the videos. "260,000 Iraqi troops are no longer a factor"; "The gates are closed and there is no way out of here"; "The only question is how high we're going to roll up the score" (US military briefings). The totally subservient media, who up until then had deliberately exaggerated Saddam Hussein's threat, talked about Iraqi ‘baby killers' and spread the lies about the ‘clean war', ‘surgical strikes' and ‘smart bombs', showed virtually no pictures of the massacre. A British army spokesman, asked about casualties from one reporter brave enough to ask a salient question, refused to answer on the grounds that he didn't want to get into "the pornography of war". Such was the reality of the USA's ‘new world order' of peace and prosperity announced only one year earlier.
It's quite usual today to hear politicians and even High Court judges(1) attempting to counter the excuses of suicide bombers and murderous jihadists who plead that ‘you (the West) started it', with the argument that that 9.11.2001 came before the Gulf War of 2003. The essence of their argument is therefore: ‘you (the jihadists) started it'. Without in any way taking up the anti-American cause of religious fundamentalism (as many leftists do) we can say that the Gulf War of 1991, while initially a victory for the USA's ‘new world order', was a significant moment in the downward spiral of militarism and decomposition that we find ourselves in today. While this is particularly the case in and around the Middle East it is also manifested in the suicide bombings and attacks that threaten every major town, city and resort and the civilians that live, work and holiday within them.
Saddam Hussein, described in the press in the run up to the war as ‘the new Hitler', had, up until 1990, been the USA's and Britain's policemen in the area (just like the ‘old' Hitler had been their policemen in central Europe some six decades before). It was particularly important for the western bloc to rely on him, while ignoring his ‘excesses', such as the gassing of the Kurds and his murderous oppression of the Shias, in the situation of the Cold War where Russian imperialism was trying to make inroads into the Middle East. Thus Saddam was armed and bankrolled by the British state as well as all the other major players of the western bloc. After the implosion of the Russian imperialist bloc in 1989, it was necessary for the US to make a terrible and impressive example of its determination to maintain its leadership over its erstwhile ‘allies' in order to keep them in line and prevent challenges arising from any imperialist rival, the most obvious candidate being Germany and a possible European-based bloc. Saddam's Iraqi regime was perfect; a brutal third-rate gangster, located in a vital geo-strategic area with, as the western press didn't stop reporting in its warlike, patriotic fervour, ‘the fourth largest army in the world'. To this end Saddam was suckered into his invasion of Kuwait on August 2 1990, not least through the complicity of the US administration by way of its ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspin(2).
All the necessary ‘dodgy dossiers' appeared in 1990, just as they did under Blair and Bush thirteen years later: ‘terrifying weapons capable of being delivered to the civilised world'; ‘chemical weapons' (yes, but supplied by Britain and Germany); ‘purchases of enriched uranium' (a fiction) a ‘super cannon' (again, the parts supplied by Britain), and so on, in order to justify the military build-up and the terrible response. From late 1990 to early 1991 the US put in the Gulf 6 aircraft carriers and 600,000 troops. More than 2000 daily sorties were flown over Kuwait and Iraq, dropping 7 tonne fuel air bombs, napalm, and cluster bombs; uranium tipped shells were fired by artillery. Cruise missiles and 1200kg shells were fired from warships and Stealth bombers dropped their deadly loads. More explosives were dropped on Kuwait and Iraq in one month than was dropped on Germany in the whole of World War II. And all the time the supine media talked about the clean, victimless war, reinforcing the already existing confusion and disorientation of the working class ‘at home' resulting from the collapse of the Russian bloc and the bourgeoisie's campaign about the end of communism and the victory of liberal capitalism.
The US and Britain contemptuously brushed the Russian ‘peace plan' aside in the run-up to the war and the US rallied a mostly unwilling coalition of some 30 countries. Britain, basing itself on its historical experience of global gangsterdom, was right behind the US. France, Italy, Spain, China and Saudi Arabia were more or less reluctantly drawn in and Germany and Japan were presented with the bill by the US administration. Any potential bloc rivalry to US imperialism was nipped in the bud, and the prospect of any sort of unified European bloc was shown to be a hollow sham.
So the crusade of America and Britain against the populations of the Middle East, and the subsequent development of this particular phase of imperialist terrorism and suicide bombings, didn't begin with the Gulf War of 2003 but with the Gulf War of 1991. And the development of the terror bombing of civilians didn't begin with Islamic fundamentalism. It was demonstrated with murderous force with the carpet bombing of Bagdad and the ‘Turkey Shoot' on the road out of Kuwait. This aerial slaughter of civilians was itself a development of imperialism in decadence, and well before the terror bombing of Germany during World War II, British ‘war hero', Sir Arthur ‘Bomber' Harris, had been involved in dropping chemical bombs from aeroplanes onto Kurdish civilians in order to defend the interests of British imperialism in Iraq. US General Curtis LeMay sums up the attitude of the bourgeoisie in a nutshell: "There are no innocent civilians. It is their government and you are fighting a people. You are not trying to fight an armed force anymore. So it doesn't bother me so much to be killing innocent bystanders"(3). These words and sentiments of LeMay are strikingly similar to those on the videotaped message that the suicide bomber Siddiq Khan made before he and his fellow murderers unleashed their bombs in London on 7/7/05. The slaughter of civilians is the rationality and practice of imperialism from its highest generals to its lowliest footsoldiers. The only difference being a matter of scale.
In a subsequent article we will look at how the American and British bourgeoisies left Saddam intact and then encouraged the Kurds and Shias to rise up against his regime at the end of the 1991, while they stood by and watched him slaughter them.
(1) Mr. Justice Fulford at the trial of the 21.7.2006 would-be suicide bombers (The Times, 12.7.2007)
(2) Le Monde Diplomatique May 1991
(3) Michael Sherry The Rise of American Air Power Yale University Press, 1987.