Dictatorship - Depraved Leadership or Reflection of Society?

An experiment begins...

In a 2002 debate, Richard Perle, one of the architects of the Iraq War, stated that "It would be a tragedy if Saddam is removed only to be replaced by another tyrant." (1) What he was objecting to was the idea of simply installing a new government headed by a different dictator, possibly someone from the military. The problem in 2003, when the Iraq invasion began, was not that Saddam Hussein had been replaced by another dictator, the problem was that no one stepped in to replace him. Instead the government simply disintegrated; governmental services disappeared. Regime change had been achieved with relative ease. The invasion had started on March 19th, 2003. By April 7th, U.S. forces had fought their way into Baghdad. On April 9th, the statue of Saddam Hussein would be pulled from its pedestal in a square in downtown Baghdad and Saddam would disappear. On May 1st, George Bush would proclaim, from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, that major combat operations in Iraq were over and that the U.S. had prevailed. Behind him was the banner reading Mission Accomplished. It seemed a remarkable accomplishment, given that the U.S. had suffered only 122 combat deaths in the operation.(2)

April 9th would mark the beginning of an experiment, actually two experiments. There was, of course, the very public experiment, expressed in Washington pronouncements: If Iraq succeeded as a democracy, it would serve as a model for the democratic transformation of the Arab World. There was another, less noted, experiment beginning. The second experiment was related to ordinary Iraqis. With a hated dictator gone, how would Iraqi society react? The West had really known very little about Saddam Hussein. In fact, little was known about the Iraqi society he governed itself or what its reaction would be to his ouster. In the run-up to war, the entire focus had been on Saddam's military power, his weapons of mass destruction, and the need to deal with that threat. Yet, there seemed to be fundamental misunderstanding about just how devastating advanced weapons systems could be or how disruptive war itself was. It was assumed that life would pretty much return to normal within a few weeks. Iraqis, like their American counterparts, would show up for work the Monday after the capture of Baghdad, gather around the water cooler to speculate about a possible replacement for Saddam, and then go back to their desks to complete their work assignments. Still, there was a difference between feeling excitement while watching explosions from a distance on TV, and actually experiencing the effects on the ground.

Some kind of exuberant (or at least relieved) office scenario probably played out in Washington following the end of the war. If people gathered around water coolers in excited conversations, it's doubtful that much work was done. In Baghdad, many didn't show up for work at all or, showed up, only to find their offices in shambles. Looters took everything, from computers to office furniture. To the American occupation force, looting seemed to pose little threat. But it was being noticed. The fact that there was looting did not, in itself, bother Donald Rumsfeld when, on April 11th, 2003, he was asked about it at a briefing. What irritated him was the suggestion that there had been no planning to deal with it.(3)

U.S. forces did not believe hostilities were at an end, even if 'major combat operations' were over. Still, the level of violence had dramatically dropped and varied from region to region. While violent incidents were sporadic, they could still be deadly. Saddam's sons, Uday and Qusay, were killed during a fire fight in Mosul in July. An American soldier one day got into line for a soft drink near Baghdad University. An Iraqi man walked up to him, said "Hello Mister," pulled a pistol, and shot the soldier. He died the next day. (4) So long as Iraqis did not pose a direct threat however, they were largely ignored. In retrospect the failure to stop looting turned out to be a serious mistake. The looters had not just targeted office buildings in Baghdad, but munitions storage facilities used by the Iraqi military all over Iraq. No orders had been given to secure them, so they were largely left unguarded.

Despite the difficulties looting presented, the damage was not irreversible. Many Iraqis were prepared to return to work and resume their normal activities. However, on May 16th, L. Paul 'Jerry' Bremer III, the new head of the Coalition Provisional Government (CPA), issued an order purging members of the Baath Party, the political party through which Saddam Hussein had governed Iraq. Bremer blamed the Baathist "ideology" for the human rights abuses committed under Sadam.(5) This was followed, on May 23rd, by an order disbanding the Iraqi armed forces and the Ministry of the Interior, in all, 720,000 people - 385,000 from the armed forces, 285,000 at the Ministry of the Interior, and 50,000 in the presidential security units. Not only were these individuals barred from government employment, but many higher-ups would be denied pension benefits.(6) Bremer created additional employment problems by shutting down unprofitable state-run industries. He believed Iraq needed to move to a free-market economy. (7)

By the end of May, former ministry workers and soldiers were holding protests. On June 18th, when an estimated 2,000 soldiers protested outside the Green Zone, U.S. soldiers fired into the crowd. Two were killed. (8) On the U.S. side, the number of soldiers killed since the May 1st "end of hostilities" declaration had risen to forty-two and Donald Rumsfeld was getting questions about whether the U.S. was involved in a war. On May 26th, an armored Humvee, traveling on the highway to Baghdad International Airport, drove over something that looked like a backpack. When it exploded, the force of the blast was enough to throw one of the soldiers out of the vehicle, killing him.(9) The number of attacks against U.S. and coalition soldiers was just under 500 in July, but went over 500 in August.(10) By March 2004, they were around 1,000 a month.(11) In August 2004 the number was over 3,000.(12)

In April 2004 a platoon of the First Cavalry Division was conducting a routine patrol in Sadr City, a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad, with a population of two and a half impoverished million people. It was essentially a slum. Because the Shiites had suffered severely under Saddam, the population was expected to be cooperative, if not quite an open ally of the US. The platoon found itself, not only under fire, but facing an enemy, the Mahdi Army, a militia force, whose hatred was so intense, that they were willing to use women and children as shields, in order to attack the platoon. The platoon lost eight dead in the fight. Looking at the piles of dead bodies, one soldier estimated that the number of dead was over 100.(13)

Not all the violence was directed at U.S. troops. On April 9th, 2003, the day Saddam's statue had come down in Baghdad, a Shia Muslim cleric named Abdul Majid al-Khoie, entered the golden-domed mosque in the holy city of Najif, accompanied by Haidur al-Kadar, an appointee of the ministry of religion. They were confronted by a crowd. Mr. Khoie apparently pulled a gun and fired one or two shots, possibly into the crowd or into the air. The crowd then rushed the two men and hacked them to death with swords and knives.(14) During June, dead bodies were starting to show up on roads, forcing morning traffic to swerve around them.(15) On August 7, 2003, the Jordanian embassy was attacked. A car bomb killed eleven and wounded more than 50. This was followed on August 19th by an attack on the United Nations headquarters in Iraq. Artillery shells and other explosives had been crammed into a cement truck. When it was crashed into the outer wall of the three-story building part of the building was destroyed. Twenty-one were killed and seventy wounded.(16) The most devastating attack was against an Iraqi, Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir Hakim, the Shiite leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SKIRI) and an American ally. On August 29th, a car bomb exploded after Friday prayers. The explosion killed not only Hakim, but more than ninety others.(17) In October, two Shiite militias fought each other in Karbala. When three American Humvees went there the next day to investigate, they were attacked by the Iraqis. Three Americans were killed in the fighting.(18) One year later, on October 23, 2004, insurgents dressed as Iraqi police set up a false checkpoint on a road in Diyala Province. Stopping a bus of new Iraqi soldiers, they forced them to lie on the ground, then executed all 49 with bullets to the head.(19)

On February 22, 2006, the golden dome of the Askariya Mosque in Samarra, was destroyed by multiple bombs. The act infuriated Shiites. Shiite militias attacked at least two dozen Sunni mosques in Baghdad with grenades and machine guns. The militias killed three Sunni imams and kidnapped a fourth. Street riots forced the government to impose a daytime curfew in Baghdad.(20) Some of the attacks in 2006 were clearly directed at military targets; others targeted no one in particular. On August 1st, twenty-three Iraqi soldiers were killed and forty were wounded when a bomb detonated under their bus in northern Iraq. On August 2nd a suicide bomber killed thirteen and wounded twenty-six in a well-to-do neighborhood of Baghdad. The same day two bombs left in gym bags near a soccer field in a Shia section of west Baghdad killed twelve and wounded fourteen. The victims were mostly children.(21) Near the end of the month, August 30th, forty-three people were killed when bombs went off in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad. The death-toll for the week had been high: more than 300 Iraqis and eighteen American service members had been killed.(22) The next day, a bomb placed inside a vendor's cart, exploded in a Baghdad market; twenty-four were killed and thirty-five wounded. A dozen people were killed when an explosives-rigged bicycle went off near an army recruiting center south of Baghdad. A car bomb near a Baghdad gas station killed another two and wounded twenty-one. Baghdad authorities found another thirteen bodies scattered around the city.(23) In September, there would be 1,152 sectarian murders. That number would drop in October, to 1,028.(24)

Saddam Light

Perhaps in 2007 or 2008, possibly in 2009 or 2010, at a time when Iraq seemed to be descending, (once again) into chaos, some commentators, almost nostalgically, suggested that perhaps what was needed was a "Saddam Light." Just what was meant by "light" was a little unclear - perhaps a form of benevolent or enlightened ruler, less ruthless than Saddam, yet somehow able to maintain control. With the level of violence seen, the question remains - would a "light" version of Saddam even have survived, let alone proved capable of governing?

In the early months of the Bush administration, George Bush had focused on the people at the top of dictatorial regimes. In one foreign policy discussion about repressive governments, he reportedly asked "...How brutal are these people?" (25) Paul Wolfowitz, in 1997, had written an article, "Overthrow Him" for the Weekly Standard urging action to oust Saddam. The goal was "... not merely the containment of Saddam but the liberation of Iraq from his tyranny."(26) But was the dictator the only problem facing societies living under dictatorial rule or were such societies part of the problem? The 'chicken versus the egg' question reared its head again: which came first, the dictator or the violent society? Perhaps dictators were not some unknown or foreign element imposed on a society, instead they were a reflection of the violent societies from which they emerged.

On Sunday, November 13, 2005, members of the US 3rd Infantry Division, entered an interior ministry building in Baghdad, searching for a 15-year-old boy. What they found, in an underground dungeon were 173 prisoners, some showing signs of beatings and malnourishment. One or two were paralysed. The beatings had been severe enough to peel their skin off. There were rumors that the raid had uncovered far more - mutilated corpses and instruments of torture. Some of the bodies had electric drill holes in their heads.(27) The same day, a police patrol in a south Baghdad had found the bodies of 18 men, who had been handcuffed, blindfolded, and shot in the head and chest. The next day, police in Jassan, near the Iranian border, discovered 28 bodies, believed to be Sunni Arabs. Dressed in civilian clothes, they had been shot in the head and chest.(28) Sunnis charged that many of the killings and detentions were tied to the Wolf Brigade, a 2,000 strong Shia paramilitary unit formed in October 2004, and allegedly trained by U.S. special forces.(29)

In June 2006, the Baghdad coroner's office reported 1,600 bodies. July started out with a higher rate.(30) Al Quad a-affiliated groups went into Shiite neighborhoods to bomb civilian targets during the day. Shiite militia retaliated at night, by firebombing Sunni neighborhoods.(31) One gang put up a poster in Baghdad's al-Jadida market advertising its services as contract killers. The price of a murder was between $300 and $400.(32) Officially, some 5,000 people had been kidnapped between April 2003 and May 2005, but that number was only those kidnappings which were reported. Far more went unreported.(33) In 2006, Sami Mudhafar, the Higher Education and Scientific Research Minister, stated that eighty-nine university professors had been murdered since the start of the invasion. In the four-month period from December 2005 to March 2006, 311 teachers and sixty-four pupils under the age of twelve had been murdered.(34)

American casualties in 2004 were 848 dead and 7,989 wounded. In 2005, 846 died and 5,944 were wounded.(35) By the time of the U.S. withdrawal in 2012, the total number of deaths was 4,488 and the total wounded was 32,021.(36) The military deaths did not include contractors. Some 412 contractors were killed between March 2003 and October 2005.(37) In November 2003, the cost of the occupation was running around four billion dollars a month, with 130,000 troops still in Iraq.(38) This contrasted with Paul Wolfowitz' optimistic testimony before Congress in February and March 2003. He suggested that the war would cost the U.S. very little, since Iraqi oil could be used to finance the reconstruction.(39) The final cost would be over a trillion dollars. It had not been enough to solve the problems facing Iraq; it had barely been enough to maintain control.

The world in black and white

The cover of the August 26, 2002 edition of Newsweek, carried the headline "The Death Convoy of Afghanistan." A second line read "In November, America's Allies Suffocated Hundreds of Surrendering Taliban Prisoners in Sealed Cargo Containers. Where Were US Forces?"(40) It was difficult to discover what had happened and estimates of the number who had died ranged from a few hundred to 1,500 or several thousand. In November 2001 thousands of Taliban fighters surrendered to Northern Alliance forces, led by General Abdul Rashid Dostum at Kunduz. They were to be transported in trucking shipping containers, to a prison near the town of Shibarghan. Reports varied as to what happened. Some say the prisoners were bound and blindfolded, before being herded into the shipping containers. In some cases, the drivers poked or shot holes in the containers to allow the prisoners to breath. In other cases, the containers were completely sealed. Some of the prisoners suffocated; others were killed when guards fired into the containers. It was unclear whether the bodies were discovered at the prison or were disposed of before the containers arrived there. There was said to be a mass grave where the bodies were buried, in Dasht-i-Leili, a stretch of desert near the Shibarghan prison.(41)

The question of U.S. involvement in what was condemned by some as a war crime was just one issue. Rival warlords in Afghanistan were said to have a history of eliminating enemy troops by suffocating them in sealed containers. Government officials in the Karzai government objected to an investigation of this particular incident. Pierre Prosper, the U.S. Ambassador at large for war crimes summarized their reaction. "We have had decades of war crimes. Where do you start?"(42)

Seeing the world in black and white terms was not without its problems. Good and evil had seemed perfectly clear, following the 9/11 attacks. Radical Islam, which could be used to justify the killing of innocents, was easily placed in the category of evil. Two months later, the U.S. was fighting evil by entering into an alliance with forces who seemed incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, in fact, seemed fully capable of committing evil acts themselves. It was difficult to see just where their moral compass was pointing. The waters, which seemed crystal clear in September, had become somewhat murky.

Dictators and dictatorships have been around for a very long time. However, ranking dictators based on their brutality or the level of repression is difficult, given their long history. Any dictator currently in power, or currently in the news, is a likely candidate for the most repressive or the most brutal of all time. At the time of the 2003 invasion, Saddam Hussein was awarded that honor. Bashar al-Assad of Syria is only the latest leader to be nominated. Both ancient Athens and Rome got rid of rulers they considered despots. Julius Caesar was assassinated, as was Caligula. King Mithridates VI of Pontus could have received that honor. It took a Roman army under Pompey to defeat his army in 65 BC and a revolt by one of his sons before he was killed in 63 BC. He was said to have murdered his own mother, his brother, and four of his sons. Fearful of being poisoned, he routinely used prisoners as guinea pigs, subjecting them to the stings or bites of scorpions and poisonous snakes in the search for antidotes to the actions of would-be assassins.(43)

The decision to invade Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein in 2003 marked a distinct change, or at least a change, in U.S. foreign policy, in more ways than one. There was the very prominent notion of the pre-emptive military strike - America could not wait for the final proof before attacking Iraq, argued George Bush, the "smoking gun that would come in the form of a mushroom cloud." That statement would be echoed, or repeated, by Condoleezza Rice. The idea of bringing democracy to the Middle East by overthrowing a brutal dictator seemed like a new idea, although it was somewhat reminiscent of Woodrow Wilson's goal of "making the world safe for democracy," at the time of the U.S. entry into World War I. Iraq, it was suggested, would serve as a model for the region. A third idea, that war in Iraq would be part of an epic struggle between good and evil, was somewhat new. The three countries making up the Axis of Evil - Iran, Iraq, and North Korea - were disliked in the West. The 1979 Iranian takeover of the U.S. embassy was still remembered. Yet, in some ways, any epic struggle was a carryover from the Cold War. Ronald Reagan, after all, had denounced the Soviet Union as an "evil empire."(44).

The change was partly due to a change in beliefs. The Bush administration had started to view the world in black and white terms. If the United States, in the past, had been willing to work with regimes it disliked, such as the Soviet Union, that was now immoral. It only served to perpetuate them, and their repressive, antidemocratic policies. There was to be no compromise, no accommodation. That, at least was the policy toward North Korea, which was hardly a major military power.(45) An exception was found for China, since it was larger and conducted a large amount of trade with the US. Its private sector was growing and it had an entrepreneurial class.(46)

Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and Afghanistan, following the September 11th attack, gave the Bush administration a very specific goal to focus on. By December, Operation Enduring Freedom, the military operation in Afghanistan, was over. Bin Laden had managed to escape, but the Taliban regime had fallen, and Al Qaeda fighters had fled. If the "War on Terror" had begun, there were no immediate targets which seemed worth the effort. Like the 'no-compromise-with-repressive-regimes' policy, exceptions could be found to an otherwise black-and-white principle. The war on terror may have been portrayed as a real struggle between good and evil, there were practical marketing aspects which had to be taken into consideration. Afghanistan at least had had a government which could be branded as evil. Somalia, in contrast, had no government. Osama bin Laden had once lived in The Sudan, but had been expelled in 1996 - and Yemen and the Philippines were on somewhat friendly terms with the United States. A sustained campaign required public support and these targets were simply too small or unknown to be helpful.(47)

There may have been something more fundamental at work, something as seemingly inconsequential as personal ambition. To be sure, motivating many actions was a fundamental belief that America could be a force for good around the world. At the same time, there was a more pragmatic - and ambitious goal - of creating such a powerful military that no other country would dare to challenge her.(48) Was the adage 'Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely' now applicable? For Paul Wolfowitz, the 'force for good' argument was often made in combination with references to the Holocaust and Nazi Germany.(49) When testifying before Congress in June 2004, Wolfowitz compared Saddam's intelligence service, the Mukhabarat, to the Nazi Gestapo, and Saddam's paramilitary forces, the Fedayeen Saddam, to the Hitler Youth.(50)

In early 2002, the Bush administration sent a classified document called the Nuclear Posture review to Congress. Among its proposals was the development of new, smaller nuclear weapons, that could be used against "rogue nations" with nuclear weapons. The new arsenal would include bunker-busting nuclear weapons to be used against supplies of chemical or biological weapons.(51) Why a new weapon, let alone a nuclear one, was needed was not entirely clear. With some 22,600 nuclear weapons in the world's arsenal, it might have been easier to pull one off the shelf and modify it.(52) In addition, if nuclear weapons are to be part of the arsenal available to battle evil, as a modern form of Divine Punishment, why reduce their size or limit their destructive capabilities? Sodom and Gomorrah, after all, had been utterly destroyed as punishment for their wickedness with sulfur and fire raining down from the sky. Lot and his daughters escaped, but none of the other inhabitants survived. Before Lot, Noah had built the ark to escape a flood intended to destroy mankind as punishment for its violence and corruption.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain would forever be remembered for his "peace for our time" announcement in September 1938, following negotiations with Nazi Germany. Had he stood up to Hitler at that time, it is believed, rather than giving in to his continued demands for more territory, he might have prevented World War II and the Holocaust. Appeasement of a dictator was a recipe for disaster. While Chamberlain would come to symbolize a failed policy, diplomacy was only one part of the equation. The other part was based on military strength. Was the British military, in 1938, fully prepared to confront Nazi Germany? Having the strength of one's convictions could have its downside. While a single-minded obsession with an idea, or an unshakable belief in one's cause, was normally laudable, the idea that one person has a monopoly on the truth is not necessarily a recipe for success. If Neville Chamberlain and a policy of appeasement served as the inspiration for military intervention, Robespierre and the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution were a cautionary tale about the dangers of a belief in the infallibility of one's ideas. Robespierre's devotion to pure principle had earned him the nickname "The Incorruptible" in his rise to political power. When the Committee of Public Safety was formed on September 5, 1793, Robespierre's motto could be summarized as "virtue combined with terror." During the 'republic of virtue' political opponents, such as Danton, were sent to the guillotine, along with thousands of other "counterrevolutionaries." On July 27, 1794, Robespierre was himself arrested. He was executed the following morning.

A war crimes trial...

The war crimes trial of Saddam Hussein began on October 19, 2005. A little over a year later, on November 5, 2006, he was sentenced to death by hanging, and on December 30, 2006, he was executed.(53)

The charges against Saddam had centered around the execution of some 100 Shiites at al-Dujail in July 1982 in retaliation for a failed assassination attempt. The deaths of an additional forty-six people, who had been tortured to death, were included in the charges.(54) For all the claims made about the brutality of Saddam's regime, the number of deaths included in the charges were relatively small, particularly if what was being alleged was a war crime. The poison gas attack at the Kurdish village of Halabja, in March 1988, had killed an estimated 5,000 people, yet the Iraqi Special Tribunal chose not to present evidence about Halabja at the trial.

Halabja was not an isolated incident. In the spring of 1987, Saddam's cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid (Chemical Ali), was appointed to lead a campaign against the Kurds in northern Iraq. In April his forces attacked a number of villages in the Balisan valley. The attacks included the use of mustard gas. Villagers were forcibly removed and army engineers dynamited and demolished the structures in some 300 villages. There was evidence that nerve agents had been used as well and that the attacks had extended to villages near the Iranian town of Baneh.(55) In April 1988, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a cable, estimated that the Iraqi "resettlement policy" had resettled 1.5 million Kurds by moving them to "resettlement" camps and had destroyed between 700 and 1,000 villages and small residential areas. Large numbers of Kurds had been moved to "concentration camps" near the Jordanian and Saudi Arabian borders.(56) By one estimate, over 180,000 Kurds were killed in 1987-88 alone, and a total of 3,800 villages had been destroyed.(57) Before that, in July and August 1983, the Iraqis rounded up between five and eight thousand men from Mullah Mustafa Barzani's tribe and they were never seen again.(58) Not that the Iranians had treated the Kurds better. When they captured the region in July, they transported some 20,000 women and children to detention camps in southern Iran. (59)

The use of poison gas against villages was new, but attacks against Iraqi civilians were not. The British in 1920 had used the Royal Air Force to bomb and strafe rebellious villages. They were prepared to use poison gas, but the bomb delivery system was not fully tested. Baquba, Shifta, Kufa, and Munaihillalmarjan suffered attacks in August and September. The revolt of 1920 cost the British 426 killed, 1,228 wounded and 615 missing or captured. The Arabs had suffered 8,450 casualties.(60)

In view of the chaotic situation in Iraq, achieving a trial and verdict with the precedent-setting status of Nuremberg may not have been uppermost in the minds of prosecutors. The day after the start of the trial one of the defense attorneys was abducted from his office and later found dead nearby. Another defense attorney was killed in early November, while another fled Iraq after being wounded in an attack. In June 2006, the chief defense attorney for Saddam was killed in Baghdad. There may have been an assumption that the insurgency was taking its cues from Saddam. The sooner he was eliminated the better. Perhaps that would also bring the rebellion to an end.

Still, the omission of Halabja from a war crimes trial was certainly convenient for the US. It would have been awkward, to say the least, to have Donald Rumsfeld called as a witness, to testify about his meeting with Saddam Hussein in December 1983. Halabja, at the time, was five years in the future, but the U.S. was aware in October 1983, that Iraq had used mustard gas against Iranian "human wave" assaults. Following the visit, in February 1984, the Iraqis would use, not only mustard gas, against the Iranians, but also the nerve agent tabun. In November 1984, the U.S. would restore diplomatic relations with Iraq; Iraq had broken them off in June 1967.(61)

The US publicly condemned the gas attack at Halubja, but it was playing something of a double game. It suggested that the Iranians had also used poison gas, although there was little supporting proof. (62) In October 1987, four US destroyers stationed in the Persian Gulf fired some 1,000 rounds into two Iranian oil platforms, completely destroying them. Navy commandos destroyed the radar and communications equipment on a third platform nearby.(63)

In 1988, the US, seeking to end the Iran-Iraq War, decided it would need to take an even more active role. A covert campaign, code-named Operation Druid Leader, was intended to destroy Iran's military infrastructure.(64) Whether it was conducted by the Iraqi air force, based on intelligence, or by the US directly, it apparently was successful at destroying many of Iran's railroad bridges, air defense sites, transportation hubs, and other targets crucial to the Iranian war effort. It no doubt contributed to the success of the final Iraqi military push.

In early 1987, the Iranians had succeeded in capturing Iraqi territory around Basra. On April 17, 1988, the Iraqis began a large counter-offensive, to recover the lost ground, called Operation Tawakalna Ala Allah (In God We Trust). It would involve some 200,000 troops. The offensive began just before dawn, with an artillery and chemical weapons bombardment. Tanks and infantry were sent in afterwards. The Faw peninsula was recaptured in 36 hours. Americans who visited the scene a few days after the battle found spent atropine injectors scattered around the battlefield. Atropine is used as an antidote for nerve gas.(65)

The use of chemical weapons by the Iraqis did not prevent the U.S. from conducting additional attacks on Iran. The next day, April 18, two Iranian oil platforms were attacked by U.S. Navy ships. Iranian vessels which responded to the attack were sunk or destroyed. The Iranian frigates Sahand and Sabalan were attacked. The Sahand was destroyed and the Sabalan sunk.(66)

The omission of Halubja from the war crimes charges against Saddam did not limit the use of the information, but it did serve to distance the U.S. from any connection. The Bush administration could very publicly point to Chemical Ali as an example of the brutality of Saddam Hussein, without having to acknowledge what the U.S. might have known about the attacks or how much it had been involved in facilitating them. If the U.S. had failed to find the weapons of mass destruction following the 2003 invasion, it probably knew a lot about the Iraqi Chemical Corps, which had constructed a large "pesticide" facility in 1982 and 1983, with the help of Western companies.(67)

One or the Other But Not Both

The rules of war and international conflict are constantly being revised. The problem with trying to state what the rules should be, in the case of war, and how actions should be judged, is that there is an inherent conflict between war, which involves murdering people, and the idea of judging right and wrong. You can do one or the other, either go to war or act as judge, but you cannot do both, or at least doing both is not easy. Perhaps the problem is that the timeline is too long and there are too many skeletons waiting to come out of the closet.

Moral outrage often is a function of time and distance. The importance of any single event fades with the passage of time and becomes part of the historical past. Historical events can be overwhelmed by current happenings. Moral outrage can also be actively manipulated - just one part of a larger marketing campaign.

The possible use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime has been cited as the justification for U.S. involvement in Syria. In the debate, outrage has been expressed over the 1,400 deaths from poison gas or the 100,000 or more deaths in the two-year conflict. On the other side, it has been argued that there is more than a little bit of hypocrisy involved. For all the outrage expressed over these gas attacks, little was said or done about the use of poison gas in the Iran-Iraq War. The 100,000 killed in the Syrian conflict is about the same number as died in the firebombing of Tokyo in March 1945, and less than the 230,000 who died in the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the Algerian civil war, over 250,000 are estimated to have been killed, although that figure was for a longer period. It lasted from 1954 to 1962.(68) The numbers killed by the Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia are much higher. An estimated 1.5 to 1.7 million are believed to have been deliberately killed by government forces there in the 1970s.

Other examples suggest that societies can engage in violent behavior when no dictator is in charge, in fact, can commit atrocities in a political vacuum - in situations where there is the total absence of government. Some societies do not need dictatorship to excuse or explain their behavior - they are violent in their own right. Some might even find it preferable to have dictatorship available as an explanation - a convenient excuse for their own actions. It was not a dictator who was responsible for the 1994 Rwandan massacres. Between 800,000 and a million members of the Tutsi tribe are estimated to have been murdered by their Hutu neighbors in a four-month killing spree, lasting from April to July. The machete was often the weapon of choice - its victims hacked to pieces, but left alive to bleed to death over days. Even babies were targeted - on the grounds that, if left alive, they would grow into adult Tutsis.(69)

Some 150,000 are estimated to have died in ethnic clashes in Burundi between 1993 and 1996. Nigeria has recently seen a series of bombings of Catholic churches, believed to have been committed by Islamic militants from the north. The Congo has had to deal with a continuous wave of killings and kidnappings by the Lord's Resistance Army, a roving army with no identifiable political ideology or goals. Ethnic and religious unrest is not confined to Africa. In August 1946, some 3,000 people died in three days of fighting between Hindus and Muslims in the city of Calcutta. The next year an estimated 150,000 people were killed in clashes between Muslims and Hindus in the Punjab. The Balkans saw religious and ethnic clashes following the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. An estimated 7,000 Muslims were massacred at Srebrenica by Serbian forces. Northern Ireland had to deal with a simmering, often deadly, conflict between Catholics and Protestants. The Islamic world has had to deal with a long-standing conflict between Sunnis and Shiites.


1. James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet, (New York, Viking Penguin, 2004), p. 334, citing the New York Times.
2. Patrick Cockburn, The Occupation, (Verson, London, 2006), p. 52.
3. Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, (New York, The Penguin Press, 2006), p. 136.
4. Patrick Cockburn,supra, p. 101.
5. Ibid, p. 160.
6. Ibid, p. 162.
7. Ibid, P. 165.
8. Ibid, p. 164.
9. Bob Woodward, State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III, (New York, Simon & Schuster, 2006), p. 207.
10. Ibid, p. 248.
11. Ibid, p. 291.
12. Ibid, pp. 331, 336.
13. Martha Raddatz, The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family, (New York, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2007), pp. 132-134.
14. Ian Black, Shia cleric backed by Washington murdered: Saddam loyalists accused of killing at holy city shrine, theguardian.com, April 10, 2003.
15. Ricks, supra, p. 170.
16. Ibid, p. 216.
17. Ibid, p. 221.
18. Ibid, pp. 243-244.
19. Woodward, supra, p. 336.
20. Ibid, p. 444.
21. Bob Woodward, The War Within: A Secret White House History, 2006-2008, (New York, Simon & Schuster, 2008), p. 80.
22. Woodward, Ibid, p. 108.
23. Ibid, p. 108.
24. Bing West, The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq, (New York, Random House, 2008), p. 195.
25. James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans, supra, p. 280.
26. Ibid, p. 236, from Zalmay Khalilzad and Paul Wolfowitz, "Overthrow Him," Weekly Standard (December 1, 1997), p. 14.
27. Jamie Wilson, The Guardian, Tuesday, November 15, 2005.
28. Omar Fekeiki, The Washington Post, November 16, 2005.
29. Kim Sengupta, "Raid on torture dungeon exposes Iraq's secret war," The Independent, November 16, 2005.
30. Bing West, supra, p. 163.
31. Bing West, ibid, p. 164.
32. Patrick Cockburn, supra, p. 154.
33. Cockburn, ibid, pp. 198-199.
34. Cockburn, ibid, p. 217,
35. Cockburn, ibid, p. 166
36. Antiwar.com, September 16, 2013.
37. Cockburn, supra, p. 175.
38. James Mann, supra, p. 361.
39. Thomas Ricks, supra, p. 98.
40, Kate Randall, "Newsweek expose of war crimes in Afghanistan whitewashes US role," World Socialist Web Site, September 4, 2002.
41. James Risen, "U.S. Inaction Seen After Taliban P.O.W.'s Died," The New York Times, July 1, 2009.
42. James Risen, ibid, The New York Times, July 1, 2009.
43. Adrienne Mayor, Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World, (Woodstock, The Overlook Press, 2003), pp. 148-149. 44. James Mann, supra, p. 27.
45. James Mann, ibid, p. 279.
46. James Mann, ibid, p. 284.
47. James Mann, ibid, p. 309.
48. James Mann, ibid, pp. 363-364.
49. Thomas Ricks, supra, p. 16.
50. Thomas Ricks, ibid, p. 386.
51. James Mann, supra, p. 314.
52. Malcolm Fraser, Nuclear Weapons Pose a Grave Threat, from Diane Andrews Henningfeld, editor, At Issue: Weapons of War (Farmington Hills, MI, Greenhaven Press, 2012), p. 11.
53. James R. Arnold, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, (Minneapolis, Twenty-First Century Books, 2009), pp. 134-135.
54. Ibid, pp. 134-135.
55. Bryan R. Gibson, Covert Relationship: American Foreign Policy, Intelligence, and the Iran-Iraq War, 1980-1988, (Santa Barbara, CA ABC-CLIO, 2010), pp. 190-191, 193.
56. Bryan R. Gibson, ibid, p. 218.
57. Cockburn, supra, p. 30.
58. Bryan R. Gibson, ibid, p. 99.
59. Bryan R. Gibson, ibid, p. 98.
60. Edwin Black, Banking on Baghdad: Inside Iraq's 7,000-Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict, (Hoboken, NJ, John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2004), pp. 256-259.
61. Joost R. Hiltermann, "Rumsfeld should know: Who minded Iraqi mustard gas in 1983?," The New York Times, November 29, 2002.
62. Bryan Gibson, supra, p. 212.
63. Bryan Gibson, ibid, p. 205.
64. Bryan Gibson, ibid, p. 205.
65. Bryan Gibson, ibid, p. 216.
66. Bryan Gibson, ibid, pp. 216-217.
67. Bryan Gibson, ibid, p. 105.
68. Toyin Falola, Key Events in African History: A Reference Guide, (Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 2002), p. 227.
69. Gerard Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide, (New York, Columbia University Press, 1995), pp. 262-265.

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