You Know Me Al: The Iraq War --- So What was it About, Anyway?

Column No. 8 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH – March 16, 2004

As I have said before, most of the material that you read under my by-line is mine.  But occasionally I do present some thoughts from a political historian friend of mine, sent privately to me over time, that I think are worthy of note.  It happens that he wants to remain anonymous in The Political Junkies context.  The material, lightly edited by me, is used with his permission. His initials are “A.L.,” and his thoughts, with apologies to Ring Lardner, will appear in this column under the title “You Know Me, Al.”   This piece was written in May, 2003,

Widespread looting in Baghdad and other major Iraqi cities!  The destruction of the museum of antiquities in Baghdad including the removal of such items as a tablet on which was inscribed the Code of Hammurabi. I believe that it was the first known set of rules of law. (How ironic that its disappearance is the result of the combined work of two men for whom the rule of law is viewed only as an impediment to their continued rule, Saddam Hussein and George Bush.) This destruction will go down in history as of the same order as the burning of the library at Alexandria, c. 400 CE.  (My note: well perhaps not that apocalyptic; there have been some recoveries since that time, but I don’t know if the Tablet was among them.) The US, even six days later, is doing little to control the situation (although it is now doing more than the absolute nothing it did for the first four days or so).  As for the museum specifically and how it was allowed to fall to the mob, I have heard two stories, both on NPR.  One is that the museum directors, anticipating trouble, asked the US forces to guard the place, and were refused.  The other variant is that the US forces agreed to do so and then did not.

Among the critics of the US/UK invasion, the widespread reaction to these events, and the ongoing incapacity and partial destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure, esp. electricity, pure water supply, sanitary sewage disposal, health services, fire-fighting, garbage collection, etc., has been "how could the invaders not plan for this predictable outcome?"  Thinking it over, I think that they did plan for it, that in fact things are going pretty much according to plan, and that this plan for the humbling of Iraq and its inhabitants is part of a larger US plan (to which the UK may or may not have been privy) that has been going extremely well, from its perspective.  To wit.

Let us assume that the primary reason for the invasion is oil and its control by the US (with a few drops here and there allowed to the UK).  An article by Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli, Senior Analyst for the Middle East Economics Study Program of the Middle East Media Research Institute of Washington, DC (, a generally pro-Israeli think tank) projects how US control of Iraqi oil could eventually be used, among other things, to destroy OPEC, or at least Saudi domination of it (No. 131, April 10, 2003).  An article by Bill Vann of the World Socialist Website (, April 8, 2003) cites an article by Richard Perle and Henry Kissinger in The National Interest magazine that projects the privatization of Iraqi oil to the major Western (mainly US) oil companies.

I, and many other observers, had thought that the US simply wanted a friendly government in Iraq, in control of its oil, but partial to US interests.  But now, two of the major planners of the whole project tell us that they want to go beyond that to a situation that has not existed since the Saudis nationalized ARAMCO in the mid-70s: actual US oil company ownership of Middle Eastern oil reserves, not just control over marketing and distribution.  Profits are even higher if you own the stuff in addition to selling it at the retail end.  And you are subject to the winds of no one else's fortunes.

(My note: For the past six months or so, published plans for the “privitization” of the Iraqi economy [read takeover by foreign --- read US with a few drops for the UK --- capital] have specifically excluded the oil industry.  I asked my friend about this and he said, “Just watch, in the dark of one of those desert nights, even though they couldn’t find any WMD they’ll find a way around that one.”)

We know that the Iraq war planning at the Pentagon has been going on for at least eight years and that, for example, Marines have training in urban warfare at a specially constructed "city" of the Middle Eastern type in the New Mexico desert for as many (Pentagon generals have said this on the air).  We know that the war was underway, through the use of Special Forces, for months (that is throughout the whole debate in the UN) before the main invasion.  We know that the Powell speech of Feb. 5 to the Security Council about the "evidence" of WMD was obviously false, as least to some extent if not in toto.

If the US knew that Saddam had WMD, and further if it knew where they were to the extent that it could demand that the UN act immediately: a) why did it not simply provide this intelligence to Blix and if it were not acted upon immediately then demand that the inspection process be changed to detection, with direct US participation, or b) why did it not now during the invasion go directly to the sites it supposedly knew about?  Why, because what the US knew, if it knew anything at all, was that either there were no WMD or that if there were, they existed in a severely degraded condition.

So why did Powell lie?  To get the Security Council to approve the "second resolution?"  I think not.  I think that the strategy was exactly the opposite. Before we go on to a consideration of what the strategy is, whether or not Blair is privy to it is interesting, but immaterial, except for British politics of course.  Do note, however, that the British forces in the "coalition" have been sequestered in the South, nowhere near Baghdad.  They are near the southern oil fields, but plenty of US forces are too, and the Brits were bogged down for quite some time in subduing Basra, a large city.  They are certainly going to have no say in the future national military governance of Iraq.

Based on the assumption that Kissinger and Perle did for some unknown reason (arrogance, hubris, whatever) let the cat out of the bag, and that the US goal for Iraqi oil is not only to control its distribution but also to actually own the stuff, privately, what kind of government does the US want in Iraq?  A national, democratically elected one?  One that could, for example, possibly is moderately left-wing (there were left-wing elements in the original Ba'ath Party, murdered by Hussein the same way that Hitler murdered the left-wing elements in the Nazi Party in June, 1934)?  One that could, heaven forefend, include Iraqi communist deputies?  One that could some time in the future say, "You know this oil really does belong to the Iraqi people and we are going to administer it for their benefit?"  Hardly!

And so, would the US then want a national government at all?  Hardly.  Iraq is gradually splitting up before our very eyes.  Under the cooperative Brits, a Shiite regime is being established in the South (although there is already internecine warfare going on among them for control of it, [Diep Hiro in the London Independent, April 11, 2003]).  A Kurdish State is being established in the North, with the US "allies," the Turks, be damned.  (The US was probably just as happy that the Turks didn't allow it to use Turkish territory for basing ground troops, nor allow the use of Incilrik for launching air strikes.  Now the US owes Turkey nothing, in re the Kurds.)  A Kurdish government, landlocked as it is, will be quite easy for the US to control and will be happy to give up ownership of the oil for a royalty. And after all, who are they going to send against the US armed forces, peshmurgah fighters?  And now, with control of those two big airbases in Western Iraq, the US will soon have no need for Incilrik.

As for Baghdad and the looting.  If the US had stepped in right away, the cries would have gone up about "imperialist/infidel military government," etc.  Now the US has been asked in by some local Iraqi leaders, at least.  And in the meantime, virtually all national records have been destroyed, among other things.  What that means is that the possibility of forming a new national Iraqi government becomes even more remote and less of a potential headache for the US.  And so the trifurcation of Iraq is becoming a reality (remember the British colonial policy of divide and conquer?)  As for the promises made by George I to the Saudis and the Turks that he would not do this (the reason he did not go on to Baghdad in 1991), in return for the use then of Saudi and Turk territory for staging areas, the old double-cross seems to be in the Bush genes.  After all, George I told Saddam, through the American ambassador April Glaspie, just before he invaded Kuwait, that it would not stand in his way (See Chap. 8, "The Gulf War," in Jonas, S., The New Americanism, Port Jefferson, NY: Thomas Jefferson Press, 1992).

Now, how does this all fit with what Powell et al did at the UN?  Given that the long-term US goal is private ownership of Iraqi oil; did the US have any interest in having a UN role in any armed enforcement of its resolutions?  No way.  UN sanction, and a broad coalition would have included at the very least French troops (promised by Chirac should Blix have eventually declared the inspection process at an impasse) and possibly Russian ones as well.  That would have meant that those two countries would have had a leg to stand on in their demands that their oil contracts with the Iraqi government be enforced.  (A side issue to the trifurcation of Iraq and with at best only a weak "Federal" central authority, but no true national Iraqi government, means no legal successor to the Hussein government, and thus no one of whom the French and Russians could ask for enforcement of their contracts.)

And so, I have come to the conclusion that the Powell effort was a charade, intended to fail, and in the bargain get the French and the UN to look bad to an American public somewhat skeptical about going to war without UN sanction.  I think that the invasion date had less to do with the weather than with a fear that if the inspection process kept going, and the Iraqis kept saying with (to date at least) truth on their side that they had no WMD, but with American demands getting ever-more insistent, the French and Russians would have caved and joined the invasion, the very last thing the US wanted.

Furthermore, making the UN look bad to the US public, by setting the "shirking of duty" trap, makes it much easier for those forces in the Administration that want the US to leave the UN to sell that to the American public and the Congress.  I think that the US intentionally made 1441 open to interpretation, rather than the other way round.  If Blair were in the plot from the beginning, then he would be the perfect guy to ask for a second resolution, with both the US and the UK holding their breaths just in case it might pass.  Of course, Bush had already announced that he was going to invade anyway, regardless of what the UN did.  And of course, the Bush "diplomacy" (redefined by the Georgites to mean talking with the parties on your side, in contradistinction to the usual definition, talking with those parties with whom you have a dispute) was done in such a way as to almost assure that the second resolution wouldn't pass or if it did that the French and/or Russians would veto it.

Perle et al, have been working on this plan since the mid-90s (Perle, R., "Saddam Unbound," in Kagan and Kristol, eds., Present Dangers, San Francisco, CA: Encounter Books, 2000).  As have the military planners (under the Clinton Administration, it should be noted).  The Special Forces were on the ground for months.  British and US activity in the "no-fly zones" (not UN sanctioned) had been stepped up while the UN inspection process and debates were ongoing. The military plan was meticulous.  It boggles the mind to think that there were no plans for, for example, the possible outbreak of civil unrest.  The plan was, in fact, to let it happen, so as to make it that much easier for a) Gen. Jay Garner to come in with a military government and b) to proceed with desired trifurcation of Iraq.

(My note:  Well, right now, the trifurcation of Iraq is not happening, and the public position of the US is that the Iraqi oil industry is not to be taken over by foreign powers.  It does look as if there will be a national government for Iraq, at least on paper.  So maybe my friend wasn’t all right, although I do think that he was right about Powell, the UN, and making sure that they wouldn’t join in the intervention.  But the history of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq is far from over.  And Perle and Kissinger certainly have not publicly gone back on their statements about Iraqi oil.  So maybe, down the road, my friend will be proved to be right after all.)