Iraq, The Empire’s Next Target

Against the Current, No. 98, May/June 2002

Rae Vogeler, Allen Ruff and Mike Wunsch

THE U.S. RULING class has clearly decided to capitalize on the September 11th tragedy as a reason to discipline, punish and where possible, integrate those countries still defiant to the “New World Order” proclaimed over a decade ago.

Afforded immense international leeway by the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings, the Bush administration has been able to use its so-called “war on terrorism” to replace the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. It has given a “green light” to a government offensive against insurgents in the Colombian civil war, threatened a long list of nations with military intervention, and gained new land bases in Central Asia.

The “war on terrorism” has also provided a pretext for a massive U.S. military build up. President Bush asked for a $48 billion increase to an already bloated military budget — the largest increase in over two decades. With a military budget of $396 billion (fiscal year 2003), U.S. defense spending is six times larger than that of Russia, the second largest military power.(1)

The administration showed its military might when it recently resumed the threat of “nuclear blackmail” by targeting seven countries for a first strike nuclear attack. These countries include Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Russia and China, of which only Russia and China have nuclear weapons capability.

Promising an open-ended campaign against the “axis of evil,” Bush and Company have prioritized Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the most likely targets in a campaign to impose imperialist “stability.” To date, Iraq is seen as the most likely nation to receive an imperial post 9/11 “pay back.”

Iraq: Sanctions Background

The winner of U.S. backing in its 1980s war against Iran, Iraq overstepped the bounds set by the imperial system when it invaded Kuwait in August 1990. The United States, determined to maintain its hegemony over the oil-rich region, retaliated with a 500,000-strong invasion.(2)

The United States launched its “Desert Storm” on January, 16 1991. This “Desert Storm” campaign, also known as the “Persian Gulf War,” restored Sabah clan control over Kuwait, but did not topple Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The United States imposed “no fly zones,” where the U.S. and British planes have carried on regular low intensity bombing sorties ever since.

But U.S. concern with increased regional instability resulting from a new “power vacuum” allowed Hussein to stay in power. While the U.S. government called on the Iraqi people to revolt at the end of the war, President Bush the First actually abandoned rebellions by Kurds in the north and the insurrection of Shiite Muslims in the South.

The war devastated Iraq, with an estimated 100,000-150,000 Iraqis dead and essential civilian infrastructure destroyed. In comparison, 184 U.S. soldiers perished in this war.(3) The bombing incapacitated Iraq’s water and sewage treatment plants, pharmaceutical supply facilities, and electrical production plants.

Iraq has never recovered from the Gulf War due to twelve years of sanctions, which have limited the flow of essential goods to and from the country. For example, chlorinators, used to purify water, have not been allowed back into Iraq.

U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency documents prove that “the U.S government intentionally used sanctions against Iraq to degrade the country’s water supply after the Gulf War. The United States knew the cost that the civilian Iraqis, mostly children, would pay, and it went ahead anyway.”(4)

The sanctions embargo against Iraq was initially imposed on August 6, 1990 by the U.N. Security Council in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Iraq withdrew from Kuwait in March of 1991, but the sanctions remain to this day as the United States raised new reasons for an extension of the sanctions regime.(5)

Later, with passage of U.N. Resolution 687, the sanctions became tied to demands that the Iraqi regime destroy its remaining stockpiles and facilities for the production of biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons of mass destruction. On U.S. and allied insistence, the revised sanctions severely limited Iraqi oil sales and diverted some of the resulting revenues to U.N. expenses and compensation to Kuwait.

“Humanitarian Relief” and Disarmament

Ironically, Resolution 687 called for disarmament within the larger Middle East region, not just Iraq. Israel, which has the sixth largest nuclear arsenal in the world, had no sanctions imposed on it.

In fact, Israel possesses more than 200 thermonuclear weapons, and the “U.S. remains silent on the floor of the U.N. regarding this violation of international law.” Furthermore, the United States has supplied weapons and technology to Iraq’s neighbors, including Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran.(6)

The effect of this Resolution was to link Iraqi disarmament to humanitarian relief — the flow of sorely needed food, medicine and equipment for power stations and water purification plants. The initial U.S. logic assumed that deteriorating conditions would lead to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein by a coup that would maintain the regime.

When that did not happen, the long-term result has been the ongoing punishment of the general population. The number of fatalities due to water born diseases and malnutrition, especially among young, skyrocketed.

This has become the most severe economic blockade in modern history. Over one million Iraqis have died, half of them children. UNICEF reports that each month over 5,000 Iraqi children under the age of five perish from causes related to the sanctions.(7) Thus more Iraqi children die each month than the total number of people killed in the World Trade Center.

As conditions in Iraq worsened, the sanctions have come under increasing criticism. World leaders, such as Pope John Paul II and numerous U.N. officials, have voiced strong opposition to the sanctions.

In the last twelve years, a growing anti-sanctions movement has developed in the United States and worldwide. Faith-based communities and human rights organizations have condemned the sanctions, including the United Methodist Church, Episcopalian Church, Quakers, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Physicians for Social Responsibility and many others.(8)

During the last few years, anti-sanctions and other peace groups in the United States have begun to work together to organize more effectively against the embargo. National Organizing Conferences on Iraq took place in the years 2000 and 2001.

At the Second National Conference on Iraq, which occurred in Denver, more than 100 activists representing sixty organizations formed the National Network to End the War Against Iraq.

This network held nationally coordinated actions in April and August of 2001. In addition, local anti-sanctions groups continued to provide a visible presence in their areas, planning vigils, demonstrations, forums, and other activities.

September 11th

In recent years, the anti-sanctions movement was showing success. Numerous U.S. delegations went to Iraq as eyewitnesses and bearers of humanitarian supplies. Some delegations were composed of news reporters who brought back photographs and information about the dismal conditions in Iraq. This news was beginning to make its way into mainstream media and U.S. homes.

In addition, other countries began to challenge the sanctions with flights of humanitarian aid from France, Russia, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Algeria, United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Turkey and Britain.(9)

Then came September 11th. That day instantly altered the political landscape. U.S. groups involved in Iraqi support work began to shift emphasis as people adjusted to the broader “war on terrorism.”

The National Network to End the War Against Iraq found a significant number of its seventy-two member groups reacting to 9/11 by organizing against the war in Afghanistan, racial profiling and attacks on civil liberties.

Last August and September, Voices in the Wilderness (VitW), a well-known anti-sanctions organization, held a fast and vigil at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York. The purpose of the forty-day fast was to draw attention to the U.N. and U.S. sanctions policy.

The fast was to be followed by tent encampments throughout the country, where people would simulate Iraqi life under siege. Activists would spend several days in tents, with no electricity, no heat, no phone, inadequate supplies, and rationed food. The idea was to raise public awareness by bringing to light the suffering of the Iraqi people.

On September 11th, Voices in the Wilderness was nearing completion of its 40-day fast when, just blocks away, the World Trade Center collapsed. VitW ended its vigil and almost all subsequent tent encampments were canceled — some out of deference to the victims of 9/11 and some out of fear of reprisal.

In Madison, we continued with our tent encampment, but reduced it from three days to one day. We were afraid that we might be attacked at night. As it turned out, the encampment received positive media and public attention, with no “incidents.” However, another encampment in central Wisconsin had been assailed at night by pro-war antagonists.

Emerging Movement

In the ensuing months, Voices in the Wilderness directly responded to the September 11th attacks by helping to organize a peace walk of family members of 9/11 victims. Spreading the word that war was not the answer to their grief, families and supporters walked from Washington, DC to New York City.

Family members organized themselves into a group called “Peaceful Tomorrows” and some traveled to Afghanistan to meet with families of the Afghan victims. Phyllis and Orlando Rodriquez, who lost their son in the World Trade Center attack, sent a letter to President Bush, explaining:

“Your response to this attack does not make us feel better about our son’s death. It makes us feel worse. It makes us feel that our government is using our son’s memory as a justification to cause suffering for other sons and parents in other lands.”(10)

September 11th also affected the anti-corporate globalization movement, which had been planning East Coast demonstrations for the end of September. The demonstrations continued, but became more focused on opposing the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

As President Bush put forward his agenda for a “war on terrorism,” political groups began to converge into a broader antiwar, anti-intervention movement. This convergence became apparent soon after 9/11, even before the bombing of Afghanistan had begun.

In Madison, a large demonstration of over 800 people occurred on September 17th. Large actions took place in other cities as well, drawing a diverse cross-section of people, including peace and social justice activists, students, artists, trade unionists, people of faith, anti- globalization activists, Greens, third party organizers, Arab-American organizations, Palestine Right of Return groups, Central American solidarity activists, democrats, socialists, anarchists, and people new to activism.

In Madison, over 200 people and twenty organizations came together on September 25th to form the Madison Area Peace Coalition, which has since grown to 40 organizations. MAPC decided on three principles of unity:

1. Peace and justice, not war and revenge.

2. Unity and respect for diversity: stop scapegoating and harassment.

3. Protect human rights and civil liberties at home and abroad.(11)

In addition to opposing the Afghanistan war, the Madison Area Peace Coalition called for no war against Iraq and an end to Israel’s illegal occupation. MAPC also proposed a reduction in military spending and a redirection of this money to social programs for human needs.

Comparable Political Programs

Interestingly, many peace coalitions throughout the country have come up with similar demands. The comparable political program among coalitions can be attributed to shared national and international perspectives rapidly dispersed via the Internet.

The Internet affords activists almost instantaneous access to information. For example, in the first few days following September 11th, Madison was able to use emails and websites to tap into organizing ideas in other areas, such as Denver.

The Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace (CCMEP), which hosted the Second National Organizing Conference on Iraq last year, immediately responded to 9/11. In Denver, they organized defense for the Arab community. Peace activists joined hands and circled a mosque in Denver to protect it from arson and attack.

CCMEP also planned numerous demonstrations and vigils against the war in Afghanistan. On the civil liberties front, they helped sponsor a Denver City Council resolution, which passed, prohibiting police spying on people because of race, religion or social views.(12)

In Seattle, an International Human Rights Coalition was created even prior to September 11th as activists saw the need to jointly address U.S. foreign policy in Colombia, East Timor, Cuba, Iraq and Palestine.

Since September 11th, even more Seattle organizations are forging alliances. They planned an April 20th “Wake Up Washington” demonstration, held in unison with the STOP THE WAR MOBILIZATION on Washington, DC. It is noteworthy that one-quarter of the “Wake Up Washington” sponsoring organizations have been involved in Iraqi solidarity work.

Anti-sanctions and peace organizations across the country have also taken up the cause of a “Just Peace for Palestine.” Vigils have occurred in numerous cities; some every week for the past nine months.

Peace activists have also traveled to Palestine as eyewitnesses to get out the truth about the Israeli occupation. Their diaries are posted on the Internet, detailing the horrors of the situation.

Issues in Common

Most cities are confronted with pro-war propaganda, heightened patriotism, racial profiling, and civil liberties assaults. Over time, this has resulted in a developing movement that integrates peace, anti-corporate globalization, anti-imperialist, civil liberties, anti-racist, environmental and immigrant rights activists in a common cause.

This is a big step on the path first taken by the anti-globalization movement and later the Nader campaign. It continues the trend away from the often classless, identity politics so pervasive in the eighties and nineties.

On a national level, the “APRIL 20th STOP THE WAR MOBILIZATION” on Washington, DC became a focal point for peace and social justice groups across the country. Over 350 groups nationwide endorsed the march, which drew 75,000 participants (the Washington Post estimate) or perhaps even more.

The April 20th demands indicated the political direction of the post 9/11 anti-war movement:

* A U.S. foreign policy based upon social and economic justice, not military and corporate oppression.

* An end to racial profiling and military recruitment targeting youth of color and working class youth.

* Government funding for programs to benefit the economic victims of the 9-11 attacks and the recession.

* An end to the degrading and secret imprisonment of immigrants.

* Increased funding for non-military-based financial aid for education

* Full disclosure of military contracts with universities.(13)

Impending War Against Iraq

As world attention has been drawn to the violence in Palestine and Israel, the Bush Administration has been quietly and not-so-quietly preparing for a war against Iraq.

On March 27, 2002, The Guardian of London reported:

“The U.S. Air Force has begun preparations to move its Gulf headquarters from Saudi Arabia to Qatar, to bypass Saudi objections to military action against Iraq… The movement of trucks to Qatar may represent a temporary redistribution of resources to pursue the Afghan war, but the request for bids to move sophisticated equipment [computers and electronics] suggests a more permanent relocation . . . . There have also been unconfirmed reports, in the U.S. press and from Iraqi opposition groups, of a quiet U.S. military build up in Kuwait to between 25,000 and 35,000 troops.”(14)

In exchange for new weaponry and additional U.S. “aid,” Oman gave the United States permission to extend the length of runways to be used by long-range bombers.

George Bush and Tony Blair have been cavalierly forging a U.S.-British alliance against Iraq. Both Bush and Blair have made much noise in the press about the supposed dangers of Saddam Hussein, weapons of mass destruction, the anthrax connection, and supposed Iraqi ties to the September 11th attack.

The propaganda campaign continues in order to prepare the British and American public for another war. As John Pilger explains, “A compliant press is preparing the ground for an all-out attack on Iraq. It never mentions the victims: the young, the old and the vulnerable.”(15)

When will the war take place? News analysts and peace activists alike have been trying to determine if, when and how an attack will occur.

While there has been speculation that a war might begin as early as May or as late as the fall, a number of factors may prevent the Bush administration from acting immediately.

One is the need for a weapons buildup. After waging war in Afghanistan for the past half year, the U.S. military may need to restockpile weapons for a war on Iraq. It has been reported that Boeing is workingthree shifts around the clock to produce cruise missiles.

Two, the second Intifadah and Israeli reaction, and response to it from the “Arab street,” has impeded the formation of the coalition desired by Washington. Colin Powell came back from the Middle East “without” a peace accord.

Israel’s severe brutality against civilians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza has begun to turn public opinion against Israel, and U.S. culpability (financial and military aid) cannot be denied. Arab nations have condemned the Israeli occupation and have called on Washington to take a stronger stance against the Israeli violence.

Three, the U.S. has few allies<197>with the exception of Britain — that support an attack on Iraq. And four, there is concern that a war against Iraq may cause the entire region to explode into a larger and more prolonged war.

Military Variations

There has also been speculation about the type of military offensive that the U.S. will use against Iraq. In the February 18, 2002 Kuwaiti paper al-Seyasah, two types of attacks were indicated.

One option is the use of 50,000 U.S. troopers of three air, mechanical and naval contingents to direct a rapid blow to the heart of central rule in Baghdad in order to immediately topple Saddam Hussein. The second scenario is to send a land force of 200,000 soldiers across the southern borders toward Baghdad to neutralize contingents of the Iraqi Republican guards from the battlefield in the first days of the war.(16)

Either way, such a war will further the misery of the Iraqi people. Any renewed military offensive against Iraq at this time must be viewed as an attempt by the U.S. to reimpose its authority and imperial “stability” in a region long deemed “vital” to national interests. That means the interests of capital!

Incapacitated by decades of war and imposed sanctions, Iraq’s regime poses far less of a threat, if any, than Washington would have us believe. It becomes absolutely essential for all antiwar, anti-intervention, and anti-imperialist activists to integrate a perspective on Iraq — a perspective that opposes any war drive against that country.


  • Center for Defense Information, “World Military Expenditures,” February 4, 2002, and “World Military Expenditures: US vs. World,” February 14, 2002,
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  • James Clyde, “History: Persian Gulf War,”
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  • Ibid.
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  • Thomas J. Nagy, “The Secret Behind the Sanctions: How the U.S. Intentionally Destroyed Iraq’s Water Supply,” The Progressive, September 2001.
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  • Dr. Peter Pellet, “Sanctions, Food, Nutrition, and Health in Iraq,” Iraq Under Siege (Cambridge: South End Press, 2000), edited by Anthony Arnove, 151.
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  • Voices in the Wilderness, “Myths and Realities Regarding Iraq and Sanctions,” Iraq Under Siege, op. cit., 69.
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  • Unicef and Government of Iraq Ministry of Health, “Child and Maternal Mortality Survey 1999: Preliminary Report,” Baghdad: Unicef, 1999. “Questions and Answers for the Iraq Child Mortality Surveys,” Unicef, August 1999,
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  • Voices in the Wilderness, op. cit., 72-73.
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  • “Iraq’s UN allies launch move to soften sanctions,” Associated Press, The Indian Express, September 24, 2000, Gregory Elich, “Personal Journey: A Flight Against the Iraqi Blockade,” SWANS Commentary, http://www.swans.comlibrary/art7/elich002.html.
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  • Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez, South West Asia Information Group paper, Madison, WI, and Peaceful Tomorrows website,
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  • Madison Area Peace Coalition website,
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  • Colorado Campaign for Middle East Peace website,
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  • April 20th Stop the War, March on Washington website, http://www.a20stopthe
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  • Julian Borger, “US Paves Way for War on Iraq: Attack Base to be Moved into Qatar to Bypass Saudi Objections,” Guardian in London,
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  • John Pilger, “Should We Go To War Against the Children?” New Statesman, March 23, 2002, znet website,
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  • “The scenarios of striking Iraq,” Iraq-USA, Politics, February 20, 2002,
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  • from ATC 98 (May/June 2002)