1. The Real NWO
In part 1, we reviewed the emergence of the modern world system through a process of systematic genocidal violence conducted across disparate continents, killing in total thousands of millions of indigenous peoples in Africa, Asia and America.
But this “hidden holocaust” didn’t end with the demise of colonization: Because colonization never underwent a genuine demise. Rather, it underwent a fundamental re-configuration, prompted by rising demands for freedom and independence from around the world.
By 1945, the end of the Second World War, the contours of a new international order were in place. According to US professors Lawrence Shoup and William Minter its design was being prepared several years earlier. It was known as the “Grand Area Strategy”, drawn up by US State Department policy-planners in liaison with experts from the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington DC.
If you want evidence for a plan for empire, you won’t get better than this. The planners identified a minimum “world area” control over which was deemed to be “essential for the security and economic prosperity of the United States and the Western Hemisphere.” This “world area” included the entire Western Hemisphere, the former British Empire and the Far East.
Grand Area Strategy saw that US policy was “to secure the limitation of any exercise of sovereignty by foreign nations that constitutes a threat” to this world area. But this policy could only be pursued on the basis of “an integrated policy to achieve military and economic supremacy for the United States.” So the concept of “security interests” had to be extended beyond traditional notions of territorial integrity to include domination of these regions “strategically necessary for world control.” Sounds strangely familiar right? (Think “PNAC” or “Defense Planning Guidance”)
In other words, national security, economic security and imperial consolidation were interconnected components of Grand Area Strategy. State Department planners had no illusions about what this meant. Indeed, they candidly recognized that “the British Empire as it existed in the past will never reappear”, and that therefore “the United States may have to take its place.” Grand Area planning was about fulfilling the “requirement[s] of the United States in a world in which it proposes to hold unquestioned power.”1
2. The Problem of “Freedom”
So what next? The contradiction between revamped American plans for the extension of a new imperial order, and the struggle for national independence breaking out across Africa and Asia, to be resolved. American and British policy planners recognized the need to subvert the process of decolonization, to sustain control. D. K. Fieldhouse, Professor Emeritus in Imperial History at Oxford University, notes that the economic dependence of the colonies was “the intended result of decolonialism.”2 Similarly, Robert Winks, Randolph W. Townsend Professor of History and chair of the Department of History at Yale University, explains that “the imperial nation controlled the process [of decolonization] to the end.”3
Part of the plan to obviate decolonization was implemented through direct force. Since 1945, the United States, with routine support from Britain, has conducted military interventions into more than 70 nations in the South. Many of these were conducted in the context of the Cold War, supposedly to fight off the Soviet Union, which, we were told, was intent on imminent invasion of Western Europe and possibly even the American mainland.
But in truth, the vast majority of interventions conducted had nothing to do with the Soviet Union, but were indeed fought to put down nationalist independence movements across the Third World. The paranoia and fear over the USSR allowed Western policymakers to label anything that threatened Western domination as Communist. According to former State Department official Richard J Barnet:
Even the word ‘communist’ has been applied so liberally and so loosely to revolutionary or radical regimes that any government risks being so characterised if it adopts one or more of the following policies which the State Department finds distasteful: nationalization of private industry, particularly foreign-owned corporations, radical land reform, autarchic trade policies, acceptance of Soviet or Chinese aid, insistence upon following an anti-American or non-aligned foreign policy, among others.4
3. 1945-1990: Third World Holocaust?
The scale of the death toll from these interventions is staggering. William Blum, another ex-State Department official, describes the vast loss of life resulting from post-1945 military interventionism in the Third World as a full-scale “American holocaust.”5
How many innocent civilians died as a consequence of these military interventions? A detailed break-down of figures can be found in Unpeople, by the British historian Mark Curtis, a former research fellow at the Royal Institute for International Affairs. Curtis’ conservative calculations confirm that Britain has been complicit in the deaths of over 10 million “unpeople”, expendable people from far-off foreign lands whose lives are worthless compared to the significance of a specific set of overriding strategic and economic interests.
Here’s another overall estimate from the American development expert, Dr J. W. Smith, director of the Institute for Economic Democracy in Arizona:
No society will tolerate it if they knew that they… were responsible for violently killing 12 to 15 million people since WW II and causing the death of hundreds of millions more as their economies were destroyed or those countries were denied the right to restructure to care for their people. Unknown as it is, and recognizing that this has been standard practice throughout colonialism, that is the record of the Western imperial centers of capital from 1945 to 1990.6
Dr. Smith’s figures, it should be noted, point not only to a core of up to 15 million deaths directly due to Western military interventions, but a further unknown 100 million plus who died as an indirect consequence of the destruction and reconfiguration of peripheral economies.
We do not recognize the post-war period as a “holocaust.” But it was only a few years after the appalling genocide against the Jews was revealed to the world that the dictum “never again” was forgotten, a pointless platitude by which to ignore the pleas of millions. The reasons we do not recognize this period as a “holocaust” are several. Firstly, our political culture does not really acknowledge the scale of the interventions that our military intelligence services conducted across the South. Secondly, consequently, such figures are totally unheard of. Thirdly, our political culture is not equipped to comprehend these 70 plus military interventions as manifestations of a single expanding system. Rather, we are accustomed to thinking about our history, about these events, about politics, in a fragmented and disjointed manner. Yet it is precisely this political culture that means that our history, perhaps even our historical complicity in this “hidden holocaust”, remains invisible to the majority of citizens.
4. Covering Iraq
The same political culture that mystifies and obscures the systematization and globalization of genocidal violence in the emergence, expansion and consolidation of the modern world system — not only since 1492, but even continuing past 1945 until now — means that even current events are difficult for us to truly assimilate and understand. This is particularly true of our involvement in Iraq. A fragmented and disjointed method of analysis ingrained in our political culture, incapable of serious or sustained self-critique and self-reflection, prevents us from envisioning the Iraq Holocaust as it truly is.
For the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq was by no means the beginning of the Anglo-American imperial turn. Western pundits, politicians and political analysts routinely debate the emergence of a new form of American empire after 9/11, particularly in relation to Iraq. On the contrary, the 2003 Iraq War constituted merely a new phase in a series of prolonged regional interventions from which the 2003 trajectory of Anglo-American power cannot be abstracted if it is to be fully understood.
A broader historical perspective permits us to conceive the 2003 Iraq War as only the end-point of a continuum of genocidal catastrophe wrought by British interventionism, beginning early in the twentieth century. The British state has conducted military interventions in Iraq on and off for 90 years or so, continuing to do so under the leadership of the United States since 1991. With this in mind, we will begin by reviewing Western engagement with Iraq as a continuous historical process consisting of considerable instances of systematic imperial violence, which frequently included episodes that some scholars consider to be genocidal. While not attempting to actually resolve the questions here, if this argument is accurate in highlighting 1) the continuity of imperial relations between the early twentieth and twenty-first centuries 2) the potentially genocidal impact of Anglo-American military and social policies in Iraq; then we have established the case for a fundamental re-think of our understanding of contemporary international relations in the context of a renewed exploration of the history and theory of imperialism and genocide.
5. Iraq Holocaust: Phase 1 – The “Arab Façade”
Shortly after the First World War, a number of European powers including England turned their eyes toward the Middle East, with a view to weaken the regional hegemony of Ottoman Turkey, the Muslim caliphate for four centuries. The region encompassed by the Ottoman caliphate included the areas of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and much of Saudi Arabia. Amidst a plethora of ethnic, linguistic, cultural and even religious differences, Islam provided the basis of political unity sustaining the caliphate.7 The Ottomans were hardly saints, and had their own fair share of violence and repression. Among other things, they were complicit in the 1915-17 Armenian Genocide.
Yet that doesn’t absolve the British for what they planned and did in the Middle East, which has now amounted to the continuation of relations of violence and even genocide. British officers in the Arab Bureau in Cairo improvised plans to sponsor local uprisings. According to Sir Arthur Hirtzel of the India Office, British aims were explicitly to divide, and thus weaken, the Arabs, not unify them. Despite public overtures of support for Arab unity and independence, the British secretly signed the 1916 Sykes-Pikot Agreement with France, which made official the task of controlling Middle East oil by exploiting internal divisions. Under the Agreement, Iraq was to be carved-up between France and Britain. Thus, Britain invaded southern Iraq as soon as war with the Ottomans had been declared, taking Baghdad in 1917, and Mosul in November 1918. Iraq was not the only innovation. British, French, American and other European manoeuvres saw the creation of twelve new fictional Middle East nation-states from the ashes of the Ottoman empire. The contents of the Sykes-Pikot agreement were revealed in 1921 when the Bolsheviks retrieved a copy. Oil was, of course, a major factor in its formulation, as was officially recognised in the 1920 San Remo Treaty, and in the illegal 1928 Red Line Agreement, involving the British and French sharing of the oil wealth of former Turkish territories originally under Ottoman rule. Here, percentages of future oil production were allocated to British, French and American oil companies.8
Subsequently, emir Faysal I — who belonged to the Hashemite family of Mecca — was appointed by the British High Commissioner as the King of Iraq. Faysal immediately signed a treaty of alliance with Britain that virtually re-instated the British mandate. To counter the widespread nationalist protests to this continuation of colonial rule by proxy, the British High Commissioner forcefully deported nationalist leaders, while establishing an Iraqi constitution granting King Faysal dictatorial powers over the Iraqi parliament. Iraqi popular unrest, however, was intolerable enough to make this state of affairs increasingly unsustainable, forcing Britain to grant Iraq formal independence in 1932 as part of the process of decolonisation. The gesture, however, was only token. Britain had already signed a new treaty with Iraq establishing a “close alliance” between the two countries and a “common defence position.” With King Faysal still in charge and British bases remaining in Basra and west of the Euphrates, British rule was rehabilitated in an indirect form. When elements of the Iraqi army and political parties toppled King Faysal in 1941, Britain invaded and occupied Iraq again to re-install him.
This policy in Iraq — which included both the colonial phase of direct rule and the transition to effective indirect rule under decolonisation — was candidly described by Lord George Curzon, then British Foreign Secretary, who noted that what the UK and other Western powers desired in the Middle East was an:
Arab facade ruled and administered under British guidance and controlled by a native Mohammedan and, as far as possible, by an Arab staff…. There should be no actual incorporation of the conquered territory in the dominions of the conqueror, but the absorption may be veiled by such constitutional fictions as a protectorate, a sphere of influence, a buffer state and so on.9
Lord Curzon had defined in explicit terms the regional framework of political order as a network of surrogate client-regimes. Hence, in attempting to ensure that these client-regimes remain fundamentally compliant with the overall parameters of “British guidance”, regional policy was designed to sustain their internal stability at all costs. As the global hegemony of the British empire faded, virtually eclipsed after the Second World War by the United States, the same policy was pursued. As one US State Department official stated in 1958: “Western efforts should be directed at… the gradual development and modernisation of the Persian Gulf shaikhdoms without imperiling internal stability or the fundamental authority of the ruling groups.” And similarly, the US National Security Council noted in 1958: “Our economic and cultural interests in the area have led not unnaturally to close US relations with elements in the Arab world whose primary interest lies in the maintenance of relations with the West and the status quo in their countries.”10 Yet a further secret British document from the same year concurs, detailing other relevant strategic considerations:
The major British and other Western interests in the Persian Gulf [are] (a) to ensure free access for Britain and other Western countries to oil produced in States bordering the Gulf; (b) to ensure the continued availability of that oil on favourable terms and for surplus revenues of Kuwait; (c) to bar the spread of Communism and pseudo-Communism in the area and subsequently to defend the area against the brand of Arab nationalism.11
6. Iraq Holocaust: Phase 2 — Our “Policeman”
The period after the Second World War saw renewed imperial overtures from both Britain and the United States to regain hegemony over Iraq. After taking power in 1958, Iraqi president Abdul Qarim Qassem was tolerated by the Eisenhower administration as a counter to the pan-Arab nationalist aspirations of Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt. [Roger Morris, ‘A Tyrant 40 Years in the Making,’ New York Times, 14 March 2003] But by 1961, he challenged US-led Western interests again by nationalising part of the concession of the British-controlled Iraq Petroleum company. He also declared that Iraq had a legitimate historical claim to the oil-rich Western client regime Kuwait.7
He thus became “regarded by Washington as a dangerous leader who must be removed.” Consequently, plans were laid to overthrow him enlisting the assistance of Iraqi elements hostile to Kassim’s administration, with the CIA at the helm.” In Cairo, Damascus, Tehran and Baghdad, American agents marshalled opponents of the Iraqi regime,” notes the NY Times. “Washington set up a base of operations in Kuwait, intercepting Iraqi communications and radioing orders to rebels. The United States armed Kurdish insurgents.” Former Ba’athist leader Hani Fkaiki has confirmed that Saddam Hussein — then a 25-year-old who had fled to Cairo after attempting to assassinate Kassim in 1958 — was colluding with the CIA at this time.7
Aburish collects together official documents and testimony showing that the CIA had even supplied the lists of people to be eliminated once power was secured. Approximately 5,000 people were killed in the 1963 coup, including doctors, teachers, lawyers, and professors, resulting in the decimation of much of the country’s educated class. Iraqi exiles such as Saddam assisted in the compilation of the lists in CIA stations throughout the Middle East. The longest list, however, was produced by an American intelligence agent, William McHale. None were spared from the subsequent butchery, including pregnant women and elderly men. Some were tortured in front of their children. Saddam himself “had rushed back to Iraq from exile in Cairo to join the victors [and] was personally involved in the torture of leftists in the separate detention centres for fellaheen [peasants] and the Muthaqafeen or educated classes.”7
US intelligence was integrally involved in planning the details of the operation. According to the CIA’s royal collaborator: “Many meetings were held between the Ba’ath party and American intelligence – the most critical ones in Kuwait.” Although Saddam’s Ba’ath party was then only a minor nationalist movement, the party was chosen by the CIA due to the group’s close relations with the Iraqi army. Aburish reports that the Ba’ath party leaders had agreed to “undertake a cleansing programme to get rid of the communists and their leftist allies” in return for CIA support. He cites one Ba’ath party leader, Hani Fkaiki, confessing that the principal orchestrator of the coup was William Lakeland, the US assistant military attache in Baghdad.7
In 1968, another coup granted Ba’athist general Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr control of Iraq, bringing to the threshold of power his kinsman, Saddam Hussein. The violent coup was also supported by the CIA. Roger Morris, formerly of the US National Security Council under Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon in the late 1960s, recalls that he had “often heard CIA officers — including Archibald Roosevelt, grandson of Theodore Roosevelt and a ranking CIA official for the Near East and Africa at the time — speak openly about their close relations with the Iraqi Baathists.” [Morris] Thus, two gruesome CIA military coups brought the genocidal Ba’ath party, and with it Saddam Hussein, to power, in order to protect US strategic and economic interests.
Gideon Polya, a retired senior biochemist at Le Trobe University working on a scientific analysis of global mortality, has put together a staggering overview of some of most reliable estimates of the number of Iraqi civilians who have died as a consequence of the direct and indirect impact of these Anglo-American interventions and occupations. Using United Nations data and the concept of “excess mortality” — “the difference between actual deaths in a country and the deaths expected for a peaceful, decently run country with the same demographics” — Polya calculates that since 1950, 5.2 million Iraqis died during the period in which the CIA and MI6 were fostering coups, installing and re-installing dictators, until Saddam himself obtained power.12
Western sponsorship of Saddam Hussein, now well-documented, continued through to the eve of the 1991 Gulf War. During that period, funds and technologies supplied by the US, Britain, France, to name only three major powers, served to support Saddam during his war with Iran (1980-88) — killing 1.7 million people on both sides; and his internal repression such as the genocidal Anfal campaign (1987-89) against the Kurds — killing 100,000 people including the gassing of 5,000 at the village of Halabja in 1988. Although the US Senate passed a bill to impose sanctions on Iraq for the Anfal atrocities, the Reagan administration pressured the House of Representatives to block the bill. In 1989, a year after the attacks, the US government doubled its annual Commodity Credit Corporation aid to Saddam to more than US$1 billion. A declassified National Security directive issued by then President Bush Snr. in October that year prioritised the provision of funds and technology to Saddam’s regime, describing it as the “West’s policeman in the region.” The international community, in other words, under US leadership, was complicit in Saddam’s acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing.13
7. Iraq Holocaust: Phase 3 – “Paying the Price”
Finally, of course, we have the scale of deaths resulting from direct Western interventions in the post-1991 period until today. According to a demographic study by Beth Daponte, formerly of the US Commerce Department’s Census Bureau of Foreign Countries, Iraqi deaths due to the 1991 Gulf War totalled 205,500. Out of these, 148,000 civilians were killed as a direct or indirect consequence of the war, including due to adverse health effects resulting from the destruction of Iraq’s infrastructure during the Allied bombing campaign.14
1991 is also the year in which the Allies imposed via the United Nations comprehensive economic sanctions on Iraq, purportedly to prevent Saddam’s access to weapons of mass destruction, but which tended to entrench the power of his regime while fatally depriving the Iraqi people of essential items to survive. Thus, from 1991 to 2002 under the Anglo-American imposed UN sanctions regime, UN data confirms a death toll of 1.7 million Iraqi civilians, half of whom were children. In fact, officials had occasionally acknowledged that the Iraqi population was the primary target of the sanctions regime, a means of waging protracted war on Saddam. “Iraqis will pay the price while [Saddam] is in power”, warned Robert Gates, then presidential national security adviser and current Defense Secretary.15
Arguments that the UN sanctions regime constituted a form of genocide are supported by multiple United Nations officials who were directly involved in the administration of the regime, such as Dennis Halliday, former UN Assistant Secretary-General; and Hans von Sponeck, former UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq. Generally, the argument has pointed not only at the immense scale, in terms of numbers of people who have died due to the sanctions, but has also highlighted direct evidence of Western intent at senior levels, by proving that officials responsible for sanctions policies were fully cognizant of their impact in the deaths of Iraqi civilians.16
8. Iraq Holocaust: Phase 4 — Exporting Democracy
Then we have the death toll of Iraqi civilians in the 2003 Gulf War. Of the several credible academic studies of civilian deaths in Iraq in the post-2003 invasion period, the most rigorous was the epidemiological study by John Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, which estimated 655,000 excess Iraqi civilian deaths due to the war. Although the study employed standard statistical methods widely used in the scientific community, critics argued that the numbers of bodies being discovered did not match Lancet figures, which were more than 5 times greater than the Iraqi health ministry’s figures. Yet even the Ministry of Defence’s chief scientific adviser described the survey’s methods as “close to best practice” and its results “robust”, advising ministers not to criticise the study in public.17
Indeed, Lancet’s figures could be empirically verified if journalists visited several locations at random in Iraq and discovered local reports of 4 or 5 times more deaths. This is exactly what was subsequently done by the British polling agency, Opinion Business Research (ORB), which has tracked public opinion in Iraq since 2005. Working with an Iraqi fieldwork agency, ORB conducted face-to-face interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,720 adults aged 18 plus. Interviewees were asked how many members of their household had died as a result of the Iraq conflict since 2003. The ORB poll found that 1.2 million Iraqi civilians had been murdered since the invasion.18 The ORB findings tally with those of the John Hopkins team, whose data-set, according to independent experts such as Australian biochemist Dr. Gideon Polya, calculated for a year later confirms at least one million post-2003 Iraqi deaths due to the war.
These are staggering figures. They suggest that since 1991, the total civilian death toll in Iraq as a consequence of Anglo-American invasions, socio-economic deprivation and occupation amount to a total of 3 million.
The “hidden holocaust in history” thus continues now. It erupts directly from the unjust political and economic structure of the global system, and intensifies against target populations in the process of the system’s attempts to expand and consolidate its interests and activities, to eliminate resistance to its rule.
Hand on his heart, Tony Blair told the world before his resignation that he “believed” what he did in Iraq was “right”. No doubt, so did Hitler with regard to his exterminatory campaigns in Europe.
We may well believe that what the Anglo-American centres of imperial power are doing in Iraq is right. But the truth is that some of the worst crimes in history were committed by people who truly believed that what they were doing was right. If we have any semblance of humanity left in us as we stand and stare pathetically, immobile, at the scale of the horror our governments have wrought, then our most urgent task must be to discover why our global system, as it has expanded not only during the era of traditional modern “colonization” but even moreso in the era of postmodern “globalization”, systematically generates genocidal violence against hundreds of millions of people across the South; and systematically finds ways to legitimize this violence as normal, functional, necessary… for us to live, breathe and prosper.
- War and Peace Studies Project of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Cited in Lawrence H. Shoup and William Minter, Imperial Brain Trust: The Council on Foreign Relations and US Foreign Policy (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977). This edition is now out of print but I believe it is available in print-on-demand format. [↩]
- D. K. Fieldhouse, Black Africa 1945-80: Economic Decolonization and Arrested Development, (London: Allen & Unwin, 1986), p. 5. [↩]
- Robin W. Winks, ‘On Decolonization and Informal Empire’, American Historical Review (Vol. 18, No. 3, June 1976), p. 540-42. [↩]
- Intervention and Revolution: The United States in the Third World (1968) [↩]
- Killing Hope: CIA and US Military Interventions Since World War II (Zed, 2003). [↩]
- J. W. Smith, Economic Democracy: The Political Struggle of the 21st Century (Arizona: Institute for Economic Democracy, 2003). [↩]
- Aburish, Said K., A Brutal Friendship: The West and the Arab Elite, Indigo, London, 1998. [↩] [↩] [↩] [↩] [↩]
- Aburish, Said K., A Brutal Friendship: The West and the Arab Elite
In the aftermath of the war, what remained of the Ottoman empire was divided among the colonial powers in the mandate system established under the League of Nations, by which formerly Ottoman territories were to be governed by the European powers to guide them toward self-government. Britain managed to obtain the mandate for Iraq, even threatening war to keep the oil-rich Mosul province in the country. The announcement of British mandate rule in Iraq in 1920 led to widespread indigenous revolts, which were ruthlessly suppressed by British forces. That year, then Secretary of State for War and Air, Winston Churchill, proposed that Mesopotamia “could be cheaply policed by aircraft armed with gas bombs, supported by as few as 4,000 British and 10,000 Indian troops.” His proposal was formally adopted the next year at the Cairo conference, and Iraqi villages were bombed from the air.
Edward Greer, ‘The Hidden History of the Iraq War,’ Monthly Review, May 1991. [↩]
- William Stivers, Supremacy and Oil: Iraq, Turkey, and the Anglo-American World Order, 1918-1930, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1982, p. 28, 34. [↩]
- Curtis, Mark, The Great Deception, (London: Pluto) p. 147, 127. [↩]
- File FO 371/132 779. ‘Future Policy in the Persian Gulf’, 15 January 1958, FO 371/132 778. Cited in Nafeez Ahmed, Behind the War on Terror: Western Secret Strategy and the Struggle for Iraq (New Society/Clairview, 2003). [↩]
- Gideon Polya, “Iraq Death Toll Amounts to a Holocaust”, Australasian Science (June 2004, p. 43); Polya, Body Count: Global avoidable mortality since 1950 (Melbourne: LaTrobe, 2007). [↩]
- Anthony Burke, “Iraq: Strategy’s Burnt Offering”, Global Change, Peace & Security (June 2005, Vol 17, No 2) p. 206; Curtis, p. 129. [↩]
- Beth Osborne Daponte, “A Case Study in Estimating Casualties from War and its Aftermath: The 1991 Persian Gulf War” Physicians for Social Responsibility Quarterly (1993). [↩]
- Nafeez Ahmed, Behind the War on Terror: Western Secret Strategy and the Struggle for Iraq (New Society/Clairview, 2003). [↩]
- George E. Bisharat, “Sanctions as Genocide,” Transnational Law & Contemporary Problems (2001, Vol. 11, No. 2) pp. 379-425; Thomas Nagy, “The Role of ‘Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities’ in Halting One Genocide and Preventing Others”, Association of Genocide Scholars (University of Minnesota, 12 July 2001). [↩]
- Paul Reynolds, “Huge gaps between Iraq death estimates”, BBC News (20 October 2006); Owen Bennett-Jones, “Iraqi deaths survey ‘was robust’” BBC News (26 March 2007). [↩]
- Tina Susman, “Poll: Civilian Death Toll in Iraq May Top 1 Million”, Los Angeles Times (14 September 2007). [↩]