Published on Tuesday, December 23, 2003 by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Trial Could Dredge Up Sordid Role of US
by Jim Mullins
Nine months after invading Iraq, U.S. Special Forces have finally captured Saddam Hussein. Although this operation could be characterized as the "Mission Accomplished" that President Bush declared seven and a half months ago, it is far from over. Violent opposition to the occupation continues, the reasons for the invasion are as murky as ever, and where Saddam should be tried for his crimes and by what judicial authority is up in the air.
If the American people are ever to be made fully aware of developments in the 44-year relationship between the United States and Saddam Hussein leading up to this war, an open international trial is a must. Who is this guy who looked like a homeless tramp when arrested? Is he the madman that we were told would destroy us?
In 1959, Saddam was an up-and-coming thug, a "wiseguy" in Mafia parlance, who made his "bones" in a CIA plot to assassinate Iraqi Prime Minister Gen. Abdullah al-Karim Qasim. Qasim had joined the Baghdad Pact, a regional agreement with Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Great Britain, put together as a bulwark against Soviet influence. When he withdrew from the pact in 1959 and began to buy arms from the Soviets, the CIA set up a six-man team under Saddam to assassinate him. He botched the job, killing his driver, but only wounding Qasim.
Saddam escaped and made his way to Cairo with CIA and Egyptian assistance. He returned to Baghdad after Qasim was killed in a Baath Party coup. He soon rose in the party apparatus and was put in charge of mass killings of Iraqi Communists, picked up in a nationwide roundup from a list provided by the CIA.
He became president in 1980.
Relations between Iraq and Iran had been strained over the Shatt al-Arab waterway, Iraq's only entrance to the Persian Gulf and Iran's shipping channel from its largest refinery. After the elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddeq, was overthrown in a CIA-orchestrated coup, Iran had became a formidable military power, ruled by the shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, who forced Iraq to cede half of the waterway.
Saddam, as vice president in Iraq, was also pressured by the shah to expel exiled Ayatollah Khomeini, earning Islamic fundamentalists' everlasting hatred. Khomeini returned when the shah was overthrown and installed an Islamic regime.
The shah and Saddam were both brutal, sadistic rulers.
Saddam, emboldened by Iran's weakened military, attacked, resulting in eight years of debilitating warfare. The United States, although neutral, began supplying Iraq with chemical and biological material, helicopters and satellite information that proved invaluable to Iraq when Iran was on the verge of winning the war.
Solid proof was revealed years later when the United Nations, prodded by the United States, set a deadline by which Iraq had to provide a report on its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. When Saddam produced the report, the United States tried to hide incriminating evidence by removing pages documenting Western corporate involvement.
The redacted material was revealed by a reporter for a German newspaper, Die Tageszeitung. Twenty-four major U.S. corporations -- Honeywell, Sperry Corp., Rockwell, Dupont and Bechtel etc -- had sold chemicals and weaponry to Iraq. In addition, U.S. government nuclear labs -- Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia -- had trained visiting Iraqi scientists. Congressional records show the Center for Disease Control and a private biological sample company, the American Type Culture Collection, sent Iraq strains of anthrax, botulism toxin and germs that cause gas gangrene.
U.S. cooperation continued through the Reagan and first Bush administrations up to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
Saddam threatened to invade unless Kuwait paid him for oil allegedly stolen by horizontal drilling during the Iran-Iraq war. Before invading, Saddam called in U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie and told her of his intentions. She replied that we took no position on the dispute. When he invaded, she remarked that we didn't think he would take it all.
Saddam morphed from being a useful thug into a monster that must be stopped at any cost.
A ruse that Iraq had massed an army on the Saudi border was used to persuade the Saudis to agree to using their soil as a staging ground and to build bases near the holy sites of Mecca and Medina, thus angering Osama bin Laden. When the United States did not pull out as promised, he reactivated his mujahedeen fighters and al-Qaida was born.
It would appear that the United States, during several administrations, must have known of Saddam Hussein's barbarous behavior and that of the Shah of Iran's murderous intelligence organization, SAVAK. But in the name of misguided national interests condoned and used them throughout their rule -- to the detriment of democracy for their people, the principle that we now proclaim as our foreign policy.
A fair and open international trial could answer the concerns of most Americans as to the legitimacy of the present war and focus instead on terrorism and conditions fomenting anti-Americanism around the world.
Jim Mullins is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C., and a resident of Delray Beach.
Copyright 2003, Sun-Sentinel Co.