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Saddam, Rumsfeld, & the Golden Spurs
Jeremy Scahill is an investigative journalist who has recently written an article called The Saddam in Rumsfelds Closet. He is a co-producer of Democracy Now, a nationally syndicated radio show. He has also provided reports from East Timor, Yugoslavia, and Iraq for Free Speech Radio News and Democracy Now.
DAVID ROSS: Youve recently posted an article at zmag.org and counterpunch.org called The Saddam in Rumsfelds Closet. Can you start from the top and explain what you found in your research?
JEREMY SCAHILL: An article came out in the New York Times on August 18 detailing what it calls an American covert program during the 1980s that helped Iraq plan battles at a time when U.S. intelligence indicated Iraq would use chemical weapons against Iran. This follows my article on August 2 called The Saddam in Rumsfelds Closet, in which I wrote about the relationship between Saddam Hussein and Donald Rumsfeld, the current U.S. Defense Secretary. You have to go back some 20-plus years, to a time when Ronald Reagan was president and the Iran-Iraq war was escalating dramatically. The United States was giving aid and weapons to both Iran and Iraq with the understanding, as Henry Kissinger put it, that its best to let them kill each other off, and, oil is too valuable a commodity to be left in the hands of the Arabs.
The Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 shook the foundations of power in Washington so the United States began actively backing Iraq. In 1982, Ronald Regan moved to take Iraq off the list of nations that sponsored terrorism. That allowed a floodgate of U.S. aid to go into Iraq. The Reagan administration was actively encouraging manufacturers to sell to Iraq and Saddam Hussein was aggressively buying everything he could get his hands on from the United States. That included the sale of helicopters that had been demilitarized.
Ronald Reagan dispatched his special envoy to Iraq with a hand-written letter from Reagan to be given to Saddam Hussein, with a clear message that what Washington wanted was to restore normal relations. They had been severed in 1967 during the Arab-Israeli War. Iraq broke them off in protest of U.S. policy.
So when this envoy arrived in Baghdad, not only did he have a hand-written letter, but he also gave Saddam Hussein a pair of golden cowboy spurs, as a present from Ronald Reagan. He shook Saddams hand, called him Mr. President, and had a meeting that the Iraqi foreign ministry described at the time as being about topics of mutual interest. That envoy, who began the process of restoring relations between Washington and Iraq, a man who stood with Saddam Hussein in 1983, was Donald Rumsfeld, the current U.S. Defense Secretary. Rumsfeld was in Iraq as the U.S. was aggressively selling to Iraq, and just a short time after that visit, some allegations started to emerge about Iraqs use and possession of chemical weapons.
On March 5, 1984 (Rumsfelds visit was in 1983), the U.S. State Department issued a public alert, saying that it had evidence that Iraq was using chemical weapons against Iranian solders. A couple weeks after that report came out, Rumsfeld was back in Baghdad, meeting with Tariq Aziz, then Iraqi Foreign Minister. The day that Rumsfeld arrived in Baghdad, the United Nations issued a report saying that a team of UN scientists on the ground in the front lines of the Iran-Iraq war had determined that chemical weapons had been used multiple times against Iranian solders. Donald Rumsfeld was in Baghdad when the United Nations had said yes, we have proof from our scientists that chemical weapons had been used against Iran and Rumsfeld said nothing. He was in the prime position to address the alleged Iraqi threat when it first emerged.
According to an article in Covert Action Quarterly a number of years ago, the U.S. government provided the elements for Saddams chemical weapons through the U.S. Agricultural Department.
Not only that, it was at a time when the Reagan administration was faced with the prospect that the American economy was in trouble and so he viewed the wealthy economy of Iraq as an open market for U.S. corporations. It wasnt so much a covert thing, there were companies in Maryland selling components that were used to make chemical weapons. It wasnt just the United States. It was German, French, and British companiesall of the major western powers in Europe and the Western hemisphere were bolstering Saddam Husseins military capacity.
Western so-called democracies were major supporters of Saddam Husseins chemical weapons program. You can also find receipts on the Internet from U.S. companies that sold these chemical components to Iraq.
The whole story of U.S. sales to Iraq was openly talked about under the Reagan administration and at the beginning of Bush, the Elders administration. It wasnt something that Washington was ashamed of. Remember, Saddam Hussein was considered an SOB, but he was considered Washingtons SOB.
Why does the U.S. government want to attack Iraq again?
When I was in Iraq this past May and June, Iraq celebrated the 30th anniversary of its nationalization of foreign oil companies. They celebrated it with a jolting announcement, if youre an oil dictator in Washington. The countrys oil minister, Mohamed Rashid, announced on national television in Iraq (and it was something that was carried all over the Arab world on al Jazeerra and other outlets) that Iraq was going to begin oil exploitation in two of the largest untapped oil and natural gas reserves in the worldtwo fields in Iraq: one called West Qurnan and the other called Majnun. These two fields had been allocated to two companies, one a French and one a Russian company, but because of U.S. pressure and U.S. sanctions, the Russians and the French never began drilling in those oil fields.
So Iraq was not going to wait for the Russians and the French to stand up to America. It was not going to wait for a time when the sanctions were lifted. Iraq said that they could nearly double their oil production in the next three years. Iraq could theoretically surpass Saudi Arabia as the number one producer of oil in the world. Already theyre number two and theyre under economic sanctions.
Saudi Arabia, which is now being attacked in the U.S. press by the government, has an enormous border with Iraq. If that border was erased and the U.S. controlled those two countriesthe U.S. would control the world oil markets. Saudi Arabia is now saying it doesnt want to provide the U.S. the use of its airbases or its territories to attack Iraq. Its one of the countries that is leading Iraqs normalization within the Arab world. Another reason is the way in which Iraq has completely normalized relations with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and other nations throughout Africa. The trend in the Middle East is to say, Yes, Saddam Hussein is a dictator; yes, hes a ruthless tyrant, but the people of Iraq deserve to live.
So what the United States has done to punish countries like Saudi Arabia is to begin floating stories about how the Saudis support terrorism, how the Saudis are the biggest enemy of America in the region. There was a meeting of the Defense Policy Review Board, which is an advisory clique to Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, headed by Richard Pearle. They had a meeting around mid-July and the story came out in the beginning of August in which the RAND Corporation did a briefing on Saudi Arabia, calling it the greatest threat to America in that region.
The United States is using the Iraq example almost like a crucifix at the gates of Rome, to say that, if you defy the empire, if you stand up against America, you will pay a price, like the 5,000 to 6,000 Iraqi children who die every month. Iraq is the crucifix of the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia is aware of that, so I think it will be interesting to watch what countries participate in a U.S. attack. Just in late June, new satellite imagery was published by globalsecurity.org that showed that the U.S. was building a massive air base and central command center in Qatar. Thats because the Prince Sultan Air Base has been declared off limits by the Saudis to use as a base from which to launch an attack on Iraq, so the U.S. is moving all of its operations to Qatar and that will, I would imagine, become the staging grounds for the attack.
Whoever controls the oil of the world, controls the world, basically. Is that true?
During the Yugoslavian bombing a lot of people on the Left in America wanted to focus on the importance of the Caspian Sea, which is one of the single greatest reserves of natural gas in the world. There were plans to build a pipeline through Yugoslavia, particularly Kosovo. While I think oil played a significant factor in the Yugoslavia bombing, one has to be much more cynical in analyzing U.S. foreign policy. Dominating oil is a central aim of U.S. interests, but its not the only aim.
What the United Sates is doing right now with its policy in Iraq, as well as in Palestine, is attempting to create utter chaos in the Middle East. Look, if Saddam Hussein takes a bullet in the head, which I think is extremely unlikely, or is overthrown in a military coup or is hit by a lucky strike by a U.S. missile, do you think that everyone in Iraq is going to somehow rally behind whoever assumes power? The people in Washingtoneither theyre incredibly ignorant of the religious, ethnic, communal, and tribal makeup of Iraq, or theyre trying to create a massive bloody civil war in Iraq, on top of what will undoubtedly be a large U.S. bombing campaign as well.
In Iraq, you have three million members of the Baath party, Saddams political party. Those people are going to be attacked by their neighbors. Theres going to be communal violence. We saw that in 1991, when Bush the elder told the Shiite Moslems in the south of Iraq after the Gulf War, to rise up against Saddam Hussein. They slaughtered, tortured, hung, and executed hundreds of people from the Baath party in a three-day blitzkrieg. Afterwards, Saddam Husseins forces mercilessly crushed that rebellion as Norman Schwarzkopf and his forces stood by. If Saddam Hussein is taken out, there will be numerous warlords of sorts, either generals, clan leaders, or tribal leaders, who will be engaged in power grabbing and will also threaten the stability of Saudi Arabia and potentially Kuwait. Iran is very nervous about the prospect of Saddam Hussein being assassinated or killed, even though Iran has actively tried to get rid of him for many years.
During Bush I rule, the U.S. government destroyed the public infrastructure of Iraq. What sort of human toll have these sanctions had on the people of Iraq?
These sanctions are unprecedented in world history. Never has a country been put under such severe economic sanctions as Iraq has lived under for the last 12 years. Iraq was a very modern country prior to the U.S. massacre thats now referred to as the Gulf War, where the water treatment facilities were targeted, where the entire public infrastructure of Iraq was destroyed.
At the time when there was proof, according to Washington, which there isnt now, that Iraq had, or was using, chemical weapons, our government had no problem. They would sell Iraq anything they wanted. Now, Rumsfeld has provided us with no evidence. Bush has provided us with no evidence, and theyre banning the sale of vitamin K. Its unconscionable.
What can people do to stop the sanctions on Iraq and the threatened invasion by the U.S. government?
There are a number of things people can do. Im not a big fan of lobbying Congress. I think its like urinating in the ocean and hoping to find the urine somewhere else again someday. Its not going to happen. But the fact of the matter is, that Congress right nownot everyone, despite how it looks in the media, is on board with this. In particular, the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee should be targeted and called and asked to hold honest and open hearings in which people like Dennis Halliday, the former head of the UN humanitarian program in Iraq, is called to testify. Also people like Hans Von Sponeck, the person who followed and also who resigned his position in protest, calling the sanctions genocide.
The other is to get involved with groups like the Iraq Peace Team. This is a coalition of groups spearheaded by Voices in the Wilderness, the Chicago based anti-sanctions group. They are organizing delegations right now, going to IraqAmericans, British, people from all over the worldtaking up residence in anticipation of a U.S. attack on Iraq, to say we are going to stand with the Iraqi people if the United States attacks. Also on Voices of the Wilderness website theres a great number of resources and suggested actions people can take.
Is there anything else youd like to add?
One of the things thats interesting is why do articles like the one in the New York Times and in other papers appear at this time? Why is it that people within the Pentagon, who Im sure have no problem with war and bombing, are very nervous about what the Bush administration is doing?
What that indicates to me is that not all is well in Washington. I think that its very important to connect the dots and ask why is it that some of the top people in the military are leaking to the media war plans that are being discussed in Washington? Is the use of a nuclear bomb being discussed? Quite possibly. Israel is talking about it openly, saying, If the U.S. attacks Iraq, Israel will be a good soldier.
Sharon Perez, the Israeli foreign minister whos referred to as a moderate, was on CNN this fall, saying that the U.S. is waiting too long to attack Iraq and also saying that if Iraq hits Israel with anythinga scud missile, a conventional weaponnot nuclear, biological or chemicalIsrael will consider dropping a nuclear bomb on Iraq. I think the most likely country to use a nuclear weapon in the next five years is not the United States and its certainly not Iraq. I think its Israel.
People need to be very concerned about Sharon that the U.S. has bolstered and built up. He has 200 nuclear weapons and has his people on national and international TV threatening to use them against Iraq. Bill Clinton has said, If the Iraqi army crosses the Jordan River, Ill die for Israel. What is going on in this country? Why is everyone running to this war game right now with this unquestioning support for Israel, who is threatening to use nuclear weapons? Can you imagine if an Arab country threatened to use a nuclear weapon in a regional conflict what would happen? Its incredible.
David Ross does a talk show on KMUD radio in Redway, CA. He has worked on the Nader campaign, corporate accountability, U.S. imperialism, and environmental issues.
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AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
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MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
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NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
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MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
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MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
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LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
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POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
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COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.