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Message-Id: <199803010019.TAA01928@listserv.brown.edu>
Sender: owner-imap@chumbly.math.missouri.edu
Date: Fri, 27 Feb 98 15:06:35 CST
From: bghauk@berlin.infomatch.com (Brian Hauk)
Subject: British Imperialism Has Long History Of Aggression In Iraq
Organization: InfoMatch Internet—Vancouver BC
Article: 28856

British Imperialism Has Long History Of Aggression In Iraq

By Jonathan Silberman, Militant, Vol. 62, no. 8, 8 March 1998

LONDON—In seeking to justify the war preparations of Washington and London, much has been made of the alleged stockpiles of chemical weapons held by the Iraqi regime. In fact the first government to use chemical weapons against the Iraqi people was the British, under the direction of Winston Churchill, along with many other assaults on Iraqi sovereignty.

Faced by a growing popular insurrection against its imperial dominance of Iraq in 1920, London carried out an aerial bombing campaign of civilian villages, described by one anonymous cabinet member at the time as the bombing of the women and children of the villages.

A year earlier, the high command of the Royal Air Force (RAF) had suggested to Churchill, then Secretary of State for War, that chemicals be used against recalcitrant Arabs as [an] experiment. Churchill readily agreed. I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas<.q> Churchill said. I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes.. It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gases: gases can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected.

The use of troops and extreme brutality has characterized the British rulers' whole relation with Iraq and the rest of the Gulf region. Their intervention in Iraq began in the mid-19th century, as popular opposition to the Ottoman empire opened an opportunity to seize it from the Turkish rulers.

The Ottoman empire at the time lay between British-ruled areas in Africa and India, and had to be destroyed if London was to be able to unite, by means of a railway across Arabia and Mesopotamia (now Iraq), its possessions in Africa with those in Egypt and India and to freely transfer its troops to put down insurgency in these jewels in the crown. Mesopotamia was key to finding an overland route to India. In 1861, British capital opened a steamship company for the navigation of the Tigris river to the port of Basra.

Facing rivalry from growing German imperialism, which stood opposed to the open partition of Turkey and dismemberment of Persia (now Iran), London used its still preponderant imperial might to conclude a number of treaties of protection with local Arab chieftains. Kuwait was one of the British protectorates established at this time, in 1899. British capital was also successful in obtaining, in 1901, a concession to exploit the Persian oil fields.

When the Turkish regime entered WWI as an ally of the German government, British forces invaded southern Mesopotamia in November 1914 and pushed northward, occupying Baghdad by March 1917 and finally controlling the whole of the country by October 1918, when Iraq became a British mandate. London's military-strategic interest was now bolstered by the smell of Iraqi oil.

The 1920 insurrection in Iraq was aimed against this continued occupation of the country. In crushing the insurgency, London decided to reorganize its relations with Iraq, establishing an Iraqi monarch as ruler of an independent British protectorate. In June 1922 a 20-year treaty of alliance and protection was signed between the governments of Great Britain and Iraq. The British Mandate was formally terminated in 1932, following a 1930 treaty that provided for Iraq joining the League of Nations, but not before British capital had established its right to be the dominant exploiter of Iraqi oil and to have control over the nation's transport.

During the course of the 1930s, sections of the indigenous Iraqi capitalist class, bolstered by the oil potential of the country, sought to weaken Britain's control by reaching to other regimes in the Arab East. To impose the British-Iraq treaty when its war with German imperialism started in 1939, London again sent troops to put down Iraqi government opposition in 1941. The month-long war rapidly reestablished the client relationship, and Baghdad became an important part of the allied war effort. London maintained troops in Iraq following World War II.

But the skids were already under British domination. On the one hand, there was growing pressure for increasing Iraqi control over the oil revenue, which was fueling nationalist sentiment. This led to an uprising in 1948 that first forced the government to repudiate an new 20-year agreement with Britain and culminated in the overthrow of the government.

On the other hand, the dominance of U.S. imperialism coming out of World War II was increasingly making its mark. In 1954 Washington extended military aid to the regime in Iraq. British influence in the region was further diminished when Washington refused to support the UK-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt following President Gamal Abdel Nasser's nationalization of the Suez canal in 1956. Although London had continued to use agreements with Baghdad to maintain RAF stations at Habbaniya and Shaiba, in 1957 Iraq endorsed the Eisenhower Doctrine under which Washington would supply military assistance to any Middle Eastern government whose stability was threatened by Communist aggression.

British imperialist interests in Iraq took a decisive blow in 1958 when a rebellion led by a group of army officers triumphed, overthrew the monarchy, and established a republic. Following the Suez debacle military intervention was ruled out. The RAF bases were closed and in 1959 Baghdad withdrew from the sterling bloc in which its currency had been tied to the pound.

Forced increasingly to play second fiddle to Washington, London feared the Iraqi regime's designs over its domination of the oil fields of neighboring Kuwait. At the time Kuwait was the world's third-largest oil-producing country, with around a quarter of the world's known reserves. British Petroleum had a 50 percent interest in the Kuwait Oil Company and Shell, a British-Dutch conglomerate, had just won a concession in Kuwait's offshore area. London was also the largest state investor in Kuwait Oil, which provided around 40 percent of Britain's oil supplies.

When British protection of Kuwait formally ended in 1960, London was quick to use the pretext of Iraqi aggression to send troops; the United Nations declined the Iraqi request that the troops be withdrawn. Kuwait's oil importance to the British rulers, and that of the other small Gulf states, increased when Iraq nationalized all foreign companies operating within its borders, albeit with compensation, over the years 1972—75. In the 1990—91 U.S.-led assault on Iraq, London was the first other imperialist power to join ranks with Washington, in hopes of gaining better leverage for British capital in the region.