A few years ago, a friend visiting the United States from Switzerland remarked upon what she viewed as one of the more conspicuous American personality quirks: Americans often seem to possess absolutely no curiosity when it comes to history — not their own or that of the world at large. How can Americans make informed opinions, she mused, when they have no stomach for history, politics, or current events? My Swiss friend found this incomprehensible — not only incomprehensible, but dangerous.
Enter Colin Powell. In a Reuters interview, Powell characterizes the missing Saddam Hussein as “a piece of trash waiting to be collected” by the United States military. Personalizing the vendetta against Saddam is nothing new — Bush has done it from the start, as his father did the last time the US invaded Iraq. For millions of Americans, the invasion of Iraq and the ongoing devastation of that unfortunate and victimized country are all about Saddam. Like the irritating neighbor who cuts his grass at three in the morning and dumps the clippings over the fence, Americans react to Saddam Hussein on an emotional and personal level. Saddam — thanks to Bush and the corporate media — has taken on a biblical semblance of evil. Saddam Hussein is the yardstick we now use to measure wickedness. He is our Emmanuel Goldstein, replacing Osama in the neocon pantheon of evil.
In fact, Saddam is no better or worse than any number of dictators past or present. General Augusto Pinochet, Ferdinand Marcos, General Suharto, Anastasio Somoza, Pol Pot — these are a few of the bloody dictators responsible for the death of literally millions of people (Pol Pot was responsible for the slaughter of 1.5 million people, Suharto 500,000 or more). These are dictators the United States either supported directly or indirectly over the years. In general, the American people know nothing about these sadists and murderous thugs or how their government supported them.
If Saddam is indeed “a piece of trash,” as Powell claims, it is an indisputable fact that he is trash created by the United States. Saddam was almost entirely a Frankenstein creation of the CIA. This is a fact backed up by more than one US government official and documented in several books.
And yet, if you were to ask the average American if he or she finds it possible Saddam Hussein was groomed, financed, and supported by the CIA beginning with president John F. Kennedy — who signed off on plan to overthrow the government of Iraq in 1963 — chances are they wouldn’t believe it. After all, we’re the good guys, we do good in the world — and that’s why we’re now attempting to track down Hussein and bring him to justice. It’s all about liberating the Iraqi people and throwing off this sadistic butcher — or so the Bushites want us to believe.
The Saddam-CIA story is out there, easy enough to find. In order to find it, simply point your browser at Google and enter the following search criteria: “Saddam CIA coup.” Most of the results returned link to articles and news items reporting how the CIA attempted to overthrow Hussein several times since the first Gulf invasion. ABC, Time, MSNBC, USA Today, and other mainstream publications carry many of these stories.
But Google also turns up stories infrequently if ever reported in the mainstream press about Saddam Hussein and the CIA — as it turns out the Iraqi dictator and the now reviled Ba’ath Party were once favored CIA assets serving US interests. This is the sort of information you will not find splashed across the front page of the New York Times, let alone buried in section F16. In fact, most of this information appears primarily in papers such as the Hindustan Times or in books written by Arab authors. Since the story is at odds with the Bush version of reality, it’s not front-page material in America.
In April of this year, however, as Bush was knee-deep into his invasion of Iraq, the UPI ran a story about Saddam’s connection to the CIA. The story came and went. It was buried beneath a tidal wave of anti-Saddam propaganda and hysterical distortion unleashed by the Bushites and parroted by an obedient corporate media.
Prior to the UPI story, Roger Morris, a former National Security Council staffer in the 1970s, confirmed that the Ba’ath Party now so reviled by average Americans was essentially installed by the CIA in 1963 in response to the Iraqi leader General Abd al-Karim Qasim, a bloody dictator who backed out of the anti-Soviet Baghdad Pact and talked about nationalizing Iraq’s oil industry. “We came to power on a CIA train,” admitted Ali Saleh Sa’adi, Ba’ath Party secretary general at the time. As James Critchfield, then head of the CIA in the Middle East, told Andrew and Patrick Cockburn (“Out of the Ashes, The Resurrection of Saddam Hussein,” 2000), the CIA regarded the Ba’athist coup against Qasim “a great victory” and also considered it their favorite coup.
“The Ba’athist coup, resulted in the return to Iraq of young fellow-Ba’athist Saddam Hussein, who had fled to Egypt after his earlier abortive attempt to assassinate Qasim,” writes Alfred Mendes (“Blood for Oil,” Spectrezine). “Saddam was immediately assigned to head the Al-Jihaz al-Khas, the clandestine Ba’athist Intelligence organization. As such, he was soon involved in the killing of some 5,000 communists. Saddam’s rise to power had, ironically, begun on the back of a CIA-engineered coup!”
In fact, according to Said K. Aburish (“A Brutal Friendship: The West and the Arab Elite,” 1997), many of the people on CIA hit lists had nothing to do with the communists; thousands were “fellaheen [peasants] and the Muthaqafeen or educated classes.” According to Aburish, the Ba’ath Party contact man during the CIA-engineered coup was William Lakeland, the US assistant military attache in Baghdad.
“United Press International has interviewed almost a dozen former U.S. diplomats, British scholars and former U.S. intelligence officials to piece together the following account,” writes Richard Sale (“Saddam key in early CIA plot,” UPI, April 10, 2003). “The CIA declined to comment on the report.”
According to a former senior State Department official, writes Sale, “Saddam, while only in his early 20s, became a part of a U.S. plot to get rid of Qasim. According to this source, Saddam was installed in an apartment in Baghdad on al-Rashid Street directly opposite Qasim’s office in Iraq’s Ministry of Defense, to observe Qasim’s movements.” Adel Darwish (“Unholy Babylon: The Secret History of Saddam’s War,” 1997) told Sale that one Capt. Abdel Maquid Farid, the assistant military attache at the Egyptian Embassy, was Saddam’s “paymaster” and that Saddam’s handler was an “Iraqi dentist working for CIA and Egyptian intelligence. U.S. officials separately confirmed Darwish’s account.”
None of these revelations should come as a surprise. The CIA has sponsored coups and interventions in the Middle East since the end of the Second World War. In 1949, the CIA backed a military coup in Syria, deposing a democratically elected government, while in Iran Mossadeq, a popular and democratically elected leader, was overthrown in a 1953 CIA engineered coup that installed the Shah and ushered in a quarter century of brutal repression. No doubt both Syrians and Iranians recall these events now that the Bush neocons talk openly of deposing “failed states” in the Middle East.
In addition to these covert CIA actions, the US government has meddled in Middle Eastern affairs in habitual fashion for decades; the US military entered Lebanon in 1958, again in 1983 (only to leave after the suicide bombing of the US Marine barracks); Reagan ordered the bombing of Libya in 1986, killing Libyan leader Qaddafi’s young daughter. Meanwhile, the US has consistently backed Israel, providing the small Zionist state with arms and obscene amounts of American taxpayer money subsequently used to occupy Palestinian land and brutalize its people in violation of numerous United Nations resolutions. In 1988 alone, the US vetoed three Security Council resolutions condemning Israel’s occupation of Palestine and its repression in Lebanon.
Add to the above list of dishonor the numerous CIA engineered coups, assassinations, and sundry plotted incidents of mayhem in such far-flung places as Guatemala (1954), Zaire (1960), Cuba (1961), Dominican Republic (1961), Indonesia (1965), Greece (1965), Chile (1973), Angola (1975), El Salvador (1979), to name the more obvious and well-documented (see Mark Zapezauer, “The CIA’s Greatest Hits”). As John Stockwell, former CIA official and author, notes: ” …the CIA has overthrown functioning democracies in over 20 countries.” And yet the American people know little if anything about this sordid history.
The disingenuous Colin Powell is free to stand before the American people and use picturesque (if inappropriately childish) nouns to describe Saddam Hussein — who was, not long ago, that is before he outlived his usefulness and fell from grace, our man in Baghdad — and questions that should be obvious, especially for supposedly educated journalists, are never asked: is it possible that a large number of our current problems in the Middle East and elsewhere stem directly from US support of repressive and murderous regimes? Is it also possible there will not be peace in the Middle East so long as the United States unconditionally supports Israel and pays for the unconscionable theft of Palestinian land? Do you think providing the CIA with new powers — both abroad and at home — will make the world a more secure and less violent place?
Secretary of State Colin Powell may sincerely believe Saddam Hussein is nothing more than “a piece of trash waiting to be collected.” Most of us likely agree about the trash part — but the collection service is another matter entirely. Even if the wily and murderous former dictator is snatched from one of his many hideaways — tomorrow, next week, or next year — this will not stop the guerilla war against the US occupation of Iraq, regardless of what General Abizaid, Rumsfeld, or Bush have to say about it.
But even if Saddam is tracked down and cornered, the US will make sure he never faces justice. For as foreign affairs analyst Eric Margolis has noted, “Dead dictators tell no tales.” Considering Saddam was in bed with the CIA and several US presidents — including Dubya’s daddy — the mission to kill him is an especially urgent piece of unfinished business.
KURT NIMMO is a photographer and multimedia developer in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Visit his excellent online gallery Ordinary Vistas. Nimmo is a contributor to Cockburn and St. Clair’s forthcoming volume, The Politics of Anti-Semitism.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org