Saddam Hussein in Iraq
According to several sources, the CIA virtually installed the Ba’athist anti-Soviet Saddam Hussein under John F. Kennedy:
Forty years ago, the Central Intelligence Agency, under President John F. Kennedy, conducted its own regime change in Baghdad, carried out in collaboration with Saddam Hussein.
The Iraqi leader seen as a grave threat in 1963 was Abdel Karim Kassem, a general who five years earlier had deposed the Western-allied Iraqi monarchy. Washington’s role in the coup went unreported at the time and has been little noted since. America’s anti-Kassem intrigue has been widely substantiated, however, in disclosures by the Senate Committee on Intelligence and in the work of journalists and historians like David Wise, an authority on the C.I.A…
From 1958 to 1960, despite Kassem’s harsh repression, the Eisenhower administration abided him as a counter to Washington’s Arab nemesis of the era, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt — much as Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush would aid Saddam Hussein in the 1980’s against the common foe of Iran. By 1961, the Kassem regime had grown more assertive. Seeking new arms rivaling Israel’s arsenal, threatening Western oil interests, resuming his country’s old quarrel with Kuwait, talking openly of challenging the dominance of America in the Middle East — all steps Saddam Hussein was to repeat in some form — Kassem was regarded by Washington as a dangerous leader who must be removed.
In 1963 Britain and Israel backed American intervention in Iraq, while other United States allies — chiefly France and Germany — resisted. But without significant opposition within the government, Kennedy, like President Bush today, pressed on. In Cairo, Damascus, Tehran and Baghdad, American agents marshaled opponents of the Iraqi regime. Washington set up a base of operations in Kuwait, intercepting Iraqi communications and radioing orders to rebels. The United States armed Kurdish insurgents. The C.I.A.’s ”Health Alteration Committee,” as it was tactfully called, sent Kassem a monogrammed, poisoned handkerchief, though the potentially lethal gift either failed to work or never reached its victim.
Then, on Feb. 8, 1963, the conspirators staged a coup in Baghdad. For a time the government held out, but eventually Kassem gave up, and after a swift trial was shot; his body was later shown on Baghdad television. Washington immediately befriended the successor regime. ”Almost certainly a gain for our side,” Robert Komer, a National Security Council aide, wrote to Kennedy the day of the takeover.
As its instrument the C.I.A. had chosen the authoritarian and anti-Communist Baath Party, in 1963 still a relatively small political faction influential in the Iraqi Army. According to the former Baathist leader Hani Fkaiki, among party members colluding with the C.I.A. in 1962 and 1963 was Saddam Hussein, then a 25-year-old who had fled to Cairo after taking part in a failed assassination of Kassem in 1958.
According to Western scholars, as well as Iraqi refugees and a British human rights organization, the 1963 coup was accompanied by a bloodbath. Using lists of suspected Communists and other leftists provided by the C.I.A., the Baathists systematically murdered untold numbers of Iraq’s educated elite — killings in which Saddam Hussein himself is said to have participated. No one knows the exact toll, but accounts agree that the victims included hundreds of doctors, teachers, technicians, lawyers and other professionals as well as military and political figures.
The United States also sent arms to the new regime, weapons later used against the same Kurdish insurgents the United States had backed against Kassem and then abandoned. Soon, Western corporations like Mobil, Bechtel and British Petroleum were doing business with Baghdad — for American firms, their first major involvement in Iraq.
But it wasn’t long before there was infighting among Iraq’s new rulers. In 1968, after yet another coup, the Baathist general Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr seized control, bringing to the threshold of power his kinsman, Saddam Hussein. Again, this coup, amid more factional violence, came with C.I.A. backing. Serving on the staff of the National Security Council under Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon in the late 1960’s, I often heard C.I.A. officers — including Archibald Roosevelt, grandson of Theodore Roosevelt and a ranking C.I.A. official for the Near East and Africa at the time — speak openly about their close relations with the Iraqi Baathists.
This history is known to many in the Middle East and Europe, though few Americans are acquainted with it, much less understand it. Yet these interventions help explain why United States policy is viewed with some cynicism abroad. George W. Bush is not the first American president to seek regime change in Iraq. Mr. Bush and his advisers are following a familiar pattern.
The Kassem episode raises questions about the war at hand. In the last half century, regime change in Iraq has been accompanied by bloody reprisals. How fierce, then, may be the resistance of hundreds of officers, scientists and others identified with Saddam Hussein’s long rule? Why should they believe America and its latest Iraqi clients will act more wisely, or less vengefully, now than in the past?
If a new war in Iraq seems fraught with danger and uncertainty, just wait for the peace.
-Roger Morris, NY Times Opinion, 2003
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan [during Jimmy Carter’s (D) administration] we had this… idea that we were going come to Pakistan and create a force of Mujahadin [al Qaeda] and equip them with Stinger missiles and everything else to go after the Soviets inside of Afghanistan.
…the United States began a program of covert aid to the Afghan guerrillas six months before the Soviets invaded.
–Eric Alterman (emphasis mine)
Americans, after all, cheered and armed the Afghan resistance after the Soviet Union invaded in 1979 to rescue a tottering communist regime in Kabul. The CIA orchestrated massive arms shipments via Pakistan, including state-of-the-art Stinger surface-to-air missiles. Three administrations promoted a bipartisan policy that endured through a decade of war. Presidents Carter, Reagan and Bush hailed the moujahedeen as “freedom fighters,” and no one doubts that Afghan intrepidity turned the tide.
Apparently the origin of al Qaeda in US intervention in Afghanistan is detailed in the book “Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism” by John Cooley, an ABC correspondent who spent years in the Middle East. According to Amazon, the LA Times Book Review says that “Cooley’s important and timely book examines a strange love affair that went disastrously wrong, the alliance between America and some of the most conservative and fanatical followers of Islam.”.
See “Obama’s Human Rights Abuses” to learn what former US President Jimmy Carter thinks of recent actions by DNC leadership.
*I use “terrorism” loosely.