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10 years ago ­ How America Destroyed the Peace

The tenth anniversary of the launching of the Gulf Massacre on January 16th
has prompted a rash of reminiscence in the newspapers. Like the original
newspaper reports, these reminiscences are mainly impressionistic, personal
observations from a rather low level vantage point. There is very little
hard information and much less attempt at political understanding.

I therefore thought this would be a good time to circulate the following
article, originally published in the March-April 1991 of an obscure left
wing journal, the Labour and Trade Union Review. It gives an account (far
from complete) of the diplomacy that led up to the massacre we are all at
present busy celebrating, arguing that the unanimous consensus of Arab
opinion against the occupation of Kuwait could have brought about a peaceful
resolution, but that this possibility was sabotaged by very speedy and
effective US intervention.

The article also makes a distinction which I think is important between
Œsanctions¹ and Œblockade¹. It is the confusion between these two concepts
that enables P.Hain to think there is some sort of parallel between his
efforts against South Africa and his efforts against Iraq. South Africa was
subjected to trade sanctions; Iraq has been subjected to a blockade, or, if
you prefer, a siege, which is an act of war. For a parallel we may look to
something like the Serb siege/blockade of Sarajevo, which, even though it
occurred in a situation of outright war, is generally regarded as having
been morally reprehensible.

Hugh Roberts, author of the article (who has given his permission for its
circulation), is the founder-secretary of the SOAS-based Society for
Algerian Studies.

How America Destroyed the Peace

 by Hugh Roberts

'We had to destroy it in order to save it." (American saying, dating from
Vietnam, where it originally referred to some hapless Vietnamese village,
since when it has become applicable to virtually  everything.)

In his broadcast to the nation on January 18 explaining why British forces
had gone into action in the Gulf, John Major declared that "In the patient
diplomacy of the last five months leaders from around the world have sought
peace, and then sought it again. But unfortunately, Saddam Hussein has
chosen war. He has rejected every attempt to reach a peaceful solution" (The
Times, January 18, 1991).

The first sentence of this statement is formally true.  Numerous 'leaders
from around the world' had indeed sought peace and had done so repeatedly.
They included King Hussein of Jordan, Yassir Arafat of the PLO, King Hassan
of Morocco and President Chadli Bendjedid of Algeria, not to mention former
European leaders of the stature of ex-prime minister Edward Heath and ex
chancellor Willy Brandt.  But this sentence is only formally true, in the
Jesuitical sense of truth.  For it was unquestionably intended to suggest
that the British and American leaders who were now waging war had previously
sought peace.  This is the opposite of the truth.  It was they who
consistently acted to thwart the peace-seeking initiatives of everyone else.

The second sentence is quite untrue.  In uttering it, the British prime
minister simply lied to the British people.  And he lied in the full
knowledge that this lie would be echoed and endorsed by the leaders of the
Labour Party.  Three days later, Gerald Kaufman declared in the House of
Commons that "What is quite clear is that this is a war that no one wanted,
except for Saddam has to be said that, in the end, Iraq
rejected diplomacy."

There had been an enormous amount of diplomacy between August 2, 1990 and
January 15, 1991.  There was the diplomacy, in which Iraq was vigorously
involved, which sought a peaceful solution.  And there was the
Anglo-American diplomacy which sought to consolidate the anti-Iraq military
alliance and frustrate the efforts of the peacemakers.  What Britain and
America have called diplomacy in respect of Iraq has been an affair of
ultimatums issued in the full knowledge that Saddam Hussein could not
possibly comply with them without subverting the Iraqi state, backed up by
an economic blockade.   This, as Edward Heath has rightly pointed out, has
been the negation of diplomacy.

The economic blockade has been described throughout by official British and
American spokesmen as "sanctions".   In his broadcast on January 18, John
Major declared that "We applied sanctions to make our point clear.  We
refused to trade with Iraq." That was another lie told to the British
people.   What Britain and America did went far beyond refusing to trade.

Sanctions would indeed have involved a refusal to sell goods to Iraq and to
buy goods from Iraq.  Sanctions were imposed on Rhodesia and on South
Africa.  They damaged the economies of these two countries, and exercised
some long-term influence on the evolution of the political situation there,
without bringing either country to its knees.  But what the British and
Americans organised from early August was a full-scale land, sea and air
blockade of Iraq to prevent any goods leaving or reaching the country. The
Shorter Oxford Dictionary(Third revised edition, 1977) defines 'blockade' as
"the shutting up of a place, blocking of a harbour, line of coast, frontier,
etc. by hostile forces or ships, so as to stop ingress or egress." The
critical word in this definition is 'hostile'. Hostility implies a state of
war.  And in the conventional terminology of what is fondly referred to as
'International Law', an economic blockade is indeed considered to be an act
of war, a belligerent act.

The only western government to state the truth of this last August was
France.   France initially took the position of agreeing that UN sanctions
should be imposed on Iraq, as they had been on South Africa, but that it did
not support a blockade.  But having, in a passing moment of integrity,
reaffirmed this vital distinction, it allowed itself to be induced by
Anglo-American pressure to forget all about it.

By mounting a blockade on Iraq last August, Britain and America, under the
UN cover, made war on Iraq.  This was an extraordinary thing to do.  Iraq
had not gone to war with either Britain or America, and had no intention of
doing so. It suddenly found itself on the receiving end of a major act of
war by the strongest military powers in the world.  It reacted by making
strenuous proposals for a peaceful settlement, and when these were rejected,
by interning enemy aliens, as is normal in time of war, and was roundly
denounced for taking 'hostages' in consequence.

The interning of enemy aliens was the only hostile action undertaken by Iraq
towards Britain and America and the other members of the military alliance
ranged against it before January 16.  And it was 'hostile' only in the
technical sense of the word.  In substance it was unquestionably an entirely
defensive act, only taken on August 16, that is a full fortnight after
all-out economic warfare had been launched against Iraq, eight days after
American and British troops had begun arriving on its doorstep in
preparation for a possible military campaign against it, and four days after
Iraq's proposals for a comprehensive Middle East peace settlement had been
rejected out of hand by President Bush.

In such circumstances there was every reason for the Iraqi government to
fear that British and American and other western nationals in Iraq might
become the target of spontaneous acts of violence from ordinary Iraqis, as
Egyptian migrant workers in Iraq had already become, and that western
nationals in Kuwait might be involved in embarrassing and possibly
disastrous incidents with Iraqi troops there unless taken into protective
custody without further delay.  It should be noted that western nationals
had had a fortnight to get out of both Iraq and Kuwait by this stage, and
had been deliberately discouraged by their own governments from doing so.

On the day of Major's broadcast, Douglas Hurd stated that "we have now
joined in the war which Saddam Hussein started on August 2, 1990" (The
Times, January 18, 1990).  There can be no doubt that British public opinion
has sincerely believed in the truth of this statement, and that its support
for the war has been in large part premised on this belief.  Had Douglas
Hurd said that "Saddam Hussein has now been forced to join in the war which
we declared on him on August 2, 1990" the British people might have viewed
the business of killing a hundred thousand Iraqis in a different light.

In order to force Iraq to join in this war, Britain and America relentlessly
sabotaged every effort by Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait on terms which would
have permitted the government of Iraq to survive.  The crucial acts of
sabotage occurred between August 2 and August 10, 1990.  These acts were
entirely successful, and established a state of affairs which made war

The entire Arab world was united in condemnation of the Iraqi invasion of
Kuwait.  While many Arab governments agreed that Iraq had substantial
grievances against Kuwait, they could not accept that these justified the
use of force by one Arab state against another.   Their own self-interest as
states required them to ensure that the invasion was reversed, and there can
be little doubt that they would have united to ensure this, had they been
given time to do so.

The first Arab state to condemn the invasion was Algeria, which did so on
August 2. At a meeting of the council of ministers of the Arab League on
August 3, a resolution was carried with a two-thirds majority.  This was in
three parts:

(i) condemning the invasion;

(ii) convoking an extraordinary Arab summit to find an Arab solution to the

(iii) rejecting any foreign intervention, whether direct or indirect, in
Arab affairs.

The second and third parts of this resolution were proposed by Algeria,
which clearly had a shrewd idea of what was in the offing.  The fourteen
countries which supported this resolution were Algeria, Bahrein, Djibouti,
Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Syria,
Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates.  It is important to note that the four
major Arab states which subsequently joined the US-led military alliance
against Iraq ­ Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Syria ­ all supported this

At this stage in the crisis the situation was wide open.  The Arab world was
united in condemning Iraq and there was every prospect of the Arab League
organising effective pressure to persuade it to withdraw.  For its part,
Iraq had not yet dug itself into an impossible position.  It had not annexed
Kuwait, and was making clear to Arab and western governments that it was
willing to withdraw without further ado if given satisfaction on its border
dispute and financial claims.  What then happened was a massive escalation
of the crisis engineered wholly and entirely by the United States, which
split the Arab world down the middle, destroyed the credibility and
influence of the Arab League and scotched all chance of a peaceful
settlement. On August 4 Saddam Hussein was supposed to go to Jeddah in Saudi
Arabia to negotiate a settlement with King Fahd, as had been arranged by
King Hussein of Jordan in talks in Baghdad on August 2 and 3. Saddam was so
confident that a deal was possible with Fahd that Baghdad radio announced
that Iraq was ready to pull out of Kuwait by August 5. But a crucial
participant in the planned Jeddah mini-summit was Egypt's President Hosni
Mubarak.   Saddam and King Hussein both believed they had secured Mubarak's
agreement to the summit.  But in the event Mubarak decided not to go to
Jeddah after all.   According to Pierre Salinger, once President Kennedy's
Press Secretary and now ABC News' chief foreign correspondent, Mubarak
changed his mind under American pressure.

On August 5, Yassir Arafat, who had been strenuously trying to promote Arab
peace negotiations, saw Saddam in Baghdad."As Arafat walked into Saddam's
office, the Iraqi leader opened the conversation by saying: Who sabotaged
the summit?' Arafat didn't really know then but he pushed Saddam, saying
that an early political solution was absolutely necessary. Saddam replied
immediately: 'Go and see the Saudis.  We are ready to discuss,' Heading for
Saudi Arabia, Arafat stopped in Cairo for another talk with Mubarak. He told
him that Saddam is ready to discuss withdrawal from Kuwait but found the
Egyptian President very antagonistic, possibly due to increasing pressure
from the US. When Arafat arrived in Saudi Arabia on August 7, he was told he
could not see King Fahd, who was heavily involved in discussions with US
Defence Secretary Dick Cheyney" (Pierre Salinger, 'Faltering steps in the
sand', The Guardian, February 4, 1991).

Also on August 7, President Bush ordered the immediate despatch of 4,000
American combat troops and aircraft to Saudi Arabia.

It was only after these developments, which made clear that the American
government was actively intervening to prevent an Arab solution and had
already effectively suborned the Egyptian and Saudi governments to that end,
that the Iraqi government declared the annexation of Kuwait, on August 8.
This did not mean that Iraq was no longer willing to consider a withdrawal.
On the contrary, it was clearly only a holding operation on Saddam's part,
for his next move was to ask Arafat to attend the Arab League summit
scheduled for August 9-10 in Cairo and put forward fresh proposals for a
settlement there.

According to some sources, a joint PLO-Libyan proposal, which significantly
made no reference to any wider Middle East issues, but concentrated on the
matters at issue between Iraq and Kuwait and urged serious negotiations
between the two parties (in line with one of the clauses in UN Security
Council Resolution 660 which everyone except Edward Heath subsequently
forgot about) was put forward, but its inclusion on the summit agenda was
vetoed by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, so that it was not even discussed.
According to Salinger, Arafat's proposal was simply that five key leaders
(whom Salinger does not specify, but who were presumably Mubarak, King Fahd,
the Emir of Kuwait, King Hussein of Jordan and Arafat himself) should go to
Baghdad to thrash out a deal which would then be submitted to the rest of
the Arab League in Cairo for its approval. "But when Arafat ... proposed the
five-nation delegation, it was immediately vetoed by Egypt and Syria"
(Salinger, loc.cit.).

Instead, a very different resolution was proposed and voted.  This not only
differed from Arafat's conciliatory motion.  It also differed profoundly
from the three-part resolution passed by the Arab League Council of
Ministers on August 3. The new resolution

(i) verbally reaffirmed the decisions of the Arab League Council of
Ministers meeting of August 3 (while actually ignoring the second and third
of those decisions);

(ii) affirmed the Arab League's obligation to respect the decisions of the
UN Security Council contained in resolutions 660 and 662;

(iii) condemned Iraqi aggression and resolved not to recognise the Iraqi
decision to annex Kuwait;

(iv) called for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Iraqi troops
from Kuwait;

(v) affirmed Kuwaiti sovereignty and independence and called for the
restoration of the lawful government of Kuwait;

(vi) agreed to respond positively to the requests of Saudi Arabia and other
Gulf states to send Arab forces to their defence.

According to Salinger, 'Arafat was stunned ... when he sat down at the Arab
League conference table and found before him a communique already written.
He immediately came to the conclusion that it was written in English and
translated into Arabic.  Four other delegates to that conference whom I have
talked to came to the same conclusion."(Salinger, loc.cit.) According to
other sources whom I have spoken to, the communique actually was in English.

This 'communique' ­ in fact, a draft resolution ­ was presented to the
conference by Egypt and Saudi Arabia.  It was supported in addition by 10
other states: Bahrein, Djibouti, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar,
Somalia, Syria, United Arab Emirates.   This gave the resolution a majority,
with 12 votes out of a total of 21.

Of these 12, only four are substantial states: Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia
and Syria, The remainder am of no mili¨@¿`‚܃e and their
ßÛêreignty in foreign affairs has long been a polite fiction.  Djibouti and
Somalia have long been notorious for voting with Egypt on virtually all
matters; the Lebanese government is controlled by Syria; Oman is a British
client, and Bahrein, Qatar and the UAE were in the Saudis' pocket in foreign

None of the other substantial Arab states voted for this resolution.  Libya
and the PLO voted against; Mauritania and the Sudan expressed reservations;
Algeria, Jordan and the Yemen abstained; Iraq and Tunisia were absent.

American and British propaganda after August 10 repeatedly claimed that the
entire Arab world was united in condemning Iraq and supporting the
UN-sponsored Operation Desert Shield.  In reality, the unity which had
existed within the Arab world on August 3 had been shattered by August 10.
It had been shattered by the way Egypt and the Gulf states railroaded the
Arab League summit to force through an American-inspired resolution which
destroyed the possibility of a negotiated Arab solution in order to provide
the most transparent of fig leaves for the establishment of a massive
western military presence in the Gulf.

On August 10 the possibility of a peaceful, negotiated, Arab solution to the
Gulf crisis was dead, killed by US pressure.  It was made clear to Iraq that
it would not be allowed to secure a negotiated withdrawal from Kuwait on
terms which would enable the Iraqi government to survive.  It was made clear
to Saddam Hussein that his main enemies in the Arab world, Syria's Hafez el
Assad, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, and the Gulf monarchies, were all aboard the
American-led military coalition ranged against him, and that, having chosen
their camp, they could not possibly be expected to modify their positions.
It was made clear that the American and British attitude was that something
called 'International Law' was going to be enforced on Iraq, despite the
fact that numerous previous acts of aggression by other states had gone

His reaction was to put forward proposals on August 12 for a comprehensive
settlement of all outstanding territorial conflicts in the Middle East. This
proposal took the Anglo-American position at face value.   If negotiations
were ruled out because it was a matter of enforcing the law, let the law be
enforced properly, that is, equitably; let all transgressions be dealt with.
Saddam made it clear that Iraq would agree to abide by International Law if
it was demonstrated that International Law actually existed and was being
taken in earnest by those who claimed to be upholding it.  The way to
demonstrate this was to make clear that International Law applied to other
states as well as Iraq, notably Israel and Syria, to name but two.

This proposal was immediately rejected by the United States.  From that
moment on, the Anglo-American and UN position lacked all legal and moral
authority in the eyes of the vast majority of the Arab and Muslim world.

>From that moment on, Iraqi diplomacy was essentially concerned to highlight
the double standards of the American-led alliance and weaken this alliance
by playing the Palestinian and Islamic cards.  It had not tried to play
either of these cards before it was made to understand that neither a
negotiated compromise nor an equitable legal outcome were to be allowed it.

>From that moment on, the diplomacy of other states was essentially concerned
either to reassure their own public opinions that their governments were
trying to avoid the war that was already virtually inevitable (France,
Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, etc.) or to justify and sustain their own
participation within the anti-Iraq alliance and extract the greatest
advantages in cash and other benefits from staying 'on board'.

According to Saudi military sources, between 85,000 and 100,000 Iraqis have
been killed since January 16 because the United States refused to
countenance either a diplomatic or a legal solution to the Gulf crisis and
acted between August 2 and August 10 last year to make both impossible.  The
true number of Iraqis who have been slaughtered in the greatest act of
western folly and murderous arrogance in living memory may well be very much
higher than this, of course.

This is what the British Labour Party has been implicated in by Gerald
Kaufman and Neil Kinnock.

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