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And He Has Lessons For Us Today
Winston S. Churchill
March 16, 2003.

As thunderclouds gather over the Middle East, America and Britain stand once again shoulder to shoulder preparing to draw the sword in defense of freedom, democracy and human rights. A line has been drawn in the sands of the Arabian desert. We have deployed some 200,000 American troops, together with more than 40,000 British, who will shortly be committed to battle.

Meanwhile, I have a confession to make: It was my grandfather, Winston Churchill, who invented Iraq and laid the foundation for much of the modern Middle East. In 1921, as British colonial secretary, Churchill was responsible for creating Jordan and Iraq and for placing the Hashemite rulers, Abdullah and Faisal, on their respective thrones in Amman and Baghdad. Furthermore, he delineated for the first time the political boundaries of biblical Palestine. Eighty years later, it falls to us to liberate Iraq from the scourge of one of the most ruthless dictators in history. As we stand poised on the brink of war, my grandfather's experience has lessons for us.

The parallels between Saddam Hussein's repeated flouting of U.N. resolutions--17 over the past 12 years--calls to mind the impotence of the U.N. forerunner, the League of Nations. In the 1930s, the victors of the First World War--Britain, France and the U.S.--fecklessly allowed the League of Nations' resolutions to be flouted. This was done first by the Japanese, who invaded Manchuria, then by the Italian dictator Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia and, most gravely, by Nazi Germany.

Had the Allies held firm and shown the same resolve to uphold the rule of law among nations that President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair are demonstrating today, there is little doubt that World War II, with all its horrors, could have been avoided. Indeed it was for that reason that Churchill called World War II the "Unnecessary War." Tragically, the same sickness that infected the League of Nations--a feebleness of spirit, an unwillingness to face the realities of the world we live in, and a determination to place corrupt self-interest before the common good--now afflicts the governments of France, Germany and Belgium.

I can think of few actions more shameful than the recent vote by these three nations in the counsels of NATO to deny the Turks--the only NATO country to share a common border with Iraq--the protection they need against the very real possibility of an Iraqi missile attack. This region, in particular, was one of the great disappointments of my grandfather's career. After the creation of Iraq, Iran and Palestine, he wanted to create a fourth political entity in the region, Kurdistan. Against his better judgment, he allowed himself to be overruled by the officials of the colonial office, a tragic decision that, to this day, has deprived the Kurds of a nation of their own and caused them to be split up under Iran, Iraq and Turkey, each of which has persecuted them for their aspiration to self-determination--none more so than Saddam.

My grandfather's resolve and leadership offer a second parallel to today's situation--one that confronted the world 55 years ago, when America was on the point of losing her monopoly of the atomic bomb. As leader of the opposition in the British parliament, Churchill was gravely alarmed at the prospect of the Soviet Union acquiring atomic, and eventually nuclear, weapons of its own. He said at the time, "What will happen when they get the atomic bomb themselves and have accumulated a large store? No one in his senses can believe that we have a limitless period of time before us."

As President Bush and Mr. Blair intend today in the case of Iraq, Winston Churchill in 1948 favored the threat--and if need be the reality--of a pre-emptive strike to safeguard the interests of the Free World. Aware of the dangers ahead, Churchill believed that the U.S.--while it still had a monopoly of atomic power--should require the Soviet Union to abandon the development of these weapons, if need be by threatening their use.

The Truman administration chose not to heed his advice. The result was the Cold War, in the course of which the world--on more than one occasion--came perilously close to a nuclear holocaust.

It is no great surprise that the nations which long toiled under the yoke of communism during the Cold War are our greatest supporters today. Unlike the French, Germans and Belgians, the East Europeans have not forgotten the debt of gratitude they owe to the United States, first for liberating them from the Nazis and, most recently, from Soviet domination. With absurd Gallic arrogance Jacques Chirac has threatened to block next year's scheduled entry into the European Union of some 10 East European nations as punishment for their support of the Anglo-American position on Iraq. Beneath the protests of the French and the Germans, we can discern in the current crisis, the fading of the old Europe dominated by the Franco-German axis.

Mr. Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder, in urging delay, know full well that if the impending attack is not launched in the next two to three weeks, it cannot, realistically, take place until the end of the year, granting Saddam an eight-month reprieve. In whose interest would that be, I wonder? No doubt they imagine that, by their delaying tactics, they can save Saddam's bacon and with it their own arms-for-oil contracts. But I have news for these two shabby peace-mongers who know no shame: By their failure to join in the coalition of the willing--indeed, by their deliberate attempts to frustrate the removal of Saddam--they will forfeit both their arms contracts and their Iraqi oil. And it could not happen to nicer people!

Like President Reagan before him, George W. Bush has what my grandfather would have called "the root of the matter" in him. He is able to discern the most important issues of the day and to stand firm by his beliefs. Likewise Tony Blair. On Iraq and the Anglo-American alliance, the British prime minister has got it absolutely right: He is pursuing the true national interest of Great Britain, which is to stand at the side of the Great Republic, as my grandfather was fond of calling the land of his mother's birth.

The time has come for the world community--or such of it as has the courage to act--to deal with this monster once and for all. Were we to shirk from this duty, the U.N. would go the way of the League. More gravely, a marriage of convenience would be consummated between the terrorist forces of al Qaeda and the arsenal of chemical, biological and nuclear capabilities which Saddam possesses.

We have business to do and I believe that together America and Britain, and those of our allies who share our sense of urgency and strength of commitment, will soon rid the world of this demented despot, liberate the Iraqi people from tyranny, and strike a further blow against the ambitions of fundamentalist terror.

Mr. Churchill, a former British member of Parliament, is the editor of "Never Give In!," a collection of Winston Churchill's speeches, due in November from Hyperion. This article is adapted from a speech at the Houston Forum. It is reprinted from the Opinion Journal website, which features articles that appeared on the Wall Street Journal editorial page. It is archived as

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26 February 2003
"The past, and future, of Iraq"
Reviewed by Omayma Abdel Latif"A History of Iraq, Charles Tripp, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. pp311."
AL-AHRAM WEEKLY 20-26 Feb.'03

"The modern Iraqi state, set up by the British in 1920, created what Tripp describes as 'a new framework for politics' and one that has been exploited particularly successfully by Saddam."

"Sadam took personal control of Iraq's oil industry in September 1977 ... a fixed perrcentage of Iraq's oil revenue was transferred to foreign bank accounts, which would later form the basis of 'a Ba'athist fighting fund.' " "the book's real importance lies in making explicable events that have too

- Assyria and Babylon - basically Iraq created in 1920 .

Assyria, Babylon, Chaldea, basically the territory allocated to Iraq in 1920. Map from The Living Bible, Tyndale 1971

. often seemed unpredictable and resisting all explanation."

EXCERPTS: What will it take to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein? ... for many, only Saddam's removal from power will see the salvation of the Iraqi state and people. Charles Tripp, the author of this new comprehensive history of Iraq, is no exception. For him, only the removal of Saddam will allow the opportunity to imagine a better future for Iraq. "Saddam Hussein," he writes here, "has reinforced certain tendencies in the history of Iraq, building up a powerful apparatus that brooks no opposition and provides scarcely any space for political activity other than on terms set by him."

Tripp offers a perceptive and well researched reading of Iraqi history ... he looks at the ways in which different groups have dominated the state apparatus over the past half century ..."The state has been captured by distinct groups of Iraqis, but it has also played a role in reconstituting social identities through the logic of state power," Tripp writes. ...." The single individual who has been most successful in first "capturing" the state, and then directing it to his ends, has been Saddam Hussein.

The modern Iraqi state, set up by the British in 1920, created what Tripp describes as "a new framework for politics" and one that has been exploited particularly successfully by Saddam. Tripp traces the logic behind the current system in Iraq to the state's foundation ... .

During this period, Tripp detects a "rift" in the British administration. Some, including Gertrude Bell, Oriental secretary to the British Civil Commission in Baghdad, were in favour of Iraqi self-government under British tutelage, believing that the British should work with urban and Sunni nationalists to this end. Others preferred to rely on sectarian affiliations and on the tribal following of local shia'a clerics and Kurdish tribes. One of the dominant features of Iraqi politics, namely sectarian and ethnic divisions that could be manipulated by those in charge, thus began to take shape. Tripp makes clear how British policy at the time was instrumental in shaping the very tribal hierarchies and units that it claimed constituted the "natural order of the society," it being, in fact, the British institutionalisation of such informal structures that most affected the country's subsequent history and allowed subsequent rulers to play on tribal factionalism to their own advantage.

It has been a persistent feature of Iraqi politics that the state selects allies, giving them its backing and a vested interest in the system. For Tripp, the system instituted by the British in the colonial period "undermined particular leaders at various times and eroded certain structures that made certain tribes or families formidable adversaries... yet this strategy did nothing to undermine the tribal hierarchy. [On the contrary,] it became a crucial instrument of power and helped to sustain two languages and two worlds of political discourse, which the Iraqi rulers have used to their advantage."

One social mechanism resulting from this early policy was the fact that parallel to formal state institutions and structures there came into existence another informal clan-based structure governed by the role of patronage. This system of Al-Intisaab (kinship) has been particularly important in keeping Saddam in power. Another example of how the British reinforced older hierarchies in Iraq was that the system they introduced systematically discriminated against the country's shia'a population, which nevertheless made up almost 60 per cent of the population, making it ineligible for senior administrative positions in the new state structure. This British policy reproduced and institutionalised the older, Sunni-dominated order of Ottoman rule, Tripp remarks, and it reinforced a system of inclusion and exclusion on the basis of ethnic and sectarian affiliation that has continued to be of major importance in today's Iraq.

Thus, it was during the British mandate period that the institutional foundations for the Iraqi state were laid, state institutions emerging as the arena for sectarian struggles that were to constitute a dominant feature of Iraqi politics in the years to come. The next important period in Iraq's modern history came with the institution of the republic in the decade following 1958, the year in which the monarchy was overthrown in a bloody coup d'état led by two army officers, Colonel Abdel-Salam Arif and Brigadier Abdel-Karim Qassem. This coup set out new rules for the conduct of Iraqi politics. Conspiracy within the officer corps now became a norm; the use of violence as an instrument to resolve sectarian disagreement became generalised. A growing tendency to centralise power in the hands of a single, dominant group also emerged, and this negated efforts to represent Iraq's ethnic and religious plurality in institutional form. For Tripp, Qassem's rule reproduces many of the features of Saddam's. Qassem sought the support of Iraq's diverse communities by playing the one off against the other in a policy that for Tripp epitomised the "ambiguity of the Iraqi state." Qassem's rule graphically showed how this was divided between institutional forms, on the one hand, and the less visible, but more important, personal patronage relations on the other, the latter deciding where power lay and who should have access to it.

Qassem's own later overthrow was, therefore, the result of structural problems in Iraqi politics that he had first capitalised on and then compounded. The Qassem period had also shown how the fate of any regime now lay in the hands of the officer corps .... Qassem had shown himself to be either unwilling or unable to devolve power or to create institutions that could mobilise popular support. Thus he had no defence against military conspiracy, since he did not have strong clan or kinship relations. The fact that Saddam does have such strong clan and kinship relations, and that he has been able to staff the state apparatus at key points with his appointees, has probably been enough to save him, thus far, from successful military conspiracy.

... Tripp offers a fascinating account of the rise to power of Saddam Hussein coupled with an account of the rise of the Ba'ath Party together with its structure of powerful Ba'athist officers. One such was Ahmed Hassan Al-Bakr, Saddam's predecessor, who cultivated his own following within the armed forces and party, where relations were based upon common provincial backgrounds and clan relationships rather than on clear ideological affinities. Like his predecessors in all previous Iraqi regimes, Al- Bakr used land distribution, and the fact that the state was prime landlord, to benefit his personal position. ... it was during this period that the state structure became most clearly geared not to the general interest of improving the country's economic conditions but to particular ones of creating a patronage network of complicity and dependence that reinforced the positions of those in power.

During this period in the 1970s Saddam Hussein was assigned to restructure the Ba'ath Party, but he used the position to embark on his own efforts at taking power, which he did in 1979. Tripp relates Saddam's attempts at appearing to be the patron of diverse sections of Iraqi society, bringing in a number of Iraqi Shia'a to senior positions in the apparatus in order to do so. Saddam also showed himself to be a master of Islamist rhetoric. To gain firmer economic control of the country's fortunes, Saddam took personal control of Iraq's oil industry in September 1977, giving him direct access to key resources of the state. Tripp shows how a fixed percentage of Iraq's oil revenues was transferred to foreign bank accounts, which would later form the basis of "a Ba'athist fighting fund".

Following Saddam's successful takeover, trends observable in Iraqi state and society under Qassem and later under Al-Bakr, trends going back to the foundation of the state in the 1920s, have only been reinforced and generalised. Saddam's concept of the state is apparently a largely "dynastic" one, Tripp comments, it being centred on what he describes as the "restrictive circles" of Saddam's associates, all of whom are linked to him either through bonds of kinship or of regional background, or both, or through a history of "personal trust." Such men, the author notes, have "formed the inner circles of the Iraqi regime, having been put to the test on numerous occasions during the preceding 15 years when they could have sided with other clansmen or other military officers; instead they all followed Saddam." Apparently the main criterion for political prominence and survival under Saddam is blind personal obedience.

This is not to say that Saddam has never been challenged, and Tripp cites at least one case in which he was. This came during the war with Iran when Saddam ordered that certain elite units of the Republican Guard join the war. Already suffering heavy casualties, the commanders of these units, themselves generally kinsmen of Saddam, made it clear that they would not commit the forces under their command to a military exercise that had no other purpose than to support the leadership's political priorities, thus issuing a direct political challenge to Saddam to which he nevertheless was obliged to bow. ...A second miscalculation was Saddam's decision to invade Kuwait in August 1990. This came against a domestic political background in Iraq marked by military conspiracy, family feuds, a general expectation of change and economic crisis, and Saddam needed a coup de théâtre that would also serve as a possible answer to the country's economic problems. However, it badly misfired, and after Saddam's plans for the annexation of Kuwait were aborted by an international military alliance against him, he became increasingly concerned to secure the internal political order against his enemies. Tripp describes this process as a "smooth transition from external military defeat to internal military repression." The regime crushed the 1991 Shia'a uprising in the south of the country, and it launched what amounts to an "ethnic-cleansing" campaign against the Kurds in the north. However Saddam has shown himself to be well aware that the bulk of the armed forces are also shia'a, and therefore his tactics have been time-honoured ones of divide and rule, using a language that can appeal to the different shia'a identities in the country. He has attempted something similar in his relations with the Kurds, which have been alternatively bloody and conciliatory.

In general, Saddam's ability to survive decades of tyranny, lost wars, and the virtual international siege that the country is currently suffering, Tripp reads as testimony to the resilience of the political order that Saddam has part-created, part successfully used, and also as testimony to Saddam's ability to manipulate the diverse ethnic, tribal and religious communities in Iraq. He has skilfully used both state structures and state narratives to reinforce his exclusive claim to personal power.

...Though Iraq has been dominated by one narrative for the past thirty years, Tripp is hopeful that there are possibilities for others to develop. He thinks that the country's military establishment, which has an internal, professional ethos that is largely independent of Saddam, could represent an alternative to Saddam's personal regime. Like most commentators on Iraq, Tripp believes that only with Saddam's removal will other opportunities or futures for the country come to the fore. In general, his history is one that offers a carefully documented and comprehensive account of Iraq, thoroughly examining the intricacies of the country's complicated political game. For the general reader, fascinated and alarmed by the drama that has played itself out in the country over the past 20 years or so, and particularly since the Gulf War, perhaps the book's real importance lies in making explicable events that have too often seemed unpredictable and resisting all explanation.

[Imra: What, then, explains Saddam Hussein's post-Gulf War political survival?]

IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis

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