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The West Marches East, Part 2: Georgia Starts a War, Russia Draws a Line

The West Marches East, Part 2: Georgia Starts a War, Russia Draws a Line

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally posted at The Hampton Institute

19 June 2014

U.S. Vice President Biden and Georgia's President Saakashvili review a honour guard during a welcoming ceremony in Tbilisi

In Part 1 of this series – ‘The West Marches East’ – I examined the circumstance that while Russia has received the majority of the blame for the more than six-month-crisis in Ukraine, these events did not take place in a vacuum, and, in fact, the Western powers and institutions – notably the United States, NATO and the European Union – have broke promises made at the end of the Cold War to expand NATO – a Western military alliance that was created in opposition to the Soviet Union – to Russia’s borders. Simultaneously, the European Union has expanded eastwards, bringing Eastern and Central European countries within its orbit and in adherence to its economic orthodoxy. Further, many NATO powers had worked together to promote ‘colour revolutions’ across much of Eastern Europe over the previous decade or so, helping to overthrow pro-Russian leaders and replace them with pro-Western leaders.

After nearly a quarter-century of Western expansion – militarily, politically, economically – to Russia’s borders, Russia has had enough. But Ukraine was not the first instance in which Russia has been provoked by the West into a response that the West subsequently declared as an act of imperial “aggression.” In 2008, the small Caucasus nation and former Soviet republic of Georgia started a war with Russia, leading to Russia’s invasion of the tiny country, effectively ending nearly two decades of NATO and Western expansion. This report examines the 2008 war in Georgia and the roles played by Russia and the NATO powers.
Setting the Stage

As documented in part 1, Georgia was – in 2003 – subjected to a NATO sponsored ‘Colour Revolution’ which removed the previous leader and replaced him with a pro-Western (and Western-educated) politician, Mikeil Saakashvili. In December of 2003, Georgian defense officials met with the U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to discuss enhancing military cooperation between the two countries. The US had sent roughly 60 military trainers to Georgia in 2002, but the Georgians had been lobbying for a US military base in their country.

Instead, the Pentagon decided to ” privatize its military presence in Georgia” through a security contractor, Cubic, which signed a three-year $15 million contract with the Pentagon to support the Georgian ministry of defense. The team from Cubic would engage in training and equipping the Georgian military, as well as protection for the oil pipeline that was to take oil from Baku, Azerbaijan, to Turkey through Georgia. Western diplomats suggested that the country could become a “forward operations area” for the US military, “similar to support structures in the Gulf.” In return for the program, Georgia agreed to send 500 soldiers to Iraq.

As the BBC reported in 2006, Georgia was discarding its ties with Moscow and instead, leading “westwards – towards NATO, and perhaps eventually the European Union.” US military instructors were in the country “to drive that change,” training Georgian soldiers to manage checkpoints in US-occupied Iraq. Georgia was largely uneasy with Russia due to the fact that Moscow provided – since the early 1990s – moral and material support to the country’s two breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. A Georgian corporal deployed in Iraq was quoted in the New York Times in 2007 saying, “As soldiers here [in Iraq], we help the American soldiers… Then America as a country will help our country.” This reflected the implicit thinking within Georgia up until the 2008 war.

In early April of 2008, U.S. President George W. Bush said he “strongly supported” Ukraine and Georgia’s bids to join NATO, despite the enormous objections from Russia, which would then see NATO powers located directly on its borders. Bush made the comments following a NATO meeting, where France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg all opposed the U.S. position of fast-tracking Georgian and Ukrainian membership into NATO, seeing it as ” an unnecessary offense to Russia.” Shortly after Bush made his announcement, a former Russian armed forces chief of staff said that Russia would ” take military and other steps along its borders if ex-Soviet Ukraine and Georgia join NATO,” claiming that “such a move would pose a direct threat to its security and endanger the fragile balance of forces in Europe.”

Within Georgia and its separatist regions, which were home to Russian soldiers, tensions were increasingly flaring over the summer months of 2008. With both sides undertaking provocative measures, there was a growing awareness that war could break out. In July of 2008, following her visit to the Czech Republic where she signed an agreement to base part of a new U.S. missile defense system in the country, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to Georgia to meet with the country’s leadership. At that time, U.S. military forces in the region had begun joint exercises with soldiers from Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan. The exercises were taking place less than 100km from Russia’s border, with roughly 1,000 U.S. soldiers and an equal number of Georgian troops. As Rice arrived in Georgia, the Russian foreign ministry issued a statement accusing Georgia “of pushing the region towards war through actions openly supported by the United States.”

Then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev later explained that as tensions escalated into July of 2008, he was in contact with his Georgian counterparts. However, following Secretary Rice’s July 2008 visit to Georgia, he claimed, “my Georgian colleague simply dropped all communication with us. He simply stopped talking to us, he stopped writing letters and making phone calls. It was apparent that he had new plans now. And those plans were implemented later.”

Indeed, as the New York Times noted, when Rice went to Georgia, she had two different goals, one private, and one public. Privately, she reportedly told the Georgians “not to get into a military conflict with Russia that Georgia could not win.” However, in public, standing alongside the Georgian president, Rice spoke defiantly against Russia and in support of Georgia and its “territorial integrity” in the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Standing next to the president, Rice declared that Russia “needs to be a part of resolving the problem… and not contributing to it.” The NYT claimed that these public statements of support for Georgia – and antagonism toward Russia – not to mention the fact that the US was engaging in large-scale military exercises with Georgians, expanding military installations all across Eastern Europe and providing Georgia with military advisers, had the combined effect of sending the small country “mixed messages ” about U.S. support for a war with Russia.

No doubt contributing to these ‘mixed messages’ was when – at the very same news conference with President Saakashvili – Rice was asked a question about a potential conflict with Iran, to which she replied that, “We will defend our interests and defend our allies… We take very, very strongly our obligations to defend our allies and no one should be confused of that.” Apparently, Georgia was a little confused.

When the Soviet Union collapsed and Georgia declared independence, the two regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia gained de facto independence in the early 1990s following conflict between the breakaway regions and the central state. Following this brief period of fighting, tensions were largely reduced, though Russian ‘peacekeepers’ were on the ground monitoring the fragile balance. That balance was upset when Saakashvili became president in 2004, making one of his pledges “national unification.” By 2008, when tensions were reaching a breaking point, there were over 2,000 American civilians in Georgia, according to the Pentagon, with over 130 U.S. military trainers and 30 Defense Department civilians.

Another facet to the increased tensions was the fact that Georgia was an important conduit for a major pipeline, bringing oil from Baku in Azerbaijan through Georgia and to the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean. When the pipeline was completed in 2006, it was the second-longest pipeline in the world, and its construction and use was specifically designed to “bypass Russia, denying Moscow leverage over a key resource and a potential source of pressure.” As Jonathan Steele wrote in the Guardian, the resulting war was about more than pipeline politics, however, as it represented “an attempt, sponsored largely by the United States but eagerly subscribed to by several of its new ex-Soviet allies, to reduce every aspect of Russian influence throughout the region, whether it be economic, political, diplomatic or military.”

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was built by a consortium of major Western energy corporations, and was “the first pipeline on former Soviet territory that bypasse[d] Russia,” which “was strongly backed by the US as a way of loosening Moscow’s grip on the Caspian’s oil wealth.”
When War Broke Out

On August 7, 2008, war broke out. Georgia claimed that it was responding to an attack on the country by separatists in South Ossetia and Russian aggressors. However, independent military observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) who were deployed in the region refuted the Georgian government’s claim, and instead reported that, “Georgia’s inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist [South Ossetian] capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm.” While Georgian President Saakashvili presented the Georgian military actions as “defensive,” in response to separatist and Russian shelling of Georgian villages, the OSCE monitors were unable to confirm that such villages had been attacked, with no shelling heard in the villages prior to the Georgian bombardment of Tskhinvali. Two senior Western military officials who were stationed in Georgia, working with the Georgian military, told theNew York Times that, “whatever Russia’s behaviour or intentions for the enclave, once Georgia’s artillery or rockets struck Russian positions, conflict with Russia was all but inevitable.”

A year after the war, an EU-commissioned report which took nine months to compile concluded that despite much of the blame at the time of – and since – the war being directed at ‘Russian aggression,’ the conflict began “with a massive Georgian artillery attack.” The “damning indictment” of Georgia, however, blamed both Georgia and Russia for committing war crimes during the conflict, and noted that the conflict resulted from months and years of growing conflict. However, the report flatly stated: ” There was no ongoing armed attack by Russia before the start of the Georgian operation… Georgian claims of a large-scale presence of Russian armed forces in South Ossetia prior to the Georgian offensive could not be substantiated… It could also not be verified that Russia was on the verge of such a major attack.” However, Vladimir Putin stated in 2012 that Russia had drawn up plans to counter a Georgian attack as far back as 2006 and 2007, when he was president. Still, while the Russians were clearly aware – and preparing – for a war, it was ultimately Georgia that fired the first shots.

Months before the war broke out, according to documents and interviews obtained by the Financial Times, senior U.S. military officials and U.S. military contractors were inside Georgia training special forces commandos. The two contractors, MPRI and American Systems, both of which are based in Virginia, were responsible for training the Georgian special forces as part of a program run by the Pentagon. The Pentagon had previously hired MPRI to train the Croatian military in 1995, just prior to the Croatian military’s invasion of the ethnically-Serbian region of Krajina, “which led to the displacement of 200,000 refugees and was one of the worst incidents of ethnic cleansing in the Balkan wars.” MPRI, of course – in both cases – denied “any wrongdoing.” The first phase of the training in Georgia took place between January and April of 2008, and the second phase was due to begin on August 11, with the trainers arriving in Georgia on August 3, four days before the war broke out.

Just prior to the outbreak of war, as U.S. diplomatic cables showed, the U.S. Embassy in Georgia knew and reported about the fact that Georgian forces were concentrating their forces near South Ossetia, “either as part of a show of force or readiness, or both.” The U.S. ambassador reportedly told Georgian officials “to remain calm, not overreact, and to de-escalate the situation.” As the diplomatic cables from Georgia revealed, unlike in neighboring countries, U.S. diplomats in Georgia “relied heavily on the Saakashvili government’s accounts of its own behavior” and embraced the “Georgian versions of important and disputed events.” Whereas in other regional countries, U.S. diplomats would report to Washington on their “private misgivings” about their host countries’ claims, in Georgia, the Saakashvili government’s “versions of events were passed to Washington largely unchallenged.”

The five-day war between Russia and Georgia lasted from August 7 – 12, leading to a decisive Russian victory and a humiliating defeat for the US-puppet regime in Georgia. Months of ‘mixed messages’ and indecision and divisions within the Bush administration directly led to the conflict, inflaming internal confrontations within the Bush administration itself. A New York Times article tells this brief story based upon interviews with diplomats and senior officials in the US, EU, Russia and Georgia. Five months before Georgia started the war – in March of 2008 – President Saakashvili had gone to Washington to lobby for NATO membership at Congress, the State Department and the Pentagon. Bush promised the Georgian president ” to push hard for Georgia’s acceptance into NATO.”

In early April, President Bush flew to the Russian resort city of Sochi where he met with President Putin. Putin delivered Bush a message: “the push to offer Ukraine and Georgia NATO membership was crossing Russia’s ‘red lines’.” The United States, however, clearly underestimated Russia and Putin’s determination to adhere to those ‘red lines’. Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney saw Georgia as a “model” for the administration’s “democracy promotion campaign,” and continued to push for selling Georgia more arms and military equipment “so that it could defend itself against possible Russian aggression.” Opposing Cheney were Secretary of State Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns, who were arguing that ” such a sale would provoke Russia, which would see it as arrogant meddling in its turf.”

While the official line of the Bush administration after the war broke out was to blame Russia, quietly and internally, top U.S. officials noted that Georgia was largely to blame, and that U.S. officials had contributed to that process by sending confused messages. Indeed, as some administration officials reported, the Georgian military had created a “concept of operations” plan for a military operation in South Ossetia which “called for its army units to sweep across the region and rapidly establish such firm control that a Russian response could be pre-empted.” As early as January of 2008, Georgia’s Ministry of Defense laid out plans in a “strategic defense review” which “set out goals for the Georgian armed forces and refers specifically to the threat of conflict in the separatist regions.” U.S. officials had reportedly warned the Georgians that, ” the plan had little chance of success.”

Indeed, as the war was under way, debates were raging within the Bush administration regarding the possible US response. In particular, tensions started to erupt between Bush and Cheney, as Cheney’s office felt that when Bush had previously met Putin in April, his silent response to Putin’s warning “inadvertently gave Russia the all-clear to attack.” There was discussion within the administration (from Cheney’s side of the debate) of launching air strikes to halt the Russian invasion. After four days of talks with the National Security Council (NSC), George Bush “cut off the discussion,” siding with his somewhat more rational advisers, as there was “a clear sense around the table that any military steps could lead to a confrontation with Moscow.”

Putin had also spoken with Georgian president Saakashvili in February of 2008, where he warned the Georgian president: “You think you can trust the Americans, and they will rush to assist you?” Putin then reportedly claimed that, ” Nobody can be trusted! Except me.” Interestingly, in this respect, Putin happened to be correct.

European governments were not big fans of Saakashvili, either, seeing him as “an American-backed hothead who spelled trouble.” During the five-day war, French President Nicolas Sarkozy shuttled between Russia and Georgia attempting to negotiate a ceasefire. Sarkozy reportedly told the Georgians: “Where is Bush? Where are the Americans?… They are not coming to save you. No Europeans are coming, either. You are alone. If you don’t sign [the ceasefire], the Russian tanks will be here soon.”

The day after the war began, the Russians called an emergency session at the United Nations to find a resolution to the conflict. The Russian’s proposed a short, three-paragraph draft resolution calling on all parties to “renounce the use of force.” This phrase ran into opposition from the United States, France and Britain, who claimed the phrase was “unbalanced” because it “would have undermined Georgia’s ability to defend itself.” The US, British and French opposition to “renounce the use of force” led to a collapse of diplomatic attempts at the UN to end the fighting, according to the New York Times. When the French President eventually negotiated a ceasefire on August 12, at least one senior U.S. official (presumably Cheney) was reportedly ” appalled” by the ceasefire text.

Erosi Kitsmarishvili, a former Georgian diplomat and ambassador to Moscow (and confidante of President Saakashvili) caused controversy within Georgia when he testified at a parliamentary hearing in Georgia in November of 2008 that Georgian officials were responsible for starting the war. He said that he was told by Georgian officials in April of 2008 that they had “planned to start a war in Abkhazia,” saying that they “had received a green light from the United States government to do so.” However, he added, the officials later decided to start the war in South Ossetia instead, believing that ” United States officials had given their approval.” He discussed the July 2008 meeting between Georgian officials and Secretary of State Rice, saying, “Some people who attended the meeting between Condoleezza Rice and Saakashvili were saying that Condoleezza Rice gave them the green light for military action,” though U.S. and Georgian officials “categorically denied this information.”

When the war broke out, the United States military airlifted Georgian troops from Iraq back to Georgia to participate in the fighting against Russia. In the Pentagon, a 28-year-old junior staffer, Mark Simakovsky, “almost overnight… became a key policy adviser” to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and other top administration officials. Serving as the Pentagon’s country director for Georgia, he “used his expert knowledge and contacts throughout the government and in Georgia to quickly gather information about developments on the ground.” He was pivotal in shaping the Pentagon’s response to the crisis, including the coordination of airlifting 2,000 Georgian soldiers from Iraq back to Georgia.
Aftermath

Within a week of the Georgian war ending on August 12, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared that the United States “would not push for Georgia to be allowed into NATO” during an upcoming emergency meeting of the NATO countries in Brussels, in what the New York Times reported as, “a tacit admission that America and its European allies lack the stomach for a military fight with Russia.”

However, NATO foreign ministers were expected to reaffirm that they would eventually like to see both Georgia and Ukraine join NATO, but not to fast-track the process through the Membership Action Plan (MAP), for which Georgia and the US had previously been lobbying. In November of 2008, Rice affirmed that the US was no longer attempting to fast-track Georgian and Ukrainian membership into NATO, largely due to opposition from France and Germany . In 2011, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev stated that if Russia hadn’t invaded Georgia in 2008, NATO would have expanded already to include Georgia as a member.

In late August, Russian commanders were reportedly “growing alarmed at the number of NATO warships sailing into the Black Sea.” The U.S. said it was delivering “humanitarian aid on military transport planes and ships,” though the Russians suspected that the Pentagon was shipping in weapons and military equipment “under the guise” of humanitarian assistance.

Weeks following Georgia’s defeat, officials at the White House, Pentagon and State Department were “examining what would be required to rebuild Georgia’s military.” The U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, stated during a news conference that Georgia was ” a very important country to us” and that the U.S. would continue to pursue a “military-to-military relationship.” Both Democrats and Republicans proclaimed their unyielding support for Georgia, as both the John McCain and Barack Obama presidential campaigns had “cultivated close ties” to President Saakashvili. John McCain’s wife and Senator Joe Biden (who would become Obama’s Vice President) had gone to visit Georgia in August of 2008, just following the end of the war.

In early September, President Bush promised $1 billion in ” humanitarian and economic assistance” to help rebuild the country following the war, making Georgia one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, after Israel, Egypt and Iraq. Comparatively, in the previous 17 years, the United States had provided a total of $1.8 billion in aid to the country. The European Union also pledged to contribute funds to Georgia, as did the International Monetary Fund (IMF), declaring its intention to provide the country with a $750 million loan.

In September of 2008, Vice President Dick Cheney flew to Georgia “to deliver a forceful American pledge to rebuild Georgia and its economy, to preserve its sovereignty and its territory and to bring it into the NATO alliance in defiance of Russia.” Cheney, who arrived in Georgia a day after the U.S. announced a $1 billion rescue package to help the country, then flew to Ukraine to deliver a similar message. Russia, meanwhile, was entrenching its control over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, recognizing their independence from Georgia and keeping military units stationed within them.

Cheney’s visit, which began in Azerbaijan, then to Georgia and Ukraine, was orchestrated to confirm that the U.S. had “a deep and abiding interest” in the region, and notably in terms of ensuring that these and neighboring countries remained “free from a new era of Russian domination.” Cheney was the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Azerbaijan since it gained independence in 1991. Underscoring the importance of the BP-led pipeline transporting oil from Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey, Cheney’s first meetings in Azerbaijan were not with political officials, but with representatives from BP and Chevron.

In the last weeks of the Bush administration, Condoleezza Rice and the Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs signed the U.S.-Georgian Charter on Strategic Partnership. This was followed up by the Obama administration, holding the first meeting of the Strategic Partnership Commission meeting in Washington on June 22, 2009, marking the launch of four bilateral working groups on “democracy, defense and security, economic, trade and energy issues, and people-to-people cultural exchanges.” The Strategic Partnership reflected U.S. commitment “to deepening Georgia’s integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions and enhancing security cooperation,” including eventual membership into NATO.

The Obama administration sent Vice President Joe Biden to Georgia in July of 2009, with Saakashvili lobbying for the U.S. to sell the country weapons, which Russia strongly opposed, considering the rearmament of Georgia to be ” more serious than whether Georgia enters NATO.”

In 2010, Georgia began a “serious push” to lobby the U.S. for “defensive weapons,” notably air defense and anti-tank systems. To help achieve this objective, Georgia spent roughly $1.5 million at four top Washington, D.C. lobbying firms over the course of the year. Meanwhile, Russia had been “intimidating” many of Georgia’s past arms suppliers, including Israel and other Eastern European nations, not to resume arms sales to the country.

In 2010, the United States also resumed its military training exercises in Georgia, which have continued in recent years, much to Russia’s displeasure. However, Saakashvili lost the 2012 elections and was replaced with a billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who had made his fortune in Russia, leading to slightly improved relations with Putin. In 2013, Russia accused the U.S. of ” putting peace at risk” by holding joint military exercises in Georgia.

Bidzina Ivanishvili was the Georgian Prime Minister from 2012 to 2013, during which time Saakashvili was still president. As the Economist reported in October of 2013, weeks before the Georgian presidential elections to replace him, Saakashvili, who came to power through the U.S.-sponsored ‘Rose Revolution’ in 2003, had, in the following decade, “fought and lost a war with Russia, cracked down on the opposition, dominated the media, interfered with justice and monopolized power .” No wonder Cheney saw him as an ideal representation of America’s “democracy promotion” project.

The billionaire oligarch prime minister, Ivanishvili, Georgia’s richest man, had put his weight behind a presidential candidate, Giorgi Margvelashvili, who subsequently won the October 2013 elections. Under reforms implemented by Saakashvili, the role of president would become “largely ceremonial, with the bulk of power resting with the prime minister.” Ivanishvili proclaimed his intention to turn Georgia into a ” perfect European democracy.”

In May of 2014, months into the Ukrainian conflict, NATO announced its intentions to find ways of bringing Georgia ” even closer” to the military alliance. Just days earlier, both France and Germany “assured Georgia that a deal bringing it closer to the European Union would be sealed soon.”

Georgian officials were holding “extensive discussions” with US and German and other NATO members seeking ways to accelerate the country’s membership into NATO. Whereas previously, the US and NATO powers had decided to put Georgia’s NATO membership on the backburner, the conflict in Ukraine had changed the situation. Georgia’s Defense Minister stated: “Clearly, what’s happening in Ukraine impacts the thinking in Europe… Now it’s very different.” The Defense Minister went to Washington in May 2014 to visit with Vice President Biden and U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.

And so, in the more than ten years since Georgia’s U.S. and NATO-supported colour revolution, the West – particularly the United States – have increased Georgia’s military capabilities, armed and trained its forces, all the while aggravating Russia as NATO and Western military, political and economic influence spread ever-closer to its borders. This ultimately resulted in a war. Though, since then – and with the recent conflict in Ukraine – it is clear that rearming Georgia and further aggravating Russia is back on the agenda.

The hypocrisy and imperious expansionism of the West in Georgia is but a minor reflection of a similar process which has been taking place across much of Eastern Europe, and most especially in Ukraine. Thus, despite the never-ending proclamations of “Russian aggression,” it is once again the Western powers, NATO, the EU, the IMF and especially the United States that are the most to blame for the current conflict in Ukraine.

The 2008 war in Georgia had seemingly put an end – or a halt – on NATO’s eastward expansion. Russia had – after 18 years of NATO expansion – finally drawn a line in the sand over how much it was willing to put up with. It was clear, then, that a similar process with Ukraine, a much larger and more strategically significant country than Georgia, was sure to incur a military response from Russia. If anything, the only surprise is that Russia’s military response has been so minimal, comparatively speaking; at least, for the time being. But as this process continues in response to Ukraine’s crisis, and as NATO and the U.S. military, the EU and the IMF accelerate their advance eastward, future conflict is seemingly all but inevitable.

No doubt, when that conflict comes, we will once again hear the amnesic proclamations of “Russian aggression” and Western benevolence.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is a researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and the World of Resistance (WoR) Report, and hosts a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost.

The Predatory Global Empire in Panama: Punishing the Poor

The Predatory Global Empire in Panama: Punishing the Poor

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

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Establishing a New War Doctrine

The war on Panama presents an interesting case to study. Taking place in 1989, it was the first war and intervention (whether covert or overt) which was not justified on the basis of a ‘Communist threat’. As such, it has been deemed as the first post-Cold War war. However, the justifications for the intervention, which was incredibly violent and destructive, especially upon the poor majority of Panama, were confused and inconsistent. Like all wars, conflicts, and interventions, it was made necessary through imperial logic: a once-client regime and puppet leader became too autonomous from the United States, its leader (and his nefarious connections with the American elite) became a liability and an embarrassment, and the tiny country of Panama threatened American strategic interests in the region, notably with the Panama Canal and the American military bases present to protect it. More importantly, perhaps, Panama was experiencing the development and growth of a populist-nationalist movement, particularly among its poor black and brown population, who had been previously ruled by a tiny white elite of European descent. In the imperial paradigm, the greatest threat to empire is the political, social, and economic mobilization of the people over whom the empire dominates.

Of course, it is a challenge to publicly justify a foreign intervention and war on the premises of a small nation and its people threatening the strategic imperial interests of America; after all, in the eyes and minds of most Americans, America is not an empire, but a bright shining beacon of freedom and bastion of democracy to lead the ‘free world.’ Thus, to sell a war requires the maintenance of more lies to fit in with the prevailing mythology. Yet, in the strategic vacuum created by the ending of the Cold War, and thus the disappearance of ‘Communism’ as the prevailing global boogeyman to serve as an excuse for any and all atrocities committed by America and the West, Panama was subjected to a far less eloquently articulated and designed justification. The threat of Communism was briefly attempted, and then the strategy quickly switched into the realm of the U.S. ‘War on Drugs,’ with many other failed attempts at justification thrown in for fair measure.

While the war was ultimately successful at removing the imperial ‘threat’, the politics surrounding the event were so disjointed that the war fails to stand up to any half-decent examination of the conflict as legitimate, and is, in fact, slightly embarrassing. There is a reason why it is a largely ‘forgotten’ war in terms of the collective memory of the American people having overlooked that ‘incident’ in recent history. People tend to remember only the wars they are reminded about and told to remember. This one, however, is worth remembering, not least because of the great loss of life it incurred on an incredibly poor and innocent people.

The Jimmy Carter administration, in 1978, signed an agreement with Panama allowing the country to regain control of the Panama Canal by 2000. The canal no longer had the same strategic importance it once held for the United States, as it did in the early 20th century. Long considered by American strategists to be “America’s back yard,” Latin America has been subjected to overt and covert U.S. interventions, coups, and wars more frequently than any other region of the world. In 1823, the Monroe Doctrine was written, which “asserted the pre-eminent and unilateral claim of the United States to hegemony in the Western hemisphere.” This document projected “near-absolute strategic control” over Latin America, thus justifying literally dozens of interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean. With the Cold War, the ‘doctrine’ was that of anti-Communism. With the end of the Cold War, “foreign policy managers [were] bereft of a national security doctrine and severely constrained by the greater volatility and suspicion of North American public opinion in foreign policy matters, and congressional and public fear of future Vietnam-style interventions.”[1]

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt “forcibly separated Panama from Colombia by sending in the U.S. Navy and Marines.” In 1904, he announced an updated version of the Monroe Doctrine with “a U.S. right to intervene unilaterally in the affairs of neighboring republics” in order to “prevent chronic wrongdoing.” Thus, in 1912, U.S. Marines entered Nicaragua’s civil war on the side of wealthy land owners; in 1914 the Navy bombarded and briefly occupied Veracruz, Mexico; in 1915, U.S. Marines occupied Haiti, establishing a military government and remaining there for over a decade; that same year U.S. Marines also occupied the Dominican Republic, also remaining there for over a decade. In 1926, the U.S. invaded Nicaragua again, destroying the agrarian rebel movement threatening domestic and international elite interests. Throughout the 1920s, the U.S. intervened in Panama, Honduras, and Cuba.[2]

The Reagan and Bush administrations (1981-1993) dramatically increased U.S. militarism and interventions around the world, such as in Lebanon, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Honduras, the covert war against the Sandanistas in Nicaragua, the Iran-Contra conspiracy, the invasion of Grenada, invasion of Panama, the Gulf War, and the 1992 intervention in Somalia. As Waltraud Queiser Morales wrote, “the Panamanian case can be seen as an important transition from ‘Monroe militarism’ and Reagan’s ‘containment militarism’ to Bush’s ‘New World Order militarism’.” This was characterized less by anti-Communist rhetoric, which was only partially (at least initially) used in the justification for the Panama invasion, but largely “projected ahead to an era of future global lawlessness in the ‘strategic slums’ of the Third World, where the US faced the chronic danger of ‘prolonged security operations’.”[3]

National Security Doctrines (NSDs) are important for American administrations to establish and articulate, as they deflect dissent and justify state actions with an aura of credibility and most notably by employing the notion that the end justifies the means. The Reagan doctrine for Latin America employed such a technique: “The national security of all the Americas is at stake in Central America. If we cannot defend ourselves there, we cannot expect to prevail elsewhere. Our credibility would collapse, our alliances would crumble, and the safety of our homeland would be put at jeopardy.”[4]

The Reagan doctrine was largely realized through its support of anti-Soviet and virulent anti-Communist “freedom fighters” in the Third World, as well as “friendly anti-Communist authoritarians.” This strategy defined the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, the largest covert operation in history, but had the Reagan administration particularly preoccupied with Central America; most notably, El Salvador and Nicaragua. The new strategic doctrine defined low intensity conflict (LIC) as a principle means for implementing this vision. LIC was defined by the Pentagon in 1985 as, “a limited politico-military struggle to achieve political, social, economic, or psychological objectives,” often using methods of insurgency and terrorism. The war, however, is waged in three key areas: the field, within the administration in Washington, and in the media. During the Reagan years, the “War on Drugs” emerged as a potentially powerful new National Security Doctrine (NSD).[5]

Between 1986 and 1988, U.S. policy-makers employed a conscious rhetorical effort to associate the flourishing global drug trade with leftist guerillas in the Third World. The acceleration of employing the “war on drugs” in defining National Security interests increased as U.S. (largely covert) efforts experienced setbacks in Central America. Thus, Presidential directives were signed which increased efforts on the part of intelligence and military personnel against drug operations. Thus, still employing the method of a Low Intensity Conflict (LIC), “militarized drug operations provided a laboratory to project US power, train local militaries in the new strategic doctrine, transfer military hardware and gather intelligence.” The drug war could thus be used “to generate public support behind a resurgent, interventionist US foreign policy in Latin America.”[6]

Of course, missing from this discourse is the very-well documented facts revolving around how the United States has covertly – directly following World War II – supported the drug trade around the world, largely through efforts of the CIA. This was especially the case in Southeast Asia during the Indochina War, where heroin was the principle prize for these covert efforts; Afghanistan and Pakistan during the Soviet-Afghan war (and in the present occupation of Afghanistan), which then came to replace Southeast Asia as the main producer of heroin in the world, and of course, South and Central America (particularly during the Reagan years onward) in terms of the cocaine trade. The role of the CIA and other covert elements has been extensively documented by professors Alfred McCoy and Peter Dale Scott in various books and publications, most notably, The Politics of Heroin (McCoy) and American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection, and the Road to Afghanistan (Scott).

The Destabilization of Panama

General Omar Torrijos, Panama’s military strongman, “was a populist reformist” who had negotiated the Panama Canal Treaties with the United States in the late 1970s. While the Canal held less strategic significance for the United States than in previous times, the 14 military bases present in Panama remained incredibly significant in strategic circles, particularly with the Pentagon’s Southern Command headquarters based in Panama, “which was the site for U.S. military and covert operations in Latin America and the Caribbean.” In 1981, Torrijos died mysteriously when his plane blew up in midair, and he was subsequently replaced by the head of Panama’s military intelligence, General Manuel Noriega. Noriega had long been supported by the United States, going back to when George H.W. Bush was Director of the CIA in the Ford administration, at which time the CIA paid Noriega $200,000 a year.[7]

Following the death of Torrijos, “US relations became cosy with his successor and head of the Panamanian Defence Forces, General Manuel Antonio Noreiga, who had associations with the CIA, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the Southern Command (Southcom), housing over 14,000 US troops in Panama at 14 US military bases worth some $5 billion.” Noriega was a longtime participant in the drug trade, particularly with the Colombian drug cartel, which was all well-known to the U.S. Embassy, Southcom, and the CIA. Yet, in 1987, letters from the DEA and the US Justice Department referred to Noriega’s cooperation with those agencies in the drug war as “superb.” It was ‘superb’ in the true sense of intent and methods, whereby the U.S. was an active organizational participant in the drug trade. Noreiga and many others in the Panamanian military “facilitated drug smuggling and laundered millions in drug money with the complicity of the DEA, Southcom and the CIA.” When cash reserves were high in Panama in 1986, “deposits of $1.3 billion in laundered drug monies were easily transferred from Panama’s central bank to the Federal Reserve Bank in Miami.” Further, large sums of drug money were diverted to the Nicaraguan Contras (death squad terrorists) fighting a war against the Sandanistas on behalf of the CIA. The operation of support for the Contras in their brutal war in Nicaragua were exposed in Congressional hearings and investigations known as the ‘Iran-Contra Affair,’ which was made public in the late 1980s. The scandal, by no means exclusive to the case of Nicaragua, involved the CIA and Pentagon covertly funding, training, and arming the Contras with money earned from illegal arms sales to Iran as well as money from the drug trade. The investigations revealed a complex network of relationships and actors, centered in the National Security Council (NSC), and directly involving CIA Director William Casey, Lt. Col. Oliver North, and then Vice President George H.W. Bush.[8]

Yet, despite Noriega’s “cosy” relationship with these agencies and individuals in the United States, “there were limits to [his] willingness to serve Washington.” As political scientist Michael Parenti explained:

He reasserted Panama’s independence over the control of the Canal Zone and the leases for U.S. military bases. He reportedly refused to join an invasion against Nicaragua and maintained friendly relations with both Managua and Havana. Before long, hostile reports about him began appearing in the U.S. media. In 1987, the Justice Department indicted Noriega for drug smuggling. A crippling economic embargo was imposed on Panama, a country of two million people, causing a doubling of unemployment and a drastic cutback in social benefits.[9]

The initial aim, then, of US intervention in Panama, “was to destabilize Noriega and install in his place a more pliant right-wing commander, but US military leaders feared an even greater threat in the nationalistic Panamanian Defence Forces [PDF].” Further, with the exposure of the Iran-Contra Scandal, “Noriega became a potential domestic political embarrassment and threat to higher-ups in the government, including Bush himself.”[10] Subsequently, “a media blitz demonized the Panamanian leader as a drug dealer, thus preparing the U.S. public for the ensuing invasion.”[11] Thus, “in the end, the drug war served as the public excuse for invasion. But it was not the real reason.”[12]

As Waltraud Queiser Morales wrote, just as was done elsewhere (such as Chile, Grenada, and Nicaragua), the United States promoted the destabilization of Panama, as “economic sanctions, pro-democracy and electoral manipulation, and confrontational military exercises worked to intimidate and provoke incidents that could provide pretexts for intervention.” The pro-democracy and electoral strategy employed by the United States (part of America’s “democratization” project), involved the “Bush administration, the CIA, and the National Endowment for Democracy [which] funneled more than $10 million to opposition candidates – Guillermo Endara, Guillermo Ford and Ricardo Arias Calderon – in the 1989 Panamanian national elections.” With Endara having won, amidst claims of vote fraud by the Panamanian Defence Forces (PDF), and with Noriega subsequently annulling the elections and staying in power, riots and protests erupted. Images of US-supported politicians being beaten and attacked by the PDF and Noriega’s supporters erupted in the American media, which ultimately “damaged Noriega’s regime and enhanced the opposition’s image in Panama and the United States.” Noriega, however, annulled the elections on the basis of “foreign interference,” which, as a direct result of millions of US dollars funding opposition candidates, is an accurate claim of “interference.”[13] Imagine the notion of a foreign power throwing tens of millions of dollars at domestic American politicians in a national election. The idea alone is reprehensible, not to mention illegal. But this is how America “promotes democracy” around the world: through buying the politicians.

The Reagan and Bush administrations had hoped to encourage a coup by the Panamanian Defence Forces (PDF). The Reagan administration began to encourage this option in 1988, as Ronald Reagan continuously refused to employ the option of a direct military intervention. However, additional US forces were sent to their bases in Panama as an indication to Noriega of the increasingly threatening posture of the United States. On March 16, 1988, the Panamanian Chief of Police, Colonel Leonidas Macias, attempted to orchestrate a coup against Noriega, which ultimately failed.[14] The Reagan administration was split internally on the potential to use the military option. The State Department supported the option, while the Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) had opposed military intervention. Elliot Abrams, the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, in March of 1988, suggested using limited force, “a commando raid to capture Noriega and to bring him to trial in the United States, accompanied by 6,000 American soldiers to defend… against any PDF retaliations,” yet the Pentagon remained opposed to the option.[15]

In anticipation that Reagan would eventually adopt Abrams’ suggestion, the Pentagon launched a public counter-attack to discredit Abrams and his suggestions, which included leaking many of his ‘suggestions’ to the press. The Reagan administration attempted to negotiate a deal with Noriega, offering to drop the drug-related charges against him which were brought forward in US courts in 1988. Vice President Bush, however, firmly opposed negotiations with Noriega, as he was campaigning for the presidency, Bush did not want to appear soft on Noriega, as he had suffered the public image of a ‘wimp.’[16] Bush’s victory in the Presidential elections in 1988 allowed for the development of a new strategy for Panama, and with a change in administration personnel, the administration could become more unified in their position.[17]

On October 1, 1989, the United States was informed about a future coup attempt by a member of Noriega’s inner circle, Moises Giroldi, and asked for U.S. assistance in blocking roads to protect the family of the coup plotter. The United States Defense Secretary, Dick Cheney, agreed to help, and when the coup took place two days later, on October 3, the U.S. blocked the requested roads. However, Noriega outmaneuvered the coup plotters, getting help from a special military unit, and the U.S. refused to intervene to ensure the success of the coup. Thus, the plotter was killed, and Noriega began to purge the PDF of dissenting elements. The failure of the U.S. to ensure the success of the coup led to many domestic political leaders criticizing Bush and his strategy.[18] However, this was actually part of a larger strategy. The coup was not supported because there were internal complications within the Bush administration as well as a larger overall strategy. Two top military commanders were replaced days before the coup took place. The chief of Southcom was replaced three days prior to the coup, and the next day, Colin Powell (Reagan’s National Security Adviser), became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The men that these two replaced – General Woerner and Admiral Crowe, respectively – had opposed direct military intervention in Panama, and thus preferred a coup option. Thurman and Powell, however, wanted the change of government to take place “on a U.S. timetable,” and Powell stated that he didn’t like the idea of “a half-baked coup with a half-baked coup leader.” Powell advocated, instead, not simply for replacing Noriega, but that the United States would have to employ a strategy of “destroying and replacing his entire regime.”[19]

What was needed, then, was a pretext for a full-scale invasion in order to crush the regime and destroy the PDF. As the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the U.S. Invasion of Panama revealed, “over 100 instances of U.S. military provocations in 1989 were documented by the Panamanian government. These included U.S. troops setting up roadblocks, searching Panamanian citizens, confronting PDF forces, occupying small towns for a number of hours, buzzing Panamanian air space with military aircraft, and surrounding public buildings with troops.”[20] Again, simply imagine if a foreign military in the United States, which had over a dozen major bases around the country, was engaging in such provocative actions within America. This would be construed as a direct military threat and interpreted as a foreign occupation.

In December of 1989, a Panamanian soldier was injured by U.S. troops.[21] Subsequently, on 15 December, the Panamanian National Assembly declared Panama to be in a state of war with the United States.[22] This, however, was “interpreted” in the U.S. media as a declaration of war against the United States by the tiny Central American nation of Panama. Ted Koppel of ABC “reported that Noriega had declared war in the United States.” Yet, as Noriega himself stated, America “through constant psychological and military harassment, has created a state of war in Panama.”[23] In mid-December, the United States achieved its goal of provoking Panamanian Defence Forces to act, as PDF soldiers stopped a U.S. military patrol car, holding the police officer at gunpoint, and on 16 December, “they fired at an American vehicle in a checkpoint and killed” a U.S. Marine. On 17 December, “a U.S. officer shot a PDF policeman.”[24]

On that same day, the Bush administration discussed their options in Panama. Colin Powell “advocated a large scale intervention whose goal would be to destroy the PDF and the entire Noriega regime and not just [aim to achieve] the capture of Noriega.” Powell reasoned, “that it could be difficult to find Noriega and arrest him at the beginning of the operation, but destroying the PDF would ensure Noriega’s capture.” Thus, Powell concluded, “the PDF’s destruction would be required to establish democracy in Panama.” Subsequently, “Bush agreed and approved the plan for large-scale military intervention in Panama.”[25]

On December 20, 1989, George Bush launched a midnight attack on Panama with an invasion of 26,000 US troops. The invasion took place amidst “a complete media blackout,” allowing for great atrocities to take place with no independent voices or visuals emerging from the nation. The “three-day intervention” known cynically as “Operation Just Cause” was heaped with praise in the United States, as Bush’s reputation as a ‘wimp’ was erased and his popularity shot up. As Bush declared war, the publicly pronounced reasons were “to protect American lives and bring the drug-indicted dictator to justice.”[26]

The True ‘Threat’ in Panama: The Poor

In reality, there were far greater reasons for the war, dictated not by humanitarian, legal, or moral claims; instead, the true reasons were ardently imperial in nature. There were of course the strategic considerations: more reliable client states and puppet leaders, more indirect control over the Canal and maintenance of the fourteen military bases as a launching point for counter-revolutionary operations around Central America, and to install a “democratic” regime based upon party politics as opposed to potentially problematic military leaders who may stand up to the United States. However, there was also a far greater threat, which wove through all the other reasons: Panama was in the midst of a nationalist popular movement, consisting largely of the poor black majority who had for centuries been repressed by a tiny white elite of European descent, as has been the case across all Latin America.

Before Noriega, the military dictatorship of General Omar Torrijos established itself during a period where the issues of race and class were becoming more public and vocal. Torrijos, who ruled Panama from 1968 until 1981 (when he died in a mysterious plane explosion), “sought to legitimize his military regime by seeking support from all social groups for his populist-nationalist project.” The Panamanian Black movement, which had begun in earnest some decades before, truly began to flourish during the Torrijos regime, and played a large part in creating the heated nationalistic sentiments and public demands for the Carter-Torrijos Panama Canal Treaties in the 1970s. As George Priestley and Alberto Barrow wrote:

It was within this new political environment of military led populism and nationalism that racial discrimination and racism was weakened in Panama as progressive and Black groups emerged to gain greater visibility, challenged racial stereotypes, and forged transnational bonds.[27]

The movement was helped along in no small part due to Afro-Panamanian organizations based in the United States, which were directly engaged with the Torrijos government to build support for the “nationalist struggle for the recuperation of the Panama Canal and Panamanian sovereignty.” When Torrijos was killed in the plane explosion, the CIA’s man in Panama, Noriega, back-tracked on many of Torrijos’ programs, including “interventionist” state measures in the economy which “had brokered the populist-nationalist alliance and eased social and racial tensions.” Noriega, instead, embraced the Western neoliberal policies of ‘structural adjustment,’ which antagonized the growing popular movement in Panama. As Noriega failed to become a “responsible” leader in the eyes of the United States, he faced two increasing problems: antagonizing the United States and the Panamanian Black movement simultaneously. However, there were still several remnants of the Torrijos reforms, and the populist-nationalist sentiments which had been fostered by the Torrijos military regime remained strong in the military ranks of the PDF itself. With the U.S. invasion and occupation (and the subsequent media blackout), the true intent of the war became clear to those who suffered in it:

A disproportionate number of those who were affected economically by Noriega’s structural adjustment policies, and who lost their lives because of the U.S.’s Low Intensity Conflict and invasion were from El Chorillo, Colon, and San Miguelito, [poor] communities whose residents are predominantly Black and brown.[28]

These communities, along with the PDF itself, had to be targeted in the war. While Noriega’s economic structural adjustment policies had weakened the populist movement for social justice and equality, the movement continued to struggle and the PDF remained an ideological ally in the promotion of nationalism. This is ultimately the real reason why the United States could not simply support another military coup, as it would still take place from within the ranks of an intensely nationalistic and somewhat left-leaning military, just as was the case with Noriega. This explains why the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell, claimed that it was not enough to remove Noriega from power, but that the U.S. had to have a strategy of “destroying and replacing his entire regime.”[29] Destroying the regime is just what the U.S. did. As Morales wrote in Third World Quarterly:

The invasion victimized thousands of innocent Panamanians and left densely populated areas devastated. Local and international eye witnesses said civilians and residential areas were deliberately targeted. Perhaps 18,000 Panamanians were displaced and thousands remain[ed] in refugee camps in 1993. Local reports had 7000 Panamanians, primarily progressives and labour activists, arrested. Charges of summary executions and secret mass graves also emerged. The Panamanian National Human Rights Committee claimed that 4000 persons were killed in the invasion; regional human rights agencies and the United Nations Human Rights Commission reported over 2500 deaths. The US military admitted only 250; later the Pentagon released the figure of 516 Panamanians killed, over 75% civilian.[30]

The United States media, for its part, “covered Operation Just Cause like a U.S. Army recruitment film,” explained Michael Parenti. American audiences were shown “helicopters landing, planes dive-bombing, troops trotting along foreign streets, the enemy’s headquarters engulfed in flames, friendly Panamanians welcoming the invaders as liberators.” Of course, Parenti elaborated, there was no mention in the media that “the Panamanians interviewed were almost always well dressed, light skinned, and English speaking, in a country where most were poor, dark skinned, and Spanish speaking. Also left out of the picture were the many incidents of armed resistance by Panamanians.” As for the actual bombings and indeed, the virtual ‘scorched-earth’ policies of burning down El Chorillo along with several other working-class poor black neighbourhoods, the media treated “these aerial attacks on civilian populations as surgical strikes designed to break resistance in ‘Noriega strongholds’.”[31]

Following the invasion, the United States installed their favoured candidates from the previously held elections (whom the US – through the CIA and NED financed with $10 million) as Panama’s new “democratic” leaders: President Guillermo Endara, Vice President Guillermo Ford, and Attorney General Rogelio Cruz. As it turned out, unsurprisingly, “all three of these rich, white oligarchs were closely linked to companies, banks, and people heavily involved in drug operations or money-laundering.”[32] After invading, the U.S. “abolished the Panamanian Defense Forces and crushed the popular movement, creating conditions for the consolidation of a right of center party system and the growth of an economy based on neoliberal policies that have exacerbated socio-economic inequalities and increased racial/ethnic exclusion of Afro-Panamanians.”[33] As Priestly and Barrow wrote:

The U.S. invasion and the so-called transition to democracy had negative effects on popular organizing. During and immediately after the invasion, Black and brown communities were devastated; their organizations negatively affected, and their leaders killed or jailed, or otherwise persecuted. Political parties regained center stage in the electoral process and many Black and popular militants were co-opted into these organizations, reducing the organizational capabilities of some organizations and eliminating others.[34]

Only months after the invasion “did a few brief reports appear regarding mass graves of Panamanians dead buried hastily by U.S. Army bulldozers,” while the American media focused on the sideshow of the pursuit of Noriega, who ultimately turned himself in early January. No footage was shown of the poor neighbourhoods destroyed by U.S. bombing, such as El Chorillo’s “total devastation,” and no mention “of the many lives lost in what amounted to a saturation terror-bombing of a civilian neighborhood.”[35] As Michael Parenti wrote:

With the U.S. military firmly controlling Panama, conditions in that country deteriorated. Unemployment, already high because of the U.S. embargo, climbed to 35 percent as drastic layoffs were imposed on the public sector. Pension rights and other work benefits were lost. Newspapers and radio and television stations were closed by U.S. occupation authorities. Newspaper editors and reporters critical of the invasion were jailed or detained, as were all the leftist political party leaders. Union heads were arrested by the U.S. military, and some 150 local labor leaders were removed from their elected union positions. Public employees not supporting the invasion were purged. Crime rates rose dramatically, along with poverty and destitution. Thousands remained homeless. Corruption was more widespread than ever. More money-laundering and drug-trafficking occurred under the U.S.-sponsored Endara administration than under Noriega.[36]

Noriega was taken to the United States and convicted of drug smuggling in 1992. The United States conveniently ignored the drug-trafficking by Panama’s new “democratic” Endara administration, not to mention “its infringement of civil liberties and democracy.” The U.S. Congress received George Bush with a standing ovation when he declared, “One year ago the people of Panama lived in fear under the thumb of a dictator. Today democracy is restored. Panama is free.” Endara, however, “was extremely unpopular in Panama,” seen as “just another pliant US puppet.”[37] In June of 1990, the Washington Post had declared that the Endara regime, against all evidence, improved human rights and “press freedoms have been restored.”[38]

Conclusion

The struggles of the once-popular resistance and Black movement continued well into the 21st century, and up to the present day. The war on Panama represented the true nature of what was to come in the post-Cold War world, as it was the first war the United States undertook without Cold War rhetoric. Its principle aim was to destroy a popular people’s movement, remove a non-compliant dictator, and establish more control over the country and the region. Of course, among our political leaders and media in the West, this is referred to as “restoring democracy.” Thus, the threat of the Communist boogeyman faded, and the benevolent aim of ‘democracy’ resurfaced, as it initially did following World War I when Woodrow Wilson declared that the world must be made safe for democracy. For all the rhetoric of Western leaders and media, the greatest crime a leader or people can commit is to support themselves, or simply seek to do so; to provide for the poor and needy, to attempt to industrialize and develop their own country as they see fit, and to create an educated, free, healthy and stable population and society. This, above all else, is the ultimate sin in the world of “international politics.”

Logic thus dictates, then, that the greatest potential for true change and hope in this world is solidarity among all people’s movements the world over, and for a resurgence of populist movement, ideally not nationalistic in character, but simultaneously local and global: seeking local autonomy (moving around the nation-state, an easily corrupted and contemptuous institution), and seeking solidarity globally, to align itself with all such movements around the world, achieving strength in numbers, interaction of ideas, articulation of strategies, and advancement of all peoples in all places.

If a popular movement in a tiny little nation like Panama was such a threat to the massive American Empire, the largest, most militarily advanced, and most globally expansive empire in all of human history, this is actually a source of hope for all humanity. If Panama was such a threat that the United States saw fit to invade and occupy the small country, then imagine the threat which would be posed if all people, everywhere in the world, simultaneously sought a populist liberation struggle; not divided by nations and regions, but acting locally – for local autonomy from domestic elites and liberation from the empire – and interacting globally, with other such movements around the world. This is truly the greatest threat ever known to a global empire. This threat has been articulated by one of the empire’s most prominent strategists, Zbigniew Brzezinski, as the “Global Political Awakening.” Thus, it is in the interest of all peoples, everywhere, always and eternally, to seek and support all liberation struggles, to advance the “Awakening” and bring in a new concept of democracy, one which lives up to the rhetoric of our current system: “of, by, and for the people”; a democracy void of predatory elites. This is true freedom, true liberation, and no other philosophy or ideology is so capable of uniting the people of the world under one banner than that of the ‘ultimate liberation’: of, by, and for the people.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is co-editor of the book, “The Global Economic Crisis: The Great Depression of the XXI Century.” His website is http://www.andrewgavinmarshall.com

Notes

[1]            Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), page 77.

[2]            Charles Maechling, Jr., “Washington’s Illegal Invasion,” Foreign Policy (No. 79, Summer 1990), pages 113-114.

[3]            Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), page 78.

[4]            Waltraud Quesler Morales, “The War on Drugs: A New US National Security Doctrine?” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 11, No. 3, July 1989), page 151.

[5]            Ibid, page 152.

[6]            Ibid, pages 154-155.

[7]            Michael Parenti, “A Devil in Panama,” Peace Review (Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993), page 45.

[8]            Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), page 82.

[9]            Michael Parenti, “A Devil in Panama,” Peace Review (Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993), pages 45-46.

[10]            Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), page 83.

[11]            Michael Parenti, “A Devil in Panama,” Peace Review (Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993), page 46.

[12]            Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), page 83.

[13]            Ibid.

[14]            Eytan Gilboa, “The Panama Invasion Revisited: Lessons for the Use of Force in the Post Cold War Era,” Political Science Quarterly (Vol. 110, No. 4, Winter 1995-1996), page 547.

[15]            Ibid, page 548.

[16]            Ibid, page 549.

[17]            Ibid, page 551.

[18]            Ibid, pages 554-555.

[19]            Ibid, page 556.

[20]            The Independent Commission of Inquiry on the U.S. Invasion of Panama, The U.S. invasion of Panama: the truth behind operation ‘ Just Cause’ (South End Press, 1991), page 24.

[21]            Ibid.

[22]            Eytan Gilboa, “The Panama Invasion Revisited: Lessons for the Use of Force in the Post Cold War Era,” Political Science Quarterly (Vol. 110, No. 4, Winter 1995-1996), page 558.

[23]            Michael Parenti, “A Devil in Panama,” Peace Review (Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993), page 46.

[24]            Eytan Gilboa, “The Panama Invasion Revisited: Lessons for the Use of Force in the Post Cold War Era,” Political Science Quarterly (Vol. 110, No. 4, Winter 1995-1996), page 558.

[25]            Ibid, pages 558-559.

[26]            Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), pages 83-84.

[27]            George Priestley and Alberto Barrow, “The Black Movement in Panama: A Historical and Political Interpretation, 1994-2004,” Souls (Vol. 10, No. 3, 2008), page 231.

[28]            Ibid, pages 231-232.

[29]            Eytan Gilboa, “The Panama Invasion Revisited: Lessons for the Use of Force in the Post Cold War Era,” Political Science Quarterly (Vol. 110, No. 4, Winter 1995-1996), page 556.

[30]            Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), page 84.

[31]            Michael Parenti, “A Devil in Panama,” Peace Review (Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993), page 46.

[32]            Ibid, page 48.

[33]            George Priestley and Alberto Barrow, “The Black Movement in Panama: A Historical and Political Interpretation, 1994-2004,” Souls (Vol. 10, No. 3, 2008), page 232.

[34]            Ibid, page 234.

[35]            Michael Parenti, “A Devil in Panama,” Peace Review (Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993), pages 46-47.

[36]            Ibid, page 49.

[37]            Waltraud Queiser Morales, “U.S. Intervention and the New World Order: Lessons from Cold War and post-Cold War cases,” Third World Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994), page 84.

[38]            Michael Parenti, “A Devil in Panama,” Peace Review (Vol. 5, No. 1, 1993), page 49.

Divide and Conquer: The Anglo-American Imperial Project

Divide and Conquer: The Anglo-American Imperial Project
Global Research, July 10, 2008

Establishing an “Arc of Crisis”

Many would be skeptical that the Anglo-Americans would be behind terrorist acts in Iraq, such as with the British in Basra, when two British SAS soldiers were caught dressed as Arabs, with explosives and massive arsenal of weapons.[1] Why would the British be complicit in orchestrating terror in the very city in which they are to provide security? What would be the purpose behind this? That question leads us to an even more important question to ask, the question of why Iraq was occupied; what is the purpose of the war on Iraq? If the answer is, as we are often told with our daily dose of CNN, SkyNews and the statements of public officials, to spread democracy and freedom and rid the world of tyranny and terror, then it doesn’t make sense that the British or Americans would orchestrate terror.

However, if the answer to the question of why the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq occurred was not to spread democracy and freedom, but to spread fear and chaos, plunge the country into civil war, balkanize Iraq into several countries, and create an “arc of crisis” across the Middle East, enveloping neighboring countries, notably Iran, then terror is a very efficient and effective means to an end.

An Imperial Strategy

In 1982, Oded Yinon, an Israeli journalist with links to the Israeli Foreign Ministry wrote an article for a publication of the World Zionist Organization in which he outlined a “strategy for Israel in the 1980s.” In this article, he stated, “The dissolution of Syria and Iraq into ethnically or religiously unique areas such as in Lebanon is Israel’s primary target on the Eastern front. Iraq, rich in oil on the one hand and internally torn on the other is guaranteed as a candidate for Israel’s targets. Its dissolution is even more important for us than that of Syria. Iraq is stronger than Syria. In the short run, it is Iraqi power which constitutes the greatest threat to Israel.” He continued, “An Iraqi-Iranian war will tear Iraq apart and cause its downfall at home even before it is able to organize a struggle on a wide front against us. Every kind of inter-Arab confrontation will assist us in the short run and will shorten the way to the more important aim of breaking up Iraq into denominations as in Syria and Lebanon.” He continues, “In Iraq, a division into provinces along ethnic/religious lines as in Syria during Ottoman times is possible. So, three (or more) states will exist around the three major cities: Basra, Baghdad and Mosul and Shiite areas in the South will separate from the Sunni and Kurdish north.”[2]

The Iran-Iraq War, which lasted until 1988, did not result in Oded Yinon’s desired break-up of Iraq into ethnically based provinces. Nor did the subsequent Gulf War of 1991 in which the US destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure, as well as the following decade-plus of devastating sanctions and aerial bombardments by the Clinton administration. What did occur during these decades, however, were the deaths of millions of Iraqis and Iranians.

A Clean Break for a New American Century

In 1996, an Israeli think tank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, issued a report under the think tank’s Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000, entitled, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” In this paper, which laid out recommendations for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they state that Israel can, “Work closely with Turkey and Jordan to contain, destabilize, and roll-back some of its most dangerous threats,” as well as, “Change the nature of its relations with the Palestinians, including upholding the right of hot pursuit for self defense into all Palestinian areas,” and to, “Forge a new basis for relations with the United States—stressing self-reliance, maturity, strategic cooperation on areas of mutual concern, and furthering values inherent to the West.”

The report recommended Israel to seize “the strategic initiative along its northern borders by engaging Hizballah, Syria, and Iran, as the principal agents of aggression in Lebanon,” and to use “Lebanese opposition elements to destabilize Syrian control of Lebanon.” It also states, “Israel can shape its strategic environment, in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing, and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq — an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right — as a means of foiling Syria’s regional ambitions.”[3]

The authors of the report include Douglas Feith, an ardent neoconservative who went on to become George W. Bush’s Under Secretary of Defense for Policy from 2001 to 2005; David Wurmser, who was appointed by Douglas Feith after 9/11 to be part of a secret Pentagon intelligence unit and served as a Mideast Adviser to Dick Cheney from 2003 to 2007; and Meyrav Wurmser, David’s wife, who is now an official with the American think tank, the Hudson Institute.

Richard Perle headed the study, and worked on the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee from 1987 to 2004, and was Chairman of the Board from 2001 to 2004, where he played a key role in the lead-up to the Iraq war. He was also a member of several US think tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute and the Project for the New American Century.

The Project for the New American Century, or PNAC, is an American neoconservative think tank, whose membership and affiliations included many people who were associated with the present Bush administration, such as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, Richard Armitage, Jeb Bush, Elliott Abrams, Eliot A. Cohen, Paula Dobriansky, Francis Fukuyama, Zalmay Khalilzad, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Peter Rodman, Dov Zakheim and Robert B. Zoellick.

PNAC produced a report in September of 2000, entitled, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century,” in which they outlined a blueprint for a Pax Americana, or American Empire. The report puts much focus on Iraq and Iran, stating, “Over the long term, Iran may well prove as large a threat to US interests in the Gulf as Iraq has.”[4] Stating that, “the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security,” the report suggests that, “the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification,” however, “the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime change of Saddam Hussein.”[5]

Engineer a Civil War for the “Three State Solution”

Shortly after the initial 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, the New York Times ran an op-ed piece by Leslie Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Member of the US-based Council on Foreign Relations, the most influential and powerful think tank in the United States. The op-ed, titled, “The Three State Solution,” published in November of 2003, stated that the “only viable strategy” for Iraq, “may be to correct the historical defect and move in stages toward a three-state solution: Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and Shiites in the south.” Citing the example of the break up of Yugoslavia, Gelb stated that the Americans and Europeans “gave the Bosnian Muslims and Croats the means to fight back, and the Serbs accepted separation.” Explaining the strategy, Gelb states that, “The first step would be to make the north and south into self-governing regions, with boundaries drawn as closely as possible along ethnic lines,” and to “require democratic elections within each region.” Further, “at the same time, draw down American troops in the Sunni Triangle and ask the United Nations to oversee the transition to self-government there.” Gelb then states that this policy “would be both difficult and dangerous. Washington would have to be very hard-headed, and hard-hearted, to engineer this breakup.”[6]

Following the example of Yugoslavia, as Gelb cited, would require an engineered civil war between the various ethnic groups. The US supported and funded Muslim forces in Bosnia in the early 1990s, under the leadership of the CIA-trained Afghan Mujahideen, infamous for their CIA-directed war against the Soviet Union from 1979-1989. In Bosnia, the Mujahideen were “accompanied by US Special Forces,” and Bill Clinton personally approved of collaboration with “several Islamic fundamentalist organisations including Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda.” In Kosovo, years later, “Mujahideen mercenaries from the Middle East and Central Asia were recruited to fight in the ranks of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in 1998-99, largely supporting NATO’s war effort.” The US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the British Secret Intelligence Services (MI6), British SAS soldiers and American and British private security companies had the job of arming and training the KLA. Further, “The U.S. State Department listed the KLA as a terrorist organization, indicating that it was financing its operations with money from the international heroin trade and loans from Islamic countries and individuals, among them allegedly Usama bin Laden,” and as well as that, “the brother of a leader in an Egyptian Jihad organization and also a military commander of Usama bin Laden, was leading an elite KLA unit during the Kosovo conflict.”[7]

Could this be the same strategy being deployed in Iraq in order to break up the country for similar geopolitical reasons?

The Asia Times Online reported in 2005, that the plan of “balkanizing” Iraq into several smaller states, “is an exact replica of an extreme right-wing Israeli plan to balkanize Iraq – an essential part of the balkanization of the whole Middle East. Curiously, Henry Kissinger was selling the same idea even before the 2003 invasion of Iraq.” It continued, “this is classic divide and rule: the objective is the perpetuation of Arab disunity. Call it Iraqification; what it actually means is sectarian fever translated into civil war.”[8]

In 2006, an “independent commission set up by Congress with the approval of President George W Bush,” termed the “Baker Commission” after former Secretary of State, James Baker, “has grown increasingly interested in the idea of splitting the Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish regions of Iraq as the only alternative to what Baker calls ‘cutting and running’ or ‘staying the course’.”[9]

It was also reported in 2006 that, “Iraq’s federal future is already enshrined within its constitution, allowing regions to form, if not actually prescribing how this should happen,” and that, “the Iraqi parliament (dominated by Shi’a and Kurds) passed a bill earlier this month [October, 2006] allowing federal regions to form (by majority vote in the provinces seeking merger).” Further, “The law, which unsurprisingly failed to win Sunni support, will be reviewed over the next 18 months in a bid to bring its opponents round.” The article, however, stated that instead of a three state solution, “a system based upon five regions would seem to have more chance of succeeding. A five-region model could see two regions in the south, one based around Basra and one around the holy cities. Kurdistan and the Sunni region would remain, but Baghdad and its environs would form a fifth, metropolitan, region.”[10] The author of the article was Gareth Stansfield, an Associate Fellow at Chatham House think tank in London, which preceded, works with and is the British equivalent of the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Ethnic Cleansing Works”

In 2006, the Armed Forces Journal published an article by retired Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters, titled, “Blood Borders: How a better Middle East would look.” In the article, Peters explains that the best plan for the Middle East would be to “readjust” the borders of the countries. “Accepting that international statecraft has never developed effective tools — short of war — for readjusting faulty borders, a mental effort to grasp the Middle East’s “organic” frontiers nonetheless helps us understand the extent of the difficulties we face and will continue to face. We are dealing with colossal, man-made deformities that will not stop generating hatred and violence until they are corrected.” He states that after the 2003 invasion, “Iraq should have been divided into three smaller states immediately.” However, Iraq is not the only country to fall victim to “Balkanization” in Peters’ eyes, as, “Saudi Arabia would suffer as great a dismantling as Pakistan,” and “Iran, a state with madcap boundaries, would lose a great deal of territory to Unified Azerbaijan, Free Kurdistan, the Arab Shia State and Free Baluchistan, but would gain the provinces around Herat in today’s Afghanistan.” Further, “What Afghanistan would lose to Persia in the west, it would gain in the east, as Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier tribes would be reunited with their Afghan brethren.” Peters states that “correcting borders” may be impossible, “For now. But given time — and the inevitable attendant bloodshed — new and natural borders will emerge. Babylon has fallen more than once.” He further makes the astonishing statement that, “Oh, and one other dirty little secret from 5,000 years of history: Ethnic cleansing works.”[11]

The map of the re-drawn Middle East, initially published alongside Peters’ article, but no longer present, “has been used in a training program at NATO’s Defense College for senior military officers. This map, as well as other similar maps, has most probably been used at the National War Academy as well as in military planning circles.”[12] Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed wrote of Peters’ proposal, that “the sweeping reconfiguration of borders he proposes would necessarily involve massive ethnic cleansing and accompanying bloodshed on perhaps a genocidal scale.”[13]

Federalism or Incremental Balkanization?

A month before Peters’ article was published, Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Joseph Biden, a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, in which they stated, “America must get beyond the present false choice between “staying the course” and “bringing the troops home now” and choose a third way that would wind down our military presence responsibly while preventing chaos and preserving our key security goals.” What is this third option? “The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group—Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab—room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests.”

They describe a few aspects of this plan. “The first is to establish three largely autonomous regions with a viable central government in Baghdad. The Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions would each be responsible for their own domestic laws, administration and internal security. The central government would control border defense, foreign affairs and oil revenues.” Then, “The second element would be to entice the Sunnis into joining the federal system with an offer they couldn’t refuse. To begin with, running their own region should be far preferable to the alternatives: being dominated by Kurds and Shiites in a central government or being the main victims of a civil war.”[14]

In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2007, Leslie Gelb stated that his plan for “federalizing” Iraq, “would look like this: The central government would be based on the areas where there are genuine common interests among the different Iraqi parties. That is, foreign affairs, border defense, currency and, above all, oil and gas production and revenues.” And, “As for the regions, whether they be three or four or five, whatever it may be, it’s up to—all this is up to the Iraqis to decide, would be responsible for legislation, administration and internal security.”[15]

The Senate subsequently passed a nonbinding resolution supporting a federal system for Iraq, which has still yet to be enacted upon, because it stated that this resolution was something that had to be enacted upon by the Iraqis, so as not to be viewed as “something that the United States was going to force down their throats.” Further, “when Ambassador Ryan Crocker appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he testified in favor of federalism. In his private conversations with senators, he also supported the idea,” yet, while in Baghdad, the Ambassador “blasted the resolution.”[16] Could this be a method of manipulation? If the American Embassy in Baghdad promotes a particular solution for Iraq, it would likely be viewed by Iraqis as a bad choice and in the interest of the Americans. So, if the Ambassador publicly bashes the resolution from Iraq, which he did, it conveys the idea that the current administration is not behind it, which could make Iraqis see it as a viable alternative, and perhaps in their interests. For Iraqi politicians, embracing the American view on major issues is political (and often actual) suicide. The American Embassy in Baghdad publicly denouncing a particular strategy gives Iraqi politicians public legitimacy to pursue it.

This resolution has still not gone through all the processes in Congress, and may, in fact, have been slipped into another bill, such as a Defense Authorization Act. However, the efforts behind this bill are larger than the increasingly irrelevant US Congress.

Also in 2007, another think tank called for the managed “break-up of Iraq into three separate states with their own governments and representatives to the United Nations, but continued economic cooperation in a larger entity modeled on the European Union.”[17] In a startling admission by former US Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, stated in 2007 that the “United States has “no strategic interest” in a united Iraq,” and he also suggested “that the United States shouldn’t necessarily keep Iraq from splitting up.”[18]

Conclusion

Clearly, whatever the excuse, or whatever the means of dividing Iraq, it is without a doubt in the Anglo-American strategy for Iraq to balkanize the country. Saying that what is being proposed is not balkanization, but federalism, is a moot point. This is because reverting to a more federal system where provinces have greater autonomy would naturally separate the country along ethno-religious boundaries. The Kurds would be in the north, the Sunnis in the centre, and the Shi’ites in the south, with all the oil. The disproportionate provincial resources will create animosity between provinces, and the long-manipulated ethnic differences will spill from the streets into the political sphere. As tensions grow, as they undoubtedly would, between the provinces, there would be a natural slide to eventual separation. Disagreements over power sharing in the federal government would lead to its eventual collapse, and the strategy of balkanization would have been achieved with the appearance of no outside involvement.

NOTES

[1] Global Research, Iraqi MP accuses British Forces in Basra of “Terrorism”. Al Jazeera: September 20, 2005: http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=20050920&articleId=983

[2] Linda S. Heard, The Prophecy of Oded Yinon. Counter Punch: April 25, 2006: http://www.counterpunch.org/heard04252006.html

[3] Richard Perle, et. al., A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm. The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies: June 1996:  http://www.iasps.org/strat1.htm

[4] PNAC, Rebuilding America’s Defenses. Project for the New American Century: September 2000: Page 17

[5] PNAC, Rebuilding America’s Defenses. Project for the New American Century: September 2000: Page 14

[6] Leslie Gelb, The Three State Solution. The New York Times: November 25, 2003:

http://www.cfr.org/publication/6559/threestate_solution.html?breadcrumb=%2Fbios%2F3325%2Fleslie_h_gelb%3Fpage%3D3

[7] Michel Chossudovsky, “Osamagate.” Global Research: October 9, 2001:

http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/CHO110A.html

[8] Pepe Escobar, Exit strategy: Civil war. Asia Times Online: June 10, 2005:

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/GF10Ak03.html

[9] Sarah Baxter, America ponders cutting Iraq in three. The Times: October 8, 2006: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article664974.ece

[10] Gareth Stansfield, The only solution left for Iraq: a five-way split. The Telegraph: October 29, 2006: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2006/10/29/do2904.xml&sSheet=/opinion/2006/10/29/ixopinion.html

[11] Ralph Peters, Blood Borders: How a better Middle East would look. Armed Forces Journal: June 2006: http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/2006/06/1833899

[12] Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, Plans for Redrawing the Middle East: The Project for a “New Middle East”. Global Research: November 18, 2006: http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=3882

[13] Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed, US Army Contemplates Redrawing Middle East Map

to Stave Off Looming Global Meltdown. Dissident Voice: September 1, 2006: http://www.dissidentvoice.org/Sept06/Ahmed01.htm

[14] Leslie Gelb and Joseph Biden, Jr., Unity Through Autonomy in Iraq. The New York Times: May 1, 2006: http://www.cfr.org/publication/10569/unity_through_autonomy_in_iraq.html?breadcrumb=%2Fbios%2F3325%2Fleslie_h_gelb%3Fpage%3D2

[15] Leslie Gelb, Leslie Gelb before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The CFR: January 23, 2007: http://www.cfr.org/publication/12489/leslie_gelb_before_the_senate_foreign_relations_committee.html?breadcrumb=%2Fbios%2F3325%2Fleslie_h_gelb

[16] Bernard Gwertzman, Gelb: Federalism Is Most Promising Way to End Civil War in Iraq. CFR: October 16, 2007: http://www.cfr.org/publication/14531/gelb.html?breadcrumb=%2Fbios%2F3325%2Fleslie_h_gelb

[17] Robin Wright, Nonpartisan Group Calls for Three-State Split in Iraq. The Washington Post: August 17, 2007: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/17/AR2007081700918.html

[18] AP, French report: Former U.N. envoy Bolton says U.S. has ‘no strategic interest’ in united Iraq. International Herald Tribune: January 29, 2007: http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/01/29/europe/EU-GEN-France-US-Iraq.php

Breaking Iraq and Blaming Iran

Breaking Iraq and Blaming Iran
British Black Ops and the Terror Campaign in Basra
Global Research, July 3, 2008

British Black Ops in Basra

In September of 2005, the southern Iraqi oil city of Basra, under British occupation since the 2003 invasion, was the scene of an extraordinarily controversial incident, which has since exposed the anatomy of the Anglo-American “dirty war” in Iraq, and in fact, the relevance to the wider “War on Terror”.

On September 19, 2005, two white men, dressed as Arabs, obviously suspicious to the British-trained Iraqi police, were pulled over in their car as they approached the city center of Basra. As the Independent reported, “the two men had been driving in an unmarked car when they arrived at a checkpoint in the city.” What followed was a confrontation between the two men and the Iraqi police, with shots fired and an Iraqi police officer killed and another wounded.[1] The men were then detained by the Iraqi police and taken to the central jail. As it turned out, the two men were members of the British elite SAS Special Forces.[2]

In an interview with Al-Jazeera TV, Fattah al-Shaykh, a member of the Iraqi National Assembly representing Basra, stated that, “I could see that the UK forces were always provoking the Iraqi people in Basra. There are indiscriminate arrests and pressure,” and that a representative of the British embassy informed him that, “two UK soldiers were trying to stir up disturbances. Explosive materials were found in their car and they opened fire.” He further elaborated that, “what the UK forces are doing is not necessarily known by the Iraqi forces or coordinated with them through exchange of information. There are occupation forces, armoured vehicles, tanks and military aircraft in Basra. Moreover, there are members of the British intelligence present in Basra especially, since Basra is currently a sensitive and important area in Iraq. There are members of the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] and Mossad [word indistinct], as well as many institutions in this city.”[3]

British journalist Robert Fisk asked in an article he wrote on the subject, “what [were] our two SAS lads were doing cruising around Basra in Arab dress with itsy-bitsy moustaches and guns? Why did no one ask? How many SAS men are in southern Iraq? Why are they there? What are their duties? What weapons do they carry? Whoops! No one asked.”[4]

The Great Escape

An astounding part of the story about the two British SAS agents is not simply what they were up to in Basra, but what happened to them after being arrested. Once arrested, they were questioned by Iraqi police, and as a Basra government official stated, “They refused to say what their mission was. They said they were British soldiers and to ask their commander about their mission.”[5]

Within hours of the arrests, ten British tanks backed by helicopters stormed the jail where the men were held and destroyed the building, freeing roughly 150 Iraqi prisoners in the process.[6] However, the British government initially stated that the men were released as a result of negotiations. British Defense officials “insisted they had been talking to the Iraqi authorities to secure the release of the men, but acknowledged a wall was demolished as British forces tried to “collect” the two prisoners.”[7] The Basra Provincial Governor described the incident as “barbaric, savage and irresponsible.”[8]

Later, the story was changed again, as the British Army reported that they staged the “rescue” because after the two soldiers were arrested, they were “then handed over to a militia group,” and likely as a result of British pressure, “Iraq’s interior ministry ordered the police force in Basra to release the soldiers but that order was ignored.” Brigadier John Lorimer, who led the operation, said, “that under Iraqi law the soldiers should have been handed over to coalition authorities, but this failed to happen despite repeated requests.”[9] It should be noted, however, that the Iraqi law being referred to was written up by the Anglo-American Coalition Provisional Authority upon its initial occupation of the country in 2003.

As John Pilger noted in the New Statesman, “Although reported initially by the Times and the Mail, all mention of the explosives allegedly found in the SAS men’s unmarked Cressida vanished from the news. Instead, the story was the danger the men faced if they were handed over to the militia run by the “radical” cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.” He further reported on how what was found in the car included, “weapons, explosives and a remote-control detonator.”[10]

It is an amazing display of Orwellian double-think for the British to be able to be responsible for inciting terror, orchestrate a massive assault on an Iraqi police station with tanks and helicopters, and yet, somehow spin it so that it looks like a heroic act of patriotism of the kind depicted in the classic World War 2 film, The Great Escape, where British and American POWs undertake a massive escape from a German POW camp. Although, far from a heroic escape, or valiant rescue, this was an overt military operation aimed at returning British terrorists into British hands.

A month after the “rescue” operation, the British government “officially apologized to Iraq over the recent Basra events,” and a British statement “said that London apologizes to the Iraqi people and government, Basra residents, city and province councils and the police force over mistakes made by the British.”[11]

The Investigation Hits a Dead End

The day after Britain officially apologized for terrorizing Basra, a “senior British military police officer in Iraq involved in the investigation of alleged abuse of Iraqi civilians by soldiers [has] been found dead at a camp in Basra.” Captain Ken Masters, commander of 61 Section of the Special Investigations Branch (SIB), “was found in his bed at the airport at the weekend.” The Independent quoted Defense sources as saying the death was “not due to hostile action and also not due to natural causes.” Friends referred to the incident as a “total surprise,” and it was reported that no suicide note or firearms were found.[12]

Masters’ job consisted of investigating all serious incidents involving the British military in Iraq, and as the Times reported, “Captain Masters’s biggest current investigation was ordered after the incident on September 19 when two SAS troopers had to be rescued by British troops in armoured vehicles after they had been arrested by Iraqi police. During a day of violent confrontations, the Iraqi authorities in Basra claimed that seven Iraqis were killed and 43 injured, many of them police.” The article elaborated on Masters’ duties, stating, “Compensation to the families of alleged Iraqi victims who died during the fracas depended on the official investigation being carried out by Captain Masters and his team.”[13]

The British Ministry of Defense “said the circumstances surrounding the death on Saturday of Captain Ken Masters, 40, were not suspicious.”[14] The day before Masters died, the official line put forward by the British military of the Basra incident was that, “the SAS had been ordered to carry out surveillance operations against several members of the Iraqi police, who were believed to be responsible for torturing prisoners at the notorious Jamiyat prison in Basra.”[15]

Later, the official line put out after an investigation was that Masters did indeed kill himself, due to work pressures. Masters, who was a husband and father of two, was due to return home from tour five days after he apparently killed himself.[16]

The Christmas Day Massacre

On December 25, 2006, the British again stormed the Basra headquarters of the serious crimes unit, the same police station where the SAS officers were held the previous September. The British killed seven men and destroyed the building, which “had been demolished with explosives after the pre-dawn assault by about 1,000 troops.” Further, “The operation came three days after British soldiers arrested the head and other members of the serious crimes unit on suspicion of involvement in the kidnap of two SAS soldiers and the murder of several Iraqis last year.” The “kidnap” being referred to here is an Orwellian double-speak version of the events describing the arrest of the two SAS officers for injuring and killing Iraqi police.

The official reason for the assault was that the serious crimes unit headquarters, “has long been accused of involvement in murders, attacks on coalition forces and kidnappings in the southern oil city, where rival Shia factions are fighting for control,” and that, “The British military acted after learning that some of the prisoners, all suspected criminals, inside the police station faced imminent execution.” Captain Dunlop stated, “We had clear directions from the prime minister and governor to dissolve the unit.”[17]

Three days earlier, on December 22, 2006, the “senior Iraqi policeman who allegedly masterminded the abduction of two SAS soldiers last year was arrested yesterday following a major security operation in Basra.” In other words, the senior Iraqi officer who was present for the arrest, detention and questioning of the SAS soldiers was taken into British custody. The Telegraph reported that, “Under cover of thick fog, 800 British troops in tanks and armoured vehicles swooped on the home of the policeman and six other Iraqi officers.” The Telegraph again re-wrote history when they reported that, “The two SAS troopers were allegedly minutes away from being sold to insurgents and certain death after they were abducted by rogue police at a checkpoint in the Jamiat area of Basra on Sept 19 last year.”[18]

In reaction to the storming and total destruction of the Serious Crimes Unit HQ in Basra, the Basra Council “described the raid as illegal and has suspended co-operation with the military,” and called the raid “provocative.” Notably, “A Ministry of Defence spokesman said 1,000 troops were involved and hundreds of seized files and computers have been taken as evidence.”[19] What exactly was contained on those files and computers? As reported by the New York Times, the “battle lasted nearly three hours. There were no British casualties, but the streets around the station were littered with bombed-out cars and rubble.”[20]

Considering the fact that the mainstream media and British officials put massive spin on and manipulated the facts of the story about the SAS soldiers in relation to this story, it raises the question as to what they may be lying about in relation to the actual storming of the prison once again. What exactly was the purpose of this massive undertaking? Surely, the police forces in Iraq are corrupt and influenced by local militias; it is, after all, a state of war. But, it seems that as long as the corruption is in line with Anglo-American strategy in the region, a blind-eye is turned. Was the real problem that the Serious Crimes Unit was actually doing its job, investigating the Basra incident involving the SAS? This could explain why the computers and files were taken. The current official line that the SAS were investigating corrupt officials can support why they were dressed as Arabs. But as to why they were heavily armed, had explosives and detonators and were the first ones to shoot during the confrontation with the police, this explanation does not stand up to scrutiny.

Also, to storm the jail under the pretense of preventing torture and executions is highly hypocritical considering what the Coalition is guilty of in Iraq and around the world. So, it begs the question, what else is being lied about in this situation, and for what purpose?

The British Follow the Paper Trail

Following very much in line with previous British actions in Basra, from the 2005 “rescue” of black-ops SAS state-terrorists, to the 2006 destruction of the jail, “rescue” of its computer records and arrest of its leading officials, the British again made their destabilizing presence known. On March 4, 2007, “Iraqi special operation forces and British troops swept into an Iraqi intelligence ministry building” in Basra, and, “found prisoners with signs of torture, British officials said.” Interestingly, “All 30 prisoners escaped during the surprise raid, which was triggered by information gleaned from suspects arrested hours earlier in another sweep.” The public explanation for the raid is very much the same as the previous Basra raid a year earlier, which actually appeared to be an operation aimed at retrieving information about and arresting all the officials involved with the previous year’s arrest of the two SAS soldiers. Officially, this 2007 raid was undertaken to “rescue” abused prisoners.

Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, referred to the raid as an “unlawful and irresponsible act.” As the Washington Post reported, “A British military statement said its forces acted quickly because it had gained information hours earlier that presented a high threat.”[21] According to the Telegraph, the British captured “an alleged death squad leader and four other militants.” The article further reported that, “A British military spokesman said it had not been possible to warn the provincial authorities before the raid because it was ordered just hours earlier, on the basis of information received from a detained insurgent.” About the prisoners that escaped during the raid, “the British denied they were deliberately freed, saying they “regrettably” took advantage of the chaos to make their escape.”[22]

The Iraqi Prime Minister released a statement saying that he “has ordered a prompt investigation into the incident of breaking into the security complex headquarters in Basra and he affirmed the need to punish those who have carried out this unlawful and irresponsible act.”[23] The BBC reported on the incident, stating that, “The British government said the Army’s main bases in the city [of Basra] would be closed and the total British strength reduced by several thousand over time,” and that, “The theory behind this is that the Iraqi forces are now ready to take over. The raids over the weekend were indeed led by the Iraqi security forces – but targeted other parts of the Iraqi security forces.”[24]

The question must be asked: What was the mission really about? Surely, and sadly, the only unique prison in Iraq would be one where torture does not occur, regardless of who is in control of it. And to say certain facilities under Iraqi government control are corrupt and involved in supporting terrorists and death squads is a diversionary point, as the Iraqi government itself is under Anglo-American control. The fact that the Iraqis were not told of this raid not only demonstrates that the British (and Americans) act above the law, but that the raid was something they did not want to have known by the Iraqis. There was a purpose behind the raid on the prison. It is important to note that it occurred a mere three months after the previous raid in December of 2006, in which the British seized “hundreds of files” and took computers “as evidence,” likely related to the British SAS incident. Since this was the Iraq intelligence unit in Basra, could it be that the previously destroyed Serious Crimes Unit had passed along some intelligence to the Iraqi Intelligence Ministry building? It would seem likely. And so, it would also seem to be likely that the British would follow the paper trail of evidence with their trail of terror.

The British Withdraw?

In an August, 2007 article, the Washington Post reported that, “As British forces pull back from Basra in southern Iraq, Shiite militias there have escalated a violent battle against each other for political supremacy and control over oil resources, deepening concerns among some U.S. officials in Baghdad that elements of Iraq’s Shiite-dominated national government will turn on one another once U.S. troops begin to draw down.” The article quoted a think tank called the International Crisis Group (ICG) as saying that Basra is plagued by “the systematic misuse of official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas, neighborhood vigilantism and enforcement of social mores, together with the rise of criminal mafias that increasingly intermingle with political actors.”[25]

In September of 2007, amid widespread disenchantment among the British for their participation in the Iraq war and occupation, the British “pulled out of Basra Palace, the onetime southern residence of Saddam Hussein that became the symbol of the UK’s role in the US-led invasion.” As the Independent reported, “The British departure from their last remaining base inside the walls of Basra City, signalled their disengagement from the conflict and has highlighted a growing and public discord between Washington and London over Iraq, with the Americans claiming the move will severely undermine security.” The British were to remain at Basra airport only, which is on the outskirts of the city, “while what remains of the British-controlled south is handed over to the Iraqi authorities.” One Iraqi who is a resident of Basra was quoted as saying, “One thing we are uneasy about are rumours that the Americans may come to Basra to replace the British. We see what is happening in Baghdad and we don’t want that here.”[26]

On September 12, 2007, it was reported by the Independent that, “British forces have been sent from Basra to the volatile border with Iran amid warnings from the senior US commander in Iraq that Tehran is fomenting a “proxy war”,” and that, “The deployment came within a week of British forces leaving Basra Palace, their last remaining base inside Basra city, and withdrawing to the airport for a widely expected final departure from Iraq.” The move to the Iranian border was apparently at the request of the Americans, as “The move came as General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Iraq, made some of the strongest accusations yet by US officials about Iranian activity. General Petraeus spoke on Monday of a “proxy war” in Iraq, while Mr Crocker accused the Iranian government of “providing lethal capabilities to the enemies of the Iraqi state”.”[27]

In December of 2007, the British officially “handed over control of Basra Province to Iraq’s government,” and as the New York Times reported, “American officials believe the transfer of control will be a serious test of Iraqi political and military leaders to maintain Basra — a strategically vital and politically fractious southern province, and the port city of the same name — under Iraqi control, and prevent Iran or Shiite militias from gaining too much influence.” However the British would remain in a “support role” in the Iraqi province that “holds most of Iraq’s proven petroleum reserves.” A British General was quoted as saying, “We will continue to help train Basra security forces.”[28]

So was the British departure from Basra really a drawing down of participation in the war? Was it for political legitimacy within the UK? Or, was there another reason behind this action? Basra’s strategic importance cannot be underestimated, being in the south of Iraq, the most oil-rich province, close to Iran and in the heart of the Gulf.

The British used to govern Iraq under a League of Nations mandate from its “independence” from the Ottoman Empire until 1932. In 1940, an anti-British nationalist leader, Rashid Ali, came to power in Iraq. After engaging in closer relationships with fascist Italy and quietly with Nazi Germany, he was replaced in 1941 as Prime Minister. A few months later, he orchestrated a coup d’état and returned to power. The British immediately responded by seizing Basra, what was seen, even then, as a vital supply route. The British also had a major military base in Basra. Significantly, also in 1941, Iran’s King was developing close ties to Germany. Britain was afraid of Iran’s oil reserves falling out of the hands of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now known as BP – British Petroleum), and into hands of Germany. So, a couple months after Britain took back Iraq, the British and USSR launched a joint invasion of Iran. The British of course invaded from the south in Iraq, from their bases, notably their base in Basra.

Could this glimpse into the past present any understanding of the present British situation in Basra? Considering that the British went from Basra and moved to a base on the Iranian border, it seems likely. But why leave Basra? Well, if the strategy of tension in the Middle East is directed at destabilizing the region, spilling civil war and conflict across borders,[29] perhaps it might be necessary for the British to step back and see if Basra collapses in on itself. Or perhaps, there would be some outside help in Basra’s implosion, but without the British forces present, foreign involvement would not be discussed as a cause of the problem, and could therefore be discussed as a possible solution to any implosion.

The Battle of Basra

Three months after handing control of Basra over to the Iraqis, a large battle was underway. The western media tenaciously referred to it as the “Battle of Basra.” On March 24, 2008, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki went to Basra to oversee the planned Iraqi offensive to rid Basra of its Mahdi Army militia in key Sadrist neighborhoods of those loyal to Mahdi Army leader, Muqtada al-Sadr. This was the first major operation undertaken by the Iraqi Army.

The Battle lasted until March 31, resulting in hundreds of dead and significantly hundreds more wounded. During the battle, British papers such as the Times were calling for Britain to abandon its withdrawal timetable from the base outside of Basra, in order to remain in case of a need to “rescue” Basra.[30]

The Iraqi government forces were surprised by the resilience of the Mahdi Army in Basra, and were suffering a great deal at the defenses of the militia. This resulted in American forces having to be drawn into the battle to support the Iraqi government forces. US warplanes were used, ultimately killing civilians, and even the British were drawn into the fighting directly from their base at the airport. The Independent reported that, “If US and British forces engage in direct military action on a wide scale with the Sadrist militia, then Mr Sadr could call for a general uprising, which would engulf all of Shia Iraq in war.”[31] According to the BBC, “There have also been a small number of both British and American special forces on the ground” in Basra during the Battle.[32]

It was on March 29, that Muqtada al-Sadr called for a ceasefire between the Shi’a militia and Iraqi forces. The Independent reported that, “The Sadrists’ ceasefire was unexpected since they have prevented government forces from advancing in Basra and Baghdad. Hours before the announcement, militiamen stormed the state television station in Basra, forcing the guards to flee and setting armoured vehicles on fire.”[33] As it turned out, the ceasefire between Iraqi government officials and Sadr’s militia was brokered by Iran. USA Today reported that, “Iran has close ties with both al-Sadr’s movement and [Prime Minister] al-Maliki, who spent several years in exile there,” and that, “the agreement was brokered by the commander of Iran’s al-Quds Brigade, which is considered a terrorist organization by Washington.”[34]

What was Behind the Battle of Basra?

How exactly did the Battle of Basra begin, other than the initial attack by government forces? What was the reasoning and purpose behind this major offensive? Surely, a puppet government such as Iraq would never undertake such an operation without in the very least, the support of the Americans or British, but even more likely, at the direction of the Anglo-Americans. The Battle of Basra must be put into a wider context.

A week before the Battle broke out, Vice President Dick Cheney took a surprise tour of the Middle East. If George Bush is the “Decider” as he once proclaimed, Dick Cheney is certainly the “Destabilizer,” not to mention, the “Decider’s Decider.” On March 17, Cheney made a surprise, unannounced visit to Iraq, where his “first meeting was a classified briefing with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq who met him at the airport.” He also met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Among many of the possible topics of discussion during Cheney’s trip was that, “The Iraqis do not yet have a law for sharing the nation’s oil wealth among the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, a law that the Bush administration believes will trigger multinational energy companies to invest in exploration and production in Iraq,” as well as, “a plan for new provincial elections. Iraq’s presidential council, which must give its nod to laws passed by the Iraqi parliament, rejected a plan for new elections last month, shipping it back to the legislature.” The rejection was seen as “a setback to the U.S. campaign for national reconciliation, [which] came despite Cheney’s last-minute phone call to the main holdout on the three-member panel: Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite.” Cheney’s trip included visits to Oman, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Palestinian territories.[35]

Among much of the discussion regarding Cheney’s trip to the Middle East was rumours of preparing for a possible war with Iran. As the Telegraph reported, “Mr Cheney, whose nine-day tour has included stops in Turkey, the Gulf and Afghanistan, insisted that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.”[36] A surge of violence in Basra would provide Cheney with a convenient excuse to point the finger at Iran for “troublesome meddling” in Iraq.

It is important to take a closer look at possible reasons for the outbreak of violence in Basra in late March, a mere nine days after Cheney’s visit to Iraq. The main reasons, (none of which include the Iraqi government’s “decision” to displace the Mahdi Army), include scoring political points on the war issue in domestic American politics, passing an Iraqi oil law, pressing forward with provincial elections, building the case or creating a pretext for a war with Iran, and justifying a permanent occupation of Iraq.

Scoring Political Points

At Congressional hearings in early April following the Basra offensive, where Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and General David Patraeus testified, Senator Ted Kennedy asked Crocker, “Were you at any meetings with the Vice President… where the issue of the Basra invasion took place?” Crocker responded, “Um, that was not discussed.” Kennedy pressed, “It wasn’t discussed at all, during the Vice President’s visit to Baghdad, ah, that the, the possibility of Maliki uh, going into Basra, was not discussed, you were not at any meetings where the Vice President was present or where this was discussed in his presence?” Crocker again replied, “Uh, it was not discussed in any meeting I attended, no, sir.” Kennedy then looked to General Patraeus, “Ah, General?” Patraeus replied, “Same, Senator.”

Ray McGovern, former 27-year CIA analyst who delivered several daily intelligence briefings to US Presidents, stated that, “I think Kennedy knows more than the rest of us know. I think it’s very clear that if you’re looking for why Maliki went off half-cocked for a big offensive down against Moqtada al-Sadr in southern Iraq, it was because Cheney had told him to. And I would be shocked if Cheney didn’t tell Patraeus and Crocker what he was going to tell Maliki.” He continued, “Patraeus has hundreds of troops there [in Basra] embedded with the Iraqi forces, he had to know exactly what was going on. He just couldn’t stop it. Why? Well, well he didn’t want to stop it because Cheney is running things. The plan was to get down there into the south to show that this fellow [Maliki] can take the initiative and be – well, the President was instructed two days later to say this was a ‘defining moment’ – a defining moment of the leadership of Prime Minister Maliki. Well, yeah, it was, but not the way they meant.” McGovern elaborated, “And so Patraeus and Crocker could come before Congress and say, ‘look, you told us – you told us last time that the Iraqis had to take more initiative, so that we’re not doing the fighting. Well, look, just what happened, they cleaned out the whole of southern Iraq. And they still played that theme… [that] Maliki took the initiative.” He further stated, “Ironically, they wanted to give the initiative to Maliki because they thought it might succeed, but then they wanted to give the initiative to Maliki because it failed miserably.”[37]

The Oil Law

Iraq has failed to pass an oil law for some time. Basra, the most oil rich province in Iraq, is of vital importance in any decision made regarding an oil law. In 2001, before 9/11, Afghanistan, and Iraq, Vice President Cheney met in secret with executives from Exxon Mobil Corp., Conoco (before its merger with Phillips), Shell Oil Co. and BP America Inc., in what was known as the Cheney Energy Task Force.[38]

Interestingly, Judicial Watch, a public interest group and government watchdog, sued to get Commerce Department documents pertaining to Cheney’s secret Energy Task Force meetings. The documents contained “a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries and terminals, as well as 2 charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and ‘Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts’.” Further, “The Saudi Arabian and United Arab Emirates (UAE) documents likewise feature a map of each country’s oilfields, pipelines, refineries and tanker terminals. There are supporting charts with details of the major oil and gas development projects in each country that provide information on the projects, costs, capacity, oil company and status or completion date.”[39]

Months after the Battle at Basra and Cheney’s visit, the International Herald Tribune reported that, “The Iraqi Oil Ministry is negotiating with Royal Dutch Shell on a joint venture deal to develop natural gas associated with oil production in southern Iraq,” and that, “The head of the Basra Economic Development Committee, Munadhil Abid Khanjar, said that Shell had approached the Oil Ministry last December with its plans and since then meetings have been held outside Iraq.”[40] Two days later, it was reported that, “Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.” The main oil companies are “Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — [and they], along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat.” It was further reported that, “The no-bid contracts are unusual for the industry, and the offers prevailed over others by more than 40 companies, including companies in Russia, China and India.”[41]

So, if Cheney’s visit to Iraq was to do with oil, then, Mission Accomplished. However, it doesn’t seem likely that this was the reasoning behind the outbreak of violence in Basra. Surely, it was a topic of discussion between Cheney and Iraqi officials, however, it does not account for a push for violence in Basra, unless it is an issue of legitimizing a permanent occupation of the oil rich Basra province under the auspices of “stabilizing” the volatile region, but in reality, maintaining a presence there to protect the oil fields for Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon, and BP.

The Provincial Elections

In February of 2008, it was reported that, “Iraq’s three-member presidency council has rejected a draft law to hold provincial elections and returned it to parliament,” and that, “The bill is expected to boost the powers of the provinces to launch their own economic projects with the money allocated by the central government.”[42] Two days after Cheney’s visit, “Iraq’s three-member presidential council on Wednesday approved legislation that sets a time frame for provincial elections, a development that Iraqi lawmakers called an important step toward reconciling rival factions in the divided government.”[43] This appears to be following the directions of the Council on Foreign Relations, among many other think tanks, in balkanizing Iraq, or as they put it, reverting to a federal system. Although pushing for a federal system for Iraq came after initial calls for a “three state solution,” as was the title of a Leslie Gelb article in the New York Times, who is President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.[44] The article he wrote called for the Balkanization of Iraq based upon the model of Yugoslavia, which, incidentally, was fractured largely through Western-financed, Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist organizations in Bosnia and Kosovo.[45]

President Bush said in a speech on March 27, 2008, during the Battle of Basra, that, “Last week, leaders reached agreement on a provincial powers law that helps define Iraqi federalism, and sets the stage for provincial elections later this year. And that’s an important piece of legislation because it will give Iraqis who boycotted the last provincial election — such as Sunnis in Anbar or Ninewa provinces — a chance to go to the polls and have a voice in their future.”[46]

Reverting to a more federal system will allow for the political fracturing of Iraq. Not only will it separate the regions likely according to Sunni, Kurd and Shi’a factions, but it will allow bigger powers, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, to not have their influence threatened by any actual strengthened and united Iraqi federal government.

As the Berkeley Daily Planet reported after the Battle of Basra, Muqtada al-Sadr, as a nationalist, “supports a unified Iraq with a strong central government,” while Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has “pushed for dismembering Iraq into separate provinces dominated by the country’s three major ethnic groups—Sunnis in the west, Kurds in the north, and Shiites in the south. Since most of the oil reserves are in the south, as is the country’s only port, whoever controls the south essentially controls 70 percent of Iraq’s economy.” Further, the provincial election law that was passed “sets up an October election in which the various provinces will vote on whether they want to remain a unified country or splinter into separate provinces.”[47] The author stipulates that Maliki attacked Basra in an effort to win political points in driving out the militias in order to win the Basra provincial election come October, and thus, retain control over the oil reserves.

However, my problem with this hypothesis is that in the originally proposed recommendations from the Council on Foreign Relations in turning Iraq into a federal system, they state that oil laws are to be the prerogative of the federal government, not provincial.[48] Not to mention, Maliki has slim, if any chance, of ever winning the south of Iraq. Thus, it may be more likely that in attacking Basra, it creates great resentment among Shi’as and thusly, a federal political system will be so fractured and divided that it will likely lead to separation naturally. If the Iraqi provinces separated of their own accord, it would be harder to point the finger at the US for the balkanization of Iraq, which has long been a strategic aim.[49] [50] [51] When the US Senate passed a resolution in support of a federal system as a solution for Iraq, the Arab world, and even the Iraqi Prime Minister denounced it as an attempt to divide Iraq. But, if the Iraqi Parliament passes a law for provincial elections, which could lead to fracture, it is a “break through for democracy.”

Promoting War With Iran

The Financial Times reported prior to Cheney’s trip to the Middle East that, “On Iran, the vice-president is expected to urge countries in the region to do more to isolate Tehran diplomatically and economically,” and that, “The trip comes at a time of renewed interest in policy towards Iran after a senior US military commander resigned last week because of perceived differences with the White House over the issue. Admiral William Fallon was widely considered a dovish voice on Iran and his departure sparked speculation that hawkish figures such as Mr Cheney were regaining the upper hand over the issue.”[52] The day after Cheney visited Saudi Arabia, the government began preparing “national plans to deal with any sudden nuclear and radioactive hazards that may affect the kingdom following experts’ warnings of possible attacks on Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactors.”[53]

The outbreak of violence in Basra delivered the perfect opportunity to continue doing what the administration has been doing for so long, blaming Iran for the violence in Iraq. Amid the heated Battle of Basra, on March 27, it was reported that, “The U.S. military stated Iran is orchestrating the Shi’ite insurgency in southern Iraq and outbreaks of violence throughout the country,” and a Defense Department spokesman stated that, “There has been a persistent and troublesome meddling by Iran.”[54]

A month later, the US envoy to the United Nations blamed Iran “for fueling recent clashes in the southern Iraqi city of Basra and in Baghdad, saying Tehran was training and supplying weapons to militias.” Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and signatory to several PNAC documents, stated, “The recent clashes between criminal militia elements and Iraqi government forces in Basra and Baghdad have highlighted Iran’s destabilizing influence and actions.”[55] However, what he (intentionally) failed to realize is that Sadr had declared a ceasefire long before the Battle of Basra began, from August of 2007, (interestingly at the time that Bush’s “surge” strategy in Iraq became a “success” in reducing violence), and that the Battle began when the Iraqi government attacked Sadr strongholds in Basra. Khalilzad also mistakenly blamed Iran for being a destabilizing force. Yet, it was Iran that brokered the ceasefire, making Iran the most stabilizing force in the region.

On June 6, 2008, it was reported that, “Pentagon officials firmly opposed a proposal by Vice President Dick Cheney last summer for airstrikes against Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) bases by insisting that the administration would have to make clear decisions about how far the United States would go in escalating the conflict with Iran, according to a former George W. Bush administration official.” The report continued, “J. Scott Carpenter, who was then deputy assistant secretary of state in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, recalled in an interview that senior Defence Department (DoD) officials and the Joint Chiefs used the escalation issue as the main argument against the Cheney proposal,” and that Cheney had proposed “launching airstrikes at suspected training camps in Iran.” It further stated that, “The question of escalation posed by DoD officials involved not only the potential of the Mahdi Army in Iraq to attack, Carpenter said, but possible responses by Hezbollah and by Iran itself across the Middle East,” and that, “Cheney’s proposal was perceived as a ploy to provoke Iranian retaliation that could used to justify a strategic attack on Iran.”[56]

Cheney’s plan to provoke Iran through airstrikes on camps in Iran was rebuked by the Pentagon, and the attempt at scaring the world with threats of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons was rebuked by the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of all 16 US intelligence agencies in December of 2007, which said that Iran gave up attempting to build nuclear weapons in 2003.[57] It was even reported that Cheney tried to suppress the NIE from becoming public for over a year.[58] It seemed as if provoking a situation within Iraq was the best option for Cheney. However, because Iran acted quickly in ending the violence and brokering a ceasefire, Cheney’s plan backfired.

Permanent Occupation

Having a massive outbreak of violence in Iraq could have provided an excellent reason to justify a permanent occupation of Iraq. On April 8, 2008, a week after the fighting in Basra reached a ceasefire, the Guardian reported that, “A confidential draft agreement covering the future of US forces in Iraq, passed to the Guardian, shows that provision is being made for an open-ended military presence in the country,” and that the “secret” and “sensitive” agreement was dated “March 7,” and, “is intended to replace the existing UN mandate and authorises the US to “conduct military operations in Iraq and to detain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security” without time limit.”[59]

On June 5, it was reported by the Independent that, “A secret deal being negotiated in Baghdad would perpetuate the American military occupation of Iraq indefinitely, regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election in November,” and that, “Iraqi officials fear that the accord, under which US troops would occupy permanent bases, conduct military operations, arrest Iraqis and enjoy immunity from Iraqi law, will destabilise Iraq’s position in the Middle East and lay the basis for unending conflict in their country.” Further, “Under the terms of the new treaty, the Americans would retain the long-term use of more than 50 bases in Iraq. American negotiators are also demanding immunity from Iraqi law for US troops and contractors, and a free hand to carry out arrests and conduct military activities in Iraq without consulting the Baghdad government.” The article reported that, “The Iraqi government wants to delay the actual signing of the agreement but the office of Vice-President Dick Cheney has been trying to force it through. The US ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, has spent weeks trying to secure the accord.”[60]

Important to note is that, “The agreement artfully drafted by US officials will not only jeopardize the Iraqi sovereignty but will also give the US military the right to use Iraq as a launching pad for attacks against other countries, including Syria and Iran.”[61] As of June 19, “Iraqi and U.S. officials are seeking a compromise on the pending issues over a new security agreement between the two countries.”[62]

Concluding Remarks

Understanding the anatomy of the conflict that has raged in Basra since 2003 is a pivotal study in understanding the wider “War on Terror.” The British, for nearly a century maintaining a destabilizing presence in the region, notably in Basra, have not given up their Empire’s long-standing tradition of “Divide and Conquer.” From the two SAS terrorist, to their dramatic “rescue,” the destruction of the Serious Crimes Unit and eventually, the liquidation of the Basra Intelligence Ministry, the British have maintained a position of being above the law and beyond moral restraint.

Notes 

[1] Helen McCormack, The day that Iraqi anger exploded in the face of the British occupiers. The Independent: September 20, 2005:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/the-day-that-iraqi-anger-exploded-in-the-face-of-the-british-occupiers-507597.html

[2] BBC, Iraq probe into soldier incident. BBC News: September 20, 2005:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4264614.stm

[3] Global Research, Iraqi MP accuses British Forces in Basra of “Terrorism”. Al Jazeera: September 20, 2005:
http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=viewArticle&code=20050920&articleId=983

[4] Robert Fisk, When nature and man conspire to expose the lies of the powerful, the truth will out. The Independent: September 24, 2005:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/fisk/robert-fisk-when-nature-and-man-conspire-to-expose-the-lies-of-the-powerful-the-truth-will-out-508135.html

[5] Times Online, British forces break soldiers out of Basra jail. Times Online: September 19, 2005:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/iraq/article568439.ece

[6] Ibid.

[7] AP, British soldiers free two from Basra jail. USA Today: September 19, 2005:
http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2005-09-19-british-basra_x.htm

[8] Ellen Knickmeyer and Jonathan Finer, British Smash Into Iraqi Jail To Free 2 Detained Soldiers. The Washington Post: September 20, 2005:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/19/AR2005091900572.html

[9] BBC, Iraq probe into soldier incident. BBC News: September 20, 2005:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4264614.stm

[10] John Pilger, John Pilger blames Basra on the British. The New Statesman: October 3, 2005:
http://www.newstatesman.com/200510030009

[11] Michel Chossudovsky, Britain “apologizes” for terrorist act in Basra. Global Research: October 15, 2005:
http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=1094

[12] Kim Sengupta, Senior military investigator found dead in Iraq. The Independent: October 17, 2005:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/senior-military-investigator-found-dead-in-iraq-511240.html

[13] Michael Evans, Top military investigator is found dead in Basra. The Times Online: October 17, 2005:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article579399.ece

[14] Richard Norton-Taylor, Investigator found dead at Basra base. The Guardian: October 17, 2005:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2005/oct/17/military.iraq

[15] The Age, Captured SAS soldiers ‘spied on drill torturer’. The Age: October 17, 2005:
http://www.theage.com.au/news/iraq/captured-sas-soldiers-spied-on-drill-torturer/2005/10/16/1129401144904.html

[16] Ian Herbert, Suicide in Basra: The unravelling of a military man. The Independent: July 31, 2006:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/suicide-in-basra-the-unravelling-of-a-military-man-409965.html

[17] Telegraph staff, British troops storm ‘execution prison’. The Telegraph: December 25, 2006:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/migrationtemp/1537806/British-troops-storm-‘execution-prison’.html

[18] Thomas Harding, ‘Rogue’ police officers seized in Basra. The Telegraph: December 23, 2006:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1537714/%27Rogue%27-police-officers-seized-in-Basra.html

[19] BBC, Iraqi police ambushed near Basra. BBC News: October 29, 2006:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6097180.stm

[20] Marc Santora, British Soldiers Storm Iraqi Jail, Citing Torture. The New York Times: December 26, 2006:
http://www.truthout.org/article/british-soldiers-storm-iraqi-jail-citing-torture

[21] Sudarsan Raghavan, Basra Raid Finds Prisoners With Signs of Torture. The Washington Post: March 5, 2007:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/04/AR2007030400345.html

[22] Matthew Moore, Iraqi PM criticises ‘illegal’ British raid. The Telegraph: March 6, 2007:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/migrationtemp/1544637/Iraqi-PM-criticises-‘illegal’-British-raid.html

[23] Reuters, Iraqi PM orders probe of raid on Basra prison. Reuters: March 4, 2007:

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L04686706.htm

[24] Paul Wood, Basra raids raise power concerns. BBC News: March 6, 2007: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6423691.stm

[25] Karen DeYoung and Thomas E. Ricks, As British Leave, Basra Deteriorates. The Washington Post: August 7, 2007:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/06/AR2007080601401_pf.html

[26] Kim Sengupta, British leave last remaining Basra base: What was achieved? The Independent: September 3, 2007:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/british-leave-last-remaining-basra-base-what-was-achieved-401284.html

[27] Kim Sengupta, The ‘proxy war’: UK troops are sent to Iranian border. The Independent: September 12, 2007:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/the-proxy-war-uk-troops-are-sent-to-iranian-border-402083.html

[28] Paul von Zielbauer, British Hand Over Basra to Iraqis. The New York Times: December 16, 2007:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/16/world/middleeast/16cnd-iraq.html?ex=1355461200&en=3c6761e2acb08c5a&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

[29] Ralph Peters, Blood Borders: How a better Middle East would look. Armed Forces Journal: June 2006: http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/2006/06/1833899

[30] The Times, Iraq: the battle for Basra. Times Online: March 28, 2008:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/leading_article/article3635662.ece

[31] Patrick Cockburn, British and US forces drawn into battle for Basra. The Independent: March 30, 2008:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/british-and-us-forces-drawn-into-battle-for-basra-802626.html

[32] BBC, Britain and the battle for Basra. BBC News: March 30, 2008: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7321461.stm

[33] Patrick Cockburn, Al-Sadr calls ceasefire after six days of clashes. The Independent: March 31, 2008:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/alsadr-calls-ceasefire-after-six-days-of-clashes-802735.html

[34] Charles Levinson, Iranians help reach Iraq cease-fire. USA Today: March 31, 2008:
http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2008-03-30-iraqnews_N.htm

[35] AP, In push for political unity, Cheney visits Iraq. MSNBC: March 17, 2008: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23667595/

[36] Tom Coghlan, Dick Cheney tour sparks Iran war rumours. The Telegraph: March 21, 2008:
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[37] Real News, Ex-CIA analyst on Petraeus and Cheney. The Real News Network: April 11, 2008:
http://therealnews.com/t/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=1323

[38] Dana Milbank and Justin Blum, Document Says Oil Chiefs Met With Cheney Task Force. The Washington Post: November 16, 2005:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/15/AR2005111501842.html

[39] Press Office, CHENEY ENERGY TASK FORCE DOCUMENTS FEATURE MAP OF IRAQI OILFIELDS. Judicial Watch: July 17, 2003: http://www.judicialwatch.org/printer_iraqi-oilfield-pr.shtml

[40] AP, Iraq in talks with Royal Dutch Shell on joint venture deal to invest natural gas. The International Herald Tribune: June 17, 2008: http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/06/17/business/ME-FIN-Iraq-Natural-Gas.php

[41] Andrew E. Kramer, Deals with Iraq are set to bring oil giants back. The International Herald Tribune: June 19, 2008: http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/06/19/africa/19iraq.php

[42] AFP, Iraq presidency rejects provincial election law. AFP: February 27, 2008:
http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5hYO3MajPLR6JQiP1E71sgMz0ufzg

[43] Sholnn Freeman, Iraqi Council Clears Key Legislation on Provincial Elections. The Washington Post: March 20, 2008:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/03/19/AR2008031903520.html

[44] Leslie Gelb, The Three State Solution. The New York Times: November 25, 2003:

http://www.cfr.org/publication/6559/threestate_solution.html?breadcrumb=%2Fbios%2F3325%2Fleslie_h_gelb%3Fpage%3D3

[45] Michel Chossudovsky, “Osamagate.” Global Research: October 9, 2001:

http://www.globalresearch.ca/articles/CHO110A.html

[46] George W. Bush, Bush’s Speech on the Global War on Terror, March 2008. CFR: March 27, 2008:
http://www.cfr.org/publication/15867/bushs_speech_on_the_global_war_on_terror_march_2008.html

[47] Conn Hallinan, Column: Dispatches FromThe Edge: The Story Behind the Battle for Basra. The Berkeley Daily Planet: April 11, 2008: http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2008-04-11/article/29715

[48] Leslie Gelb and Joseph Biden, Jr., Unity Through Autonomy in Iraq. The New York Times: May 1, 2006: http://www.cfr.org/publication/10569/unity_through_autonomy_in_iraq.html?breadcrumb=%2Fbios%2F3325%2Fleslie_h_gelb%3Fpage%3D2

[49] Linda S. Heard, The Prophecy of Oded Yinon. Counter Punch: April 25, 2006: http://www.counterpunch.org/heard04252006.html

[50] Richard Perle, et. al., A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm. The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies: June 1996: http://www.iasps.org/strat1.htm

[51] Leslie Gelb, The Three State Solution. The New York Times: November 25, 2003:

http://www.cfr.org/publication/6559/threestate_solution.html?breadcrumb=%2Fbios%2F3325%2Fleslie_h_gelb%3Fpage%3D3

[52] Daniel Dombey and Andrew Ward, Oil tops Cheney’s Middle East tour agenda. The Financial Times: March 16, 2008: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d132d1e2-f3a2-11dc-b6bc-0000779fd2ac.html

[53] Chris Floyd, US Attack on Iran: Worried Yet? Saudis Prepare for “Sudden Nuclear Hazards” After Cheney Visit. Global Research: March 31, 2008: http://globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=8494

[54] World Tribune, U.S. charges Iran behind renewed violence in Iraq. The World Tribune: March 27, 2008: http://www.worldtribune.com/worldtribune/WTARC/2008/ss_iran_03_27.asp

[55] Claudia Parsons, US envoy to UN blames Iran for fueling Iraq violence. Reuters: April 28, 2008:
http://uk.reuters.com/article/homepageCrisis/idUKN28305593._CH_.242020080428

[56] Gareth Porter, US/IRAN: Fearing Escalation, Pentagon Fought Cheney Plan. IPS: June 6, 2008: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=42696

[57] Mark Mazzetti, U.S. Says Iran Ended Atomic Arms Work. The New York Times: December 3, 2007: http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2007/12/03/5588/

[58] Gareth Porter, POLITICS-US: Cheney Tried to Stifle Dissent in Iran NIE. IPS: November 8, 2007: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=39978

[59] Seumas Milne, Secret US plan for military future in Iraq. The Guardian: April 8, 2008: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/apr/08/iraq.usa

[60] Patrick Cockburn, Revealed: Secret plan to keep Iraq under US control. The Independent: June 5, 2008:
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[61] Ismail Salami, US hidden agenda in Iraq security agreement. Press TV: June 7, 2008: http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=59060&sectionid=3510303

[62] AP, Iraq, US seek security compromise. Associated Press: June 19, 2008: http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5g4Sx1RDO6xF-Ggz2GsqBY6y0vq6AD91DC1TG1