[THS] Blood on our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq
The Harder Stuff in news and commentary
ths at psalience.org
Thu Aug 12 13:06:34 CEST 2010
"Blood on Our Hands"
Wednesday 11 August 2010
by: Dahr Jamail, t r u t h o u t | Book Review
(Image: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: The U.S. Army, K. OS, whiteblot)
While most media continue to ignore the US-installed disaster in Iraq, author Nicolas
Davies refuses to do so, and his book "Blood on our Hands: the American Invasion
and Destruction of Iraq" could not be released at a better time.
This sweeping work covers US policy in Iraq that spans decades, and is written as a
call to action for the US to begin following international law - not just in Iraq, but
everywhere. For it was the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq that, more than
perhaps anything else, continues to defile what is left of the tattered reputation of
"The US foreign policy establishment's response to this crisis of legitimacy has been to
withdraw from the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ; to oppose both the formation
and the functioning of the new International Criminal Court; to withdraw from other
multilateral treaties; and to hire new experts and lawyers to devise far-fetched
rationales for exempting US behavior from international legal constraints on a case by
case but increasingly systematic basis," writes Davies, in what is essentially a prelude
to a brilliant analysis of why and how the US has systematically destroyed the country
"I started out with a firm conviction that everything the US was doing in Iraq was
illegitimate and that everything we were being told about it was propaganda, and the
outrage I felt made me determined to find and expose the reality behind the lies,"
Davies told Truthout, "I was able to place events within a coherent context of criminal
aggression, hostile military occupation, and popular resistance because that was the
way I saw it all along."
Studying US foreign policy has always been a passion for Davies. In addition to this,
he added several books and articles on international law to his reading list, and went
"A lot of my motivation to spend so much time researching and writing about all this
came from the sense of despair I felt watching the aggressive US response to
September 11th, as all the real and serious problems that afflict the lives of billions of
people were placed on the back burner and subordinated to the agenda of US
militarism," Davies explained as his motivation for the book. "Media coverage took a
deeply Orwellian turn, and it became a challenge just to figure out what was really
going on, which I sort of needed to do for my own sanity anyway."
In the chapter "A Brief History of Regime Change," Davies tells how back in the
mid-20th century, a CIA agent in Iraq who was working as an assistant military
attaché at the Egyptian Embassy in Baghdad, hired a then 22-year-old Saddam
Hussein to assassinate the Prime Minister of Iraq, Abd al-Karim Qasim on October 7,
1959. Hussein botched the job, and fled the country after being wounded in his leg
by a fellow conspirator. The CIA rented him an apartment in Beirut to assist him in
recovering from his injury, after which he moved to Cairo, where he was a frequent
visitor to the US Embassy there, while still being paid by Egyptian intelligence.
After the US assisted Hussein in the Baathist coupe in Iraq that propelled him into a
position of power, he became president, a time that launched his reign of power that
coincided with the Iranian Revolution. In this way, Hussein was fully backed by the
US due to Western fears of an Islamic Iran.
Davies addresses one of the broadest misconceptions about Iraq - that of Sunnis and
Shiites being at odds with one another. Despite the fact that the primary conflict
occurring in Iraq was always the guerilla war between occupation forces and the
popular resistance forces fighting to free Iraq from foreign occupation, US
propaganda increasingly portrayed a secondary "sectarian" conflict between Sunni
and Shiite Arabs as the primary conflict happening in Iraq. According to this
dominant rhetoric, the foreign occupation forces that invaded Iraq and plunged the
country into chaos and violence then became well meaning, albeit sometimes
frustrated, peacekeepers or referees.
Davies provides one of the more blatant examples of US-propaganda - that of the
myth of Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi being a key leader of the Iraqi
"Zarqawi's role as the supreme leader of the Iraqi Resistance was equally fictitious,"
he writes, "A U.S. military intelligence officer described his key role in American
propaganda to a British reporter in March 2004: "We were basically paying up to
$10,000 a time to opportunists, criminals and chancers who passed off fiction and
supposition about Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the linchpin of just
about every attack in Iraq ... Back home this stuff was gratefully received and formed
the basis of policy decisions. We needed a villain, someone identifiable for the public
to latch on to, and we got one."
Davies articulates what those of us reporting from Iraq were seeing first-hand:
"The American media swallowed whole the myth that US forces had become
embroiled in an intractable centuries-old blood feud. The stereotype of Iraqis
consumed by ancient sectarian rivalries was soon so well established in America's
public imagination that it became a common theme for commentators and
comedians. Even Americans who opposed the war in Iraq accepted this perverted
Despite the fact that in Iraq people of the same tribe often belonged to different
sects and social interaction and intermarriage among Sunni, Shiites and Kurds was
commonplace among the secular majority of Iraqis, the mainstream media portrayed
According to Davies, there was a calculated methodology behind this propaganda
about Iraq. "As in other neo-colonial ventures, occupation officials scrambled ethnic,
sectarian, tribal, class, economic, political, and geographic groups and interests in a
complex society to create schisms that could be exploited to facilitate a "divide and
Since 1958, the single biggest threat to the US agenda in Iraq has been a strong
tradition of secular nationalist politics. Under this umbrella, no truly independent Iraqi
government was going to agree to the US terms of privatizing Iraq's oil industry, nor
to surrendering the country to US strategic interests.
Thus, Davies concludes on the topic of sectarianism, "The overblown but nonetheless
destructive sectarian divisions were a direct result of this US strategy to divide and
rule the country, not a new phase in some imaginary, long-running conflict between
Sunnis and Shiites."
Truthout asked Davies to explain what he sees as a deadly connection between
propaganda and US imperialism as exemplified in Iraq. "The disconnect between the
"virtual Iraq" in the minds of the Western public and the reality of illegal aggression,
aerial bombardment and the assault on civilians and civil society with powerful
battlefield weapons was too much to keep quiet about. I felt compelled to do
whatever I could to expose the reality behind what struck me as the most
sophisticated military propaganda campaign in history. The trends in policy and
propaganda have continued along the same lines, and I hope the book will have
some impact on their ultimate reversal."
A direct link to this topic of sectarianism is that of the "dirty war" in Iraq. Davies
writes that a dirty war "is a strategy of state terrorism and collective punishment
against an entire civilian population with the objective of terrorizing it into
In November 2003, an $87 billion supplemental appropriation for the occupation of
Iraq included $3 billion for a classified program headed by an Air Force brigadier
general, most of which would be used to fund the paramilitaries for the next three
It was precisely this period in which news from Iraq eventually became dominated by
reports of death squads and ethic cleansing, reports that were generally couched in
the language of "sectarian violence."
Davies outlines precisely how the death squads and other forces used to carry out
the dirty war were formed:
Following the formation of Ayad Allawi's interim government and John
Negroponte's appointment as US Ambassador in June 2004, Allawi declared a "state
of emergency" and President Bush said that Allawi would have to "take tough
measures." An Iraqi-American named Falah al-Naqib was appointed to head the
Interior Ministry of the interim government. He was the son of General Hassan al-
Naqib, the former Chief of Staff of the Iraqi army who defected to the United States
during the 1970s and was one of the founders of the Iraqi National Congress in 1992.
Both Naqibs had long-term contacts with the CIA while in exile. In September 2004,
Falah al-Naqib appointed his uncle, another former Iraqi general and Baath Party
official named Adnan Thavit to lead a new paramilitary force called the Special Police
These forces were formed under the direct supervision of Falah al-Naqib and
Steven Casteel, who had run the interior ministry for the Coalition Provisional
Authority. He stayed on in Iraq as Naqib's Senior Adviser, reporting directly to
Ambassador Negroponte. General David Petraeus, who was officially in charge of
training new Iraqi security forces, was reportedly not informed of the Special Police
Commandos' existence until the new force was already established in the ruins of an
old army base on the edge of the Green Zone, but he went along with Naqib and
A retired Colonel James Steele then took charge of training the commandos, and
he continued to work with them and accompany them on deployments until he left
Iraq in April 2005. Steele, like Negroponte, is a veteran of prior US dirty wars in
Cambodia and Central America. Prior to Steele having been appointed Counselor for
Iraqi Security Forces by then US Ambassador of Iraq John Negroponte, Steele was
vice president of Enron and had officially been sent to Iraq after the invasion as an
By late 2004, as I was seeing in Baghdad, death squad activity was rampant. This
US policy, augmented by national elections in Iraq in 2005 that were largely
boycotted by the Sunni population, created a perfect storm of violence that lasted
another two and a half years that would prove to be, by far, the deadliest period thus
far of the US occupation of Iraq.
Yet, as we have seen, this was blamed on "sectarianism" and the failures of the
Iraqi people, not on the occupiers.
"This failure to connect the dots between related events that were already a matter
of public record pervaded American reporting on the war in Iraq and US foreign
policy in general," writes Davies, "It facilitated a process by which events, actors, and
issues became artificially separated and compartmentalized in the minds of readers.
This fed a public discourse that was divorced from reality and was baffling to people
in other countries where the media were not so deeply complicit in government
Davies' believes that the ongoing US effort to use military power to control access to
vital natural resources, as with Iraq's oil, is "doomed to failure."
He feels that this "means that the occupation will end, as surely as the Union Jack
was lowered in Hong Kong and the other British naval bases where I grew up in the
50s and 60s, and after a shorter period of occupation."
For Iraq, he sees the US having failed "in all of its goals" and adds, "A successful
occupation of Iraq could have provided a base for attacking Iran and Syria, but now
it complicates plans for attacking Iran as much as it supports them."
When asked what he hopes "Blood on Our Hands" will accomplish, Davies is clear in
"I just want as many people as possible to read the book; for it to play a
significant role in shaping the way thousands of Americans understand this truly ugly
event in our history; and that this helps to build the popular resistance to American
militarism that will ultimately bring a relatively peaceful end to the American Empire,
and permit humanity to deal with all the other problems that we must face."
The preface of the book was authored by Benjamin Ferencz, the chief prosecutor of
the Einsatzgruppen Trial in Nuremberg in 1947.
"If the US is to regain its image as a moral leader in the world, we must return to the
rule of law that applies equally to all," Ferencz wrote, "As noted by Davies, change in
policy is possible if the futility of past policies is recognized. The details will be found
in the pages that follow."
And, indeed, they are.
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