Bush Has Failed To Teach Iraq 101 In Lead-up to War

Posted March 12, 2003 at 2:27pm

Here’s a test that most educated Americans ought to be able to pass on the eve of war with Iraq: What is Halabja? Al-Anfal? The Mukhabarat? Who was Michel Afleq? Saadoun Al-Tikriti? How did Saddam Hussein come to run Iraq, anyway? [IMGCAP(1)]

I know from testing a number of intelligent people that the Bush administration and the media have failed to teach Iraq 101 to the public. Americans have been told — endlessly, by the administration — that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is “evil,” “a dictator” and “a menace.”

It’s all true. It’s well documented that he’s a sadistic, murderous monster, responsible for more than a million deaths.

If Americans — and people around the world — only knew the stomach-turning details, the Bush administration might have less difficulty making its case for war. Liberating Iraq would be seen as a moral imperative.

Administration officials claim they have tried to make the human rights case against Hussein, and they say they’ve had some success around the country, though less with the Washington media.

“We’ve been persistent, repeated and consistent,” said Tucker Eskew, chief of the White House’s Office of Global Communications. “You can’t find a speech of the president’s in which he doesn’t mention the plight of the Iraqi people.”

That’s true, though President Bush rarely gets more specific than to charge that Hussein has “poisoned his own people” and “invaded his neighbors” and “rules by torture.”

Eskew pointed out that a delegation of Iraqi expatriates visited the White House last week and talked to the press about Hussein’s oppression, generating some media stories. But they were mainly on the Fox News Channel, where the audience is already pro-war. [IMGCAP(2)]

Also, Defense Department public liaison teams give lectures to civic clubs around the country that include a video of expatriates talking about life in Iraq. U.S. embassies abroad make a similar presentation, unveiled at the State Department’s Foreign Press Center two weeks ago.

In addition, the State Department’s Web site contains a number of reports on Hussein’s human rights depredations, with links to other harrowing reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Asked if, at the end of the day, most Americans understand what a monster Hussein is, Eskew said, “I acknowledge, they don’t. We have to keep at it.”

The problem, he said, is that “the press, with its nose against the glass, is not paying attention to this. It’s focused on United Nations diplomacy, inspections and preparations for war.”

And, Eskew said, “It’s very difficult to make news about human rights because Saddam Hussein sees to it that there’s not much new information coming out.”

Still, the administration is forging ahead, its human rights campaign evidently timed to accompany the release of plans for post-war reconstruction and governance of Iraq.

This weekend, the White House plans to observe the 15th anniversary of Halabja. What happened there was chillingly described by British writer Gwynne Roberts in her 1999 book “Crimes of War” as follows:

“It was 6:20 p.m. on March 16, 1988, when a smell of apples descended on the town of Halabja. This Iraqi Kurdish town of 80,000 was instantly engulfed in a thick cloud of gas, as chemicals soaked into the clothes, mouths, lungs, eyes and skin of innocent civilians.

“For three days, Iraqi Air Force planes dropped mustard gas, nerve agents known as sarin and tabun and VX. … These chemicals murdered at least 5,000 civilians within hours and maimed thousands more over the next several years.

“Halabja has experienced staggering rates of aggressive cancer, genetic mutation, neurological damage and psychiatric disorders since 1988. If you walk through the streets today, you will see many diseased and disfigured citizens.”

The attack on Halabja was part of a wider, genocidal campaign against the Kurds known as Al Anfal, which killed 30,000 to 60,000 between 1983 and 1988.

The eight-year Iran-Iraq war launched by Hussein in 1980 killed an estimated 1 million people on both sides of the conflict, many by poison gas.

Thousands more died as a result of his attack on Kuwait in 1990, which led to the first Persian Gulf War. As it ended, then-President George H.W. Bush encouraged Iraqis to liberate themselves from Hussein’s rule. When Shiites and Kurds rose up, they were decimated by Iraqi forces. The United States did nothing.

To continue with Iraq 101, the Mukhabarat is Hussein’s Gestapo, his internal security apparatus. What it does was described this way by Amnesty International: “Political prisoners and detainees were subjected to systematic torture.

“The bodies of those executed had evident signs of torture. Common methods of torture included electric shocks or cigarette burns to various parts of the body, pulling out of fingernails, rape, long periods of suspension by the limbs.”

It’s well documented that Hussein’s police rape daughters and wives to extract confessions from prisoners and torture and murder the children of suspected dissidents. Those who speak ill of Hussein can have their tongues cut out if they aren’t shot.

Michel Afleq? He was the founder of the Ba’ath party and Saddam Hussein’s ideological father. The Ba’ath promulgates a doctrine of Arab racial superiority, a destiny of dominance over “imperialist” powers and a system of party rule based on Stalinist principles of terror.

Saadoun al-Tikriti? He was a communist official in Hussein’s hometown and the first person he is known to have killed, at the age of 21.

Hussein was a Ba’athist thug who rose to power by connivance, maneuver and murder. And the minute he achieved power in 1979, he executed all his potential rivals — and sent videotapes around to terrorize others.

Critics of Bush’s war policy often say, “I know he’s a bad guy, but … .” The problem is, no one has educated them on just how bad a guy he is.