Finding a Pretext to Invade Iraq

  January 13, 2024   Read time 5 min
Finding a Pretext to Invade Iraq
The neocons’ chance to create their own reality in the Middle East – and one more suited to both the US and Israel – came with the 9/11 attacks.

The Administration’s fi rst task was to exploit the resulting deaths to create a new political and ideological climate in which a ‘war on terror’ would become the alibi for a neoconinspired US foreign policy, justifying ‘pre-emptive’ wars to remake the Middle East. As part of that goal, the White House went after the most likely culprits for 9/11, ‘smoking out’, as President Bush phrased it, the jihadis of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Plausible as the war on terror looked at this stage to many observers, for the neocons the real battle was yet to begin. An indication of their priorities came with a speech by Bush in January 2002 in which he identifi ed as an ‘axis of evil’ the rogue nuclear state of North Korea – a potential Far Eastern ally of America’s only global challenger, China – along with Israel’s two large, regional rivals, Iraq and Iran.

With the neocons occupying many of the key positions in a Defense Department headed by Rumsfeld, and supported by neocon journalists in senior posts in the US media, they pushed very publicly for an invasion of Iraq as the next step in the war on terror. As we have already seen, they promoted not only erroneous information about Iraq’s supposed stockpiles of WMD, but also the improbable possibility that the secular Ba’athist regime was offering sanctuary to al-Qaeda. The evidence for quite how desperate the neocons had grown to find a pretext for attacking Iraq was revealed five years later by a Pentagon investigation into the build-up to war.

Included in its fi nal report was a memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz, one of the most infl uential neocons in the Administration, to Douglas Feith, who was then head of the Pentagon’s ‘Offi ce of Special Plans’ and whose job it was to pave the way for an assault on Baghdad. Dated 22 January 2002, the memo from Wolfowitz states: ‘We don’t seem to be making much progress pulling together intelligence on links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. We owe SecDef [Rumsfeld] some analysis of this subject.’95 The Pentagon inquiry concluded that Feith’s Offi ce had ‘developed, produced and then disseminated alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and al-Qaeda relationship’, including ‘conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the Intelligence Community’. In other words, Feith had manufactured lies to justify the coming attack.

According to the journalist Bob Woodward, who was given unrivalled access to Administration officials for his book Bush at War, the Pentagon had been working months before 9/11 on ‘developing a military option for Iraq’. When the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked, Rumsfeld was ready to raise ‘the possibility that they could take advantage of the opportunity offered by the terrorist attacks to go after Saddam immediately’. Wolfowitz too favoured invading Iraq in response to 9/11. According to Woodward: ‘Rumsfeld raised the question of Iraq. Why shouldn’t we go against Iraq, not just al Qaeda? He asked. Rumsfeld was speaking not only for himself when he raised the question. His deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, was committed to a policy that would make Iraq a principal target of the fi rst round in the war on terrorism.’98 Woodward’s account is corroborated by an early passage in the memoirs of the head of the CIA at the time, George Tenet. The day after 9/11, Tenet reports passing Richard Perle in the corridors of the White House’s West Wing. Perle turned to Tenet and said: ‘Iraq has to pay a price for what happened yesterday. They bear responsibility.’

The neocons were not alone in wanting Saddam Hussein removed. In January 2004, the former US Treasury Secretary, Paul O’Neill, went public that there had been a memorandum preparing for ‘regime change’ in Iraq almost from ‘day one’ of the Bush Administration – and well before the September 11 attacks.100 Meetings on Iraq were held in January and February 2001 by the National Security Council, part of the State Department, which O’Neill attended and at which an invasion of Iraq was discussed. ‘It was all about fi nding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. The president saying “Go fi nd me a way to do this”.’ By March 2001 a secretive Energy Task Force under Cheney had accumulated several documents on Iraq, including one entitled Foreign Suitors For Iraqi Oilfi eld Contracts, discussing ways to carve up Iraq’s crude reserves between Western oil companies.

According to the investigations of an American journalist, Greg Palast, the oil industry was also deeply involved in plotting Saddam’s overthrow. Palast reports that three weeks after Bush’s election, a confi dential meeting took place at Walnut Creek, near San Francisco, at the instigation of the State Department and to which the oil industry was invited. Under discussion was a plan for a rapid invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. His removal was wanted by the industry because he was considered unpredictable and the country’s chaotic oil output was creating fluctuations in the price of crude and damaging markets. Also, the continuing sanctions regime was handicapping US oil firms, preventing them but not their counterparts in Europe, China, Russia and India, from signing exploration contracts for the moment the sanctions were lifted.

The Suitors document listed Royal Dutch Shell, Russia’s Lukoil and Total Elf Aquitaine of France as among the firms lined up for ‘production-sharing contracts’ with Iraq since the late 1990s. The Council on Foreign Relations, whose corporate members include most of the big oil companies, concluded that Saddam was a ‘destabilising infl uence ... to the fl ow of oil to international markets’. The plan envisaged a US-backed coup by a Ba’athist army general; the new strongman would be transformed into a democratic leader by elections held within three months. ‘Bring him in right away and say that Iraq is being liberated – and everybody stay in offi ce ... everything as is’, recalled Falah Aljibury, an Iraqi exile, friend of the Bush family and the man called on by the State Department to plot the coup. In other words, the State Department wanted regime change and the briefest possible occupation by US soldiers.

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