Saturday, December 30, 2006

Puppet on a string

A quarter century ago, before blogs gave me a safer means of annoying people, I would occasionally visit pubs and partake in discussions of the issues. On one occasion, a lout among other louts insisted that the U.S. should join sides with Iraq and "nuke the hell" out of Iran. The Iran-Iraq war then raged, and "Kohmeini is a Shi'ite-Head" t-shirts were still considered haute couture.

"Iraq is run by a guy named Saddam Hussein," I said to the louts, who pretended that they already knew. "And he's worse than the Ayatollah Khomeini. In fact..."

Said louts did not allow me to proceed much further. After many harsh words, they reached the consensus that I was a communist who should go back to Russia. Nobody could possibly be worse than the Assahola.

Years later, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. In response, Poppy Bush held up Saddam's picture and ordered all Americans: "HATE THIS MAN! NOW!" On cue, as if entranced, my countrymen -- those pub louts surely among them -- started chanting "Hate! Hate! Hate!"

Bloody commies. The lot of 'em.

What I did not know 25 years ago, and what most Americans refuse to acknowledge today, is that Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party came to power in Iraq with CIA connivance in order to repress the bloody commies.

In 1958, a reformist-minded officer named Abdul Karim Qasim took over Iraq in a coup. He attempted to build popular support by refusing to crap on the poor, a strategy which the Agency considered communist-friendly. The CIA recruited young Saddam, a thug from Tikrit, to assassinate Qasim.

The plan failed, and a wounded Saddam -- aided by American and Egyptian spooks -- fled to Cairo, where he hung out in bars with his Agency contacts, plotting a new strike. (Why do I picture him as resembling those afore-cited pub louts?) (And before you say it: Yes, they do have bars in Cairo -- in hotels.) In 1963, the CIA poured a ton of money into the quasi-fascistic Ba'ath party, which staged a coup and murdered Qasim. The Agency installed Saddam as the head of intelligence.

This corrupt and unloved government soon fell, so the CIA had to foment another Ba'ath coup in 1968, which placed Saddam in the number two spot. He functioned as Chief Bastard, the usual job of number twos throughout the world.

(To read the rest, click "Permalink" below)

The new government annoyed Washington by seeking amicable relations with the USSR, which led to Kissinger's covert attempt (using the Shah of Iran as a cut-out) to foment a Kurdish rebellion in the North of Iraq. When Saddam decided to reach an accord with D.C., the Kurds were suddenly hung out to dry, the first of several betrayals.

In 1979, Syria and Iraq -- both ruled by Ba'ath parties -- made plans to unite, which horrified the United States and Israel. At this point, Saddam seized total control, scuttling all unity plans.

Throughout much of the next decade, Saddam received "advice" and aid from Americans and others inhabiting that bizarre land where espionage, entrepreneurship and crime intersect. Robert Fisk:
Who encouraged Saddam to invade Iran in 1980, which was the greatest war crime he has committed for it led to the deaths of a million and a half souls? And who sold him the components for the chemical weapons with which he drenched Iran and the Kurds? We did. No wonder the Americans, who controlled Saddam's weird trial, forbad any mention of this, his most obscene atrocity, in the charges against him.
Babara Honegger's October Surprise, now a hard book to find, offers up a fascinating interview along these same lines.

Journalist Joseph Trento has offered some unique insights into this era. If you will forgive a bit of self-quotation:
As I've said many times, you can't understand modern history unless you know about these "spooky" informal networks, in which the players receive both start-up capital and connections from covert sources.

One of these Agency-linked arms merchandisers was Sarkis Soghanalian (who had befriended Trento, which is how Trento came to know about this stuff). Business proceeded smoothly; Saddam received cluster bombs, battle choppers, guns, and and even lovelier bits of merchandise.

Somewhere along the way, a mafia-like group of Republican operatives -- which included Richard Nixon and his old "pals" -- muscled onto the scene. In short and in sum, they demanded a hefty cut of Operation Arm Saddam.

This second wave of Legitimate Businessmen made a deal with Saddam to supply the Iraqi military with uniforms. I've seen varying estimates as to how much money this scheme was worth; the high figure is $450 million. The group promised high-quality uniforms manufactured by "their" plant in Tennessee. Actually, the job was off-shored to a Romanian firm known for producing clothing on the ultra-cheap. This decision insured that, instead of making big profits, the Republican mobsters could make big, big, BIG profits.

Saddam's people were not happy when they opened up the boxes and discovered wool uniforms. In a desert country, in the summer, wool is rarely the soldier's first choice.

You would think that Saddam Hussein would refuse ever again to deal with this group. In fact, they became more powerful than ever: They drove out Soghnalian and pretty much took over the weapons trade in Iraq. They did not actually produce the needed goods and services; job orders were farmed out to the low-ball bidders.

These men practiced the most perverse form of capitalism. The greatest rewards went to thugs who did not actually make anything -- who had, in fact, wedged themselves between the consumer and the producers, neither of whom wanted or needed the services of middlemen. Saddam had no choice but to go along with an operation that had acquired the blessings of Republican bigwigs.
I like the story of the wool uniforms because makes me smile and because it illustrates a principle. In truth, though, the real story involves the sale to Saddam Hussein of -- you guessed it -- weapons of mass destruction.

The best book on this history is Alan Friedman's neglected The Spider's Web. From Amy Goodman's interview with Friedman (with added paragraph breaks and minor punctuation fixes):
Now, I discovered this at the end of the 1980's when I was reporting for The Financial Times of London and we uncovered the scandal of more than $5 billion of American taxpayer backed credits that had been funneled by the Atlanta, Georgia branch of an Italian bank to Saddam Hussein with the full knowledge of the C.I.A. and later on of the White House, under the Bush administration.

That’s because that bank, it later transpired, an Italian bank called B & L, its Atlanta, Georgia branch was being used to surreptitiously finance Saddam Hussein's purchase of both agricultural goods and weaponry.

And the very frightening part of it is that this group of intelligence agents outside the government, but working with the blessing of the government as it later turned out with the blessing of people like James Baker and George Herbert Walker Bush, this organization of arms dealers and transshipment specialists continued to sell a whole variety of equipment to Saddam Hussein, including U.S. military rocket cluster bombs that were transshipped from Pennsylvania through Chile to Iraq, nuclear and chemical weapons technology, and missile technology. And the United States didn't really do anything to stop this shipment because at the time the argument used by the C.I.A. and the White House was that if you allowed a limited amount of military weapons and technology to flow to Iraq, even though it was completely illegal -- against U.S. law, against international treaties -- if you allowed this to happen, as an intelligence operation, the rationalization in the Bush administration went, then you could keep better track of what kind of weaponry Saddam was developing.

What really happened, of course, is that there were people along the way who were greedy, who were making money off of it, and there were people in governments in Italy and Britain and in the Thatcher government and in the Andriotti government in Italy who were working with their American counterparts and they continued the flow of equipment.

Some of this is very sophisticated stuff and one of the scandals -- the way the scandal was developed was I first uncovered financial documents for a British company called Matrix Churchill based in Coventry in England that was sending what seemed to be innocent machine tool equipment to Saddam Hussein. But it wasn't. It was dual use technology that the C.I.A. and the British intelligence knew was going into Saddam's missile program and his nuclear program, but they allowed it to happen.

So, the real problem is that we had a Frankenstein monster that got out of control...
The rest you know.

Alas, I doubt if the current louts inhabiting this nation's various pubs and bars will ever sit still for the truth: For nearly 50 years, Iraqis have had few problems not caused by Americans. Saddam was an American puppet. He offended the gods not through his ruthlessness, not through his prisons and rape rooms, and not through his chemical attacks on the Kurds. No, his great sin was his Pinocchio-like determination to walk away from the puppeteers.

Today, he ended as he began -- a puppet on a string.
You provide this type of information to your readers. If you leave, where will we find this information? Do not acknowledge the people who have caused you problems. It will not be easy. You serve a greater purpose. You bring little known facts to the public along with a different perspective on many stories. We need your voice. Don't let "them" silence you.
ditto, mir; double ditto. what you said. quadruple ditto.

you listenin' there, joe??
Um, I'll second, third, fourth and fifth mlr's and dr. elsewhere's emotion. Joseph, I would miss this Blog tremendously. It's one of my priority go to blogs when I am in a hurry. While I don't always agree with your opinions, I don't value your writing any less. You have a fresh perspective on back road topics. Do not allow other people to stop you from expressing yourself. Block comments if you need to. It's your life and your blog. OK. Lecture over. Have a wonderful new year and please change your mind.
I agree with those guys...keep on blogging.
Priceless punchline.
**Somewhere along the way, a mafia-like group of Republican operatives -- which included Richard Nixon and his old "pals" -- muscled onto the scene. In short and in sum, they demanded a hefty cut of Operation Arm Saddam.**.

You have any more details on these mafia-like pals of Nixon? I assume you're talking about his friends from South Florida, in which case, I am interested in your claim.
Actually, the reference was to the post-presidency period, specifically the 1980s. Nixon's involvement with the milieu that was "aiding" (and bilking) Saddam is little-known. I derived that information from Joseph Trento's "Prelude to Terror" -- a book I've recommended so often that some of my readers may sigh to see that title again.
Joseph - this post is magnificent. I am a student of world history, and the way you have presented the information is so precise and clean, that it is amazing. We have been severely dumbed down as a nation. Your words stand out and shine.

I live in Tampa. My late mother was a teacher and she would frequent a bar for a beer or two after school. The bar was Santos Trafficante's base of operations. My mother, Maxine, told me things that were very strange there. She heard him shout and scream on long distance calls to Cuba. In a real way, he would hold court at a large table in a conspicuous section of the bar. He was a miysogynist, a tyrant and a powerful force in South Florida. There was some vague and unclear connection between the Cuban Mafia in Tampa and the forces that caused President Kennedy's death. President Kennedy was here in Tampa just before flying to Dallas on that sad and ugly day. I am older now, and I really would like to get solid information and understand the role the Tampa Cuban Mafia played in this entire mess from the Kennedy assassination to the present disaster in Iraq. Ther must be a tie that is secret and very formidable.
You bring little known facts to the public along with a different perspective on many stories.

Actually, the CIA had nothing to do with the rise of Saddam. He was right that they put the Baathists in power, but was wrong on his other point.

understand the role the Tampa Cuban Mafia played in this entire mess from the Kennedy assassination to the present disaster in Iraq.

Kennedy was killed by a sad, confused man named Lee Harvey Oswald, the mob had nothing to do with it. You can usually tell what type of blog your reading by the content of the comments.

I am a student of world history, and the way you have presented the information is so precise and clean, that it is amazing.

I hope you don't have any sort of degree, as you don't deserve it. He made factual errors in the post.
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