On the evening of 16 March 1988 Iraqi airplanes, provided by the United States, began dropping chemical bombs on Halabja, a predominantly Kurdish city of 80,000 people in Northern Iraq. The chemical bombardment continued through the night and did not subside until the 19th. The Kurds sympathized with Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. It was the largest chemical weapons attack against a civilian population in modern history. The attack concentrated on the city in addition to the roads out of the city. [i]
On 8 September 1988 the Senate passed the “Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988” which would render Iraq ineligible to receive U.S. loans, military and non military aid, credits, credit guarantees and any item subject to export controls. This law would make the importation of oil into the United States illegal. The bill did not pass the House because the Reagan administration launched a lobbying campaign to prevent its passage in the House. Apparently, other agendas were more important to the U. S. government than those pesky human rights violations. [ii]
Ten months prior to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, George H.W. Bush signed, on 2 October 1989, National Security Directive 26, (update of NSDD 114) which states “Access to Persian Gulf oil and the security of key friendly states in the area are vital to U.S. national security.” Regarding Iraq, the document states “Normal relations between the United States and Iraq would serve our longer term interests and promote stability in both the Gulf and the Middle East.” This document also provided $1 billion in agricultural loan guarantees which would allow the Iraqi government to continue the development of its weapons. At this time all international banks had cut off any loans to Iraq. Within weeks Iraq received additional financial aid as well as additional access to “dual use” technology for both military and civilian purpose.
National Security Directive 26 came at the height of attempts by the Agriculture Department and other agencies to cut the largest U.S. aid program to Iraq, commodity loan guarantees. Analysts were skeptical about Iraq's ability to repay its increasing foreign debt because of its huge arms expenditures.
Our relationship with Iraq remained collaborative until Iraq invaded Kuwait on 2 August 1990. Iraq had long insisted that they had a claim to Kuwait which is not without historical basis. But it was not just about land. Kuwait demanded repayment of $14 billion dollars in outstanding loans. Iraq also claimed that Kuwait dropped the price of their oil which economically affected Iraq’s ability to repay the loan. Iraq additionally claimed that Kuwait was slant drilling into Iraqi territory. George H. W. Bush declared that this “naked aggression would not stand”. There is reason to believe that the U.S. knew about the planned invasion of Kuwait months ahead and that we gave Saddam a “green light”. Indicative of U.S. invasion approval was the Bush approval of the sale of $395 million dollar sale of advanced data transmission devices to Iraq just the day before. This was but one item in the 1.5 billion dollars of technology that the Reagan and Bush administrations sold to Hussein from 1985 to 1990.
Kuwait had its own tyrant who suppressed freedom with an iron fist and had the money and power to do it. Their government engaged in foreign slave labor while the rich upper class behaved like the rich upper class. Knocking Kuwait off would have been a piece of cake to the strength of the Iraqi Army even after their long battle with Iran. They were seasoned for war. Why would America even want to go and spend their strength in Kuwait? It would cost billions of dollars and squander our military.
So how could Bush convince us to liberate a spoiled little super rich country, even one who suppressed personal freedoms? And the other major hurdle would be to convince America that their former friend was now their arch enemy. All he had to do was to convince the public that Kuwait was trying to establish a freedom loving democracy and that Saddam was the epitome of evil?
Public relations can go far in changing public perceptions to the point that they will sanction our country going to war. Governments, including our own, hire public relations firms whenever they wish to create a perceived reality. This is also true during the elections. Americans have been tutored on media commercials and are quite willing to spend money on the latest gadget or toy to maintain status with the neighbors.
The oil rich tiny independent Kuwaiti government hired Hill & Knowlton and paid them the hefty price of $10 million dollars to convince Americans to fight against the invasion of the wicked warmonger, Saddam Hussein. [iii] The United States and our ally Saddam had a long and workable relationship through the administration of three presidents and before. Why the big change? What happened? Even through the bloody Iran-Iraq years wherein thousands died, including Saddam’s own citizens, we still remained Saddam’s solid soul mates.
Hill & Knowlton, the public relations specialists were good at their job. They provided tearful witnesses about defenseless Kuwaiti babies thrown out of incubators and left to die. This provided political fodder and justification for war – George H. W. Bush repeated this fairy tale ten times in three days. Americans always fall for a noble cause.
In addition to Hill & Knowlton, then the world's largest PR firm, Kuwait also hired other public relations firms such as the Rendon Group (George W. Bush used them to gain acceptance for the 2001 Afghanistan invasion [iv]) for a retainer of $100,000 per month for media work. [v] They also used Neill & Company which was paid $50,000 a month for lobbying Congress. Millions to be used for advertising, lobbying and pro-war rallies were funneled through two front groups: The Coalition for Americans at Risk and the Freedom Task Force.
All of this foreign propaganda to manipulate American opinion was illegal but the Justice Department did not enforce the law. Another front group was organized called Citizens for a Free Kuwait. This group was designed to hide the complicity of the Kuwaiti government and George H. W. Bush.
Hill & Knowlton made a financial killing off this very lucrative deal. Their Washington D.C. official, Craig Fuller, was a close friend and political advisor of; you guessed it – George H. W. Bush!! Another one of those big coincidences! He was in fact Bush’s Chief of Staff when Bush was the vice-president.
So we turn on friends, even the tyrant types, for money, oil, prestige and political points. Public relations firms are hired by lots of dictators, in and out of our own government. This wasn’t even bipartisan – the companies lobbied everyone. The senior vice-president of Hill & Knowlton was the Pentagon spokesman during the Carter administration. Hill & Knowlton used Vice-chairman Frank Mankiewicz to manage the news media. He was formerly press secretary and advisor to Robert F. Kennedy and George McGovern. After which he was the president of National Public Radio.
Hill & Knowlton managed to expose actual scenes of torture and other abuses by the Iraqis. There were bumper stickers and T-shirts pushing the “Free Kuwait” agenda. There were a total of 119 Hill & Knowlton account executives working nationwide on the Kuwait account. They manage to produce a book entitled “The Rape of Kuwait” defining the alleged Iraqi atrocities. The Kuwait embassy purchased 200,000 copies to whip our American troops into a hateful frenzy against the Iraqis. The media saturation was never recognized for what it was. It was propaganda delivered as real news. The more people watched TV the more they backed Bush. It was easy to buy all of this because Saddam had committed slaughter against his own people.
Based on the prevalent propaganda, a Congressional Human Rights Caucus was held on 10 October 1990 facilitated by California Democrat Tom Lantos and Illinois Republican John Porter co-chairs of the Congressional Human Rights Foundation, another legitimate noble sounding front group, who had free office space in Hill & Knowlton's Washington, DC office. [vi] They presented witnesses with trumped up charges against the Iraqis. One of the witnesses was actually a member of the Kuwaiti royal family posing as a hospital volunteer. She could have been an actress for all of her tears and stories. Essentially they lied to Congress. But then lying does not appear to be a punishable crime in certain government circles. The lies were repeated over and over. The American public bought it, hook, line and sinker. It was just three months later that we went to war in Kuwait. The Congressional vote was narrow but that fake testimony undoubtedly swung the vote to Bush’s favor.
Along with appropriate public relations to spin the propaganda, like father, like son, the presidents Bush receive counsel and support from the exact same war hawk individuals: Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Colin Powell. Iraq’s Kuwaiti aggression, even though silently sanctioned by the United States, was justification for a more aggressive U.S. foreign policy. Noble and strong, we, the defenders of the weak, would lead a coalition and fight this aggression with aggression. Hey, that ought to work – aggression with aggression – NOT! If someone pushes you, you just automatically push back! Unless you fight dirty – as in genocide. Arab leaders wanted negotiation instead of war. Bush wanted a war that would not only establish but entrench America into the oil rich Middle East.
George H. W. Bush, an obedient United Nations supporter, ran to the United Nations Security Council and they passed Resolution 660 which demanded immediate withdrawal of Iraq, to no avail. Bush contended that Iraq was going to invade Saudi Arabia, whose royal family is close to the Bush family. On 7 Aug 1990 George H. W. Bush launched a “wholly defensive” mission called Operation Desert Shield to keep Iraq out of Saudi Arabia which was never the target nor was it ever announced as the target. On 8 August 1990 Iraq declared that parts of Kuwait were extensions of the Iraqi province of Basra and that the rest was the 19th province of Iraq. These claims also have a historical basis. (See Part 2) American Battleships showed up on 8 Aug 1990. A 34 nation coalition with 750,000 troops served – 540,000 from the United States. Iraqis were outnumbered from the beginning having only 450,000.
On 11 September 1990 Bush addressed a joint session of Congress, saying: “Within 3 days, 120,000 Iraqi troops with 850 tanks had poured into Kuwait and moved south to threaten Saudi Arabia. (Satellite photos proved this statement false.) It was then that I decided to act to check that aggression.” “We stand today at a unique and extraordinary moment. The crisis in the Persian Gulf, as grave as it is, also offers a rare opportunity to move toward an historic period of cooperation. Out of these troubled times, our fifth objective -- a New World Order -- can emerge: a new era -- freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace.” [vii] This joint session of Congress was exactly eleven years to the day before 9-11. Was this another coincidence?
There were many proffered justifications for our involvement in that conflict:
· Importance of oil to the American economy.
· U.S. friendship with Saudi Arabia. (Not the target - used to engender support)
· Later justifications included Iraq's history of human rights abuses.
· Chance that Saddam Hussein might develop weapons of mass destruction.
· "Naked aggression will not stand."
On 12 January 1991 Congress authorized the use of military force to drive Iraq out of Kuwait. Desert Shield (invasion - 7 Aug 1990) became Desert Storm as we launched a massive air campaign. The first priority was to destroy the Iraqi air force and anti aircraft facilities – this was quickly achieved. Several weeks prior to the bombing of Baghdad on 17 January 1991, U.S. intelligence agents introduced a virus into Iraq's military computers which was designed to disable Baghdad's air defense system. [viii] This only left Iraq with ground forces – from the air, they were easy vulnerable targets on an open desert. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.
Gulf War media coverage was handled by Deputy Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs (read that propaganda minister) Peter Williams. Our government arranged for good friend Saudi Arabia to issue appropriate visas which means that access to the U.S. press was denied. Despite Williams’ appearances at trying to gain access for the press, they were never allowed. Anyone that was allowed had to go by military escort which also included censorship. Media coverage showed the “smart bombs” which apparently were not smart enough to distinguish children from soldiers.
Our troops were fresh, technologically advanced and angered by trumped-up Iraqi atrocities. The United States won – surprise, surprise! It is estimated that there were over 100,000 civilian deaths – collateral damage is what they call it. And Kuwait, who had no qualms about using foreign labor for grungy oil rig work, felt perfectly justified in having America fight their invaders. Hey, they paid big bucks for that labor. I wonder, did George W. Bush and his willing minions use the very experienced Hill & Knowlton public relations company or did they give most of their business to the Rendon Group, the PR firm used for the Afghanistan invasion?
The 1988 Chemical Weapons Attack on Halabja, Iraq
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