Tag Archives: Iraq

He Killed His Own People!

The Cat has always been bemused by the claim that so-and-so “has killed his own people”. This line of argument is usually deployed in advance of an invasion, air campaign or the implementation of a ‘no fly zone’. When one unpacks this argument, it is always found wanting and reveals the hypocrisy at the heart of the establishment’s rationale for military adventurism.  Sometimes the phrase “he’s another Hitler” will be added for dramatic effect.

In the run up to Gulf War I, we were told Saddam Hussein had “killed his own people”.  When Gulf War II rolled around, he also become “another Hitler”.  By his “own people”, the warmongers and the news media were referring specifically to the Kurds.  But Saddam Hussein didn’t see the Kurds as “his own people” and he wasn’t alone in this: it is a view that had been consistent in Baghdad throughout the history of Iraq, since it became nominally independent from Britain in 1932.

The Kurds (led by the powerful and corrupt Barzani clan) had constantly been in conflict with Baghdad since independence and had been waging a guerilla war in Northern Iraq for decades.  A full blown war between the Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi government took place in 1961.  But this isn’t to say that Kurds didn’t participate in Iraqi politics or in government.  They did.  General Bakr Sidqi, for example, was the head of Iraq’s army.  He led the forces that participated in the Simele Massacre of 1933, which saw thousands of Assyrians slaughtered as they fled towards the Syrian border. Sidqi, King Ghazi and the Prime Minister Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, didn’t see the Assyrians as “their people” either.  Al-Gaylani would return as Prime Minister in a coup in 1941 and enter into a short-lived pact with Nazi Germany until he was overthrown by the British in the same year.

Western news media – especially British and American news media – have repeated ad infinitum the claim that Bashar al-Assad has “killed his own people” to rally public support for official military intervention and the eventual toppling of the Syrian president.  That Assad has killed his own people isn’t in doubt, but his forces have also killed people that the West ironically sees as its allies. Fighters from the al-Nusra Front, for example.

Britain and the United States have historically offered much support to national leaders that have “killed their own people”. Many of these leaders were military strongmen that were entertained by British and American governments because of their impeccable anti-communist credentials.  Below is a partial list.

  1. Nursultan Nazarbayev (current president of Kazakhstan)
  2. Islam Karimov (Uzbekistan, 1989 – 2016). His successor, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, is just as if not more violently repressive.
  3. Suharto (Indonesia, 1967 – 1998)
  4. Mobutu Sese Seko (Zaire, 1965 – 1997)
  5. General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte (Chile, 1973 – 1989)
  6. Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde (Spain, 1936 – 1975)
  7. The Greek Colonels (1967 – 1974)
  8. Air Chief Marshal Hosni Mubarak (Egypt, 1981 – 2011)
  9. Colonel Anwar Sadat (Egypt, 1970 – 1981)
  10. General Zia al-Haq (Pakistan, 1978 – 1988)
  11. Generalissimo Rafael Trujillo (Dominican Republic, 1942-1952)
  12. Jose Efrain Rios Montt (Guatemala, 1982 – 1983)
  13. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (Iran, 1941 – 1979)

The conflict in Syria, like that in Iraq has been subject to the most deceitful, one-sided coverage with the siege and aerial bombardment of Aleppo becoming the focus of some pretty blatant propaganda. In short, we’re getting a raw deal from our news providers. Patrick Cockburn in today’s Independent writes:

The dominance of propaganda over news in coverage of the war in Syria has many negative consequences. It is a genuine civil war and the exclusive focus of on the atrocities committed by the Syrian armed forces on an unarmed civilian population gives a skewed picture of what is happening. These atrocities are often true and the UN says that 82 civilians may have been summarily executed in east Aleppo last month. But, bad though this is, it is a gross exaggeration to compare what has happened in Aleppo to genocide in Rwanda in 1994 or the massacre in Srebrenica the following year.

In the same paper Robert Fisk writes:

But it’s time to tell the other truth: that many of the “rebels” whom we in the West have been supporting – and which our preposterous Prime Minister Theresa May indirectly blessed when she grovelled to the Gulf head-choppers last week – are among the cruellest and most ruthless of fighters in the Middle East. And while we have been tut-tutting at the frightfulness of Isis during the siege of Mosul (an event all too similar to Aleppo, although you wouldn’t think so from reading our narrative of the story), we have been willfully ignoring the behaviour of the rebels of Aleppo.

Our leaders, though they may claim otherwise, have also “killed their own people” and we don’t need to cast our minds back that far.  The brutal regime of cuts to social security by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition (2010-15) drove people to commit suicide, and although these people died by their own hand, it was the government’s policies that were ultimately responsible for their deaths.   Why?  Because this is a feature of what Pierre Bourdieu and Loic Wacquant called “symbolic violence”, which gets the victim to carry out acts of violence against themselves, thus obviating the need for actual physical violence from the state.  It’s a pretty clever trick.  No?

Governments are more than happy to kill their own people, even in so-called ‘democracies’. It isn’t confined solely to certain Middle Eastern countries.


Bourdieu, P., & Wacquant, L.J.D. (2003). Symbolic violence. na. Available at: http://cges.umn.edu/docs/Bourdieu_and_Wacquant.Symbolic_Violence.pdf  Accessed 29/2/16


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Filed under Free Press Myth, Ideologies, Iraq, Journalism, Media, Middle East, propaganda, Syria, Yellow journalism

The myth of economic growth

Certain politicians are fond of telling us how ‘important’ economic growth is. Some will use growth as a means of defining themselves culturally and some will try and claim that it is the alpha and omega of a healthy economy.  In neoliberal discourse,  growth is essential to create wealth; the wealth is created at the top and ‘trickles down to the lowest on the income scale’ at least, this is what they want us to believe. What these economists (often presented by news channels as ‘experts’) fail to tell us is who really benefits from economic growth: the already wealthy.

Here is a classic example of how politicians use economic growth to make the puerile claim that ‘we’ are better than ‘them’ because of ‘our’ rate of growth is ‘superior’. It is an excuse to attack, in this case France, for having a better organized labour movement. Here GDP is held up as the means by which a nation’s growth is calculated but GDP is a flawed method of measurement because the parameters of its remit have been deliberately constricted to favour one set of economic arguments over another.

David Korten, author of When Corporations Rule the World wrote that there are 6 economic myths,

  • The myth that growth in GNP is a valid measure of human well-being and progress.
  • The myth that free unregulated markets efficiently allocate a society’s resources.
  • The myth that growth in trade benefits ordinary people.
  • The myth that economic globalization is inevitable.
  • The myth that global corporations are benevolent institutions that if freed from governmental interference will provide a clean environment for all and good jobs for the poor.
  • The myth that absentee investors create local prosperity.

Those who defend the current  economic model promote the idea of growth as necessary for happiness; people will buy more consumer goods and thus become happier human beings. But this is a facile argument that relies on the specious notion that the consumption of meaningless objects equates to happiness which is, itself, notoriously difficult to measure – though they will try. Even war-torn Iraq has a ‘happiness index’; which was used to present a picture to the world of a country ‘turning the corner’. The real picture was much more horrific. This is the political economy of the sign where a set of signs is presented as a form of truth that is based entirely on representations. In this case, it is the representation of happiness being used to inform the world that Iraq is ‘normal’. Neoliberals trust in signs and have no concept of reality.

Growth provides justification for the arguments of the wealthy who have little idea of how the poor and the low-waged live. For them, anyone who is unemployed is a serious ‘drain on the economy’; they are referred to as being ‘economically unproductive’ and those who are ‘economically productive, that is to say, those who have the disposable income to buy the latest consumer items, are held up as model citizens. This perversion is redolent of a Heinleinian world where only those who serve in the military are offered full citizenship. Indeed those who are unemployed are considered less than full citizens by the policy wonks of Whitehall and the ‘scholars’ who work for the various think-tanks.

Growth is also seen as a measure of progress; the Republic of Ireland was depicted as a Celtic Tiger; a powerhouse of economic growth. But this growth occurred on the back of speculation; there was no real wealth being created; the country had no manufacturing base to speak of and remains a service economy that is heavily reliant on tourism. The money people that had in their pockets was loaned to them or came from a credit card.

4 days ago, the BBC ran this story of how Britain’s economic growth was “slowing”. The key to this slowing was identified by the British Retail Consortium as a lack of ‘consumer confidence’,

“We’ve now had six straight months of low growth thanks to persistently weak consumer confidence and worries about the future,”

Because mainstream politicians have no original ideas on how to advance society, they have become over-reliant on the words of economic sages. To whit, they are in hock to the finance houses and the money men who operate them: the money men receive tax breaks for providing certain economic conditions and when they fail, they are given a slap on the wrist and told off. The banks after having been given their slap are now paying themselves bigger bonuses and higher wages while the rest of us are told to take pay cuts. Why? Because they tell us that they are ‘creating wealth’. Well, yes, they are creating wealth – for themselves.

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Filed under Economics, Growth

Nation-building and imagining nationhood: is Afghanistan being fattened up for neo-liberal exploitation?

“Nations” as Benedict Anderson observed are “imagined communities”. They are socially constructed spaces that only a small group of people have a hand in building  This group is, for all intents and purposes, the dominant class. They commission national anthems, flags and compile the histories. They are also responsible for the way in which myths are incorporated into the story of the nation or conscripted for use in war-making campaigns. There are always legends of heroes fighting against the odds to create the nation that we all know today. There is also the lie that is told each time someone criticises the nation-state – “I fought a war to give you your freedom”.

As we have witnessed in the last 70 years, the construction of nations is not always the responsibility of the inhabitants of that nation; rather they are constructed by an outside nation – usually a more powerful nation that has either invaded or occupied the geographical space that people think of as their country. We have some recent examples of this tendency of the powerful to build states or nations in their own image. Iraq is one place and Afghanistan is another.

Before the 18th century, nation-states were dominated by a sovereign who was the physical embodiment of the state. As Foucault argues, any crime that was committed was considered to be a slight on the body of the sovereign (who was also His ‘representative’ on Earth) and the punishments could be brutally severe – even for the slightest crime. Nation-states exist to make wars; they invade other countries, lay siege to its cities, kill its denizens and cart home the booty – this was the case in the Classical and Medieval periods and it still the case today but rather than use Deuteronomy as a means of legitimation, the cry of ‘free-trade’ is now employed to achieve the same effect – this is a product of Enlightenment thinking. Therefore today’s wars are ostensibly waged either for the ‘defence of liberty/freedom/democracy’ or to ‘open up markets’. Iraq and Afghanistan provided cover for the latter in the guise of the former. The ‘opening’ of  Iraq’s markets in the aftermath of the invasion is a modern version of carrying home the spoils of war.

Today, we still have vassal states that are yoked to more powerful countries rather than vast empires . These are the states that have been destroyed and rebuilt with mainly US money. The principle of humanitarianism in the case of Iraq does not apply; it was seen as ripe for conquest and colonization by the free-market – a lab for the extended free-market ideas of Friedman. The memory of Chile was still fresh in the mind of the war’s planners who had high hopes for Iraq’s resources.

In the early days of the occupation, the US exarch in Iraq, L Paul Bremer, issued a series of executive orders all designed to lay claim to as much of Iraq’s wealth as possible. Executive Order 39 for example says that “all sectors of the economy except oil and gas are open to foreign investors on terms no less favourable to an Iraqi investor”. Bremer instituted a flat tax rate under Order 37 –  flat tax rates are often portrayed by proponents as ‘fair’, when in fact they benefit big business and the rich.  Order 17 grants immunity to certain contractors and persons associated with the Civil Provisional Authority immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law. So any foreigner could quite literally get away with murder.

So what is in store for Afghanistan, that other site of Western nation-building? I saw an item on yesterday morning’s BBC Breakfast where the journalist was reporting from inside the mine. He pretty much said, ‘Afghanistan has a lot of natural resources: iron, copper, gold’…. It wasn’t so much a news report as a marketing message to would-be opportunists, ‘Come to Afghanistan and claim your share’!

The Globalrealm says that the war in Afghanistan is a profit-driven one and US geologists have discovered plenty of mineral booty under the ground. It argues that these vast mineral deposits will pay for cost of the war  I am sure that Karzai’s  government has already bent over backwards to assist foreign investors.  Here’s what the Cato Institute said in 2002

The real long-term answer to Afghanistan’s development lies with free trade and the internal pro-market reforms that trade helps bring about. The Bush administration should therefore pledge to negotiate a sweeping free-trade agreement with Afghanistan’s newly formed government once the Senate passes trade promotion authority (TPA)–something that needs to happen soon.

The TPA expired in 2007 but USAID (US Agency for International Development)are still deeply involved in the country – as one would expect. USAID produced a document in 2002 that provided the blueprint for the mass privatization of Iraqi assets. Has it done the same for Afghanistan? USAID does not dole out aid as such, it doles out reconstruction contracts to companies like Bechtel and Dyncorp. It is deeply involved in the liberalization of state economies to not only re-form them in the economic image of the parent but to create systems of exploitation that benefit the occupying power(s). As US General Smedley Butler once said “War is a racket“. Here’s what he said in his pamphlet written about World War I but it could be about any war.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

A YouTube version of Butler’s speech can be viewed here.

Another example Butler’s thoughts on war and nation-building can be found in this clip from The Corporation.


A group of US industrialists and others tried to persuade Butler to participate in a coup plot against the White House but he refused to become, in his words, a “gangster for capitalism”. Shame that lesson hasn’t been learned by other military leaders.

We were told that the war in Afghanistan was being waged to ‘protect us’ and to defend ‘our way of life’. The plain truth is that the world is not a safer place and the bodybags are still coming home in their hundreds (the British death toll  stands at 308 at the time of writing). Yet, there are those who would applaud the nation-building efforts in Afghanistan precisely because they have something to gain from the adventure. The Afghans, on the other hand, have nothing to gain from any of this – except, perhaps, for Karzai and the various warlords who are allied to the NATO occupiers.

Nation-building is fine if it is done by those who live in the country or region but national identity is a different matter and one that I shall cover at a future date on this blog. Creating nations in order to serve the interests of a more powerful nation can only lead to one thing: exploitation.


I found this while looking for something else. It’s about rentier state-building in Afghanistan.


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Filed under Afghanistan, Government & politics, National Identity