A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Rumsfeld came to Baghdad to shake hands with Saddam, even as the tortures and executions were going on. The Americans knew full well what kind of a tyrant they were dealing with, but they wanted him in their camp. -- Barry M. Lando, author of Web of Deceit
Investigative producer Barry M. Lando spent decades at "60 Minutes" shining a light on assorted evil doers and their misdeeds. Now his eye is trained on Iraq. His new book, Web of Deceit, illuminates the path that led our troops into Iraq, and the role generations of Western powers played in shaping the ill-begotten country, a creation of the British colonial empire. The book is knocking the socks off reviewers. Barry Lando offers BuzzFlash a brief history of Iraq and provides perspective on the fight that Bush picked.
The road to the Iraq War started nearly a century ago.
And yes, it's pretty much about the oil.
It should be noted that a democratically elected government in Iran was overthrown by the CIA in 1953 because the president of Iran was going to end the de facto British ownership of the Iranian oil reserves. The tyrannical Shah was immediately put in power by the CIA, which led eventually to the Mullah backlash and takeover of Iran.
Now, the Busheviks are again coveting Iran's oil and willing to nuke them for it -- and perhaps initiate Armageddon.
But Lando's book focuses on the nearly 100 year "Web of Deceit" that led to the Bushevik Iraq disaster.
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BuzzFlash: You analyze eighty-five years of history in your book, Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush. What we found so fascinating about your book is that you take the breadth of history, in terms of U.S. -- and, not coincidentally, British -- involvement in Iraq, which only became a sovereign state due to colonial partitioning. Why is it important to go back to 1914 to understand where we are now with Iraq?
Barry M. Lando: When I was looking at the literature, I found that most other books on Iraq really didn't zero in on the role of foreign powers in that country. I thought that was important. I found really interesting parallels between England's situation back in 1920-21, as they were organizing the new state of Iraq out of the remnants of the Ottoman empire, and the United States today.
One reason the British were there was because of petroleum, but they also wanted to have military bases and to dominate the region. At that time they were the colonial power that ruled over India and Persia, which is now Iran. They wanted bases, which is very similar to what the United States wants today. The U.S. is spending hundreds of millions of dollars building what are supposed to be temporary bases in Iraq. The petroleum has always been a main U.S. interest in that part of the world, too.
Also, some of the same warnings we hear today were given when the British were first putting Iraq together. They were warned that it was a very unstable country that they were trying to create, and that in putting the Kurds and the Shiites and the Sunnis into one country, chaos would likely follow.
And there were almost immediate uprisings. The British were forced to go in there with airplanes. The RAF bombed and strafed the villages where the insurgents were located. Winston Churchill, who was then a major minister in the government, said this is costing us much too much -- we ought to clear out of here. He suggested abandoning plans for Iraq as one unity, and instead setting up essentially separate units for the Shiites, the Sunnis, and the Kurds. All these themes continue to this day.
BuzzFlash: Despite the rhetoric of the Bush administration about bringing freedom and democracy to the Iraqis, the construction of these military bases was a very, very key goal of Rumsfeld. As you point out, they're basically military launching pads, potentially for asserting power in the Middle East.
Barry M. Lando: Right.
BuzzFlash: When was Iraq created as a sovereign nation-state?
Barry M. Lando: It was slowly cobbled together, bringing the Kurds into the mix, in the period from 1920 up to 1925. Originally, the Kurds had been promised they would get independence. They were going to be allowed to finally have their own autonomous country. After World War I, the Allies went back on those promises because they wanted Kurdistan and the petroleum that was there. That set the stage for a lot that was to follow.
BuzzFlash: Who did the British put into power?
Barry M. Lando: They brought in King Faisal, who actually had never been to Mesopotamia, which is what Iraq used to be called. He came from an area that is part of Saudi Arabia today, and he had been one of the Arabs who supposedly helped the British during World War I. The British had promised them that they would get paid back after World War I either by being given independence, or by being given countries to rule. He was given the rule over what was Iraq, though it wasn't his country at all.
BuzzFlash: The Faisal family are Sunni.
Barry M. Lando: Exactly. He was a Sunni, and he was put in control of a country that was predominantly Shiite.
BuzzFlash: Just as an interesting historical footnote, their battle against the Turks is part of the legend of "Lawrence of Arabia."
Barry M. Lando: Yes, exactly, which is largely falsified. But that's another issue.
BuzzFlash: So we have, in essence, an installed government -- payback for the Faisals for uniting a lot of the nomadic Arab families and tribes against the Turks.
Barry M. Lando: In fact, they originally thought they were going to get what is Syria today. Instead, they got Iraq. The French wanted to hold onto Syria, so that whole deal fell apart.
BuzzFlash: So we had a member of the Faisal family running Iraq as a Sunni. Already we have this cobbled-together nation of rival factions - Sunni, Shiite and Kurds. The Kurds have sort of been played as pawns, and we have Faisal on the throne in Iraq.
Barry M. Lando: He's on the throne, and then he died a natural death. When he died, he was despairing of ever being able to make Iraq into one country. A letter he wrote shortly before his death kind of presages everything that's going on today. These are warring peoples. They can't get along together. There's corruption.
BuzzFlash: Are British troops there?
Barry M. Lando: Oh, yes. The British are there. Without them, Faisal never could have maintained his throne.
BuzzFlash: And they had the petroleum concession?
Barry M. Lando: Yes, but the U.S. got a share as well.
BuzzFlash: At what point do we get into the Ba'athist rule?
Barry M. Lando: In 1963, during the Cold War. The head of state in Iraq was General Qasim, a strong nationalist.
BuzzFlash: In the spirit of Nasser?
Barry M. Lando: Yes. Qasim also wanted to get more control of Iraq's petroleum, so he had turned towards the Soviets as well as the United States, and invited them in to help exploit Iraq's oil resources. He invited the French in as well. In Washington, this was seen as next to treason. He was now allied with the Soviet camp. He had to be done away with.
The CIA and other intelligence agencies worked with the Ba'ath party to overthrow Qasim in a coup d'etat. He was killed, and the CIA then supplied the Ba'ath party with lists of leftists, supposed communists and intellectuals, who were picked up, tortured and killed -- hundreds, perhaps thousands of them.
One of the junior torturers, at that time, was Saddam Hussein. He was a member of the Ba'ath party, which the U.S. had liked because it was secular and strongly anti-communist. It was not at all the party that it became under Saddam Hussein.
BuzzFlash: So Saddam Hussein, who was sort of a junior thug torturer in the Ba'ath party, is working his way up by showing how cruel he can be in the name of the party. He's torturing and killing people whose names were supplied by the CIA.
Barry M. Lando: Yes.
BuzzFlash: Then how do we get to the reign of Saddam?
Barry M. Lando: The Ba'aths were forced out of power by the military, so Saddam went underground and continued to rise up the ranks. In 1968, there was another coup, and this time the Ba'aths came back in force. Saddam Hussein became kind of the power behind the throne. He took control of the secret police, the intelligence forces, and people very early on learned to fear him and the secret police. He was ruling behind the scenes. In 1979, he finally took power himself.
BuzzFlash: Rumsfeld was sent as an emissary by the Reagan administration to, in essence, improve relations with Saddam.
Barry M. Lando: Right.
BuzzFlash: The Reagan administration played both sides of the fence in the Iran-Iraq war, as we know, with Iran-Contra and some other things. They basically worked directly on improving relations with Saddam. Rumsfeld met with him on at least a couple of occasions. The United States government turned a blind eye to the crimes that Saddam was ultimatelly hung for.
Barry M. Lando: Rumsfeld came to Baghdad to shake hands with Saddam, even as the tortures and executions were going on. The Americans knew full well what kind of a tyrant they were dealing with, but they wanted him in their camp. Jimmy Carter had already given Saddam Hussein, via the Saudis, a green light to invade Iran in 1980, because Khomeini was the enemy of the United States back then. The Iranians had taken Americans hostage, and the other states of the Gulf feared what this radical brand of Islam might mean for the region.
The United States had intelligence officers in Baghdad who passed on satellite information to the Iraqis to enable them to target Iranian troops. The Iraqis began using chemical weapons in 1983 against the Iranians. The U.S. intelligence people continued supplying information, knowing full well that the Iraqis were using chemical weapons.
BuzzFlash: Before we move up to Gulf War I and then current times, I want to talk about a couple of ironies about Iran. In 1953, the CIA led an overthrow of a popular leader of Iran who wanted to nationalize the British Petroleum concession there. Then-Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq was a charismatic, popular leader who wanted to take away what was more than even a concession by British Petroleum. They, in essence, owned every facet of the oil industry and the rights to the land. They almost had sovereign control over the oilfields, and Mosaddeq wanted to end that. But it was the CIA, not the British, that overthrew the prime minister, and flew in the Shah.
The Shah then enjoyed his many years of power, and was eventually overthrown by the people who are now running Iran. So the colonial interests and the American interests again seem to settle in Iran about the oil. For both Iran and Iraq, the British and U.S. governments were quite concerned about those oil concessions.
Barry M. Lando: Right.
BuzzFlash: As we come to Iran in the 1980s, another irony plays itself out. The U.S. encouraged Iraq and Iran to go to war against each other, and as many as two million people died. And Iran and Iraq were natural enemies. Iran is Persian Shiite, and, in Iraq, Saddam Hussein is the Sunni leader of a cobbled-together nation including oppressed Shiites and Kurds. Now in 2007, the Bush administration is accusing Iran of interfering in Iraq. When Saddam was in power, they were natural enemies, but now the U.S. has invaded and is accusing Iran of becoming overly powerful in Iraq, when it had been a natural enemy before the U.S. invasion. That seems tragically ironic.
Barry M. Lando: Absolutely. It's ironic that the United States complains that the Iranians, and to some extent, the Syrians, are interfering in Iraq's internal affairs, when the country that's interfering is the United States -- it invaded Iraq illegally. The Secretary General of the United Nations himself said it was illegal. It really is the height of irony and cynicism for the United States to be making those claims.
I think, in a way, it's only natural for a country like Iran to be concerned about 140,000 American troops right on its border, when George Bush has almost threatened that he was going to take military action against Iran.
BuzzFlash: There are also many news reports that indicate the Saudi Arabians, Bush's closest allies, are helping the Sunnis. But the Iranians have been singled out for condemnation.
Barry M. Lando: One wonders what other countries are playing games there, too. I think when the books are written years from now, we'll find out that much more has been going on in terms of countries interfering.
BuzzFlash: Do you mean China, France, Russia?
Barry M. Lando: Who knows? I think there are enough players even inside the region. But one wonders what Israel is doing. It's hard to see them just sitting on their hands at this point. So there are a lot of mysteries. The other strange question that's never been answered is that, a couple of years ago, a number of articles were saying that the United States was working with Shiite militia to create assassination teams.
BuzzFlash: As they did in Central America with Honduras.
Barry M. Lando: Yes, to go after the leaders of the insurgents, the Sunnis. Some of the Americans who were allegedly involved in that were the same Americans who took part in setting up death squads in Central America during those dark days. Whatever happened to those death squads that were set up in Iraq?
BuzzFlash: There was an article in recent days that said the training of some of these Shiite death squads is coming back to haunt the U.S. -- that these people are killing U.S. soldiers now. Their allegiance has shifted back.
Barry M. Lando: It went even further than that. During the Iran-Iraq war, some of the Iraqi special forces were sent to Fort Bragg, in the United States, to be trained by the special forces there. They were trained to wage guerrilla war, in case their country was overrun by Iran. What happened to those people? Are they perhaps the ones now engaged in guerrilla war against American occupiers?
BuzzFlash: To us, one of the biggest "webs of deceit" is the question of who the enemy is. It seems to be everybody in Iraq at this point.
Barry M. Lando: The other day I read an account by an embedded New York Times reporter who described a squad of American guys going down a street. All of a sudden, shots rang out. An American sergeant falls, mortally wounded, and the Americans can't figure out who's firing at them. They don't know if they're Shiites, Sunnis, or perhaps members of the Iraqi military who they're supposed to be working with. After the battle was over, they didn't know who they'd been fighting.
BuzzFlash: Well, a poll conducted in Iraq indicated that more than 60% of Iraqis support attacks on American troops.
Barry M. Lando: Yes.
BuzzFlash: So who does George W. Bush mean when he says that we're there to protect the Iraqis and make a stable government? Who is he talking about if the majority of Iraqis actually support the killing of American soldiers?
Barry M. Lando: The majority of Iraqis view the Americans as occupiers, as well.
BuzzFlash: This is why your book seems so important. What we began with was colonial control of a country for purposes of exploiting its oil, and for military purposes. And that's kind of where we've ended up about a hundred years later.
Barry M. Lando: Yes.
BuzzFlash: The other thing that you brought up was the French and Russian interest in the oil, and that Mosaddeq was sort of exploring nationalization. When we were going into the Iraq war, there was kind of a split between the U.S. and British interests. In our mind, Tony Blair went in because he figured if the U.S. goes in, and I don't go in with them, my oil companies are going to get cut out. But the Russians and the French, and perhaps the Chinese, were on the other side, figuring that by keeping the Americans and British out, we might get the oil concessions, or at least part of it. So it's the same linemen of a hundred years ago in many ways.
Barry M. Lando: It's interesting when they talk about Iran today, too. It turns out that France has huge investments in Iran, too. But France had huge investments in Iraq; they had very important loans out to Saddam Hussein. He owed them a lot of money. That may partially explain why France was taking an easier line on Iraq than Bush was. And before the invasion, French officials had already examined some of the American charges about uranium in Africa. They themselves had gone there and checked it out, and found out that it was false.
BuzzFlash: Briefly, let's go back to the first Gulf War. In your book, you mentioned the creation of Kuwait.
Barry M. Lando: It was sort of carved off from one of the Turkish provinces in southern Iraq because of tribal differences in that region. But later on, the British became much more intent on keeping Kuwait independent because the British wanted to exploit the petroleum, which they were able to do by setting it up with the ruling family there. And Saddam was not the first Iraqi leader to want to invade Kuwait or retake it for Iraq. Just about every Iraqi leader thought that Kuwait really belonged to Iraq. The British had used military force to prevent that from happening.
BuzzFlash: Can you explain in a nutshell what happened to lead to the Gulf War? There was allegedly an incident involving the American ambassador under Bush One.
Barry M. Lando: There's footage of that meeting -- I've seen some of it. And there's a transcript of the meeting, which I don't think the U.S. has contradicted. Ambassador April Glaspie knew that Saddam's troops were already moving towards Kuwait. Saddam had had problems with Kuwait, and the U.S., in a way, was behind some of those problems. And the Kuwaitis were refusing to negotiate.
After Iraq's war with Iran ended, the Kuwaitis manipulated the world oil price through their production -- they greatly increased their oil production, which dropped the world oil price. That really hurt Iraq, because Saddam was counting on oil revenues to rebuild after the war. He went to the Kuwaitis and he said, look, back off because you're killing my economy. The Kuwaitis refused to back down.
Later it came out that the Kuwaiti's leaders had been meeting with the CIA exactly to put pressure on Saddam Hussein. Our ambassador told Saddam Hussein that we will not take any position as far as your border disputes with Kuwait go. Her superior, Assistant Secretary of State John Kelly, also testified before Congress a couple of days later. When asked point blank, "If Saddam invades Kuwait, do we have any treaty with Kuwait?" he said, "No, we don't."
BuzzFlash: If that was the U.S. position, why did George Herbert Walker Bush want to suddenly attack?
Barry M. Lando: If Saddam had gone in and just taken a portion of the country - a couple of islands near the border with Iraq was what some people thought he would do - maybe nothing would have happened. But he went all the way down, almost to the border with Saudi Arabia. At that point, the U.S. got very worried.
The Saudis got worried, too. The big dispute is whether or not he was planning to actually invade Saudi Arabia, as the U.S. claimed at that time. A number of facts came out afterwards that showed it was highly unlikely that he was planning to invade Saudi Arabia. But the U.S. used that as a pretext to convince the Saudis to accept American troops, which they did. And then there was the war - the first Gulf War.
BuzzFlash: Why was Bush One, who had established a tolerant relationship with Saddam Hussein up until then, so dead set on Gulf War One?
Barry M. Lando: He totally turned around. One of the reasons was Margaret Thatcher, who had a talking to him. She told him he had to act like a man and react. But it was also the fear that Saddam would take over Kuwait, and then have a much stronger position in the world oil market. That really scared George Bush, Sr. At that point, he totally turned around. They began calling the man who had been almost a de facto ally a few months earlier, a man worse than Hitler. And Bush started shipping thousands of American troops to the Gulf.
BuzzFlash: Now we come to the recently issued Hamilton-Baker Iraq Study Group Report, which Bush Two summarily dismissed, and the mainstream press called a centrist document. If you've looked at it, there are provisions to ensure that the West -- the U.S. and Britain in particular -- would be able to negotiate the Iraq oil concessions by structuring the Iraq petroleum company in such a way that it would sign these contracts. And we see the military bases are still there. An exorbitant amount of money has been going into them, and into building the fortress in Baghdad, the embassy in the Green Zone.
Barry M. Lando: Right.
BuzzFlash: So after almost a hundred years, we're really back to where the British started.
Barry M. Lando: Yes.
BuzzFlash: Short of annihilating all the Iraqis, do you think that, in the White House, they realistically think there is any way of controlling this country?
Barry M. Lando: I have no idea. Bush and perhaps Cheney are in such a cocoon, so isolated from reality, it's hard to know what they think. What seems to be happening in Iraq is that it really is coming apart on its own accord. Tens of thousands of Iraqis of have moved, of their own volition, out of fear, over the last few weeks and months. Entire new neighborhoods are being created as they're kind of separating back into their original groups.
BuzzFlash: In some way, it is analogous to Yugoslavia.
Barry M. Lando: Yes, absolutely. I think what's going on in Iraq is much worse even than it was in the former Yugoslavia.
BuzzFlash: The comparable issue is what happened between the Serbs and the Croats when they were in the same towns, and you saw them killing each other.
Barry M. Lando: Right. But they're splitting up now. They're moving. Neighborhoods are beginning to undergo a sort of minor ethnic cleansing, if you will.
BuzzFlash: So we're ending up with a de facto demographic federation, if not a governmental federation.
Barry M. Lando: And it's going to go on, just because people are terrified now of their neighbors, if they're not of the same ethnic or religious background. That's already happening.
I think what has to be done is what the Iraq Study Group called for -- bringing in the enablers as well -- the Iranians, the Syrians, and the Saudis. They've got to become part of the solution. Although the Iranians would like to see the U.S. bogged down in Iraq, they certainly don't want to be drawn into any kind of regional war. In the end, their interest really is to make sure that doesn't happen.
BuzzFlash: One final question. Even some Democrats are kind of adopting this strange notion that the Iraqis are to blame for this.
Barry M. Lando: Yes, making the Iraqis the scapegoat, absolutely.
BuzzFlash: If they don't pull it together, we're going to have benchmarks. And we've given them their chance. But, of course, this began with the Bush administration.
Barry M. Lando: Total hypocrisy, because the Iraqi nation has been ripped apart by the invasion and this disastrous occupation. It's been ripped apart. Now, all of a sudden, their politicians are being told to grow up, to act like adults, to make peace among themselves.
BuzzFlash: It's like tossing a few grenades into an opera house, and then blaming the house manager for not keeping people from running out.
Barry M. Lando: They're supposed to clean up the mess, right.
BuzzFlash: Barry, thank you so much for a wonderful book. Thanks for bringing it to us.
Barry M. Lando: Thank you.
BuzzFlash Interview conducted by Mark Karlin.
Barry M. Lando Bio (C-Span2): "Barry Lando spent 25 years as an investigative producer for the CBS program "60 Minutes," and is a former Time-Life South American correspondent. In 2004, he created the documentary "The Trial of Saddam Hussein, the Trial You'll Never See" with French Reporter Michel Despratx. He currently lives in Paris." Lando blogs at http://barrylando.com .
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW