Alternative Views’ Gulf War documentary: damning criticism of UK and US complicity in Iraq-Kuwaiti discord

 Frank Morrow / Alternative Views, Gulf War documentary (1990s?)

Found an interesting documentary on the Gulf War which delves into the history of Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia just after the end of the First World War and the demise of the Ottoman empire. Under Ottoman rule, there were not political boundaries separating the regions that became these countries and Iraq and Kuwait in particular were part of the historical region of Mesopotamia, the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers with the cultural and commercial capital based in Baghdad. Once these areas came under British rule, the British carved out the territory that became Kuwait in 1922 so as to deny Iraq, which resisted British rule forcefully during the early 1920s, a sea-port. Over the next 20-plus years, the Kuwaitis and Iraqis endeavoured to reunite their countries but were continually thwarted by the British. After the Second World War, the Iraqis continued their effort to reunite the two countries right up to and after 1961 when the British granted Kuwait its independence. Iraqi leaders who attempted reunification tended to be bumped off violently, and the assassins usually turned out to have the blessing of (and assistance from) the British and, later, the US through the CIA. In the 1960s, the Ba’ath Party was in power in Iraq and a rising star in that party was Saddam Hussein.

The documentary jumps roughly three decades to the early 1990s when Saddam Hussein is President over a war-weary and impoverished Iraq, having fought an 8-year-long war against Iran that resulted in a Pyrrhic victory for Iraq. The film speculates that based on evidence the CIA may have tricked Iraq into invading Iran, duping Hussein into believing that the Iranians were weak and disorganised after the Shah’s downfall and that parts of Iran would be easy pickings. Certainly the US was supplying Iraq with weapons and intelligence on Iranian troop movements, and at the same time was supplying Iran with weapons, ensuring the two countries would bleed each other. The effect of the Iran-Iraq war was to restrict the supply of oil, ratcheting up oil prices and profits for oil companies.

The documentary consists of various talking heads dominated by Frank Morrow narrating the recent history of the Persian Gulf region. After the halfway point the documentary becomes a group discussion involving Morrow, economist Dr Harry Cleaver and Doug Kellner. Kellner then takes over, detailing how Iraq in the early 1990s came to be seen as the major threat to peace in the Middle East and how Saddam Hussein and his war machine had to be taught a lesson. Syria and Gaddafi’s Libya were also seen as threats. (Israel was not considered a threat despite having the largest war machine in the region and a history of attacking and destabilising Lebanon.) Other speakers include former CIA officer Phil Agee, US academic Edward Said and David Sheehan: their sections of the film appear to be excerpts of longer film clips.

The film is put together in a basic way and cuts off at the end but the gist is clear: the unhappy history of Iraq and its fraught relations with Kuwait is in large part a result of cynical manipulation by the British empire and then the Americans with the aim of keeping the Iraqis weak and malleable, and of controlling the region’s oil resources. The Americans come to realise that by manipulating Iraq and Iran through supplying both sides with armaments they can control the supply of oil and set oil prices accordingly. The US continues to play off Iraq and Kuwait against each other. Saddam Hussein himself doesn’t come off all that well; one might have thought that he should be more wary of relying on the Americans’ good graces and not take the US at face value.

As for the British, their sordid role in the making of the current Middle East and in particular Iraq and Kuwait has largely disappeared into the fog of history and the film’s greatest value is in highlighting the enormous damage the British empire did to Arab peoples across western Asia in the early 20th century. I suspect that even here the documentary has only scratched the surface of ongoing British political and economic involvement in the politics of region.

 

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