Nick Cohen
What's Left

The publishers who turned down Makiya reasoned that few cared about Iraq, and they were right. The great powers wanted an Iraqi strongman to check the revolutionary threat of Islamist Iran, and their politicians, diplomats, spies and publics were not willing to look too closely at the consequences of realpolitik.

A wave of bad faith engulfed the rich world's liberals after the second Iraq war, and they took the indifference of the Western elites of the Eighties as proof that Saddam was the fault of Britain and America - the West's monster and the West's puppet. On the rare occasions they forced themselves to confront his crimes, they had always to add the caveat that they had been committed with Western aid. Even on 19 October 2005 when the worst tyrant she would see in her life went on trial, even as she stood among the graves of the Kurds of Halabja, Caroline Hawley of the BBC was adamant that 'each headstone here represents a family wiped out with weapons that Saddam Hussein bought from the West.'

It was tosh, of course. Saddam was not left in power so he could keep the profits flowing to Anglo-American arms manufacturers. Nor was he any more America's puppet than Hitler was a pawn of MI6. For an Iraqi, the charge of being an agent of American imperialism or British Freemasonry was as dangerous as the charge of being a Zionist spy. After the fall of Baghdad, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute examined the records of 'actual deliveries of major conventional weapons' to Iraq between 1973 and 2002, and found that 57 per cent of Saddam's weapons came from the Soviet Union, 13 per cent from France and 12 per cent from China. The United States sold about half of 1 per cent, while Britain's sales were worth $79 million, or about one-fifth of 1 per cent, a fraction so small the Swedes rounded it down to the nearest whole number, which was zero.

Weapons of mass destruction did 'come from the West' in a sense—West Germany, whose companies provided Saddam with one of the largest chemical weapons manufacturing industries in the world. (In a revolting example of Cold War cooperation, the East German communists gave Saddam's forces training on how to use them.) Meanwhile France built the Tammuz nuclear reactor, which might have given Saddam the bomb if the Israeli air force had not infuriated Jacques Chirac by blowing it up.

These figures appear to exonerate Britain and America, but they are not as kind as they look. The people in power in both countries did not want to know about the Iraq Republic of Fear described, and one of the few remarks of Henry Kissinger's that is worth remembering explains why. 'It's a pity they can't both lose,' he said of the Iran-Iraq War. When Khomeini's revolutionary armies looked as if they would win, and seize Iraq's oil fields and go on to control a large chunk of the world's oil by seizing the Saudi Arabian oil fields as well, the United States intervened. It helped the Baathists with facts rather than arms sales. What Saddam got out of the approaches first from the Carter administration and then from Donald Rumsfeld for the Reagan administration was an intelligence-sharing agreement. AWACS spy planes recorded Iranian troop deployments so the Iraqi army could concentrate its fire. American jets brought down Iranian civilian and military flights to deter the Ayatollah Khomeini from destroying the Iraqi war economy by sinking Iraqi tankers in the Persian Gulf.

As valuable to Saddam as the intelligence was the silence. Instead of fighting the Islamic revolution themselves, Britain and America were happy for a fascistic despot to do its fighting for them. So there was no complaint when Saddam acquired between 2,000 and 4,000 tons of chemical agents; no real protest beyond mealy-mouthed mutterings when he used them to kill about 50,000 Iranian soldiers. Donald Rumsfeld went to Baghdad in 1984 to assure the Baathists that what condemnations there had been were for form's sake and should not be taken personally. To stop the Islamic revolution spreading, the West was prepared to hold its tongue.

From 1987, it had to bite it. Saddam was about to sink lower than his worst enemies had imagined possible and organize the first genocide since Pol Pot's slaughter of the Cambodians. The victims were the Kurds, the largest people on earth without a state of their own. They never received the attention given to the Palestinians or even the Basques and the Catalans. In part, it was Moynihan's Law: the Kurds were trapped in the closed or semi-closed societies of nationalist Turkey, Islamist Iran and Baathist Syria and Iraq. To make matters worse, you could not really blame 'capitalism' or 'Western imperialism' for their suffering unless you went back to the failure of the great powers to establish a Kurdish state at the end of the First World War. The Kurds were an uncomfortable people who could not be tidied away into neat boxes.

In all their occupied territories, they fought guerrilla wars against enemies who regarded them as racial inferiors. With the Baath Party diverted by the Iran-Iraq War, they allied with Iranian forces and went on the advance. In 1987, Saddam determined to punish them by exterminating all Kurds who weren't under his direct control. He made his cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid ('Chemical Ali') secretary-general of the Northern Bureau, the administrative centre that covered Iraqi Kurdistan, and gave him complete discretion. 'Comrade al-Majid's decisions shall be mandatory for all state agencies,' Saddam told his underlings. Al-Majid had free rein to 'solve the Kurdish problem and slaughter the saboteurs.'

The echo of Adolf Hitler's Final Solution was prophetic. On his arrival, al-Majid promised the staff of the Northern Bureau: 'I will kill them all with chemical weapons! Who is going to say anything? The international community?      them!'

It always comes to this. They always say the same thing when they think outsiders aren't listening. When the pretensions of the workers' state or the thousand-year Reich or the glorious union of Arabs are stripped away, when the differences between communism and fascism are forgotten, what remains is the sneer of the psychopathic gangster who knows he's got the cops in his pocket.

When he ordered the Great Purge of 1936, Stalin said: 'Who's going to remember this riffraff in ten or twenty years time? No one. Who remembers the boyars Ivan the Terrible got rid of?' When he ordered the massacre of the Polish intelligentsia, Hitler said: 'After all, who today speaks of the massacre of the Armenians?'

When tens of millions starved in the Great Leap Forward, the single greatest political crime of the twentieth century, Mao Tse-tung told the few brave officials who condemned themselves to death by speaking out: 'A few children die in the kindergarten, a few old men die in the Happiness Court. If there's no death people can't exist. From Confucius to now it would be disastrous if people didn't die.'

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.