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Exposing the Myth Ten Years On: Humanitarian Intervention and Iraq

04/04/2013 13:11 BST | Updated 03/06/2013 10:12 BST

Nobody seems to be able to agree on the reasons for the Iraq war. Was it oil, weapons of mass destruction, or the threat Saddam posed to stability in the Middle East? Unfortunately, without the necessary government records, it's hard to know exactly what the motive was for the launching of operation Iraqi Freedom a decade ago. But one thing is for certain. Concern for the freedom and rights of the Iraqi people had nothing to do with it.

Throughout the war, our governments insisted that they had a genuine humanitarian interest in bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq. To put it simply, this is a lie, and needs to be exposed as such. A brief look at the West's record in the Middle East provides all the evidence we need in order to unearth the great myth of 'humanitarian intervention' in Iraq.

First of all, Bush claimed to want democracy not just for Iraqis, but for all of the Middle East. This is patently false. As the war for Iraqi freedom raged on, repressive governments and autocrats continued to rule with brute force in Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE. Each and every one of these regimes was backed and supported by the Bush administration. This represents a majority of the region's dictatorships; allies of the West, who had the support of the same leaders who talked so passionately about liberating the Arab people from tyranny. How could this talk be genuine, when most of the region lived under Western-backed rule?

Of course, not every dictator in the Middle East was a Western ally. So why back some and oppose others? The answer, of course, is convenience. Just as it was convenient to support Qaddafi, Mubarak and the Gulf States, it was convenient to overthrow Saddam. Principles, like the belief in freedom and democracy, never came into it.

They certainly didn't come into it in the 80s, when Saddam Hussein was a vital Western ally. His regime received "billions of dollars of credits, US military intelligence" and was supplied with both British and American arms to help fight its war with Iran. We even sold Saddam the technology and material needed to develop weapons of mass destruction.

It was in fact during this period- when the West was allied with Iraq- that Saddam carried out his worst atrocities and aggression. His invasion of Iran killed around a million people, far more than the number who died in Iraq's attack on Kuwait. Saddam also massacred between 50,000 and 180,000 Kurds in the genocidal al Anfal campaign of the late 80s. And in a separate massacre, some 5,000 Kurds were gassed at Halajba- also an act of genocide, according to a ruling by The Hague.

So where, one might ask, was Britain and America's concern for the Iraqi people at this awful time, when Saddam's terror state was at its most repressive? Why didn't we intervene against his attack on Iran, like we did in Kuwait, instead of supporting outright aggression? And why, more importantly, if we had in fact developed a more compassionate, pro-democracy foreign policy by 2003, did we continue to support most of the Middle East's dictatorships throughout the war in Iraq?

Apologists for the war will no doubt argue that none of our Middle Eastern allies invaded other countries and killed hundreds of thousands of people like Saddam. But from the 70s to the late 90s (after Saddam had become an official enemy in 1990), the West supported a regime which did exactly that. Indonesia's occupation of East Timor killed between 102,000 and 183,000 people, the overwhelming majority of them civilians. The US was directly complicit, its political and military support "fundamental to the occupation", the UN-sponsored truth commission found. Almost a third of the country's population was killed- the report called it "extermination."

By contrast, Saddam's invasion of Kuwait evoked opposition from the West. Britain and the US launched a military intervention, championing the right of small states to resist aggression. At the same time, Western support for far worse aggression in East Timor continued. As Saddam was being labelled a tyrant and a murderer for invading Kuwait; the Indonesians were being given more arms to carry out their own attack.

The double standards are shocking, and reveal the complete absence of a principled commitment to democracy or human rights in Western foreign policy. How could we have opposed the attack on Kuwait on moral grounds, when the attack on East Timor received our continuing support? How could we have gone to Iraq for humanitarian reasons, when we turned a blind eye to the far worse violations of humanitarian law when Saddam was our ally? And how, finally, could the war in Iraq have been about democracy, when most of the Middle East was ruled by repressive governments that we, the champions of freedom, armed and supported?

Still some make the claim that Iraq was, at least in part, genuine humanitarianism. The fact that they don't then lose all credibility in the public eye is frankly ridiculous when you look at the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. But it's also very revealing. The mainstream media has unequivocally failed to hold our governments to account for their record in the Middle East. And this is why politicians and commentators alike are able to perpetuate the myth of humanitarianism in Iraq, pulling the wool over the public's eyes to the realities of Western foreign policy.