How US set out to destroy Iraq's national identity and build a dependent state


Cultural Cleansing in IraqEdited by Raymond W. Baker, Shereen T. Ismael, and Tareq Y. Ismael. Pluto, 296 pp. $34.95

THIS BOOK argues convincingly that the post- war cultural cleansing of Iraq is intentional rather than random and haphazard, the result of chaos and anarchy.

The aim of the policy of cultural cleansing is to remake Iraq into a US-friendly state and enable Washington’s returned Shia and Kurd exiles to take and exercise power.

In the first of 10 chapters, the editors contend that the Bush administration’s objectives were to demonstrate US global dominance and remake “the strategic Middle East” to suit the US. “To that end, the invasion of Iraq would display America’s crushing military power to a world reduced to the status of spectators in a spectacle of a state’s destruction, marked by massive civilian casualties, cultural devastation and the pauperisation of its people.”

Subsequent chapters show how Iraq’s state structures were systematically destroyed along with the independent secular nationalist socialist regime.

This began with the looting of the country’s museums and libraries, schools and universities. Although Iraqis carried out most of the pillage and destruction, the US was responsible for what took place.

Scholars had warned the White House and Pentagon that this would happen if vulnerable sites were not protected. Nothing was done because, according to Barbara Bodine, Washington’s first post-war ambassador, orders had been issued to the effect that looting should be allowed to proceed unchecked. In some cases, US troops broke open the doors of institutions to aid looters.

The US also used major archaeological sites, including ancient Babylon and Ur, as military bases, inflicting irreparable damage.

By attacking the country’s history and “collective memory”, Zainab Bahrani holds that the US sought to undermine the unique national identity of Iraqis. Their strong sense of history and culture has made them the most inventive poets, writers and painters in the Arab world.

The second half of the book focuses on the killing of Iraqi intellectuals and professionals.

As early as April 11th, 2003, two days after the fall of Baghdad, a group of university professors and scientists dispatched an e-mail saying that the occupation forces had drawn up lists of individuals for detention, harassment and elimination. Since then, hundreds of university processors, doctors and scientists have been assassinated, kidnapped, killed or driven into exile.

The murder of Dr Muhammad Rawi, a medical doctor and chancellor of Baghdad University in July 2003, shocked the country and served as a warning to others in the intelligentsia.

Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency and the Iranian-founded Iraqi Badr Corps militia were initially blamed for the killings. However, the book’s contributors provide solid evidence that the US and Britain fostered the decimation of the intellectuals because they would resist foreign domination through Shia and Kurd proxies who rode into Baghdad on the backs of US tanks.

The vehicle for the purge of intellectuals was the de-Baathification campaign instituted by Paul Bremer, the US pro-consul from 2003-2004, and used by successive Shia-led sectarian governments to target secular nationalist thinkers of every sect.

The US is accused of using the “Salvador option”, a strategy evolved in Central America, to create US-compliant regimes in that region.

The 13 authors of this work say the US set out to destroy Iraq’s national identity, reduce and marginalise the educated class and wipe the Iraqi slate clean in order to build from ground zero a weak state which would be dependent on the US. This experiment in “state ending” has left a black hole at the heart of the eastern Arab world.

Michael Jansen writes on Middle East affairs for The Irish Times