News Release

Is the “War on ISIS” Actually Iran-Iraq War Redux?

Tariq Aziz’s death was announced on Friday. The top diplomat under Saddam Hussein, Aziz had been sentenced to death. Journalist Jeremy Scahill reports that in 2003, Aziz — who was a Christian — had told him a U.S. invasion of Iraq would open a “Pandora’s Box.” Here, Aziz is meeting with Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush during the Iran-Iraq War.

ABC News is now reporting: “President Obama met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at the G7 Summit in Germany today to discuss the fight against ISIS.”

KATE GOULD, kate at fcnl.org, @k8gould
Gould is legislative associate for Middle East policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation. She recently co-wrote the piece “Why the impending Iraqi offensive to retake Ramadi from the Islamic State group is doomed,” which states: “The Iraqi army’s impending offensive to retake Ramadi from Islamic State group control is bound to end in catastrophe. Unleashing sectarian militias and the Iraqi army on Ramadi will only continue this bloody whack-a-mole game against the Islamic State group. The only way to permanently halt the advance of the Islamic State group and other extremist groups is to deal with Iraqi grievances at the negotiating table instead of on the battlefield.”

DAHLIA WASFI, dahliaswasfi at yahoo.com, @liberatethis
Wasfi is an Iraqi-American justice activist who has written and spoken extensively on U.S. policy in the region. She recently wrote the piece “Battling ISIS: Iran-Iraq war redux” and said today: “President Obama continues to hear criticism for his failure to swiftly defeat ISIS. But while crushing ISIS may be the official stated goal, the actual agenda may be a long, drawn-out war to weaken regional powers. We have seen this policy before — with many of the same players — in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s.

“In February 1979, the Iranian Revolution overthrew Shah Reza Pahlavi, the ruler of Iran since 1953, when a CIA-orchestrated coup brought him to power. Once the Shah’s U.S.-friendly regime in Iran was deposed, American administrators sought a new ally in the region and began to warm relations with Iraq. As tensions escalated between Iraq’s secular government and the new theocracy in Iran, both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia assured Saddam Hussein that he had their backing in any armed conflict with Iran. In September 1980, with U.S. encouragement, Saddam Hussein launched the Iran-Iraq War.

“U.S. President Ronald Reagan officially allied with Iraq during the conflict. In secret, however, government officials sold arms to Iran. The eight-year war, sustained by the U.S. backing both sides, yielded over a million casualties. The extended conflict also left two of the strongest nations in the region bleeding and weakened, which benefited U.S. and Israeli hegemony.

“Today, comparably, the U.S. is arming both sides of the ‘war on ISIS,’ which was born out of the illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq. After the fall of Baghdad, U.S. administrators imposed a repressive theocratic Shia regime on Iraq. The brutality of its rule inevitably spawned a counter movement: a sectarian Sunni opposition faction which in the last several years has morphed into ISIS. Western powers supported its creation (via funding and arms to extremist ‘rebel groups’ in Syria) to serve as a check on Shia power in the region — power that expanded as a result of U.S. policy in Iraq in the first place. …

“Just as with Iran and Iraq in the 1980s, the people in the battlefields of Syria and Iraq pay the highest price. And just as was the case in the 1980s, the devastation of these countries serves U.S. and Israeli hegemony.”

Additional background: Current Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter was assistant secretary of defense in the 1990s, when U.S. policy was “dual containment” of Iran and Iraq. See this 1996 testimony.