In the past few months the graves of thousands of civilians have been unearthed in war-torn Iraq. Not surprisingly, the White House has wasted no time in declaring the dead to be prime examples of Saddam Hussein’s brutality and a further justification for our invasion.
But a check of the historical record on this matter reveals yet another calculated distortion by the administration and its supporters.
At the end of the 1991 Gulf War legions of Shia radicals – the kind we’ve seen clamoring for an Islamic state – attacked and killed anyone connected to Iraq’s secular government. Urged to "take matters into their own hands" by the first Bush administration and mistakenly believing that Iraq’s army had been destroyed, armed militants went from city to city in southern Iraq mercilessly butchering scores of innocents.
As put forth by regional analyst Sandra Mackay: "the rebels utilized their guns and numbers to seize the civilian operatives of the Baath government while former Shia conscripts turned on officers of the army. They hung their captives from rafters of an Islamic school, shot them in the head before walls turned into execution chambers, or simply slit their throats at the point of capture." (The Reckoning: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam Hussein, p. 24)
Dilip Hiro, another Iraqi historian, documents atrocities in the city of Karbala: "insurgents had attacked the army headquarters and seized weapons….They decapitated or hanged 75 military officials, some of them Shia, and tortured many more." (Desert Shield To Desert Storm: The Second Gulf War, p. 402)
All told, several thousand military personnel, policemen, clerks, and employees of the government were slain, according to Omar Ali, another regional authority. (Crisis in the Arabian Gulf, p. 147)
Meanwhile in northern Iraq, Kurdish separatists were gearing up for their own shot at the regime. As far back as 1961 – seven years before Saddam Hussein came to power – they had been staging violent attacks on Iraq’s central government, trying to leverage off a piece of the country and form their own fledgling state.
Accepting Washington’s pronouncements about a vanquished Iraqi military, up to 400,000 Kurds undertook a ferocious spree of mayhem that rivaled that of the Shia. According to Mackay, in the city of Kirkuk "no one bothered to count how many servants of Baghdad were shot, beheaded, or cut to shreds with the traditional dagger stuck in the cummerbund of every Kurdish man. By the time Kurdish rage had exhausted itself, piles of corpses lay in the streets awaiting removal by bulldozers." (The Reckoning, p. 26)
This unrestrained carnage, documented by several additional sources, is what the White House (and the media) characterize as "rising up against Saddam."
Unfortunately for the Kurdish and Shia murderers, Iraq’s army was far from destroyed. After withdrawing from Kuwait in accordance with U.S. mandates the Republican Guards and other army units regrouped and commenced a methodical campaign to hunt down the assailants and restore order. Using tanks, artillery, mortars, and helicopter gunships, they subdued one city after another.
In the north hundreds of thousands of Kurds took flight to the rocky mountains bordering Iran and Turkey. There they stood, cold and hungry, until the Bush administration began airlifting emergency supplies – a tacit admission of partial responsibility for their plight.
In the south the Shia who fought back were easily overwhelmed and killed, while hundreds more were executed at point of capture, their bodies immediately buried in accordance with Islamic law.
This, then is the primary source of the "mass graves" of Iraq.
What government in the world would refrain from using all necessary means to quell a violent uprising of this kind? No one denies that the regimes response was swift and merciless, or that many innocents were caught up in the retaliation and destruction. But if blame is assigned, shouldn’t it start with the instigators of the carnage along with the foreign government who misled them about the forces they were going up against and yet egged them on?
Like claims about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction or Baghdad’s links to al Queda, the mass graves of Iraq are another example of history and reality being distorted to fit the ulterior motives of the White House.