By Mohammad Homaeefar

No confusion why Saddam started war on Iran in 1980: peace activist

September 28, 2016 - 21:28

TEHRAN - Phil Wilayto, a peace activist and editor of The Virginia Defender newspaper, says there is no confusion about how Saddam Hussein started war against Iran on September 22, 1980.

“Saddam Hussein, like other undemocratic government leaders in the region, was fearful of the effect the Iranian Revolution was having on his subjects,” Phil Wilayto tells the Tehran Times as Iran is marking its “sacred defense” against the invading Saddam army.

Following is the full transcription of the interview.

Q: Mr. Wilayto, what’s your take on United States' role in Iran-Iraq war?

A: "It's a pity they can’t both lose.”

This was the famous quote by Henry Kissinger expressing his view of the eight-year war between the Republic of Iraq and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The quote really captures the U.S. position toward the terrible war that took the lives of some 600,000 people on both sides of the conflict. At the time, Kissinger, an architect of the U.S. war against Vietnam, was a member of President Ronald Reagan’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. There’s really no confusion about how the war started: Saddam Hussein, like other undemocratic government leaders in the region, was fearful of the effect the Iranian Revolution was having on his subjects. That is why he launched an attack on Iran in 1980. It was just 19 months after the historic overthrow of the U.S.-backed Shah, when Iran’s new government was still consolidating itself and working out its relationship with the military establishment. It was truly a very dangerous time for the Revolution.

‘UN didn’t name Saddam aggressor until 12 years after the war against Iran’

The U.S. government, of course, was shocked and furious at the loss of one of its most faithful puppets, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi - whom it had installed after engineering the 1953 coup against democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. It was even more outraged at the prospect of the re-nationalization of Iran’s vast oil resources. This is why it assisted Saddam in his aggression.

During this war against Iraq, Iran stood virtually alone, with only Syria providing support. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other (Persian) Gulf states gave Iraq huge loans. The U.S. provided military equipment, along with critical intelligence gathered from radar planes and satellite imagery. The United Nations Security Council expressed concern about the war, but did not identify Iraq as the aggressor until Dec. 11, 1991 - 12 years after Iraq invaded Iran. Similarly, the UN reported the use of chemical weapons - the first time since World War I - but failed to add that it was only Iraq that was using them.

The aid provided to Iraq by the U.S. and its allies was just enough to keep the war going, but not enough to end it. Washington’s strategic aim here was to try and weaken both countries in order to eliminate opposition to its own goal of achieving hegemony in the oil-rich Middle East.

At that time, the major obstacle to the U.S. plans was the existence of the Soviet Union, which was supportive of states that opposed U.S. foreign policy. With the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and the socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe in 1989-91, the U.S. saw its opportunity. In 1991 it invaded Iraq. The results of that war were inconclusive, so it returned in 2003, destroying the country.

What followed was a succession of U.S. offensives in the region, in Libya, then Syria, indirectly in Yemen, along with increased military support for Israel. The result has been the rise of extremist organizations rushing in to fill the political vacuum left by the U.S. wars.

Today the Islamic Republic of Iran stands as the single strong state in this region of the world opposing U.S. hegemony. Fortunately, it is now far from isolated, having developed close ties with progressive and non-aligned governments in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe.

Thirty-seven years after their revolution, the Iranian people and their government continue to shine like a beacon of independence and sovereignty in an area of the world desperately coveted by U.S. corporations and their government.

Q: Do you think the countries that supported Saddam in the war against Iran should be paying damages to Iran?

A: Earlier this year President Barack Obama boasted that the United States spends more money on its military than the next eight countries in the world combined. That’s three times more than China and seven times more than Russia. With 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. is responsible for a third of the world’s military expenditures. The U.S. government and the banks and corporations it represents should pay reparations to all the countries where they have waged imperialist wars, as well as to the African-American people whose enslaved ancestors provided the labor that produced the capital on which the United States economy was built; the indigenous peoples whose land was stolen and whose people were targeted for genocide; the Mexican people who lost half their country in the totally unjustifiable U.S.-Mexican War; and to all the working people of the United States whose labor has been cruelly exploited in order to create the fabulous fortunes of the U.S. One Percent.

Q: As someone who has traveled to Iran, how did you find Iranian people's anti-U.S. sentiments?

A: I toured Iran for 10 days in 2007 and returned in 2011 for a two-week stay in Tehran. On both occasions I experienced nothing but friendship and hospitality from the Iranian people, whether speaking with university students in Shiraz, goat herders in the Zagros Mountains, religious leaders in Qom, businesspeople in bazaars in Esfahan or working people throughout the country. Our 2007 delegation of U.S. peace activists was even warmly greeted with cries of “Peace!” and “Friendship!” when we ran into a group of some 300 Revolutionary Guards on a historical and cultural tour in Yazd. Any hostility we heard was directed solely at the U.S. government, with the critics pointedly emphasizing that they were not angry with the American people. That said, Iranians would be perfectly justified in being angry at the U.S. public, which should be doing more to oppose their own government’s actions in the world. And I do believe that, if Americans knew the truth about U.S. wars and interventions in other countries, they would oppose it. Instead, they are fed a constant stream of lies from the news media, almost all of which is controlled by giant corporations with an interest in an aggressive foreign policy.

Q: What is your prediction of the next U.S. president’s policy toward Iran?

A: If the next president is Hillary Clinton, the world can expect an even bloodier and more aggressive foreign policy. Her record has been that of a war hawk, supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq, pushing for the devastating bombing of Libya, cheering on the intervention in Syria. She is an ardent supporter of Israel and its criminal policies toward the Palestinian people. Her proteges in the U.S. State Department were behind the 2014 right-wing coup in Ukraine. She is one of the most vocal promoters of an increasingly hostile policy toward Russia. With regard to Iran specifically, despite her bellicose rhetoric, she will face the same obstacles as her predecessor. It is my view that, despite its severe deficiencies, the nuclear treaty Iran agreed to was to Iran’s advantage, in that it reduced the danger of a military confrontation with the United States. Washington’s hostility toward the Iranian Revolution - which is what is really behind its hostility toward the Iranian government - led it to impose increasingly harsh sanctions of its own, while pushing other countries and the United Nations to do the same. But even though the sanctions were taking their toll on Iran’s economy, they were not producing their desired effect, which was to make the lives of the Iranian people so difficult that they would turn against their own government in a pro-Western uprising. Having failed in that objective, the U.S. found itself moving closer and closer to its only remaining option: war. And war with Iran could not be an air war alone. It would require a military occupation, something the U.S. could not accomplish, bogged down as it was in its ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries. Even if it ordered Israel to attack Iran, the U.S. would have to become directly engaged in occupying the country. Faced with this reality, the U.S. government decided it needed to downgrade the issue of Iran, at least until it was in a better position to wage a war. So I think the treaty, with all its injustices, was beneficial to Iran, in that it postponed a military confrontation with the United States. But if the U.S. is able to consolidate its position in the Middle East, the issue of Iran will come back to the center stage of U.S. foreign policy. It is to be hoped that when and if that time does come, Iran will be even better prepared to defend itself, both diplomatically and militarily.

The U.S. provided military equipment, along with critical intelligence gathered from radar planes and satellite imagery” to Iraq during its war against Iran in the 1980s, Phil Wilayto says.

If Donald Trump is elected president, it will be as if the most advanced aircraft carrier in the U.S. Navy were suddenly taken over by a deranged, drunken captain with no military or maritime experience, but burning with an insane curiosity to see what would happen if he were to suddenly push all those shiny buttons ...

Q: How much effective have the anti-war movements been in preventing a confrontation with Iran?

A: During the years of increasing tensions between the United States and Iran, there was a concerted effort to develop a tendency within the U.S. antiwar movement that was hostile to the Iranian government. This tendency developed most dangerously in 2009, in the aftermath of Iran’s presidential elections. In my own organization, the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), there were heated arguments, at times approaching physical confrontations, between some of these groups and those of us who consider ourselves anti-imperialists. Fortunately, these groups were defeated in open debates, but it took considerable effort on the part of the anti-imperialists. Having failed at turning UNAC against the Iranian Revolution, those groups are no longer around. But the same thing is happening now with the issue of Syria. UNAC is being criticized by organizations that believe the U.S. has the right to and should intervene in Syria. Again, the anti-imperialists are standing strong, but this will be an ongoing struggle. While the U.S. antiwar movement as a whole is relatively weak, at least compared to the early days of the second Persian Gulf War, it can still play a role in influencing U.S. public opinion, which can be a defense against the U.S. government launching an all-out war against Iran. And there are signs that the antiwar movement will grow stronger under the next president, whoever it is. It would be a mistake to think the antiwar movement in the United States can actually prevent or stop a war. We do not live in a democracy here and public opinion only matters so much. But we can make a difference. I saw this during the Vietnam War. That war was won by the Vietnamese people under the leadership of the National Liberation Front, but President Ho Chi Minh himself stated that the antiwar movement in the U.S. played an important supporting role. The antiwar movement today is much weaker than it was then, but I don’t believe this weakness will last. The key to moving forward is to unite the movements promoting solidarity with the targets of U.S. imperialism with the movements here at home against police shootings, low wages, the destruction of the environment and other domestic issues. This is why UNAC promotes the overall slogan of “Stop the Wars at Home & Abroad!” For the sake of the peoples of the world, I hope we will be successful in once again becoming a powerful voice for Justice and Peace.

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