Iraq: Why the West Keeps Going Back
by Brendan O'Neill
August 3, 2002

What is the real reason that America and Britain are threatening to bomb Iraq?

Forget all the talk about weapons of mass destruction (even US officials are having trouble believing that one); or the ridiculous idea that Saddam is a threat to the Western world (all the evidence suggests that post-Gulf War and sanctions he is weaker than ever).

And get over the nonsense about Western leaders being concerned about Iraqi people's human rights (if they were, they wouldn't have bombed them back to the Stone Age in 1991 – and it's funny how the West only cares about the Kurds when they're being attacked by Iraq, but couldn't give two squats about them when they're being attacked by Turkey).

Behind the bull, why is the West really going back to Iraq yet again? The mistake most people make is to look for an answer to that question in the Gulf itself – but you won't find it there. To discover why Iraq has been an international priority for the past 10 years you need look no further than London and Washington.

Since the Gulf War, UK and US forces have launched air raid after air raid on Iraq, and issued threat after threat against Saddam, in what seems like a war without end. In January 1991 they bombed Iraq to 'protect Kuwaitis'; in June 1993 US forces bombed Baghdad in retaliation for a supposed plot to assassinate Bush senior; in December 1998 the bombs were an attempt to destroy Iraq's non-existent nuclear weapons programme. In February 2001 the West attacked to enforce the 'no-fly zones' and teach Saddam some international etiquette. Now the West is planning another assault.

But who really believes the Gulf crisis is about no-fly zones, nuclear weapons, or anything that is happening in Iraq? If so, you couldn't be more wrong. These ongoing, neverending ventures against a weakened and beleaguered state are primarily about making the UK and USA look like the tough guys of international politics.

For the West, the motto seems to be: Want to make a statement? Bomb Baghdad! Losing control at home? Bomb Baghdad! Can't find bin Laden? Bomb Baghdad!

This is why the conflict with Iraq has lasted so long – because it is the one place in which American and British leaders can assert some political and moral authority when all else fails. And if they fail to find any weapons, they'll just change the charge against Saddam to being about the no-fly zones or human rights or his actions against the Kurds – anything, as long as they have a premise on which to bomb in times of need.

The goalposts in relation to the Gulf keep shifting, because the ability to kick up a crisis over weapons of mass destruction or no-fly zones allows the UK and the USA to turn to the Gulf whenever they need to look impressive in front of the rest of the world. The Gulf crisis drags on, not because Saddam continues to flaunt the rules, but because it suits the UK and US governments.

Yet if such posturing has a short-term benefit for Bush and Blair, it also has its problems. There may not be much serious opposition to the latest planned attack, but nor is there much enthusiasm for it. A small and declining majority of American people support invading Iraq, but there is hardly the all-out war fever there was in 1991. And in the Middle East itself, almost every state has rejected America's planned invasion, making clear that the last thing they want is Gulf War Take Two.

Iraq will be an issue as long as America and Britain need it to be an issue. If Saddam didn't exist, Bush and Blair would have to invent him. In the meantime, they have clearly decided that Iraqi lives and bloodshed are a price well worth paying for their international image.

Brendan O'Neill is a London-based journalist and assistant editor of spiked. He founded and teaches the online journalism course at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design. Visit his website.

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