Mass Graves: Another Dubious Justification for War?
By Mark Gerry, MA
In last Sunday's nationally televised address to the nation
President Bush cited the mass graves in Iraq as a prime example
of Saddam's brutality and further justification for our invasion.
But a check of the historical record on this matter reveals
yet another calculated distortion by the administration and
At the end of the 1991 Gulf War legions of Shia radicals
- the kind we've seen clamoring for an Islamic state - assaulted
and killed anyone associated to Iraq's secular government.
Urged to "take matters into their own hands" by the first
Bush administration and wrongly 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 holy 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 policemen, clerks, military personnel
and employees of the government were slain, according to Omar
Ali, another regional authority. (Crisis in the Arabian Gulf,
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 to 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 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 units regrouped and commenced a methodical campaign
to hunt down the assailants and restore order. Using tanks,
artillery, mortars, and helicopter gunships, they subdued
city after city in succession.
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
This, then is the principal source of the "mass graves"
Through his inaction, the current president's father is
partially responsible for this bloodshed. But like claims
about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and Baghdad's links
to al Qaeda, George W. Bush's reference to the mass graves
of Iraq is just another example of history and reality being
distorted to fit the ulterior motives of the White House.