Chapter 1: 1939 All Over Again? : The ways the war on terror is and isn’t like World War Two


The Bush administration and its political allies around the world have compared the "war on terror" against Al Qaeda to the Second World War in which democracies fought fascist regimes. They've urged us to remember the lessons of history. So what are those lessons? What are the similarities and differences between the past and the present?

No Rivals : Similarity One : The drive for global hegemony through control of oil and gas reserves progressing from the Caspian to the Middle East and Africa then and now

“In the early autumn of 1942 I was among the troops of General Paulus's 6th Army at the approach to Stalingrad. Our political officer..told us that once we had destroyed the Red Army ..we would be moved south through the Caucasian oil fields for about 700 miles to arrive at the Iraqi ones. A friend sitting next to me whispered under his breath "So that's what we are to die for - oil in Iraq". And, in fact, he did. I would have thought that the world might have learned from that disaster, but obviously it has not” Henry Mettelman , former German soldier, October 2001 (1)

Photo: German soldiers at Stalingrad. If they hadn't been defeated there they would have gone on to capture the oil of the Caucasus and Iraq

“America is not only pursuing its wider geostrategic goals but is also representing its growing economic interest...It is this consideration that has made the pipeline issue so central...if another pipeline crosses the Caspian sea to Azerbaijan and...the Mediterranean through Turkey and if one more goes through the Arabian sea to Afghanistan no single power will have monopoly over access [ to the oil and gas of the former Soviet republics]” Zbigniew Brzezinksi, , former National Security Secretary to President Carter, in his book "The Grand Chessboard", 1997 , (2)

“I can't think of a time when we've had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian.” Dick Cheney, CEO of Halliburton and Past and future US Vice President, to US Oil Industry Executives, Washington, 1998 (3)

Photo: Dick Cheney - Past and present US Vice President and past and probably future oil firm executive

“In time pipelines through Iran to the Persian Gulf could also be matched by parallel pipelines from Central Asia through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Indian Ocean..” Zbigniew Brzezinski "The Choice" 2004 (4)

The situation today is very different from World War Two or the inter-war period of the 1920s and 30s, but similarities remain. One of Germany's main war aims in 1939 was to capture the Caspian and Middle Eastern oilfields. The US-led 'war on terrorism' , in wars stretching from Afghanistan to Africa, may have more to do with a drive to maintain and expand US global hegemony, partly through control of those same oil and gas supplies for the developed world (and with profits for oil and arms companies) than with preventing further terrorist attacks. Armed conflicts Afghanistan to Somalia are linked to struggles for control of drilling rights and export routes as a means to the end of private profits and maintaining US global dominance or "hegemony" (dominance of all states by one state). The main aim of US military strategy since the end of the Cold War has been to prevent any potential rivals gaining the power to challenge American pre-eminence. That the US government has been or is striving for global hegemony is frequently denied as a "conspiracy theory" However a draft of the Pentagon Defense Planning Guide written by Paul Wolfowitz (a future member of the PNAC and the Bush administration) stated that "our first priority is to prevent the emergence of a new rival" and that "our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region [the Middle East] and preserve U.S and Western access to the region's oil" (5)

The PNAC's 2000 report 'Rebuilding America's Defenses' states "At present the United States faces no global rival. America’s grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible….Preserving the desirable strategic situation in which the United States now finds itself requires a globally pre-eminent military capability both today and in the future" [page i] and that "America’s global leadership.. relies upon...the preservation of a favorable balance of power in Europe, the Middle East and surrounding energy producing region, and East Asia" [page 5 , my underlining] (6). The PNAC of course was not the U.S government - but many of its members from Wolfowitz to Rumsfeld went on to become members of the Bush administration or, like James Woolsey (a former head of the CIA) to push for war on Iraq during Bush's presidency (7), (8). He's now an adviser to John McCain's Presidential campaign. (8a) (A lot more about Woolsey later in 'From Iraq to Somalia'. )

Those who admit the drive for hegemony is taking place justify it as benevolent and raise the the threat that undemocratic rivals such as China might otherwise make themselves future hegemons - or claim that the hegemony of one powerful state over others is necessary to the maintenance of world order and the prevention of another world war. One problem is that the methods and some of the aims of the "war on terror" are far from democracy or a concern for human rights - and the wars being fought , far from bringing more "order" or peace are themselves destabilising and constantly creating new conflicts - civil wars and cross-border conflicts.

British military historian Robert Lyman has written that one of Hitler's main aims in invading Russia in World War Two was control of the Caspian oil fields (then part of the Communist Soviet Union) - and that this was followed by an invasion of Iraq with the same motive - control of oil (8b). Former German soldiers like Henry Mettelman (quoted above) confirm this. The evidence suggests that the "war on terror" has followed the same general plan with the some of the same motives, moving from Afghanistan to Iraq and now threatening to expand into Iran.

In fact the same pipeline route from Iraq to Haifa (in what was then British Palestine) fought over by the German and British armies in Iraq in World War Two was among the first targets secured by Coalition forces in the March 2003 invasion - and by June of that year the Israeli government announced the pipeline was to be re-opened ( see Iraq to Somalia for more details and sources )

Much of the media and many analysts have argued that the invasion of Afghanistan was an understandable attempt to close down Al Qaeda's operations from that country; they say that the invasion of Iraq was a strategic blunder or an intelligence failure by the Bush administration though. The evidence suggests it was neither and that democracy, human rights and fighting terrorism are merely pretexts for the actual aims of the "war on terror".

In fact CIA, Pentagon and British MoD intelligence analysts told their governments that Iraq had no significant active WMD or nuclear programmes and no 'mobile biological weapons trailers' - and that what Saddam did have (chemical weapons and possibly biological) would be almost certainly not be used by him against the US or allied countries - except if he came under attack. Dr. Brian Jones, who was an intelligence analyst and WMD expert at the Ministry of Defence in 2002 said later that "In my view, the expert intelligence analysts of the DIS were overruled in the preparation of the dossier in September 2002, resulting in a presentation that was misleading about Iraq's capabilities." Further evidence came from Saddam's actions in the 1991 gulf war, when he had several chemical warheads available for his scud missiles but used only scuds with conventional warheads in attacks on Israel, having been warned that any chemical or biological attacks would meet with a nuclear response. (8c), (8d), (8e), (8e1), (8e2), (8e3)

The actual aims are to maintain the US as the world's dominant power by taking control of the world's energy reserves and export pipeline routes by military force. If possible the US government hopes to control Iraq's oil and ensure any profits from the sale of them go primarily to US firms. In the 1990s former CIA director James Woolsey (a close associate of the Bush administration and now adviser to John McCain) expressed concern over future US oil supplies, citing US Defence Department estimates that when India's and China's growing use of oil reaches a per capita level equal to that of South Korea those two countries alone will need twice as much oil per day as the entire world currently produces (8d1). US planners hope at the least to deny cheap oil to China and Russia in order to delay or prevent China or any other potential rival from developing their economy and so their technology and military to a level where they could challenge US global dominance. (Whether this fear is justified and whether the methods used to try to avert it are either effective or justified will be discussed in other chapters)

There are also reasons to believe that the invasion of Afghanistan had other motives apart from eliminating a safe haven for Al Qa'ida. In 1997 an executive of the California based UNOCAL oil told congress that oil companies saw an opportunity to sell the oil and gas of the former Soviet republics to the growing economies of China, Japan and the rest of East Asia. Discussing possible export pipeline routes he said that "the route through Afghanistan is the one that would bring Central Asian oil closest to Asian markets and thus would be the cheapest in terms of transporting the oil." (8f). By 2008 the Bush administration was pushing NATO to define any threat to energy supplies of any member state as a threat to be met by military force by all NATO members - and to include securing gas and oil pipeline routes as one of NATO's key missions (8g). So Afghanistan was invaded partly to secure an export pipeline route from former Soviet republics like Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. (to read more on this, including the Clinton administration's backing for the Taliban in the early 90s and Pakistan military intelligence's continuing backing for them seeThe New Great Game Part I - Macedonia to Afghanistan.

Saudi Arabia’s torturing dictators are supported by the US and UK governments because Saudi has the largest proven oil reserves in the world, allow British and American firms to take part in joint oil ventures there and spends much of their country's oil wealth on British and American arms. Iraq was invaded because it had the second largest proven oil reserves in the world at the time (the third largest now) (8h). Iran faces invasion because it now has the second largest (largely due to the continuing Iraq war preventing oil exploration there) . The PNAC's report on 'Rebuilding America's Defenses' in 2000 openly admitted that the need to station US troops to control the energy resources of the Middle East "transcends the issue of Saddam Hussein's regime" (8i). The Washington post in 2002 reported that a "U.S.-led ouster of... Saddam Hussein could open a bonanza for American oil companies long banished from Iraq, scuttling oil deals between Baghdad and Russia, France and other countries, and reshuffling world petroleum markets, according to industry officials and leaders of the Iraqi opposition." (8j) In these terms the decision to invade Iraq is entirely explicable on exactly the same basis as Germany's invasion of Russia then Iraq in the Second World War. Anyone who believes the Bush administration went into Iraq to get rid of a dictatorship will have difficulty explaining why previous US administrations including many of the same people (including Reagan's and Bush senior's) contained the same people who in the 1980s were arming and funding Saddam (see The Persian Problem footnotes 12 to 17 for more details and sources).

The Reagan administration in 1984 lambasted the Iranian government for its "intransigent refusal to deviate from its avowed objective of eliminating the legitimate government of neighboring Iraq to be inconsistent with the accepted norms of behavior among nations and the moral and religious basis which it claims." (8k). Of course in 1984 as in 2003 the Iraqi government was run by Saddam Hussein - and he was already using chemical weapons on the Iranians and Iraqi Kurds. So were the people who served under Reagan and Bush Senior in the 80s and early 90s been born again as defenders of democracy and human rights when serving under George W.? ; Men like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Negroponte and Bremer who'd been involved in backing both Saddam and Somoza? Given their continued backing for torturing dictators like the Saudi monarchy and President Mubarak in Egypt it seems unlikely. The consistent aim has been profits for US firms and power for the US government (the two going hand in hand). In the 80s Saddam was seen as bolstering both against the Iranian theocrats - after 1991 he was a barrier to both - and after September 11th enough Americans be duped into supporting a war of aggression against a weakend Iraq by merely mentioning Al Qaeda, Saddam, Iraq and nuclear or 'mushroom cloud' in the same sentences enough times. (see 'Iraq to Somalia'

Of course the control of oil and gas is not the only or ultimate aim of the US government or its rivals, including the Russian and Chinese governments, who are at least as brutal and ruthless in trying to secure this control. The aims are power and profit, with profits and money of course being a form of power in themselves. Some argue that power and dominance over others is the only means to security, but others (myself included) argue that absolute security through absolute power is both a pointless search for something that can never be achieved ; results in much unncecessary death and suffering ; and actually makes the people of any government seeking it less secure by creating fear and oppostion from other governments and peoples - and even counter-attacks by them.

We also have to realise that if this drive for perpetual and ever greater world domination continues it is likely sooner or later, as US power wanes and Chinese power rises, to lead to World War Three (with the US and its allies on one side and Russia and China and theirs on the other). It's also highly questionable whether it will bring democracy to Afghanistan or the Middle East given the history of past US interventions.

Click here to read more on this 'New Great Game' for control of the world's oil and gas reserves and pipeline routes from Macedonia to Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Colombia and Nigeria.

Back to contents links/ top of page


Hyperbole - Difference One : Our enemies now are not nearly as powerful as our own governments and militaries - and Similarity Two - Paranoia - there is no alliance of our enemies then or now

Most of the rhetoric about parallells between the war on terror and World War Two is ridiculous. By 1939 Germany had the largest and most advanced economy and military in the world, outmatched only by the US. Neither Afghanistan under the Taliban, Iraq under Saddam nor Iran under the Ayatollahs could begin to compare. Not one is or ever has been a global power with the potential for world empire. None of them have ever even managed to make themselves dominant over their own region. The US and British governments, as an aggressive, expansionist world military power and its much weaker ally, are far more similar to 1930s Germany and Italy than any of their targets in the war on terror are. That might be why Tony Blair recently revised his litany of doom to compare the current situation to the 1920s rather than the 1930s (possibly also making this claim on the basis that, never having bothered to read any history, the only parallell he can make is with his confused and vague impressions of the rise of Nazism and fascism and World War Two) (9).

The massive difference in military power between our militaries and those of our enemies and targets is so great that rhetoric from Bush and Blair about threats to our entire way of life are also ridiculous. It's also why the idea that we must fight a World War Two style 'total war' in which the price of defeat is being occupied or annhilated ourselves is false. (Even the idea that atrocities like the fire bombing of Dresden or the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki were necessary or helped the war effort significantly are extremely dubious - but that's another story).

Scare stories about Muslim immigrants supposedly being on the way to 'out-breeding' non-Muslim Europeans and imposing Sharia law on them are equally unbelievable. Many Muslim asylum seekers come to the UK to escape extreme forms of Islam like those imposed by the Taliban. Even if every Muslim in Europe was an extremist (and most arent) they'd remain a minority. In reality they're a minority of a minority and over the generations as they become wealthier their birth rates will fall, as always happens over time.

The other dubious theory of the neo-conservatives and pseudo-'liberal interventionists' is that all Islamic fundamentalists from Hamas in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories to the Sunni extremist Al Qa'ida to the Shia rulers of Iran and their Shia Hezbollah allies in Lebanon are part of a common front aiming to destroy 'our way of life' or wipe us out in nuclear war. (To read more about the flaws in the Iraqi WMD and Iranian nuclear 'threats' line click here) Former CIA director James R. Woolsey, who is very close to the Bush administration, claimed in a speech in January 2007 that "Wahabbi Islam and Al Qa'ida [Sunni extremist movements] and Vilayat e-Faqih [the Iranian Supreme Leaders' and Hizbollah's controversial version of Shia Islam] cannot be treated individually. Those who say they will not co-operate with one another are as wrong as those who claimed that the Nazis and Communists would not co-operate" [explanations in square brackets are my words not Woolsey's] (9a)

Co-operation between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in World War Two will certainly be news to historians and to the surviving relatives of the millions of Communist citizens of the Soviet Union who died fighting German forces in World War Two. It will also be news to the Communists, Socialists and trade unionists murdered or sent to the concentration camps (though not to the gas chambers) by the Nazis in Germany during that war. Presidents Eisenhower and Truman, were they alive today, would also be surprised to learn that while they believed they were allied with Stalin against Hitler instead James Woolsey can reveal that the Eastern Front and the destruction of Stalingrad by Hitler's armies and East Berlin by Stalin's merely showed that Nazis and Communists got on really well - like two major cities on fire maybe.

Soviet Communism certainly involved many atrocities. It was never allied to Hitler against the democracies though, with the short-lived Hitler-Stalin Pact just a temporary non-aggression pact.

Woolsey's claims will also be news to the Shia Iranian government and the Sunni Taliban who are bitter enemies - and to the US forces aided by Iran's government with intelligence and access to Iranian airspace during the US invasion of Afghanistan (9b). Hamas in the Palestinian territories are not a pan-Islamic movement like or linked to Al Qa'ida either. They are Palestinian nationalists first, Islamic fundamentalists second as shown by their decision for instance to establish diplomatic relations with Russia despite the objections of Chechnyan Islamic groups (9c).

In a study of suicide bombings by the American Professor Robert Pape he found that the vast majority of suicide bombers came from countries either occupied by the forces of the target country or else lived in a dictatorship supported by the government of the target country. Not one Al Qa’ida suicide bomber has come from Iran, an Islamic fundamentalist regime. Not one has come from Syria.They’ve come from Iraq (since the invasion), Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Morocco. So its neither ideological or religious hatred of the US that is the key factor. Pape identifies military occupations by forces of a different religion as the key factor - but misses out the other obvious one - that Al Qaeda have also targeted governments that back dictatorships in their own country - the US, which backs Mubarak's dictatorship in Egypt, the House of Saud's in Saudi and military rule in Morocco (and until recently Pakistan) all qualify.

The only real question about Woolsey and his kind trying to use false claims about World War Two to justify false claims about the present is whether some of the most influential people in the world are ignorant of the facts or else just plain dishonest and manipulative. (I'm tempted to suspect the latter as an imagined alliance of all targets provides a pretext for each new war)

The fact that in the 1980s Woolsey had warm relations with Pakistan's Islamic fundamentalist military dictator General Zia and talked of the need for a common Christian-Muslim front against 'Godless Communism' also suggests that he finds it far too easy to do u-turns that allow him to believe that whatever increases US power and promotes his own career is also a matter of moral principle one day - but can equally be discarded for a belief in the opposite the next (9d).

Bush administration rhetoric about parallells with the Second World War sn't entirely inaccurate though. There are parallells - sanctions, military occupations and totally deregulated free trade as a cause of mass unemployment and a rise in support for extreme ideologies ; military invasions aiming at establishing the dominance of one country over the entire world partly through control of oil and gas reserves and export routes; and atrocities committed by both sides (though nothing comparable to the Holocaust committed by either side)

Back to contents links/ top of page


'Freedom' for some - Similarity Three : Mass unemployment and poverty (caused by sanctions, military occupation and excessive deregulation of markets) as a cause of violent and extreme ideologies - plus Difference Two - Real Vs Phony Reconstruction - reconstruction did take place after World War Two - it isn't in Iraq

“As all of us know, the occupation has destroyed everything in Iraqi society, unleashed the sectarian and nationalist gangs to slaughter and jeopardize peoples’ safety.” : Speech by Abdullah Muhsin of the Iraqi GFIW trade union federation to the AFL-CIO December 2006 - Muhsin was later assassinated by unknown murderers (9e).

Much of the limited support Al Qa'ida does have (which in no way compares to the number of supporters fascism or Nazism had in the 20s or 30s) is due to the same factors which led to the rise of fascism - poverty, unemployment and humiliation caused by war and occupation - much like that imposed on Germans after World War One by the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the French occupation of the Rhineland and freemarket policies imposed on Germany's government by its creditors which led to mass unemployment and poverty. This created a source of support for Hitler as a demagogue to grow on, much as the brutality of military occupation, mass unemployment and humiliation in occupied Iraq, Palestine, Chechnya and Afghanistan has created negative support for any movement opposing the occupiers - including militias some of which do have mass support - like the Madhi army in Iraq. (9f) , (10), (11), (12), (13). Some modern economists have tried to re-write history to claim that it was protectionist economic policies which caused the Great Depression, but the protectionist economic policies didnt come before the 1929 crash or the Great Depression, they came after it, as a reaction to it - and, as American economist J.K Galbraith has shown, government intervention was the only thing that rebuilt economies destroyed by the theory that markets would regulate themselves, (13a).

A wiser foreign policy would end reliance on dictators, occupations and wars which radicalises moderate muslims and can turn fundamentalists into violent jihadists and isolate Al Qaida rather than giving it new supporters.

In Iraq the damage caused by the bombing of military and civilian targets in the 1991 Gulf War was compounded by over a decade of sanctions which led to millions of deaths, including hundreds of thousands of children, with two co-ordinators of the UN sanctions programme on Iraq resigning due to their opposition to the effects of sanctions which one of them described as "genocide". Sanctions also increased poverty and unemployment in Iraq and reduced literacy rates , (14), (15). This combined with constant bombing by the RAF and USAF in the No Fly Zones and Saddam's largely secular dictatorship produced a rise in support for violent Islamic fundamentalist groups in Iraq - many of whose members are also involved in organised crime. Much as with sanctions on the former Yugoslavia the effect they had of destroying the legal economy also led to a growth in the illegal economy, which was the only way left to make a good living. In Yugoslavia extreme nationalist parties had links to paramilitary criminals like the Serbian nationalist Arkan's Tigers. In Iraq many criminals wanting to kill, extort money by kidnapping and steal from those they've killed or frightened into fleeing similarly try to legitimise this by attaching themselves to Islamic fundamentalist and nationalist groups like the Medhi army (16), (17), (18).

The systematic torture, widespread killing of civilians and total economic deregulation and privatisation which Iraq has suffered at the hands of both the occupation and Iraqi government forces and the insurgency against them have made these problems worse, not better. So the war on terror and the confusion of democracy with an unregulated free market by its advocates (as shown by Naomi Klein) is actually increasing the very threat its claimed to be guarding against. When the Bush administration talk about freedom they're talking about freedom for US based multinationals - not for the people of Iraq , (19), (20). When they talk about "reconstruction" they mean handing Federal contracts to the same US based multinationals, who also fund their election campaigns. Real reconstruction of any public services from water to housing to electricity to health care and education has not taken place because the money supposedly provided for "reconstruction" has not been spent on it.

By February 2006, 3 years after the invasion, a US congressional committee found all public services were still worse than those before the overthrow of Saddam's regime (20a).

One billion dollars of money provided by congress to provide drinking water for Iraqis was instead spent on the new US embassy in Baghdad. Cholera epidemics caused by lack of clean water have since killed thousands of Iraqis (20b) , (20c), (20d).

Anyone convinced that the insurgents are to blame for the failure of reconstruction in Iraq can take a look at what the Bush administration has done in terms of reconstruction for the poorer residents of New Orleans in Louisiana, where there is no insurgency : nothing, in fact less than nothing - they've decided to demolish public housing for people who'd lived there for decades in order to sell the land off to private developers for houses for the wealthy. As in Iraq disaster followed by lack of reconstruction has produced ever higher poverty and unemployment - and as in Iraq this has produced a violent crime wave. (21), (22), (23).

Of $20 billion of Iraqi money spent by Paul Bremer as US ‘Governor’ of Iraq $8 billion went missing according to American federal government accountants who reviewed Coalition Provisional Authority accounts(23a).Since children in Iraq are still dying because doctors aren’t provided with clean needles, medicines or oxygen masks which could be bought for less than £1 each most people would think where the money went was a serious question . However when questioned about the missing money by Congress Bremer’s response was that it didn’t matter as it wasn' American money (23a), (23b), (23c).

Photo: Paul Bremer recieved a 'Presidential Medal of Freedom' after $20 billion of Iraqi money went missing under his 'governorship' of Iraq.


Out of the well over $300 billion spent on the Iraq war so far $1 billion has been assigned to provide jobs for Iraqis and those jobs were as street sweepers and painters. Its not yet known whether the money was spent on providing these jobs or whether its gone the way of the money assigned to providing water but spent on the US embassy (23d), (23e). As for all the foreign (mostly American and British) firms operating 'reconstruction' contracts in Iraq they almost entirely employ foreigners, not Iraqis.

By September 2007 many families in Baghdad were reduced to foraging in bins for food. Then the new Iraqi government, due to 'shortages of funds' cut the government food rations by half for the second time - reducing them to a quarter of the level supplied under Saddam Hussein and sanctions - and many Iraqis made refugees by fighting between the Coalition and insurgents or by sectarian violence among Iraqis can't get even those rations as they are no longer at a listed address. When government and coalition offensives and raids take place (frequently) food becomes even more expensive and harder to get. (24), (25), (26), (27), (28), (29), (30), (31), (32), (33) .

US aid for reconstruction in Europe and Japan after World War Two was very real and large scale, most famously in the Marshall Plan (even if it was partly self-interested and based on the plan of 'triangular trading' in which, basically, US firms would exploit Europe while Europe exploited its colonies and former colonies). Reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan is mostly theft and corruption dressed up as aid.

The militias are often discussed as if they are the root cause of violent crime in Iraq. The cause of rising violent crime and sectarian politics can be found, just as in Yugoslavia in the 1990s and Germany during the Great Depression, in mass unemployment caused in all cases by extreme versions of the free market which caused massive insecurity, inequality and instability. In both Yugoslavia and Iraq sanctions or the threat of them and war also played a big part in weakening the legal economy. Sectarian militias and political parties provide a cover story to make theft, kidnapping and extortion into defence of 'our' people against 'them' and by defining the group's race or culture or religion as superior to others provide a new status to make up for that lost by loss of income and employment. This may be why rhetoric about ending the 'humiliation' of 'the nation' or 'our people' by other countries, immigrants , religions or cultures gets new supporters wherever there's a rapid rise in unemployment whether for the British National Party in the former textile factory towns of Bradford and Burnley after jobs were moved abroad or for the Madhi army in Iraq.The Madhi army are a lot closer to the truth than the BNP though in claiming foreigners have come to their country and taken their jobs and their money.

(Of course many of Al Qa'ida's members (not least Bin Laden himself) are very wealthy highly educated professionals. The reasons for their violent opposition to the status quo can't then be down to unemployment or poverty - but may be due to feelings of low political status caused by their exclusion from political decision making in dictatorships like Saudi Arabia, along with these dictatorships' attempts to channel opposition into foreign religious wars (like the 'jihad' in Afghanistan in the 80s) coming home to haunt them. Despite his lack of any religious standing within Saudi within Al Qaida Bin Laden has the status of Sheikh and his followers have the status of 'warriors'.)

Most of the Islamic fundamentalist groups given new supporters by military occupations, sanctions and unemployment are not Al Qa'ida or allies of Al Qaida. The Medhi army are a Shia Muslim Iraqi nationalist movement who want independence and an Islamic state in Iraq. Al Qa'ida are a pan-Islamic Sunni Muslim ideological group who want non-Muslim troops to end occupations of Muslim countries and support for corrupt dictatorships in the Muslim world first - and a global Islamic 'caliphate' in the Muslim countries (pure fantasy) or (even less achievable and even less desirable) a global caliphate under Sharia law. Al Qa'ida and the Medhi army are enemies though, just as , despite much Bush administration propaganda, Al Sadr and the Medhi army are not pro-Iranian but Iraqi nationalists who at most might accept Iranian aid. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) who are the main part of the US-backed Iraqi government and their Badr Brigade militia are far closer to the Iranian government. The claims of a huge alliance among all opponents and enemies of the US is nonsense.

Neither is the Madhi army even close to the most militarily powerful militia in Iraq . It's considerably weaker than the Badr Brigade and is probably being targeted because its both strongly Iraqi nationalist, a rival to the Badr Brigade for Shia support and derives its support mostly from the poor and unemployed who are some of the most vocal opponents of privatisation plans.

How to trick the people you've already impoverished into taking all the risks when robbing others

Its also true that to a lesser extent Bush and his associates on the right of the Republican party rely for their electoral base and their supply of military recruits on maintaining and increasing levels of poverty and unemployment in the US which provide them with Christian fundamentalist and American nationalist voters and young soldiers from poor families desperate for an education and a career that will otherwise be denied to them. Many volunteers join because the army will let them afford further education, or pay off debts run up while getting it. This is because further education is not state funded in the US, nor is health care, nor is training in a trade - affording or getting all three are motives for recruits to join (34). For instance Jessica Lynch, who joined up at age 18, said her main reason for joining the army was that her family couldnt afford to put her through college otherwise (35). Joshua Key, who also joined at 18 and ended up in Iraq wrote "I had no money, I had dreams of getting formal training as a welder, I needed to get my teeth fixed, and I wanted to have my kidney stone removed," and recruiting office posters gave him the impression that if he joined the military "I would be on easy street. The armed forces were offering money for college tuition, health insurance, and even a cash bonus for signing up."(36). So maintaining inequality and poverty at home helps the very wealthiest and most powerful Americans to get recruits to kill and die for them in wars to strip the wealth from the majority of other countries' populations too.

Photo: Joshua Key joined the US military at age 18 to get treatment for his illnesses and a college education. After witnessing Iraqi civilians being attacked and killed by other soldiers he deserted and sought asylum in Canada. His book 'The Deserter's Tale' tells the full story. A Canadian court ruled in July 2008 that he had witnessed enough human rights abuses in Iraq to apply for refugee status. Many others have been deported back to the US and jailed. (37), (38)


A similar system operates in the UK on the other side of the Atlantic. Gordon Gentle, from Pollok in Glasgow is one example among many, a 19 year old casualty of an un-necessary war who was left with the options of unemployment, poverty wages or joining the military. There was no other way he could see to get an apprenticeship as a mechanic. His mother Rose has been justified in not letting the British government forget him , (39), (40).

Photo: Rose Gentle holds a photo of her son Gordon, killed serving in Iraq. He was 19 years old.


copyright©Duncan McFarlane2008


email me

Click here to comment on this article, or scroll to bottom of page

Sources and notes


(1) = Tribune Voice of the Left magazine 19th October 2001, Letters “In the early autumn of 1942 I was among the troops of General Paulus's 6th Army at the approach to Stalingrad. Our political officer..told us that once we had destroyed the Red Army ..we would be moved south through the Caucasian oil fields for about 700 miles to arrive at the Iraqi ones. A friend sitting next to me whispered under his breath "So that's what we are to die for - oil in Iraq". And, in fact, he did. I would have thought that the world might have learned from that disaster, but obviously it has not” Henry Mettelman , former German soldier Back

(2) = Brzezinski, Zbigniew (1997) 'The Grand Chessboard : American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives', Basic Books, New York, 1997, Chapter 5, pages 139-140 ; Back

(3) = Christian Science Monitor 25 Oct 2001, ‘The Great Gas Game - Who will run Caspian natural gas through Afghanistan?’ , ; Back

(4) = Brzezinski, Zbigniew (2004) 'The Choice : Global Domination or Global Leadership’ , Basic Books, Paperback Edition, New York , 2005 , Chapter2 , page 75 ; Back

(5) = Packer, George (1992), ‘The Assassin's Gate' , Farrar, Strauss & Girou , New York , 2005 , - pages 21-22 ; Back

(6) = Project for a New American Century September 2000 , ‘Rebuilding America’s Defenses’, especially pages i-iv and 5 - the PNAC's website is now down but you can still read the document at ( The original links (now down) were and ; Back

(7) =PNAC letter to President Clinton 26 Jan 1998 on PNAC website, If the PNAC website is down you can read the letter that was on their site at (see list of signatories at end of letter) ; (original link - now back up - is ; Back

(8) = Independent 23 Oct 2001 , 'Former CIA chief: 'Iraq was involved in terror attacks'', ; Back Back

(8a) = The Hill 23 Apr 2007, 'Woolsey joins McCain camp as security adviser', Woolsey joins McCain camp as security adviser ; Back

(8b) = Lyman, Robert (2006) 'Iraq 1941 : The Battles for Basra, Habbaniya, Fallujah and Baghdad', Osprey Publishing , Oxford(UK), 2006, page 6-8,M1 ; Back

(8c) = Independent 04 Feb 2004 , ‘Intelligence chief's bombshell: 'We were overruled on dossier’, ; Back

(8d) = Washington Post 13 Apr 2006 , ‘White House Decries Report on Iraqi Trailers’, ; Back

(8d1) = Margolis , Eric S.(2000) War at the top of the world Routledge , London , 2000 , p240 Back

(8e) = New York Times 18 Jun 2003, 'AFTER THE WAR: FOOTNOTES; Word That U.S. Doubted Iraq Would Use Deadly Gas', ; Back

(8e1) = The Independent 17 August 2003, 'New evidence shows crucial dossier changes', ; Back

(8e2) = Guardian 25 Aug 2003, 'Scientist dismissive of 45-minute WMD claim', ; Back

(8e3) = On Saddam having chemical warheads for his scuds during the 1991 war but not using them see - Joseph S. Nye & Robert K. Smith (1992) , ‘After the Storm’, Madison Books , London , 1992 , pages 211-216 ; On US government financial aid to Saddam continuing even after the gassing of Halabja see sources 12 to 17 of The Persian Problem ; Back


(8g) = Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives 19 Jun 2008, Volume 3, No. 1 , 'A PIPELINE THROUGH A TROUBLED LAND: AFGHANISTAN, CANADA, AND THE NEW GREAT ENERGY GAME', ; Back

(8h) = BP statistical review of world Energy 2007 : Oil : Reserves : pages 6 – 8 (especially page 6) , And ; Back

(8i) = Project for a New American Century September 2000 , ‘Rebuilding America’s Defenses’, pages 14 and 17, and ; Back

(8j) = Washington Post 15 Sep 2002, 'In Iraqi War Scenario, Oil Is Key Issue : U.S. Drillers Eye Huge Petroleum Pool', ; Back

(8k) = US National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 82, February 25, 2003, 'Shaking Hands with Saddam Hussein: The U.S. Tilts toward Iraq, 1980-1984 , (Edited by Joyce Battle), (also see document 43 ) ; Back

(9) = Guardian Unlimited 18 March 2003 'Full Text : Tony Blair's Speech‘ ,,,916790,00.html ; Back

(9a) = London Review of Books 22 Feb 2007, 'Diary : Yonatan Mendel', cited by Cook Jonathan (2008) , 'Israel and the clash of civilisations', Pluto Press, London, 2008, pages 40 and 160 (note 12) ,,,916790,00.html ; Back

(9b) = Pollack, Kenneth M.(2004), ‘The Persian Puzzle', Random House, New York, 2005 paperback edition , pages 346-347 ; Back

(9c) = Hroub, Khaled (2006), 'Hamas : A Beginners Guide', Pluto Press, London, 2006 (especially pages 100-101) ; Back

(9d) = Coll, Steve (2004) , 'Ghost Wars : The secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden' , Penguin , London, 2004 pages ; Back

(9e) = General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW) 15 Dec 2006 , 'Desperate for Jobs, Iraqi Workers Too Often Become Victims of Terror', speech by Abdullah Muhsin of the GFIW to the AFL-CIO, ; Back

(9f) = On condemnation of Al Qa'ida and its methods by Muslims worldwide - even by many jihadists - see Gerges, Fawaz A. (2005) ‘The Far Enemy: Why Jihad went Global’, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge & New York 2005 ; Back

(10) = Bevan, Aneurin (1952) , 'In Place of Fear', Quartet Books, 1978, p23 & 31 (Bevan shows how the Nazi's vote rose as the numbers of unemployed in inter-war Germany rose), Back

(11) = Hardach, Karl (1976) , 'The Political Economy of Germany in the Twentieth Century', University of California Press, Berkeley, L.A & London 1980, Chapter 3, Back

(12) = UN News Service 29 May 2007, 'Two-thirds unemployment in occupied Arab territories – UN labour study', (The UN reported in May 2007 that two-thirds of Palestinians were unemployed and 70% of Palestinian households were in poverty by December 2006 - largely as a result of occupation and sanctions) ; Back

(13) = IRIN News service (UNOCHA) 15 Oct 2006 , 'IRAQ: Unemployment and violence increase poverty', ; Back

(13a) = Galbraith, John Kenneth (1987) 'A History of Economics : the past as present', Penguin Books, London, 1991 ; Back

(14) = BBC News 30 Sep 1999, 'UN official blasts Iraq sanctions', ; Back

(15) = Guardian 29 Nov 2001, 'The hostage nation : Former UN relief chiefs Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday speak out against an attack on Iraq', ; Back

(16) = Kaldor, Mary (2001), ‘New and Old Wars – Organised Violence in a Global Era’, Polity Press , Cambridge , UK , 2001 , paperback edition , especially pages 49-53 and 93 ; Back

(17) = Guardian 27 Jan 2007, ''If they pay we kill them anyway' - the kidnapper's story', ; Back

(18) = Independent 15 Jan 2004, 'Gangsters operate own prisons as kidnapping soars in Iraq', ; Back

(19) = Harpers Magazine September 2004 'Baghdad Year Zero' by Naomi Klein , ; Back

(20) = Klein, Naomi (2007), 'The Shock Doctrine' , Penguin , London, 2007, especially pages 185-6 and chapters 16-18 ; Back

(20a) = Washington Post 30 Apr 2004, 'Rebuilding Aid Unspent, Tapped to Pay Expenses ', ; Back

(20b) = Guardian 26 June 2004, 'The multibillion robbery the US calls reconstruction', Naomi Klein, ; Back

(20c) = Independent 31 Aug 2007, 'Cholera spreads in Iraq as health services collapse', ; Back

(21) = Mail & Guardian (South Africa) 21 Dec 2007, 'Housing protests grip New Orleans', ; Back

(22) = Greg Palast 29 Nov 2007, '“They wanted them poor niggers out of there.”', ; Back

(23) = Klein, Naomi (2007), 'The Shock Doctrine' , Penguin , London, 2007, Chapter 20 ; Back

(23a) = Guardian 7 July 2005, 'So, Mr Bremer, where did all the money go?',,2763,1522983,00.html ; Back

(23b) = Independent 19 Jan 2007, 'The battle to save Iraq's children', ; Back

(23c) = ABC News 6 Feb 2007, 'Waste in War: Where Did All the Iraq Reconstruction Money Go?', ; Back

(23d) = Guardian 8 Jan 2007, 'Bush $1bn jobs plan to draw Iraqis into fold', ; Back

(23e) = Congressional Research Service 23 Feb 2008, 'The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11', (updated Jun 2008) , ; Back

(24) = UNOCHA IRIN news service 02 Apr 2006, ‘IRAQ: Food prices rise after reduction of monthly rations’, ; Back

(25) = UNOCHA IRIN news service 9 Sep 2007, ‘IRAQ: Food rationing system failing as Ramadan approaches’, ; Back

(26) = UNOCHA IRIN news service 17 Oct 2007, ‘IRAQ: Hundreds forced to scavenge for food in garbage bins’, ; Back

(27) = UNOCHA IRIN news service 4 Dec 2007, ‘IRAQ: Government to cut items from its free food handouts’, ; Back

(28) = Allawi, Ali A. ‘The occupation of Iraq’ Yale UP, New Haven & London, 2007 (paperback edn) p 375-376, 430-431 ; Back

(29) = IPS/ Ali al-Fadhily and Dahr Jamail 03 May 2008, ‘Corruption Eats Into Food Rations’, ; Back

(30) = IMF 01 Jan 2007, ‘Lebanon -- Letter of Intent, Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies, and Technical Memorandum of Understanding’, ; Back

(31) = Allawi, Ali A. ‘The occupation of Iraq’ Yale UP, New Haven & London, 2007 (paperback edn) Ch20 , p348-369 & 427 ; Back

(32) = Refugees International 04 Oct 2007, ‘Iraq: Fix the Public Distribution System to meet needs of the displaced ; Back

(33) = UNOCHA IRIN news service 10 April 2008, ‘IRAQ: “Acute shortages” in clash-hit Baghdad suburbs’, ; Back

(34) = New York Review of Books 3 April 2008, 'The Volunteer Army: Who Fights and Why?', ; (also see (38) below on US deserters in Canada on why they joined the military ) Back

(35) = Time Magazine 17 Nov 2003;,9171,1006147,00.html ; Back

(36) = Key, Joshua (2007), 'The Deserter's Tale: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in Iraq' Atlantic Monthly Press, 2007; Back

(37) = Canadian Press 04 Jul 2008, 'U.S. deserter wins appeal',; Back

(38) = CBS News 13 July 2008, 'Canada’s War Resisters'; Back

(39) = Independent on Sunday 16 March 2008 , 'Rose Gentle: Some mother's son', ; Back

(40) = New Statesman 05 Feb 2007 , 'Britain's child army - Stricken by Iraq and low morale, the British army is on a desperate recruitment drive. Its new targets? Poorly educated teenagers and young school children',; ; Back

copyright©Duncan McFarlane2008