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18 September 2014
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British Relations with Iraq

By Derek Hopwood
Independence

Photograph of Saddam Hussein in 1970, at the time of his rise through the Revolutionary Command Council
Saddam Hussein in 1970, at the time of his rise through the Revolutionary Command Council ©
The leaders of the coup were the Free Officers, young Arab nationalists of the type of Gamal Abd al-Nasser in Egypt, who were determined to right all the wrongs of imperialism and in particular to expel the Zionists from Palestine. Other grievances included the position of borders between Kuwait and Iran.

In 1961, after Kuwait had gained independence from Britain, the Iraqi leader, General Kassem, claimed it as an integral part of Iraq and concentrated his troops on the frontier, with the intention of taking it by force. Britain was ready, however, and dispatched troops stationed in the Gulf region to dissuade the Iraqis from armed conflict. The crisis was settled temporarily by a coup in Baghdad that overthrew Kassem, and was organised - it would seem - with the help of the United States. Iraq agreed to recognise Kuwait, but continued to make claims for an adjustment of the borders - claims that were to be the cause of further trouble in the future.

'...Saddam Hussein seized power in Iraq in the name of the Arab nationalist Ba'ath Party...'

In 1979 the most aggressive and tyrannical of the Iraqi officials, Saddam Hussein, seized power in Iraq in the name of the Arab nationalist Ba'ath Party, a secular organisation devoted to achieving the unity of all Arabs. Saddam's aims included the elimination of Israel, Arab unity under Iraqi leadership, and the rectification of previous wrongs - and he was a man with sufficient fire to try to put these aims into practice.

Saddam Hussein sees Iraq as the successor of the ancient empires of Mesopotamia and himself as another Nebuchadnezzar, fit to assume the mantle of leader of the Arabs and of the strongest power in the region. His energetic policies have included building up a large army equipped with an array of conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction. One aim has been to try to equal the strength of Israel, and one use of the army's weapons was in the attempt to defeat the rebellious Kurds in the north of the territory, who were gassed by Iraqi forces.

'...he sees Iraq as the successor of the ancient empires of Mesopotamia...'

The 1979 Islamic revolution in neighbouring Iran offered Saddam, so he believed, the opportunity to invade Iran when the country was in a weakened state. This invasion would stifle the potential threat of revolutionary Islam, assert Iraqi hegemony and readjust the borders between the two countries. In September 1980 Iraqi troops crossed into Iran, but the quick success Saddam had hoped for turned into a bloody conflict that lasted eight years. During this period the west, Germany, Britain, France and the United States all armed Iraq - in an effort to create a bulwark against the spread of the Islamic threat. Help was given to develop all kinds of weapons.

Published: 2003-02-10



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