The Real Saddam, or Selective Reporting?

 By image - September 19th, 2003

Most people have an expectation that the major media outlets in America provide them with straightforward and insightful information, however there are numerous examples that show that this is not the case.  There are however a few channels and programs that I think people have even greater expectations of, such as The History Channel and the Discovery Times Channel.  These stations present documentaries, which they bill as balanced and thorough coverage of events.  What makes these programs all the more important is that people feel when they watch these documentaries that they give them the whole picture and a balanced view of the truth.  However, I have watched a few programs on both the History Channel and the Discovery Times channel which I have noticed misrepresent major pieces of information and give the viewer a very one sided view of situations and events.  During Operation Iraqi Freedom the Discovery Times aired a documentary called "The Real Saddam".

In "The Real Saddam" they discuss the rise of Karim Kassem and Saddam's attempt to assassinate Kassem. Throughout the program they called Kassem the President of Iraq and depicted him as a smiling and competent ruler.

Kassem took power through an extremely violent and bloody coup. Kassem was working with Communists and with Russia, and the people of Iraq, though initially happy with the coup to get rid of the British puppet ruler, quickly became unhappy with Kassem.  The documentary never mentions this information.

After Kassem was in power the CIA assisted the Ba'ath Party in their assassination attempts on Kassem and were encouraging his overthrow. After his overthrow they provided a list of people to the Ba'aths for them to kill in exchange for the help that they had given them in taking power.  The Ba'aths also provided the CIA with first time access to  Soviet technology for their assistance in the coup as well.

In this program they do not discuss the American role at all, they never even mention anything about America. They also do not mention Communism, or that Kassem was hated by the Iraqi people and that most people supported the Ba'ath's overthrow of him. They don't mention that the Ba'aths were supported by America as an anti-Communist organization.

The way the program presents the information it appears as though the Ba'ath Party, all by itself, came essentially out of nowhere and brutally assassinated a competent leader that was liked by the Iraqi people, and you get the impression that the US opposed this action at the time.  This is not the case however.  The Ba'ath party was seen at the time as a relatively moderate party who the United States wanted to come to power in Iraq, primarily because they were anti-Communist, which at that time was the main, if not only, attribute that American officials cared about.

The documentary does not cover any of the documented and known facts about how the CIA assisted the Ba'ath Party, and ultimately Saddam himself, into power.  This information though is critical in gaining a real understanding of Iraqi sentiments towards the United States in Iraq, and in understanding the reality of geo-politics and the consequences of American foreign policy over the past 50 years.

The documentary, which bills itself as a balanced view of Saddam and how he came to power, does not accurately portray the situation and thus is not capable of presenting viewers with a realistic understanding of the situation.

This is all the more troubling because programs like these lead viewers to believe that they do have an in depth understanding of the situation, and the belief that they know the truth is even more problematic than simply being uninformed.

For more information on American involvement in the 1963 coup of the Ba'ath Party see:

"There was a coup in Iraq in 1963. What do we know about the U.S. involvement in that coup?

The U.S. involvement in the coup against Kassem in Iraq in 1963 was substantial. There is evidence that CIA agents were in touch with army officers who were involved in the coup. There is evidence that an electronic command center was set up in Kuwait to guide the forces who were fighting Kassem. There is evidence that they supplied the conspirators with lists of people who had to be eliminated immediately in order to ensure success. The relationship between the Americans and the Ba'ath Party at that moment in time was very close indeed. And that continued for some time after the coup. And there was an exchange of information between the two sides. For example it was one of the first times that the United States was able to get certain models of Mig fighters and certain tanks made in the Soviet Union. That was the bribe. That was what the Ba'ath had to offer the United States in return for their help in eliminating Kassem.

Do we know to what extent Saddam Hussein was involved in the killings when he came back from Cairo?

I have documented over 700 people who were eliminated, mostly on an individual basis, after the 1963 coup. And they were eliminated based on lists supplied by the CIA to the Ba'ath Party. So the CIA and the Ba'ath were in the business of eliminating communists and leftists who were dangerous to the Ba'ath's takeover. "

"In the late 1950s and the early 1960s, in the period before the coup, how concerned was the U.S. about Soviet influence?

After the revolution in 1958, it wasn't exactly clear what the new government would be. Would it be Arab nationalist, or would it be leftist, or would it be Iraqi nationalist? Nobody knew very much about Kassem, who became the dictator. The world's assumption was that it was going to be Arab nationalist. . . . Certainly Kassem couldn't be pro-American, because the old regime was too close to be associated with us, and no regime could be pro-American--rather like the regime in Iran after the overthrow of the Shah. It had to be initially anti-American.

So Kassem obviously turned to the Soviet Union for support. The communists were given a lot of power. It's an overstatement to say that this was a communist regime--it wasn't. But the communists certainly had a lot of influence in the country. The Soviet Union had a lot of influence. There were a lot of delegations who came from every communist country to Baghdad--artistic, cultural, political, economic, and so on. But we were frightened that Iraq might ultimately move all the way into the Soviet orbit, and I suppose that was a possibility. You can never prove that it would not have happened if Kassem had continued. They started sending students to the Soviet Union for study, which they had never done before. I actually recommended that we subsidize the scholarships to the Soviet Union, because the Iraqis who went to the Soviet Union came back fervently anti-Russian, and particularly anti-communist. It wasn't viewed as serious, and I suppose it wasn't, but it would not have been a bad idea. Frequently, the students who came back from the United States were not terribly pro-American, and a lot of these communists had studied in America. They were dark-skinned. They went to Texas, and they ran into racial problems. People thought that they were black, and therefore they were discriminated against. But those who went to the Soviet Union had the same racial problems, and they did not like the treatment they were given by the Russians. They certainly didn't like the communist system.

So the danger of Iraq going communist probably was somewhat exaggerated, but that wasn't the view in Washington. Don't misunderstand me--it wasn't an irrational view. Iraq clearly was very strongly under the influence of the Soviets, and we decided that something should be done.

After the 1963 coup, how did U.S. policy change?

It didn't change very much. The Ba'ath Party had come to control. We were very happy. They got rid of a lot of communists. A lot of them were executed, or shot. This was a great development. And things opened up in Iraq. We resumed diplomatic relations. Ultimately, we sent out an ambassador.

But when did the disillusionment start?

Not while I was there. I left in 1965."

"Let's go over some of the history, starting with the Ba'ath Party's coup in 1963.

The United States got scared that the communists were going to take over in Iraq. And they were scared that the Kassem regime was going to permit the communists to have strong influence in the country, and eventually Iraq would be a communist country. So they found a group of officers and civilians in the Ba'ath Party, who fit the United States recipe on how to deal with communism in the Arab world and in the Third World, which is to encourage so-called indigenous, well-organized nationalist forces to oppose Marxism. These people were ideal military officers, organized conspirators, so they worked with them.

They helped them in every way. They sent messages, and passed messages to them, and they permitted them to operate from areas where the U.S. had influence, in Lebanon, in Egypt. They funded them, and provided them with communications facilities. They also provided them with a list of maybe 1,600 names, broadcast over some radio stations, of communists who should be "eliminated." That's what happened. One of the people who had a minor role to play in this was Saddam himself, who was in Cairo at the time.

. . . [So] definitely the U.S. helped them. [And] there's a clear place where the U.S. helped them diplomatically. In 1963, in the spring, there was the most vicious and determined campaign to eliminate the Kurdish rebellion in the north. For the first and only time since the monarchy, Turkey, Iran and Syria worked together to eliminate the Kurdish rebellion. I believe this was coordinated by some United States agencies. The Syrians were even permitted to send a brigade to participate in the massacre of the Kurds."

"When you took over the assignment in the Middle East in 1959, how important was Iraq in the general "great game" that was going on in the Middle East? Was it a focal point of Soviet and American concern?

By 1959, Iraq was becoming important, because they had gone through one or two revolutions. The conservative monarchy established there by the British had fallen in a coup. Gamal Nassar was extremely active in the Ba'ath politics. We recognized in the Ba'ath. They were probably opposed to Egyptian nationalism, but we thought they were equally opposed to Soviet communism. Aside from that, we had no clear U.S. policy in which Iraq was either central or even very important. The Soviet effort in the Middle East tried to penetrate the Fertile Crescent from Damascus, to Baghdad, toward the Gulf, and through Egypt and the Suez Cannel to the Red Sea. So it was equally important for them to get control in Baghdad. I think the U.S. policy was essentially containment of Soviet efforts there--Baghdad was merely a piece on the board.

What about the Ba'ath Party?

In 1961 and 1962, we increased our interest in the Ba'ath--not to actively support it--but politically and intellectually, we found the Ba'ath interesting. We found it particularly active in Iraq. Our analysis of the Ba'ath was that it was comparatively moderate at that time, and that the United States could easily adjust to and support its policies. So we watched the Ba'ath's long, slow preparation to take control. They planned to do it several times, and postponed it.

We were better informed on the 1963 coup in Baghdad than on any other major event or change of government that took place in the whole region in those years. But we did not identify a radical movement within the Ba'ath that would, six months later, stage a kind of counter-coup, and replace the moderate elements in the Ba'ath. That was our mistake--that surprised us.

And were you also surprised, as time went on in the 1960s, by the increased violence of the Ba'ath Party?

 It eventually shifted from being a party of a lot of intellectuals, to being a party of some intellectuals on top of a lot of thugs.

Quite clearly after Saddam Hussein took power, America slowly developed, not a hostility, but enormous reservations about the ability of the Ba'ath to constructively bring Iraq along. But during those years, the oil companies continued to deal with Iraq, and there were a lot of American business interests."

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