The lengthy statement issued yesterday by the Revolutionary Command Council contained a dramatic expression of the conspiratorial worldview that Iraqi leaders have held for many months, according to U.S. experts.
The extensive preamble to the offer to withdraw from Kuwait, made public by Baghdad Radio, charged that a grand conspiracy by the United States, Israel and other "imperialists" is seeking to "isolate" and "punish" Iraq for emerging as a leader in the Arab world. The preamble was longer than the troop-withdrawal proposals, which President Bush rejected only hours after they were made.
As early as October 1989, Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz complained to Secretary of State James A. Baker III that the United States was "hostile" toward Iraq and was mounting "a campaign" against the Baghdad government, according to State Department sources. Baker denied that such hostility or any campaign existed, the sources said, but told Aziz the United States had problems with Iraq's human rights record and a number of its other policies.
Similar charges came from Iraq with growing intensity during the months leading up to its Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait, and even more passionately in statements since the invasion.
Phebe Marr, senior fellow at the National Defense University and a leading specialist on Iraq, said conspiracy theories involving the United States originated as early as 1986-87 after revelations that the Reagan administration had been secretly supplying weapons and intelligence information to Iran, Iraq's foe since 1980 in a long and costly war that ended in 1988. While claiming to be neutral, the United States had taken many actions to shore up Iraq, including supplying intelligence information about Iran.
"The 'conspiracy' against Iraq has been out there for years," said Marr, adding that it was less prominent when Iraq seemed to be doing well in its war against Iran and in its postwar activities, and that it picked up momentum when Iraq suffered economic and other setbacks. Pointing out that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and other members of his leadership group gained and sustained their power through violent intrigues, Marr said, "I do believe they believe" the conspiracy theories about the world around them.
The statement issued yesterday charged that "sustained campaigns" in the U.S. news media and by officials of the United States and "other imperialist nations" began in 1988 and 1989 and "escalated feverishly" last year. The statement specifically charged the United States with taking "unfair decisions" to deny the export of "whatever might contribute to Iraq's development and its scientific and industrial revival."
The U.S. decisions led to "an effective economic blockade, including the cancellation of food contracts in March 1990," the preamble said.
U.S. officials said the growing media and political criticisms of Iraq in the United States during the first part of 1990 were generated by Iraqi activities of various sorts -- including attempts to obtain nuclear weapons materials illegally in the West; the execution of Farzad Bazhoft, an Iranian-born reporter for the London Observer, on charges of spying for Israel; and Saddam's April 2 speech threatening to "burn half of Israel" with chemical weapons if Israel attacked Iraq.
Paul Dickerson, general sales manager of the U.S. Agriculture Department's foreign commodity sales program, under which Iraq obtained credit guarantees for food purchases since 1983, said there was no "cancellation of food contracts" for Iraq last March.
But around March Iraq was seeking renewal of the program that had made it the largest importer of U.S. rice and a major consumer of U.S. corn, wheat and other commodities.
Last April, amid growing administration concern about Iraq's policies and rising demands in Congress for strong action, the State Department withdrew its political support for the continuation of Export-Import Bank guarantees of other U.S. exports, according to official sources.
In May, the Agriculture Department issued a preliminary report of an investigation into irregularities in the food program, and announced that no additional U.S.-guaranteed sales would be authorized until the charges of irregularities were cleared up. No additional food or other exports were supplied under the loan guarantee programs before the Aug. 2 invasion, officials said.
While charging that U.S. "hirelings, corrupt agents and conspiratorial rulers in the region" had sought to "push Iraq to the brink of economic collapse," yesterday's statement did not refer by name to Kuwait or the United Arab Emirates, which had been the subject of verbal attacks and threats from Iraq in the weeks before Aug. 2.
Two weeks before the invasion, Iraqi Foreign Minister Aziz publicly charged those two governments with "direct aggression" against Iraq by holding down oil prices through overproduction.
A notable omission from the list of international conspirators issued by Iraq yesterday was the Soviet Union, which was not condemned. Moscow received only passing criticism for "becoming preoccupied with internal developments" and leaving a power imbalance in the Middle East. The statement expressed "appreciation" for peace initiatives by Moscow.