The Invention of Monsters: Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya

Johnny Gaunt, March 2016.

 For centuries we have invented monsters: the thing in the woods; the troll beneath the bridge; the witch in the old house.


Inventions of the Monsters – Salvador Dali, 1937


Inventing monsters has often served an extremely useful purpose: it allowed people to transfer the most horrific elements of society and project them elsewhere, like pumping sewage into the sea. This transference had a satisfying by-product of creating unity and consensus amongst the communities and societies which the monster was ‘victimising’; the good people could stand bravely together in the face of the external evil. This consensus of minds could then justify, with any alternative thinking effectively marginalised, acts of incredible cruelty: the execution or banishment of the physically or mentally disabled; the persecution of non-conformists; the burning of innocent women, men and children; the slaughter of our wild animals.

A third effect would often occur during these terrible punishments. The public torture of the monster, with stones, the noose, the stocks or fire, created an immediate and deep cleansing of these crimes from the consciousness of the people. Guilt would be replaced by righteousness.

In time, as our societies developed and changed, most of these monsters drifted into mythology or filtered down into fairy-tale and horror stories. And there, many of us perhaps thought they stayed; but our perception of the past, future and the present are demarcated only by time, which simultaneously links them together. The invention of the monster never really went away, and today its story-tellers sit in positions of great power.


The individuals mentioned below are undoubtedly very unpleasant people. Certainly not the kind you would rush home to meet mother. But evil is a concept often branded onto people (usually by the press and authorities) without any real thought to how wickedness and brutality in human beings occur.

When my children were born, I remember having thoughts such as, “I hope they will be healthy,” or, “I hope they will be bright and inquisitive.” What I don’t remember thinking is, “I hope they won’t turn out evil.” Our long and continuing history of misunderstanding first mental health and then genetics has served only to confuse this madness all the more. Modern research has shown that environmental factors are far more influential in human behavioural development than any genetic predisposition. It is more a case of extremely similar genetic seeds, cultivated within different environments, combining to create an individual personality. It’s also important to realise that there is never a finished article; more, human beings are in permanent development, always capable of changing and responding to the world around them.

Today’s monsters (at least from the Western perspective), are often the leaders of nations that appear to share a few distinct commonalities. In more cases than not their countries sit on resource rich land, or happen to be in geo-politically desirable positions. They are often authoritarian, but nonetheless rule over cohesive, sometimes socially progressive societies. Most adhere to a vague socialist ideology, offering free education and health care. But, the most monstrous common trait amongst contemporary monsters is the pursuit of independent home and foreign policies. This can lead to audacious ideas of considering their own nations first, avoiding external debt and being non-subservient to Western demands.


Looking at the decades before Saddam Hussein’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait, it becomes apparent that when to tell the story is just as significant and the story itself. During much of Saddam’s oppression of his people (and even during his use of chemicals weapons on civilians), he continued to covertly receive arms from the US and the UK governments. Ironically, this aid included materials that would lead to his eventual downfall as they constituted part of the evidence for the now infamous weapons of mass destruction. This is important as by accepting this aid, Saddam unknowingly gave the West its future pretext to destroy Iraq.

Literally days before his invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the US sent diplomats to Baghdad to talk to Saddam about the build up of tensions between Iraq and its neighbour. The US ambassador to Iraq, April Glespie, gave Saddam an official statement on the US position in regards to the high numbers of Iraqi troops massing on the Kuwaiti border. There’s been much written about the ‘advice’ Glepsie gave to the Saddam administration, which lacked anything direct and only repeated the textbook diplomatic message of the “US has a policy of non-involvement in Arab-Arab border issues”.

Within the context of the Iraq-Iran war (1980-1988) which had ended only 2 years earlier, and where US aid and weapons had secretly flooded into Iraqi hands in order to hurt Iran, it’s not difficult to see how Saddam may have misconstrued Glespie’s message as simply another official line, below which the true message can be inferred. However, this was bad judgement, as the Bush (Snr) administration were done with the Iraqi regime and its belligerent leader. The meeting with Glespie seems to be the extent of direct US diplomatic negotiations with Iraq prior to the air campaign (which would drop over 88,000 tons of bombs), and with diplomacy exhausted the need for war quickly became a non-debatable ‘fact’. The invasion of Kuwait took place less than a week later (Aug 2nd, 1990) and with immediate effect the media cross-hair locked on to its new monster: The Butcher of Baghdad.


April Glespie meeting Saddam Hussein, 1990

The devastation the bombs and missiles brought to the people of Iraq were followed by thirteen years of severe sanctions. These sanctions, though not widely discussed in the media, were so severe that a similar number of Iraqi children died each month during the thirteen year imposition as all the people who died in the 9/11 attacks. The sanctions were so effective that by the time the second invasion began on 21st March 2003, there was barely any civilian society left to destroy, and the new bombs fell on an already decimated people, tearing down what remained of the Iraqi infrastructure.

Western media remained virtually silent about the sanctions imposed on Iraq, and the untold death and misery they were causing its innocent people. However, from the outset of the build up for public support to re-invade the country in 2003, it once again found its voice to disseminate the monster story; his brutality and indifference toward using outlawed chemical weapons (given to him by the West). The mythical WMDs became major headlines as the public were told a mixture of lies and truths designed to agitate the ancient monster hate emotions and support a war that had far reaching and violent repercussions.


Osama Bin Laden had also been a former beneficiary of Western generosity. During the prolonged struggle of the Afghan people against the Soviet invasion in 1979, Bin Laden was routinely aided by the US (and the Saudis amongst others) both financially and with arms. An interesting perspective is highlighted by Noam Chomsky in many of his lectures: the demands of both Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush were very similar; Bin Laden wanted Western imperialism banished from Arab lands, and the US administration wanted Islam banished, but in this case from the world.


Osama Bin Laden, 1980s, during the Afghan-Russian war

Prior to the 7/11 attacks in New York, the political opponents of the Taliban in Afghanistan welcomed the added pressure from the West to bring down the regime. But they envisaged change through the Afghan people’s uprising and the overthrow of the Taliban by internal political means, but it became increasingly clear that this was a road the US and allies were less enthusiastic about going down.

Abdul Haq was a prominent opposition voice and was highly respected throughout the Middle East and Western states. The ‘Lion of Kabul’, as he was affectionately named, was gifted with rare abilities to unite the diverse political groups that had been separated for many years along ethnic and regional lines, towards common goals which benefited the people and the nation of Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban. Indeed, he was for some time a UN Peace Mediator. A renowned warrior who bravely fought against the Soviet invasion, losing a foot on a landmine in the action, Haq became a central contact for the CIA, and considered a friend to the US. By the late 1990s, Haq was very close to forming a united front, which included almost all of the previously internally fighting groups, to stand against the decreasing popularity of the Taliban. However, once the the twin towers in New York fell, the idea of a Western backed Afghani led uprising, fell with them.


Adul Haq, around 1999

However, this didn’t stop Haq, who had by this point fallen from favour with the CIA. US ally, Pakistan, were concerned about the unification of Afghans, and what that would mean to their own internal politics. There were reports of information being leaked from the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency) to the Taliban when Haq re-entered Afghanistan from Pakistan in 2001. Further criticism mounted when the Taliban captured Haq and no Western aided attempt to rescue him was made. Abdul Haq was tortured and hanged by his captors a few days later.

What is hugely important about this story is that although the prominent facts were reported in the press, it was never discussed as a possible alternative to warfare. What remained fixed on the television and print news was the face of Osama Bin Laden, the cave-dwelling monster. Haq’s potential solution, and just how advanced it was, was largely ignored by the western media. Instead, they thrust forward military force as the one and only option.


The destruction of Libya, under the pretence of actioning a no-fly-zone, was an opportunity to open up the land’s resources whilst simultaneously doing away with a major thorn in the side of western governments. Although Colonel Gaddafi allowed international private companies to pump and sell the rich deposits of Libyan oil, he was never the reliable economic partner preferred by the US and the dominant nations of the EU. In fact, many reports suggest Gaddafi was intent on creating an African single currency, backed by gold and known as the gold dinar. This would have had serious  implications on the economies of the US and the EU.


Muammar Gaddafi, around 2005

There is no denying Gaddafi’s dictatorship, the corruption of his office and the ‘disappearances’ of his critics, but this needs to be balanced off against what Libya has become since its liberation, and against certain lesser discussed facts: Libya was a stable and cohesive society, boasting free education, free health care (the best in North Africa and most of the middle east), free electricity and 0% interest on loans from the national bank. Homelessness had been all but wiped out, and literacy stood at 90%. All this was in stark contrast to life in Libya for the two decades before Gaddafi’s rise to power, when literacy was at 10%, people were denied access to fresh water and most people’s idea of a home was a tin shack or a cave.

Of course, a section of society were rightly pressing for democracy in Libya, and to an end of Gaddafi’s regime. The so-called Arab Spring gave a platform to some of these voices, although the demonstrations were quickly hijacked by armed, extremist militias. The Colonel’s troops handled the uprising in brutal fashion. This led to much criticism in the Western press, which showed little of the armed militias (by this point referred to as ‘rebels’) but plenty of Gaddafi’s troops responding. This culminated in UN resolutions for NATO to enforce a no-fly-zone. Within days of the intervention, the number of deaths increased ten-fold.

Gaddafi’s tendency towards cronyism and family involvement in the state was always going to lead to a tricky hand over of power whenever he decided he’d had enough. His sons became embroiled in several years of political manoeuvring amongst themselves to optimise their positions, with the British educated Saif al-Islam Gaddafi looking favourite to to take over. Saif, a very complex person as you might expect being the privileged son of a dictator, was arrogant, patronising and corrupt, but he had carried the hopes of many Libyans of introducing reforms that would start the process of making the nation more democratic. But NATOs bombs left that hope in tatters. Saif was captured whilst trying to escape the invasion, and is believed to be held by the Zintan militia in the west of Libya, although he hasn’t been seen since 2014.


Benghazi, Libya, 2015

The country remains completely unstable, and now exists in three major ‘ruling’ divisions within Libya. To the east, in Tobruk is the former internationally recognised government, the House of Representatives (HoR). In Tripoli is the moderately Islamic government of the General National Congress (GNC). Between the two northern centres is Sirte (the birthplace of Gadaffi) which has become an IS stronghold. Until recently, when the western talk of another intervention in Libya became rife, the eastern HoR had been seen as the legitimate power in Libya by overseas nations and the UN. However, when both the HoR and the GNC in Tripoli declined the idea of further foreign military intervention, another governmental body was created by the UN, the Government of National Accord (GNA) which supersedes both other governments and is now the officially recognised ruling power outside of Libya. Within it, it is ignored. Of course, the GNA, originating from the UN with US and EU support, is pro- foreign intervention, and so neatly sidesteps the objections of both the HoR and the GNC, along with the majority of Libyans.

During the uprising, high ranking members of the Libyan military were rumoured to be asking for foreign tutelage on how best to handle Gaddafi’s weakening grip of power; work, you might think, cut out for the UN. But instead of diplomatic support, the West, under UN humanitarian cover, delivered a brutal lesson on military destruction and the perversion of international law.

The west cheered as images of Gaddafi being sodomised with a kitchen knife appeared on YouTube, and his bloodied face was printed onto every major newspaper in Europe and the US. Another monster done away with, another country in ruin, a new monster was needed. It didn’t take long to find one:

Bashar al-Assad.


“Silence by media; war by media.” J. Pilger.