Iraq and the United States: The Road to War: Study Suggestions

Readings and activities explore diverse points of view.

To the Teacher:

Students are likely to have many questions about the war with Iraq. The four student readings below should help to answer some of them. Following the readings are a number of suggestions for student study and inquiry.

Student Reading 1:

The President's Ultimatum to Iraq and Opposition to It

Speech by President George W. Bush
On March 17, 2003, President George W. Bush issued an ultimatum to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Following is an except of the speech Bush made explaining the ultimatum.
For more than a decade, the United States and other nations have pursued patient and honorable efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime without war. That regime pledged to reveal and destroy all its weapons of mass destruction as a condition for ending the Persian Gulf war in 1991....Peaceful efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime have failed again and again because we are not dealing with peaceful men. Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised....
The danger is clear. Using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons, obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfill their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country or any other....For the last four and a half months, the United States and our allies have worked within the Security Council to enforce that council's longstanding demands. Yet some permanent members of the Security Council have publicly announced that they will veto any resolution that compels the disarmament of Iraq. These governments share our assessment of the danger, but not our resolve to meet it....The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours....
Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing... Many Iraqis can hear me tonight in a translated radio broadcast. And I have a message for them. If we must begin a military campaign, it will be directed against the lawless men who rule your country and not against you. As our coalition takes away their power we will deliver the food and medicine you need. We will tear down the apparatus of terror. And we will help you to build a new Iraq that is prosperous and free....
The terrorist threat to America and the world will be diminished the moment that Saddam Hussein is disarmed. Our government is on heightened watch against these dangers. Just as we are preparing to ensure victory in Iraq, we are taking further actions to protect our homeland....
The cause of peace requires all free nations to recognize new and undeniable realities. In the 20th century some chose to appease murderous dictators whose threats were allowed to grow into genocide and global war. In this century when evil men plot chemical, biological and nuclear terror, a policy of appeasement could bring destruction of a kind never before seen on this earth. Terrorists and terrorist states do not reveal these threats with fair notice in formal declarations. And responding to such enemies only after they have struck first is not self-defense, it is suicide. The security of the world requires disarming Saddam Hussein now....
Unlike Saddam Hussein, we believe the Iraqi people are deserving and capable of human liberty. And when the dictator has departed, they can set an example to all the Middle East of a vital and peaceful and self-governing nation....The power and appeal of human liberty is felt in every life and every land. And the greatest power of freedom is to overcome hatred and violence, and turn the creative gifts of men and women to the pursuits of peace. That is the future we choose. Free nations have a duty to defend our people by uniting against the violent. And tonight, as we have done before, America and our allies accept that responsibility.
Speech by Senator Robert Byrd
On March 19, 2003, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate that opposed the march to war.
I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned.
Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination. Instead of isolating Saddam Hussein, we seem to have isolated ourselves. We proclaim a new doctrine of preemption which is understood by few and feared by many. We say that the United States has the right to turn its firepower on any corner of the globe which might be suspect in the war on terrorism. We assert that right without the sanction of any international body. As a result, the world has become a much more dangerous place. We flaunt our superpower status with arrogance. We treat UN Security Council members like ingrates who offend our princely dignity by lifting their heads from the carpet. Valuable alliances are splitÖ
The case this Administration tries to make to justify its fixation with war is tainted by charges of falsified documents and circumstantial evidence. We cannot convince the world of the necessity of this war for one simple reason. This is a war of choice.
There is no credible information to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11. The twin towers fell because a world-wide terrorist group, Al Qaeda, with cells in over 60 nations, struck at our wealth and our influence by turning our own planes into missiles, one of which would likely have slammed into the dome of this beautiful Capitol except for the brave sacrifice of the passengers on boardÖ
But, this Administration has directed all of the anger, fear, and grief which emerged from the ashes of the twin towers and the twisted metal of the Pentagon towards a tangible villain, one we can see and hate and attack. And villain he is. But, he is the wrong villain. And this is the wrong war.... The general unease surrounding this war is not just due to "orange alert." There is a pervasive sense of rush and risk and too many questions unanswered. How long will we be in Iraq? What will be the cost? What is the ultimate mission? How great is the danger at home?Ö.
What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomatic efforts when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?
Why can this President not seem to see that America's true power lies not in its will to intimidate, but in its ability to inspire?
Statements From Other Nations
Many governments around the world opposed Bush's declaration, and the United Nations refused to back it, arguing that the disarming of Iraq could be achieved through peaceful means.
Excerpts from a joint statement on March 5 of the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Russia:
Our common objective remains the full and effective disarmament of Iraq....We consider that this objective can be achieved by the peaceful means of inspections. We moreover observe that these inspections are producing increasingly encouraging results: The destruction of the Al Samoud missiles has started and is making progress. Iraqis are providing biological and chemical information. The interviews with Iraqi scientists are continuing....
We firmly call for the Iraqi authorities to cooperate more actively with the inspectors to fully disarm their country. These inspections cannot continue indefinitely. We consequently ask that the inspections now be speeded up....the inspectors have to present without any delay their work program accompanied by regular progress reports to the Security Council. This program could provide for a meeting clause to enable the Council to evaluate the overall results of this process. In these circumstances we will not let a proposed resolution pass that would authorize the use of force.
Excerpt from a statement by French President Jacques Chirac on March 18:
The United States has just issued an ultimatum to Iraq.'s a matter of necessary disarmament of Iraq or of the desirable change of regime in that country , there is no justification for a unilateral decision to resort to war....It is a grave decision, at a time when Iraq's disarmament is under way and the inspections have proved to be a credible alternative method of disarming that country. It is also a decision that jeopardizes future use of methods to resolve peacefully crises linked to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Iraq does not today present an immediate threat warranting an immediate war.

Student Reading 2:

A Capsule History of Iraq to 1999

What were the major events that led to sharp disagreements over what to do about Iraq between the United States and Britain, on the one hand, and its allies France and Germany and its friend Russia, on the other? The following readings aim at an explanation.
For centuries the area now know as Iraq consisted of three provinces controlled by Ottoman Turkey. Then, as now, the Kurdish people were the dominant group in the north, Sunni Muslims were dominant in central Iraq, and Shiite Muslims dominated in the south. After the Allied defeat of the Ottomans in World War I, Britain and France took control of the area and created new countries, including Iraq. Iraq was placed under a British mandate (temporary control) that was supposed to prepare its people for independence.
Britain installed a Sunni Muslim ally as king. This led to a revolt by the majority Shiite Muslims, which was suppressed by the British. In 1932 Britain withdrew from Iraq. The country then became a constitutional monarchy, but one which pledged to coordinate its foreign policy with Britain's. In 1958 came the first of a series of coups and military dictatorships in Iraq. By 1968, in the Baath Party (the party of Saddam Hussein) took control of the country, and in 1979, Saddam Hussein became president.
From 1980 to 1988, Iraq fought a war with its neighboring country, Iran. One big issue in the war was control over a waterway that is Iraq's only outlet to the Persian Gulf. Officially, the U.S/ was neutral in the war and had an embargo on weapons sales to both sides. However, the U.S. government quietly supported Iraq in the war by allowing the sale of millions of dollars of military equipment to that country (as did such European countries as France). The U.S. also provided Iraq with military intelligence.
The U.S. government backed Iraq because it feared that if Iran won the war, it would come to dominate the Persian Gulf region and its oil. Iran was then led by the fiercely anti-American Ayatollah Khomeini. Iraq, which has the world's second largest supply of known oil reserves, after Saudi Arabia, was seen as a moderate bulwark against Iran. The war ended inconclusively but resulted in the maimings and deaths of hundreds of thousands of people on both sides, as well as huge debts. Thousands of Kurds in Iraq were killed or horribly wounded by chemical attacks ordered by Saddam Hussein. Kurds opposed his rule and wanted some independence for their people. Despite the stalemate, Iraq emerged with the largest military force in the Middle East.
In 1981, Israel bombed an Iraqi nuclear reactor, which probably prevented Iraq from building nuclear weapons.
In August 1990 Iraq invaded its oil-rich neighbor, Kuwait. Iraq argued that British imperialism after World War I had created Kuwait as well as Iraq; that Kuwait had been part of an Iraqi province in Ottoman times; and that Kuwait's exclusion from Iraq kept Iraq from having an adequate outlet to the Persian Gulf. Historians and analysts say that Saddam Hussein was partly correct, though his own Baath Party had renounced any claim to Kuwait in 1963. "But beyond the technicalities," wrote Glenn Frankel, a reporter for the Washington Post in 1991, "Hussein staked out what for many Arabs is very powerful emotional ground. They took Kuwait and the other tiny Gulf sheikdoms as the most blatant products of a European imperialism that ultimately dismembered the Arab world, creating the strife-torn, artificial states of dubious legitimacy that today dominate the region."
The first President Bush strongly condemned the Iraqi invasion and demanded Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait—as did the United Nations in a series of resolutions approved by most Arab and Muslim nations. The UN imposed economic sanctions on Iraq—a ban on all trade except for humanitarian purposes. The UN condemned Iraq's "breach of international peace and security." But the UN was also concerned about Iraq's possession of chemical and biological weapons, and its efforts to develop nuclear weapons. The UN feared that Iraq's aggressive behavior threatened the stability of the Persian Gulf region, which supplies a substantial portion of the oil used by Europe and the United States.
U.S. leaders saw that by taking over Kuwait, Iraq would control 20 percent of the world's oil reserves. The U.S. was also concerned that Iraqi aggression might later be directed at America's major foreign oil supplier, Saudi Arabia. The U.S. had a tacit understanding with the Saudi Arabian government that the U.S. would protect the Saudis from attack in exchange for being a favored oil customer paying reasonable prices.
The U.S. led a coalition that attacked Iraqi troops in Kuwait and bombed targets in Iraq itself. The Gulf War quickly resulted in Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait by the end of February 1991.
The U.S.-led coalition chose not to invade Iraq and oust Saddam Hussein, for that was not part of the UN mandate. Such an invasion, the coalition felt, would also raise major issues about how and by whom Iraq would be governed. U.S. officials, however, encouraged Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south to revolt against Hussein. But when they did, the U.S. did not provide them with help; the result was that Hussein troops put the revolts down harshly and with the cost of many Iraqi lives.
Meanwhile, millions of Iraqis suffered from the economic sanctions, which led to severe shortages in food, medicines, and medical supplies and prevented Iraq from reconstructing water systems bombed during the war. As late as seven years after the war, the World Health Organization declared that over 5,000 Iraqi children were dying each month as a result of the sanctions. Iraq repeatedly blamed the U.S. and its allies for the people's misery.
In 1996 Iraq agreed to a program that allowed it to sell oil, the profits going to a UN fund to buy food and other supplies for ordinary Iraqis. The U.S. Department of State reported in March 2000 that the oil-for-food program had delivered almost four billion dollars' worth of food and hundreds of millions for medicine as well as supplies for water/sanitation, agriculture and industry. But a number of organizations around the world, including the American Friends Service Committee continued to report Iraqi suffering and strongly opposed sanctions for that reason.
Another outcome of the Gulf War was that U.S. and British planes enforced "no-fly zones" for Iraqi aircraft in the north and south of the country. The official reason for the northern no-fly zone was to prevent Kurds from being attacked. The official reason in the south was to prevent Iraqi troops from assembling to attack Kuwait. The unofficial purpose of the no-fly zones seemed to be the opportunity to gather a great deal of information about Iraqi air defenses and to impress the Iraqis with the determination of the U.S. From time to time the Iraqi military fired on the planes, which responded with bombs that damaged or destroyed anti-aircraft positions and killed people, including civilians.
After the war, Iraq was required to permit UN inspection teams to search for evidence of efforts to create weapons of mass destruction—specifically, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The UN inspectors found and destroyed collections of Iraq's biological and chemical weapons. It also destroyed ballistic missiles and stopped a nuclear weapons program. But there were gaps in accounting for some of these weapons. Iraq was known to have produced nerve gas and anthrax for their biochemical arsenal even though it officially supported an international treaty banning these deadly weapons.
During seven years of inspections there were many disputes between the UN team and Iraqi officials. Late in 1998 the chief inspector said that Iraq was interfering with the team's work. The U.S. then threatened Iraq with force, and the inspectors left the country. U.S. planes bombed Baghdad, the Iraqi capital. Following this attack, Iraq refused to readmit the inspectors. It had claimed for some time that the UN team included American spies. U.S. officials admitted in January 1999 that American spies had worked within the UN team. They gave the inspectors information and technology to help them and got from them intelligence about Iraqi weapons programs and their location.
Iraq continued to refuse to allow any further inspections. It insisted it had no more weapons of mass destruction. But because the inspectors had not finished their work, the economic sanctions continued.
Size: About that of California
Population: Approximately 24,000,000
Ethnic makeup: 75% Arab; 15-20% Kurd
Religion: 60% Shiite Muslim; 35% Sunni Muslim
Literacy: 58%
Government type: Ruling council from the Baath Party, the only legal party in the country, controlled by Saddam Hussein. Kurdistan parties control parts of northern Iraq.
Main natural resources: oil and natural gas
Bordering countries: Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia
Saddam ("he who confronts") Hussein was born on April 28, 1937, to a poor peasant family living in al-Auja, a village about 100 miles north of Iraq's capital, Baghdad. At 10 he went to live with his uncle in Baghdad, where he began school. At 19 he participated in an unsuccessful effort to overthrow the British-installed monarch. At 20 he joined the Baath Party and at 21 was a member of a hit team that attempted to assassinate General Abdul Qassim, who had led the overthrow of the king.
For several years Hussein lived in Cairo, finishing high school and then entering law school. After the overthrow of Qassim, Hussein returned to Iraq and became an interrogator and torturer. But he himself was imprisoned from 1964 until he escaped sometime in 1966. In 1968, the Baath Party seized power. Iraq's new leader became General Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr, a relative and close ally of Saddam Hussein. The Bakr regime nationalized the Iraqi Petroleum Company, which had been set up by the British. Oil revenue soared during the oil crisis of 1973, and the regime invested the money in industry, education, and healthcare. Iraq's standard of living became one of the highest in the Arab world.
Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein extended his grip on power, putting relatives and allies in key government and business roles. In 1978, membership of opposition parties became punishable by death.
In 1979, Saddam Hussein forced General Bakr's resignation. Immediately after Hussein gained power, he and senior associates personally executed party opponents. Since 1979 there have been a number of attempts to overthrow Saddam Hussein. All have failed.
In a comment to Western reporters in June 1980, Hussein expressed the following view of himself: "I am in every glass of milk an Iraqi child drinks."

Student Reading 3:

Iraq, Weapons of Mass Destruction, the U.S. and the UN

After the Gulf War in 1991, the United Nations required Iraq to destroy its remaining weapons of mass destruction and missiles with a range greater than 93 miles. The UN also created the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) to carry out inspections in Iraq to verify compliance. The inspectors believed they were successful in dismantling Iraq's nuclear facilities and in finding almost all ballistic missiles.
UNSCOM also found and destroyed stocks of Iraq's biological and chemical weapons, but not all of them. Late in 1998 after the chief inspector said that Iraq was interfering with UNSCOM's work, the U.S. threatened Iraq with force, the inspectors left the country and American planes bombed Baghdad. Iraq had claimed for some time that UNSCOM included American spies, an accusation the U.S. admitted to in January 1999. Iraq refused to allow any further inspections and insisted it had no additional weapons of mass destruction. The economic sanctions continued.
But Iraq's record of making and using weapons of mass destruction under Saddam Hussein continued to raise questions. Clearly, he had had scientists working to build nuclear weapons until Israel destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad in 1981. He had used chemical weapons, including mustard gas and nerve agents like sarin, against the Iranians in a war from 1980-1988. And toward the end of that period he had unleashed a series of chemical bombings against Iraq's rebellious Kurdish population in the north. Human Rights Watch, an international human rights organization, says these attacks killed 50,000 to 100,000 and left as many as 150,000 with such afflictions as abnormal births, cleft palates, blindness, and cancers.
According to Gary Mihollin, the director of a U.S. arms control organization that monitors Iraq's weapons capabilities, UNSCOM had not accounted for "almost four tons of the nerve agent VX; 600 tons of ingredients for VX; as much as 3,000 tons of other poison gas agents; and at least 550 artillery shells filled with mustard gas."
Since early in 2002 President Bush warned repeatedly that Iraq was part of an "axis of evil" and a great danger to world peace and U.S. security because of its weapons of mass destruction. Such weapons, he declared, could kill tens of thousands of people, even hundreds of thousands, at one blow. And Saddam Hussein had proved that he was aggressive and untrustworthy.
In June 2002 President Bush released the National Security Strategy of the United States, a document declaring that the strategies of containment and deterrence, central elements of U.S. security policy since the late 1940s, are virtually dead. It stated: "We will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively....We must deter and defend against the threat before it is unleashed." In other words, the U.S. would not wait if it thought an attack was coming but would attack first. This is a doctrine new to American military strategy and it is controversial.
Repeatedly over the following months, President Bush demanded the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and his government, which he called "regime change."
Reports appeared in the media about American military planning for an assault on Iraq. With tensions rising, members of Congress called for debate and American allies called for United Nations deliberations. At first reluctant, President Bush decided to place a resolution before Congress and to bring the issue before the UN.
In October the House of Representatives (by a vote of 296-133) and the Senate (by a vote of 77-23) authorized the President "to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to (1) defend the national security interests of the United States against the threat posed by Iraq and (2) enforce all relevant United Nation Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq. (These resolutions called on Iraq to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction and admit inspectors to be certain it had done so.)
In a September 12 speech at the UN, the President Bush detailed Iraq's violations of many Security Council resolutions and concluded, "We will work with the UN Security Council for the necessary resolutions. But the purposes of the United States should not be doubted. The Security Council's resolutions will be enforced. The just demands of peace and security will be met, or action will be unavoidable."
After two months of intense discussions, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1441 by a 15-0 vote. The resolution required Iraq to produce an accurate and complete list of its biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs and its ballistic missile developments and to admit UN inspectors to verify compliance. Soon after, UN inspectors returned to Iraq, and the chief inspectors began making regular reports to the Security Council on the progress of the work.
There were significant disagreements among Security Council members over Resolution 1441. U.S. officials said it gave Washington the legal support it needed to go to war against Iraq if the Security Council did not agree about how to respond to any new Iraqi violations. But three of the five permanent Council members—France, Russia, and China—insisted that this was not the case, that it was up to the inspectors to report violations and then up to the Council to decide what, if anything to do about them.
Another disagreement was over exactly what the UN was authorizing. President Bush demanded the elimination of all of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, as Resolution 1441 required, but raised other issues as well in his public remarks. He spoke of the need for "regime change" and called for the creation of a new and democratic government in Iraq and the spread of democracy to other Middle East nations. France, Russia, and China approved the elimination of weapons of mass destruction but nothing else.
In the second half of March 2003 the Iraq crisis came to a head. American and British leaders were convinced that Iraq was not complying fully with Security Council demands—despite some action by Iraq toward compliance, including turning over some 100 missiles for destruction. Iraq insisted it had no weapons of mass destruction to produce. The U.S. and Britain maintained that Iraqi leaders were lying. French, Russian, and Chinese leaders believed that inspectors were making progress and that there was no reason to approve a second resolution authorizing force. Not having the votes in the Security Council for such a resolution, the Bush administration and Britain determined to go to war on Iraq without it.
The leaders of most nations of the world and most of their peoples opposed this decision. There were huge demonstrations in many cities around the world, including in countries whose leaders backed the Bush administration. Before the war began, polls showed that most Americans opposed the U.S. going to war without the support of the UN. Once war began, a majority of Americans said they supported the Bush administration. However, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated against the war in cities and towns across the U.S., both before and after the war began. These protests were among the largest this nation has seen.
Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia said in a February speech on the Senate floor: "The idea that the United States or any other nation can legitimately attack a nation that is not imminently threatening but may be threatening in the future is a radical new twist on the traditional idea of self-defense. It appears to be in contravention of international law and the UN Charter*. And it is being tested at a time of worldwide terrorism, making many countries around the globe wonder if they will soon be one our—or some other nation's—hit list. There are huge cracks emerging in our time-honored alliances, and U.S. intentions are suddenly subject to damaging worldwide speculation. Anti-Americanism based on mistrust, misinformation, suspicion, and alarming rhetoric from U.S. leaders is fracturing the once solid alliance against global terrorism which existed after September 11....Frankly many of the pronouncements made by this administration are outrageous. There is no other word."
*Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter says that "All members shall refrain in their interrelations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations."
On March 19 the attack on Iraq began.

Student Reading 4:

Two Views of War on Iraq

Excerpt from the White House report to Congress on its reasons for war on Iraq
"Iraq both poses a continuing threat to the national security of the United States and international peace and security in the Persian Gulf region and remains in material and unacceptable breach of its international obligations by, among other things, continuing to possess and develop a significant chemical and biological weapons capability, actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability, and supporting and harboring terrorist organizations....
Further delay in taking action against Iraq will only serve to give Saddam Hussein's regime additional time to further develop weapons of mass destruction to use against the United States, its citizens, and its allies. The United States and the UN have long demanded immediate, active, and unconditional cooperation by Iraq in the disarmament of its weapons of mass destruction. There is no reason to believe that Iraq will disarm and cooperate with inspections to verify such disarmament, if the U.S. and the UN employ only diplomacy and other peaceful means....
The use of force against Iraq will directly advance the war on terror, and will be consistent with continuing efforts against international terrorists residing and operating elsewhere in the world....
In the circumstances described above, the President of the United States has the authority—indeed, given the dangers involved, the duty—to use force against Iraq to protect the security of the American people and to compel compliance with Security Council resolutions."
Excerpt from John Brady Kiesling's letter of resignation to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Kiesling is a career diplomat who has served in U. S. embassies in such places as Tel Aviv, Casablanca, and Athens.
"....until this administration it had been possible to believe that by upholding the policies of my President I was also upholding the interests of the American people and the world. I believe it no longer. The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests. Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America's most potent weapons of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson. We have begun to dismantle the largest and most effective web of international relationships the world has ever known. Our current course will bring instability and danger, not security....
This administration has chosen to make terrorism a domestic political tool....We spread ...terror and confusion in the public mind, arbitrarily linking unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq....We should ask ourselves why we have failed to persuade more of the world that a war with Iraq is necessary....Have we indeed become blind, as Russia is blind in Chechnya, as Israel is blind in the Occupied Territories, to our own advice, that overwhelming military power is not the answer to terrorism?....Why does our President condone the swaggering, contemptuous approach to our friends and allies this administration is fostering, including among its most senior officials? ... I am resigning because I have tried and failed to reconcile my conscience with my ability to represent the current U.S. administration.


Inquiry-oriented approach
What are students' questions about the events leading up to the war with Iraq? Write them on the chalkboard. Then have the class examine them closely for clarity, assumptions, and words and phrases needing definition.
Have students reword the questions, as necessary. Which questions call for a factual answer? an opinion? a prediction? Where will the facts come from? Whose opinion or prediction? Why? See "Teaching Critical Thinking" on this website for detailed suggestions. The student readings can provide some of the background students may need for their inquiries.


Student Reading 1
1. What reasons does President Bush give for his decision to use military force against Iraq?
2. In what ways does the President believe "The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities....?
3. What does the President promise the Iraqi people?
4. What reasons does Senator Byrd give for opposing the use of military force in Iraq? What does Senator Byrd say about the link between terrorism and Saddam Hussein?
5. What is your opinion of the President's and Byrd's opposing views? Why?
6. Why did some Security Council members declare they would not "let a proposed resolution pass that would authorize the use of force"?
7. What is your opinion of the President's and some Security Council members' opposing views? Why?
8. What do you think President Chirac means by saying the U.S. decision to go to war "jeopardizes future use of methods to resolve peacefully crises linked to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction"? How do you think President Bush would answer him? What do you think and why?
Student Reading 2
1. How did Iraq come into being as a state?
2. What was U.S. policy during the Iraq-Iran war and why?
3. What reasons did Iraq give for invading Kuwait?
4. What were U.S. reasons for opposing the invasion?
5. What are economic sanctions? their impact on the Iraqi people? the oil-for-food program? the no-fly zones? the results of inspections of Iraq up to 1998 for weapons of mass destruction?
6. Why do you suppose that the U.S. did not support the Kurds' and Shiites' revolts against Saddam Hussein?
7. How do you understand Saddam Hussein's "glass of milk" remark?
Student Reading 3
1. What are weapons of mass destruction? (Teachers might be interested in reviewing "Weapons of Mass Destruction" on this website.)
2. How successful was UNSCOM in eliminating Iraq's stock of such weapons?
3. How do you understand the National Security Strategy of the United States?
4. What differences of opinion have there been over UN Resolution 1441? Why?
5. Does Article 2(4) of the UN Charter apply to the U.S. and Britain in their war on Iraq? Why or why not?
6. How do you explain the demonstrations in the U.S. and around the world opposing war on Iraq?
7. Explain why the U.S. and Britain decided to invade Iraq while France (and many other countries) opposed this action.
Student Reading 4
1. What reasons does the White House give Congress for going to war against Iraq?
2. What are John Brady Kiesling's reasons for resigning from his diplomatic career?
3. The White House statement asserts, "The use of force against Iraq will directly advance the war on terror, and will be consistent with continuing efforts against international terrorists...." Kiesling says, "We spread...terror and confusion in the public mind, arbitrarily linking unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq." What evidence do you know of to support a link between Iraq and international terrorism? If there is a link, why do you suppose that Kiesling doesn't see it? If there isn't, why does the White House insist that there is?

Additional possible questions for discussion and inquiry

1. Is it appropriate, is it patriotic, to discuss the pros and cons of the U.S. decision to war on Iraq when that war is taking place? Why or why not? Were there widespread pro and con discussions during the first Gulf War? the Vietnam War?
2. What does it mean to "support the troops"? If someone opposes the war, does that mean he or she does not "support the troops"?
3. What evidence was there before the war began that Iraq was a serious and imminent danger to the U.S. or other countries?
4. What does the U.S. strategy of preemptive military action mean? Should the U.S. act preemptively when the President sees fit? Why or why not?
5. If preemption is a reasonable policy to follow, what effects might it have on the India-Pakistan conflict? the China-Taiwan conflict? How is this U.S. policy affecting North Korea? Iran?
6. What possible alternatives are there to a policy of preemption?
7. What impact will the serious disagreements in the Security Council have on the future of the United Nations? What makes you think so? Will the UN participate in the rebuilding and governance of Iraq even though no specific Security Council resolution authorized military force in that country? What makes you think so?
8. Among the many other consequences of the war, consider its impact on:
a. the future of Iraq. What are President Bush's intentions? How does he propose to carry them out? How realizable are they? There are a number of issues here. If the President intends, as he has said, to develop Iraq into a democracy, how will he do it? What difficulties might there be? Why? Who will pay for the reconstruction of Iraq and who will do it? (The current indications are that all contracts are going to American companies.) Who will supply and pay for the enormous amount of humanitarian aid—the basics of medical supplies, food, water, and shelter? How long will it be necessary to keep U.S. soldiers in Iraq and how much will that cost?
b. U.S. relations with such NATO allies as France, Germany and Turkey.
c. "the war on terrorism." Will the removal of Saddam Hussein decrease the amount of worldwide terrorism? Why or why not? Will Al Qaeda get additional recruits because of the war? Why or why not?
d. the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What likelihood is there that a U.S. success in Iraq would lead to a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
e. the Arab public, almost all of whom are strongly opposed to the war on Iraq.
f. U.S. relations with the other countries Bush named as part of his "axis of evil" —North Korea and Iran.
g. the U.S. budget. President Bush has requested $75 billion for the first six months of U.S. war on Iraq and its aftermath. What effects is the war having on American social programs—education and health care, for example?

A Constructive Controversy

1. Divide students into groups of four, forming two pairs within each group. Ask each pair to take opposite positions on one of the following questions:
a. Is the U.S. policy of preemption a wise policy? Why or why not?
b. Are demonstrations against the war on Iraq appropriate and patriotic? Why or why not?
2. Give students an appropriate amount of time in which to prepare and to consult with their partner. They should also feel free to consult with pairs from other teams.
3. Review or teach active listening skills, particularly paraphrasing and summarizing another's position; open-mindedness; being able to disagree respectfully; consensus-building skills; working together.
4. After students have prepared themselves, the pairs in each group should present their case to the other pair in a clearly stated amount of time and without interruption.
5. Each side should be provided time to challenge the other side's arguments without interruption.
6. The four students should decide which arguments are most valid on both sides and prepare a concise presentation to the class that incorporates the best thinking of the group.
7. After all presentations have been made, have the class work toward a statement on U.S. policy or on the demonstrations issue that embodies the best thinking of the class as a whole. A consensus is desirable but not essential.
(This activity is based on "Constructive Controversy" developed by David and Roger Johnson.)

Writing assignments

1. Write a letter answering John Brady Kiesling as you would imagine Secretary of State Colin Powell might write it.
2. Write a letter to President Bush expressing your views on his reasons for war with Iraq.
3. Write a letter to President Jacques Chirac expressing your views on his position about the war on Iraq.
4. Write a letter to your representative or senator expressing your views on President Bush's policy of preemption

An activity

Organize a learn-in for students in your high school about the war on Iraq. One or more of the questions above might serve to focus the learn-in. Speakers might include students, parents, and officials. Discussions and workshops following a session with speakers might be useful.


Books and Other Publications
Micah L. Sifry and Christopher Cerf, The Gulf War Reader
Scott Ritter, Endgame: Solving the Iraq Problem Once and For All
The New York Times (various issues)
Washington Post, "U.S. had key role in Iraq buildup" by Michael Dobbs, 12/20/02
The New Yorker, 3/11/02, 3/25/02, 4/1/02
The Nation, 7/15/02
American Friends Service Committee (
BBC News
Campaign Against Sanctions in Iraq (
Center for Defense Information (
Institute for Policy Studies (
Monterey Institute of International Studies
United Nations
U.S. Department of State
Websites providing ongoing news and perspectives on the war: (CNN network) (for news on conditions in Iraq) (U.K. Independent newspaper) (National Public Radio) (BBC News)
This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email them to: