A Timeline of Events Impacting Middle Eastern Democracy:
680 - Mu'awiyah as the sixth caliph (leader of Islam after Mohammed) works to transform the position of caliph from an elected one to a dynastic (hereditary) one.Â He is challenged by Husayn, grandson of Mohammed, who leads a rebellion against Mu'awiyah but dies in battle as a martyr in (the currently Iraqi city of) Karbala.Â Islam is split into two political factions - those who claim the legitimacy of Mu'awiyah and his son Yazid (and becomeÂ Sunni's), and those who supported Husayn's party and failed attempt to become the seventh caliph.Â The Arabic word for (political) party is "shi'a" and thus Husayn's followers become known asÂ ShiahÂ (Shi'ites).Â The spread of Shiah Islam becomes generally limited to the modern-day regions of Iraq and Iran.Â Over the next two centuries, Sunni Islam extends from modern day Spain to Indonesia.Â Â
1951, Iran -Â MossadeghÂ elected democratically as Prime Minister, nationalizes Iranian oil from British oil corporations, and triggers British embargo of Iranian oil.
1953,Â IranÂ - CIA and British MI6 fund the overthrow of Mossadegh and install a pro-Shah reign in Iran.
1953 - 1979, Iran - Reign ofÂ Reza Shah PahlaviÂ who is characterized by pro-Western foreign policy, allowing multi-national oil corporations greater profits and oil access than had Mossadegh. He is also known for the promotion of women's rights, being friendly towards the state of Israel, creating a single-party political monopoly of power, brutal suppression of dissidents through use of secret police, torture, and assassination and opposition to both socialist movements and Islamic fundamentalism.
1970's, Iraq - after the 1968 coup by the pan-Arabic Ba'ath party in Iraq,Saddam Hussein, a secular Sunni slowly rises to power and is formally given power as the head of Iraq in 1979.Â Though nominally a Sunni in a majority Shiah nation, Saddam is predominantly a secular leader, using the military to secure his power, not religious ideology.Â He abolishes the traditional Islamic law courts and establishes a western-style legal system which grants power to women; he relies on the support of the Sunni minority to maintain his power and ruthlessly persecutes the non-Arab Kurds in the north of the country.
1979, Iran -Â Iranian Revolution, led by Shiah fundamentalist revolutionaries, overthrows the Shah, disbands the secret police, and holds more than 52 American hostages for 444 days.
December 25, 1979,Â AfghanistanÂ - Soviet forces invade Afghanistan.
January 20, 1981, Iran/U.S. - American hostages are released on the same date thatÂ Ronald ReaganÂ takes office as president of the U.S., this coincidence promotes the "October Surprise Conspiracy Theory".Â This theory is never proven, despite multiple independent investigations.
1980's, U.S./Pakistan/Afghanistan - Reagan administration increases funding weapons and training of the anti-SovietÂ mujahedeen(mujahideen)Â in Afghanistan.Â Â Osama bin Laden moves to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviets at this time as well and establishes al-Qaeda.Â Fundamentalist Taliban grows from these mujahedeen groups and comes to dominate Afghanistan, following the retreat of the Soviets in 1989, consolidating power in 1996.
1980's, U.S./Iran/Nicaragua - Violating U.S. law, members of the Reagan administration sell weapons to the Iranians, in order to fund the anti-CommunistÂ "Contras"Â in Nicaragua.Â Ultimately the sales and transfers were discovered in late November, 1986 but the vast bulk of the documents of the sales were destroyed byÂ Oliver North.Â The Tower Commission investigated the allegations but Reagan, in his testimony, generally answered his questions with, "I do not recall."Â Multiple indictments and convictions followed, most of which were overturned on technicalities.
1980 - 1988, Iran/Iraq -Â Iran-Iraq WarÂ initiated by the secularist Sunni Saddam Hussein by invading southern Iran, a fundamentalist Shiah Islamic republic.Â Nearly 800,000 die in the conflict.
1982 - 1984 Iraq receives conventional weapons (helicopters) and bio-chemical agents (sarin, anthrax, andÂ mustard gas) from the United States for use against Iran.Â Other countries sell conventional weapons to Iraq as well.Â Saddam Hussein becomes the first world leader to extensively use bio-chemical warfare directly on civilian populations since the 1930's (with the possible exception of the U.S. in the Viet Nam War).
1984, Iraq - Saddam Hussein's first documented use of chemical weapons on theÂ KurdsÂ in the north of his own country.Â News of these atrocities is reported world-wide, but the 1988 attacks on Halabjah report up to 5,000 killed by mustard gas.Â
1988, Iran - U.S. shoots down civilian Iranian airplane, killing all 290 people aboard.Â U.S. later claims it was an error but never apologizes.
1990 - 1991, Kuwait, Iraq - Iraq invadesÂ KuwaitÂ in August of 1990.Â In response Osama bin Laden offers to send Afghani jihadist warriors to fight against Saddam Hussein.Â Also in August of 1990 the U.S. moves troops in to Saudi Arabia to prevent a possible attack on the oil rich kingdom.Â By January 1991, the U.S. led a coalition of approximately 30 nations to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi forces (Operation Desert Shield).Â Propaganda of Iraqi troops perpetrating horrific abuses in Kuwaiti hospitals is circulated in the U.S. to build up popular support for the war (and, after the war, proven to be a hoax).Â At the end of the war, the retreat of the Iraqis led to a gruesome "Highway of Death" in which U.S. and coalition forces slaughtered the retreating Iraqis by the thousands.Â Â After the war concluded, the coalition initiated sanctions against Iraq and a "no-fly-zone" for the Iraqi air force. During the war, U.S. troops use bases in Saudi Arabia as a starting point for the invasion of Kuwait. The presence of these bases infuriates Saudi traditionalists (Sunni Wahabists).Â Osama bin Laden in 1996 and 1998 declares a fatwa against the United States for the American presence on holy Saudi soil.Â According to the 9/11 Commission Report, bin Laden also supports anti-Saddam movements among Sunnis in Iraqi Kurdistan after the Gulf War.
1996 - 2001, Afghanistan -Â TalibanÂ institutes repressive measures, particularly against women, mandating wearing of the burqa, destroying the 1500+ year old Buddhas of Bamiyan (World Cultural Monuments), banning proselytizing and punishing it, along with other crimes, such as homosexuality, with death.Â Â Osama bin LadenÂ had moved to Afghanistan by 1996 and continued the growth of hisÂ Al-Qaedaorganization with the Taliban's support.
1997, U.S. - Conservative think tankÂ "Project for a New American Century"Â is founded by Bill Kristol.Â Including Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Paul Wolfowitz, it advocates in its 1998 publications the removal of Saddam Hussein from power in order to promote American economic interests in the region, even if it involved use of bio-chemical weapons.
December 2000, U.S. - The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, hands the election victory toÂ George W. Bush, despite his loss in the popular election.Â
May 2001, U.S. - Senate RepublicanÂ Jim JeffordsÂ of Vermont switches from the Republican Party to become an Independent.Â Prior to Jeffords change, the Senate was split 50-50, with Republican Vice-President Cheney splitting the tie votes.Â Â Democratic Senate Leader Tom Daschle promises Jeffords a place on the Senate Environment Committee if he supported the Democrats.Â Power shifts from the Republicans to the Democrats.
September 11, 2001, U.S. - 19 Al Qaeda fanatics hijack four planes in an attack on the United States.Â Approximately 3,000 die (2,974 confirmed, 24 missing, 19 hijackers).Â 15 of them are from Saudi Arabia.Â The four others are from Egypt, Lebanon, and two from the United Arab Emirates.Â None were from Iraq.Â
September 18, 2001, U.S. - At least seven letters containingÂ anthraxwere mailed from New Jersey to various press (ABC, CBS, NBC, and the New York Post in New York, the National Enquirer in Florida) and political targets (two Democratic Senators: Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle).Â Twenty-two people were infected and five died.Â The Bush administration pressured the FBI to declare that the anthrax came from al-Qaeda, despite any evidence.Â In October 2001 the Wall Street Journal claimed the anthrax was from Iraq originally, and delivered by al-Qaeda.Â ABC reported in October that four U.S. scientists have prrof that the anthrax was linked to Iraq.Â (As of 2008, following the death of Ivins, ABC has still refused to make public the sources of this now completely discredited claim.)Â Years later, the Anthrax was announced to be the Ames Strain, developed in the United States. In 2008 the FBI announced that their primary suspect, Bruce Ivins, a researcher at a U.S. bio-weapons facility, had committed suicide while in a psychiatric ward, thus closing the anthrax case.Â (Significant questions remain but the public and media seem to prefer not to investigate further; see articles byÂ Glenn GreenwaldÂ at Salon.com .)
October 25, 2001, U.S. -Â USA PATRIOT ActÂ is voted on in the U.S. Senate 98 to 1 (and 1 abstention).Â Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold is the sole vote against the law in the Senate.Â
January 2002,Â GuantanamoÂ Base, Cuba - The first "detainees" from Afghanistan are brought to a military prison camp operated by the U.S.Â The numbers of prisoners swell to 775.Â Â The prisoners are re-labelled "enemy combatants" to avoid being under Geneva Convention jurisdictions. The Bush administration seeks to claim that they are also not under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Constitution because they are not technically on U.S. soil.Â This position is rebuffed twice by the Supreme Court in 2004 (Al Odah vs. United States) and again in 2008 (Boumedienne vs. Bush).Â Despite the Supreme Court rulings, by mid 2008 nearly 300 "detainees" remain imprisoned in Guantanamo without access to basic legal proceedings (like a trial), having been held without any review of the evidence in a public court for over six years.
January 29, 2002, U.S. Bush gives hisÂ "Axis of Evil"Â speech as part of hisÂ 2002 State of the Union Address, associating 9-11 with Iraq.
October 2002, U.S. - Congress authorizes a Joint Resolution 114 which gives the President the authority to declare war on Iraq. An attempted amendment (the Byrd Amendment) to the resolution clarifying that the resolution does not cede the constitutional authority of Congress to declare war to the presidency is defeated 14-86.Â Other amendments requiring UN approval of action against Iraq, empowering the UN weapons inspectors, or seeking to resolve the problem with Iraq diplomatically are all defeated.
January 29, 2003, U.S. - Bush gives his "Uranium from Africa" speech as part of hisÂ 2003 State of the Union Address, including one phrase which his intelligence officers knew to be false at the time he gave the speech, in which he claimed that Iraq was seekingÂ "uranium from Africa."
March 7, 2003, Iraq - After being "kicked out" of Iraq by the Bush administration,Â Hans Blix, UN Weapons Inspector Team Leader, reports that his team, investigating Iraq for evidence of weapons of mass destruction, is only months away from final confirmation of determining whether or not Saddam Hussein had any active bio-chemical weapons production capability.
March 19, 2003, Iraq - U.S. bombers attackÂ Dora FarmsÂ in an attempt to kill Saddam Hussein in a "decapitation strike."Â None of the 4 bombs struck the targeted palace.Â Instead, 15 civilians, including 9 women and one child, were killed in the blasts.Â No member of Saddam's family or military leadership was in the area at the time.
March 20, 2003, Iraq - U.S. and forces from a small collection (coalition) of other nations invade Iraq.
March 23, 2003, Iraq - PrivateÂ Jessica LynchÂ is captured by Iraqis and taken to a hospital in Nasiryiah.Â
April 1, 2003, Iraq - U.S. media reported the story that Lynch had been shot, raped, and tortured, after putting up a valiant effort to fight off her attackers, until rescued by U.S. forces.Â The U.S. forces staged a rescue of Jessica Lynch, filming the "rescue" in infrared.Â Later investigations would reveal that each and every one of those claims made on her behalf were unverifiable or outright false, yet were promoted by the government and the corporate media in despite the lack of verification.Â The video of the rescue turned out to have featured soldiers firing blanks (and not real bullets) in the hospital.Â U.S. intelligence had known that the Iraqi troops had left the hospital the day before.Â (Note the date of the rescue.)Â Later, a film of the 2003 NBC (propaganda) movie "Saving Jessica Lynch" was made.Â Private Lynch, recovering in the U.S. after her rescue said in aÂ TimeÂ magazine interview in 2005 that the inaccuracies in it were so upsetting that she could not watch all of it.
May 1, 2003, U.S. - George W. Bush declares "mission accomplished" in reference to the war in Iraq.
July 6, 2003, U.S. - The New York Times publishes an article byÂ Joseph C. Wilson, criticizing the Bush administration's justification for the war in Iraq.
July 14, 2003, U.S. - Conservative columnist Robert Novak publishes the information that Wilson's wife,Â Valerie PlameÂ is a CIA agent, thus "outing" her.Â Plame and Wilson sue Vice-President Dick Cheney, arguing that the leak of the information was retribution for contradicting the Bush administration's claims.
April 2004, Iraq, U.S. -Â Abu GhraibÂ prisoner torture abuse cases made public through leak ofÂ photos. (Warning: violent and explicit images are contained at the Salon.com link.)
December 2004, U.S. - ACLU releases internal memos obtained from the FBI showing the official approval ofÂ tortureÂ by U.S. forces including stress-positions, sleep-deprivation, stripping prisoners, hooding prisoners, and using dogs on them.
January 29, 2005, U.S. - In the final portion of hisÂ 2005 State of the Union address, Bush alternates references to 9-11, terrorism, and the War on Terror with references to Iraq, threats of weapons of mass destruction, and bringing democracy to the Middle East.
May 1, 2005, U.K. - TheÂ Downing Street MemoÂ is published.Â The memo was a summary of the minutes of a meeting between British intelligence officers and the Bush administration in 2002.Â Â In the memo,Â it stated thatÂ "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism andÂ WMD.Â But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. TheÂ NSChad no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action."Â Â Â The entire incident has been noted more for the way in which the memo has been ignored in the U.S. media (though not in the British media) than for the appearance of deliberate manipulation of intelligence to justify the war.Â
March 20, 2006, U.S. - Bush clarifies onÂ CNNÂ that he never made any statement claiming that Saddam Hussein was behind 9-11.Â Later it was revealed that as early as September 21, 2001, in his daily briefings, Bush had received an assessment that there was no credible link between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda.Â Despite these revelations, there remains strong belief among supporters of the war that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9-11 somehow.
December 30, 2006, Iraq - Saddam Hussein hanged.Â Osama bin Laden's whereabouts still remain unknown.Â More than 3,000 American soldiers dead in the Iraqi conflict; unknown number of American privately contractedÂ personnel killed or wounded; thousands of wounded American soldiers are not accounted for in the official reports.
August 26, 2008, Iraq - In August of 2008 accusations are made by journalistÂ Ron SuskindÂ Â claiming that false documents linking Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda were manufactured at the request of the Bush administration, in order to justify the war in Iraq and link it to 9-11. Osama bin Laden's whereabouts still remain unknown.Â More than 4,000 American soldiers dead in the Iraqi conflict.Â DocumentationÂ shows that over 75,000 Iraqi civilians (excluding military) have been killed violently since the US invasion and occupation.Â The UN estimates that there are over 2 million Iraqi refugees outside Iraq as a result of the conflict and occupation.Â US media continues to report the success of the "surge" strategy while underreporting the war fatigue of the Iraqi people and the truce announced by Muqtada al Sadr and his Madhi army in August of 2007 as significant factors in the recent decline in violence in Iraq.Â Â Â Â Meanwhile the violence increases in Afghanistan, having been take out of the focus due to the Iraq Occupation; reports that al-Qaeda is resurgent began to be reported as of February 2007.Â