Timeline of Empire:

U.S. Intervention in the Middle East

Revolutionary Worker #1125, November 4, 2001, posted at http://rwor.org

"Why do people in the Middle East hate the United States," people are asking, in the wake of the events of September 11.

This partial chronology of U.S. intervention in the Middle East illustrates the lengths to which the U.S. power structure has gone to gain and maintain U.S. domination of the Middle East--a region considered key to the U.S.'s standing as an imperialist world power. This is not a complete list of the invasions, bombings, assassinations, coups and other interventions by the U.S. government, its allies, or its client states, nor does it fully document the U.S.'s economic domination and exploitation of the region's people and resources.


1920-28: U.S. pressures Britain, then the dominant Middle East power, into signing a "Red Line Agreement" providing that Middle Eastern oil will not be developed by any single power without the participation of the others. Standard Oil and Mobil obtain shares of the Iraq Petroleum Company.

1932-34: Oil is discovered in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and U.S. oil companies obtain concessions.

1944: U.S. State Department memo refers to Middle Eastern oil as "a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history." During U.S.-British negotiations over the control of Middle Eastern oil, President Roosevelt sketches out a map of the Middle East and tells the British Ambassador, "Persian oil is yours. We share the oil of Iraq and Kuwait. As for Saudi Arabian oil, it's ours." On August 8, 1944, the Anglo-American Petroleum Agreement is signed, splitting Middle Eastern oil between the U.S. and Britain.

Between 1948 and 1960, Western capital earns $12.8 billion in profits from the production, refining and sale of Middle Eastern oil, on fixed investments totaling $1.3 billion.


1946: President Harry Truman threatens to drop a "super-bomb" on the Soviet Union if it does not withdraw from Kurdestan and Azerbaijan in northern Iran.

November 1947: The U.S. helps push through a UN resolution partitioning Palestine into a Zionist state and an Arab state, giving the Zionist authorities control of 54% of the land. At that time Jewish settlers were about 1/3 of the population.

May 14, 1948: War breaks out between newly proclaimed state of Israel, and Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Syria, who had moved troops into Palestine to oppose the partition of Palestine. Israeli attacks force some 800,000 Palestinians--two-thirds of the population--to flee into exile in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Gaza, and the West Bank. Israel seizes 77 percent of historic Palestine. The U.S. quickly recognizes Israel.

March 29, 1949: CIA backs a military coup overthrowing the elected government of Syria and establishes a military dictatorship under Colonel Za'im.

1952: U.S.-led military alliance expands into the Middle East with Turkey's admission to NATO.

1953: The CIA organizes a coup overthrowing the Mossadeq government of Iran after Mossadeq nationalizes British holdings in Iran's huge oilfields. The Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, is put on the throne, ruling as an absolute monarch for the next 25 years--torturing, killing and imprisoning his political opponents.

1955: U.S. installs powerful radar system in Turkey to spy on the Soviet Union.


July 1956: After Egypt's nationalist leader, Gamal Abdul Nasser, receives arms from the Soviet Union, the U.S. withdraws promised funding for Aswan Dam, Egypt's main development project. A week later Nasser nationalizes the Suez Canal to fund the project. In October Britain, France and Israel invade Egypt to retake the Suez Canal. President Eisenhower threatens to use nuclear weapons if the Soviet Union intervenes on Egypt's side; and at the same time, the U.S. asserts its regional dominance by forcing Britain, France and Israel to withdraw from Egypt.

October 1956: A planned CIA coup to overthrow a left-leaning government in Syria is aborted because it was scheduled for the same day Israel, Britain and France invade Egypt.

March 9, 1957: Congress approves Eisenhower Doctrine, stating "the United States regards as vital to the national interest and world peace the preservation of the independence and integrity of the nations of the Middle East."

April 1957: After anti-government rioting breaks out in Jordan, U.S. rushes 6th fleet to the eastern Mediterranean and lands a battalion of Marines in Lebanon to "prepare for possible future intervention in Jordan." Later that year, the CIA begins making secret payments of millions a year to Jordan's King Hussein.

September 1957: In response to the Syrian government's more nationalist and pro-Soviet policies, the U.S. sends Sixth Fleet to eastern Mediterranean and rushes arms to allies Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and Saudi Arabia; meanwhile the U.S. encourages Turkey to mass 50,000 troops on Syria's northern border.

1958: The merger of Syria and Egypt into the "United Arab Republic," the overthrow of the pro-U.S. King Feisal II in Iraq by nationalist military officers, and the outbreak of anti-government/anti-U.S. rioting in Lebanon, where the CIA had helped install President Camille Caiman and keep him in power, leads the U.S. to dispatch 70 naval vessels, hundreds of aircraft and 14,000 Marines to Lebanon to preserve "stability." The U.S. threatens to use nuclear weapons if the Lebanese army resists, and to prevent an Iraqi move into the oilfields of Kuwait, and draws up secret plans for a joint invasion of Iraq with Turkey. The plan is shelved after the Soviet Union threatens to intervene.

1957-58: Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA agent in charge of the 1953 coup in Iran, plots, without success, to overthrow Egypt's Nasser. "Between July 1957 and October 1958, the Egyptian and Syrian governments and media announced the uncovering of what appear to be at least eight separate conspiracies to overthrow one or the other government, to assassinate Nasser, and/or prevent the expected merger of the two countries." (Blum, p. 93)

1960: U.S. works to covertly undermine the new government of Iraq by supporting anti-government Kurdish rebels and by attempting, unsuccessfully, to assassinate Iraq's leader, Abdul Karim Qassim, an army general who had restored relations with the Soviet Union and lifted the ban on Iraq's Communist Party.

1963: U.S. supports a coup by the Ba'ath party (soon to be headed by Saddam Hussein) to overthrow the Qassim regime, including by giving the Ba'ath names of communists to murder. "Armed with the names and whereabouts of individual communists, the national guards carried out summary executions. Communists held in detention...were dragged out of prison and shot without a hearing... [B]y the end of the rule of the Ba'ath, its terror campaign had claimed the lives of an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 communists."

1966: U.S. sells its first jet bombers to Israel, breaking with 1956 decision not to sell arms to the Zionist state.

June 1967: With U.S. weapons and support, Israeli military launches the so-called "Six Day War," seizing the remaining 23 percent of historic Palestine--the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem--along with Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Syria's Golan Heights.

September 17, 1970: With U.S. and Israeli backing, Jordanian troops attack Palestinian guerrilla camps, while Jordan's U.S.-supplied air force drops napalm from above. U.S. deploys the aircraft carrier Independence and six destroyers off the coast of Lebanon and readies troops in Turkey to support the assault. The U.S. threatens to use nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union if it intervenes. 5000 Palestinians are killed and 20,000 wounded. This massacre comes to be known as "Black September."

1973: The U.S. rushes $2.2 billion in emergency military aid to Israel after Egypt and Syria attack to regain Golan Heights and Sinai. U.S. puts forces on alert, and moves them into the region. When the Soviet Union threatens to intervene to prevent the destruction of Egypt's 3rd Army by Israel, U.S. nuclear forces go to DEFCON III to force the Soviets to back down.

1973-1975: U.S. supports Kurdish rebels in Iraq in order to strengthen Iran and weaken the then pro-Soviet Iraqi regime. When Iran and Iraq cut a deal, the U.S. withdraws support, denies the Kurds refuge in Iran, and stands by while the Iraqi government kills many Kurdish people.

1979-84: U.S. supports paramilitary forces to undermine the government of South Yemen, which was allied with the Soviet Union.


1978: As the Iranian revolution begins against the hated Shah, the U.S. continues to support him "without reservation" and urges him to act forcefully against the masses. In August 1978, some 400 Iranians are burned to death in the Rex Theater in Abadan after police chain and lock the exit doors. On September 8, 10,000 anti-Shah demonstrators are massacred at Teheran's Jaleh Square.

1979: The U.S. tries, without success, to organize a military coup to save the Shah. In January, the Shah is forced to flee and the reactionary Shi-ite Islamists led by Ayatollah Khomeini take power in February.

Summer 1979: The U.S. publicly supports the Khomeini regime's efforts to suppress the Kurdish liberation struggle and maintain Iranian domination of Kurdestan.

1979: U.S. President Jimmy Carter designates the Persian Gulf a vital U.S. interest and declares the U.S. will go to war to ensure the flow of oil.

1979: In response to Soviet military maneuvers on Iran's northern border, Carter secretly puts U.S. forces on nuclear alert and warns the Soviets they will be used if the Soviets intervene.

Summer 1979: U.S. begins arming and organizing Islamic fundamentalist "Mujahideen" in Afghanistan. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski writes, "This aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention," drawing the Soviets into an Afghan quagmire. Over the next decade the U.S. alone passed more than $3 billion in arms and aid to the Mujahideen, with another $3 billion provided by the U.S. ally Saudi Arabia.

November 4, 1979: Islamic militants, backed by the Khomeini regime, seize the U.S. embassy in Teheran and demand the U.S. return the Shah to Iran for trial. The Embassy and 52 U.S. personnel are held for 444 days; this international embarrassment prompts new U.S. actions against Iran--including an abortive rescue attempt.

December 1979: Soviet troops invade Afghanistan--which the U.S. rulers considered a "buffer state" between the Soviet Union to the north and the strategically important states of Iran and Pakistan to the south--overthrowing the Amin government and installing a more pro-Soviet regime.

1980: U.S. begins organizing a "Rapid Deployment Force," increasing its naval presence and pre-positioning military equipment and supplies. It also steps up aid to reactionary client states such as Turkey, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. On September 12, Turkey's military seizes power and unleashes a brutal clampdown on revolutionaries and Kurds struggling for liberation in order to "stabilize" the country as a key U.S. ally.

Summer 1980: As the Carter administration tries to bully Iran into surrendering the U.S. hostages, supporters of presidential candidate Ronald Reagan cut a secret deal with the Islamic Republic: promising that the Reagan administration will allow Israel to ship arms to Iran if Iran continues to hold the hostages during the coming presidential campaign to cripple Carter's campaign for re-election. (Gary Sick)

September 22, 1980: Iraq invades Iran with tacit U.S. support, starting a bloody eight-year war. The U.S. supports both sides in the war providing arms to Iran and money, intelligence and political support to Iraq in order to prolong the war and weaken both sides, while trying to draw both countries into the U.S. orbit.

1981: U.S. holds military maneuvers off the coast of Libya to bully the Qaddafi government. When a Libyan plane fires a missile at U.S. planes penetrating Libyan airspace, two Libyan planes are shot down.

1981: The Reagan administration secretly encourages Israel and other allies, such as South Korea and Turkey, to ship hundreds of millions of U.S.-made arms to Iran despite a ban on the shipment of U.S.-made weapons.

From the fall of 1981 through the winter of 1982, forces led by the Union of Iranian Communists, Sarbederan, mount an historic resistance to the Islamic Republic; the uprising at Amol at the end of January 1982 is brutally crushed by the forces of the Islamic Republic.

1982: After receiving a "green light" from the U.S., Israel invades Lebanon to crush Palestinian and other anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli forces. Over 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinians are killed, and Israel seizes southern Lebanon, holding it until 2000.

September 14, 1982: Lebanon's pro-U.S. President-elect, Bashir al-Jumayyil, is assassinated. The following day, Israeli forces occupy West Beirut, and from 16 to 18 September, the Phalangist militia, with the support of Israel's military under now-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, move into the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps and barbarically massacre over 1,000 unarmed Palestinian men, women, and children.

1983: U.S. sends troops to Lebanon, supposedly as part of a multinational "peace-keeping" operation but in reality to protect U.S. interests, including Israel's occupation forces. U.S. troops are withdrawn after a suicide bomber destroys a U.S. Marine barracks.

1983: CIA helps murder Gen. Ahmed Dlimi, a prominent Moroccan Army commander who seeks to overthrow the pro-U.S. Moroccan monarchy.

Spring 1983: The U.S. provides the Islamic Republic of Iran with a list of Soviet agents.

1984: U.S. shoots down two Iranian jets over Persian Gulf.

1985-1986: The U.S. secretly ships weapons to Iran, including 1,000 TOW anti-tank missiles, Hawk missile parts, and Hawk radars. The weapons are exchanged for U.S. hostages in Lebanon, and in hopes of increased U.S. leverage in Iran. The secret plot collapses when it is publicly revealed on November 3, 1986, by the Lebanese magazine, Al-Shiraa. (The Chronology)

1985: U.S. attempts to assassinate Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, a Lebanese Shiite leader. 80 people are killed in the unsuccessful attempt. (Blum)

1986: When a bomb goes off in a Berlin nightclub and kills two Americans, the U.S. blames Libya's Qaddafi. U.S. bombers strike Libyan military facilities, residential areas of Tripoli and Benghazi, and Qaddafi's house, killing 101 people, including Qaddafi's adopted daughter.

1987: The U.S. Navy is dispatched to the Persian Gulf to prevent Iran from cutting off Iraq's oil shipments. During these patrols, a U.S. ship shoots down an Iranian civilian airliner, killing all 290 onboard.

1988: The Iraqi regime launches mass poison-gas attacks on Kurds, killing thousands and bulldozing many villages. The U.S. responds by increasing its support for the Iraqi regime.

July 1988: A cease-fire ends the Iran-Iraq war with neither side victorious. Over 1 million Iranians and Iraqis are killed during the 8-year war.

1989: The last Soviet troops leave Afghanistan. The war, fueled by U.S.-Soviet rivalry, has torn Afghanistan apart, killing more than one million Afghans and forcing one-third of the population to flee into refugee camps. More than 15,000 Soviet soldiers die in the war.

July 1990: April Glaspie, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, meets with Saddam Hussein, who threatens military action against Kuwait for overproducing its oil quota, slant drilling for oil in Iraqi territory, and encroaching on Iraqi territory--seriously harming war weakened Iraq. Glaspie replies, "We have no opinion on the Arab- Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait."

August 1990: Iraq invades Kuwait. The U.S. seizes the moment to assert its hegemony in the post-Soviet world and strengthen its grip on the Persian Gulf: the U.S. condemns Iraq, rejects a diplomatic settlement, imposes sanctions, and prepares for an all-out military assault on Iraq.

January 16, 1991: After a 6-month military buildup, the U.S.-led coalition launches "Operation Desert Storm." For the next 42 days, U.S. and allied planes pound Iraq, dropping 88,000 tons of bombs, systematically targeting and largely destroying its electrical and water systems. On February 22, 1991, the U.S. coalition begins its 100-hour ground war. Heavily armed U.S. units drive deep into southern Iraq. Overall, 100,000 to 200,000 Iraqis are killed during the war.

Spring 1991: Shi'ites in the south and Kurds in the north rise up against Hussein's regime in Iraq. The U.S., after encouraging these uprisings during the war, now fears turmoil and instability in the region and refuses to support the rebels. The U.S. denies the rebels access to captured Iraqi weapons and allows Iraqi helicopters to attack them.

1991: Iraq withdraws from Kuwait and agrees to a UN-brokered cease-fire, but the U.S. and Britain insist that devastating sanctions be maintained. The U.S. declares large parts of north and south Iraq "no-fly" zones for Iraqi aircraft.

1991-present: U.S. military deployments continue after the war, with 17,000 to 24,000 U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf region at any given time. (CSM)

1992: U.S. Marines land near Mogadishu, Somalia, supposedly to ensure humanitarian relief and "restore order." But the U.S. also plans to remove the dominant warlord, Mohammed Aidid, and install a more pro-U.S. regime. In June 1983, after numerous gun battles with Aidid forces, U.S. helicopters strafe Aidid supporters, killing scores. In October, when U.S. forces attempt to kidnap two Aidid lieutenants, a fierce gunbattle breaks out. Five U.S. helicopters are shot down, 18 U.S. soldiers killed and 73 wounded, while 500 to 1000 Somalians are killed and many more injured.

March 1992: U.S. Defense Department drafts new, post-Soviet "Defense Planning Guidance" paper stating, "In the Middle East and Southwest Asia, our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region and preserve U.S. and Western access to the region's oil."

1993: U.S. brokers a "peace" agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization at Oslo, Norway. The agreement strengthens Israel and U.S. domination, while leaving Palestinians a small part of their historic homeland, broken up into isolated pieces surrounded by Israel. No provisions are made for the return of the four million Palestinian refugees living outside of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.

1993: U.S. launches missile attack on Iraq, claiming self-defense against an alleged assassination attempt on former president Bush two months earlier.

1995: The U.S. imposes oil and trade sanctions against Iran, reinforcing sanctions in effect since 1979, for alleged sponsorship of 'terrorism', seeking to acquire nuclear arms and hostility to the Middle East process. (BBC, CSM)

1995: With U.S. backing, Turkey launches a major military offensive, involving some 35,000 Turkish troops, against the Kurds in northern Iraq.

1998: Congress passes the "Iraq Liberation Act," giving nearly $100 million to groups attempting to overthrow the Hussein regime.

August 1998: Claiming retaliation for attacks on U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, President Clinton sends 75 cruise missiles pounding into rural Afghanistan --supposedly targeting Osama Bin Laden. The U.S. also destroys a factory producing half of Sudan's pharmaceutical supply, claiming the factory is involved in chemical warfare. The U.S. later acknowledges there is no evidence for the chemical warfare charge.

December 16-19, 1998: The U.S. and Britain launch "Operation Desert Fox," a bombing campaign supposedly aimed at destroying Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs. For most of the next year, U.S. and British planes strike Iraq every day with missiles. (BBC)

October 1999: The U.S. Department of Defense shifts command of its forces in Central Asia from the Pacific Command to the Central Command, underlining the heightened importance of the region, which includes vast oil reserves in and around the Caspian Sea.

January 2001: Tenth anniversary of the U.S. war on Iraq: sanctions are still in place and the UN estimates that 4,500 children are dying per month from disease and malnutrition as a result. The U.S. planes, which have flown over 280,000 sorties in Iraq over the past decade, continue to attack from the air. In the past two years, over 300 Iraqis have been killed in these bombings.

October 2001: U.S. begins bombing Afghanistan, as the first act of war in "Operation Enduring Freedom"--the U.S. "war against global terrorism."


Many different sources were used in compiling this chronology of U.S. aggression. Here are the main ones:

Numerous issues of the Revolutionary Worker newspaper including:

"Palestine: A History of Occupation and Resistance," November 10, 1991

"Fort Apache: The Middle East" a four-part series, January 6-27, 1984

"Israel: A State of Occupation," November 20, 2000

William Blum, Killing Hope--U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II (Common Courage Press 1995)

Berch Berberoglu, Turmoil in the Middle East--Imperialism, War, and Political Instability (State University of New York Press 1999)

Peter Mansfield, The Arabs (Pelican Books 1980)

Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power (Touchstone Books 1993)

Micah L. Sifry and Christopher Cerf, eds., The Gulf War Reader (Times Books 1991)

Michio Kaku & Daniel Axelrod, To Win a Nuclear War (South End Press 1987)

Joseph Gerson, ed., The Deadly Connection: Nuclear War & U.S. Intervention (American Friends Service Committee 1983)

Thomas Naff, ed., Gulf Security and the Iran-Iraq War (National Defense University Press and Middle East Research Institute 1985)

The National Security Archive, The Chronology (Warner Books 1987)

Gary Sick, October Surprise--America's Hostages in Iran and the Election of Ronald Reagan (Times Books 1991)

"50 Years of U.S. Policy in the Middle East," Christian Science Monitor, September 27, 2001

Zoltan Grossman, "A Century of U.S. Military Interventions: From Wounded Knee to Afghanistan," online at zmag.org

V. K. Sin, "Israel: Imperialism's Attack Dog in the Middle East," A World To Win, 1988/11

Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle (South End Press 1983)

Nicholas Guyatt, The Absence of Peace--Understanding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Zed Books 1998)

Edward W. Said, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, Janet L. Abu-Lughod, Muhammad Jallaj, Elia Zureik, "A Profile of the Palestinian People," in Edward Said & Christopher Hitchens, eds., Blaming the Victims--Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question (Verso 1988)

Bob Woodward, VEIL: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987 (Simon & Schuster 1987)

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