Big Pharma, Eli Lilly Old Z-magazine Online article, great read about reality in America: “Lilly, Zyprexa, & the Bush Family The diseasing of our malaise.”

The following was originally published in Z magazine Online, May 2004 Volume 17 Number 5:

“Big Pharma

Eli Lilly, Zyprexa, & the Bush Family
The diseasing of our malaise

By Bruce Levine


More than one journalist has uncovered corrupt connections between the Bush Family, psychiatry, and Eli Lilly & Company, the giant pharmaceutical corporation. While previous Lillygates have been more colorful, Lilly’s soaking state Medicaid programs with Zyprexa—its blockbuster, antipsychotic drug—may pack the greatest financial wallop. Worldwide in 2003, Zyprexa grossed $4.28 billion, accounting for slightly more than one-third of Lilly’s total sales. In the United States in 2003, Zyprexa grossed $2.63 billion, 70 percent of that attributable to government agencies, mostly Medicaid.

Historically, the exposure of any single Lilly machination—though sometimes disrupting it—has not weakened the Bush-psychiatry-Lilly relationship. In the last decade, some of the more widely reported Eli Lilly intrigues include:

  • Influencing the Homeland Security Act to protect itself from lawsuits
  • Accessing confidential patient records for a Prozac sample mailing
  • Rigging the Wesbecker Prozac-violence trial

A sample of those who have been on the Eli Lilly payroll includes:

  • Former President George Herbert Walker Bush (one-time member of the Eli Lilly board of directors)
  • Former CEO of Enron, Ken Lay (one-time member of the Eli Lilly board of directors)
  • George W. Bush’s former director of Management and Budget, Mitch Daniels (a former Eli Lilly vice president)
  • George W. Bush’s Homeland Security Advisory Council member, Sidney Taurel (current CEO of Eli Lilly)
  • The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (a recipient of Eli Lilly funding)

In 2002, British and Japanese regulatory agencies warned that Zyprexa may be linked to diabetes, but even after the FDA issued a similar warning in 2003, Lilly’s Zyprexa train was not derailed, as Zyprexa posted a 16 percent gain over 2002. The growth of Zyprexa has become especially vital to Lilly because Prozac—Lilly’s best-known product, which once annually grossed over $2 billion—having lost its patent protection, continues its rapid decline, down to $645.1 million in 2003.

At the same time regulatory agencies were warning of Zyprexa’s possible linkage to diabetes, Lilly’s second most lucrative product line was its diabetes treatment drugs (including Actos, Humulin, and Humalog), which collectively grossed $2.51 billion in 2003. Lilly’s profits on diabetes drugs and the possible linkage between diabetes and Zyprexa is not, however, the most recent Lillygate that Gardiner Harris broke about Zyprexa in the New York Times on December 18, 2003.

Zyprexa costs approximately twice as much as similar drugs and Harris reported that state Medicaid programs—going in the red in part because of Zyprexa— are attempting to exclude it in favor of similar, less expensive drugs. Harris focused on the Kentucky Medicaid program, which had a $230 million deficit in 2002, with Zyprexa being its single largest drug expense at $36 million. When Kentucky’s Medicaid program attempted to exclude it from its list of preferred medications, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) fought back. The nonprofit NAMI—ostensibly a consumer organization—bused protesters to hearings, placed full-page ads in newspapers, and sent faxes to state officials. What NAMI did not say at the time was that the buses, ads, and faxes were paid for by Eli Lilly.

Ken Silverstein, in Mother Jones in 1999, reported that NAMI took $11.7 million from drug companies over a three and a half year period from 1996 through 1999, with the largest donor being Eli Lilly, which provided $2.87 million. Eli Lilly’s funding also included loaning NAMI a Lilly executive, who worked at NAMI headquarters, but whose salary was paid for by Lilly. Though NAMI’s linkage to Lilly is a scandal to psychiatric survivors—whose journal MindFreedom published copies of Big Pharma checks to NAMI—the story didn’t have the widespread shock value that would elevate it to Lillygate status.

In 2002, Eli Lilly flexed its muscles at the highest level of the U.S. government in an audacious Lillygate. The event was the signing of the Homeland Security Act, praised by President George W. Bush as a “heroic action” that demonstrated “the resolve of this great nation to defend our freedom, our security and our way of life.” Soon after the Act was signed, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert discovered what had been slipped into the Act at the last minute and on November 25, 2002, he wrote, “Buried in this massive bill, snuck into it in the dark of night by persons unknown…was a provision that—incredibly—will protect Eli Lilly and a few other big pharmaceutical outfits from lawsuits by parents who believe their children were harmed by thimerosal.”

Thimerosal is a preservative that contains mercury and is used by Eli Lilly and others in vaccines. In 1999 the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Public Health Service urged vaccine makers to stop using mercury-based preservatives. In 2001 the Institute of Medicine concluded that the link between autism and thimerosal was “biologically plausible.” By 2002, thim- erosal lawsuits against Eli Lilly were progressing through the courts. The punchline of this Lillygate is that, in June 2002, President George W. Bush had appointed Eli Lilly’s CEO, Sidney Taurel, to a seat on his Homeland Security Advisory Council. Ultimately, even some Republican senators became embarrassed by this Lillygate and, by early 2003, moderate Republicans and Democrats agreed to repeal this particular provision in the Homeland Security Act.

In early 2003, “60 Minutes II” aired a segment on Lillygate and Prozac. With Prozac’s patent having run out, Eli Lilly began marketing a new drug, Prozac Weekly. Lilly sales representatives in Florida gained access to “confidential” patient information records and, unsolicited, mailed out free samples of Prozac Weekly. How did Eli Lilly get its hands on these medical records? Regulations proposed under Clinton and later implemented under Bush contained a provision that gave health-care providers the right to sell a person’s confidential medical information to marketing firms and drug companies. Despite many protests against this proposal, President Bush told Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson to allow the new rules to go into effect.

Perhps the most cinematic of all Lillygates culminated in 1997. The story began in 1989 when Joseph Wesbecker—one month after he began taking Prozac—opened fire with his AK-47 at his former place of employment, killing 8 and wounding 12 before taking his own life. British journalist John Cornwell covered the Louisville, Kentucky trial for the London Sunday Times Magazine, ultimately writing a book about it. Cornwell’s The Power to Harm (1996) is not only about a disgruntled employee becoming violent after taking Prozac, but is also about Eli Lilly’s power to corrupt the judicial system.

Victims of Joseph Wesbecker sued Eli Lilly, claiming that Prozac had pushed Wesbecker over the edge. The trial took place in 1994, but received scant attention as the public was transfixed by the O.J. Simpson spectacle. While Eli Lilly had been settling many Prozac violence cases behind closed doors (more than 150 Prozac lawsuits had been filed by the end of 1994), it was looking for a showcase trial that it could win. Although a 1991 FDA “blue ribbon panel” investigating the association between Prozac and violence had voted not to require Prozac to have a violence warning label, by 1994 word was getting around that five of the nine FDA panel doctors had ties to Big Pharma—two of them serving as lead investigators for Lilly-funded Prozac studies. Thus, with the FDA panel now known to be tainted, Lilly believed that Wesbecker’s history was such that Prozac would not be seen as the cause of his mayhem.

A crucial component of the victims’ attorneys’ strategy was for the jury to hear about Eli Lilly’s history of reckless disregard. Victims’ attorneys especially wanted the jury to hear about Lilly’s anti- inflamatory drug Oraflex, introduced in 1982 but taken off the market three months later. A U.S. Justice Department investigation linked Oraflex to the deaths of more than 100 patients and concluded that Lilly had misled the FDA. Lilly was charged with 25 counts related to mislabeling side effects and pled guilty—but in 1985, the Reagan-Bush Justice Department saw fit to fine them a mere $25,000.

In the Wesbecker trial, Lilly attorneys argued that the Oraflex information would be prejudicial and Judge John Potter initially agreed that the jury shouldn’t hear it. However, when Lilly attorneys used witnesses to make a case for Eli Lilly’s superb system of collecting and analyzing side effects, Judge Potter said that Lilly had opened the door to evidence to the contrary and ruled that the Oraflex information would now be permitted. To Judge Potter’s amazement, victims’ attorneys never presented the Oraflex evidence and Eli Lilly won the case. Later, it was discovered that—in a manipulation Cornwell described as “unprecedented in any Western court”—Eli Lilly cut a secret deal with victims’ attorneys to pay them and their clients not to introduce the Oraflex evidence. However, Judge Potter smelled a rat and fought for an investigation. In 1997, Eli Lilly quietly agreed to the verdict being changed from a Lilly victory to “dismissed as settled.”

Looking back further to 1992, Alexander Cockburn, in both the Nation and the New Statesman, was one of the first to connect the dots between the Bush family and Eli Lilly. After George Herbert Walker Bush left his CIA director post in 1977 and before becoming vice president under Ronald Reagan in 1980, he was on Eli Lilly’s board of directors. As vice president, Bush failed to disclose his Lilly stock and lobbied hard on behalf of Big Pharma—especially Eli Lilly. For example, Bush sought special tax breaks from the IRS for Lilly and other pharmaceutical corporations that were manufacturing in Puerto Rico.

Cockburn also reported on Mitch Daniels, then a vice president at Eli Lilly, who in 1991 co-chaired a fundraiser that collected $600,000 for the Bush-Quayle campaign. This is the same Mitch Daniels who in 2001 became George W. Bush’s Director of Management and Budget. In June 2003, soon after Daniels departed from that job, he ran for governor of Indiana (home to Eli Lilly headquarters). In a piece in the Washington Post called “Delusional on the Deficit,” Senator Ernest Hollings wrote, “When Daniels left two weeks ago to run for governor of Indiana, he told the Post that the government is ‘fiscally in fine shape.’ Good grief! During his 29-month tenure, he turned a so-called $5.6 trillion, 10-year budget surplus into a $4 trillion deficit—a mere $10 trillion downswing in just two years. If this is good fiscal policy, thank heavens Daniels is gone.”

There is one Eli Lilly piece of history so bizarre that if told to many psychiatrists, one just might get diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic and medicated with Zyrprexa. Former State Department officer John Marks in The Search for the “Manchurian Candidate”: The CIA and Mind Control, The Secret History of the Behavioral Sciences (1979)—along with the Washington Post (1985) and the New York Times (1988)—reported an amazing story about the CIA and psychiatry. A lead player was psychiatrist D. Ewen Cameron, president of the American Psychiatric Association in 1953. Cameron was curious to discover more powerful ways to break down patient resistance. Using electroshock, LSD, and sensory deprivation, he was able to produce severe delirium. Patients often lost their sense of identity, forgetting their own names and even how to eat. The CIA, eager to learn more about Cameron’s brainwashing techniques, funded him under a project code-named MKULTRA. According to Marks, Cameron was part of a small army of the CIA’s LSD-experimenting psychiatrists. Where did the CIA get its LSD? Marks reports that the CIA had been previously supplied by the Swiss pharmaceutical corporation Sandoz, but was uncomfortable relying on a foreign company and so, in 1953, the CIA asked Eli Lilly to make them up a batch of LSD, which Lilly subsequently donated to the CIA.

The most important story about Eli Lilly is that Lilly’s two current blockbuster psychiatric drugs—Zyprexa and Prozac—are, in scientific terms, of little value. It is also about how Lilly and the rest of Big Pharma have corrupted psychiatry, resulting in the increasing medicalization of unhappiness. This diseasing of our malaise has diverted us from examining the social sources for our unhappiness—and implementing societal solutions.

Much of the scientific community now acknowledges that the advantage of Prozac and Prozac-like drugs over a sugar-pill placebo is slight—or as Prevention and Treatment in 2002 defined it, “clinically negligible.” When Prozac is compared to an active placebo (one with side effects), then Prozac is shown to have, in scientific terms, zero value. Moreover, many doctors and researchers now warn us about the dangers of Prozac. Psychiatrist Joseph Glenmullen’s Prozac Backlash (2000) documented “neurological disorders including disfiguring facial and whole body tics indicating potential brain damage…agitation, muscle spasms, and parkinsonism,” and he stated that debilitating withdrawal occurs in 50 percent of patients who abruptly come off Prozac and Prozac-like drugs.

Just as Prozac and other SSRI drugs are no longer seen by many scientists as an improvement in safety and effectiveness over the previous class of antidepressants, psychiatry’s highly touted Zyprexa (and other “atypical antipsychotics”) turns out to be no great advance over the older problematic anti-ps ychotics such as Haldol. Journalist Robert Whitaker, in Mad in America (2002), details how Eli Lilly’s Zyprexa research was biased against the inexpensive Haldol and how claims of improved safety of Zyprexa are difficult to justify. Whitaker reports that in drug trials used by FDA reviewers, 22 percent of Zyprexa patients had “serious” adverse effects as compared to 18 percent of the Haldol patients.

The United States and other nations that have bought psychiatry’s and Big Pharma’s explanations and treatments turn out to have worse results with those diagnosed as psychotic than those nations who are less enthusiastic about drugs and who care more about community. In 1992, the World Health Organization (WHO), in a repeat of earlier findings, found that so-called underdeveloped nations, which emphasize community support rather than medications, have better results with those diagnosed as psychotic than nations, which stress drug treatments. In nations such as the United States, where 61 percent of those diagnosed as psychotic were maintained on antipsychotic medications, only 37 percent had full remission. While in India, Nigeria, and Colombia, where only 16 percent of patients diagnosed as psychotic were maintained on antipsychotic medications, approximately 63 percent of patients had full remission.

While scientists are not certain about the reasons for these WHO findings, two possible explanations are: (1) psychiatric drugs, even for the most disturbed among us, are not the greatest long-term solution; (2) community support, crucial to our mental health, does not lend itself to commercialization. Thus, in areas such as mental health, radically commercialized societies such as the United States are backward societies.

Though some mental health professionals insist that atypical antipsychotics such as Zyprexa are a great advance, I’ve met few Zyprexa users who agree. A few years ago, a well-read man with a professorial manner in his early 60s, diagnosed by several other doctors as paranoid schizophrenic, came to see me. He had, at various times, taken several types of antipsychotic drugs and told me, laughing loudly between each sentence, “I’m crazy on drugs and crazy off drugs. Haldol helped me sleep and Zyprexa helped me sleep, but I hated the Haldol and when I was on Zyprexa, I couldn’t take a shit for three weeks. Now I don’t take any drugs and I can’t sleep and I am a big pain-in-the ass, but I can remember better what I read.” A few weeks later he told me, “It’s all friendly fascism. Yes, friendly fascism. Was it you who told me—or was it I who told you—that fascism is about the complete integration of industry and government under a centralized authority? Friendly fascism, right? I suppose I say ‘friendly fascism’ too much, but you’re not Ashcroft and neither am I, right? Don’t you agree that it’s all friendly fascism?” Then he flashed a giant smile and said one more time, “Friendly fascism, right, Bruce?”


Bruce E. Levine, PhD, is a psychologist and author of Commonsense Rebellion: Taking Back Your Life from Drugs, Shrinks, Corporations and a World Gone Crazy (New York-London: Continuum, 2003). “
Advertisements

Article in Christian Science Monitor describes how lawmakers are “gutting” the Endagered Species Act

Click here to read a great article by Eoin O’Carroll, published in the Christian Science Monitor on August 12, 2008.

A BBC investigation on U.S. war profiteering estimates that $23 billion of taxpayer funds has been “lost, stolen, or not properly accounted for in Iraq.”

A BBC investigation on U.S. war profiteering estimates that $23 billion of taxpayer funds has been “lost, stolen, or not properly accounted for in Iraq.” The figure, which uses U.S. and Iraqi government sources, is meeting resistance from the Bush administration, which pushed through a gag order in dozens of court cases involving the alleged mismanagement of funds by private contractors.


The BBC:

The BBC’s Panorama programme has used US and Iraqi government sources to research how much some private contractors have profited from the conflict and rebuilding.

A US gagging order is preventing discussion of the allegations.

The order applies to 70 court cases against some of the top US companies.

To date, no major US contractor faces trial for fraud or mismanagement in Iraq. Read the rest of this article here.

sorry about your children...

Sunnis, Shiites, Karbala and Baghdad explained, why people will continue to die there…

This is an excerpt from an article by Scott Ritter, a former Marine intelligence officer, served as a chief weapons inspector for the United Nations in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He is the author, most recently, of “Target Iran: The Truth About the White House’s Plans for Regime Change” ::

“…So here is the quiz: Explain the relationship between the Iraqi cities of Karbala and Baghdad as they impact the coexistence of Iraq’s Shiite and Sunni populations.

Most respondents who have a basic understanding of Iraq will answer that Karbala is a city of significance to Iraq’s Shiite population. Baghdad is Iraq’s capital, with a mixed Sunni and Shiite population. If that is your answer, you fail.

Karbala is a holy city for the Shiites. Its status as such is based on the fact that Hussein, a grandson of the prophet Muhammad and son of Ali, the fourth caliph, was killed outside Karbala in a battle between Hussein’s followers and forces loyal to Yazid, son of Muawiyah, the fifth caliph. The two sides were fighting over the line of succession when it came to leading the Muslim faithful after the death of Muhammad in the year 632. Abu Bakr, a close colleague of Muhammad but not a member of Muhammad’s biological family, was elected as the first caliph after the prophet’s death, an act that many Muslims believed broke faith with a necessity for the successor of Muhammad to be from his family. Abu Bakr’s death brought about a quick succession of caliphs, all of whom met untimely deaths and none of whom were from the family line of Muhammad.

When Ali was elected as the fourth caliph, many Muslims believed that for the first time since the death of Muhammad the caliphate had been restored to one properly authorized in the eyes of God to lead the Muslim faith. In fact, upon Ali’s accession as caliph, one of his first acts was to seek to restore the Muslim faith to its puritanical origins, which Ali believed had been departed from by the merchant families closely allied with the third caliph, Othman. Ali’s efforts were bitterly resisted by merchant families in Damascus, which refused to recognize Ali as the caliph. The head of the Damascus rebels, Muawiyah, fought a bitter conflict with Ali, which weakened the caliphate and paved the way for Ali’s assassination.

Upon Ali’s death, the caliphate was transferred to his elder son, Hassan, but when this succession was challenged by Muawiyah, Hassan relented, transferring the caliphate to Muawiyah with the caveat that once Muawiyah died, the caliphate would be returned to the lineage of the prophet Muhammad. When Muawiyah died, the caliphate passed to his son, Yazid. This succession was challenged by Hussein, Hassan’s brother and Ali’s younger son, who believed that the succession, as dictated by Hassan when he abdicated, should have gone to someone within the direct line of the prophet Muhammad, namely Hussein. Yazid’s treacherous attack on Hussein and his followers, occurring as it did during prayer time, set the stage for the split in the Muslim faith between the Shiat Ali (Shia, or followers of Ali) and the Ahl-i Sunnah (Sunni, or the people who follow in the custom of the prophet Muhammad). Both Shiite and Sunni view one another as deviants from the pure form of Islam as taught by Muhammad, and as such functioning as apostates deserving death.

If you answered the quiz on Karbala in the above fashion, you would still be wrong. The split between Sunni and Shiite goes beyond simple hatred for one another. Not only did the religion split, but so too did the methodology of governance as well as the interrelationship between religion and politics.

There was a final chance at achieving unity within the Muslim world. In the year 750, at the battle of Zab in Egypt, nearly the entire aristocracy formed from the lineage of Muawiyah was annihilated when the Damascus-based caliphate clashed with predominantly Shiite rebels. Jaffar, a Shiite spiritual leader and the great-grandson of Hussein, was supposed to be elevated to the caliphate, thereby uniting the Muslim world, but was instead murdered by Al-Mansur, who established the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad. This final treachery created a permanent split between the Shiites and those who became known as Sunnis.

The Shiite faithful embraced rule by imams, infallible leaders who provide guidance over spiritual and political affairs. According to the majority of Shiites, there are 12 imams, originating with Ali. The 12th imam, also named Muhammad, is believed by many Shiites to be the Mahdi, or savior, who went into hiding at God’s command and will return at the end of days to bring salvation to the faithful. With the passing of the 12th imam, matters of spiritual and political concerns were dealt with by religious scholars, or the ulema. These scholars are products of religious academies, known as “hawza.” In Iraq, the city of Najaf is home to the most important hawza, the Hawza Ilmiya. Each hawza produces religious scholars, or “marjas,” who interpret religion and provide guidance over social matters to those who rally around their particular teachings.

The Najaf Hawza currently has four marjas, or grand ayatollahs, each of whom reigns supreme when it comes to matters of religion or state. The faithful look to their hawza for guidance in all they do, and the sermons given by the various marjas take on a significance little understood by those who aren’t born and bred into that society. To speak of creating a unified Iraqi state without factoring in the reality of the hawza and its competing marjas is tantamount to claiming one will seek to fly without factoring in the realities of lift and gravity.

So if you answered the question concerning the city of Karbala with anything remotely resembling an insight into not only the schism that exists between the Sunni and the Shiite but also how the development of the practice of the Shiite faith has led to an absolute insinuation of religious dogma into every aspect of social and political life in a manner that operates independently of any so-called central state authority, you would get a passing grade, enabling you to move on to the next city covered by the pop quiz: Baghdad….

It is not only the Shiites who are bound by religious ties seemingly indecipherable to the West. From the chaos that was created with the Islamic schism came a very fluid situation in the development of Sunni Islamic dogma, with the Sunnis embracing a notion of consensus among the historical Muslim community, a line of thinking that led to the creation of four so-called legal schools of Islamic thought (the Maliki, the Hannafi, the Hanbali and the Shafi’i). These schools produced Islamic scholars who in turn competed for a constituency of followers. While in theory Sunni scholars preached adherence to the customs of the prophet Muhammad, in practice the Sunni schools became intertwined in the affairs of state and business. This deviation from the pure practice of faith led to the growth of “mystic societies” known as Sufism. Sufi brotherhoods sprang up throughout the Muslim world, each preaching its own mystical path toward achieving personal growth through the teachings of the prophet Muhammad.

The Abbasid caliphate, which oversaw this period of religious “softening,” in which the pure practice of Islam gave way to a more secular tolerance of the baser concerns of man, was centered in Baghdad. It was the fall of Baghdad to the Mongols in 1258 that signaled not only the end of the Abbasid caliph’s rule but the certification in the eyes of some Sunni faithful that Abbasid’s ruin was brought about by the lack of pure faith in Islam by those professing to be Muslim. One of the basic tenants of the Sunni faith was the notion of community consensus, or “taqlid.” Taqlid was actively practiced by three of the four “legal” schools of Sunni thought. The sole exception was the school of the Hanbali, which followed a stricter interpretation of the faith. A Hanbali religious jurist, Ibn Taymiya, rose to prominence in the aftermath of the Mongol invasion. He held not only that the Mongols were an enemy of Islam but that the Shiite Islamic state that emerged in Persia after the Mongol conquest was likewise anathema.

More important, Ibn Taymiya broke ranks with the rest of the Sunni community, especially those who practiced Sufism, declaring all to be an affront to God. Ibn Taymiya rejected the notion of community consensus represented in the taqlid and instead professed that a true Muslim state could exist only where the political leader governed as a partner with the religious leader, and was subordinated to the religious through strict adherence to the “sharia,” or religious law. The Muslim jurists, or “ulema,” held total sway over society, to the extent that even matters pertaining to war were reserved for the religious leader, or imam, who was the only person authorized to declare a jihad.

During the Abbysid caliph, the term jihad had taken on the connotation of inner struggle. This interpretation gained wide acceptance with the spread of the Sufi brotherhoods, which were all about inner discovery. Ibn Taymiya rejected this notion of jihad, instead proclaiming that true jihad involved a relentless struggle against the enemies of Islam. For a while his teachings were popular, especially when they were being used to encourage the forces of Sunni Islam confronting the infidel Mongol invaders. However, his strict interpretation of Hanbali tenets were rejected even by other Hanbali religious scholars, and Ibn Taymiya himself was branded a heretic.

The teachings of Ibn Taymiya continued to be taught in certain Hanbali circles, including those operating in the holy city of Medina. It was here, in the 18th century, that a Arab Bedouin from the Nejd desert, in what is today Saudi Arabia, named Muhammed al-Wahhab emerged to create a movement that not only embraced the teachings of Ibn Taymiya but took them even further, preaching a virulent form of Islam that claimed to seek to bring the faithful back to the religion as practiced by the prophet Muhammad himself. Wahhab’s movement, known as the Call to Unity, reflected his strict interpretation of Islam as set forth in his book Kitab al-Tawhid, or the Book of Unity.

At first Wahhab was rejected by the Sunni scholars, and he was hounded and finally forced to take refuge in the tiny village of Dariya. There Wahhab befriended the local governor, Muhammed Ibn Saud, initiating what was to become a partnership in which the Saud family took on the role of emir, or political leader, while Wahhab became imam, or religious leader. The team of Bedouin warrior and Islamic fanatic soon led to what would become known as the Wahhabi conquest, bringing much of what is now present-day Saudi Arabia under their strict religious rule. In 1802 a Wahhabi army attacked Karbala and sacked the sacred Shiite shrine to Hussein. In 1803 the Wahhabis sacked Mecca, laying waste to the most holy sites in the Islamic world, including the Great Mosque. In 1804 the Wahhabis captured Medina, looted the tomb of the prophet Muhammad and shut off the hajj, or pilgrimage, to all non-Wahhabis. The rise of the Wahhabi empire was seen as a threat to all Islam, and soon a massive counterattack was mounted by the caliphate in Egypt. By 1818 the Wahhabis had been destroyed in battle, and everyone professing Wahhabism was treated as an apostate and butchered. The head of the Saud tribe was captured and beheaded, along with many of his fellow tribesmen.

Deep in the Arab deserts, a small number of Saudi tribesmen, strict adherents to Wahhabism, survived the Egyptian onslaught and began the struggle to regain their lost power. By 1924 the Wahhabis once again controlled Mecca and Medina, and by 1932 a new nation, Saudi Arabia, emerged from the Arabian deserts, governed by the house of Saud and with religious affairs totally in the hands of the Wahhabis.

To the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia there were two great sources of religious heretics: the Shiites, who ruled in Iran and represented a majority population in several Arab nations, including Iraq, and worse still, the Sunni Arabs, who rejected the true path as represented by the teachings of Wahhab. The puritanical form of Islam pushed by the Wahhabis was difficult to export, however, until the oil crisis of 1973, after which the Saudi government was able to fund the printing of Wahhabi literature and training of Wahhabi missionaries. In Iraq, there was some attraction to the puritanical teachings of Wahhabism among the Bedouin of the western deserts. However, with the rise to power of Saddam Hussein, Wahhabism and those who proselytized in its name were treated as enemies of the state. Wahhabism was still practiced in the shadows of Sunni mosques throughout Iraq, but anyone caught doing so was immediately arrested and put to death.

Wahhabi concerns over the weakening of the Muslim world by those who practiced anything other than pure Islam were certified in the minds of the faithful when, in April 2003, American soldiers captured Baghdad in what many Wahhabis viewed as a repeat of the sack of the city at the hands of the Mongols in 1258. Adding insult to injury, the role of Iraq’s Shiites in aiding and abetting the American conquest was seen as proof positive that the only salvation for the faithful could come at the hands of a pure form of the Islamic faith, that of Wahhabism. As the American liberation dragged on into the American occupation, and the level of violence between the Shiites and Sunnis grew, the call of jihad as promulgated by the Wahhabis gained increasing credence among the tribes of western Iraq.

The longer the Americans remain in Iraq, the more violence the Americans bring down on Iraq, and the more the Americans are seen as facilitating the persecution of the Sunnis by the Shiites, the more legitimate the call of the Wahhabi fanatics become. While American strategists may speak of the rise of al-Qaida in Iraq, this is misrecognition of what is really happening. Rather than foreigners arriving and spreading Wahhabism in Iraq, the virulent sect of Islamic fundamentalism is spreading on its own volition, assisted by the incompetence and brutality of an American occupation completely ignorant of the reality of the land and people it occupies. This is the true significance of Baghdad, and any answer not reflecting this will be graded as failing.

A pop quiz, consisting of one question in two parts. Most readers might complain that it is not realistic to expect mainstream America to possess the knowledge necessary to achieve the level of comprehension required to pass this quiz. I agree. However, since the mission of the United States in Iraq has shifted from disarming Saddam to installing democracy to creating stability, I think it only fair that the American people be asked about those elements that are most relevant to the issue, namely the Shiite and Sunni faithful and how they interact with one another.

It is sadly misguided to believe that surging an additional 20,000 U.S. troops into Baghdad and western Iraq will even come close to redressing the issues raised in this article. And if you concur that the reality of Iraq is far too complicated to be understood by the average American, yet alone cured by the dispatch of additional troops, then we have a collective responsibility to ask what the hell we are doing in that country to begin with. If this doesn’t represent a clarion call for bringing our men and women home, nothing does.

Scott Ritter was a Marine Corps intelligence officer from 1984 to 1991 and a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. He is the author of numerous books, including “Iraq Confidential” (Nation Books, 2005) and “Target Iran” (Nation Books, 2006).