Iraq: the Final Storm
"I will reserve whatever options I have. I'll keep them close to my vest. Saddam Hussein needs to understand that I'm serious about defending our country."
- George W. Bush
What Mr Bush doesn't seem to understand are these two things. 1) Defending oil reserves and oil profits is not the same thing as defending one's country, and 2) Saddam Hussein is most likely just as serious about defending his country. Not that that matters to Cowboy George. Virtually all factions within the war party in Washington, DC are calling for an all-out war on Iraq beginning sometime this year.
Once again, the pretext that will be used involves the charade of weapons inspections by the United Nations. If one recalls the last time weapons inspectors were allowed into Iraq, they were thrown out because a good number of the inspectors were actually working for the CIA, and collecting information that was then relayed to British and US forces who bomb that country almost weekly. This time around, it is expected that the requirements of the inspections will be so restrictive that there is no way the Iraqi government would be able to agree to them. As an unnamed US intelligence source was quoted in the British newspaper The Guardian on February 14, 2002, "The White House 'will not take yes for an answer.'" What this means is that the war establishment is intent on provoking a crisis that will provide the US military with the fig leaf it needs to go to war.
One can be pretty certain that Saddam Hussein's departure from the world stage will be greeted with some relief among virtually every quarter, if and when it finally happens. Yet, if he is removed via US military force, that chorus is likely to be muffled, as well it should be. No nation has the right to attack another nation, no matter what their excuse. This is a basic understanding that guides the world of international relations, and is one of the fundamental mechanisms that allows the various nations to maintain their tenuous balances of power. When this understanding is ignored or flouted by a government, the balance between war and peace disappears and war rules the planet. The last time in history that a world power so blatantly disregarded this rule of international relations was when Adolph Hitler was building his Reich. Interestingly enough, his reasons were eerily similar to those given by GW and his band - self-defence being foremost among them.
The Oil Factor Until the nationalisation of Iraqi oil in 1972, US and British oil companies controlled 75 per cent of the production there. The nationalisation by the Ba'ath government (which overthrew the US-British installed monarchy in 1958), sent shockwaves throughout the international oil industry and virtually ended the US-British dominance of the Iraqi resources. As Iraq turned to the Soviet and French governments for development funds and partnerships, the US and British companies like Exxon, Chevron, and BP grew increasingly concerned about the loss of this profitable source of oil. In addition, the governments in Washington and London began to look for ways to regain their control of these oilfields, as part of their strategy to control access to as much of the world's oil as possible.
This strategy is what has driven US military and diplomatic moves in the Middle East since the middle of the 20th century, from the Potsdam conference to the current war against "terrorism" and its consequent saber-rattling against Iraq. When the UN (under the United States) began sanctions against the Iraqi people in 1990, punishing Saddam Hussein was a secondary goal. The primary reason for these sanctions and their continuing existence is to prevent any governments from trading in Iraqi oil beyond the limits set by the US-dominated Food-for-Oil program.
As things stand today, if sanctions were lifted before any US war on Iraq, the French, Russian, and Chinese would activate oil development and trade agreements they have made with the Iraqis. All of these agreements can only begin when the sanctions are lifted. This is why the US and its subsidiary, Great Britain, refuse to consider any lifting of the sanctions and are marching their respective peoples off to war. These governments know that the only way they can fulfill their strategic and economic goals in Iraq is by invading that country, overthrowing Saddam's government, and installing a regime willing to do the bidding of Washington.
It does not have to be a democratic regime, nor is it likely that it will be. It only has to make sure that the oilfields in Iraq will be controlled by the US and British oil giants. To this end, the Pentagon and its civilian counterparts in the White House and Congress are more than willing to occupy and rule Iraq until a pliable enough Iraqi government can be cast. Human Rights?
Despite Mr Hussein's unpopularity in the circles GW travels in, both here and abroad, Saddam is tremendously popular among many people in the streets of Palestine, Jordan, and other Middle Eastern and Islamic nations. This is not because he treats his people fairly; nor is it because he has a program that addresses the daily reality of these disenfranchised masses. No, the reason Mr Hussein is popular is because he stands up to the US behemoth, no matter what the cost. In a world where Washington can do whatever it wants (and does), those who are opposed to Washington's plans for global domination will take their inspiration wherever they can find it. Right now, the only sources appear to be Mr Hussein, Mr bin Laden, and a few other men who owe their prestige to brute force and/or terror.
The lack of other more humane and democratic leaders can be traced to the vacuum created by the Israeli/US policies around Palestine and their support of reactionary and autocratic regimes in the Middle East and around the world. At one time, there were a number of revolutionary organisations and leaders in the developing world who were not religiously connected or despotic. Now, after years of covert and overt operations designed to destroy these elements, all that remains are the religious radicals and Saddam Hussein. Interestingly enough, Mr Bush's war on his "axis of evil" may bring these two elements together in their struggle against the US empire.
That being said, it is vitally important to remember that it is not Saddam Hussein who will bear the brunt of any US campaign to end his rule. No, the primary victims will be the people of Iraq. Already devastated by the first Gulf War in 1990-91 and the sanctions against their country, the Iraqi people will once more bear the brunt of the killing campaign being planned by the US national security apparatus. The last time, around thousands of Iraqi draftees and civilians were killed during the US campaign. Several thousand died without even being able to defend themselves as US forces bombed air raid shelters, buried troops alive on the front lines after surrendering, and killed them with US gunships as they retreated on what became known as the "highway of death." The US was found guilty of war crimes by an international tribunal. Of course, as we all know, victors never commit war crimes, only losers.
Here in the western world, we need to take to the streets in opposition to the threats of war NOW, not after the attacks begin. We must demand that the killer sanctions against the Iraqi people end. Western troops should be withdrawn immediately from all countries in the region. In addition, it is time to demand that the UN resolutions demanding Israel return to its pre-1967 borders be enforced. In short, it is time for the world to take a serious look at the situation in the region and begin a process that addresses the concerns of all the players in the region, not just the governments that the US props up with cash and arms.
Ron Jacobs is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground (Verso: 1997). This article is reproduced with the author's kind permission from Counterpunch, August 8, 2002.