The Gulf War: premeditated murder of a nation

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 100 April/May 1991

gulf war
September 1990: Refugees plea for food on the border between Iraq and Jordan

'Then this civilisation and justice stand forth as undisguised savagery and lawless revenge...A glorious civilisation, indeed, the great problem of which is how to get rid of the heaps of corpses it made after the battle was over'

(Karl Marx, The Civil War in France)

After 40 days of war there are not heaps but mountains of Iraqi corpses. 200,000 Iraqi people are dead or mutilated. The imperialists lost just 157. In this statistic is starkly revealed the one-sided savagery of the war. 1,000 Iraqi lives for each Western one. 28 countries, including the richest and most powerful, against one nation of 18 million people. An imperialist army of terrifying technological killing power against a conscript army equipped with second rate weaponry. An air force that could pound Iraqi towns and troops without fear of airborne challenge until pilots complained there was nothing left to bomb. Eddie Abrahams and Maxine Williams argue that those not shamed and disgusted by this spectacle have forfeited their humanity.

US soldiers dig pits that are filled with the mangled remains of the numberless retreating Iraqis burned and dismembered in that final holocaust on the Kuwait-Basra highway. Iraqi families await the return of sons, brothers, husbands and lovers who will never come back. They wait for them in devastated cities where cholera, typhoid and hepatitis seep out of the ground to kill the young. The work of decades has been reduced to rubble. 'They have bombed us back to the stone age.'

What words are adequate to describe this crime in an era when language itself has been polluted by the doublespeak of war? The frying alive of men inside a metal tank coffin is a 'surgical strike'. The systematic pulverisation of thousands of men in cars and lorries is 'a turkey shoot'. A shelter for men, women and children is a 'command and control centre'. The bombing of trucks of soldiers as they bent in prayer at the roadside is a 'fun mission'.

Military theorist Clausewitz wrote:

'The invention of gunpowder, the constant progress of improvements in the construction of firearms, are sufficient proof that the tendency to destroy the adversary which lies at the bottom of the conception of War is in no way changed or modified through the progress of civilization.'

The day by day destruction of Iraq certainly revealed the limits of civilization in the West.

British bishops searched their theological vaults to discover means of calling this carnage 'justifiable'. Journalists acted as pimps and propagandists for the war machine. Warm, safe, well-fed politicians and intellectuals blithely called for sacrifice from young British men too poor, stupid or amoral to find any other trade than killing. And the Labour Movement, whose 'progressive' nature is talked of only amongst small groups of Trotskyist visionaries, clapped its hands and counted up the new jobs to be had in arms production.

Few questioned the right of imperialist nations to impose their will by force on the Arab world.

The murder of a nation

And what was the imperialist will? General Norman Schwarzkopf said: 'There is a lot more purpose to this war than getting the Iraqis out of Kuwait.' Indeed so. Saddam Hussein is the type of vicious anti-working class and anti-communist tyrant usually lovingly nurtured by the USA. But he made the fatal error of displaying independent bourgeois ambitions in a region which the USA believes it alone should control. Oil wealth and a massive army threatened to allow the realisation of these ambitions. The USA was not prepared even to contemplate an Iraq capable of dictating terms about oil prices and regional power. So on 17 January they began the demolition of Iraqi economic and military power in order to eliminate this threat. In the process they hoped to unseat Hussein himself if a safe alternative could be found.

Proof that this, rather than the liberation of Kuwait, was their aim came on at least three occasions. On the eve of war, Saddam Hussein told UN Secretary General Perez de Cuellar that withdrawal from Kuwait was negotiable. This being the last thing the USA wanted to hear, it was kept secret by the UN and the bombing began. On the eve of the ground war the Soviet government negotiated a peace plan committing Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. The US answer was the thunder of artillery. And even after the Iraqi government accepted all UN resolutions and the decimated Iraqi forces were fleeing Kuwait, the US response was to bomb the helpless retreating men, occupy parts of Iraq and step up the bombing.

The reconquest of Kuwait did not demand the destruction of Iraq's industrial and social infrastructure. But Iraq's roads, railways, bridges, airports, electricity generating plants, water pumping and purification plants, telecommunications, oil refineries, factories, schools, health services, research institutions and government buildings lie in ruins. The estimated material damage amounts to $200bn. Reconstruction will take decades.

Also in ruins is the Iraqi army, first armed and now destroyed by the imperialists. It has lost 3,500 of its 4,200 tanks, 2,000 of its 3,000 artillery guns and 2,000 of its 2,700 troop carriers. Just as the imperialists willed at the beginning of this conflict, the costs of reconstruction and the threat of reparations will ensure that for years to come Iraq will be unable to challenge imperialism.

The outcome of this war is a devastating setback for human progress, socialism and communism. For in the murder of Iraq, the US-led imperialists have issued a warning to all the poor and oppressed nations of the world: the wealth of the world belongs only to us, dare to question this and you will be cut down as Iraq was.

The tide of reaction

Now we see the reality of the world in which the socialist bloc has collapsed. The Soviet Union under Gorbachev's pro-imperialist leadership cannot stay the hand of rich and powerful nations as they plunder the world. Our Nobel Peace prize winner, who has brought the Soviet Union to the brink of political collapse, was bribed by the imperialists to support the war. His peace effort was merely a cynical response to internal anti-imperialist pressure. Nor will the UN, however much Tony Benn et al pretend, act as anything other than the rubber stamp for the US. Although the war was fought under its auspices, the UN Security Council did not even meet during hostilities. In this war the United Nations has been the hand-wringing archbishop of imperialist diplomacy.

The new world order to which Bush and Major plan to subject the world is the bloody dictatorship of imperialist capital. It will be the world order of rich nations who live at the expense of those who have nothing. Already the imperialist plans for the Middle East are unfolding and they are grim indeed.

The spoils of war

The post-war Gulf is being shaped. The first US priority was to restore the feudal al-Sabah family in Kuwait. After kissing the soil its next act was to start shooting its democratic opponents. Palestinians in Kuwait are being tortured and terrorised. The second priority for the US is to engineer a satisfactory outcome to the violent contest for power taking place in Iraq. The US is carefully weighing its options but it is clear already from its actions around Basra and its silence on the Kurdish uprising that it would prefer a tame Baathi/army alliance without Saddam Hussein to an altogether unpredictable outcome.

And what of the Middle East as a whole? The major Middle East governments are to be compliant client regimes. Syria, clutching Lebanon as its war booty, needs US and Saudi money to survive. Egypt has long been on the US payroll. Saudi Arabia is the payroll. At a meeting of the Gulf states, Syria and Egypt agreed to provide the Arab cover for US policing of the Gulf. In return they will receive a large part of a $15bn development fund to fend off the threat of economic disintegration and revolution.

As ever, these political arrangements are designed to safeguard and multiply the mighty dollar. Hundreds of foreign firms have converged like vultures expecting to reap enormous profits from Kuwaiti reconstruction estimated at $50bn. British capital also expects a cut for services rendered. 'Prizes are still to come as far as British industry is concerned' said one businessman, especially as Kuwaiti officials 'know who their friends are.' The oil companies are now plotting to reverse the process of nationalisation of the oil industry in Arab countries and thus enhance their already giant profits.

The table is laid for the victory feast but the guests are already fighting over the choicest dishes. A French proposal for a UN conference to discuss a new world order for the next 10-15 years has been shunned by the US. It hopes to use its military ascendancy to fashion a world in which its interests reign supreme. However the Japanese and Germans are resisting these designs and threatening to withhold billions of dollars of subsidies they promised to the US. The Japanese want to use some of this money to make profits for themselves out of reconstruction contracts. With the recession biting deeper in the US and economic complications mounting in Germany and Japan there will be no easy ride for imperialism.

Palestinian and Kurdish self-determination - a different story

In his post-war speech a triumphal Bush pledged to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Such words sent a cold shiver down the spines of all Palestinians. The threat is that another generation's hopes for self-determination and statehood are to be buried. For occupying Kuwait, Iraq suffered death and destruction. For occupying the West Bank and Gaza Israel receives unwavering support. During the war it kept all the West Bank Palestinians under a five week 24-hour curfew. Human rights, like self-determination are a very flexible concept. Israel has now been advanced another $650m with another $10bn being negotiated. These funds will be used to settle hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews and will be the first step in the displacement of all Palestinians from the Occupied Territories.

During the war much was said about Saddam Hussein's suppression of the Kurds. Afterwards a deathly silence fell. Kurdistan was not to be on the agenda for the post-war settlement. As the first uprisings began in Turkish and Iraqi Kurdistan, the imperialists kept a cool distance, confident that their fascist ally, the Ozal regime in Turkey, was ready to crush any potential independent Kurdish state.

Can anything stem the tide?

As the imperialist victory parade marches around the world it faces obstacles and challenges. US military dominance in the area by no means secures it against social and political upheavals whipped to exploding point by poverty and humiliation. Foremost amongst these are the decades-long struggles of the Palestinian and Kurdish peoples. They have shown a will to continue the struggle that surmounts setbacks and defeats. As the Intifada continues a new Kurdish uprising breaks out.

But isolated they face a terrible situation. The crushing of Iraq has increased the odds against them enormously. Communist and revolutionary nationalist forces have been gravely weakened. Muslim fundamentalism, funded primarily by Saudi and Kuwaiti money and cloaking its bourgeois and petit-bourgeois ambitions in the language of the poor is poised to exploit and manipulate the mass movement to its own ends. Today more than ever, the Palestinian people, like all oppressed nations fighting for freedom, need the solidarity and support of an international anti-imperialist movement. These exist amongst movements in oppressed nations. In contrast, the working class in the imperialist counties has demonstrated no independent political existence from imperialist masters.

In the face of the most massive assault on an oppressed nation the British working class proved itself either impotent or, worse, an enthusiastic accomplice to the imperialist crime. At all stages the Labour Party stood solidly behind the war effort. Colonel Kinnock shamelessly defended the Basra-Kuwait City Highway slaughter. Like the Conservative Party, the Labour Party is committed to destroying any challenge to imperialism's control of region.

Seventy years ago Lenin said that the choice facing humanity was socialism or barbarism. Imperialism has inflicted barbarism on most of the world's population with the passive or active acquiescence of large sections of the imperialist nations' working class. How and under what conditions any forces in imperialist countries can begin to forge a movement to undermine imperialism from within remains the great unanswered question of the epoch. Only if anti-imperialists address the question can there be a way forward.

This article was also published as chapter 1.4 of The New Warlords: from the Gulf War to the recolonisation of the Middle East



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