Iraq: Horizons bathed in blood

FRFI 171 February / March 2003

Whenever it is launched the war will be brutal. Writing in The Times author John le Carré announced ‘The United States of America has gone mad’ (15 January 2003). At Christmas the Vatican offered prayers ‘in the face of this horizon bathed in blood.’ The US and British governments may be losing the propaganda war but they have no intention of losing the shooting war. They have amassed a vast army. Scare stories circulate through the media, injecting the fear needed to make the US and British people accept war. This is a war for global domination; Arab blood and young US and British lives are a necessary price for the rewards of victory. TREVOR RAYNE reports.

In FRFI 142 April/May 1998 we said, ‘There can be no doubt that the contentions over oil, the Gulf, Middle East and Caspian regions will be resolved by force and that the USA must use violence, sooner rather than later, if its position as the dominant imperial power is not to be undermined.’ With the collapse of the Soviet Union the US ruling class moved quickly to achieve global domination. The USA has now established military bases in former Soviet Republics from Georgia and Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan on the borders of China. The USA has expanded NATO eastwards to the Baltic and eastern Europe. US military power was decisive in subduing the Balkans. US and British control over the terrain and politics of the oil supply routes from the Middle East, Caspian Basin, Caucasus and Central Asia to Europe, Japan and China would place these economies at the mercy of the US ruling class at a time of worsening economic crisis for international capitalism with growing inter-imperialist rivalry. US strategy is to prevent the emergence of any potential rival, be it the European Union, Japan, Russia or China.

Seizing the world’s second largest oil reserves adds to the potential spoils of victory; the more so given the USA’s increasing dependence on oil imports in a context of depleting world reserves. The Middle East has two thirds of the world’s known reserves; 85% of the world’s energy supplies come from fossil fuels. The US and British states calculate that their influence in the Middle East is diminishing and that Saudi Arabia, site of the world’s biggest oil reserves, is becoming unstable and possibly hostile. US and British domination of Iraq would provide an alternative source of oil and a lesson in what can happen to Saudi Arabia, Iran or anywhere else. With its massive military superiority, greater than the next ten biggest military spenders combined, the US ruling class must demonstrate both the scale of its military power and its willingness to use it if it is to retain its hegemonic position in the world.

On 6 January 2003 Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told a gathering of British ambassadors that it was Britain’s strategic priority ‘to bolster the security of British and global energy supplies’. For the British ruling class the alliance with the US military is necessary if Britain is to ‘punch above its weight’ in the world. Hence the British government’s willingness to deploy troops on hazardous missions at the request of the USA. British capitalism has more overseas investments than any country apart from the USA. Two of the three biggest oil companies are British and Anglo-Dutch: BP and Shell. British militarism stems from the need to defend this in partnership with the USA. The British economy is more tied to the USA than any other European economy, ‘US GDP remains close to $10 trillion, making it by far the largest market in the world. It continues to be our largest export market. Two-way trade between the USA and UK is worth around £87 billion per year. The UK is the biggest foreign investor in the United States; and the USA is the biggest direct investor here.’ Prime Minister Tony Blair following 11 September 2001.

These are the real reasons for the war on Iraq, not the arguments about weapons of mass destruction, about tyrants and terrorists, freedom and democracy. It is the cold logic of imperialism, the logic of profits and power. The madness is in the system!

‘Old Europe’ objects
The French and German ruling classes have their own ambitions for the Middle East and for the former socialist countries and will not accept subordinate roles. France and Russia have significant investments in Iraqi oil (see FRFI 170 December 2002/January 2003). Historically France treats the Middle East as part of its ‘sphere of influence’. French and German contention with the USA and Britain is being played out in the United Nations and over the UN inspectors in Iraq. When UN Security Resolution 1441 was passed unanimously on 8 November 2002 France, Russia and China immediately gave it a different interpretation to that of the USA and Britain. The latter said that no other resolution was necessary to authorise war against Iraq, the former said that any breach of Resolution 1441 would only lead to ‘serious consequences’ – war would require a second resolution. Germany, unlike the others not a permanent member of the UN Security Council with the power of veto, opposes war on Iraq. Thus far, the US ruling class has been unable to reassure France, Germany and Russia that they will get some of the spoils, and they do not accept the new US doctrine of ‘pre-emptive strikes’ which threatens to reduce their bargaining powers to zero.

In mid-January 2003 the EU external relations commissioner Chris Patten warned the USA that the EU would be ‘hard to persuade’ to contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq if it did not get UN authority for war. The EU is the biggest donor to Afghanistan. On 22 January German Chancellor Schröder and French President Chirac made statements together calling for the UN inspectors to be given more time. Russia and China supported France. US secretary of defence Rumsfeld sneered, ‘I think that’s old Europe’. German foreign minister Fischer replied, ‘Yes, our history, our culture and our civilisation is certainly much older than the United States’. On 23 January Colin Powell and Jack Straw jointly stated that French and German opposition to war would not stop the USA and Britain going ahead if needs be without UN authorisation if Iraq did not disarm, whilst Tony Blair said that Britain would take military action if there were an ‘unreasonable blockage’ of a UN resolution authorising force. In other words, France, Germany, Russia and China back us or we go to war without you.

Head of the UN inspection team Hans Blix reported to the Security Council on 27 January that Iraq has ‘co-operated rather well so far’ but said that Iraq had not accepted disarmament. He cited unaccounted-for chemical and biological weapons, but produced nothing! The following day US President Bush used his State of the Union address to accuse Iraq of ‘utter contempt’ for the international community and said the USA would take ‘whatever action is required’ regardless of the decisions of others. That same day Jack Straw set out ten questions that Iraq must answer to avoid war. On 30 January the heads of government of Britain, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Denmark, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic issued a statement supporting the US position that Iraq has repeated the ‘long established pattern of deception, denial and non-compliance with UN Security Council resolutions’. In effect, they told France and Germany to back the USA in the Security Council. Presumably this is New Europe speaking. The British Labour government has been crucial to the USA in preventing the formation of a common European Union resistance to US bellicosity.

Bush and Blair are co-ordinating their messages, ratcheting up the menace then winding it down, probing the other imperialist powers, exploring what they will accept, forcing them either to declare their positions or accept the will of the US and British governments. The intention is to manoeuvre France, Russia, China and Germany into accepting their authority. If this can be done through the UN then the USA will be able to share the costs of the war and ensuing occupation of Iraq and US authority will be legitimised. Such legitimacy reduces barriers to future US military expeditions. If the US government with Britain defies the UN Security Council it runs the risk of provoking the other major powers to mobilise in pursuit of their own ruling classes’ interests – these will confront those of the US and British ruling classes. The USA and Britain hope to manoeuvre France away from Germany with the prospect of a second resolution. This will not be achieved without a promised reward.

Happy motoring

In January the US Department of Energy published its Annual Energy Outlook 2003. Global oil demand is forecast to rise from the current 76 million barrels of oil per day to 123 million in 2025. US oil imports will rise from 55% of total US consumption to 65-70% in 2025. US oil imports are already at their highest ever level and dependence on imported oil is the highest in history. US reliance on Gulf oil imports is also at an all time high: 14.1% in 2001. The report states that by 2025 51% of oil production will come from Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (OPEC) compared to 38% today.

Other things being equal the rate of profit varies inversely with the costs of materials and fuel. The Gulf region has the cheapest oil in the world. Not only do company profits depend on cheap oil but so does the ‘western life-style’. The USA is the most motorised society in the world with 800 vehicles per 1,000 people. Light vehicle fuel consumption has become less economical: an average 26.2 miles per gallon in 1987 and 24.7 today. The US Energy Information Administration forecast rising demand for petrol ‘will require the volume of motor fuel consumed in 2020…to be almost as great as the total volume of all oil products consumed in 2000.’ (Financial Times 13 January 2003.) Car production is the biggest manufacturing employer in the world. War on Iraq is for the benefit of Exxon, BP, Shell, Ford, General Motors, Honda and Toyota, for the consume-and-destroy culture of modern capitalism. Happy motoring with Tony and George!

Brazen theft

Iraq’s 12,000-page dossier on its weapons programmes was never going to get in the way of US and British war plans. The US and British governments assume that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and UN failure to find them is evidence that Iraq is breaching UN resolutions. If, however, UN inspectors find the weapons Iraq is again in breach. Either way war will follow.

Iraq issued its dossier on 8 December. It was flown to New York. That evening US representatives, witnessed by British government representatives, took the document from UN offices and transferred it to Washington. 8,000 pages of the document were then edited out in the name of preventing weapons proliferation. The edited version was then circulated to the non-permanent Security Council members while the five permanent members received the complete dossier. US Secretary of State Powell said the document had ‘omissions’ and was in breach of UN Resolution 1441. On 15 December the British government said the dossier was ‘very disappointing’ with ‘a lot missing’. Four days later the head of the UN inspection team, Hans Blix, said the document contained relatively little that was new.

The German newspaper Die Tageszeitung obtained a full copy of the dossier, presumably from Iraq, and published names of companies supplying Iraq’s weapons programme. Included in the dossier are 80 German firms, 24 US firms and 17 British firms. Among the companies named are Siemens, Hewlett Packard, DuPont, Honeywell, Unisys, and Bechtel. US companies shipped materials for anthrax, brucellosis, gas gangrene, toxic varieties of E.coli and salmonella bacteria to Iraq.

Thus far, late January, the UN inspectors have failed to find the ‘smoking gun’ that will presumably be the trigger for all out war. No doubt one can be ‘found’ if need be. Before Christmas the inspection team criticised the USA and Britain for not providing the intelligence they claim to have. The US and British governments are seeking to provoke Iraq with frequent bombing raids and an insistence that U2 spy planes be part of the inspection process. The USA wants 500 Iraqi scientists flown to Cyprus for questioning but on 9 January UN inspectors said they were not satisfied with the list of scientists provided by the Iraqi government. The dispute between the US and Britain against the rest of the UN Security Council will now focus on how much longer the UN inspection programme should be given to find evidence to trigger war.

Vast armada
Security Council resolution or not, the means of Iraq’s obliteration are assembling. By early February the British Labour government will have deployed approximately 30,000 troops in the Gulf region. The USA will have over 120,000 troops and the total combined US and British contingent could rise to 250,000 soldiers, sailors and aircrew. The British government says it has set £1 billion aside for the war. The true cost will far exceed this. Already in the Gulf are a Royal Navy destroyer, frigate, Tomahawk cruise firing nuclear submarine and support ships. En route are the aircraft carrier Ark Royal and the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, four more destroyers, a frigate, auxiliary vessels and another missile-firing nuclear submarine. The Royal Airforce has 34 fighter jets in position; bases are being prepared to house the troops on their way along with 120 Challenger II tanks, 150 Warrior armoured personnel carriers and artillery. The Ministry of Defence is chartering around 50 merchant ships to take heavy weapons to the Gulf. At the same time the USA is moving its B-2 stealth bombers, F-17 stealth fighters, B-1B bombers and F-15 fighter-bombers into position across Europe, Asia, the Indian Ocean and North America. If these forces are unleashed the devastation and death they cause will be on an enormous, and predictable, scale.

Whatever strategy the invasion force uses the number one priority will be to secure the oil wells and other facilities. US companies are ready to modernise Iraq’s oil infrastructure. For political purposes British forces must play a high profile role in the attack. This is the ‘blood price’ of ‘punching above its weight’. The US government expects an 18- month occupation of Iraq while a suitable government is established. A measure of the ‘liberation’ planned is that the Republican Guard will be used to police the population – although this ‘offer’ may just be a lure to defect.

US B-2 stealth bombers have been moved onto the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. The British government leases this island to the US military. It is understood that nuclear weapons are stored on the island. The US government recently stated that, ‘Nuclear weapons could be employed against targets able to withstand non-nuclear attack (for example, deep underground bunkers or biological weapons facilities).’ In March 2002 British Labour Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon talking of Iraq said, ‘I am absolutely confident, in the right conditions, we would be willing to use nuclear weapons’. More recently, replying to a question on whether Britain would use nuclear weapons in response to Iraq using weapons of mass destruction, Prime Minister Blair said Britain would respond ‘in any way we thought necessary’. Politically it is sensible for the US military to tie Britain into the use of nuclear weapons to prevent US isolation in the face of global outrage; Diego Garcia offers such a means.

A UN document entitled ‘Likely Humanitarian Scenarios’, dated 10 December 2002, plans for the consequences of war. It states, ‘as many as 500,000 people could require treatment…as a result of direct or indirect injuries’. As a result of damage to the infrastructure ‘39% of the population will need to be provided with potable water…the outbreak of diseases in epidemic if not pandemic proportions is very likely.’ The document foresees ‘therapeutic feeding’ for two million severely and moderately malnourished children under five and one million pregnant women. 900,000 refugees will require assistance; two million people will require shelter. This disaster is being planned in London and Washington.

The Labour Party and supporters of the war

There are journalists and commentators associated with the left who support the threat of war on Iraq and ‘regime change’; Christopher Hitchens, Nick Cohen and David Aaronovitch among them. For them imperialism can play a progressive role by removing the Iraqi regime: there is no evidence for such a role whatsoever. It was the British government that set up the Iraqi state and established its army to put down the people. The US CIA helped the Ba’athists come to power, the USA, Britain, France and Germany armed Saddam Hussein’s regime. Any popular movement of the people, Shi’ite, Sunni or Kurd, will be attacked by the occupation armies. The gatherings of anti-Saddam forces hosted in London represent disaffected sections of Iraq’s military and ruling elite.

Sections of the Labour Party say they will only support war if it is authorised by the UN. ‘Bomber’ Clare Short and the National Executive are among them. This is a despicable left cover for imperialism. These people support war on Iraq as long as enough other people support it and they are not isolated. The UN is not some expression of world opinion; it is constructed to be an instrument of the major powers. Four out of the five permanent members of the Security Council are affiliated to NATO. UN sanctions, which Tony Benn called for, have killed over 1.5 million Iraqis since 1991, including more than half a million children under five. UN resolutions are used to sanction daily RAF and USAF bombing raids on Iraq. The UN is deployed only when it is useful. With the Soviet Union out of the way the US ruling class has acted with increasing impunity. In 1998 the USA attacked Sudan and Afghanistan with no reference to the UN. In 1999 NATO bombed Serbia with no reference to the UN, it simply voted out a Russian resolution and attacked anyway. The credibility of the UN was mocked by these attacks.

For the US and British imperial forces in the Gulf ‘victory is the only exit’. For all those Labour Party members who are thinking of resigning – do it, but that is just the start. The Labour Party is an imperialist, war- mongering party of the ruling class. All those with privilege and status derived form Labour Party membership – MPs, councillors, public service managers, trade union officials and the rest, must be forced to resign. All those on the British left who repeatedly call on people to vote Labour, who protect the ‘left wing’ Labour MPs who refuse to resign, must be exposed for what they are, a left cover for imperialism. Regime change begins at home.

Despite its use of overwhelming military force the US ruling class will be unable to prevent the emergence of rivals. This year the US current account deficit is heading for over $500 billion. Net US liabilities to the rest of the world amount to a quarter of the US economy. On recent trends they will amount to 65% of the economy within four years. This is unsustainable. Investors are selling off dollars. In the year to January the dollar had fallen 16% against the euro. It continues to fall. Central banks around the world are diversifying their currency holdings away from dollars. Centrifugal forces are prevailing. The US locomotive for the international capitalist economy is coming off the rails. The anchor currency is uprooted, the lender of last resort is going bankrupt, things are falling apart. They will not be put together again by war. ‘A long protracted and devastating war would have devastating effects’ on the world economy. (Martin Wolf, Financial Times, 23 December 2002.) In the past year oil prices have risen by 57% and gold prices by a third as anxiety deepens. War is a risky gamble, President Bush and Prime Minister Blair are praying that it is over quickly and that the oil flows cheaply once again.


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