- Created: Thursday, 07 May 2009 15:40
- Written by FRFI
FRFI December 1998 / January 1999
Before the Remembrance poppies were removed from their button holes, Prime Minister Blair and his ministers were banging the war drums for another round of carnage in the Middle East. That so far, as in February, the attack on Iraq has been suspended should not blind anyone to the persistent violence of US and British policy against Iraq and throughout the Middle East. It is a violence inflicted in pursuit of power, profits and oil. The victims are Kurds, Palestinians, Arabs, Iranians and other working classes and peasantries of the Middle East - the oppressed. That is the reality of the Gulf, not the demon Saddam Hussein, not the search for 'weapons of mass destruction', not the mockery of a 'peace process' between Israel and the Palestinians, but war, class war, a war that is intensifying as the imperialist system slides into crisis.
'The region, from the US air base at Incirlik in Turkey, through the Middle East to the Caspian and the Gulf is becoming an American protectorate'. (Martin Walker, The Guardian, 16 November 1998)
Since 1983 the USA has bombed, shelled and missiled Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Afghanistan. Its closest regional allies Israel and Turkey have killed many tens of thousands of people over the past two decades. In all of these murderous endeavours Britain has either taken part - as in stationing troops in Lebanon; providing the bases for the bombing of Libya, committing troops to the invasion of Iraq - or has given weapons, training, intelligence and diplomatic support, as with Turkey against the Kurds, so that the killings could be perpetrated. This November's mobilisation was the 29th British military intervention in the Middle East since 1945.
This constant use of violence is to control oil supplies. The Middle East contains 66.4% of the world's proven oil reserves, Iraq has 10%. Its significance has increased as Caspian Basin reserves have been brought within reach of the energy multinationals, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Control over oil gives great power to its possessor. Germany and Japan are far more dependent on Gulf oil imports than the USA. Within 12 years China is expected to become the world's biggest oil importer. US strategy in the Middle East is aimed at ensuring its pre-eminence among the capitalist powers, holding a claw on their wind-pipes, and containing China's potential. Britain seeks to preserve the regional status quo which suits its oil and arms companies, and to use its alliance with the USA to enhance its otherwise threatened global status.
With the world economy gripped by the worsening capitalist crisis, the possession of key raw materials becomes critical to intensifying inter-imperialist rivalry and the attempt to restore profitability to a level sufficient to sustain accumulation. World oil prices have fallen to about a third of the level they were during the 1990-91 Iraq crisis. BP, Shell etc are recording sharp falls in profits. The tendency for capital to over-produce relative to what can be produced profitably is affecting oil markets. In this circumstance US and British imperialism's need to strengthen their monopoly over energy supplies is increased. As the prospect of war in the Gulf grew so BP shares rose 13.5 pence on 12 November, those of Shell went up 11.25 pence and the main weapons producers British Aerospace and GEC also saw share price increases.
This is what the market, this modern deity that cannot be denied, comes down to - celebrating war!
In FRFI 142 in April 1998 we said that 'the USA must use violence, sooner rather than later, if its position as dominant imperial power is not to be undermined'. Leading US ruling class representatives have been straining impatiently since February to unleash an attack on Iraq. It is not so much the destruction of that country, which is already devastated, nor the removal of Saddam Hussein which primarily concerns them, but the demonstration of US power, unfettered by any other country, that is politically important and it conforms with the US and British attempt to stamp out all opposition and rivals in the region. The February build-up was treated coldly by the other European powers and the Arab states. They were seen as restraining US might.
In October the USA refused to accept a UN Security Council policy of lifting the oil embargo on Iraq, even if Iraq meets the requirement of eliminating all weapons of mass destruction. On 31 October Iraq banned weapons inspections. Eight Arab states signed a letter calling on Iraq to reach a settlement with the UN inspection team, but they did not endorse air strikes. Even Saudi Arabia said that Iraq should be able to see an end to sanctions. On 8 November British defence secretary George Robertson visited Kuwait to get backing for an attack. Britain alone backed the USA in issuing miliary threats against Iraq.
Britain had three war ships in place in the Gulf for the attack, 18 Tornados and four Jaguars. The USA flew 12 B-52 bombers armed with cruise missiles and 12 F117A stealth fighters to the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean; an island leased to the USA and containing nuclear weapons. The stated purpose of the attack was to have been the elimination of Iraq's ability to use weapons of mass destruction. The attack would neither destroy the weapons nor the ability of Iraq to produce them. US military experts envisaged 10,000 dead civilians if the raids had been mounted.
Prime Minister Blair confirmed that he ordered the RAF to join the US bombing run on Iraq. Apparently, on 14 November, with only minutes to go before the attack force reached its target, the UN Secretary General received a faxed letter from the Iraqi government agreeing to a resumption of the inspections, with an appendix calling for an end to the embargo in return for compliance with the UN resolutions. The attack force returned to base.
Blair was outrageous in his arrogance and hypocrisy. From outside Downing Street he said, 'The Iraqi resumption of compliance must be immediate and unconditional, there can be no negotiations, no further deals, no more amendments...Our forces remain on alert to possible military action at any time without further warning.' By what license does this man speak, by what right can he attack another state without warning, without negotiations? By right of might, by the might of the USA and no other right whatsoever. Behind the claims to civilisation and democracy stands a barbarian, ruthless, vengeful, swaggering with contempt.
The war suspended, Foreign Secretary Cook called off his planned tour of Arab states scheduled for 16 November and hosted a meeting of Iraqi opposition groups instead, conforming with the US policy of stepping up efforts to overthrow Saddam Hussein.
Blair and the Labour government are critical in defusing more vociferous European opposition to US bellicosity. Clinton and Blair repeatedly consulted each other in the period before the air strikes were launched and afterwards. Britain is central to US plans for the Middle East. Blair strikes the pose of the enthusiasitic lieutenant.
Premeditated murder of a nation
The 1991 assault deposited the explosive eqivalent of seven Hiroshima bombs on Iraq, killing a quarter of a million people. The World Health Organisation states that 1,211,285 children died in Iraq between August 1990 and August 1997 as a result of UN embargo-related causes; malnutrition, diarrhoea and unsafe water. Most recent estimates are that 5,700 Iraqi children die each month and one million Iraqi children are stunted from malnutrition and disease. Former Prime Minister Thatcher insisted that food and medicines be included in the UN sanctions.
The Economist, 21 November 1998, reports that food imports, agreed under the 1996 UN oil for food deal, were prevented from entering Iraq when Lloyds Register, which monitors the imports, was advised by the British government to remove its inspectors. Consequently, 75 trucks of wheat stayed at the Syrian border and 14,000 tonnes of rice sat at the docks in Umm Qasr, even though these sites were far removed from any possible military target. Perhaps, Blair felt a need to emulate Thatcher in attempting to starve a people to death.
After eight years of sanctions Iraqi annual per capita income has fallen from approximately $4,000 to under $330. Iraq has lost about $120 billion in oil sales. Under the 1996 UN programme Iraq can sell limited amounts of oil for food. Some $3.2 billion worth has been sold in the past six months, of which $1.1 billion has been taken in reparations for Kuwait and to pay for the UNSCOM weapons inspection team.
Former UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter acknowledges Israel's role in the inspection process and admits that he is being investigated for spying for Israel. The US Pentagon confirmed that information provided by UNSCOM was used by the US military for target selection. Is it any wonder that Iraq keeps clashing with this UN body? It is in the name of the UN that Iraq is being murdered. The UN is being used as a mask for US and British imperial plans. How effective this mask is in stilling the consciences of those liberals and intellectuals privileged enough to be given slots in the capitalist media.
Now the US and British governments declare they are promoting groups in Iraq opposed to Saddam Hussein's regime. In September the US provided Barzani, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, with $7.3 million to stop squabbling and attack the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party). These two wealthy feudal and capitalist warlords are now looking forward to some of the $98 million earmarked for the Iraqi opposition by the US Iraq Liberation Act for weapons and training. The implementation of this act is under the control of the same assistant secretary of state who brokered the Barzani-Talabani deal. As they dine with British Foreign Secretary Cook, let this select band of opponents recollect the last time they were encouraged to rise up by their US and British hosts - they were blown to bits and sent running into the mountains and southern desert by the Iraqi army while the US and British governments looked on with folded arms.
The USA is left with its plans to dominate the Middle East and repel all rivals with its number one ally, Britain. Writing in the Financial Times, Philip Stevens remarks on Blair's stated commitment to a new European defence identity while remaining steadfastly loyal to the USA. 'Suffice it to say that had the cruise missiles and bombs rained down on Iraq, the rupture within NATO might have been as serious as any since De Gaulle expelled that organisation from Paris' (20 November 1998). Make no mistake about it, France, Italy and Germany have their own plans for the oil of the Middle East and they do not include being at the mercy of the USA and Britain.
Perfidious Albion will be stretched to greater connivance and treachery and even Blair's smile will crack. There, in all its savagery, stands a cruel and remorseless advocate of British imperialism, the war mongering British Labour Party.