Iraq: Rocky road to war

TONY BLAIR said that he and Bush have decided to give Saddam Hussein "one more chance".

Three articles from The Socialist on the impending war with Iraq.

A rocky road to war

It’s clear that mounting opposition from Republicans, the military, Arab leaders and public opinion generally to the ’ go it alone’ plans of US hawks, has forced Bush to try and involve the UN Security Council. One US opinion poll found only 20% supported a US-only invasion of Iraq.

Blair will be hoping that a UN resolution demanding the return of weapons inspectors and ’evidence’ of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction will be enough to take the sting out of the anti-war opposition in Britain. Opinion polls have shown around 70% opposed to war. In a recent survey of 100 backbench Labour MPs, 90% said there was insufficient grounds to declare war.

The former Labour Chancellor Denis Healey summed up Blair’s predicament when he said: "I don’t think he could survive overwhelming public and party opposition to British support for an American attack".

But will Blair’s strategy work? The situation today is very different from that of a year ago after September 11 and from the time of the last Gulf War in 1990/91.

This time there has been no terrorist attack killing thousands of people or an invasion of a neighbouring country that could be used to try and justify a military attack and conceal the real reasons for war – asserting the economic and political dominance of US imperialism internationally and in the oil-rich Middle East in particular.

UN resolution

The propaganda machines have gone into overdrive to talk up the supposed threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and have come up with a damp squib (see below).

US imperialism will attempt to use its economic muscle to bully and bribe the other UN Security Council members into backing a new resolution. Yet, even if it succeeds, the figleaf of the UN will not necessarily cut across the anti-war movement.

There is a growing awareness of the real intentions of the US. The narrow vote at the TUC against blanket opposition to a war with Iraq (see below) is an indication of that.

The unions are becoming increasingly militant on the issue of low pay and discontent on this and other questions such as privatisation could feed into and harden the anti-war mood.

A firefighters’ strike in particular, could concretely affect the timing of a planned military attack on Iraq. As one senior army officer explained: "We can’t fight fires and Saddam Hussein at the same time".

Bush and Blair have made it quite clear that if the UN does not play ball or drags its heels in forcing compliance of any resolution, they would still want to wage war on Iraq without it. If this happened it would unleash enormous opposition.

Whatever the outcome at the UN, the road to war is a rocky one. Bush and Blair have shown that they are not immune to the pressure of public opinion. The potential exists to build a massive anti-war movement in Britain and internationally.

The Socialist editorial, 13 September 2002

No war for oil profits

"WE’RE NOT talking about a war in Tora Bora here. We’re talking about a war in the world’s main petrol station." That’s how New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman assessed the prospects for an imperialist invasion of Iraq.

Whatever the need for US imperialism to restore its prestige or to enhance its strategic interests, the defence of oil supplies has been and will continue to be one of the major, if not the major, factor in deciding whether to intervene in the Middle East.

Intervention could not be isolated to Iraq itself but would have repercussions throughout the Middle East and Islamic world, including oil producers.

Oil, ’black gold’, has been of huge consequence in past conflicts in the Middle East. In 1973, following the Yom Kippur War, Middle East oil states turned down the taps to the capitalist world. The price of oil shot up fourfold to $40 a barrel.

While not the major cause of the world recession of 1973-75, it brought it forward and deepened the crisis. But it wasn’t all bad news for capitalism as the rise in price created huge wealth (’petrodollars’) for the oil sheikhs, some of which was reinvested in the world’s major capitalist economies.

Following the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, imperialism feared the spread of political Islam throughout the Middle East. This would have had dangerous consequences for pro-western regimes and their oil reserves. They were quite happy to fund and arm Saddam Hussein at that time, in his war against the regime of the ayatollahs.

The Iran-Iraq War lasted eight years; it was fought to a stalemate, but it prevented the downfall of pro-imperialist regimes for a time. But Saddam Hussein overestimated his value to imperialism. He thought the US had given him a green light for his invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.

This was immediately seen as a threat to imperialism’s oil supplies, with Kuwait’s reserves now in Iraqi hands and the danger of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states falling to Iraq if imperialism did nothing.

Therefore, the US government, led by George Bush senior, organised the recapture of Kuwait from Iraq in early 1991. On this occasion, they gained the support of most Middle East states, fearful for their own future if nothing was done to check Saddam.

Punitive sanctions

AT THAT time, however, imperialism’s leaders, including Colin Powell, concluded that it would be hazardous to continue into Iraq to overthrow Saddam. The risks outweighed the benefits. Nevertheless, imperialism imposed punitive sanctions and reparations on Iraq for its destruction of Kuwaiti oil fields, including limiting the amount of oil it could bring onto the market.

Now the security of oil supplies is again a factor. The US has been committed to defending the royal house of Saud ever since President Roosevelt visited the kingdom in 1945 following the Yalta conference of wartime leaders.

Despite the US’s support for the creation of the state of Israel and its later expansionist policies, it has always maintained its role as defender of the Saudi feudal regime. In return, as the world’s largest producer, the Saudis have regulated the world’s oil supply.

But some US strategists are arguing that the reactionary Saudi theocratic regime is on the verge of collapse, to be replaced by an even more ’fundamentalist’ one, which would be hostile to US interests. Saudi citizens were active in the destruction of the World Trade Center and are prominent in al-Qa’ida; such ’strategists’ see no benefit in continuing to defend the regime.

But they would possibly need to replace its oil supplies; they have considered using Russian oil, even West Africa, where they suggest Nigeria could leave OPEC for economic gains, and they would like to drill in the Alaskan forests, to the protests of those defending the environment.

But they conclude that only Iraq’s reserves of up to 200 billion barrels, the second largest in the world, could replace the loss of Saudi oil. ’Regime change’ in Baghdad would put a compliant government in power and hopefully allow unfettered exploitation of the oil reserves.

But as more far-thinking strategists argue, the US has even less support now in the Middle East than in 1990-91, and the consequences of an invasion would not stop at Iraq’s borders.

Risky strategy

THIS TIME Middle Eastern states are wary of supporting imperialism as the US continues to support Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians, and they fear that an invasion would bring down their own regimes.

This would have its own effects on oil supplies for imperialism. As in 1973, the Gulf War in 1991 produced a large oil-price increase which worsened the world economic situation. The effects of the US recession that followed saw George Bush senior lose the 1992 elections to Clinton.

A war now would cause problems for the world economy as well. A $5 a barrel rise in oil prices over a year is estimated to knock 0.25% off world gross domestic product.

With the world’s economies already sickly, the price of oil is already 36% higher than on 1 January rising towards $30 a barrel as the war drums beat.

The effects would be an increase in inflation as prices rise but at the same time job losses and lower production. In addition, the Saudis are starting to withdraw large amounts of the invested petrodollars from the US. This would have disastrous effects for the value of the dollar.

Energy interests were the big backers of the Bush/Cheney presidential campaign, This is ’their’ government; both Bush and Cheney worked for oil and energy businesses. They hope to gain the lion’s share of concessions in any post-Saddam regime.

But their methods are extremely risky for imperialism’s oil supplies; Mo Mowlam wrote recently that Saddam "is now the distraction for the sleight of hand to protect the west’s supply of oil".

But it will take more than magic for the US to pull off the trick of overthrowing Saddam without serious repercussions for the price or supply of ’black gold’.

Kevin Parslow, Socialist Party, England and Wales

Blair fails to provide the weapons evidence

DOWNING STREET has hailed a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)* on Iraq’s weapons programmes as "highly significant".

But far from confirming Tony Blair’s contention that Iraq poses a nuclear threat and possesses other "weapons of mass destruction" that threaten the world, the report provides scant evidence.

The IISS says Iraq does not possess facilities to produce fissile material in sufficient amounts for nuclear weapons. It would need at least several years and extensive foreign assistance to build such facilities.

Iraq may have stashed away biological agents and could relatively easily manufacture chemical weapons but, says the report, it does not possess facilities to produce long-range missiles.

This seems to largely confirm the opinion of former UN arms inspector and CIA agent Scott Ritter who says that 90%-95% of Iraq’s offensive weapons capabilities were destroyed during the previous period of arms inspection by the United Nations.

Anthrax attack

Moreover, US president George Bush should be reminded that the recent deadly biological attack in the USA involving the anthrax bacteria derived from America’s own weapons programme, with the finger of suspicion pointing to the attacks being the work of a disgruntled government scientist.

If Saddam Hussein is less militarily powerful than four years ago when UN weapons inspectors were pulled out and far less powerful than before the 1991 Gulf War, it means that the Iraqi dictator and former Western ally isn’t an immediate "threat to the region and the world" as Bush and Blair maintain.

Clearly the Bush/Blair ’axis’ aims to force a "regime change" solely to secure imperialism’s strategic interests in the region ie a non-belligerent stooge regime in Iraq, maintaining cheap oil supplies and imposing its power on the peoples of the region.

(* The IISS says it "owes no allegiance to any government or political organisation" but "does receive funding for research from government departments".)

From The Socialist

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September 2002