Oil Wars

On December 1998, the United States of America, allied with the United Kingdom, embarked upon a new bombing campaign against Iraq. As far as the Anglo-American allies were concerned, the professed reasons for the bombing were straightforward: Saddam Hussein had failed to comply with the UN weapons inspections. His alleged ongoing failure to cease his nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programmers, meant that the Hitler of the 90s still constituted a grave and immediate danger to not only his own people, but to his Middle East  neighbours and, in fact, the entire world.

I. Oil at the Roots

A glance at the history of the West’s relations with Iraq explains the roots of the Persian Gulf crisis. Iraq was a compliant ally of the West – particularly of the United States – throughout the 1980s, despite the fact that the Iraqi masses were tyrannised under Saddam Hussein’s anti-humanitarian military regime. The reason is clear: Iraq contains 10 per cent of the world’s oil reserves. When the West’s puppet in Iran (the Shah) was toppled, the Western powers colluded to push Iraq into a war with the newly formed Islamic Republic, the aim being to re-impose Western hegemony over the oil-rich region. This entailed strengthening the Iraqi war machine. Iraq’s Western-endowed weapons of mass destruction – including chemical and biological weapons – were subsequently employed in its war against Iran, as well as at home in the gassing of defenceless Kurds and Shi’ites, all of which occurred under the auspices of the Saddam-West alliance.

However, when Saddam invaded Kuwait in August 1990, endangering Western control over Middle East oil reserves, it was clear that the West’s love affair with the genocidal tyrant was over. The Western powers, indignant at this act of rebellion by a former servant, saw the need to teach him and his people a lesson in the rules of ‘world order’. Iraq was to set an example of what happens to countries who refuse to follow the rules of this ‘new’ world order. Cue the Gulf War.

II. Terminating Iraqis with an Iron Fist

The aim of the war, right from the outset, was to smash the country’s civilian infrastructure, as well as to provoke the Iraqi population and military into removing Saddam and installing a new pro-West military dictatorship – a fact even noted in July 1991 by chief diplomatic correspondent of the New York Times, Thomas Friedman. Friedman reported that the West’s hope was for Iraqi generals to topple Saddam Hussein, “and then Washington would have the best of all worlds: an iron-fisted Iraqi junta without Saddam Hussein.” In this way, the United States – civilised leader of the “free world” – hoped to recreate the days when Saddam’s pro-West “iron-fist… held Iraq together, much to the satisfaction of the American allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia” é but this time without disobedient Saddam.

Eric Hoskins, a Canadian doctor and Coordinator of a Harvard study team on Iraq, observed that the Gulf War bombing campaign “effectively terminated everything vital to human survival in Iraq – electricity, water, sewage systems, agriculture, industry, health care. Food, warehouses, hospitals and markets were bombed. Power stations were repeatedly attacked until electricity supplies were at only 4 per cent of prewar levels.” (New Statesman, 17 January 1992) Hoskin’s team of experts further recorded that: “The children strive to understand what they saw: planes bombing, houses collapsing, soldiers fighting, blood, mutilated and crushed bodies. The children fight to forget what they heard: people screaming, desperate voices, planes, explosions, crying people. They are haunted by the smell of gunfire, fires and burned flesh.” (The Guardian, 23 October 1991)

III. Cutting off the Life-Line

As part and parcel of this new crusade to install “an iron-fisted” military dictatorship in Iraq é but this time without Saddam – comprehensive US/UN sanctions were imposed against the country, preventing its people from receiving food, medicine and other essentials of life. The official reason for the sanctions is to prevent Saddam from obtaining the materials necessary for mass destruction. The accompanying imposition of UNSCOM – the UN Weapons Inspection Committee – was also justified on the same objective. However, included amongst the food and medicine banned under the sanctions are extraneous objects bearing no relation to the prevention of weapons of mass destruction, e.g. ping-pong balls, wheel-barrows, books, pencils, sandals – the list goes on; revealing that the sanctions have other more sinister motives behind their imposition. The real objectives of the sanctions were admitted by U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Robert M. Gates in May 1991: “Saddam is discredited and cannot be redeemed. His leadership will never be accepted by the world community. Therefore, Iraqis will pay the price while he remains in power. All possible sanctions will be maintained until he is gone… Any easing of sanctions will be considered only when there is a new government.” (Los Angeles Times, 9 May 1991)

Accordingly, the overall result has been the wholesale degradation of Iraqi civilian life. Iraqis are now dying from starvation, disease, lack of clean water, lack of health-care, lack of education, lack of electricity, sewage in the streets, among other huge Western inflicted problems – all of which remain conveniently under-reported by the mass media. The findings of human rights organisations that have sent delegations to investigate the crisis, such as the Chicago-based Voices in the Wilderness, admit the reality of “increasing suffering, death and desperation throughout Iraq”, as is similarly “confirmed by recent UN reports”. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) observed in March 1996: “Since the onset of sanctions, there has been a six-fold increase in the mortality rate for children under five and the majority of the country’s population has been on a semi-starvation diet.” The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reported in 1997: “Famine threatens four million people in sanctions-hit Iraq – one fifth of the population – following a poor grain harvest… The human situation is deteriorating. Living conditions are precarious and are at pre-famine level for at least four million people… The deterioration in nutritional status of children is reflected in the significant increase of child mortality, which has risen nearly fivefold since 1990.”

IV. Blood for Oil Equals Genocide

Every month, 8,000 Iraqis die as a direct result of the sanctions. In total, this has resulted in the death of nearly 2 million civilians in about a decade, half of whom have been children. Indeed, Dennis Halliday – former UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq and former UN assistant Secretary-General – and his successor Hans von Sponeck both resigned in protest of the sanctions, calling them “genocidal” (Cape Cod Times, June 2001). In light of these horrifying facts, the ‘Oil for Food’ resolution that is so lauded within the West, is exposed as a mere political fraud. As noted in the March 1999 report of the UN Security Council’s own Humanitarian Panel: “é in order for Iraq to aspire to social and economic indicators comparable to the ones reached at the beginning of the decade humanitarian efforts of the kind envisaged under the ‘oil for food’ system alone would not suffice and massive investment would be required in a number of key sectors, including oil, energy, agriculture and sanitation.” The report finds that even if ‘Oil for Food’ works perfectly, “the humanitarian situation in Iraq will continue to be a dire one in the absence of a sustained revival of the Iraqi economy, which in turn cannot be achieved solely through remedial humanitarian efforts.”

The United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights further issued a Resolution in August 2000 outlining the direct link between sanctions and the Iraqi civilian population’s suffering, and affirmed that it was “considering any embargo that condemned an innocent people to hunger, disease, ignorance and even death to be a flagrant violation of the economic, social and cultural rights and the right to life of the people concerned and of international law.” The UN human rights body further referred to the 1949 Geneva Conventions which “prohibit the starving of civilian populations and the destruction of what is indispensable to their survival”, and accordingly “decided, without a vote, to appeal again to the international community, and to the Security Council in particular, for the embargo provisions affecting the humanitarian situation of the population of Iraq to be lifted.”

However, Iraq itself has been blamed by the Western powers for the effects of the sanctions. Saddam has been accused by both the British and American governments of deliberately witholding food or medicine from his own people. However, the accusations, eagerly consumed by elements of the mass media, contradicts the testimony of independent observers on the ground. For instance, head of the UN Multidisciplinary Observer Unit Michael Stone countered the political fabrications in an 18th December 1998 letter to The Independent: “Ministers and senior members of the Opposition frequently state that the Iraqi leadership have diverted supplies under this programme. This is a serious error. Some 150 international observers, travelling throughout Iraq, reported to the United Nations Multidisciplinary Observer Unit, of which I was the head. At no time was any diversion [of food or medicine supplies] recorded. I made this clear in our reports to the UN Secretary General, and he reported in writing to the Security Council accordingly.”

V. Bombs Away

Nevertheless, in December 1998, the merciless Western onslaught against Iraq was renewed on the pretext of Saddam’s alleged failure to comply with UN inspections. As was later revealed, UN inspections were merely a ruse to allow the West to gather inside-intelligence on Iraq – the ongoing covert objective being to overthrow Saddam and install a new pro-West tyrant. Thus, Saddam’s alleged non-compliance with the UN inspections was merely a fabrication, publicised by the US-UK partners to legitimise their planned bombing campaign, which also provided a convenient justification for the continuation and expansion of the Western military presence – and thereby military hegemony – in this strategic Gulf region. Political analyst Sara Flounders of the New York-based International Action Center, founded and headed by former US Attorney-General Ramsey Clark, refers to the fact that: “Former UNSCOM inspector Raymond Zalinskas admitted to National Public Radio that UN inspectors had already seen all reasonable weapons sites and had destroyed whatever potential existed. Only by killing all the Iraqi scientists could the US do more. [It is] all a ruse, used to cloak Washington’s real aims in the Persian/Arabian Gulf.”  

In fact, the report used to justify the bombing – which had been produced by Executive Chairman of UNSCOM, Richard Butler – was falsified for the sole purpose of justifying a new campaign of terror. The New York Post reported in December 1998 that former chief UNSCOM inspector Scott Ritter testified: “What Richard Butler did last week with the inspections was a set-up. This was designed to generate a conflict that would justify a bombing.” Ritter added that US government sources informed him when the inspections resumed that “the two considerations on the horizon were Ramadan and impeachment.” He continued: “If you dig around, you’ll find out why Richard Butler yesterday ran to the phone four times. He was talking to his National Security adviser. They were telling him to sharpen the language in his report to justify the bombing.”

The real extent of the ‘humanitarian’ motives behind the US-UK attack can be further gauged from its results. According to the Boston Globe reporting in December 1998, the Anglo-American air raids commenced by destroying civilian structures: flattening an agricultural school, damaging at least a dozen other schools and hospitals, and knocking out water supplies for 300,000 people in Baghdad, as reported by the UN. This included the annihilation of a large storehouse in Tikrit, filled with 2,600 tonnes of rice. A maternity hospital, a teaching hospital and an outpatients’ clinic were also damaged, as well as parts of the Health Ministry. As for the cutting off of water supplies to 300,000 civilians, this was accomplished when a cruise missile destroyed one of the main water systems in Karrada, a Baghdad suburb. Ten schools suffered damage in Basra, while a secondary school in the Kirkuk in the Kurdish north, reportedly sustained a direct hit. The systematic targeting of civilian infrastructure has gone on ever since. For example, by the end of November 1999, as the Holy Month of Ramadan drew closer, the allies implemented yet another 18 bombing sorties over three northern provinces of Iraq. This time US bombs hit a school in Mosul, injuring eight people, including children, as well as damaging the school building and cars parked in the surrounding area. 

Thus, the expansion of the US/UK military presence over Iraq via the so-called ‘no-fly-zones’ is clearly not motivated by humanitarian considerations. While the US claims to be ‘concerned’ about the Kurds in northern Iraq and the Shiite population in the south, the fact is that those are the people who are being killed and maimed on an almost daily basis by US bombs and missiles. In reality, the US wants absolute control over these two regions because that is where Iraq’s lucrative oil reserves are located. An internal UN Security Sector report for a single five-month period records that: “41 per cent of victims of the bombing were civilians in civilian targets: villages, fishing jetties, farmland and vast, treeless valleys where sheep graze.” British journalist John Pilger remarks on one particular incident when: “A shepherd, his father, his four children and his sheep were killed by a British or American aircraft, which made two passes at them.” A single year of this bombing campaign against the Iraqi people has “cost the British taxpayer é60 million.” (The Guardian, 4 March 2000)

VI. A New War?

In the aftermath of the 11th September terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Bush administration has been gearing up for a new war on Iraq. Plans exist to input 100,000 US troops into the country, coupled with a new bombing campaign to topple Saddam and install pro-West elements of the Iraqi opposition (The Herald, 31 January 2002). But the US and British governments do not want democracy in the region. They do not want freedom and prosperity for the Iraqi people. In fact, they never did, as is obvious from the fact that they were ultimately behind the installation and arming of Saddam himself. This is because the freedom and self-determination of the Iraqi people would mean that they utilise domestic resources as they please é and that cannot be permitted.

Thus, the Anglo-American partners hope to re-install a brutal military dictatorship that suppresses the Iraqi people in order to secure unimpeded Western access to Persian Gulf oil reserves é albeit absent disobedient Saddam. In other words, they want a new Saddam-type entity to replace the old one who cannot be redeemed because he disobeyed Western orders. And like all previous Western military invasions of Iraq, the results are likely to be extremely bloody, with thousands of Iraqi civilian fatalities and casualties, and only more brutality and repression under yet another tyrant installed by the West.

What can we do about it? We have to do our best to raise public awareness of the situation in Iraq as a result of the gruesome combination of both Saddam’s and Western policy. And we must thereby generate widespread public opposition to a new military invasion of Iraq, which would only escalate the humanitarian crisis in that country. In this way, we might be able to reign in the British and American governments from inflicting yet more destruction on the Iraqi people.

Mr. Nafeez Ahmed is a British political analyst and human rights activist based in London. He is Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and a Researcher at the Islamic Human Rights Commission. For in-depth discussion of Western policy in Iraq see “The 1991 Gulf Massacre” and “Bleeding the Gulf.” Mr. Ahmed is the author of the new 9/11 study, The War on Freedom: How and Why America was Attacked, September 11, 2001.