The Gulf war: the "order" of the rich powers at work in the Middle East

February 1991

On 17 January 1991, the most massive Western military intervention since World War II was launched against Iraq. Acting under United Nations cover, the US government brought along 29 other countries - among them Britain, with the second largest force.

This, said American president Bush, was to be a swift and clean operation. Getting Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait was to be achieved in no time. The West was just out to teach him a quick and decisive lesson. Following the trend set before him by Thatcher, John Major was only too pleased to oblige.

Four weeks later, the intervention has turned into a full-blown war. What was said to be a matter of days has become a matter of months, if not years. Kuwait itself is now a secondary issue while Iraq as a whole has become the main objective. The allegedly clean and surgical strike against military targets has turned into systematic destruction of Iraqi urban and industrial areas. A ground offensive, even more deadly than the air war, is now on the agenda.

Whether the Western powers will achieve their aim and teach Saddam Hussein a lesson remains to be seen. So far, the only clear lesson is that Iraqi people have been slaughtered in their thousands. Despite the media censorship, this is now known fact.

Day after day, Western politicians are now striving to get us used to the idea of a long drawn out war involving massive casualties on both sides. Not that they were taken unawares. Didn't they send tens of thousands of bodybags to Saudi Arabia even before the war started? But these self-styled champions of "democracy" never dared to say what they were really taking us into, least of all what their real aims were.

Behind the lies of the western warmongers

So what is this war really about? Who will benefit from it? What can justify this wholesale destruction of Iraq and its population, and the prospect of many more deaths on both sides in the months to come?

Western politicians are not short of all sorts of "good" reasons. Everyday they find new ones, often contradicting what they said the day before. But what do they care? They want to fool us into accepting this war, not to help us make any sense of it. Bush goes even so far as to tell us that this war is the fight of "good against evil", like in the good old days of the Crusades no doubt!

All these hypocritical lies have something in common: they rely on ignorance and prejudice to win our agreement for the war. But none of them resist close examination.

"Does not the responsibility for this war lie entirely with saddam hussein and his greed for oil?"

What happened after Kuwait's invasion, last August? Although there was no shortage of oil, prices went up and only returned to their previous level just before the war started. Who benefited from this increase? Not Saddam Hussein, as no buyer would take his oil. But the major international oil companies did, judging by the huge increases in their profit in the last quarter of 1990. Not surprisingly either. BP and Shell reckon that a one dollar increase in the barrel of crude oil means £200 million more profit between themselves!

BP's £3.6 billion profit last year is comparable to the whole of Iraq's crude oil exports in 1986, a relatively good year for Iraq. Even if Saddam Hussein was able to take full advantage of the oil resources he now controls, the major oil companies would still take the lion's share of the profits. Simply because they dominate the world market: between themselves, the six major companies control 70% of all refining capacities and over half of all oil tankers.

While BP's profits were increasing, the Iraqi economy was bankrupt, inflation was running at over 40%. Iraq's foreign debt, inherited from the Iran-Iraq war, was an estimated £45 billion. Only two countries in the Third World have larger foreign debts - Mexico and Brazil, both much larger than Iraq. No international financial institution would lend Iraq any more money. Iraq's only way out was to get its debts written off or postponed, and to boost its oil revenue.

Kuwait, on the other hand, was owed £9 billion by Iraq, a small amount compared to Kuwait's considerable financial assets. Yet, Kuwait was insisting that Iraq should start paying back its debt. At the same time, together with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait kept producing more oil than its quota. Neither of these countries needed to produce all that oil. While Kuwait's increased production was giving a boost to BP's profits (as one of the two big contractors for Kuwaiti oil), it was pushing oil prices down, thereby reducing Iraq's revenue. In the end, having failed to get Kuwait to change its policy on either debt repayment or oil production, Iraq invaded the country.

So, whose greed should we be talking about in the Middle East? The greed of Iraq, whose only claim is after all to avoid total bankruptcy by using its oil resources? Or the greed of the giant US and British oil companies who prefer a war rather than having to give up even a slice of the profit they make out of acting as intermediaries between the rich industrialised countries and the Middle East?

"Should not Saddam Hussein be prevented from controlling one third of the world oil reserves and using it to blackmail the rest of the world?"

Were the oil producing countries in a position to blackmail the rich powers, that would really be a change! The truth is that it is always the other way round.

Even in 1973, during the first oil crisis, the oil-producing countries only won a price increase because the handful of Western oil companies controlling the market wanted it as well.

All the major oil-exporting countries are Third World countries. Oil cannot be used to feed people, nor to dress them, nor to build roads, schools or hospitals. There is only one thing these countries can do with their oil, and that is to sell it. But sell it to whom? The rich countries consume nearly 80% of the world's oil. There is not much choice as to whom one can sell oil!

What is more, if any producing country wants to use its oil revenue to buy anything, who is it going to buy from? Again, from the rich countries, or at least from their companies which control most of the world market, from food to building materials and from machinery to oil-producing equipment.

Whatever happens, the hands of the oil-producing countries are tied by a world market which is dominated by the richest powers. They cannot escape from this market.

Nor would Saddam Hussein. With 20 or even 30% of the world reserves, he would still be faced with the need to sell oil and the need to buy other products. And if it came to the crunch, the rich powers would probably be able to push up oil production in the rest of the world, so as to do completely without the Middle East production. After all only one fourth of the world oil is produced in the Middle East at present.

If anyone is likely to use blackmail and to get something out of it, it is the rich powers, as they always have done. But certainly not Saddam Hussein!

"Should not international law be enforced? Should the military occupation of a foreign country be tolerated?"

Then what about the permanent occupation of military bases by the US, in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain? What about the military occupation of Djibouti by France? And, going further east, what about Britain's occupation of Hong Kong?

Although it is true that the rich powers do not often need to resort to military means in order to occupy a country. They have other weapons: the power of their money; their total control over the world financial system; their overwhelming technological superiority.

Their banking tentacles are all over the Third World, sucking profits out of the poverty of the people, often even out of starvation. They can bribe whole governments into buying Western goods and allowing in Western companies and when they cannot bribe them, they replace them with others who are more obliging.

Using their economic weapons, a handful among the richest powers occupy not one country, like Saddam Hussein, but almost the whole world. But, according to Bush and Major, this is only right.

Yes, this is what international law is about, the law of the richest, of the most affluent powers, the law of the fabulously rich companies and shareholders who dominate these economies. It is about their right to occupy the whole world economically, and very often politically as well.

And when a dictator, like Saddam Hussein, stands in their way and steps on their toes by invading Kuwait in order to salvage his own bankrupt economy, they draw their guns: the rich powers' club is a most exclusive one. No ragged dictator is to be allowed in.

"Should not the West protect the rights of the Kuwaiti people?"

And what about the rights of the people of the Middle East?

Where these rights upheld by Britain and France when they carved up the Middle East into two zones of influence after World War I?

Where these rights upheld again when a British High Commissioner hastily marked out the borders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and Iraq, in 1922?

Not the slightest account was taken of the linguistic, religious or national unity of the peoples separated by these borders. The RAF bombed the Kurdish minority into submitting to the new Iraqi borders and was urged by Winston Churchill, then Secretary of State for War, to use mustard gas against the rebels.

These borders were totally artificial lines on paper. They were only meant to divide the people of the region, to tame them, with the help of the very same royal dictatorships which are still in power today in all these countries except Iraq.

Of these four countries, Kuwait was the smallest and the most artificial. There was not the slightest justification for its existence. Except for one: it included the only deep-sea harbour in the Gulf, and that was a good enough reason for Britain to break it away from the rest of the region. Later on, the discovery of enormous oil reserves added another reason for Kuwait's separate existence, from Britain's point of view, but it did not make its separation any less artificial.

Britain and its Western allies, have proved time and time again that they could not care less about the rights of people in the Middle East, including those of the Kuwaitis.

And they are proving it today once again: how can they preserve the rights of the Kuwaiti people while burying them under rubble by carpet-bombing their towns?

"Saddam Hussein is a bloodthirsty dictator. Is not the West fighting for democracy in Iraq?"

That Hussein's regime is a ruthless dictatorship is beyond question.

But was it any different when Saddam Hussein became president in 1979, executing all potential rivals in the ruling Ba'th Party? Was it any different again when, in the same year, mass deportations of the Shi'ite Muslim minority started in Iraq?

The truth is that Western politicians had other worries then. The Shah had just been overthrown in Iran. The Iranian people were mobilised and victorious. More than the religious radicalism of Khomeini's new regime, this mass mobilisation was seen as a threat by the West - and as an example that could inspire people in other countries to rise against their Western-supported dictators.

Saddam Hussein being the main contender against Iran for regional influence, the Western powers came to think they could use him for their own ends. Particularly after he launched war against Iran.

Whether Hussein was a dictator or not was then of no concern to Western governments. As long as he was serving their interests, by waging a war that could break the self-confidence of the Iranian people, the West was prepared to look the other way.

Just as the West is quite happy to look the other way when it comes to any other dictatorship in the Third World which it considers friendly. Idi Amin and Pinochet, are among the most notorious past examples.

Not to mention the Arab countries which are part of today's US-led coalition. Take Saudi Arabia, the "one prince, one vote" type of democracy, where women have no rights whatsoever, not even to drive a car. Or what Bush calls the "legitimate" regime of Kuwait, that of the al-Sabah family, which rules over 800,000 Kuwaitis whose rights are based on nobility, and over more than a million foreign workers living in slums whose only right is to slave away.

So what other regime would the West support if Saddam Hussein was to go? An Iraqi version of Saudi Arabia's Fahd, of Syria's Assad, of Kuwait's al-Sabah, of Bahrain's Khalifas, of Qatar's al-Thanis? Take your pick! In other words, just a more flexible version of Saddam Hussein, but certainly not a less dictatorial one...

"Should not Saddam Hussein be sorted out now, before his military machine becomes a real threat to the rest of the Middle East?"

It is ironical that after Bush, Major should try to scare people using the threat of Hussein's military machine.

After all, this machine did not come out of nowhere. Most of the weapons, planes, tanks, radar, telecommunications networks, etc., were built in today's allied countries. Many of the airfields, aircraft shelters and ammunition bunkers were built by British engineering firms. Many army technicians and pilots were trained in Britain, France, the USA and the USSR.

The cost for all this military training and equipment was largely financed by loans offered by Western and Russian banks. Some of these loans are very recent. Like the £250 million loan which was being organised in the City in March 1990, at the very same time as the Observer journalist Farzad Bazoft was facing a firing squad in Baghdad (no wonder the British government was not that concerned!)

And it is even more ironical to hear these Western politicians shouting about Hussein's military expenditure when, at the highest point of the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq's military budget was still less than that of Britain, not to mention the USA! Even in the Middle East, Iraq is not the biggest military spender: Israel, although a much smaller country, spends much more on its defence.

Besides, if Iraq's military machine were so formidable, how come has the air force been absent since the beginning of the war, to the extent of, apparently flying to safety in Iran? A tactical choice? So the coalition generals tell us. But why such a choice? If not because Iraq has simply no way of producing parts for its foreign-made planes and missiles, which makes its air force largely useless in a war.

Wouldn't the same happen were Iraq to try invading Saudi Arabia or any neighbouring country supported by the West?

This is why to describe Saddam Hussein as a "new Hitler", a much favoured label these days, is pure nonsense. It is ignoring the fact that Hitler's strength was based on the most powerful industrial machine in Europe. Not only was German industry capable of producing spare parts, but all along during World War II, it even produced substitutes for raw materials as well as new weapons, tanks and planes.

By contrast, Iraq is first and foremost a Third World country. Its oil reserves cannot make up for its lack of basic industries. It has neither a steel nor a real chemical industry. It cannot build a plane, nor even a tank. All it is able to do is to improve the old and crude Russian Scud missile, and even then only with the help of foreign technicians. No "new Hitler", no serious threat to the region, let alone to the West, could grow out of a country as poorly industrialised as Iraq. Unless, of course, the industrialised West kept a steady flow of military equipment going into Iraq...

"Once the war is over, Kuwait freed and Saddam Hussein out of the way, surely it will be possible to negotiate a new lasting order in the Middle East?"

Of course, the rich powers will try to sort out some problems in the Middle East, but only their own problems. This is a long way from helping the Middle East people to deal with their own problems according to their own interests.

Every time the Western powers have intervened in the Middle East, they have forced their own order onto the population, regardless of the predictable consequences.

In the first part of this century, they started by carving up the region in accordance with their own conflicting interests and on the basis of present and future oil interests. In the process they created various artificial countries, thereby creating as many potential territorial conflicts, of which today's claim by Iraq over Kuwait is just one of many examples.

After World War II, the state of Israel was set up as a military outpost of Western economic interests in the region. The USA, among others, supported the forceful removal of Palestinian peasants from their lands, creating a deep wound in Palestine and making the gap between the Israeli population and the Arab population almost unbridgeable. This resulted in an almost permanent state of war from Syria to Lebanon, and most Palestinians were forced to live as permanent refugees.

Finally, it was again the intervention of the West, arming first the Shah's regime in Iran and then Hussein's regime in Iraq, which brought about the Iran-Iraq war and its over one-million dead, and finally Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.

Western intervention in the Middle East has always carried a heavy price for the population of the region. And for a very simple reason. The short-sighted greedy interests of Western companies require crushing the aspirations of the population, dividing them up so that they cannot feel strong, playing one national group off against another, creating internal tensions in order to divert the discontent away from the real problem - their ruthless exploitation by the large Western companies.

Because the aim of the Western powers is only to preserve their economic dominance over the Middle East, any "new order" they negotiate will have to be forced onto the population and will give rise to new wars.

Beyond Saddam Hussein, the real aims of the Gulf war

Western politicians have made many diverging statements as to the aims of this war. One day it was to free Kuwait, the next it was to "get" Saddam Hussein, to destroy Iraq's military power or even its economy. Major was even heard dreaming aloud of taking Saddam Hussein to court, as a war criminal!

But they all agree on one point. They are out to make an example. And they want the punishment to be remembered, not just by Saddam Hussein himself, but by all those in the poor countries, who may want to stand up against Western interests at some point in the future.

So far, the coalition has focused on the systematic destruction of the Iraqi economy. Besides actual military sites, factories, oil wells and refineries, power plants, roads, bridges, communication facilities, etc.., have been their main targets.

The Western powers are out to show something to all Third World countries. That they can wipe out the whole of Iraq's industry for many years to come. That they can destroy decades of slow and painful economic development. That they can push the country back decades into the past.

Let any poor country be warned: anyone standing in the way of the rich powers takes the risk of loosing whatever modest economic progress may have been achieved and being pushed back into utter deprivation. Let them be warned that the cost of confronting the rich powers is just too high. This is what this war is about so far.

In the process, Iraqi towns and residential areas have been bombed to rubble, probably killing tens of thousands. Fragmentation bombs, which are built to make as many casualties as possible in crowded places, have been used in urban areas. And, if only 10% of the generals' claims of successful hits against chemical and nuclear plants are true, many people must have died and will die as a result of pollution by toxic substances.

Western military spokesmen cynically describe these deaths as "collateral damage". But to us, they are Iraqi people being massacred. The politicians may say that the Iraqi people are not the coalition's target, but they stand to be the main victims of the war.

And the rich powers may even go further in this direction. They may choose to make the punishment horrifying to the population as well, to show them that standing up against the rule of the West can only amount to suicide.

Nor would it be the first time that the rich powers use such methods. At the end of the Second World War, whole towns were bombed into the ground in Germany, like Hamburg and Dresden. And two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. There was no military need for any of these bombings. But there was a message in them, a message to the large working classes of both countries: this was what the Allies had in store for them, should they ever consider standing in the way of the new "order" the Allies wanted to force on the world.

Again, the same thing happened in Vietnam, where the US air force spent months literally covering the smallest field and village with bombs, napalm and agent orange. There was no military sense in these bombings. But the world had to know that even if the US troops were eventually to withdraw from Vietnam, the price for it was terrifyingly high.

Behind the Gulf war, the trade war

Apart from agreeing totally with the other powers as to the aims of this war, the British government has its own particular concerns.

For a long time, British companies were dominant in the Middle East. Eventually they had to allow competitors to take their share of the cake too. By now much of Britain's economic influence in the region depends on monstrous parasitic states such as Kuwait and the Gulf emirates.

As far as British companies are concerned, Kuwait is just a machinery which is continuously pumping oil profits into the City. At the same time, it is also one of the biggest players on the London stock market. Take Kuwait's £60 billion investment fund away from London and quite a few British stockbrokers and bankers will be in real trouble.

If only the top men in the City could trust Saddam Hussein to keep the pump pouring money into London, no doubt they would find the invasion of Kuwait much less objectionable! Just as they had no objection to being Saddam Hussein's third biggest trading partner until last August.

In the meantime, British businessmen are involved in a spell of frantic activity despite the recession. Some followed Douglas Hurd and GEC chairman Lord Prior on a trip to Saudi Arabia, in order to be officially introduced to the Kuwaiti Crown Prince. Others went to Washington to attend conferences organised by the Kuwaiti government, in the headquarters of the World Bank. Others still, are busy lobbying Major and the Department of Trade and Industry. All this has only one aim: to secure for British business as many reconstruction contracts in Kuwait as they can sign. War does mean profit for some!

Behind this frantic activity there is also one fear, which is terrifying for these gentlemen. They dread the idea that their American war allies could use their leading role in the war, not only to secure the lion's share of the war profits, but also to kick British business out of the Gulf. And, yes, this is quite likely to be what American companies have in mind. The Gulf war implies no truce in the trade war!

So after all, this is why Major is so insistant on pretending that Britain is playing a major role in the coalition. This is why the British government sent more troops than any other Western country except the USA. What is at stake is the number of contracts for British business after the war, the influence that the City will retain within the Middle East and especially in Kuwait. Behind the grandiose speeches about freedom, democracy and the rest, what you find is just the loads-a-money brigade.

Not like the Vietnam war maybe, but maybe even worse

In the early days of the war, Bush insisted time and again that this would not be another Vietnam. He was only trying to defuse a legitimate fear among many Americans who remembered the past.

But what no-one knows, and Bush no more than we do, is what will happen when the coalition army starts invading Kuwait and Iraq. Will the Iraqi army give way, out of demoralisation and deprivation, as Western politicians seem to hope? Or, on the contrary, will the Iraqi soldiers feel that they have nothing to lose? If that was the case, they may have the will to fight to the bitter end against the West. And in doing so they may also find that the rest of the population is behind them, seeking revenge.

Then the Gulf war would indeed become similar to the Vietnam war, with a whole population determined to risk everything in order to defeat the invaders, only the Iraqi people would be better equipped to fight a war than the Vietnamese were. Then it could turn into another Vietnam, only worse.

From Morocco to Pakistan, millions of people are now identifying with the plight of the Iraqis and are siding with them against the US-led coalition.

Already the regimes in some of the surrounding countries are shaken by the tensions created by the war. Jordan seems to have reached the stage now where it is no longer really governable. In Israel, the government has called up reservists and still imposes a 23-hour curfew on most Palestinians in the occupied territories. In Lebanon the authority of the state is somehow maintained due to the direct involvement of Syria, whose regime itself is being attacked at home because of siding with the West.

What if these millions rose against the Western intervention, with the risk of setting ablaze the whole of the Middle East?

But even if the West won the war without setting ablaze the whole region, the settlement which would be imposed by the West would only add more resentments, more potential tensions. It could open the way to an endless series of wars in the region, which could turn the Middle East into a new, much larger, Lebanon.

Yes, the insistence of the rich countries to make an example of Saddam Hussein, could backfire. And let us make no mistake. The people in the Middle-East would bear the brunt of the hardships. But our politicians would be quick to turn to the workers of the West and to force us to foot the bill for their wars, with our sweat and our blood.

Those not recruited for the battlefields, would face mobilisation on the job. The bosses would be only too happy to make a fast buck by using military discipline and manipulating the state of war against us. The front would reach home as well, except that the generals would be company managers and the enemy would be all workers fighting for their rights.

This war is as much against our interests as it is against the interests of the people of the Middle- East.

Our side cannot be the side of our exploiters

In this war, there is nothing for us to gain from a victory of the West.

Such a victory would be first and foremost a defeat of the poor in the Third World. It would reinforce the domination of the rich powers over the poor countries. The Western armies would go on parading even more arrogantly all over the world, while the Western companies would be even more ruthless in turning the screw on the poor countries. Any sign of unrest would become a pretext for military intervention.

And we would pay a price for it here as well. The gung-ho brigade would feel victorious and they would want more of it. Having dealt with the poor of the Middle-East, they would want to deal with the poor of Britain, with us, workers. They would want to break all our resistance as well. We would have to face the redoubled arrogance of our bosses, politicians, of all those in the police, in the army and in society at large who accept and enforce the rule of the wealthy. Brainwashing and the silencing of dissident voices, would become even more commonplace. Defying the bosses' endless greed would become even more of a crime.

A defeat for the poor of the Middle-East could only mean a defeat for us, workers in Britain, and in fact workers in all the Western countries.

We want nothing to do with this war. We cannot lend our support to the Western warmongers, nor allow them to claim it. Our side cannot be and is not theirs. Nothing short of a total withdrawal of all Western troops from the Middle-East can be consistent with our interests.

And our hope must be that Bush's and Major's arrogant pretentions to make the whole world toe their line will be defeated. We must hope that this time, like in Vietnam, they will eventually have no other choice than to swallow that arrogance and to withdraw shamefully, having been met with a solid determination to defeat their ambitions, both in the Middle-East and in the West.

Just as we must hope that, at some point in this war, the people of the Middle-East will turn against all the Saddam Husseins which the West has put into power over the years. We must hope that the poor people of the Middle-East will realise that, even when these dictators are involved in a confrontation with their former Western masters, even when they seek to whip up nationalist feelings in order to gain support for themselves, they still remain an obstacle to the emancipation of the poor. And we must hope that, having realised that fact, the people of the Middle-East will oust all the reactionary royals, the parasitic princes and the dictators on which the West relies to enforce its rule over the Third World.

The workers and the poor of the world have a truly new order to build

Today society is back to the same kind of madness which was the trademark of its past. The threat of world recession is looming again. Besides, the present war may extend much further, setting ablaze a significant part, if not the whole, of the Muslim world. If this was to happen, then, despite all major powers being allied, this could result in a war effort reminiscent of the previous world wars, even in the industrialised countries.

Capitalism - the running of society according to private interest and profit - is once more proving incapable of preventing economic and political chaos in society. On the contrary, it creates chaos, on a scale which is getting wider all the time. Capitalism relies on the poverty and the exploitation of the overwhelming majority of humanity. Consequently it can only maintain itself through naked violence and destruction both of human and material wealth. The present war is but an expression of this reliance on violence. This is not a temporary failure of capitalism, but its "natural" way of operating. Only this way of operating is getting too dangerous for us to afford it any longer.

Neither the poor of the Middle-East nor us, workers of the rich countries, have any stake in keeping the capitalist system afloat. But we both have a common interest in setting up a new order in society.

Not the sort of "new order" Bush has in store for us, which would only mean more of the same wars and crisis.

No, a truly new order based on the collective needs of all rather than the individual greed of a few, on the rational utilisation and sharing of all natural resources on a worldwide basis, rather than on the chaos of alternating shortages and overproduction dictated by speculation and profit.

In this war, defeating the attempts of the rich capitalist powers to enforce the old bankrupt world order of the bankers and the oil companies, can be a step towards building a truly new world order. And that is a more and more urgent need.