Socialist Worker

The West's bloody war for oil

by Sam Ashman
Issue No. 1731

US President George Bush ushered in the start of the Gulf War ten years ago. As the bombs pounded down on Iraq he made a speech about the dawn of a 'New World Order'. We have been living with that New World Order ever since. Bush's war lasted 42 days. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were dead by the end of it. Iraqi society was devastated. The war was backed up by British Tory prime minister John Major and Labour leader Neil Kinnock every inch of the way. We were told that it was necessary and just, because Saddam Hussein, the ruler of Iraq, was an evil tyrant. We were told he was a new Hitler who must be destroyed at all costs.

Saddam Hussein had invaded-six months earlier-the neighbouring state of Kuwait. We were not told that, behind the scenes, US diplomats told Iraqi diplomats that the US would not object to any such invasion. We were not told that the West had armed and backed Saddam Hussein over many years, including when he used chemical weapons against the Kurdish minority in Iraq.

We were not told the truth, that he was a ruthless tyrant who the West did business with, until he stepped out of line and the West decided to punish him. Instead, we were fed a torrent of lies to justify the war. We were told Iraqi soldiers murdered babies in incubators in the hospitals of Kuwait. That was a lie and it later emerged the story had been invented by a member of the ruling Al-Sabah family in Kuwait. We were told the war was to restore democracy to Kuwait-which had never had any democracy in the first place. The lies were to mask the US's real motives-oil and power.

The lies to justify slaughter

At the start of the 1990s the USSR was collapsing. The US wanted to make clear to the world it was now top dog-the dominant power in the Middle East, and in the world The Middle East is crucial because of oil.

Iraq has the world's second largest proven oil reserves, after Saudi Arabia. It controls 11 percent of the world's oil supply. The US State Department noted back in 1945 that oil 'has historically played a larger part in the external relations of the United States than any other commodity.'

It also said that the Arabian peninsula and the Persian Gulf were 'a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history'. But only rarely did the real reasons for the war slip from the politicians' lips.

The military and the politicians preferred to glory in the technology of death that was pounding Iraq. The military was aided by most of the media which simply repeated the US military press releases and fabricated stories. Television pictures were vetted to stop the true horror coming through. Pictures of people in agony, severe shock or suffering, were banned. 'Collateral damage' was used to refer to civilian casualties.

We got talk of surgical strikes and 'smart' bombs that avoided such 'collateral damage'. Again, it was lies. In Iraq houses were being flattened, schools and hospitals were being struck by deadly weapons, mangled bodies were being pulled out of bombed-out buildings

'I saw mothers hugging their dead babies and screaming in agony. The babies did not have milk or medicine. I cannot describe the suffering I saw. It is inhuman what America is doing to us,' said a woman who fled from a Baghdad hospital. The basic infrastructure of Iraq was pounded into dust-road, railways, bridges, water treatment plants, factories, power stations, everything. But the Western lies about the war could not completely work. There was also opposition.

Millions demonstrated against the war across the world, including a 100,000-strong march in London on 12 January 1991 before the bombing began. In workplaces and estates all over Britain people raised arguments against the war, and media workers, too, organised to challenge the bloodthirsty coverage in the papers, the radio and television.

The war ended in February. The last act of the US, Britain and their coalition partners was to slaughter retreating, surrendering Iraqi troops on the Basra road from Kuwait to southern Iraq. One US soldier described that massacre as a 'turkey shoot'. For hours a five mile long column of retreating soldiers was utterly pummelled.

Gulf War soldier John Callaghan, from St Helens on Merseyside, hung himself with his shoe laces in May 1996.

His cousin Les told Socialist Worker how John was haunted by the memories of 'clearing burnt out vehicles on the Basra road. He was pulling bodies and arms and legs out of vehicles, and children. It traumatised him. He wrote me a letter saying that they had some Iraqi prisoners of war to guard. He was gutted because they were all so young. They were wearing flip flops. They weren't really soldiers at all.'

Last year US journalist Seymour Hersh wrote a detailed account of the slaughter on the Basra road. He told how US General Barry McCaffrey deliberately set up the massacre, two days after the ceasefire that was supposed to end the war. But Basra was not the end of the story. Shia Muslims in the south and Kurds in the north rose up against Saddam Hussein at the end of the war. They wanted to overthrow the 'evil tyrant' that Bush and Major had told us the war was all about.

But the US and Britain did not want a popular revolution. They preferred to sit back and watch while Saddam Hussein brutally crushed both risings. 'Our policy is to get rid of Saddam, not his regime,' said Richard Haass, who is the former director of Middle East affairs on the National Security Council. The war didn't get rid of Saddam Hussein. For all the bombs and the slaughter, the war strengthened Hussein's regime, whilst destroying Iraqi society. As one Iraqi told USA Today, 'Any doubts I had about Saddam are gone. Now I want him to stand up to the US for taking away my power, my running water, and my daughter's childhood.'

The aim is to secure the 'free, uninterrupted flow of oil from the Gulf'.
ROBERT KIMMETT, US State Department official, 1991

'It will not be a war for democracy. It is hypocritical to suggest we hope to bring democracy to Kuwait. Nor is intervention justified because Saddam Hussein is a cruel leader. If our policy were to punish cruel leaders, we would not be allied with Syria's President Assad. The war is about stopping Hussein get a choke hold on our oil lifeline. We should not apologise for defending our vital economic interests.'
RICHARD NIXON, former US president, 1991

'Oil is worth going to war for.'

'Access to Persian Gulf oil and the security of key friendly states in the area are vital to US national security... The United States remains committed to defending its vital interests in the region.'
PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH, in his National Security Directive Number 54, 15 January 1991, outlining the aims and objectives of the Gulf War

The horror still goes on

The war against Iraq has continued through the imposition of economic sanctions. Iraq was a sophisticated country before the war, with modern schools. Its health service was the envy of the region. Its infant mortality rate was one of the lowest in the world. Today it is among the highest. War and sanctions have produced hyperinflation, mass poverty, social and economic dislocation and disintegration.

Since 1991 sanctions have killed between 5,000 and 6,000 Iraqis every month. Cholera and typhoid are endemic because of the dumping of raw sewage in the waterways. Modern hospitals cannot get electricity, never mind basic medicines and supplies.

Sanctions have stopped paper from entering the country, rubber, tyres, pencils, sanitary towels, syringes...the list is endless. Dennis Halliday, the United Nations' Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, resigned in 1998 because of sanctions, saying, 'We are in the process of destroying an entire society. It is as simple and terrifying as that. It is illegal and immoral.' Halliday's successor also resigned.

Madeleine Albright, Clinton's secretary of state, was asked on television in 1996 about the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children as a result of sanctions. She said, 'We think the price is worth it.' New Labour staunchly defends sanctions.

Peter Hain, the foreign office minister, had the nerve to falsely claim in the Guardian this month that 'to export the majority of goods to Iraq-including food, medicines, agricultural, educational, and water and sanitation goods-you need simply to notify the UN.'

The desire to avenge Hussein does not stop with sanctions. There have been repeated bombings of Iraq, including the dropping of 400 cruise missiles in December 1998.

The US and Britain have established 'no-fly zones' over northern and southern Iraq-supposedly to protect the Kurds they abandoned in 1991, the same Kurds who are being slaughtered by the Turkish government, a US ally. Iraqi planes which breach the no-fly zone are shot down.

The US and Britain have bombed Iraq virtually every other day since December 1998. It hardly gets a mention in the press, though a Guardian editorial in March 1999 admitted, 'British planes have been conducting their longest bombing campaign since the Second World War.' But Saddam Hussein remains in power. Only ordinary people suffer.

As the Washington Post said in 1998, 'The sweet savour of victory in the subsequent eight years has turned to the taste of ashes. By mid-1992 the CIA concluded that Saddam Hussein was tightening his grip on Iraq. The use of military force in the Gulf has been under continual reappraisal ever since the Gulf War ended, and the latest volley of bombs and missiles only deepens the debate.'

Depleted uranium hell

The US dropped vast amounts of weaponry made from the deadly depleted uranium. The fields south of the city of Basra, fertile lands from which millions of people get their food, were particularly badly hit. The depleted uranium entered the lungs of Iraqi soldiers who were the first to become ill.

But tomatoes, onions, potatoes and meat were drenched in uranium dust. Journalist Robert Fisk wrote in 1998, 'The same toxic residues must have drained into the rivers and sewers of Basra.'

US soldiers were exposed to the dust when, after the battle, they moved forward and destroyed the contaminated wreckage of Iraqi armoured units. There is today a fourfold increase in cancer in the south of Iraq, and children are dying of leukemia and lymphoma cancer.

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Sat 20 Jan 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1731
Share this article


Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.