AN IRAQI child is lying in a Baghdad hospital bed being treated for leukemia. Ali Hussein is eight years old and can’t get the treatment he needs because of US-imposed sanctions on Iraq. Bush and Blair’s war will bring more horror to this devastated country.
Said Aburish is a leading Arab journalist and author of Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge and A Brutal Friendship: The West and the Arab Elites. He spoke to Socialist Worker about the legacy of US intervention in the Middle East.
‘The call from the White House for a ‘pre-emptive’ war against Iraq is a very dangerous new development. It has not pushed for pre-emptive war in the Middle East before. But apart from that nothing much has changed – certainly not in terms of Saddam Hussein’s possible possession of unconventional weapons. The US has known about this for almost 20 years.
‘The Middle East today is a result of what the Great Powers have done. Britain and France designed the borders of countries in the Middle East after the First World War, according to the Sykes-Picot agreement. They used a system of deputy sheriffs. They selected various people and called them kings, emirs and sheikhs. They were then installed in newly created countries to defend Western interests.
‘The West or outside powers withdrew from formal control of much of the world during the 20th century. In the Middle East the West’s interests in keeping control increased. That’s because of the West’s desire to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict in a way that satisfies itself, and its very strategic reliance on Middle East oil. They have to control the flow and the price of oil.
‘In the past the US state backed leaders who were not popular with their people – the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf. The present administration is in the business of creating a list of people to be eliminated. That is threatening chaos across the whole region. Saddam Hussein is on the list at number one. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is at number two.
‘Relations between the US and Egypt are not good, and relations with Saudi Arabia are poor compared with the past. US policy is to advocate direct intervention and not to depend on anyone in the area. They do not understand the possibility of enormous instability in the Middle East. They talk of a war on terrorism. But it is very difficult to identify the enemy, and they will have a lot of difficulty fighting that war without people on the ground to help them.
‘The enemy seems to change day to day, depending on which groups or states oppose the US. US leaders themselves will not admit the obvious. The Islamist elements that are fighting the US in the Middle East now were sponsored by the US in the 1950s and 1960s to oppose radical Egyptian leader Nasser.
‘So it is a case of changing enemies, and of having no long term policy that the people or even the pro-Western leaders of the Middle East could understand. The situation is worse than in 1991 during the last Gulf War. The US has total disregard for the feelings of the people in the region.
‘Something has to be done about this. The American people have to be told openly that their government is not popular with the people of the Middle East, and why. People pointed out that the Islamic movements would eventually turn against the West. The US did not listen. Now it’s not listening to anybody.
‘There are no people in the White House, State Department or Department of Defence who advocate a policy that would give the people of the Middle East anything that could make them happy. Saudi opposition to the royal regime has been in place for some time, but it has lacked organisation.
‘Saudi Arabia is not a place where people march down the streets with banners calling for the overthrow of the House of Saud. Opposition expresses itself through preaching in the mosques. I never thought I would live to see the women of Saudi Arabia rising in opposition to the regime. This has happened. Recently there was a demonstration by 15,000 women in eastern Saudi Arabia cheering the Palestinians and condemning George Bush. This reflects a level of anger that no one could have expected. Women have demonstrated time and again throughout this year.
‘What you have in Saudi Arabia is a disintegration of the system because the House of Saud can no longer depend on its old bases of support. It used to depend on the religious establishment of the Wahhabi subsect of Islam. But the House of Saud has taken the power away from the religious people. It has assumed total responsibility for everything that happens. That means people blame it for a fall in average wages to $7,000 a year.
‘The Palestinian resistance has become the most identifiable source of opposition to the West. Therefore everyone is behind it. It reveals the depth and source of feeling regarding the West. The resistance in the West Bank and Gaza by young people is a part of what is happening across the Middle East. The young generation feels the older generation has failed. A military attack on Iraq will deepen the instability. Iraq is almost twice the size of Britain.
‘It is a country of 20 million people. It may be easy to destroy and defeat Iraq, but to put in place a system that is acceptable to its people is much more difficult. And to put in place a regime acceptable to all its neighbours – Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria – is virtually impossible. This is why the people of these countries oppose any military action against Saddam Hussein.
‘A war on Iraq will have some popularity at street level in the US. But for how long? Will it be popular if the war drained the US Treasury? Will it be if it became clear to people in the US that the war has destabilised the Middle East and it is impossible to control the movements that will develop? The US has put itself into a corner by insisting Saddam Hussein must go. It has undermined anyone who has a good word to say about Western influence in the area.
‘There is really nothing to be said for an invasion of Iraq. Saddam Hussein could be replaced by someone equally hideous whose name is not Saddam Hussein. It is the name Saddam that haunts the US administration, not his policies. Popular opposition in the West to an invasion of Iraq must have an impact on US policy.
‘The US has virtually dismissed its friends in the Middle East, so the only place to be heard from is Western Europe. If we have enough pressure from Europe the US will be forced to rethink. The American people will discover they have been lied to. The Bush administration sounds like something out of a Western – get Saddam Hussein, humiliate Yasser Arafat, ignore Egyptian president Mubarak, tell the House of Saud to change its ways. It is a reversion to crude colonialism.’
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