Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

The reasons behind the Iraq invasion

Reading Time: 10 minutes


Military victory over the Baathists was never in question; in three weeks the United States invaded, brought down the regime and occupied the country. Indeed the contrast between the technological vanguard of the US army and Saddam Hussein?s outmoded forces was so great, some commentators likened it to the old colonial wars in Africa. There, European troops armed with rifles, machine guns and artillery decimated an enemy armed with anachronistic muskets and swords. In the invasion of Iraq, US cruise missiles and stealth bombers decimated an enemy armed largely with Soviet-era Kalashnikov rifles, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and mortars.

On the 1st of May 2003, President Bush had declared their “mission accomplished”. However it was during the prolonged occupation that the war for Iraq would truly begin: the battle, as the US administration had stated, to win the “hearts and minds” of ordinary Iraqis. Far from being welcomed as “liberators” (as Vice President Dick Cheney prophesised), Iraqi resistance fighters have instead maintained a determined defence of their homeland, sending home more than 500 US marines in ?stars and stripes? draped coffins. Had the Bush administration been simply naive to believe that Iraqis would want a US occupation of their country to give them ?democracy??

The Bush Administration

The most insistently repeated justifications for US intervention in Iraq initially surrounded the now infamous ?Weapons of Mass Destruction? (WMDs) debacle. Later the justifications were based around very disingenuous links between the secular Ba?athist regime and Osama bin Laden?s fundamentalist Islam al? Qaeda movement (the perpetrators of September the 11th). Today the credibility of these claims is so eroded they are virtually dismissed out of hand.

But what then were the interests in the world?s only superpower ? a hyperpower ? invading a Middle Eastern country? Two of the main objectives in Iraq lie with the control of oil (and its vast profitability), and to ensure regional military superiority (particularly through the US?s closest ally in the area: Israel). These in turn are part of a larger agenda from the White House towards their ?New World Order? (NWO); one based on a global free-market system.

The war on Iraq is the culmination of a decade of intense intellectual and political work by a small group of neoconservatives who have united with fundamentalist Christians and militarists under the Bush presidency. Their ideology stems from neocolonial visionaries such as Samuel P. Huntington and his thesis Clash of Civilisations, and is heavily supported by key figures such as Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz, and the President himself, George W. Bush.

In 1998, these figures joined a group of 21 others (including Richard Perle, now chair of the Pentagon?s Defence Policy Board; Undersecretary of Defence Douglas Feith; David Wurmser, special assistant in the State Department, Elliott Abrams, a senior National Security Council director, and Undersecretary of State John Bolton) who called for “a determined program to change the regime in Baghdad.”

Despite the highly dubious links, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York (combined with some fear-invoking rhetoric of WMDs in the hands of Saddam or al? Qaeda) gave the expedient ?War on Terror? just enough scope to stretch across Iraq ? and its oilfields.

Epitomising the tactics to be used in the quest of this NWO was the US National Security Strategy (NSS) of September 2002. In essence, this document asserted the right to preemptively strike any state that the US government determines to be a present or future threat to their country, as well as reaffirming their aims of foreign market neoliberalisation:

“The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction – and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy?s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively ? (And) forestall hostile acts by our adversaries and to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing military build-up in the hopes of surpassing, or equalling, the power of the US.”

Journalist William Pfaff described it as “an implicit American denunciation of the modern state order that has governed international relations since the Westphalian Settlement of 1648”. More importantly though, it highlights the aim of the US to maintain its hyperpower status and justifies the enforcing of its political will in any region across the globe.

In the Middle East, this strategy calls for changing the current course in a direction that favours the adoption of US-style political and economic values. It will also put the US at the heart of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) – ensuring oil prices are to the likes of US big business – and reinforce the Greenback as the world?s standard currency.

The History of the Middle East

In 1920, after putting down a Kurdish revolt, British imperialism created the state of Iraq with a puppet king to push Britain?s political needs and give priority to British oil interests in the region. Saddam?s dictatorship took power in 1968, and was founded on the continued support of the imperialist powers to maintain economic and political control.

Not only was the Middle East volatile for its ethnic and inter-state relationships, but, like much of the non-Western world at the time, it was a hotbed of socialists, Stalinists, and many others who looked towards nationalising industry either to combat poverty or to maintain regional control (such as the Nasser government in Egypt that had nationalised the Suez canal and fought off an Anglo-French-Israeli invasion). Iraq had had the largest per capita communist party in the world until they were massacred through a series of bloody purges at the hands of the Ba?athists in 1978 (winning Saddam many friends in Washington). Specifically, it meant more possible support for the Stalinist USSR, and the constant threat of nationalisation of the crucial oil industries.

The ?Iranian Revolution? of 1979 saw Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini come to power and implement a string of nationalisations. In the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war (which resulted in over one million casualties) the US and Britain armed Saddam to fight Iran, then the US?s main enemy in the region. The US hoped that Saddam?s war would destroy the Ayatollahs who were threatening to spread political Islam throughout the region. They feared that pro-imperialist regimes acting as armed guards for Western oil interests could topple.

The New York Times (8/13/90) explained: “For ten years, as Iraq developed a vast army, chemical weapons and a long record of brutality, the Reagan and Bush [Sr.] administrations quietly courted Hussein as a counter-weight to Iran?s revolutionary fervor.”

The US wanted a regional balance of power where no local state could dominate this oil-rich region. But Saddam started getting regional imperial aims, and, biting through his reigns, invaded Kuwait in 1990. Initially the US was willing to turn a blind eye to the disputed border areas, and the US ambassador April Gillespie told Saddam: “We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.” Saddam, however, went too far, capturing all of Kuwait?s oil fields. Fearing that Iraq could now attack Saudi Arabia (the world?s largest oil producer) and unwilling to let Saddam have so much control over the world?s oil supplies, the US turned against him. On January 16 1991 the US launched Operation Desert Storm where 100,000-200,000 Iraqi civilians fell as casualties.

Removing Saddam ran the risk of capacitating the break-up of the Iraqi state, which would seriously destabilise the region. To avoid such a scenario the US would have had to occupy Iraq to maintain stability – something that George Bush Sr. was unwilling to do. And so, having encouraged the Kurds and Shiites to rise up in revolt in 1995, Bush Sr. abandoned them to Saddam?s ruthless Republican Guards.

Instead the US concentrated on punitive sanctions that trebled child mortality in Iraq through malnutrition. According to the United Nations, they are attributable to up to 500,000 Iraqi deaths. More horrifyingly, Senator Robert Byrd in Congressional testimony admitted that the US also sent Saddam a “witches? brew of pathogens” including anthrax, botulinum, and West Nile virus. (West Virginia Gazette, 9/27/02)

Oil and Profits

Ever since, the right wing of the Republican Party has been obsessed with the apparent failure of US power to remove Saddam, and have consistently campaigned to “finish the job”. Central to this “job” is the establishment of an Iraqi free-market system. As the Chicago Tribune reported:

“Facing an Iraqi economy left in a shambles by Saddam Hussein, the US is developing an ambitious plan to remake it in the image of America?s freewheeling system of capitalism.”

Their plan for the immediate area is as ambitious as the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement between the empires of Britain and France, which carved up the region after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The Bush Administration has drafted sweeping plans for the privatisation of state-owned industries such as the oil sector, forming a stock market complete with electronic trading, and fundamental tax reform.

The US desperately needs to secure reliable oil supplies: US oil production has fallen by 15% from 1990 to 2000. Yet over the next twenty years, world oil demands are expected to rise by as much as 40-50%. In this context, the Middle East, which accounts for 66% of all known oil reserves, assumes huge importance. After Saudi Arabia, which is no longer a safe US client regime, Iraq is the next major supplier of oil in the region (the second largest in the world, holding 10.8% of all known reserves).

A plan released by Cheney in June 2002 underscored “energy security” as central to US foreign policy: “The Gulf will be a primary focus of US international energy policy”. Patrick Clawson (an oil industry expert and policy analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy which enjoys close ties with the Bush administration) stated candidly during a Capitol Hill forum in 1999:

“US oil companies would have an opportunity to make significant profits,” he said. “We should not be embarrassed about the commercial advantages that would come from a re-integration of Iraq into the world economy. Iraq, post-Saddam, is highly likely to be interested in inviting international oil companies to invest in Iraq. This would be very useful for US oil companies, which are well positioned to compete there, and very useful for the world?s energy-security situation.”

Control of Iraq?s oil (worth around US$3 trillion at current prices) would be a titanic business deal and a huge strategic prize. With full investment it could provide about a third of the US?s huge oil demand (20 million barrels a day) within five years. Some analysts believe US control could precipitate Iraq?s departure from OPEC, possibly destroying the cartel. This, together with Russia?s new willingness to become a major US oil supplier, could establish a long-sought after counterweight to Saudi Arabia, still the biggest influence by far on global oil prices.

The Bush administration has ensured US corporate control over Iraqi resources until at least 2007. The first part of the plan, created by the UN (under US pressure) is the ?Development Fund? for Iraq controlled by the US and advised by the notorious World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Sustainable Energy & Economy Network of the Institute for Policy Studies (SEEN) elucidated:

“World Bank and IMF programs, backed by the rigged rules of the World Trade Organization, have imposed dramatic financial restructuring upon much of the world. Developing countries have amassed huge debts in exchange for selling out their natural resources to powerful Northern corporations. This paradigm cloaks corporate welfare and neocolonialism in terms of “poverty alleviation” and now in Iraq, “humanitarian assistance””

The second part is a Presidential executive order that provides absolute legal protection for US interests in Iraqi oil. Executive Order 13303 decrees that: “any attachment, judgment, decree, lien, execution, garnishment, or other judicial process is prohibited, and shall be deemed null and void”, with respect to the Development Fund for Iraq and “all Iraqi petroleum and petroleum products, and interests therein.” In other words, any petrol company dealing with Iraqi oil is above the law under any circumstances! SEEN exemplifies:

“?a massive tanker accident; an explosion at an oil refinery; the employment of slave labor to build a pipeline; murder of locals by corporate security; the release of billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”

US forces in Iraq were well aware that oil was one of their major objectives. During the primary assault on Baghdad, marines set up forward bases named ?Camp Shell? and ?Camp Exxon?, and, after opening an oil spigot outside Basra, US Brigadier-General Robert Crear noted: “Now we?re in the oil business.” Comedian Jay Leno described the war as “Operation Iraqi Liberation ? O.I.L.”

US Global Dominance

But as the US right wing commentator Thomas Friedman noted in the New York Times, a war in Iraq was “not just for oil”. The US has seized Iraq?s oil in order to enhance its dominance – military, politically, and economically – throughout the world. A crushed Ba?athist regime sends a message to the world (particularly the neocolonial world) to think twice before challenging US power.

In circumventing the UN to “go it alone” in invading Iraq, the US has hurt the pride of the UN community, and has left Washington looking arrogant and belligerent. And like its ill-fated predecessor, the League of Nations, it has put the continued role and relevance of the UN into substantial question. This is partly linked to the continuing tensions and differences over whether the war was the best course of action, and also over whether UN approval should have been mandated. Furthermore, it reflects the imperialist rivalries over the Middle East.

Despite this bypass, the current quagmire in Iraq has left many of the world?s politicians and strategists calling for the White House to change course and let the UN attempt to defuse the Iraq crisis. However, in reality, the UN taking over more control of the occupation would mean little apart from a coat of light blue paint for the marines? helmets. Ultimately, control would still lie with the US.

Yet the invasion of Iraq is heralding far from the hopes of Washington. It has led to a destabilisation of the Middle East, soaring oil prices, and a large US body count. They are unable to find an exit strategy, or a reliable pro-US regime to run the country and prevent it from possibly collapsing into civil war.

Still affected by the “Vietnam syndrome”, images of US troops battling with local guerrillas have impacted powerfully at home, not to mention the scores of US military coffins of which the Bush Administration is desperate to hide. US Democratic Senator, Joseph Biden, has even compared the latest situation to the ?Tet Offensive? in 1968, which marked the beginning of the end of the US in Vietnam: “[It?s] communicating a similar fear that ?we don’t have control there, we don?t have a plan,?” he said.

In terms of foreign policy on Iraq, Robert Fisk reminds us of a famous quote from Lawrence of Arabia, describing the crumbling British occupation of Iraq under guerrilla attack in 1920: “The Baghdad communiques are belated, insincere, incomplete. Things are far worse than we have been told… We are today not far short of a disaster.”

Iraq and Democracy

The scene of Iraqi?s attempting to topple a giant statue of Saddam in Baghdad?s Firdos Square on April 9 was compared to the 1989 toppling of statues of Joseph Stalin in Eastern Europe. But the situation was highly disanalogous: the crowd consisted of only a few hundred (surrounded by a very large entourage of US M1 Abrams tanks), who, through lack of numbers, only succeeded in pulling down the statue when a US military vehicle was moved in. Journalist Robert Fisk called it “the most staged photo-opportunity since Iwo Jima.”

That is not to say, of course, that there was no celebration at the fall of Saddam?s brutal regime. However, it was notably tempered by the fact that it had been done on behalf of the Iraqi population ? moreover by a Western power that stormed Baghdad with such force as to kill thousands of innocent Iraqis. They hated the Ba?ath regime, but they also hated the invasion, the wholesale bombing of their country, and the torture of Iraqi prisoners. Iraq and its oilfields must lie in the hands of ordinary Iraqis – not through a local or foreign military, and nor through foreign big business and the interests of capital. Only the democratic control and management of their country?s rich industries can solve the crisis in Iraq, and until their country is truly liberated in this way, the heroic Iraqi resistance to domination will continue.

By Gregory Bradshaw


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