Phase II: The New U.S. War on Iraq

By Larry Everest

Revolutionary Worker #1140, February 24, 2002, posted at

For millions of Iraqis, the nightmares must surely be coming back. Eleven years ago last month, a U.S.-led war coalition bombed Iraq for 42 days and nights, then executed a quick, brutal ground invasion. Infrastructures crucial to supporting life were pulverized; retreating soldiers were massacred or buried alive in trenches; thousands of innocent civilians were killed. Visiting Iraq a few months later, I saw bombed-out water systems, power plants, hospitals, bridges, homes, roads, and schools. The people I met told me of nights of terror-being trapped underground, never knowing when the bombers and missiles would come, where they would hit, or who would fall victim.

Iraqi society was shattered, and the U.S. piled on sanctions, preventing it from rebuilding or recovering. Over the next decade, hundreds of thousands-mostly the very young and the very old-would die the agonizing deaths-normally easy to prevent-of not enough food, clean water, or medicine-diarrhea, typhoid, pneumonia, and whooping cough. Visit any hospital in Iraq and the evidence of U.S. crimes was right before your eyes, in ward after ward.

In 1997 the UN reported that over 1.2 million Iraqis had died as a result of sanctions and war, including 750,000 children below the age of five. Two years later UNICEF found that 4,000 to 6,000 Iraqi children under five were dying each month due to sanctions-a World Trade Center catastrophe and more every 30 days. Just today, the San Francisco Chronicle quotes an Iraqi doctor: "We have experienced seven times the normal number of birth defects and pediatric cancers since the end of the Gulf War." The cause: U.S. depleted uranium munitions.

Now, once again, the U.S. is cranking up its war machine, threatening to once more rain death and destruction on Iraq.

Provoking an "Inspection Crisis"

President Bush's January 29 State of the Union speech announced the imperialists' new campaign, and it was obvious that Iraq was the first target. In the days and weeks since this opening salvo in Phase II of "America's New War," media reports and government officials have made clear that the U.S. is indeed planning new aggression against Iraq, a third world country of 23 million people, smaller than the state of California.

"The argument isn't about whether to extend the war to Iraq-that question has largely been settled," the New Republic reported in December. "Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has recommended that the United States strike Iraq as soon as 'we find the right way to do it.' And, indeed, the United States does plan to strike."

Secretary of State Colin Powell, the administration's so-called "moderate," made clear that the Bush team is united on the need to wage war on Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein's government. The U.S. is "examining options with respect to regime change," he recently told Congress, and is considering "the most serious assessment of options that one might imagine." After a meeting with Bush, a member of the pro-U.S. Iraqi opposition said, "We were told that the president has made up his mind: Saddam has got to go."

Exactly what the U.S. government is planning and when it will all be unleashed is not yet clear. But the basic outlines seem to be that the U.S. will first push to tighten sanctions on Iraq-which by itself would greatly increase the suffering of the Iraqi people-and create public opinion for an assault as military preparations are being finalized. It may then try to provoke a confrontation with Iraq by insisting that U.S. weapons inspectors return and be given free reign to spy, using any Iraqi refusal as a pretext for war.

"Between now and May, Mr. Bush's team plans to create what amounts to an inspection crisis"-wrote the New York Times. And this crisis would provide the justification for U.S. military action. The "White House 'will not take yes for an answer,' " an American intelligence source told the Guardian. This gangster logic was reflected in the words of Colin Powell who told Congress, "Let the inspectors in as part of the UN effort." Then, in the next breath, he said, "then regime change is something the United States would-might have to do alone." In other words, the U.S. would demand that Iraq allow intrusive inspections and disarm-while it's preparing to wage war and overthrow the Iraqi government! What sovereign state would accept disarmament when it's being openly threatened with war?

Invasion Scenarios

According to an article in the British Guardian, "The blueprint for a campaign against Iraq has evolved from a contingency plan drawn up by the joint chiefs of staff that envisaged the use of a 200,000-strong U.S. force, the bulk of which would invade from Kuwait." There is much speculation that the final plan would involve a lighter, more mobile force, relying on covert and special forces, combined with massive bombing and some combination of U.S. and anti-Hussein Iraqis on the ground.

Meanwhile, U.S. military preparations are underway. The central command has set up forward headquarters in the Gulf: Air Force in Saudi Arabia; Army in Kuwait; Navy in Bahrain; and the top Marine general for Central Asia and the Persian Gulf is moving his headquarters to Bahrain from Hawaii. The New York Times reports, "The military has not ordered a comparable march of senior tactical commanders to Southwest Asia since the Gulf War, in 1991." They join 20,000 U.S. soldiers already in the Persian Gulf region, and thousands more in Afghanistan and on ships in the Arabian Sea. CIA trainers and special forces troops have already been dispatched to Kuwait.

The Guardian also reported that the U.S., Israel, and Turkey are planning three different joint military exercises in the next few months, based at the Turkish air force base at Konya.

Next month Vice President Dick Cheney will travel to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey and Kuwait - all states that border Iraq-reportedly to demand cooperation in a U.S. military campaign against Iraq. In December, U.S. State Department officials toured the semi-autonomous Kurdish areas in northern Iraq to evaluate Kurdish military "capabilities." (Can one imagine the outcry if Iraqi officials visited Los Angeles to evaluate the potential for an anti-U.S. uprising?)

All these U.S. moves have given rise to tremendous turmoil among other world powers and U.S. client states in the Middle East, as well as ongoing debate within the U.S. ruling class. But U.S. officials have responded to every criticism with renewed determination that only the U.S. can lead in this open-ended war and if necessary they will go it alone. "The United States and only the United States can see this effort through to victory," Vice President Dick Cheney told the Council on Foreign Relations. "They can get with the plan or get off," a senior administration official told the New York Times-referring to the protests of the European imperialists who have accused the U.S. of "unilateralism."

And even more, the plans for war against Iraq have highlighted the need to urgently and greatly raise the level of resistance here within the "belly of the beast."

Predators on the Move

What we are living through is not a "just war against terrorism," but a growing, unjust attempt to recast world relations-in the interests of a capitalist-imperialist ruling class.

Revolutionary Worker, February 10, 2002

The protests of the European powers against the U.S. plan to make war on Iraq underscored the reality that behind the rhetoric of "war on terrorism," the U.S. power structure is pressing ahead to brutally recast the world to suit its own predatory interests. "There is no indication, no proof that Iraq is involved in the terrorism we have been talking about for the last few months," said Ludger Vollmer, the deputy foreign minister of Germany. "This terror argument cannot be used to legitimise old enmities." "We are threatened today by a new simplism which consists in reducing everything to the war on terrorism," said France's foreign minister, Huber Vedrine.

As this imperialist infighting continues, it has become more and more clear that the U.S. government is pursuing an agenda to impose what the Pentagon calls "full spectrum dominance"-where the U.S. imperialists can impose their will militarily, economically and politically in strategic regions across the globe. And the threatened war on Iraq is viewed by powerful forces in the ruling class as a key move to secure their domination of the Persian Gulf area.

Since the Gulf War, the U.S. has viewed the defiance of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq as a threat to its control of the region-in terms of the message it sends to other forces hostile to U.S. hegemony and in terms of the strategic resources of the Gulf. This was the real motivation behind the Gulf War. And in the years since then, the rise of Islamic fundamentalist forces threatening to destabilize key U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia has caused growing concern among the world-class predators in Washington, that their interests in the region might be threatened. Now they have coldly seized on the events of September 11 to justify a war on Iraq.

Oil is a "strategic commodity"-vital to the functioning of capitalist economies, essential in operating modern armies, and an enormous source of profit and strategic power. Controlling the flow of oil means controlling those who depend on oil; it's a key pillar of U.S. global dominance.

And the heart of the world oil industry is the Persian Gulf region in the Middle East, which contains 65% of the world's oil reserves, 34% of the world's natural gas reserves, and accounts for nearly 30% of world output of each. It also has 70% of the world's excess production capacity, which the Energy Information Administration (2/01) calls even "more significant" because oil production can be quickly increased or decreased-preventing supply or price disruptions.

Persian Gulf oil is growing ever more crucial to the functioning of world capitalism. In 1983, 2.9% of the oil consumed by the U.S. came from the Gulf. By 2000 U.S. dependence had quadrupled-to 12.5%. In 1983, 60% of Japan's oil came from the Persian Gulf; by 2000 73% did. Twenty-two percent of Western Europe's oil now comes from the Gulf. U.S. control of the Persian Gulf has given it a stranglehold over these imperialist rivals.

And to keep this stranglehold, for the past 60 plus years, the U.S. has used everything from CIA coups, to military interventions, to nuclear threats to maintain control of the Persian Gulf. In the 1940s, U.S. government documents called Saudi Arabia "a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history." During the 1950s, the U.S. planned to destroy Gulf oil wells and to radiate the fields to prevent the Soviets from gaining control of the oil should they invade. (New York Times 1/29/02) In 1979 U.S. President Jimmy Carter designated the Persian Gulf a vital U.S. interest and declared the U.S. would go to war-including nuclear war-to ensure control.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, U.S. plans for a U.S.-dominated "new world order" hinged on control of Gulf oil: a 1992 "Defense Planning Guidance" stated, "In the Middle East and Southwest Asia, our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region and preserve U.S. and Western access to the region's oil."

Yet maintaining control of the volatile Persian Gulf-some 8,000 miles from the U.S., in a region of deep poverty, rising instability, widespread nationalist aspirations, and repeated uprisings of the masses against oppression and imperialist domination-has proven increasingly difficult and has led to deepening U.S. military involvement in the area.

Controlling Iran and Iraq in particular have posed major problems for U.S. imperialist interests. These two Gulf states have relatively large populations, adequate water resources, and enormous oil reserves-all the ingredients of regional power and influence which could challenge U.S. dominance.

Until 1979, the U.S. could count on the Shah to rule Iran with a bloody fist and be its loyal gendarme in the region. But his overthrow in the 1979 Iranian revolution led to a series of U.S.-sponsored wars and interventions that were largely designed to cripple both Iran and Iraq in order to maintain U.S. control.

In 1980, after the Iranian revolution, the U.S. encouraged Iraq to invade Iran, and then helped fuel the eight-year conflict-which left 1 million dead-in order to weaken both states. Henry Kissinger summed up the imperialists' strategic outlook: "too bad they can't both lose."

In 1991 the U.S.-led coalition stormed into Iraq. The goal was not only to force Iraq from Kuwait, but to destroy Iraq as a regional power, bolstering U.S. clients Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and sending a message to imperialist rivals, regional states, and the world's people: there's a "New World Order" and what the U.S. imperialists say goes.

Gulf War 2

But things didn't turn out as planned following the U.S.'s bloody victory. The Hussein regime survived, and over the next decade the U.S. grip on the Persian Gulf region seemed to be slipping. George W's team summed up that failure to overthrow Saddam Hussein was a big reason why.

In March 1991, immediately after the Gulf War, Iraqi Shi'ites in the south and Kurdish fighters in the north rose against the Hussein regime. The U.S. encouraged them to revolt, but when they did, the U.S. stood back and allowed Hussein's helicopters and ground forces to crush the rebellion. The U.S. feared a revolution in Iraq would hurt U.S. interests by creating greater instability and perhaps the fragmentation of Iraq. U.S. nightmares included greater Iranian influence in Iraq's Shi'ite south, which would reverberate among the masses in Saudi Arabia; while an autonomous Kurdistan in northern Iraq would fuel the anti-government Kurdish struggle in key NATO ally Turkey.

These fears drove U.S. policy throughout the 1990s. There were attempts-a 1996 CIA coup plot and a 1998 attempt at assassination by cruise missiles-to overthrow Hussein. But the thrust of U.S. policy under Bush I and Clinton was to weaken and contain Iraq through punishing sanctions, intermittent military strikes, and maintaining a large military nearby.

But there were deep contradictions in the U.S. sanctions policy, and its linkage to weapons inspections. The UN Resolution (687) authorizing sanctions stated that upon compliance they "shall have no further force or effect." Yet the U.S. refused to ease, much less lift, sanctions even as Iraq complied. Instead it flouted UN resolutions and "moved the goalposts," adding new conditions. As Clinton put it, "sanctions will be there until the end of time, or as long as he [Hussein] lasts." This U.S. duplicity, plus the enormous suffering inflicted on the Iraqi people by sanctions, led to growing worldwide opposition and an erosion of the U.S.'s Desert Storm coalition. Former arms inspector Scott Ritter writes, "The Clinton team's insistence on maintaining sanctions regardless of Iraq's compliance, a fundamental flaw in American policy toward Iraq, destroyed the coalition...."

U.S. duplicity, and its determination to maintain sanctions no matter what, also led to the collapse of U.S./UN arms inspections, which had been the main justification for continuing sanctions. Two things undid the UN's intrusive and bullying efforts to strip Iraq of any "weapons of mass destruction." First, Iraq mainly complied with the inspections-UN inspectors report that 95% of their work destroying Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons was completed. Yet Iraq received no benefits, such as the easing of sanctions, in return. Second, in the late 1990s, it was exposed that the "arms inspections" were being secretly used by the U.S. to gather intelligence for assassination attempts and coup plotting. This further eroded the Gulf War coalition, and the inspection program collapsed in 1999 when Iraq refused to allow inspectors to return.

Meanwhile, Iraq gradually rebuilt its ties with other world powers and states in the region. An article in the journal Foreign Affairs (November/December 2001) sums up: "Primacy begot its nemesis.... The power secured during Desert Storm was destined not to last. The United States could not indefinitely quarantine Iraq. It was idle to think that the broad coalition cobbled together during an unusually perilous moment in 1990-91 would stand as a permanent arrangement. The demographic and economic weight of Iraq and Iran meant that those countries were bound to reassert themselves." Saddam Hussein "worked his way into the local order of things.... The Iraqi ruler knew well the distress that settled on the region after Pax Americana's swift war. All around Iraq, the region was poorer: oil prices had slumped, and the war had been expensive for the oil states that financed it."

Iraq's neighbors began to ignore sanctions. Trade with Jordan, Turkey, Syria, and Egypt grew-and become important to their economies. Iraq's oil reserves are second only to Saudi Arabia's in size and potential profitability, and Russia, France, and China moved in to secure a piece of the action, as Iraq granted these countries some $6 billion in import contracts. Russia signed a 23-year deal to develop Iraq's West Qurna oil field-potentially worth $20 billion. By last year, German exports to Iraq had increased four-fold, to 1.2 billion marks.

In 1996, the U.S. was forced to allow Iraq to resume oil sales via the oil-for-food program. Although Iraq's oil revenues are still held by the UN and its imports tightly controlled, its reported oil income rose from $4 billion in 1997 to $18 billion in 2000.

Many former members of the Gulf War coalition have reopened embassies in Baghdad, and in 1998 Iraqi officials attended their first Arab League meeting in a decade. Last March the New York Times summed up, "After years as a diplomatic pariah, Iraq once again has friends in foreign capitals."

Events in Iraq were linked with-and impacting-developments in the region as a whole: economic decline and growing unrest in Saudi Arabia; the rise of Iranian influence; a trend toward economic, political and diplomatic ties being forged in the region without direct U.S. oversight; escalating conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people; and growing anti-U.S. sentiments throughout the region-fueled in part by the U.S.'s continued bullying of Iraq and the suffering of its people.

Dreams of Empire: Before September 11

In imperialist eyes, the very fact that the Hussein regime continued to survive was creating problems in the Middle East and tarnishing its standing as the globe's dominant imperialist superpower. There was talk of the "collapse" of U.S. Iraq policy and a growing imperialist clamor for decisive action.

One striking example was a 1998 open letter to President Clinton from a group of former officials. The letter expressed the depth of imperialist concerns: "current American policy toward Iraq is not succeeding, and that we may soon face a threat in the Middle East more serious than any we have known since the end of the Cold War." It warned such developments could "have a seriously destabilizing effect on the entire Middle East." And it demanded the Hussein regime be overthrown. Among the signers of the letter, ten now hold top posts in the Bush administration, including Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his assistant Paul Wolfowitz.

During the 2000 elections both Bush and Gore called for Hussein's overthrow. And two months before September 11, the Wall Street Journal reported that "Senior officials have held almost weekly meetings on the issue to discuss whether to push for the [Iraqi] government's ouster."

Then came the attacks of September 11. Like vultures, powerful forces within the ruling class immediately seized the moment to advance long-standing imperialist goals-including the overthrow of the Hussein regime in Iraq. On September 19-20, before the smoke had even cleared from the ruins of the World Trade Center, high-level officials and former officials on the Defense Policy Board met secretly and, according to the New York Times, "agreed on the need to turn on Iraq as soon as the initial phase of the war against Afghanistan was over." The campaign for war on Iraq was underway.

Imperialist Goals in the Gulf

The U.S. rulers are planning to make a major move against Iraq, and they have major global and regional objectives in mind.

In their view, overthrowing the Hussein regime and installing a pro-U.S. regime would both tighten the U.S. grip on Persian Gulf oil-and thus all who depend on it-and demonstrate to all potential rivals that the U.S. was willing and able to militarily crush its opponents. Well before September 11, a member of the Bush team spoke to these global, tone-setting considerations: "Ideally, the first crisis would be something with Iraq. It would be a way to make the point that it's a new world."

Within a week of September 11, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich declared that the U.S. needed a major geopolitical victory in response to the attacks. "Bombing a few caves in Afghanistan" wasn't going to do it, he said, but overthrowing the Hussein regime would. A gang of top reactionaries, including William Bennett, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, and Richard Perle, quickly wrote Bush that a U.S. failure to overthrow the Hussein regime "will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism."

In the Gulf region, the U.S. imperialists aim to gain more direct control of Iraq and its oil wealth, and prevent Iraq from exerting any independent influence, especially with key U.S. allies and oil producers Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Knocking down the Hussein regime would also strike at other big powers-like Russia, China, and France-who are now maneuvering for economic and political influence in the region-demoting them to a clear, humiliating second tier status. One Russian oil executive whose company has signed deals worth billions with Iraq worried, "If the Americans start military operations against Iraq we may lose a contract, and American oil companies will come in our place. No one has ever said the opposite."

A successful war on Iraq is also seen as a means of keeping regional client states, who have recently been cutting their own diplomatic and commercial deals with Iraq, firmly under the U.S. boot, and emboldening them to assault anti-American forces within their own societies, including Islamist groups.

The U.S. also sees war as a way to stomp out growing anti-U.S. fervor among the masses throughout the Middle East. In The New Republic, bourgeois commentator Andrew Sullivan writes that the "main impact" of a U.S. war on Iraq "will be a broader awareness within the Muslim world that we should not be messed with. There will be fear."

One Wall Street Journal column (12/19/01) provided a window on the gangster mind-set of those who rule the U.S.:

"We need to be resolutely skeptical of the durability of our own achievement in Afghanistan... We would do well to remember how quickly the triumphant Gulf War became in the Middle Eastern eyes, if not in American, a failure... America's superpower image was decisively cracked in the Middle East by the failure of Washington to checkmate Saddam Hussein...the jet-fuel behind the virulent anti-Americanism in the Muslim Middle East hasn't been the age-old confrontation between the west and Islam, or its baby-offspring, the war between Israelis and Palestinians, but the wholly understandable impression that America was on the run...if we really intend to extinguish the hope that has fueled the rise of al Qaeda and the violent anti-Americanism throughout the Middle East, we have no choice but to re-instill in our foes and friends the fear and respect that attaches to any great power. Winning the war in Afghanistan will not do it alone...only a war against Saddam Hussein will decisively restore the awe that protects American interests abroad and citizens at home."

Arrogant Threats, Unpredictable Consequences

The U.S. government's arrogant threats of war on Iraq have sparked a rash of controversy and debate-particularly among other global powers and states that border Iraq but within the U.S. ruling class as well. "Alliance partners are not satellites," warned German foreign minister Joschka Fischer, in response to U.S. demands that Europe must follow U.S. leadership.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated, "Any attempt or any decision to attack Iraq today will be unwise and could lead to a major escalation in the region." Saudi officials have spoken against the war, and Turkey's President Sezer warned, "Turkey attaches great importance to preserving Iraq's territorial and national integrity."

Last week Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister stated, "We do not tolerate the development, outside our knowledge and initiative, of a process that will have close impact on us, nor our priorities being disregarded and our national interests being trampled on...We do not want to experience chaos on our borders with unpredictable consequences...Those countries which are considering an intervention in Iraq should add to the cost of such a process the losses Turkey will suffer directly or indirectly."

The largest anti-Hussein Shi'ite opposition, which is now based in Iran, publicly opposes an invasion-"There is no need to send troops from outside to Iraq," says Ayatollah Mohammad Bakr al-Hakkim, the head of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. "It could be seen as an invasion and could create new problems." Even Iraq's Kurdish organizations, who have far more fighters under arms than any other potential opposition force in Iraq, are reportedly worried that a U.S. war could make things worse for them as well.

Among the world's powers, many questions are being discussed: What could happen if the Hussein regime is destroyed? Would Iraq fragment into a Shi'ite south, a Kurdish north, and a Sunni center? Would instability spread to Turkey and Saudi Arabia? Would the real winner of such a war be Iran, whose regional influence would grow with the fall of Iraq? And will war on Iraq end up throwing gasoline on anti-American rage throughout the Middle East, and weaken-perhaps topple-loyal U.S. clients?

These debates, over both military strategy and the potential fallout of war on Iraq, highlight the far-reaching, and perhaps unpredictable, consequences of a U.S. effort to overthrow the Hussein regime, not only in the region, but globally as well.

But those controlling the reins of power in the U.S. have clearly indicated that they are determined to press ahead regardless of allied opposition.

What's clear in all this is that any U.S. campaign against Iraq-which will no doubt be undertaken in the name of helping Iraq's people-would inflict enormous destruction, brutality and suffering. Those of us who live in the U.S. have an enormous responsibility to do all we can to oppose such an unjust and criminal war.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)