Nos. 33 & 34, December 2002


Why this Special Issue: India as a Pillar of US Hegemony

From Colony to Semi-Colony

Towards Nationalisation

The Iran-Iraq War: Serving American Interests

The Torment of Iraq

Return of Imperialist Occupation
The Current Strategic Agenda of the United States

Home Front in Shambles

Military Solution to an Economic Crisis
US Declares India a Strategic Pillar

The Pages Ripped out by the US from the Weapons Report

Western Imperialism and Iraq:
Return of Imperialist Occupation

‘Weapons inspection’ as a tool of provocation, spying, assassination
There can also be no doubt now that UNSCOM, the UN weapons inspections body, was made into a tool of the US mission to take over Iraq. Not only did UNSCOM coordinate consistently with US and Israeli intelligence on which sites to inspect, but agents of these services were placed in the inspection teams. Scott Ritter, former UN weapons inspector, writes:

“I recall during my time as a chief inspector in Iraq the dozens of extremely fit ‘missile experts’ and ‘logistics specialists’ who frequented my inspection teams and others. Drawn from U.S. units such as Delta Force or from CIA paramilitary teams such as the Special Activities Staff (both of which have an ongoing role in the conflict in Afghanistan), these specialists had a legitimate part to play in the difficult cat-and-mouseeffort to disarm Iraq. So did the teams of British radio intercept operators I ran in Iraq from 1996 to 1998—which listened in on the conversations of Hussein’s inner circle—and the various other intelligence specialists who were part of the inspection effort. The presence of such personnel on inspection teams was, and is, viewed by the Iraqi government as an unacceptable risk to its nation’s security. As early as 1992, the Iraqis viewed the teams I led inside Iraq as a threat to the safety of their president. (19/6/02, Los Angeles Times)

Rolf Ekeus, who led the weapons inspections mission from 1991 to 1997, revealed in a recent interview to Swedish radio that he knew what was up: “There is no doubt that the Americans wanted to influence inspections to further certain fundamental US interests.” The US pressure included attempts to “create crises in relations with Iraq, which to some extent was linked to the overall political situation—internationally but also perhaps nationally.... There was an ambition to cause a crisis through pressure for, shall we say, blunt provocation, for example by inspection of the Department of Defence, which at least from an Iraqi point of view must have been provocative.” He said the United States had wanted information about how Iraq’s security services were organised and what its conventional military capacity was. And he said he was “conscious” of the United States seeking information on where President Saddam Hussein was hiding, “which could be of interest if one were to target him personally.” (Reuters, 30/7/02)

By 1997, Ekeus reported to the Security Council that 93 per cent of Iraq’s major weapons capability had been destroyed. UNSCOM and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certified that Iraq’s nuclear stocks were gone and most of its long-range systems had been destroyed. (IAEA inspectors continue to date to travel to Iraq, and report full compliance.) In 1999 a special panel of the Security Council recorded that Iraq’s main biological weapons facility (whose stocks were supplied, as mentioned earlier, by the US) had “been destroyed and rendered harmless”. Pressure began to build up, especially from Russia and France—for reasons we will mention later—for the step-by-step lifting of sanctions, or at least clarity on what action by Iraq would lead to the lifting of sanctions.

Iraq’s fulfilment of UNSC 687 was seen by the US as a threat to its continuing plans to strip Iraq of its tattered sovereignty. Ekeus was replaced in 1997 by the Australian Richard Butler, who owed his post to American support and paid scant heed to the other members of the Security Council. After a series of confrontational attempts to inspect sites such as the defence ministry and the presidential palaces, Butler complained of non-cooperation by the Iraqis and withdrew his inspectors in November and December 1998, the second time without bothering to consult the Security Council—apart from the US. This was in preparation for “Operation Desert Fox”—torrential bombing by the US and UK throughout southern and central Iraq during December 16-19, 1998. Significantly, the US and UK did not bother to consult the Security Council before carrying out this action.

The big prize
Apart from the terrible direct human impact of the sanctions, it is important to bear in mind another calculation of the US in prolonging the sanctions till it invades: as long as the sanctions stay, foreign investment in Iraq cannot take place, nor rehabilitation of the country’s oil industry. Sanctions are thus an important instrument for the US to prevent other imperialist powers from getting a foothold in Iraq—recalling an earlier theme of Iraqi history.

Iraq’s oil resources are vast, surpassed only by Saudi Arabia, and as cheap to extract as Saudi oil. The country’s 115 billion barrels of proven oil reserves are matched by perhaps an equal quantity yet to be explored. “Since no geological survey has been conducted in Iraq since the 1970s, experts believe that the proven reserves underestimate the country’s actual oil wealth, which could be as large as 250 billion barrels. Three decades of political instability and war have kept Iraq from developing 55 of its 70 proven oilfields. Eight of these fields could harbour more than a billion barrels each of ‘easy oil’ which is close to the surface and inexpensive to extract.” (MERIP, p. 15) “There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world”, says Gerald Butt, Gulf editor of the Middle East Economic Survey. “It’s the big prize.” (“West sees glittering prizes ahead in giant oilfields”, Michael Theodoulou and Roland Watson, The Times, 11/7/02)

Iraq’s pre-war production was three million barrels a day and present production capacity is put at 2.8 million barrels a day. In fact, because of deteriorating equipment, it is hard put to reach that figure, and it currently exports less than a million barrels a day. It is estimated that, with adequate investment, Iraq’s production can reach seven to eight million barrels a day within five years. That compares with Saudi Arabia’s current production of 7.1 million barrels a day, close to 10 per cent of world consumption.

This expansion of Iraqi production is impossible as long as the sanctions stay in place. The UN warned in 2000 of a “major breakdown” in Iraq’s oil industry if spare parts and equipment were not forthcoming. The US said any extra money should only be used “for short-term improvements to the Iraqi oil industry and not to make long-term repairs.” The US Department of Energy said: “As of early January, 2002, the head of the UN Iraq program, Benon Sevan, expressed ‘grave concern’ at the volume of ‘holds’ put on contracts for oilfield development, and stated the entire program was threatened with paralysis. According to Sevan, these holds amounted to nearly 2000 contracts worth about $5 billion, about 80 per cent of which were ‘held’ by the US.” (cited in “The word from the CIA: it’s the oil, stupid”, The Age, 23/9/02)

From the point of view of US oil interests, then, the sanctions are a double-edged sword: Even as they keep international competition temporarily at bay, they preclude the exploitation of oil reserves with an estimated value of several trillion dollars. The war against Saddam Hussein is intended, among other things, to resolve this contradiction.

In June 2001, France and Russia proposed in the Security Council removing restrictions on foreign investment in the Iraqi oil industry.1 However, the US and UK predictably killed the proposal. American companies are barred by American law from investing in Iraq, and so all the contracts for development of Iraqi fields have been cornered by companies from other countries. The Wall Street Journal (19/9/02) compiled the following information from oil industry sources:

Companies that initiated deals with Iraq in the 1990s, and reserves of the fields in which they would drill if sanctions are lifted:



(billion barrels)
Elf Aquitaine* France 9-20
Lukoil, Zarubezneft, Mashinoimport Russia 7.5-15
Total SA* France 3.5-7
China National Petroleum China Under 2
ENI/Agip Italy Under 2

* Now part of TotalFinaElf


Lukoil’s contract to drill the West Qurna field is valued at $20 billion, and Zarubezneft’s concession to develop the bin Umar field is put at upto $90 billion. The total value of Iraq’s foreign contract awards could reach $1.1 trillion, according to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook. (The Observer, 6/10/02)

One of the major objectives of the US’ impending invasion of Iraq is to nullify these agreements. “The concern of my government”, a Russian official at the UN told the Observer in October, “is that the concessions agreed upon between Baghdad and numerous enterprises will be reneged upon, and that US companies will enter to take the greatest share of those existing contracts.... Yes, if you could say it that way—an oil grab by Washington.”

France too fears “suffering economically from US oil ambitions at the end of a war.” But it may nevertheless back the invasion: “Government sources say they fear—existing concessions aside—France could be cut out of the spoils if it did not support the war and show a significant military presence. If it comes to war, France is determined to be allotted a more prestigious role in the fighting than in the 1991 Gulf war, when its main role was to occupy lightly defended ground. Negotiations have been going on between the state-owned TotalFinaElf company and the US about redistribution of oil regions between the world’s major oil companies.” (ibid)

The “oil grab” was made explicit by former CIA director R. James Woolsey in an interview with the Washington Post: “France and Russia have oil companies and interests in Iraq. They should be told that if they are of assistance in moving Iraq toward decent government, we’ll do the best we can to ensure that the new government and American companies work closely with them.” But he added: “If they throw in their lot with Saddam, it will be difficult to the point of impossible to persuade the new Iraqi government to work with them.” (“In Iraqi War Scenario, Oil Is the Key Issue; US Drillers Eye Huge Petroleum Pool”, Dan Morgan and David B. Ottoway, Washington Post, 15/9/02)

Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the London-based ‘Iraqi National Congress’, which enjoys the tactical (and probably temporary) support of the Bush administration but virtually none in Iraq, met executives of three US multinationals in October in Washington to negotiate the carving up of Iraq’s oil reserves after the US invasion. Chalabi told the Washington Post: “American companies will have a big shot at Iraqi oil.” He favoured the creation of a US-led consortium to develop Iraq’s fields. So stark is American dominance that even Lord Browne, the head of BP (formerly known as British Petroleum) warned that “British oil companies have been squeezed out of post-war Iraq even before the first shot has been fired in any US-led land invasion.” (The Observer, 3/11/02)2

The logic of invasion
Given this logic, it is hardly surprising that Bush and his cabinet were planning the invasion of Iraq even before he came to office in January 2001. The plan was drawn up by a right-wing think-tank for Dick Cheney, now vice-president, Donald Rumsfeld, defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld’s deputy, Bush’s younger brother Jeb Bush and Lewis Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff. As Neil Mackay notes (Sunday Herald,15/9/02), the plan shows that Bush’s cabinet intended to take military control of the Gulf region whether or not Saddam Hussein was in power:

“The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” (emphasis added)

Another report prepared in April 2001 for Cheney by an institute run by James Baker (US secretary of state under George Bush Sr) ran along similar lines: “Iraq remains a destabilising influence... the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East. Saddam Hussein has also demonstrated a willingness to use the oil weapon and to use his own export programme to manipulate oil markets.” The report complains that Iraq “turns its taps on and off when it has felt such action was in its strategic interest to do so”, adding that there is a “possibility that Saddam Hussein may remove Iraqi oil from the market for an extended period of time” in order to damage prices. The report recommends that “Therefore the US should conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq including military, energy, economic and political/diplomatic assessments.” The report was an important input for the national energy plan (the “Cheney report”) formulated by the American vice-president and released by the White House in early May. The Cheney report calls for a major increase in US engagement in regions such as the Persian Gulf in order to secure future petroleum supplies.

Within hours of the attacks of September 11, with no evidence pointing at Iraq’s involvement in the attacks, US defence secretary Rumsfeld ordered the military to begin working on strike plans. Notes of the meeting quote Rumsfeld as saying he wanted “best info fast. Judge whether good enough to hit S.H. [meaning Saddam Hussein] at the same time. Not only UBL [the initials used to identify Usama bin Laden]”. The notes quote Rumsfeld as saying. “Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”

The revival of old themes
At the start of the twenty-first century, then, broad themes of Iraqi history from the first half of the twentieth century return: imperialist invasion and occupation to grab the region’s resources, and rivalries between different imperialist powers as they strain for the prize.

Yet we ought not to forget another major theme from Iraqi history: the anti-imperialist resistance of the Iraqi masses. Even the most jaundiced Western correspondent reporting from Baghdad has been struck by how today Saddam Hussein has become, for the Iraqi people, a symbol of their defiance of American imperialism. Indeed, he has become a symbol of such defiance for the entire Arab people.

The hour of the invasion draws near. As we write this, on December 28, the Iraqi government has told a solidarity conference in Baghdad that “He who attacks our country will lose.We will fight from village to village, from city to city and from street to street in every city... Iraq’s oil, nationalised by the president... from the hands of the British and the Americans in 1972... will remain in the hands of this people and this leadership.”

The Iraqi armed forces may not be able to put up extended resistance to the onslaught. But the Iraqi people have not buckled to American dictates for the past more than 11 years of torment. They will not meekly surrender to the imminent American-led military occupation of their country. And that fact itself carries grave consequences for American imperialism’s broader designs.

1. Already these two countries and China had been favoured by Baghdad in trade, garnering $5.48 billion of the $18.29 billion in contracts approved by the UN.—MERIP, p. 9. (back)

2. If despite this the UK is on board for the invasion, it is because they have identified their interests overall with the US offensive. Moreover, it is unlikely that they would be shut out of Iraq altogether, merely that they would have to get behind the Americans in the queue. (back)

Next: Real Reasons for the Invasion of Iraq—and Beyond


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