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Middle East :: Kuwait
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TEN YEARS ago a US-led coalition of military powers went to war with Iraq, marking a new period of instability on a world scale.
This "mother of all battles" followed the invasion of oil-rich Kuwait by Saddam Hussein's forces on 2 August 1990. Saddam's regime was and still is one of the most oppressive on the planet, but the fate of the people of Kuwait counted for little in the schemes of the big Western powers. After all, successive British, French and US governments had bankrolled a massive military spending programme by the Iraqi regime, which created the fifth largets army in the world. Furthermore, these powers merely wrung their hands when Saddam carried out murderous gas attacks on the Kurdish minority in northern Iraq.
The Gulf War was primarily a war over oil. By invading Kuwait Saddam gained control of 20% of OPEC oil production, which allowed him to apply pressure on the lifeblood of Western capitalism. Saddam clearly believed, as "America's man", that the powers would acquiesce to the invasion. But the US could not tolerate such a direct threat to its interests, and especially not in the unstable Middle East.
Following the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe after 1989, the US and main powers were able to take unprecedented action against Saddam's challenge. The UN Security Council, for the first time in its history, unanimously carried a resolution that implemented a total embargo of Iraq (except food).
On the other hand, the invasion of Kuwait evoked huge sympathy from the impoverished masses throughout the Arab world, despite the monstrous nature of Saddam's regime. At last, it seemed, someone was standing up to the western powers and big business.
THESE EVENTS posed a real test for the Left in Britain and internationally. The Labour Party leadership of Neil Kinnock wasted no time in fully backing the warmongering Tory government.
In contrast, Militant, the forerunner of The Socialist, along with the worldwide sections of the Committee for a Workers' International, opposed this blood-for-oil war. We explained that the coalition war machine was assembled to uphold and reinforce the power of the US ruling class and that of the main powers. We correctly predicted that a coalition victory would not bring democracy to Kuwait, Iraq or anywhere else in the Middle East. Imperialism would use a victory to try to cow the Arab masses and indeed the peoples of Latin America, Asia and Africa.
Socialists also called for the Iraqi workers, peasants and national minorities to overthrow the Saddam regime, and for the establishment of a socialist confederation throughout the region, which would allow genuine democratic and national rights. These ideas found a positive response in the broad anti-war movement that developed worldwide.
The overwhelming forces on the side of the coalition combined with the regime's lack of internal support resulted in a bloody rout of the Iraqi army. The rapid collapse of Saddam's war effort was a clear reflection of the internal weakness of his regime. Over 100,000 Iraqis were killed or injured in the 100 hours of the land war. The US-led coalition suffered only 300 casualties.
The coalition powers stopped short of marching on Baghdad and deposing Saddam. They correctly feared this would result in a drawn out conflict. The shaky war coalition would have collapsed and the western anti-war movement would have mushroomed.
A few weeks after the ending of the war Saddam unleashed his tanks against the Kurds in the north and oppressed minority Shia Muslims in the south of the country. They had been encouraged to revolt when it suited the Western powers, but now with Saddam out of Kuwait the West feared the dismemberment of Iraq and the strengthening of Iran as a regional power.
This was a short-term victory for the West. Ten years on and Saddam Hussein still presides over a "rogue state". In fact, Saddam has seen off many world leaders, including, George Bush (senior), Margaret Thatcher and John Major and now Bill Clinton.
THE GULF War may have ended but a 'secret war' against the people of Iraq continues. One legacy of the 1991 conflict - the huge use of depleted uranium shells - has resulted in thousands of children and adults dying from cancer and leukaemia.
During the last decade the US and British air forces have repeatedly bombed Iraqi targets, killing army personnel and civilians, supposedly to force Saddam to comply with the UN's 'no-fly zone' policy. Yet Turkish fighter planes have freely attacked Kurdish people living in these zones.
International sanctions still apply to Iraq, with devastating human consequences. According to Unicef, a UN agency, the blockades have contributed to the deaths of 500,000 children since the Gulf War, and 800,000 are chronically malnourished. Clinton's key foreign aide, Madeline Albright, argues that, "We think the price is worth it"! This - the deliberate genocide of a people - is the real meaning of the 'New World Order'.
Under the so-called 'oil-for-food programme', Iraq's oil revenue is held in a UN managed account with 30% being taken for "reparations". Imports are subject to approval to by the UN Security Council, which means, for instance, that equipment vital to Iraq's electricity and water supplies is held up. This results in frequently contaminated water and regular electricity cuts. Hospitals also have to cope with only rudimentary equipment because of sanctions. No wonder that 108 babies out of 1,000 will die before their first birthday.
Of course, none of this touches Saddam or the ruling clique around him. He has managed to consolidate his position while the desperate population are busy trying to avoid starvation. Teachers and civil servants earn, for example, around 50p a week.
The US is hell-bent on imposing its will in the Middle East, a region much more volatile than ten years ago. However, opposition to sanctions and bombings, from youth and working people across the world, is growing and seriously threatens the continuation of these policies.
A new mood of radicalism and anti-imperialism is developing throughout the Arab world. This will lead to revolutionary explosions against local dictators like Saddam, but also movements against the western capitalist powers. In no small way this will be due to the Gulf War and the barbaric crimes committed against the Iraqi people ever since.
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Article dated 26 January 2001
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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