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Middle East :: Kuwait
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THE LAST time that so much military equipment and troops were amassed was ten years ago in preparation for the Gulf War. There was talk then of a war for justice, of getting rid of dictators and of a 'new world order'. But Operation Desert Storm, as the attacks were called, achieved none of these.
In fact the defeat of Iraq in the Gulf War only increased the anger of the Arab masses towards US imperialism, an important factor in the present war.
On 16 January 1991 the US and its allies began bombing cities in Iraq which left thousands dead, destroyed much of Iraq's infrastructure and created millions of refugees.
Like Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein (a ruthless dictator), had been supported by the US and the West right up until the invasion. Many military personnel were trained in Britain and other Western countries helped finance Iraq in its war with Iran. There were no protests from the US when Saddam used poison gas to kill Iraqi Kurds struggling for their national rights.
However Saddam took a step too far when he threatened American interests, namely oil. The Iraqi economy was weakened by eight years of war with Iran. Saddam saw the invasion as a diversion from the growing anger of the population.
He was also desperate to force up the price of oil which Kuwait and other states were keeping down. To head off increasing anger and protests Saddam invaded and occupied the whole of Kuwait on 2 August 1990. Having taken over the Kuwaiti oilfields Iraq controlled a fifth of the total world reserves and would have controlled 45% had it gone on to occupy Saudi Arabia.
US imperialism could not allow an unpredictable dictator to have such a large control of the world's oil supply and threatened to go to war unless Saddam's troops withdrew.
The coalition of 25 countries that Bush's father put together included Arab states such as Syria, Egypt, Morocco and Saudi Arabia, ruled by hated dictatorships and bought on board with billion dollar bribes. As today it held together very tentatively.
This was officially a United Nations alliance but in effect it was the US, with token forces from other countries, which controlled the operation although other countries - particularly Japan and Germany - had to contribute large sums of money to fund the war.
KUWAIT, ALONG with the other regimes that ruled the rich Gulf states, was hated by the Arab masses as a client state of the US with little democracy. The problems in this part of the world, just as critical now as ten years ago, were originally sown by imperialism creating artificial states in the Middle East.
Saddam, in standing up to US imperialism and demanding rights for the Palestinians, won support from the Arab masses with huge demonstrations in many countries against their leaders for joining the coalition.
The US ruling class were just as divided as today. Should they use ground troops and risk a drawn-out conflict with many American casualties while inflaming the situation in the Middle East? Or could they defeat Saddam without using ground troops.
The bombing campaign was incessant with 90,000 sorties taking place before the land battle and 16,000 during the battle. 100,000 Iraqis were killed or injured in the 100-hour land war. On 15 February Saddam agreed to withdraw from Kuwait.
Then in a terrifying example of US imperialism's viciousness, tens of thousands of Iraqi troops were continuously bombed as they retreated. Pictures afterwards showed miles of burnt out tanks and trucks with charcoaled bodies still inside.
This was the US's message to the developing world that the US was powerful and ruthless enough to crush any country that threatened its interests and prestige.
The Gulf War came about at a time when world relations were fundamentally changing. Since world war two there had been two antagonistic super powers - the United States was the most powerful capitalist country and the Soviet Union whose economy was state owned but undemocratically run by a bureaucratic elite.
Each had their own spheres of influence and acted as a restraint on each other internationally during four decades of 'Cold War'. But by the time of the Gulf War Stalinism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was collapsing. World capitalism, dominated by the US, had just experienced the long 80s boom and appeared to have triumphed internationally.
WE POINTED out at the time that this new world balance of forces would open up a period of instability and more wars as there was no longer a counterweight to US imperialism. Since the Gulf War there has been the intervention of the West in ex-Yugoslavia and now the war against Afghanistan.
Where once the poor and oppressed would have looked to Stalinism as an alternative system, Islamic fundamentalism partially filled the vacuum its collapse had created, especially with the absence of strong mass workers' parties and marxist forces.
This was a quick war for the US with very few casualties on its side. Despite talk of the US going into Baghdad and deposing Saddam this never happened. The US feared that if their troops went into Iraq's cities they would meet resistance and a roused population. The masses in other Arab countries would also protest. Better to leave Saddam in his place than risk the regional instability his removal would create.
Although American imperialism claimed they wanted Saddam overthrown just as they now say they want the Taliban routed, in reality their major fear is for the ordinary people to overthrow their oppressors. Immediately after the Gulf War the US stood by as Iraqi Kurds and Shia Muslims in south Iraq, having risen up against Saddam, were ruthlessly crushed.
To ensure support from the masses of the coalition countries this war for oil had to be described as a war against the evil dictator Saddam and in defence of occupied Kuwait. But in Britain, 58% believed that this was a "war motivated by oil and money".
Capitalism appeared triumphant in the wake of crumbling Stalinism and the long boom (the early 90s recession was only just beginning). Nevertheless there were demonstrations and protests throughout the world which would have grown had the war continued.
This was the worst military defeat for an Arab nation in 50 years and only increased the Arab masses' hatred towards the US. In an article in our paper (then Militant) in March 1991 just after the war we explained that Islamic fundamentalism was growing in every Arab country.
"Kept in grinding poverty, exploited by imperialism and its stooges who rule their lands, the masses of the Arab world have much to despair about. Imperialism's latest victory against them will only make them more desperate, wanting to reject all the values of the West and turn back to what they see as exclusively their own - Islam."
SINCE THE war, it has become patently clear that the Gulf War was never fought for the benefit of the Iraqi masses. Sanctions and bombings have taken place against Iraq for the last ten years resulting in the deaths of thousands of Iraqi children.
As the bombing of Iraq was taking place George Bush the First declared that America was the nation "that can shape the future." The Gulf War and the conflicts that have taken place since show that US imperialism and global capitalism cannot be trusted to shape the future of our world. Only the working class and oppressed can do that, fighting for socialism internationally.
Middle East keywords:
Middle East (200)
Saudi Arabia (45)
United Arab Emirates (3)
Article dated 19 October 2001
The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party
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