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Saturday, September 17, 2005

Oil Addiction: The World in Peril - 25

by Pierre Chomat (Universal Publishers, 2004)

translated from the French by Pamela Gilbert-Snyder

Part III. The Power of America: Rooted in Dependency

Chapter 25. Iraq: An Unsubmissive Nation

It is always difficult to know the real reasons behind a leader's decision to invade another country. Invaders fashion motives to suit their purposes and rarely reveal the whole truth. This is the case with Iraq today. We will look at three, for the most part tragic, episodes in Iraq's recent history: Saddam Hussein's war against Iran from 1980 to 1988, its attack on Kuwait from 1990 to 1991, and the invasion of Iraq by American and British troops in the spring of 2003. Before we can understand what is at stake for Iraq and the West in this current episode, we would do well to review the major events in Iraq's history, until Saddam Hussein came to power in 1979.

- 1658. The Ottoman Empire takes control of the three provinces that would become modern Iraq: Mosul in the north, with a Kurdish majority; Baghdad in the center, with a Sunni Muslim majority; and Basra in the south, mainly Shiite Muslim.

-1914-18. World War I. The British expel Turkey and its German allies from Iraq.

- 1920. San Remo Conference. The mandate for Iraq is assigned to the United Kingdom.

- 1921. The British bring to power Hashemite Amir Faisal, from the Hijaz province of Saudi Arabia, and establish the boundaries of present-day Iraq.

- 1927. The Iraq Petroleum Company is created in partnership with Mobil, Shell and the Anglo-Iranian Company.

- 1932. King Faisal wins Iraq's independence. Iraq joins the League of Nations but remains under strong British influence. The Americans want to rout the British and refer to Iraq behind closed doors as the "Anglo Arab Kingdom".

- 1933. King Ghazi succeeds his father King Faisal.

- 1939. King Ghazi dies in an accident. Faisal II, the new king of Iraq, is only four years old. Prince Abdul al-Ilah, also from the Hashemite dynasty, is appointed Regent.

- 1941. Coup by Rashid All, who is pro-German. The British react by occupying Iraq militarily and removing Rashid Ali. The Regent returns to Baghdad.

- 1948. The Anglo-Iraqi Portsmouth Treaty is signed sanctioning British military influence in Iraq. Mass protests take place in Baghdad. The treaty is abandoned in 1973.

- 1952. A fifty-fifty profit-sharing agreement is signed between Iraq and the Iraq Petroleum Company.

- 1953. King Faisal II is enthroned and the Regency ends.

- 1958. Faisal II becomes head of the new Federation of Iraq and Jordan, with the possibility of Kuwait joining the Federation left open.

- July 14 1958. King Faisal II is assassinated in a bloody coup by General Abd al-Karim Qasim, bringing the Hashemite dynasty to an end. Backed by the Baath Party, Qasim proclaims the Republic of Iraq and becomes its prime minister. He signs an economic agreement with the USSR.

- 1961. Kuwait gains independence. Qasim demands its integration into Iraq. Great Britain sends troops to Kuwait

- 1963. Military coup by Baathist and nationalist officers. Qasim is overthrown, sentenced and summarily executed. Colonel Abd as Salaam Arif becomes President of Iraq and ejects the Baath Party from power because it is considered too progressive.

- 1964. All banks and large industrial firms are nationalized. Extensive land reform.

- 1966. The President dies in an accident. He is succeeded by his brother, Abd ar-Rahman Arif.

- 1968. Military coup by nationalists and Baathist army offcers. Ahmad Hasan al Bakr becomes the new President of Iraq and chairman of the Baath Party, marking the Baathist return to power. Saddam Hussein becomes a close presidential advisor.

- 1972. Iraq's oil is nationalized. The Iraq Petroleum Company is now owned 100% by Iraq. Iraq joins OPEC.

- Spring of 1979. The success of Ayatollah Khomeini's revolution in Iran encourages Shia Islamists to launch an active campaign in Iraq. Hasan al-Bakr resigns. Saddam Hussein is sworn in as President. He immediately purges the country of all opposition.

Although Iraq became a nation in 1920, it did not have sovereignty because it was administered by British mandate. Iraq's first taste of true independence came in 1958, when General Qasim proclaimed the "Republic of Iraq" and liberated Baghdad from British rule. July 14 1958, is an important date for Iraqis - as important as July 4 1776, to Americans and July 14 1789, to the French. In spite of this, one of the first decisions made by the coalition in early July 2003, after the invasion, was to abolish Iraqi Independence Day! What were they thinking of? Restoring the Hashemite dynasty?

Fewer than fifty years had passed since that momentous day in 1958, a very short time in which to lay the foundations of a solid, independent state just out from under the yoke of colonialism, especially given the fact that, during this same period, foreign economic interests had prevented Iraq from controlling its own destiny.

For years Iraq has been led down a path that its people would not necessarily have chosen, and this happened for one reason only: the country's vast hydrocarbon reserves. Two of its oil fields are of particular interest: those in the Rumaila and Zubair region in the south, near Basra, and those in the region extending around the city of Kirkuk and into Kurdish lands, in the north.

To understand Iraq's economic challenges, one must study its geography not only from the vantage point of a tourist but also from that of a petroleum operator. Foreign oil companies see nothing in Iraq beyond these two enormous reserves of black gold; they do not take its people into consideration. Yet these same companies have had more influence over Iraq's history than anyone else during the past century.

Not all of their influence has been negative - far from it. In 1979, when Saddam Hussein became president, Iraq was closer to democracy than any other Middle Eastern nation. Its 22 million inhabitants were among the best educated in the region, and it had two essential resources: oil and water. In addition, contrary to the situation next door in Iran, the proceeds that Iraq received from the sale of its oil went mosdy to improve the standard of living of the general population. Industry, infrastructure, and social institutions - particularly those relating to education - were all advancing, although progress was still slow. Unfortunately, major plans for urban and industrial development projects had to be abandoned when Saddam gave priority to investments in the oil industry and the military as a result of his wars. The money that remained to develop the country's social institutions was only slightly more than that available in Iran. And, also as in Iran, this obviously was not enough.

When it joined OPEC in 1972 after nationalizing its oil, the Iraqi government, like Iran's Mossadeq some years previously, hoped to raise the price of its crude oil. It never succeeded. When Saddam Hussein came to power in 1979, it was clear to him that OPEC's decisions were almost entirely determined by the powerful exporters of Saudi crude. He also knew that, for reasons of military security if nothing else, the Saudis were subject to American authority and that although the "majors" no longer owned Saudi Aramco, they remained in a position to adjust crude oil prices as it suited them. The oil companies worked things out so that prices remained low during the period in which they were filling their immense reservoirs around the world; then, when it came time to sell, they allowed prices to rise, making huge profits. Their giant tanks served as their own intermediary reserves of black gold. All of the Middle Eastern nations, manipulated into selling their oil at low prices, paid a heavy toll economically, Iraq no less than any other. In the words of my Baghdad acquaintance in the 1970s, their future still did not belong to them.

In 1979, Iraq had little control over its own economy. It was dependent on foreign interests. The economies of the oil-exporting nations were being manipulated by Western corporations in keeping with the principles of free enterprise. They wanted to be free to profit from the economies of countries like Iraq, which sorely needed these revenues to develop their own societies.

Saddam Hussein was a staunch nationalist. As soon as he came to power, his immediate goal was to try and liberate himself from foreign "free enterprise". He did not have much room to maneuver, however; Iraq's political situation was very precarious. Because of Western interests, the country could lose its independence at any moment. If Hussein was forced to step down in favor of a party in the pay of the West, as Dr Mossadeq had to do in Iran, the entire country could well tumble into a system of organized plunder. Iraq was also being manipulated from within; its ministers were constantly being approached by discreet representatives of foreign companies seeking to make a fortune on its oil. The two main religious groups, the Sunnis and the Shiites, reacted to the nation's turbulent politics by becoming gradually more and more fundamentalist, which also contributed to the climate of insecurity. And, of course, the Kurds continued to fight for independence, just as they had under Turkish and British rule. To maintain control over these various factions, Saddam conducted frequent purges of the government, as well as of certain university, political and religious institutions. And, as we know, he did not go about it gently, either!

All things considered, the country was more or less ungovernable. In 1979, seeing that the Ayatollah Khomeini had managed to free Tehran from Western domination, Saddam Hussein thought that perhaps American control in the region was slipping and now was the time for him to change the course of the Middle East's history, in particular the course of its rivers of oil. As incredible it seemed at the time, he adopted a strategy of colonization. Just as Britain might have done at the height of its colonial period, he launched an invasion of Persian Khuzestan, Iran's richest petroleum reserve. Saddam had caught black gold fever - the same madness that had held the West in thrall for more than a century!

But Saddam Hussein succumbed too fast to the temptation to build his own "Assyrian Empire". In his haste, he forgot to make sure that the winged genii who had helped Assyrian kings win ancient battles were on board for this campaign! More accurately, he took the risk of going out to conquer Khuzestan without asking the West's consent.

In 1980, the "Master of Baghdad" threw all of his forces into a battle that would rage for eight years above the Shatt-el-Arab estuary of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and along Iraq's northern border. But he never succeeded in positioning his soldiers over Khuzestan's rich colonies of ergamines. Iraq and Iran, Islamic neighbors, tore each other apart over the Shatt-el-Arab. When the war finally ended in 1988, many believed it was simply because the well-equipped Iraqi soldiers got tired of shooting at the never-ending stream of often unarmed Iranian soldiers, all of whom were fully prepared to sacrifice themselves for their country. The justification for Iraq's aggression, which left one million dead in Iran and nearly the same number slain in Iraq, was deftly camouflaged throughout the conflict. Both Iraq and the West claimed that Saddam Hussein was attempting to settle a long-standing border dispute and to keep the Ayatollahs' religious fundamentalism as far from Baghdad as possible. In reality, he was vying for control of Khuzestan's oil.

During those eight years, Saddam invested nearly all of the money available to develop Iraq on warfare. His military spending brought great prosperity to trie Western arms merchants, the French figuring prominently among them.

The offensive against Iran cost Saddam Hussein his country's economic independence. The war, which indebted Iraq for decades, was lost in advance. Moreover, the "Empire of the Oil Addicts" would never have accepted an outcome favorable to Iraq; the American Congress would never have allowed a Persian Gulf nation to exert as much influence over the oil market as the "majors" did.

It is not easy to play in the oil addicts' sandbox!

But this was not the end of Saddam Hussein's madness; he would go to war again for black gold.

Bill Totten


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