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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Oil Addiction: The World in Peril - 26

by Pierre Chomat (Universal Publishers, 2004)

translated from the French by Pamela Gilbert-Snyder

Part III. The Power of America: Rooted in Dependency

Chapter 26. Kuwait on Fire

Like volcano, the world of men can suddenly erupt at any time. The Middle East experienced such a cataclysm in August 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Some time after the conflict ended in 1991, Abdul Ilah, a young Qatari, described the events to me:

"It began in August, when huge numbers of soldiers from Baghdad left their valleys to descend upon the Kuwaiti desert. They were sent by Saddam Hussein, who claimed this piece of arid land right away as a part of Mesopotamia. {a} You would have thought it was the glorious age of Queen Semiramis, who believed she ruled the world."

Abdul Ilah was not far off. The impact of modern-day Mesopotamia on world affairs seemed, indeed, as great as that of the celebrated Queen of Babylon. The arrival of Iraq's soldiers in Kuwait and the ensuing war shook the planet's egosystems to their very core. The entire world was attuned to what was happening on this little piece of desert. Let's let Abdul Ilah continue:

"Hundreds of thousands of them came in to invade our country. Saddam had just one thing on his mind: becoming master of Kuwait's oil fields. He already had some fields of his own, but he didn't think they were enough for his Mesopotamia, so he came to Kuwait.

"Saddam had big plans for little Kuwait's treasure. He thought if he added it to the riches of his Mesopotamia, he would become a Super Chief. He would be powerful enough to get a high price for his oil from the West. With more dollars in his pocket, he could get all the gadgets he wanted, especially more steel tanks and airplanes that were even more modern than the ones he had. He had had enough of watching the West and the Land of the Rising Sun reap all the benefits from his black oil.

"Saddam just wanted to add Kuwait's wealth to his own so he could become powerful enough to change things. But his plan didn't work!"

At that time, the exploitable oil and natural gas reserves of tiny Kuwait were estimated at 104 billion barrels of oil equivalent, almost as much as the 116 billion barrels Iraq was believed to possess. By combining the two, Saddam would control approximately 220 billion barrels - almost as much as Saudi Arabia with its 290 billion. {b} With this acquisition, the President of Iraq would be able to transform the forced "bargain basement" sell-off of his oil to the West into a more profitable trade. All he would need to do would be to close the valves and presto! The current glut would be transformed overnight into a shortage. The price of oil would rise and Saddam would be single-handedly responsible for making OPEC relevant.

Thus, the Iraqis wanted not only to keep the fields of Kurdistan out of Kurdish hands; they also wanted to increase their hydrocarbon potential through external acquisitions. The other reasons that they gave for the conflict, such as Kuwait's unjust exploitation of the Rumailan portion of the reserve, though certainly plausible, were in reality only pretexts.

Of course, this was not Saddam Hussein's first act of aggression. He wanted to succeed in Kuwait where he had failed in Iran ten years before. Abdul Ilah had grasped the true nature of the situation. I listened to him with interest:

"The Iraqis were already disillusioned with their relations with the big Western oil importers. They thought they didn't have much to lose if their invasion failed. On the other hand, if it succeeded ...

"You have to understand that even though Iraq exported millions of barrels of oil every day, the few outmoded workshops in their country would still never add up to a really advanced network of industries. If Saddam was to become a Super Chief, there was only one solution: he had to be able to buy industrial equipment from the West on a large scale. He didn't think he could do it without Kuwait's rich oil fields and he couldn't resist the temptation to send his army of helmeted soldiers south across the border into Kuwait."

Saddam Hussein understood more about the power of hydrocarbons than any Middle Eastern leader had before him. And yet he still underestimated their importance. The "Empire of the Oil Addicts" that sent fleets of tankers to the Middle East needed those hidden slaves far more than even Saddam imagined. He should have gauged the situation better before plunging ahead with this adventure in Kuwait.

Within minutes of the Mesopotamians' arrival in Kuwait City, the news of Iraqi soldiers camping brazenly around Kuwaiti oil wells spread throughout the West. These wells represented comfort and convenience to the entire Northern hemisphere. The leaders of Europe, Japan, and the United States began to tremble with fear and rage. To them, the President of Iraq was clearly in the wrong: he had no right to touch their wellspring, their driving force, the hidden slaves who gave them comfort and supremacy. Kuwaiti oil was theirs! They had the right to intervene - Saddam could go to Hell! Defending the Kuwaiti people gave them the perfect alibi, the pretext that was officially adopted by the international community. Abdul Ilah also had something to say about the West's forceful reaction to the invasion of Kuwait:

"The first to intervene was America, which filled the sky with an endless parade of airplanes, bringing hundreds of thousands of big helmeted GIs all the way from the land of the States. One of the airplanes brought the big General Schwartzkopf. As soon as he arrived, he ordered his soldiers to line up across from the Mesopotamians. Like the soldiers from the land of the Euphrates, those from the land of the Mississippi rode inside thick tanks. They also rode in frightening airplanes, which could come at any time to drop missiles that would tear right through the enemy. Seeing so many helmeted soldiers transported through the sky all the way from the land of the States with their thousands of tons of equipment, we knew that the oil of this tiny land must be very important to the Americans.

"Everything was ready for the battle between the soldiers of Mesopotamia and the soldiers of America. The Great Council of Nations said Iraq's soldiers shouldn't be in Kuwait and gave its approval for the battle that was to come. More soldiers arrived, this time wearing helmets with the colors of other nations. A troop of big helmeted girls came, too - even the women were going to defend the cause of tiny Kuwait! Everyone took orders from General Schwartzkopf. The battle had been approved and everything was in place; it could begin.

"Then, suddenly, on January 17 1991, the planes of both sides launched themselves into the air to sow terror in the hearts of their enemies. We were witnessing the eruption of a giant cataclysm. The planes ripped through the sky for several days. Those of the American General were too strong for Chief Saddam. He couldn't hold them back.

"On television I saw that the trembling hearts of the Americans were calmed with little doses of advertising after every bit of news announcing that another missile had left for Kuwait with the Mesopotamians' name on it. The businessmen didn't hesitate to take advantage of all of those people watching their soldiers. It seems there is never a wrong time to do business! The televisions and newspapers were fighting the war too, working to make sure the West's fiery circus looked like a noble cause, justifying the efforts of all who had brought it there. They never mentioned that without the Middle East's oil, none of it would have been possible.

"Schwartzkopf's planes rained tons of exploding steel down on the Mesopotamians for more than a month. When Saddam learned that all of his planes were lost and he could no longer fight from the sky, he decided to show the world that the Americans hadn't come to save the Kuwaitis; they didn't care about them at all. They had come to save Kuwaiti oilfields for the West. Kuwait was nothing more to them than a piece of desert with a fabulous underground cache of energy earmarked for the North. Saddam Hussein didn't want to admit why he himself had invaded this land, but he wanted to expose the rich countries' true motives for sending their soldiers there. So, for the entire world to see, he ordered that the valves of the Rumaila oil wells be opened to allow their viscous fluid to pour into the waters of the Gulf at the mouth of the Shatt-el-Arab.

"But the millions of barrels of oil spilling into the Gulf didn't turn the Western soldiers away from their official mission of saving the Kuwaiti people and giving them back their country. That was the reason given by the Great Council of Nations for their presence.

"Might makes right, and history is written by the victors", added Abdul Ilah with a wry smile. "On television we saw envoys from almost every government in the world saying that the Kuwaiti people had to be saved for democracy. They said the world was marching toward democracy and that a president spilling oil into the sea couldn't stop it. What they didn't say was that Kuwait was still the most reliable supplier of oil in the democratic world.

"From that moment on, the Iraqi troops literally crumpled under the General's bombs. Before returning to Iraq, Saddam told his army to explode all of Kuwait's oil wells, lighting the biggest fire the world had ever seen. All of Kuwait was on fire. He hoped that the Big General would intervene to put it out and finally have to admit that oil was the real reason for his presence there."

The Master of Baghdad managed to burn six million barrels of black gold a day, or six times the normal daily output of Kuwait. But Schwartzkopf never paid any attention to those fires; the important thing was to show how successful he was at saving the Kuwaitis. Saddam had miscalculated again.

His glorious odyssey ended, General Schwartzkopf returned home to the United Sates to a hero's welcome. In the eyes of the West, America had succeeded in showing that its might was still right and that it was strong enough to keep Kuwait's ergamines faithful to the egosystems of the industrialized world.

As for Saddam, he left many of his soldiers behind in Kuwait, dead for a cause that had utterly eluded them, killed by an egosystem of war fueled by the very ergamines of the country that they had dutifully fought to reunite with their own.

And yet a weighty task remained unfinished by the American general: he did not pursue Saddam's fleeing army into Baghdad. His president, George Bush Senior, stopped him in his tracks, wanting, for political reasons, to avoid the shedding of untold amounts of American blood on the streets of the capital city.

Many Americans viewed this halting of the battle as a mistake. They believed the United States had squandered a historic opportunity to establish its army in Iraq and to take control of it for the benefit of the "Empire of the Oil Addicts", just as it had done in Iran in 1953 by returning Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi to the throne.

America would have to wait for history to provide it with another opportunity.

That opportunity would come in the form of bin Laden.


{a} Some inhabitants of the Persian Gulf region still refer to Iraq by the name it had up until the twentieth century.

{b} Known exploitable reserves of oil and gas at the beginning of 1990, expressed in billions of barrels of oil equivalent. These figures are based on the values reported by the International Petroleum Encyclopedia, 1990, pages 284 and 285.

Former USSR ... 328
Saudi Arabia .... 290
Iran .................. 183
Abu Dhabi ........ 126
Iraq .................. 116
Kuwait ............. 104
Venezuela .......... 77
Mexico .............. 70
United States ..... 56
Qatar ................ 34
Nigeria .............. 32
Algeria .............. 30
China ................ 30
Libya ................ 27
Norway ............. 26
Indonesia ......... 24
Canada ............. 23
Malaysia ............13
India ................ 12
UK ..................... 8
Egypt ................. 7
Argentina ........... 7

Bill Totten


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