the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist
“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx
Sep 18, 2000
The following article was largely extracted and translated from an article appearing in the October issue of Lutte de Classe, edited by comrades of the French Trotskyist organization, Lutte Ouvrière.
For ten years, imperialism has been engaged in a veritable war in the Middle East, a war whose official target is the regime of Saddam Hussein, but whose principal victim is the whole Iraqi population, particularly the poorest part of the population. It is a war comprised of regular military operations – about which the media barely speak, but which nonetheless continue and are real – carried out by American and British planes and ships. It is also an economic war which, through the policy of sanctions imposed on Iraq by the United Nations, strangles the Iraqi economy and deprives its population of vital imports.
The war was set off when, in August 1990, Iraqi troops entered Kuwait, this artificial mini-state, symbol of the region's domination by the major oil corporations. It was the biggest show of force made by imperialism since the war against Korea in the 1950s. Once hostilities were launched, in January 1991, the imperialist forces took less than three months to annihilate the Iraqi army, without suffering significant losses themselves. By April 1991, the Iraqi troops had evacuated Kuwait and Baghdad had been forced to capitulate. This short period of war cost the Iraqi population tens of thousands of deaths; a good part of the economic and social infrastructure of the country was destroyed. (There should be no need to add that the population was never consulted about these actions.)
Nonetheless, this crushing victory was not enough for imperialism. The war's aim had never been simply to chase Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, despite what Western leaders pretended. The real stakes of this war were the maintenance of the imperialist order, on the world scale and in the Middle East – this order which allows the imperialist multinationals to enrich themselves by pillaging the poor countries.
The Gulf War against Iraq, carried on now for ten years, has nothing to do with Saddam Hussein and his dictatorship, as the imperialist leaders periodically pretend, but only with their need to maintain order in the service of the big imperialist trusts.
There is nothing in Saddam Hussein's regime, as dictatorial as it may be, which bothers imperialism. After all, this same Saddam Hussein and his regime played a key role in the imperialist order in this region for a whole decade following the fall of the pro- Western regime of the Shah of Iran in 1979. By counterposing his country to Iran in a rivalry over which would be the top regional power, by disputing with Iran over which country would have access to the Persian Gulf, Saddam Hussein gave imperialism an efficient counterweight against Khomeini, a counterweight which imperialism used to its own advantage.
When Saddam Hussein's troops entered Iran, in September 1980, after a series of confrontations over the control of the Straits of Shatt el-Arab, the imperialists didn't loudly cry out for "respect of international law," as they did ten years later when Iraq invaded Kuwait. They contented themselves with making a few token reproaches and with sending warships to protect their oil tankers ... from Iranian planes. A war which pitted the two main Middle Eastern powers against each other, and thereby weakened both, suited imperialism's interests. Inasmuch as the Iranian regime was then the main thorn in imperialism's side, Western leaders quickly decided to provide Saddam Hussein with military aid. As for the other regional dictators, who saw the spread of Khomeini's particular brand of Islamic fundamentalism as a threat to their rule, they also quickly lined up behind Saddam Hussein.
This war, which lasted eight years and which left one million dead, was above all an enormous bounty for many Western companies, particularly in the arms industry. In 1984, facing Iranian advances, U.S. leaders decided to give Iraq wide open access to arms sales in order to prevent an Iranian victory; the other Western powers, particularly France and Germany, did the same thing. By 1990, two years after the end of the war, U.S. arms sales to Iraq represented almost a billion dollars. At the same time, the countries most tied to imperialism, like Jordan and Saudi Arabia, increased their armories, buying U.S., British, German and French hardware, with loans made available by their imperialist sponsors. Saudi Arabia, by itself, bought almost 15 billion dollars of armaments in the course of the decade. Many of the most respectable trusts sold arms and technology to both sides.
The Iran-Iraq war ended in a stalemate in 1988, although Iraq came out of it less defeated than Iran, having at least conceded no territory to Iran and suffered fewer losses. However, the Iraqi economy was in tatters. The war had destroyed a substantial amount of oil production facilities and left the Iraqi state itself on the edge of bankruptcy. In 1988, inflation was running at 40%. Foreign debt was 50 billion dollars, proportionately only slightly less than that of Mexico and Brazil. Iraq owed significant debts not only to the imperialist banks but also to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. What is more, not only was the issue of Shatt el-Arab not resolved, but the waterway was now unnavigable, due to the rubble of war, and it had to be rebuilt.
Once the Iranian regime had been weakened by the war, imperialism no longer had any reason to help Saddam Hussein. On the contrary, Western leaders wanted to prevent the man who had been the instrument of their interests from gaining too much weight in the region. Saddam Hussein soon discovered that he had been left high and dry by the imperialist powers when the international financial institutions and imperialist banks refused to lend him more money.
Saddam Hussein had few means with which he could force the far-off imperialist banks to adopt a more conciliatory attitude. But there was an important factor in the strangling of the Iraqi economy close at hand: Kuwait.
We should recall the origins of this regional flunky for imperialism. Great Britain established Kuwait in 1899, as a British "protectorate," around the one single port in the Persian Gulf able to accept oceangoing ships. Britain thus gave itself both an outpost, allowing its oil companies to exploit the petroleum of the region, and a strategic position assuring British control of the Gulf. With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, borders dividing the region were drawn up in 1922, under the direction of the British high commissioner in Baghdad. Kuwait, which logically should have been made part of the new Iraq, instead kept its status as a separate entity under British "protection." In 1932, when Iraq gained its independence, the status of Kuwait remained the same. During the next 29 years, Kuwait remained a British possession, up to the point when Great Britain began to disengage itself from the Middle East. In 1961, Kuwait was granted "independence," becoming a part of this string of micro-states set up around the Persian Gulf during the next ten years. Each of these micro-states, Kuwait included, was less a real state and more just an oil- concession handed over for safe-keeping to a local feudal family, for the account of the Western oil trusts. These states, one more artificial than the next, running from Kuwait to Quatar, passing through Oman and the Arab Emirates, had no other function than to subtract from the main countries in the region, especially from Iraq, vast petroleum resources together with access to the sea, which was so vital for exporting the oil.
It's not surprising then that ever since 1932, every successive Iraqi regime demanded the territory of Kuwait be incorporated into Iraq – especially since the Kuwaiti regime during all these years served the imperialist powers as a means of pressure against the attempts its neighbors were making to resist imperialist pillage.
In any case, with the end of the Iraq-Iran war in 1988, the policy of Kuwait contributed greatly to the asphyxiation of the Iraqi economy. Kuwait, which had made a fortune, along with BP and Gulf Oil, by transporting a good part of the Iraqi oil during the war, now demanded the immediate repayment of 10 billion dollars which Iraq had borrowed from Kuwait during the war. In addition, Kuwait denied Iraq all access to the mouth of the Shatt el-Arab, thereby preventing Iraq from rebuilding the waterway. Kuwait was also producing more oil than its quota, dumping it onto the oil markets, further contributing to the reduction in Iraq's revenues.
Faced with a situation which was becoming critical, Saddam Hussein returned to familiar methods. On August 2nd, 1990, he ordered his troops into Kuwait, in the hope of imposing once and for all a resolution of Iraqi conflicts with Kuwait.
The recourse to a military invasion to resolve conflicts between neighboring countries was not uncommon in the Middle East. Israel, Turkey and Syria, for instance, had invaded their neighbors' territories in the recent past without the so-called "international community" lifting a finger.
But this time, the situation was different. Kuwait was an outpost of the major oil companies in the region. They were not about to give it up. Washington, London and Paris calculated that Saddam Hussein had offered them the pretext not only to put him in his place, but also to make of him an example: the regimes and the peoples of the Third World had to be shown what price they would pay if they defied the imperialist order.
Within four days of the invasion, the United Nations, at the urging of the U.S., put an immediate embargo on all trade into and out of Iraq. The USA called on its imperialist allies, with their satellites in the Third World, to mobilize, under the auspices of the U.N., to "liberate Kuwait." The Iraqi regime was given an ultimatum to withdraw or face war. Within several months, a force of half a million troops, coming from 32 countries, was set up in the region.
This gigantic military force was certainly not needed to chase Iraqi troops out of Kuwait. Major Colin Powell, chief of the U.S. armed forces at the time of the Gulf War, himself admitted, long afterwards, that he had been against war on Iraq on such a large scale. According to Powell, the embargo, which prevented Iraq from selling its oil and therefore from obtaining vital supplies, would have been sufficient to bring Saddam to his knees – provided it had been given time to take effect. But then Powell knew something that the general public did not know: Saddam had already agreed to withdraw from Kuwait if the embargo were lifted.
But for the imperialist powers, this show of strength had a purpose which went far beyond Iraq itself. For the U.S., this "grand coalition" had the advantage of getting the other imperialisms to share the financial and political cost of the intervention – especially given the political disaster of the recent U.S. intervention in Somalia, which still resonated in American public opinion.
On January 17, 1991, the attack on Baghdad was launched. This was the first large-scale demonstration of a "new" kind of war – one with "smart bombs," all the more chilling given the way television broadcasts around the world portrayed the "precision" targeting of lethal missiles, as if tens of thousands of Iraqis were not being killed by them. For five and a half weeks, thousands of tons of bombs were dropped on Iraq. By the end of this period, probably as much as 40% of the Iraqi army had deserted. Then the ground war began – "Operation Desert Storm" – which put the remainder of the Iraqi army to flight. Saddam Hussein announced his unconditional withdrawal. But his announcement went unheeded. The Iraqi army was showered with cluster bombs while it staged a panicked retreat. The fifty mile stretch of highway out of Kuwait became known as the "highway of death."
The effect of the war on Iraq was devastating. One hundred and forty thousand tons of bombs and missiles had rained down on the country. An estimated 100,000 Iraqi soldiers had been killed along with tens of thousands of civilians. Roads, bridges, factories and oil facilities had been destroyed, along with communications facilities, electrical generating plants, and water and sewage plants.
By April 1991, Iraq had accepted the terms of a cease-fire. To be more accurate, the imperialist powers had finally allowed Saddam Hussein to sign one. The Iraqi regime promised to pay Kuwait for damage done when its troops entered Kuwait, and it agreed to destroy all its biological and chemical weapons as well as all its nuclear facilities, civilian and military.
While the Gulf War had been carried out essentially unilaterally by the imperialist camp, with Iraq not really able to put up any resistance, the cease-fire of April 1991 remained unilateral also, respected in this case only by Iraq. It did not prevent imperialism from pursuing military action against Iraq, even if the scale of the actions was much reduced.
The imperialist leaders invoked various pretexts to justify this state terrorism. They resorted to scare-mongering, presenting Iraq's so- called "weapons of mass destruction" as a threat to the rest of the world – as if Iraq's primitive missiles could have posed a threat to Western countries!
At other times, Western leaders claimed to be waging a "democratic" crusade aimed at bringing down Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. Of course, the imperialist leaders probably would have liked to see Saddam Hussein's downfall. After all, this would have been the most convincing way of completing his "punishment" for challenging imperialist interests. But the Western powers did not want this to be done at just any cost. More specifically, they were not ready to risk political instability in the region. If Saddam's regime was to be toppled, its successor had to be another heavy-handed dictatorship, capable of keeping the lid on the country's population at least as effectively as Saddam Hussein did. And since none of Saddam Hussein's rivals seemed to fit the bill, proving unable to win the support of a significant section of the army and police, Saddam Hussein was allowed to stay. Of course his military power was reduced, but not to the point of rendering his repressive machine too weak to police the main political forces which could have threatened the region's equilibrium. When, right after the war, the Kurds rose up in the north of Iraq and the Shiites in the south, hoping to profit from the temporary weakening of the dictatorship, Saddam Hussein not only had the material means to crush their rebellions, but also the tacit agreement of imperialism for him to do so. Only after Saddam Hussein accomplished this dirty work, did the imperialist powers, reassured that the region was now politically stable, impose "no-fly zones" in those areas, under the pretext of preventing the repression of populations ... which had already been repressed.
Starting in late 1991, U.S., British and French planes began to patrol the so-called "no-fly zones" in northern and southern Iraq, periodically striking so-called "military objectives," in these zones, as well as outside of them, as if no cease-fire had been signed. In June 1993, 23 U.S. cruise missiles were sent, allegedly to blow up Iraqi Intelligence headquarters; in reality, they resulted in six civilian casualties, including the Iraqi painter, Leila Attar. Supposedly, Saddam Hussein had been plotting to assassinate President Bush while he was visiting Kuwait – it took the mentality of the CIA to come up with that fabrication!
When they weren't invoking such ridiculous pretexts, the American leaders were upping the ante whenever Saddam Hussein declared himself ready to give in to whatever were their current demands. In 1994, when Iraq offered to withdraw all the conditions it had raised for U.N. weapons inspectors to enter Iraqi sites in exchange for an end to the bombing, Washington replied by demanding the Iraqi regime recognize a new border which would give more territory to Kuwait. To back up the demand, both the U.S. and Britain sent reinforcements to the Gulf.
In the years which followed, the question of the U.N. inspectors became the center of a hesitation waltz, which would have been farcical, if it hadn't been the pretext, over and over again, for renewed bombing.
In January 1998, Scott Ritter, the main U.S. representative on the U.N. inspection team, was barred by Iraq. A huge media campaign was launched, pretending that Saddam Hussein was still threatening the world with deadly bacterial and chemical weapons, produced somewhere – perhaps – in his vast palaces. Some newspapers speculated that anthrax spores might be grown and special pilot-less planes be produced to spread them in the West. As a threat to the West, this was ridiculous, given that anthrax is cured easily by antibiotics. In fact, if anthrax was a threat somewhere, it was in Iraq itself because there it was spreading rapidly at the time among sheep and other animals, along with other diseases; and Iraq was severely deprived of antibiotics.
But the truth had little importance for Western leaders – "Saddam's latest intransigence" had to be punished. In mid-December 1998, without the agreement of the rest of the U.N. Security Council, Clinton, who was in the middle of scandal over his affair with Monica Lewinsky, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was keen to demonstrate his commitment to the Anglo-American "special relationship," launched still another campaign of missiles over Iraq. This was code-named "Operation Desert Fox."
The intermittent bombings have continued up to this day. According to the Russian ambassador to the U.N., whose figures have not been disputed by the U.N., the U.S. and Britain invaded Iraqi airspace 20,000 times during the year 1999, "hitting food warehouses, oil pipeline stations, and last year killing 144 people and wounding 466 others."
The economic war which imperialism carried out against Iraq had begun even earlier than did military operations – exactly four days after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, when the U.N. decreed sanctions. Since 1991, imperialism has used these sanctions, like the bombing, as blackmail to push forward still more extravagant demands.
Above all, the sanctions allowed imperialism to exercise a practically total control over Iraq's external trade and over the revenues it gained from its exports, oil particularly. Even when the big powers pretended to make a "humanitarian" gesture toward the Iraqi population, they continued to act in accordance with their same preoccupation: to control the Iraqi economy and to block Iraq from beginning the work of reconstruction.
The U.N. "oil for food" program, introduced in 1995, allowed Iraq to export a certain quantity of oil. But this program had to be reauthorized every six months, and it set up a very narrow framework within which the proceeds from oil sales could be used. The proceeds were put in a special account in New York, controlled by the U.N. This account paid out sums which the U.N. authorized for emergency supplies of medicines and for some food. (The initial list of food authorized by the U.N., for example included flour, sugar and cooking oil, but no vegetables or meat.) But 33% of the total oil revenue was set aside for "reparation payments" to Kuwait, pipeline transit fees to Turkey (Iraq is required to pipe at least 40% of its oil this way) and to fund the entire U.N. operations against Iraq! So Iraq even paid for the U.N. operation which strangled its population!
Imperialism has clearly used the sanctions to serve its own economic interests. In the early years of the sanctions, Washington, by restricting Iraq's oil sales on the world market, kept oil prices artificially high. Not only did this boost the profits of the Western oil companies, this also made it easier for Saudi Arabia to pay back its share of the cost of the Gulf War, which it owed to the U.S. However, when oil prices began to go up in 1999, Iraq was allowed to raise its production close to its maximum capacity. But what it has not been allowed to do is use its oil income to rebuild the infrastructure destroyed since 1991, under the pretext that Saddam has to be prevented from rebuilding his war machine.
Neither has Iraq been allowed to obtain chlorination equipment to sterilize its water supplies – even though water purification and sewage plants have been regular targets for "smart" British and U.S. bombs. This is not a small problem: the country is mainly desert, with water scarce enough as it is, and with saline contamination a huge problem. Since last year, the situation has been aggravated by a severe drought. We can therefore believe it when the U.N. itself describes the situation in Iraq as follows: "...malnutrition problems seem to stem from the massive deterioration in basic infrastructure, in particular the water-supply and waste disposal systems.... Access to potable water is currently 50% of the 1990 level in urban areas and only 33% in rural areas." Indeed, diarrhea is the main killer of children under five – diarrhea acquired from drinking dirty water.
Besides a drastic shortage of medical supplies and equipment which has led to a huge increase in deaths from curable and preventable diseases such as tuberculosis, there are the problems coming from the after-effects of the war itself. An unusual increase in all kinds of birth defects and cancers has been observed. This is accounted for by, among other things, the use of depleted uranium shell tips on U.S. bombs which were and are still dropped over the region. Depleted uranium, apart from its low grade radioactivity, also happens to be an extremely toxic heavy metal, as bad, if not worse than lead.
Dire poverty, chronic disease and severe protein malnutrition have re-emerged in a country which previously boasted of one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the region. During the past ten years, one million people have died directly and indirectly as a result of the imperialist power game. At least half of these victims are children under five years old. Today, the combination of war and sanctions has pushed Iraq back to where it was many decades ago, with an estimated annual GDP less than $500 per capita, putting Iraq close to Haiti and the poorest countries in the world.
Denis Halliday, who was the U.N.'s "humanitarian co- ordinator," resigned in protest of the sanctions in the autumn of 1998. In March of this year, Hans von Sponeck also resigned in protest against the effect on the population of the sanctions and the regular bombings. Both were part of the U.N. team which was supposed to ensure that the food and medicines allowed into Iraq reached the population. Both these men reported that the supplies eventually all got to where they were meant to go. The problem was that they were often delayed by the U.N.'s own "holds" on certain items, as well as by lack of transportation and by difficulties with refrigeration. Above all, they said, these supplies were woefully inadequate.
In December 1999, the U.N. Security Council passed a new resolution which eased import restrictions on some essential items. It removed the ceiling on oil exports, but it also increased the number of items which Iraq was forbidden to import. It also would have required Iraq to admit a new weapons' inspection team, whose head would have the final say on whether Iraq was complying with conditions. After this, it would take another year before sanctions would be lifted with Iraq put "on probation," but even then the sanctions would be lifted only for 120-day renewable periods. Iraq has not agreed to this so far. So the sanctions continue.
In 1998, the U.S. chose to give up the fig leaf of the U.N. cover for its "Operation Desert Fox" partly because it never intended this operation to be a major one and therefore did not need to share its political and financial cost with any country other than Great Britain. But it also faced the problem that a growing number of its imperialist allies were dragging their feet. This was not out of belated humanitarian scruples, nor even because they really disagreed with the objectives pursued by the U.S. The other imperialist powers simply felt that it was time to call off the power game against Iraq. While it had become increasingly difficult to justify in front of their respective public opinions, it was also an obstacle to the resumption of their lucrative business with the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular.
The rivalries between the different imperialisms and the need for them to defend the interests of their respective multinationals reasserted themselves. There is plenty at stake for Western multinationals in Iraq. First there are the enormous potential contracts for rebuilding the country's infrastructure: a total estimated value of well over 85 billion dollars over the next decade. The Iraqi army's hardware needs to be entirely renewed, and the imperialist arms merchants are already champing at the bit, despite Clinton's vocal denunciations of Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction."
Above all, there is Iraq's oil. As the U.S. government's own "Energy Information Service" points out, in a report on Iraq published in December 1999: "Iraq holds more than 112 billion barrels of oil – the world's second largest reserves. Iraq also contains 110 trillion cubic feet of gas..." As this report goes on to say, Iraq's true resource potential may be seriously understated. Deeper oil-bearing formations, located mainly in the Western desert region, could yield additional resources, but they have not been explored to date.
In this scramble for Iraq's wealth, American imperialism is already assured of getting the lion's share; it's holding all the cards. The minor imperialisms, by contrast, are forced to pursue one of two different strategies.
Britain chooses to plod on behind the U.S. in the hope that it will be sitting next to the U.S. at the head of the negotiating table when the U.S. finally decides on a settlement with Saddam Hussein. British companies expect that, thanks to the U.S.'s goodwill, they will be allowed substantial crumbs from the large piece of the Iraqi cake that the U.S. will cut for itself. And large British companies such as BP-Amoco will be able to bid for their own share of the bounty through their alliances with U.S. big business.
Other minor imperialist powers, such as France and Germany in particular, which had been Iraq's main trading partners before the invasion of Kuwait, are trying to gain as much ground as possible before the giant U.S. companies arrive on the scene. This explains why the German and French governments have both played a conciliatory game these last few years, more or less openly criticizing the Anglo-American air strikes and the sanctions – in order to get in the good graces of Saddam Hussein.
As early as January 1997, the Iraqi oil minister announced that two large oil fields, Nahr Oman and Majnoun, both in southern Iraq, representing a daily production of over one million barrels, had been "reserved" for the two French oil companies Elf and Total (now merged into the giant Totalfina). The contract was to take effect immediately after the lifting of U.N. sanctions.
Likewise, in 1997, Russian companies such as Lukoil and two Chinese companies reached provisional agreements for future oil contracts with Iraq, which will go into effect once sanctions are lifted. As a result, both Russia and China have supported the lifting of sanctions in the U.N. Security Council. Other companies such as the Malaysian state company Petronas, Italy's Agip, and Indian and Turkish companies have reached similar provisional agreements.
In fact, even British oil companies are trying to get a foothold in Iraq. Thus, in February 1999, Shell was reported to be involved in advanced talks with the Iraqi government over a 20-year contract for the development and exploitation of the Ratawi field, in southern Iraq. (Of course, Shell's rivalry with BP-Amoco, which dominates Middle Eastern oil, may also partly explain its interest in this matter.)
In September 1999, an oil and gas technology exhibition was held in Baghdad, with the participation of 50 foreign companies from Canada, Great Britain, France and Italy. It was the first such meeting since the invasion of Kuwait. By November 1999, Iraq had signed multi-billion dollar deals – always predicated on the lifting of the sanctions – with numerous foreign companies who will rehabilitate destroyed oil fields or develop and exploit new ones, not to mention deals to supply oil-drilling and engineering equipment, spare parts and six gas-fired power plants sold by China. By then, even a U.S. company like Conoco was reported to have been involved in such "discussions."
After ten years, U.S. imperialism could certainly let itself call off its war against Iraq. After all, as a "punishment" of Saddam Hussein's unruly behavior, it has gone as far as it could go, short of bringing down the regime, but as we said earlier, this is not necessarily the issue for imperialism. After all, the imperialist leaders used Saddam Hussein before and he proved willing to abide by the rules they had set. After ten years of bombings and sanctions, in which the regime and the Iraqi bourgeoisie were deprived of their main source of wealth, Saddam Hussein can be expected quietly to toe the imperialist line in the region. From imperialism's point of view, this is undoubtedly the safest solution since Saddam Hussein has at least proved himself capable of crushing any threat of unrest from Iraq's population.
Moreover, the present scramble for Iraqi resources and contracts seems to be stirring discomfort in the headquarters of big U.S. business. There have been numerous that the big U.S. multinationals are putting pressure on Clinton to reach a rapid settlement.
However, U.S. policy towards Iraq is part and parcel of a regional policy covering the whole of the Middle East. Currently, there is not one but two processes of "normalization" which need to be completed. While one concerns Iraq, the other concerns Iran, where a section of the fundamentalist regime is trying to bring the country out of its political and economic isolation from the imperialist world, with the support of the Iranian bourgeoisie. Although the Iranian president Khatami, who is leading this shift, has been acting prudently to try to avoid unleashing social forces in the population which have been suppressed for so long, there is always the possibility that these forces – and especially the large Iranian working class and urban poor – will see in the very limited liberalization process an opportunity to raise their voices and demands. What the repercussions of such a social explosion would be in the rest of the Middle East, and particularly in Iraq, whose proletariat is tied to Iran's with multiple links – this has to be one of imperialism's concerns, not to speak of the always constant threat of an explosion among the Iraqi national minorities.
Through its military mobilization in the Gulf War and in the following decade, U.S. imperialism has, in fact, prepared itself for such developments. How, before the war in the Persian Gulf, could American leaders have justified the permanent maintenance of tens of thousands of troops in the region, armed to the teeth, equipped with large numbers of bomber and fighter planes, encircling Iraq and Iran with a dense network of airforce bases? And that's not even mentioning the American Sixth Fleet, with its capacity to carry out vast and rapid military strikes – the force which proved what it could do during all the crises of this last decade and which now seems to be permanently stationed in the Gulf region. With such forces, the United States probably has enough resources to crush any limited movement of revolt in the bud, and certainly enough to protect the oil interests of the imperialist countries in the region.
In any case, it is unlikely that U.S. leaders will move quickly to ease their pressure on the Iraqi population. The needs of American policy dictate that this population remains terrorized and crushed, rather than let it regain its confidence. As the latest U.N. resolution shows, imperialism might even lift all ceilings on Iraqi oil sales, for instance, with Saddam Hussein allowing the major oil companies to operate freely in the country – even while the U.S. continues bombing in the no-fly zones and while it continues to prevent Iraq from buying the vital imports which the population so desperately needs.
But even if the sanctions are eventually lifted and the bombings brought to an end, the lethal threat of imperialism will remain over the heads of the region's population, more menacing than it has ever been before. In the end, these ten years of war will have served above all to tighten the stranglehold of imperialism over the region, to the greatest profit of the major oil companies.