Chris Harman


They are killing to keep the oil flowing

(23 March 2003)

From Socialist Worker, No.1843a, 23 March 2003.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Worker Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The rulers of the US have always been obsessed by the need to keep control of oil supplies. Chris Harman, editor of Socialist Worker, argues that this is central to explaining why Bush has launched the attack against Iraq

SUPPORTERS OF the war pour scorn on anyone who says it has to do with oil. But there would be no war if Iraq did not have the world’s second largest proven reserves of oil. Oil is by far the world’s most important raw material. Control over it is an asset to any state – and its business interests – wanting to gets its way in disputes with other states. This is particularly true of the US.

The US is the world’s largest oil guzzler. It imported 52 percent of its requirements in 2002 and the US department of state says this is set to rise to 62 percent by 2020. Over 27 percent of the oil the US uses comes from the Middle East.

Two years ago key members of the US business elite produced a report for vice-president Dick Cheney, Strategic Energy Policy Challenges for the 21st Century. This stressed the danger to the US economy of any decline in oil supplies and any rise in its international price.

“Iraq”, it said, “remains a destabilising influence to the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East. Therefore the US should conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq including military, energy, economic and political assessments.”

President Bush’s cabinet agreed in April 2001 that US “military intervention” was necessary. But they did not feel powerful enough to take action at the time. The events of 11 September changed the whole mood in the US. Defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld wanted to exploit this immediately. “Iraq”, he said, should be “a principal target in the war against terrorism”.

Iraq is not their only concern. The world’s largest reserves are in Saudi Arabia, right next to Iraq. A US official once summed up the relationship between the West and Saudi Arabia, saying, “There have been and still are two pillars of the relationship: oil and security. Oil runs the world and the Saudis are the linchpin of oil production.”

As far back as 1945 US president Roosevelt met with the then king of Saudi Arabia and promised US protection of his regime in return for privileged access to Saudi oil by the US company Aramco. Today the US has thousands of troops stationed in Saudi Arabia.

Oil also explains why the US backs Israel to the full. It gives Israel $3 billion in aid every year, more than any other country. Former US president Ronald Reagan put it simply: “Israel has a force in the Middle East that is of benefit to us.”

As for Britain, foreign secretary Jack Straw has pinpointed “security of global energy sources” as a key priority of British foreign policy. He revealed this motive in a speech in January to 150 British ambassadors. Iraq’s modern history has been inextricably bound up with oil. The country was formed when Britain and France carved up the collapsing Ottoman Empire after the First World War.

Anthony Sampson, who wrote one of the most authoritative books on the oil industry, tells how, “Britain and France were specially concerned with two regions along the river Tigris in Mesopotamia (soon to become Iraq). These were the regions of Baghdad and Mosul, which were suspected of containing huge oil reserves.”

Britain drew Iraq’s boundaries so as to deny the oil to France (which took control of Syria), to Turkey or the Kurds who inhabited the region near Mosul. The British minister Curzon, “while hardly mentioning the squalid word oil, came near to threatening war over the issue.”

A British-run monarchy ruled in Iraq until it was overthrown by a left wing coup in 1958. The American CIA then helped the nationalist (but anti-left) Ba’ath party to stage a bloody coup in 1963. This was when Saddam Hussein began his climb to power.

The US’s key ally in the region, alongside Israel, at that time was the Shah of Iran. His overthrow in 1979 caused a panic in the US government. It welcomed Saddam Hussein’s attack on Iran – and on his own Kurdish subjects. It provided Iraq with growing quantities of military aid. This only stopped when, unable to defeat Iran, Saddam turned on the ultra-rich rulers of Kuwait in 1990.

Even then, after driving Iraq from Kuwait at the cost of 200,000 Iraqi lives, Bush Sr left Saddam Hussein in power. The US feared that the disintegration of Iraq would lead to instability throughout the region and endanger oil supplies. It was only when Saddam again seemed capable of himself causing trouble to oil supplies that the mood in ruling circles in the US began to change.

In a letter to President Clinton in January 1998 the Project for the New American Century called for “the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power”. Now they are trying to achieve their goal. They hope to get Iraqi oil into US hands.

They see this as easing the US’s own oil worries and, at the same time, strengthening US business dominance when it comes to negotiations with other oil dependent states like those of Europe, Japan and China. They do not care how many people die as they do so.

How they plotted to attack Iraq

THE PROJECT for the New American Century, or PNAC, brings together many of the group who surround Bush. Vice-president Dick Cheney is a founding member of PNAC, along with defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Defence Policy Board chairman Richard Perle. Deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz is the group’s ideological father.

PNAC has recently given birth to a new group, the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which met with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice in order to formulate a plan to “educate” the US populace about the need for war in Iraq. CLI has funnelled millions of dollars to support the Iraqi National Congress and the Iraqi heir presumptive, Ahmed Chalabi. Chalabi was sentenced in his absence by a Jordanian court in 1992 to 22 years in prison for bank fraud after the collapse of a bank he founded in 1977.

His Enron-like business credentials apparently make him a good match for the Bush gang’s plans. PNAC believes that the central requirements for US forces are to be able to “fight and decisively win multiple, simultaneous major theatre wars”, and to “perform the ‘constabulary’ duties associated with shaping the security environment in critical regions.”

When the Twin Towers came down on 11 September, the PNAC group saw, at long last, their chance to turn their ideas into substantive policy. In September 2001 Bush released the National Security Strategy of the USA. It is an ideological match to PNAC’s Rebuilding America’s Defences report issued a year earlier.

In August last year Defence Policy Board chairman and PNAC member Richard Perle heard a policy briefing from a think tank associated with the Rand Corporation. According to the Washington Post and The Nation, the final slide of this presentation described “Iraq as the tactical pivot, Saudi Arabia as the strategic pivot, and Egypt as the prize” in a war that would purportedly be about ridding the world of Iraq’s weapons.

Last updated on 13 December 2009