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Peter Hadden

Slaughter in the Gulf

What now for the Middle East

(March 1991)

From Militant Irish Monthly, No. 192N, 9th–22nd March 1991.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

In the end it was an ignominious collapse. The “mother of all battles” lasted only two hours before the Iraqi regime, its army routed and demoralised, surrendered. The exultant Western media presented it as a clinical victory, achieved at little cost. Heavily censored television pictures showed only the celebrations; Kuwaitis taking to the streets of Kuwait City, victorious troops astride their tanks and armoured vehicles. The real horror of this one-sided war was kept hidden.

There were no pictures of dead Iraqi troops, no scenes of the effects of the carpet bombing of the Iraqi army as it attempted to flee northwards from Kuwait. Only now are some details of the carnage seeping through. Soldiers have spoken of passing trenches filled with Iraqi dead, the victims of the six week aerial bombardment, as they broke through Iraqi front lines. The roads leading north from Kuwait City are said to have been strewn with bodies. Estimates of Iraqi military dead vary, but are as high as 150, 000. This is in addition to the tens of thousands of civilians who died during the intensive bombardment of Iraqi cities and towns.

In the West the ignominious collapse of what had been the world’s fourth largest army has been put down to a combination of sophisticated and fearsome technology and military “brilliance”. Undoubtedly the technical superiority of the Western forces, above all of their ability to control the skies, was a critical factor. However it was not the sole factor. In warfare, politics and linked to politics the morale of troops, can be the most important factors determining the outcome. Saddam Hussein complained of the thirty armies lined up against him. After the 1917 revolution the young workers’s state in Russia was invaded by 22 armies of foreign intervention, backed by the superior technology of the most developed capitalist states of the day. Yet these armies were defeated.

In Vietnam the US forces had complete air superiority. They used napalm and carpet bombing from B52s, but still they failed to defeat the Viet-cong. The differences between these cases and Iraq were more political than military. The Vietnamese people were fighting to liberate their country. The workers and peasants of Russia were prepared to fight to the end to preserve their revolution. They were also able to successfully appeal to the invading troops, among whom there was sympathy for the revolution. A mutiny took place in every army of intervention.

The Iraqi soldiers, while opposed to the imperialist intervention, and while angered by the devastation being wrought on their country, lacked the stomach to fight against superior forces on behalf of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship, particularly given Hussein’s inept military leadership and his announcement that he was prepared to concede Kuwait just as the battle was about to start. Additionally the brutal nature of the Saddam regime provided the American and British ruling class with an excuse to justify their intervention and help them keep anti-war sentiment at home and amongst the troops to a minimum.

The build-up of Western forces and then the war was proclaimed to be in defence of democracy and the rights of small nations. All along it was clear that it was about oil, about putting Hussein’s Iraq in its place, and about making an example of the Iraqi people in order to terrorise the masses of the Arab and the colonial world.

Military coup

The war and its aftermath will finally nail the lie about democracy. The US government has openly called for a military coup in Baghdad. The West wish to preserve a section of the Iraqi army both as a counterweight to neighbouring powers like Syria and Iran who might otherwise annex Iraqi territory and, more particularly, to exercise control over the Iraqi population. The capitalist powers fear that the defeat will bring the Iraqi masses onto the streets and so their strategy is to press for a palace coup to remove Hussein leaving a regime which they would be prepared to support in crushing revolution at home and preventing the Kurds from establishing their own separate state. Failing this they would be prepared to tolerate Hussein remaining in power.

As for Kuwait, “liberation” will mean the imposition of a new dictatorship, not under Hussein, but under the super-rich Al-Sabahs, whom the Americans and the British have declared to be the “legitimate” rulers. The return of the Al-Sabahs, resting on American bayonets, has already meant the imposition of martial law for at least three months, and a vicious clampdown against the 200,000-strong Palestinian community in Kuwait.

Democracy in Kuwait would be opposed not only by the Al-Sabahs but by the US puppets in charge of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states. While some fiction of democracy may eventually be conceded in the form of a new assembly, this can be no more than a cover to thinly disguise the dictatorship by millionaire sheiks which will be the reality.


The idea that the massacre of the Iraqi people will somehow create the conditions for a solution to the problems of the Middle-East is as hollow as the talk of a war for democracy. The Middle-East has long been a volatile arena marked by instability and bloody conflict. Since 1941 the region has experienced eight major wars killing over two million people, and about 240 either successful or abortive coups d’état.

The roots of this upheaval are to be found in the interference by the imperialist powers and in the poverty endured by the masses. The Middle-East is an area of supreme importance to Western capitalism, containing some 70% of the world’s known reserves of oil. While a few sheiks and corrupt rulers have been allowed to benefit from this wealth, not so the mass of the Arab people. Throughout the Arab world 60 million people, one third of the total, live in absolute poverty.

The imperialist powers, particularly America, have developed Israel as a buffer against the Arab revolution, while at the same time supporting and leaning on reactionary Arab rulers, people like Saddam Hussein, to keep their people in check. This will remain the strategy of imperialism. Bush’s “new order” in the region means more of the same only more severely enforced.

Hints have been given of a regional conference to resolve outstanding issues, such as the problem of the Palestinians. Such a move would be vehemently opposed by Israel who will be seeking a price for their agreement to stay out of the war. Even if it were held, it would be a talking shop and could not solve the Palestinian or any other fundamental problem. Israel will not tolerate a genuinely independent Palestinian state on her doorstep. Rather the policy of the Likud government is to encourage up to one million Russian immigrants, future second-class citizens of Israel, and to use them to populate Gaza and the West Bank, forcing the Palestinians into Jordan. This policy promises further upheaval.

Not resolved

The problem of the Palestinians will not be resolved. The Kurdish people will not be given the right to set up their own state. There will be neither democracy nor stable boundaries in the area.

Only a socialist Middle-East, with all the wealth of the region under the democratic control of all of the people of the region, and which would include the rights of all nationalities, including the Palestinians and Israelis, and the Kurds, to their own states if they so wish, can resolve the problems. This latest “war to end all war” will just prepare for future conflicts, future violence. The presence of Western troops, or of some proxy so-called “pan-national” or “pan-Arab” force, in reality acting in the interest of the major capitalist powers, will provide a new source of instability.

Those Arab regimes who participated in the Western military build-up, regimes like Mubarak’s Egypt or Hassan’s Morocco, will face the retribution of their people at a certain stage.


The powerful sense of Arab nationalism, of a common Arab identity, will be given a boost and will help undermine the local client regimes. Other ideas, Islamic fundamentalism, illusions in terrorist methods, can develop for a time. Already there are reports of a growth in support for fundamentalism among the Shite peoples of southern Iraq. Fundamentalism has gained an echo in countries like Morocco and especially Algeria because of disillusionment with the existing regimes and because its anti-Western propaganda strikes a chord. In power as in Iran it is absolutely reactionary, but among the masses elsewhere it represents an immature groping in the direction of revolution.

Imperialism’s victory, their ability to successfully devastate Iraq, represents a temporary change in the world balance of forces in their favour. This flows in part from the crisis of Stalinism. The paralysis of the Russian bureaucracy, beset by problems at home, gave Bush a free hand to interfere in Russia’s backyard, contemptuously ignoring the final Soviet peace initiative in a way which would have been unthinkable during the cold war period.

With this victory the American ruling class believe they have finally laid to rest the memory of their humiliating defeat in Vietnam. When George Bush talks of a new world order he really means a new period in which America is able to assume the role of policeman of the world. The Gulf war will increase the readiness of the US to intervene elsewhere, especially in Central America, the Caribbean and again in the Gulf.

Come to naught

Imperialism has won a victory, but a victory which in the long run will come to naught. Initially it may have a stunning effect on the Arab masses, but with time this will change to a mood of anger. Nor will it check the unstoppable movements among the peoples of Latin America, Africa and Asia to free themselves from economic domination by the capitalist superpowers and to remove their local rulers who in most cases are clients and puppets of the West. After the Second World War the development of the colonial revolution forced the imperialist powers to relinquish this direct military hold over their former colonies and instead to rely on exerting their influence by economic domination and through local regimes. Then they had to bow to the balance of forces, and recognise that no amount of military might, could hold in chains the movement of the population of the colonial world.

World balance

Despite the US victory in Iraq and the partial strengthening of imperialism, the fundamental world balance of forces remains unaltered. Armed with a programme for the socialist transformation of society the colonial revolution would be invincible.

In the West Bush and Major have been strengthened. The fact that the war was not prolonged means that there will be no oil shortage, even with the devastation of Iraq and the burning of many Kuwaiti oil wells. Oil prices will not rise as was feared.

In addition about $IOO billion will now be spent rebuilding Kuwait. Even as US and British bombers were destroying Iraq and parts of Kuwait, US and British companies were being awarded the rebuilding contracts. 70% of this lucrative business has already been given to US companies. This can have a partial effect in alleviating the recession in some sectors of the US economy.

However the war can only provide a partial diversion from the real problems of capitalism – recession, financial crisis, and the still huge deficits in America; recession, the poll tax and still a hugely unpopular Tory administration in Britain.

Short lived

The effects of the war in boosting Bush and Major can be short-lived as attention is re-focussed on problems at home. In the 1945 general election in Britain, Labour swept to power ousting the “war hero“ Churchill. Now again there need be no Falklands factor - but much depends on the role of the Labour leadership. Their policy of gung-ho support for the war and support forth. Tories could cost them dear if there were to be a snap ejection in Britain.

In the short term the Gulf war has strengthened the forces of capitalism at borne and abroad. But it marks the opening of a new era of crisis, instability and upheaval on a world scale. The “benefits“ for imperialism of their victory will be short-lived. The future on the basis of capitalism is not one of “order“ but of conflict and turmoil in the Middle-East and internationally.

Key lesson

For the workers’ movement in Ireland, Britain and inter-nationally, the key lesson to be learnt is the need to oppose all capitalist interventions in the colonial countries. Such interventions are invariably carried out in defence of profit and plunder and never in the interests of the peoples of the colonial world or of the working class of the West. Instead the labour movement in the West must give its full backing to the masses in the colonial world in their struggle against local tyrants and Western domination. Workers in the West have identical interests to the masses in the colonial countries. By standing together to struggle for socialism internationally, democracy and peace can be achieved.

(3 March 1991)

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