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U.S.A. flexes its muscles in the Gulf

As we have mentioned in our editorial at the end of October 1997 another crisis emerged in the Middle East when Saddam Hussain banned Americans from the United Nations (U.N.) Special commission (UNscom) charged with monitoring Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. A further conflagration threatened when Saddam promised to shoot down any U.S.A. reconnaissance planes flying over Iraqi airspace. Within days, U.S.A. forces were put on alert.

What became clear as the waiting game unfolded, and perhaps surprisingly so for U.S.A. Middle East watchers, was that the U.S.A. and Britain were alone in their stand that Saddam should again have his ass kicked. Not only was caution urged by France, China and Russia (who together with the U.S.A. and Britain make up the U.N. Security Council), but condemnation of U.S.A. belligerence came from normally pro-U.S.A. states such as Egypt (the second biggest recipient of U.S.A. aid), Syria and Kuwait.

While Russia and France feared another U.S.A. strike would jeopardise potential oil contracts and the recovery of old debts, Arab states' reasons were two-fold.

The first had nothing to do with support for Saddam, but was more an alleged empathy with the long-suffering Iraqi people, still awaiting the lifting of U.N. sanctions that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands from malnutrition and disease since 1991.

The second is that many Arabs see the U.S.A. as reneging on a post-Gulf War promise to deliver a Middle East peace settlement and because of the sanctions the U.N. refuses to impose on the Middle East's other villain of the piece—Israel.

It is no secret that the U.S.A. still bankrolls Israel to the tune of billions of dollars each year—a country whose nuclear arsenal is clouded in mystery—and in spite of U.S.A. foreign aid legislation from 1977 barring funds to any state secretly developing nuclear weapons. Moreover, while Iraq's flouting of one U.N. resolution can plunge the region into a long and protracted war, Israel is still in breach of six U.N. resolutions (338, 465, 476, 672, 673 and 681).

We might add that while the U.S.A. is desperate to prove to the world that Iraq is hiding weapons of mass destruction, it is silent on its own chemical weapon stockpiles, and just as it can turn a blind eye to Israeli bombings of Libya in 1982 and 1996, so too can it ignore Turkey's frequent over-the-border incursions to murder Kurds and the oppression Indonesian forces still carry on in East Timor.

All of this can be set against President Bush's Gulf War Orwellian double-speak that "America stands where it always stands—against aggression". Interesting words indeed from the first ever head of state to be condemned by the World Court for "unlawful use of force against Nicaragua".

The whole episode should make it immediately clear that the latest round of U.S.A. sabre-rattling has less to do with any perceived threat Saddam poses to the present world order and rather more to do with U.S.A. hegemony and U.S.A. control of world oil supplies.

This is perhaps why Tony Blair could announce at the recent Lord Mayor's banquet: "When Britain and America work together on the international scene, there is little we cannot achieve… we must not reduce our capacity to exercise a role on the international stage" (Observer, 18 November).

What Blair's overt support for the U.S.A. reveals is an all too common acknowledgement by the British elite that Britain can only ever move forward in America's shadow.

Meanwhile, U.N. inspectors have since returned to Iraq, but with a reduction in the proportion of Americans represented. The U.S.A. alleges that Saddam will have exploited the U.N. absence to conceal Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, and insist they will not stop until all of Saddam's weapons and related facilities are uncovered and the world is again a safe place to live; a hollow sounding notion considering Russia and the U.S.A. still have 5,000 nuclear warheads pointed at one another.

In the immediate future we can expect further military stand-offs in the region, with the working class hostage to the ongoing power struggle over control of the world's centre of oil extraction.