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The Middle East, the home of ancient
civilizations and holy lands — and war.
The crises of the Middle East seem to
defy understanding or solution.


The Bush Administration’s certainty that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction may be based on the complicity of earlier administrations in Iraq’s military buildup.

Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 to expand and safeguard its access to the Persian Gulf. The eight-year conflict killed about one million people and maimed and injured a million more. The 1980s buildup of Iraq’s military machine (including biochemical weaponry) was made possible by more technically advanced nations, among them the United States, the Soviet Union and Britain. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, alarmed by Iran’s popular religious revolution, contributed some $60 billion to Iraq’s war chest.


Writes Michael T. Klare: "Reagan (and later Bush) authorized the sale to Iraq of $1.5 billion worth of sophisticated U.S. scientific and technical equipment — much of which has apparently been used in the development of conventional, nuclear and chemical weapons." The U.S. allowed private American companies to supply Iraq with number of biological agents, including anthrax.

(European newspapers reported in December that the U.S. removed thousands of pages from Iraq’s report to the United Nations on its weapons. The UN Security Council received the edited version. Reportedly the missing pages contain a list of U.S. and European corporations, including Honeywell, Rockwell and Siemens, that supplied Iraq with sensitive nuclear, chemical, biological and missile technology.)

The U.S./Iraq Business Council, set up in May 1985 by such heavy hitters as the Bechtel Group and Kissinger Associates consulting firm, facilitated U.S. support for Iraq.

The Reagan Administration demonstrated its preference in the Iraq-Iran conflict in other ways. Iraq received strategic information from U.S. satellites and assistance in battle planning, despite Iraq’s use of chemical weapons.

In 1987, the U.S. sent ships to the Persian Gulf to help Iraq defend oil tankers belonging to Kuwait and other Gulf states. When a U.S. Navy destroyer was severely damaged and lives lost in a mistaken attack by an Iraqi jet, the matter was soon forgotten. The U.S. Navy went on to attack Iranian gunboats and oil platforms.


With the conclusion of the war in 1988, some Members of Congress began looking closer at some of the more alarming aspects of Hussein’s regime. Iraq had a long record of human rights violations. Its repression of its Kurdish minority, who make up some 28 percent of the population, had been called genocidal. And there was ample proof that Iraq violated international law by using chemical weapons against Kurds and Iran.


The Reagan and Bush Administrations
consistently opposed sanctions,
arguing that Iraq was a valuable
trading partner whose business
the U.S. could not afford to lose.


From 1988 on, numerous attempts were made in Congress to impose economic sanctions on Iraq. The Reagan and Bush Administrations consistently opposed sanctions, arguing that Iraq was a valuable trading partner whose business the U.S. could not afford to lose. Sen. Claiborne Pell was among those trying to get the U.S. government to break its ties to Saddam Hussein; he blasted the Bush Administration’s "policy of appeasement" in late July 1990.

Hussein had revived the complaint that Kuwait was appropriately part of Iraq. He also believed that Kuwait and other Gulf states engaged in overproduction that kept the price of oil low, hurting the Iraqi economy. In a July meeting with U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie, he repeatedly advocated raising the price of oil to around $25 a barrel (in June the price was around $13.50), and accused Kuwait of waging "economic aggression" against Iraq. The U.S. Ambassador expressed sympathy for Iraq’s financial concerns and its efforts to rebuild after an eight-year war.

"We have many Americans who would like to see the price of oil go above $25, because they come from oil-producing areas," Ambassador Glaspie told the dictator. She also told Hussein the U.S. had "no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts like your border disagreement with Kuwait.

Less than a week later, Assistant Secretary of State John Kelly told Members of Congress that the U.S. had no defense commitments to Kuwait.


Two days later, on Aug. 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait.

As the Senate considered war with Iraq, Sen. Pell remarked with grim satisfaction, "I cannot help but observe that among those who are most enthusiastic about committing United States forces to battle against Iraq now are those who were most vocally opposed to sanctions prior to August 2."

Big names in Big Oil had Kuwaiti investments — Chevron, Getty, Gulf, Mobil, Shell, Texaco. To safeguard U.S. corporate interests in Kuwait, Operation Desert Storm got underway.

Big names in Big Oil
had Kuwaiti investments.


"Money talks — and nothing talks louder in the U.S. than oil money," the 55th UE Convention had declared the previous August. In their resolution "The Iraqi Crisis" UE delegates called on "the American people to pressure our political leaders to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in the Middle East through the auspices of the United Nations, with respect for International Law." The resolution also recommended action against price-gouging by the oil giants.

This policy guided the UE response to the war. UE’s officers issued a statement branding war in the Persian Gulf "a terrible, unnecessary, tragic mistake," and hailed a statement by the leaders of 11 major unions opposed to offensive military action. At the same time, UE actively worked to support UE members and relatives serving in Operation Desert Storm.

UE members were among those Americans wondering why their nation — created by a revolution against monarchial power — was at war to return a feudal ruler to his throne.


Kuwait had a population of a little less than two million in 1990, of whom only 535,000 were citizens. The remainder were mostly immigrant workers — from Arab countries, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines — who were denied civil rights. Strikes or protests were prohibited; participants faced immediate firing and deportation. All women were denied the right to vote. Political parties were banned. Of the 75 members of the Kuwaiti parliament, 25 were appointed by the Emir of Kuwait.

On the other hand, tiny Kuwait (just one-eighth the size of Iowa) has one of the largest oil reserves in the world. "If Kuwait grew carrots, we wouldn’t give a damn," said a former assistant defense secretary on the eve of the U.S. military assault.

Following the U.S. and allied expulsion of Iraqi forces, Kuwait promised major human rights improvements. But according to Human Rights Watch, continuing human rights violations have outweighed minor changes over the last decade.


Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, is a monarchy without a legislature or political parties. The royal government prohibits unions and outlaws collective bargaining. Saudi Arabia announced in 2002 that workers in companies employing more than 100 citizens could form "labor committees," which can be dissolved by order of the Ministry of Labor. Foreign workers are banned from these committees, although the Saudi workforce contains millions of immigrants. One million household servants, mostly foreigners, are excluded from legal protection.


The U.S. has sold billions of dollars’
worth of military hardware to Saudi
Arabia that allows the government
to repress its citizens as well as
defend its oil wealth.


Amnesty International has documented arbitrary arrests, torture, unfair trials and harsh punishment, including flogging and beheading. "The country’s strategic position and vast oil resources have led governments and businesses around the world to subordinate human rights to economic and strategic interests," the group says. Even the U.S. State Dept., in a 2001 report, says of Saudi Arabia: "The Government’s human rights record remains poor."

Nonetheless, the U.S. has sold billions of dollars’ worth of military hardware to Saudi Arabia that allows the government to repress its citizens as well as defend its oil wealth.

If the U.S. government looks to Saudi royalty and the Gulf’s sheikhs and emirs to help safeguard corporate interests, Washington considers Israel as its single most important ally in the Middle East. Due to its strategic location, Israel receives more U.S. economic and military aid than any other nation in the world. While the failure of some nations — like Iraq — to comply with UN resolutions is regarded as an invitation to declare war, Israel’s repeated flouting of UN resolutions is shrugged off.

The U.S.-Israeli relationship has been too important to policymakers in Washington. Israel has served as a kind of U.S. military subcontractor in the Middle East — and as a conduit of arms to governments and movements unpopular in the U.S. Congress, like apartheid-era South Africa, Iran and the Nicaraguan contras.

Delegates to the 54th UE Convention in 1989 adopted the resolution "Time for a Just Settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," which called for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel," and "an arms-length relationship by the U.S. with the Israeli — a relationship where the U.S. is free to criticize provocations which are designed to sabotage the evolution of a just and peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."


The various U.S.-backed peace initiatives have been constrained by the importance of the Israeli role as watchdog for U.S. corporate interests in the Middle East. The Camp David Agreement in 1979 was followed by the Oslo Accords, reached in 1993 and 1995. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), in a reversal of its earlier policy, recognized Israel’s right to exist, and Israel agreed to recognize and negotiate with the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. Israel agreed to limited Palestinian self-government (the Palestine Authority) in certain of the occupied territories.

In late 1995, Israel Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who had signed agreements with Egypt, Jordan and the PLO, was gunned down by a Jewish right-wing extremist. "Everything up to that point was moving to peace," said a 34-year-old Israeli Army reservist at a peace rally on Nov. 2, 2002 in remembrance of Rabin. "Everything since has moved away."

Reports Stephen Shalom, "In May 1996, Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu who was openly opposed to the Oslo accords was elected prime minister. Netanyahu reneged on most of the already agreed-on Israeli troop withdrawals from occupied territory, continued building settlements and roads, stepped up the policy of sealing off the Palestinian enclaves, and refused to begin the final status talks required by Oslo."

Israeli settlement in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem accelerated after Oslo; Israeli authorities, between 1994-2000, seized some 35,000 acres of Arab land for roads and settlement. Unemployment and poverty in the Occupied Territories increased, as Palestinian workers had a more difficult time getting to jobs in Israeli-controlled territory.

The status talks required by Oslo finally took place in the U.S. in the summer of 2000. The talks were unsuccessful. The official view is that Yasser Arafat threw away a generous Israeli offer. Some argue, however, there was no Israeli offer. To the Palestinians, wrote Ze’ev Schiff, an Israeli analyst, "the prospect of being able to establish a viable state was fading right before their eyes."


On Sept. 28, 2000 Israeli politician Ariel Sharon (accompanied by 1,000 troops) made a deliberately provocative visit to the Al Alqsa mosque while Moslems were at prayer at this especially sacred site. Who is Sharon, and why would he risk a resumption of violence in this way?

Sharon commanded an Israeli force responsible for the massacre of some 70 civilians in the Jordanian village of Qibya in 1953. He was Defense Minister in the 1980s when Israel invaded Lebanon; he has been assigned indirect responsibility for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian non-combatants in refugee camps. As Housing Minister, Sharon stood accused of ethnic cleansing for his role in the forced resettlement of Arab residents of East Jerusalem. As the ideological heir of the extremist Revisionist Zionists of the 1930s and 1940s, Sharon vigorously opposed peace agreements.

On Sept. 29, the Israeli government sent another large force of police and soldiers to the Al Alqsa area, now seething with resentment. Some Palestinians threw rocks. The Israeli military opened fire, killing four and wounding hundreds. The second Intifada, or uprising, was underway.

"The underlying cause was the tremendous frustration among the population of the Occupied Territories, who saw things getting worse under Oslo, whose hopes had been shattered, and whose patience after 33 years of occupation had reached the boiling point," writes Stephen Shalom.

Sharon, as Likud Party leader, became prime minister in January 2001.

The crisis escalated into a vicious, deadly cycle of Palestinian suicide bombings targeting civilians, followed by brutal invasions of Palestinian areas by the Israeli military, followed by more suicide bombings. And on and on. In condemning the suicide bombings, Amnesty International also declared, "they can never justify the human rights violations and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions which have been committed daily, hourly, even every minute by the Israeli authorities against the Palestinians."

... the UN Security Council considered
establishing an international presence
in the Occupied Territories to prevent
human rights violations. The U.S. vetoed
the resolution ...


In March 2001 the UN Security Council considered a resolution to establish an international presence in the Occupied Territories as a way to prevent human rights violations. The U.S. vetoed the resolution.

In early 2002, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah proposed a plan which seemed to offer a way out, by committing Arab states to recognize Israel, in exchange for an Israeli pull-back to its pre-1967 borders. A Palestinian state would exist side-by-side with Israel. The Saudi plan quickly achieved world-wide support, and was embraced by pro-peace Israelis as a means to the long-denied integration of their nation into the region.

Then in February 2002, as the Arab League met to consider this plan, the enemies of peace struck. Israeli troops invaded Arab communities on the West Bank. A Hamas suicide bomber struck in apparent retaliation. Sharon responded with massive force, sending tanks into the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, breaking into Arafat’s compound.

The Israeli peace movement in November hailed the selection of Haifa Mayor Amram Mitzna as Labor Party leader on the basis of the former general’s bold peace policy. Israelis approached parliamentary elections, under the shadow of a Likud government corruption scandal, as this issue of the UE NEWS went to press.


The continuing, bloody stalemate, and unresolved Palestinian grievances, provide a rallying cause, and a would-be set of excuses for their own crimes, to dictator Saddam Hussein and the religious extremists of al-Qaida.

This connection concerns Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser under Presidents Ford and Bush. He points out that "the more we are seen to be committed to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue," the greater will be the international support the present Bush Administration will enjoy in pursuing its Iraq objectives.

On the other hand, Scowcroft writes, a U.S. attack on Iraq without action on the Israeli-Palestinian issue would ignite "an explosion of outrage against us." The result, he warns, could destabilize regimes in the region, furthering Hussein’s agenda.


The fundamental problem in the Middle
East continues to be the drive of
foreign business to dominate and
control the world’s oil supplies.


The fundamental problem in the Middle East continues to be, as it has been for a century, the drive of foreign business interests to dominate and control the world’s oil supplies. The London Observer reported on Nov. 3, 2002 that Saddam’s would-be successors, the Iraqi National Congress, are already meeting with multinational oil corporations to divide Iraq’s oil wealth.

To achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East, power brokers like the U.S. government will have to be convinced to put justice, and peace itself, ahead of oil company profits.

(UE NEWS Managing Editor Peter Gilmore wrote this two-part series based largely on a number of articles found on the Internet. Of particular value were the articles "Background to the Israel-Palestine Crisis" by Stephen R. Shalom, which appeared in Z Magazine (May 2002) and "Blood for Oil" by Alfred Mendes in the on-line magazine spectrezine (


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