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.
U.S. AIDS SADDAM
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,
(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.
BUSH OPPOSED SANCTIONS
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.
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.
PERSIAN GULF WAR
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.
"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.
‘IF KUWAIT GREW CARROTS’
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.
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.
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
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."
PATHS TO PEACE
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
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
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
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