The deployment of British and American bombers to attack targets around Baghdad in mid-February was a fitting celebration of the tenth anniversary of the ‘end’ of the war against Iraq in February 1991. Ten years ago, Desert Storm, the military operation of the UN coalition of 29 countries led by the US, was unleashed against Iraq following its invasion of Kuwait. It was supposed to be in defence of ‘international law’ and ‘world peace’.
By the end of the Gulf War there were more than 550,000 US troops in the area. The British and French troops together amounted to about 45,000. The US forces were equipped with 2200 tanks, 500 combat helicopters and 1500 war planes. NATO deployed 107 warships in the region. The US navy had more than 700 nuclear weapons on its ships and submarines. The war removed the Iraqi forces that had invaded Kuwait. But Saddam Hussein, built up as one of the great tyrants of modern times, was not toppled. As we know, he has remained the leader of Iraq up to the present day. And the fact is that he was not the real target of the US-led offensive.
Following the post-89 break-up of the Russian bloc there was no way that the US could maintain the discipline of the western bloc, which fell apart as each country pursued its own interests. By launching the Gulf War, the US ensured that every country in the world knew the extent of its ability to mobilise at the military level. It was first and foremost a demonstration of its status as the only remaining superpower.
The military enforcement of the ‘no-fly’ zones with almost daily actions has continued ever since, but the bombings of mid-February were the biggest in more than two years. They were a reminder that while Bush has replaced Clinton (who in turn replaced Bush senior) the might of US imperialism continues. To a certain extent this reminder was well taken. A Russian general, Leonid Ivashov, called the recent air strikes "a challenge to the international community ... Today no state on earth can feel secure" (Financial Times 24/2/1).
Despite this, the support of the "allies" for the US has been dwindling, while opposing voices have multiplied. The recent bombings were condemned by a whole host of countries, from France, Russia and China to Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It is also clear from the conflict in Israel/Palestine that the US is not successful in imposing its will in every situation regardless. As for the involvement of the devious British, it should not be seen as that of a "partner" to the US, but as the action of an imperialism with a long-established presence in the region, trying to advance its own particular interests.
Hypocrisy of the ‘humanitarian’ warmongers
Ten years ago, there were hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilian and military deaths. Today once more, through the miracles of technology (in particular depleted uranium), the arsenal employed by the allied forces is the cause of malformations of new-born babies in the area, of leukaemias and cancers for the military personnel of the big powers and anyone else caught in the theatre of operations. And for ten years the almost daily bombardment by US and British forces has continued to spread terror and death across Iraq. In the last four years British and American aircraft have flown more than 16,000 sorties. In 2000 they dropped 500 bombs on Iraq, in 1999, 1500. The cost to Britain of patrolling the "no-fly" zones has been more than £900m so far, and continues to rise.
This is not the only consequence of the bourgeoisie's "crusade for peace". It is estimated that between 5000 and 6000 Iraqis die every month as a consequence of the economic sanctions imposed by the US and still supported by Britain. The suffering is worse for children, the sick and the old, deprived of food and medicine by the effects of the embargo. The US and Britain blame Saddam's regime for these deaths, claiming that the regime does gain adequate funds for food and medicine from the trade that it is allowed to engage in, but chooses to use this income to build weapons or line the pockets of the elite. But even if the shortages were not really as bad as many reports have indicated, why would you expect such a corrupt and repressive regime not to "misuse" scant economic resources in such a way? As always, the allies' real victims are not Saddam and his cronies, but the Iraqi population they are supposedly so concerned about.
The situation faced by the Kurds is a perfect illustration of the cynicism of the ‘democratic’ ruling class. During the Gulf war the airforces of Britain, the US and France distributed leaflets to the population of North and South Iraq, encouraging them to desert and revolt - letting them think that all the military potential of Saddam Hussein had been destroyed by the military operation. In fact, the allies deliberately left Saddam's best trained force - the Republican Guard - untouched. This gave the butcher of Baghdad a free hand to brutally massacre the Kurds of Iraq, and this was the allies' intention. By allowing Saddam to crush forces that were traditionally hostile to the current regime, the big powers were able to limit the risks of Iraq being totally dislocated by the formation of a Kurdish state, which would have severely destabilised the whole region. Furthermore, once the bloodletting had been accomplished it served as a new pretext to maintain the British and American airborne military presence over Iraqi territory, the "no-fly" zones to "protect" the Kurdish population, which has shared the appalling deprivations inflicted on the Iraqi population.
And when some Kurds recently tried to escape this hell and the rusty boat they were in ran aground on French beaches on the Cote d’Azur, it was not the end of their nightmare. Despite expressions of humanitarian concern, the French media focussed on the fight against illegal immigration, outlining the subtle distinction between political refugee and economic migrant. For the refugees there is only desperation in the face of ruling class hostility. The British government claims to be against the oppression of the Kurds, but British Home Secretary Jack Straw made it plain that he was determined that none of the Kurdish refugees would set foot on British soil. If they did he would invoke EU rules and send them back where they came from.
It should also be added that the British air force uses Turkish airbases to patrol northern Iraq. These are the same airfields as the Turkish air force uses as bases to bomb the Kurds in South East Turkey and in Iraq. Over the last 15 years Turkey has destroyed 3000 villages, killed 30,000 people and created three million refugees in its war on the Kurds. All the major imperialisms value Turkey as a significant power in the region.
Ten years after the Gulf war it can be seen that the "new world order", so dear to the great democracies, has led to a worsening of chaos and barbarity all over the world, with its refugee camps, its mass graves and increasing resort to military action to advance imperialist interests.