By Natalie Zirngast
Between December 16 and December 19, while much of the world was distracted by Christmas hype, a massive 70-hour air bombardment was launched by the US and Britain against Iraq. The offensive was appropriately dubbed Operation Desert Fox, after the Nazi General Rommel who invaded the Middle East during World War II to secure the region's oilfields.
Washington boasted that the operation involved more than 30,000 US troops in the region and 10,000 more at bases throughout the world. More than 300 aircraft and 40 ships launched 650 aircraft, firing 600 pieces of ordinance including 425 cruise missiles (each costing about US$1 million). About 100 individual "targets" were hit.
Among those targets hit by "smart" weapons were the Baghdad neighbourhoods of Karada and al-Adil, Baghdad's Museum of Natural History, the Pharmacy College of Baghdad and a former ministry of defence building that is now a national monument.
A warehouse full of rice in Hussein's home town of Tikrit was destroyed, a factory that produced brake oil for cars was targeted, and a factory that makes batteries for torches and toys was hit on two separate occasions.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs was targeted by three cruise missiles, and telephone exchanges in Basra, southern Iraq, radio and television transmission facilities, the Basra oil refinery and the al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad were all attacked. Two missiles struck the Iranian city of Khorramshahr.
So-called collateral damage was inflicted on hospitals, roads, water mains, post offices, private homes and schools. The attack killed 62 Iraqi soldiers and more than 80 civilians.
UNSCOM has used the fact that it has yet to find "unaccounted for" materials as evidence that Iraq is hiding them. This claim is made despite thousands of experts spending eight years delving into every nook and cranny, installing 24-hour video cameras, making thousands of inspections and using US spy aircraft and satellites.
Almost every site that had been constantly monitored by UN weapons inspectors was hit.
The 1991 Gulf War killed more than 200,000 Iraqi civilians and conscripts. The war also destroyed the country's military, economic and public infrastructure, with sanctions making reconstruction impossible.
Sanctions prevented Iraq from selling oil, the source of 95% of its export earnings before the war, which meant it could not import medicines, chlorine for water purification, fertilisers and pesticides for agriculture or spare parts for water and sewage plants. The result has been deadly epidemics, malnutrition and a failing health system.
Economic sanctions against Iraq have been prolonged by the refusal of the US-controlled UNSCOM to certify that Iraq's supposed chemical and biological weapons, and its capacity to produce them, have been destroyed.
The US's hard-line criteria would require Iraq to dismantle its whole economy to comply. It is possible to make biological agents in a 10-litre home brew kit. Many fertilisers, pesticides and household chemicals can be used to make deadly weapons.
The lurid fear-mongering by senior US officials — amplified by the mass media — over Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's supposed possession of hidden "weapons of mass destruction" is a smokescreen behind which US imperialism can enforce its political and economic control of the oil-rich Middle East.
In contrast, the US is silent on Israel's possession of nuclear and chemical weapons. Israel is generally believed to have become a nuclear power by 1969, yet tens of billions of dollars of unrestricted US financial support has been given to the Israeli government — an indirect subsidising of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.
US policy in the Middle East is aimed at ensuring that no country — especially one that attempts to determine its own course or rally anti-imperialist opposition — is strong enough to challenge US dominance or threaten its closest allies.
Behind the smokescreens, such as opposition to weapons of mass destruction, human rights abuses and terrorism, it is primarily the goal of controlling the world's major sources of oil that determines Washington's policies toward countries in the Middle East.
The US is also concerned about controlling the oil going to other parts of the world; increasing dependence on Middle East oil supplies will make many countries vulnerable to disruptions in oil output and exports.
The US uses the political and military control of the world's oil supply to boost its position in relation to its imperialists rivals. Europe and Japan depend much more than the US on Gulf oil; 30% of European oil imports and nearly 80% of Japan's come from the Gulf.
Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Iran and Iraq account for 64% of the world's proven oil reserves. Saudi Arabia alone accounts for 27%. It is estimated that oil is the source of 25% of all US profits made in the Third World.
General Norman Schwarzkopf, who led the 1991 attack on Iraq, told the US Congress in 1990: "Middle East oil is the west's lifeblood. It fuels us today, and being ... [the bulk] of the free world's proven oil reserves, is going to fuel us when the rest of the world runs dry."
The Gulf states are today little more than protectorates of the US, while Iraq and Iran, because they refuse to become US puppets, bear the brunt of US hostility.