By Sean Malloy
The United States is threatening new bombing raids and possibly other military action against Iraq. The pretext is the alleged Iraqi refusal to destroy factories capable of producing missiles, but the real stakes have more to do with the US presidential elections and plans to seize control of Iraqi oilfields.
Iraq wants the factories to be converted to civilian production rather than destroyed. Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz explained that some of the facilities are already used for non-military purposes, such as producing rubber separators for its oil industry.
But the US and the UN Security Council (they are almost the same thing) rejected Aziz's approach and gave Iraq a deadline of March 26 to provide plans of the destruction of the buildings and equipment.
Rear Admiral Raynor Taylor, commander of US Naval Forces Central Command, has said that a 25-ship fleet in the Persian Gulf stands ready for any "contingency action" against Iraq.
In February the Bush administration was very open about stepping up its campaign to remove Saddam Hussein. US$30 million has been allocated to the program to replace him with another, more malleable, military dictator.
The military threats will also pressure Iraq to accept serious losses of territory being quietly planned by Washington and the UN. The UN commission formed to demarcate the boundary between Iraq and Kuwait is proposing to put most of the naval and commercial ports of Umm Qasr under Kuwaiti control. The redrawing of borders may also include dividing Iraq's Rumaila oilfield between Iraq and Kuwait. Kuwaiti encroachments on the oilfield were a cause of friction between the two countries for several years before the August 1990 Iraqi invasion.
Umm Qasr is currently Iraq's only operating seaport, the port of Basra having been blocked by sunken vessels since the early stages of the Iran-Iraq war. Iraq has spent billions of dollars upgrading the ports of Umm Qasr: building factories and petrochemical plants and dredging channels to enable large tankers to dock.
The Rumaila oilfield has an estimated remaining production of 11 billion barrels of crude oil. A division of the oilfield that gives Kuwait access to the oil would move the border 80 kilometres into Iraqi territory.
If these plans are pushed through, they will lay the basis for future conflicts. Higher payments for imports and exports through other countries' ports or by air and the loss of revenue from the Rumaila oilfield will result in further impoverishment of the Iraqi people.
The dependence of Kuwait on the US means that the US will have access to the resources and facilities of Umm Qasr and the Rumaila oilfield if they are annexed by Kuwait.
Increasing the pressure on Iraq and talking up the possibility of further military intervention also assists George Bush in his bid for a second term as US president.
Bush's approval rating is currently 40%, according to a New York Times/CBS poll. Last year, after the Gulf War, it was 80%.
Bush is attempting to rekindle his image as Gulf War victor by focussing media attention back onto the Gulf region.
Ironically, Bush's support for Saddam Hussein up until 1990 has been documented in the US Congress by Democrat representative Henry Gonzalez, the chair of the House Banking committee.
Gonzalez outlined how Bush used his position to influence the Agriculture Department's Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) and the Export-Import Bank (Eximbank) to provide Iraq with credit, loans and insurance.
Between 1983 and 1990 the CCC provided Iraq with US$5 billion in credit. Between 1984-1986 and 1987-1990 the Eximbank insured US$297 million of exports to Iraq.