Ten years ago, and repeatedly during the 1990s, the U.S. was on the edge of war with Iraq. In his People Before Profits columns, the late Victor Perlo repeatedly examined the causes and consequences. We reprint here his column of Oct. 22, 1994, with additional material taken from Sept. 21, 1996, and Feb. 21, 1998.

The determination of U.S. imperialism to overthrow the Baathist regime in Iraq — despite the vocal opposition of France and Russia and the indifference of most other countries — is not meant to show how tough Bill Clinton is, and it certainty is not to meant to punish Saddam Hussein for his cruelty toward Communists and Kurds.

There’s a precedent for U.S. intervention in the Middle East. In 1951 revolutionary forces, headed by Prime Minister Muhammad Mussadegh, overthrew the Iranian Shah. Imperialism’s response was a blockade that prevented Iran from selling a drop of oil, creating severe economic hardships. The British, then de facto rulers and plunderers of Iran, lacked the strength to defeat the revolution and ceded the job to Washington. The CIA organized a coup that ousted Mussadegh and put a son of a former Shah on the throne.

The payoff: a redivision of Iran’s oil. Formerly British Petroleum held it all but, after the coup, a cartel of five U.S. companies got a 35 percent cut, the French got a small part, Royal Dutch-Shell got a piece and British Petroleum was left with 40 percent.

Meanwhile, American companies, their position strengthened by World War II, grabbed 100 percent of Saudi Arabian oil reserves, the largest in the area. And the British and French were forced to yield a 23.75 percent share of Iraqi oil to Exxon and Mobil.

The whole setup was disrupted when revolutionary tides swept the Middle East. In the early 1970s, the oil producing countries formed the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to confront the imperialist gang up and demanded — and got — higher royalties from the foreign companies that owned the oil fields.

The then left-led governments in Iraq and Libya led in winning concessions from the “Seven Sisters” and, in 1972, pioneered in nationalizing their oil fields. Soon Iran and even Saudi Arabia’s reactionary monarchy followed suit. While Aramco (Exxon, Texaco, Chevron and Mobil) retained a lucrative contract to operate the Saudi Arabian fields, the plunder has never been as free or as immense as before.

U.S. imperialism has never forgiven those who provided the leading edge of oil nationalization. That explains the hue and cry about Libyan terrorists and the ruthless bombing of Tripoli. It explains the destruction wreaked by “Desert Storm,” the years-long crippling embargo against Iraq and the restraints on the sovereignty of Iraq. It explains Secretary of State Christopher’s threat, and I paraphrase it closely, that this time “we will not stop until we get Saddam Hussein and destroy Iraq.”

Formerly the Soviet Union supported the global anticolonialist movement and put brakes on imperialist aggression. Now that that is ended, the capitalist leaders, with their “New World Order,” have seized the opportunity to extend their far-reaching program of privatization to the world’s oil fields. Already Chevron, Exxon, and Mobil are nibbling at the oil and natural gas reserves of Siberia and Kazakhstan.

If carried out, the planned devastation of Iraq will prevent Russia from collecting the $7 billion owed it by Iraq, which obviously will be unable to pay any debts. This fits in just dandy with the still very vital U.S. anti-Russian policy, as does the NATO expansion.

An occupied Iraq, with a puppet government, would be forced to privatize its oil fields — with U.S. companies claiming the conqueror’s major share. That’s why France prefers a peaceful settlement, which would restore the former profitable relationship enjoyed by French oil companies with the nationalized Iraqi oil company.

A war against Iraq would signal a new stage not only in U.S, imperialist aggression, but also, inevitably, a new stage in the drive against the American workers. We should support the position of the Iraqi Communist Party, which gives priority to ending the economic blockade and aerial occupation of Iraq by U.S. imperialism and, after that, the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship by the Iraqi people.

If Iraq is invaded, the rivers of blood and the ruins of bombed-out buildings will not wipe out the stench of oil that pollutes the atmosphere at the White House.

Volume II of “People vs. Profits,” selected columns of Victor Perlo, including this article, will be published next year.

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