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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 66/No.36September 30, 2002


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lead article
U.S., British war planes
target Iraqi air defenses
Tens of thousands of imperialist troops
are deployed in Gulf
U.S. soldiers on military maneuvers in Mideast. Washington is building up its military forces in the region as it marches toward war for greater control of vast oil reserves.

U.S. and British warplanes have been stepping up their attacks on Iraq, targeting that country’s air defenses. The Pentagon has also put in place equipment allowing it to rapidly fly two armored divisions--around 34,000 troops--into the Arab-Persian Gulf region. Tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers are already deployed on U.S. bases and warships that ring the Arabian Peninsula.

As Washington pressed its march toward an invasion of Iraq, the Saudi government, in a switch from its previous stance, indicated it would allow U.S. forces to use its territory for the planned assault, if done under the cover of United Nations endorsement.

Over the past weeks, Washington has accelerated the buildup of its forces for launching a full-scale air and ground assault on Iraq. Among the signs of this preparation are:

  • An increase in the number of U.S.-British raids into Iraqi airspace. Invading aircraft carried out nine missile and bomb attacks against Iraqi targets in August. Some 100 U.S. and British war planes bombed air defenses in western Iraq September 5. "There’s been a very obvious pickup in the number of strikes," said Patrick Garrett, a military analyst in Washington quoted by The Guardian of London.
    On September 16, U.S. secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld said U.S. pilots had already begun expanding their targets in Iraq, from antiaircraft weapons and radar to air command and communications bases. He said he had ordered this shift more than a month ago.
    "This is something you do to prepare the battlefield," said former Gulf naval commander Rear Admiral Stephen Baker. "The more you can chip away at their defenses, the less you have to do later."
    The U.S. Central Command is provisionally moving its headquarters, together with 600 of its command staff, from Tampa, Florida, to Qatar. They will join Gen. Thomas Franks, head of the Central Command, at the al-Udeid air base in November. While saying the purpose of the move is for the officers to participate in the biennial "Internal Look" military maneuvers, U.S. officials said the move could be permanent.
    In November, generals of the U.S. Third Army will set up their headquarters in Kuwait, aiming to make it the hub of the expected U.S. ground operations in Iraq.

  • Some 57,000 U.S. troops are estimated to be in the region--almost three times the average number over recent years.
    Well over 10,000 troops are stationed on ships of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which patrols the Gulf with an aircraft carrier, cruisers, destroyers, an attack submarine, and other warships.
  • Some 440 U.S. warplanes are already in the Gulf. The Pentagon has asked London for authorization to station up to six B-2 Stealth bombers on Diego Garcia, an atoll in the Indian Ocean that serves as a British military base. The planes are currently based at the Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, 6,800 miles from their targets in the Gulf. Basing the planes on the British colonial outpost will eliminate the need for midair refueling and enable them to fly more combat missions.
    In light of the Saudi regime’s earlier stance that U.S. and British troops could not use its territory to launch an assault on Iraq, U.S. forces have been rapidly expanding their facilities in Qatar. Some 2,000 U.S. military personnel are upgrading the al-Udeid base in that country, installing electronic infrastructure to be able to launch and coordinate large-scale air raids. The base is expected to house 10,000 troops on its completion at the end of the year.
    The government of Qatar, a tiny oil-rich kingdom, has a two-thirds share in the North Dome gasfield under the Gulf seabed, the world’s largest known gas reserve, developed in conjunction with ExxonMobil. The other third lies in Iranian territorial waters. Qatar’s population is made up of 140,000 citizens and 630,000 immigrants, who are the backbone of the country’s labor force.
Saudi gov’t opens territory to U.S. forces
The Bush administration has taken the U.S. war campaign to the United Nations. In a September 12 speech, Bush told the UN General Assembly it had to "show some backbone" in supporting Washington’s aggressive course toward Iraq. He repeated U.S. accusations that the Iraqi government has chemical and biological weapons and is developing nuclear arms.

Responding to governments that have argued that Washington should first demand that Baghdad allow UN-sponsored "weapons inspectors" back into Iraq, U.S. officials began to press for a new UN Security Council resolution warning Iraq to agree to a number of imperialist-backed demands or face a military assault: to disarm, permit "inspectors" to verify its disarmament, free imperialist-backed prisoners, and respect "human rights" as defined by the U.S. government.

After Bush’s UN speech, the Saudi regime indicated it would permit U.S. forces to use its Prince Sultan base and other military facilities there in a UN-backed assault on Iraq.

"Everybody is obliged to follow through" on Bush’s call for a Security Council ultimatum to be placed on Baghdad, said Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal September 14. The Saudi rulers are aware of the shaky position they are in, given the massive deployment of U.S. troops already surrounding the Arabian Peninsula, which stands as a warning to all the governments in the region.

Other governments that had previously taken a public distance from the U.S. war moves declared support for Bush’s demand for Security Council-imposed inspections of Iraq’s alleged weapons production facilities. "We want Iraq to implement the Security Council resolutions, which will end the current crisis," said Foreign Minister Mahmud Hammud of Lebanon.

In calling for UN endorsement of U.S. policy, Bush also made it clear that Washington will proceed with its preparations to attack. "The purposes of the United States should not be doubted," he said. "The Security Council resolutions will be enforced, the just demands of peace and security will be met, or action will be unavoidable."  
82nd Airborne as an ‘inspection team’
U.S. officials termed Baghdad’s September 16 announcement that it would permit "unfettered" inspections by UN officials a "tactical step [taken] in hopes of avoiding strong UN Security Council action." Bush repeated his September 12 message, saying that "United Nations Security Council must act."

"The 82nd Airborne is the best inspections regime," editorialized the Wall Street Journal September 18.

Writing in the British weekly The Spectator, columnist Bruce Anderson observed that White House officials are "involving" the UN "on the assumption that it will be helpful...without allowing it a right of veto. There will be one final, though wholly insincere, attempt to impose arms inspections."

The debate in the big-business media on how to conduct a war reflects the scope of the coming assault and the war moves already under way. Anderson reported favorably on one of the invasion plans being openly debated. The invasion, he said, could be carried out without the kind of armor and hundreds of thousands of troops that were deployed in the 1990–91 Gulf War. "The Americans--and the British--would advance in light vehicles, using air power, missiles and attack helicopters to destroy Iraq tanks and troop concentrations," he wrote.

U.S. generals would require only 20 days to put a fighting force of 50,000 troops into action, said John Pike, the head of GlobalSecurity.org, a military thinktank in Washington. A force of 200,000 could be assembled in two months, he stated.

The confidence of such pro-Washington commentators is based partly on the substantial weakening of Iraq’s military forces in the last decade. Blocked by UN sanctions from purchasing parts or new weapons on the open market, the government has been unable to stop the deterioration of a military machine that suffered huge losses during the 1990–91 war.

Iraq’s government has reinforced the defenses of Baghdad and other cities with troops and antiaircraft weapons. Forces in Baghdad include the 80,000 members of the Republican Guard, a relatively well-trained and -equipped section of the army.  
‘Who gets the oil?’
Behind the drive to war in the Mideast is the region’s vast oil resources. "When it’s over, who gets the oil?" asked the headline of an opinion column by Daniel Morgan and David Ottaway published in the September 15 Washington Post. "A U.S.-led ouster of President Saddam Hussein could open a bonanza for American oil companies long banished from Iraq, scuttling oil deals between Baghdad and Russia, France and other countries and reshuffling world petroleum markets," they wrote.

"All five permanent members of the Security Council--the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China--have international oil companies with major stakes in a change of leadership in Baghdad."

Morgan and Ottaway quoted James Woolsey, a former CIA director. If France and Russia "throw in their lot with Saddam," he warned, "it will be difficult to the point of impossible to persuade the new Iraqi government to work with them."

Paris has left little doubt that it will join the approaching war. Anti-American statements by some French officials have reflected not opposition to a new imperialist war in the Mideast, but a nationalist stance that is being used to try to rally support at home for French imperialism’s foreign policy. "On the one side there are the Americans and the British. On the other side are the Russians and the Chinese. We have to choose our camp," an unnamed senior French official told the New York Times. "Ultimately, we will want to re-engage in Iraq. We built a strategic relationship there. We have a market. We want the oil and we want to be in the game of rebuilding the country. If there were a new regime and we have not been with the Americans, where will we be?"
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