13 February 2003 Edition
The push for war
Former UN insider speaks out
Iraq has the second largest proven oil reserves of any nation - at least 112 billion barrels, along with 220 billion barrels of probable and possible resources, and large remaining unexplored areas
There is a mindset that accuses everyone who opposes the increasingly imminent war on Iraq of being "anti-American", a view that conveniently ignores all those US citizens who have been demonstrating against the war.
Are those US citizens opposed to war also "anti-American"? We have fallen victims, says former Assistant Secretary of the United Nations, Irishman Denis Halliday, to what he calls 'jingle-ism', which he says has become the US administration's method of expression.
Halliday, the UN official responsible for the 'Food for oil" programme - that is, the implementation of sanctions against Iraq - subsequently left his United Nations post as a protest against a system that he saw was condemning Iraqi civilians to a slow death. Halliday knows Iraq and he knows the United Nations Security Council's workings, thanks to his first hand experience. The rest he has learned on the journey from being a part of the system to becoming a critic of it.
In the last few weeks, the US and British threat against Iraq has increased, and both powers have already warned their allies that they do not need a UN mandate or even NATO support.
It seems irrelevant that the UN arms inspectors have not found anything or that the Atomic Energy Agency has again stated that Iraq has no nuclear weapons capacity, "a great relief", says Halliday, "but unfortunately for the Iraqis a sign of weakness, the kind of weakness that Mr Bush likes; you notice when it comes to North Korea, he is not anticipating war.
"North Korea has big friends, and North Korea has nuclear capacity and you do not attack someone with nuclear capacity, that seems to be the message."
However, US and British hawks are ready to find the evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, even if they have to fabricate it or find it on a student thesis. On Sunday 9 February, Observer journalist Luke Harding visited the "terrorist chemicals and poisons factory" pinpointed by US Secretary of State Colin Power as evidence of links between Iraq and Al Qaida and the production of weapons of mass destruction. "However, it emerged that the terrorist factory was nothing of the kind - more a dilapidated collection of concrete outbuildings at the foot of a grassy sloping hill," described a disappointed Harding. "Behind the barbed wire, and a courtyard strewn with broken rocket parts, are a few empty concrete houses. There is a bakery. There is no sign of chemical weapons anywhere - only the smell of paraffin and vegetable ghee used for cooking." The buildings held some of the volunteers of Ansar al Islam, a Muslim armed organisation. But Osama Bin Laden was nowhere to be seen.
A few days before it had emerged that the supposed intelligence report presented by the British administration as "damning evidence" against Iraq was largely cribbed from American postgraduate Ibrahim al-Marashi 's doctoral thesis - grammatical mistakes and all - based on evidence 12 years out of date.
"And, to cap it all, the finished document appeared to have been cobbled together not by Middle East experts, but by the secretary of Alastair Campbell, the government's chief spin doctor, and some gofers," pointed out The Observer. "There has been significant collateral damage - and at the worst possible time. A crucial vote in the UN Security Council is pending. Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, praised the document as a 'fine paper' and has been embarrassed by association."
Halliday would rather believe previous weapons inspectors' reports than the flimsy non-evidence that British and US politicians have anxiously produced. "Does Iraq have weapons of mass destruction? I don't think so. We know, they know, what the Iraqis have. After all, they sold it to them. The companies that sold that stuff are from China, from Europe - we are up to our ears ourselves - and, of course, from the US. If they have anything, according to my friend, Scott Ryder, there is no delivery capacity."
However, the planned attack against Iraq is not about weapons, but about oil. "The US is in a very vulnerable situation", explains Halliday. "They have oil consumption projections up to the year 2050 which show a massive increase. They are not investing in the production of renewable resources; they are not even cutting back on the consumption of gasoline... As we well know in Venezuela, the oil industry has collapsed, Mr Chavez is fighting the CIA tooth and nail. Mexican oil production is also in danger. The relationship with Saudi Arabia is very much endangered since the Twin Towers disaster in New York. This fragility makes Mr Bush naturally nervous."
Even Powell has reluctantly admitted the interest of the US in Iraqi oil, and announced that Iraq's oil will be "held in trust for the Iraqi people" in the event of any invasion. But on who will get paid to take the oil out of the ground and where it will go next, he has said nothing. Meanwhile, there are already rumours that the US administration has threatened France and Germany that continued opposition to war against Iraq may be punished by a denial of acess to Iraqi oil reserves.
Iraq has the second largest proven oil reserves of any nation - at least 112 billion barrels, along with 220 billion barrels of probable and possible resources, and large remaining unexplored areas. This is over a tenth of the world's entire known oil reserve. Iraq's production costs are amongst the lowest in the world, at approximately $1 per barrel, compared to $4 in the US and North Sea.
Although hampered by UN sanctions, Iraq has been busily signing contracts for the development of its oil resources. US oil companies do not hold development contracts in Iraq. Neither do British companies, with the exception of some potential small deals by Shell, while French and Russian companies have been particularly favoured. Major companies with deals in Iraq include TotalFinaElf, Russia's Lukoil, Zarubezneft and Mashinoimport, the China National Petroleum Company and Eni. Now, both France and Russia are worried that the Americans are talking to Iraqi dissident groups about scrapping existing contracts and providing preferential access for US companies.
Halliday feels that the push for oil was very well planned. Certainly, two weeks after gaining power with the support of energy corporations, President Bush asked Vice President Dick Cheney to review US energy policy. Cheney, like Bush, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and two cabinet secretaries, has a background in the oil and gas industries. By May 2001, Cheney's report concluded that "energy security must be a priority of US trade and foreign policy". The Middle East is forecast to supply between a half and two thirds of the world's oil by 2020. It will "remain vital to US interests" and "will be a primary focus of US international energy policy".
In 2001, Tony Blair also ordered a review of energy policy. The review stated that Britain "will be increasingly dependant on imported oil and gas" and that "increased reliance on imports from Europe and elsewhere underlines the need to integrate our energy concerns into our foreign policy".
Halliday says the first target was in fact Afghanistan... "and I think we have seen all this unfold. Afghanistan is in chaos right now, the Northern Alliance is running amok. The President hardly controls Kabul, but the oil pipeline is already contracted". That pipeline will take oil through Afghanistan out to the Indian Ocean.
A recent Deutsche Bank report entitled 'Baghdad Bazaar. Big Oil in Iraq', also suggested a potential conflict of interest among the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council over the commercial implications of war in Iraq. It found that a regime change in Iraq would benefit US and British oil companies, while a peaceful resolution would benefit oil companies based in Russia, France and China. That may explain some of the controversy in the ranks of the Security Council.
Halliday worries about the Irish government being guilty by association because of its weak stand while on the Security Council. Halliday says that resolution 1441 - which was passed last year and established deadlines for the arrival of inspectors to Iraq, an Iraqi arms report, and the work of the inspectors - is a clear example of bad practice.
"Do we all have the courage of stand up and not to let this happen? Will the French stand tough and not allow this new resolution to go through the United Nations? Will they veto the proposal of Britain and the US? Because right now we have 1441, that infamous resolution that, as the secretary general told me very happily, was passed unanimously, which is bizarre, because I know how it was done. It was done through bribery and corruption of the states involved: the US are still wealthy, the others always need something - the Russians want help with the IMF, the Chinese have problems with the WTO or Tibet, etc - that only the US with its incredible wealth and might can provide... Unanimity in my view means nothing."
And what is the position of the non-permanent Security Council members? Well, Bulgaria is anxious to satisfy US expectations after the Bush administration invited the Balkan country to join NATO. Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar wants to be one of the big players, so he has given his unconditional support to Bush. Chile's economy depends too much on US goodwill to even consider opposing the US.
Angola's oil contributes one sixth of America's total imports, making America its biggest investor by far - on 24 January, the US State Department announced that it would be giving Angola $4.1m for emergency refugee relief, so Angola is very unlikely to resist US pressure.
In a similar position is Cameroon, whose modest oil reserves were swollen by a ruling of the International Court of Justice in October 2002, awarding it the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula, which it had disputed with Nigeria - the US and Britain backed the ruling against Nigerian complaints.
Guinea's president, Lansana Conté, has been in power for 19 years with the support of US aid and military training and obviouslywill be returning the favour. Mexico's economy depends on its northern neighbour, the senior partner in the NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] trading block and destination for 85% of its exports.
Meanwhile, Pakistan's General Pervez Musharraf is divided between his support for the US "war on terror" and growing anti-war sentiment at home. It is believed that the country will not support the US invasion but will keep criticism muted. Syria fears that if it opposes the US it might be next in the firing line.
The five permanent members and their veto will decide whether or not the war goes ahead with a UN mandate. Britain's interest in Iraqi oil is well known and that is one of the main reasons for its government's support for a military campaign against Iraq. Russia and China are in no position to withstand US pressure. France and Germany, however, have to date refused to back the US's plans.
"The people that you meet in the streets feel it is going to happen, there is nothing they can do", explains Halliday, who visited Iraq at the end of January. "I went to visit a family - parents, grandparents, children... They feel it is coming and they are going to stay in their homes. There are air-raid shelters in Baghdad - some 30 of them I believe - they will not use them because they were attacked by the Americans the last time. People are extremely frightened, though they go on with their lives the best they can".
War feels inevitable, he says, as "Iraqi officials do not know what to do, they feel this is a no-win situation.
"If they [the inspectors] find weapons, they will be bombed. If they do not find weapons, they will be bombed... Where do they go for a reasonable solution?"