Nov 18: Latest Updates from Iraq
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UN Backed to Iraq, US Want to War with Iraq

1) Rumsfeld: US Waits on Iraqi Misdeeds (Assoicated Press)
2) UN Inspectors Leave for Iraq (Assoicated Press)
3) Saddam: Iraq Seeks to Avoid War (Assoicated Press)
4) Iraq Claims 7 Killed in Airstrike (Assoicated Press)
5) UN Resolution 1441- An Analysis (ZNet, USA)
6) Oil a Collateral Objective of Impending War (Inter Press Service)

1) Rumsfeld: US Waits on Iraqi Misdeeds
.c The Associated Press

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) - The United States is holding back on going to the U.N. Security Council to debate possible military action against Iraq, despite the Iraqis' firing at American and British warplanes, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld says.

Iraq's anti-aircraft attacks in no-fly zones patrolled by coalition aircraft is ``unacceptable'' and a violation of the latest Security Council resolution on Iraq, Rumsfeld said Sunday.

But he said the United States is waiting for a pattern of Iraqi misdeeds to emerge before going to the Security Council.

``It seems to me that what will happen is a pattern of behavior will evolve and then people will make judgments with respect to it,'' Rumsfeld told reporters flying with him to a summit of Western Hemisphere defense ministers here.

Ahead of the gathering, which begins Tuesday, Rumsfeld planned to meet with officials from Chile, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina to discuss hemispheric security issues.

Since Saddam Hussein grudgingly accepted the latest Security Council resolution Wednesday, Iraq has twice fired on coalition planes enforcing no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq, U.S. officials said.

The latest attack came Sunday, when Iraqi anti-aircraft gunners near Mosul in the northern no-fly zone fired at coalition planes, which responded with airstrikes on Iraqi military positions.

The first team of U.N. weapons inspectors is to arrive in Baghdad Monday to begin preparations for ridding Iraq of its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs and the long-range missiles and remote-controlled airplanes to deliver them.

President Bush has threatened to lead ``a coalition of the willing'' to disarm Iraq through military force if Saddam does not comply with the latest U.N. demands.

Rumsfeld repeated warnings to Iraq's military commanders not to obey any orders by Saddam to use chemical or biological weapons if Iraq is invaded.

``Let there be no doubt anyone who is involved in the use of weapons of mass destruction will be particularly held accountable in the event it becomes necessary and the president and the U.N. make the decision to use force in Iraq,'' the defense secretary said.

He added that the United States understands the bulk of Iraq's regular military forces are conscripts who are ``hostages to the small ruling clique.'' Those soldiers should lay down their arms if war erupts, he said.

``It is certainly correct that people who stay in their barracks and people who do not engage in the use of weapons of mass destruction or attack coalition forces will not have problems,'' Rumsfeld said.

On another topic, he said he had not heard of any evidence suggesting that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden had returned to his ancestral homeland of Yemen, where U.S. anti-terrorism operations in recent weeks killed a top leader of the terrorist group. He also declined to comment on the recent capture of a reported top al-Qaida leader.

The United States is concerned about reports of al-Qaida activity in remote regions of South America and has contacted governments in the area to discuss the problem, Rumsfeld said.

Regional cooperation to fight terrorism, drug trafficking and other threats will be a main theme of Rumsfeld's appearance at the defense summit.

He plans to speak at the conference's opening session before leaving for a NATO meeting in Prague later this week.

Rumsfeld said he would propose greater cooperation among countries of the region in maritime operations and in worldwide peacekeeping efforts.

``If one thinks of the problems in the hemisphere of smuggling and narcotrafficking and hostage-taking and the like, the closer we are able to cooperate from the standpoint of our respective navies, the greater the security environment,'' he said.

The United States is proposing a program to help interested countries in the region improve their naval equipment and information, according to a Pentagon fact sheet. U.S. contributions could include help with communications and logistics, as well as sharing information and helping make sure various countries' systems can work together.

11/18/02 01:33 EST

2) UN Inspectors Leave for Iraq
.c The Associated Press

LARNACA, Cyprus (AP) - U.N. inspectors took off for Iraq on Monday to resume the search for alleged weapons of mass destruction in a mission that could determine whether the Gulf is plunged into a war.

Moments before their plane took off from Larnaca, Cyprus, Ewen Buchanan, the chief spokesman for the inspection team, declared ``a new chapter of inspection'' was beginning.

Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, who oversees the International Atomic Energy Agency, made no comment but waved and smiled to reporters at the airport in Cyprus, where their team assembled from around the world before heading to Baghdad.

Buchanan said the equipment loaded Monday onto an L-100 cargo plane with a black ``U.N.'' painted on its side included vacuum cleaners ``to clear up four years of dust.'' Inspectors were last in Iraq in 1998.

President Bush has warned Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that failure to cooperate with the inspectors will bring on an American attack. Saddam faces a three-week deadline to reveal his weapons of mass destruction or provide convincing evidence he no longer has any.

In Iraq Monday, Al-Thawra, the mouthpiece of Saddam's ruling Baath Party, said in a front-page editorial that the previous U.N. inspection regime had been ``an American organization to spy on Iraq,'' and that it hoped the new team would avoid that trap.

The last inspectors left Baghdad in December 1998 amid Iraqi allegations that some were spying for the United States and countercharges that Iraq was not cooperating with the teams. Their departure was followed by four days of punishing U.S. and British airstrikes on Iraq.

Another leading Iraqi newspaper, Babil, said in an editorial titled ``our people are up to the responsibility'' that Iraq wants the inspectors' mission to ``prove to the Americans ... that our country is free of weapons of mass destruction,'' said Babil, which is owned by the Iraqi president's son, Odai.

``Those unjust Americans, as well as others, should leave the Security Council alone and end the unjust siege imposed on us,'' Babil said.

Iraq has been under strict economic sanctions since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The sanctions can be lifted when weapons inspectors say Iraq is clear of weapons of mass destruction.

Blix and ElBaradei had flown to Cyprus en route to Baghdad from Vienna, Austria on Sunday, joining about two dozen other members of the advance team assembling here to prepare for resuming inspections.

``The question of war and peace remains first of all in the hands of Iraq, the Security Council and the members of the Security Council,'' Blix said Sunday.

Blix, who will lead the overall mission, said his team was prepared to meet the challenge of ensuring Iraqi compliance. But he said he hoped Iraq would not try to hide anything.

The United States is waiting to see Iraq's response to inspections before going to the Security Council for debate of military action, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Sunday.

``It seems to me that what will happen is a pattern of behavior will evolve and then people will make judgments with respect to it,'' Rumsfeld told reporters flying with him to a defense ministers' summit in Santiago, Chile.

Sounding a tough line, ElBaradei said Sunday there was agreement on the need for ``intrusive verifications - that means we would go everywhere, we will use every means at our disposal to make sure that Iraq does not have weapons of mass destruction.''

He also said Iraqis with key information would be taken out of the country for interviews for their own safety if necessary but acknowledged, ``if people do not want to talk, we obviously will not be able to force them to talk.''

Blix favors cooperation instead of confrontation with the Iraqis, and the differences in approach could create tension between the inspectors and the Bush administration, U.N. officials said Sunday on condition of anonymity.

Although Blix has urged the United States to provide more intelligence support for his mission, he also warned over the weekend of the pitfalls of such cooperation, saying in Paris that the previous inspection mission failed in part because of its close association with government intelligence agencies and Western states.

Blix and ElBaradei warned Sunday they would not tolerate attempts to coerce their staff into surreptitiously sharing information with governments.

Blix has said that preliminary inspections likely will resume Nov. 27, with full-scale checks beginning after Iraq files a declaration of its banned weapons programs by a Dec. 8 deadline.

Blix then has 60 days to report back to the U.N. Security Council with his findings.

While denying wrongdoing, Saddam agreed Wednesday to allow U.N. weapons inspectors to return to search for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons after the Security Council approved a toughly worded resolution that gives Iraq ``a final opportunity'' to eliminate such arms and the long-range missiles to deliver them. It gives inspectors the right to go anywhere at anytime and warns Iraq it will face ``serious consequences'' if it fails to cooperate.

The advance team will reopen the office used by the previous inspections regime and set up secure phone lines and transportation.

Meanwhile, the official Iraqi News Agency quoted an unidentified military spokesman as saying air defense units opened fire late Saturday and Sunday on ``hostile warplanes'' forcing them to leave Iraqi air space.

Such actions are considered by U.S. officials a violation of the new Security Council resolution.

Buchanan, the U.N. inspectors' spokesman, said Monday he did not think the no-fly zone activity would affect the inspection mission.

11/18/02 04:13 EST

3) Saddam: Iraq Seeks to Avoid War
.c The Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - President Saddam Hussein said Saturday he had no choice but to accept a tough, new U.N. weapons inspection resolution because the United States and Israel had shown their ``claws and teeth'' and declared unilateral war on the Iraqi people.

In an open letter to Iraq's parliament, Saddam said he hoped the weapons inspectors would help the U.N. Security Council ``to see the truth as it really is about Iraq being completely free of weapons of mass destruction.''

The advance team of inspectors is expected in Baghdad on Monday after a four-year absence. Under a new resolution approved last week, the inspectors are empowered to go anywhere and interview anyone to determine if Iraq still has banned weapons. Failure to cooperate fully will probably bring a U.S.-led attack.

Saddam told Parliament in the letter he accepted the resolution ``because your enemy, the alliance between Zionism and the American administration has ... after showing its claws and teeth, decided to wage war unilaterally against our people.''

``If the unjust persist in their wrongdoing, then you know that the potentials and obligations that we carry from our revolution to withstand all injustice will ensure their defeat,'' he added.

The Revolutionary Command Council, the top decision-making body headed by Saddam, decided on Wednesday to accept the resolution. The rubber-stamp parliament had earlier recommended rejecting it but left the final decision to the Iraqi leader.

Addressing the legislators as ``esteemed brothers and comrades,'' Saddam said ``your enemy has returned, once again, to camouflaging its schemes under the cover of the Security Council, which has ... infringed upon all that may represent the conscience of international unanimity.''

Saddam's comments came shortly before the Iraqi military announced that a U.S.-British airstrike in southern Iraq on Friday killed seven civilians and wounded four.

The unidentified military spokesman told the official Iraqi News Agency that warplanes bombed areas in Najaf province, 93 miles south of Baghdad on Friday.

The report didn't provide further details. The U.S. military did not comment immediately and it was impossible to independently verify the claim.

On Friday, a Pentagon statement said the bombing was in response to Iraq's firing surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft guns at American and British warplanes patrolling a no-fly zone.

The U.N. team will begin preliminary inspections of suspected weapons sites on Nov. 27, according to chief inspector Hans Blix. He then has 60 days to report back to the council with his findings.

``We hope and expect to have full Iraqi cooperation,'' Blix said Saturday in Paris. ``A denial of access or a delayed access ... this would be a serious thing.''

Under the resolution, Iraq must declare all weapons programs to the United Nations by Dec. 8. The Iraqi declaration will then be compared with previous data gathered by inspectors.

Blix said access to suspected sites would be key to the mission's success, adding that Iraq would be held accountable for blocking inspectors' work.

The United States believes Iraq has been illegally rearming for several years. Inspectors, out of Iraq since December 1998, have not been able to verify that claim.

In Baghdad, a government newspaper on Saturday urged the arms experts to resist U.S. pressure and not create pretexts that could open the way for an attack on Iraq.

``The inspectors should not mix up the cards, creating a crisis and fabricating pretexts that aim to harm the people of Iraq,'' the daily Al-Jumhuriya said in a front-page editorial.

``They should adopt an honest, objective and professional attitude to their work and not to bend to U.S. pressure,'' it said.

In Cairo, Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, also urged the inspectors to carry out their mission in ``a neutral ... and honest way which will endorse their credibility.'' Arab countries have urged Iraq to cooperate with inspections, and warned that a U.S.-Iraq war could create instability throughout the volatile region.

In Syria, Masoud Barzani, leader of one of the two anti-Saddam Kurdish parties in control of northern Iraq, said Saturday that Iraq's acceptance of the U.N. resolution would only delay a U.S. attack.

Meanwhile, a London newspaper reported Saturday that Libya agreed to give Saddam's family and leading members of his regime asylum in Libya if Iraq goes to war with the United States, at a $3.5 billion price tag.

The Times said Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi would not give refuge to Saddam or for his eldest son Odai. But it said Saddam's extended family and 12 senior officials would get sanctuary.

Syria had agreed to provide an overland escape route, allowing the Iraqis to fly on to Libya, the paper said.

Libyan Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassouna al-Shawish denied the report, the official Libyan news agency JANA said.

11/16/02 22:29 EST

4) Iraq Claims 7 Killed in Airstrike
.c The Associated Press

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - A U.S.-British airstrike in southern Iraq killed seven civilians and wounded four, the Iraqi military said Saturday.

An unidentified military spokesman told the official Iraqi News Agency that warplanes bombed areas in Najaf province,93 miles south of Baghdad on Friday.

The report didn't provide further details. The U.S. military did not comment immediately and it was impossible to independently verify the claim.

U.S. and British warplanes monitoring no-fly zones over southern and northern Iraq regularly attack Iraqi military facilities in what they say is response to hostile Iraqi fire.

The zones were established shortly after the 1991 Gulf War to protect Kurdish and Shiite Muslim groups. Iraq, which considers the zones violations of its sovereignty, frequently tries to shoot down allied planes.

On Friday, a Pentagon statement said the bombing was in response to Iraq's firing surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft guns at American and British warplanes patrolling a no-fly zone.

It was the first coalition strike on Iraq since President Saddam Hussein's government accepted the Security Council resolution Wednesday that demanded he disarm and allow inspectors to search for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Under the resolution, a material breach must be reported to the Security Council for new debate and could be used as possible justification for U.S.-led military action to remove Saddam's government.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in Washington Friday the government considers the firing a material breach, but could not say whether or when American officials would raise the issue with the United Nations.

State Department spokesman Frederick Jones said the United States had the option of reporting the Iraqi firing to the Security Council but had not decided whether to do so.

11/16/02 14:12 EST

5) Resolution 1441
by Justin Podur
ZNet Commentary

With the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1441, the US has
removed another obstacle in its path to an escalated war against Iraq.

Those countries who had been holdouts in the Security Council claim that
they went along because their fears were allayed. Syria's UN ambassador
said that they were assured that 'this resolution would not be used as a
pretext to strike Iraq'. The Russian ambassador said 'this resolution
deflects the direct threat of war [it] does not contain any provision
about the automatic use of force.' France's ambassador showed less
interest in the resolution's war-preventing properties: 'The rules of the
game set by the Security Council are clear and demanding. If Iraq wishes
to avoid confrontation, it must understand that the opportunity it has
been given is the last.'

The resolution itself is full of timelines and deadlines for Iraq:

-Iraq has until November 15 to pledge that it will comply;
-Iraq has until December 8 to declare all aspects of its weapons programs
to the security council;
-Inspectors have until December 23 to resume their work, with an advance
team in Iraq by November 18
-Inspectors are to report to the security council no later than 60 days
after their work-either January 17 or February 21.

This means that the last two hurdles in the US's path are 1) that
inspectors have to actually find something, even if that something is just
Iraqi 'interference', 'obstruction', 'false statements', or 'omissions'
and 2) a second meeting of the security council after the inspectors

These hurdles will not be difficult to clear. It's unlikely that Iraq has
any weapons of mass destruction, but it is highly likely that inspectors
could find evidence of 'interference' or 'omission' from the Iraqi regime,
if they were looking for such evidence. And the resolution's 'early test'
is designed to produce exactly such evidence: 'United Nations weapons
inspectors plan to force an early test of Saddam Hussein's intentions by
demanding a comprehensive list of weapons sites and checking whether it
matches a list of more than 100 priority sites derived from the findings
of previous weapons inspections and the latest intelligence culled from
defectors and other sources by American and other intelligence experts.'
(NYT, Nov 10, 2002). As for the outcome the US is looking for, that, too,
is no secret: 'Many administration officials say they would far prefer a
bold rebuff by Mr. Hussein, rather than have him seem to cooperate but
actually try to run out the clock with evasions and confusing tactics in
the hope that support for war will subside.'

It has been clear from the moment the focus of attention in the War on
Terror shifted from Osama bin Laden to Saddam Hussein that inspections for
weapons of mass destruction, in this context and at this time, had only
one purpose: to provide a pretext for the US to attack Iraq. The idea of
inspecting countries for weapons of mass destruction and disarming them is
of course a good one, and no one could oppose such inspections on
principle. But the timing of these inspections, the fact that the US
would 'far prefer a bold rebuff by Mr. Hussein' to cooperation, shows what
the inspections are really about. Serious approaches to disarmament of
countries with weapons of mass destruction would have to include many more
countries than just Iraq, and should probably start with the country most
heavily armed with such weapons: the United States. Such an approach is
nowhere near the US, or the UN, agenda. The purpose of these inspections
is to find a reason to attack Iraq.

After the inspectors do their job of finding 'omission' or 'interference',
the next step, obtaining authorization from the Security Council for the
use of force, will not be any more difficult than obtaining resolution
1441 was: a matter of bribing, promising, and threatening the members into
line. This time around France's cooperation was probably bought with
assurances that France wouldn't lose out when Iraq's oil concessions are
handed out after the war, Russia with promises of diplomatic support for
its own war on terror against the Chechens. To learn how the US wins the
consent of smaller, weaker countries than France or Russia, a look at
preparations for the 1990/91 wars is instructive. Back then, the US
offered carrots:

'Egypt was the most indebted country in Africa. Baker bribed President
Mubarak with $14bn in "debt forgiveness" and all opposition to the attack
on Iraq faded away. Syria's bribe was different; Washington gave President
Hafez al-Assad the green light to wipe out all opposition to Syria's rule
in Lebanon. To help him achieve this, a billion dollars' worth of arms was
made available through a variety of back doors, mostly Gulf states.'

And sticks:

'Minutes after Yemen voted against the resolution to attack Iraq, a senior
American diplomat told the Yemeni ambassador: "That was the most expensive
'no' vote you ever cast." Within three days, a US aid programme of $70m to
one of the world's poorest countries was stopped. Yemen suddenly had
problems with the World Bank and the IMF; and 800,000 Yemeni workers were
expelled from Saudi Arabia.' (see John Pilger, 'Diplomacy?')

The activities of the US military, meanwhile, suggest that the US
interprets resolution 1441 as a green light to go to war.

The US is proceeding to build up its attack forces in the most deliberate
and methodical way. There are the 10,000 troops in Afghanistan; 16,000 on
carriers in the Gulf area; 11,000 in Kuwait; 5,000 in Saudi Arabia; 4,500
in Bahrain; 4,000 in Qatar; 2,500 in Uzbekistan, and smaller numbers
elsewhere. 63,000 troops at last count, and building. These troops,
meanwhile, pose a 'dilemma' for the US:

"On the one hand, they must avoid rushing too many invasion forces to the
Persian Gulf region, where troops could end up sitting and waiting while
inspections play out, risking losses in efficiency and morale and
straining relations with Arab host countries. On the other hand, they must
ensure that enough forces are in place to keep the pressure on the Iraqi
government and to respond rapidly should inspections fail or should Iraqi
President Saddam Hussein provoke a conflict." (Washington Post, November
9, 2002).

In other words, the US is worried that its soldiers might get bored
sitting around waiting for the green light to destroy a helpless country.
But, a senior Army officer sees a silver lining to the resolution: "This
delay might help to get some equipment in place".

The plan is to go from 63,000 to 250,000 troops before the war starts.
The New York Times described the war plan in loving detail. "Under the
plan, the air campaign would be less than the 43 days of the first gulf
war, and probably under a month, military officials said. In the opening
hours of the air campaign, Navy and Air Force jets, including B-2 bombers
carrying 16 one-ton satellite-guided bombs and B-1 bombers carrying 24 of
the same weapons, would attack a range of targets from military
headquarters to air defenses." (NYT, Nov 9, 2002).

The NYT also assured its readers that any civilians killed in the war
would be blamed on Iraq, with the following amazing line: 'Mr. Bush hinted
at another concern, that the Iraqi government would purposefully sacrifice
its population to stain an American military victory with civilian blood.'
The US is afraid of Iraqi 'volunteers [who] would hope to slow the
American-led offensive by acting as suicide bombers or fighting in
neighborhood defense squads, but their true strategic goal would be to
generate anti-American feelings in the region.'

Notice that it isn't the civilian blood itself that is of concern, but
that it might be used to 'stain an American military victory'. Notice too
that there is no fear of Iraq's military might, only fear that the US war
might be such a massacre that it will lead to 'anti-American feelings in
the region.'

Civilian blood is of no consequence to those who are planning this war and
ruling this world. The million Iraqis who have died so far in the Gulf
War that started in 1990 and never really ended are proof of their
depravity. The unanimous vote for Resolution 1441 is proof of their
power. The only hope for stopping the war resides in those for whom
civilian blood matters for reasons more than it being a 'stain on American
military victory'.

Resolution 1441 shows that the US has the diplomatic support it needs to
go to war. But diplomatic support from governments and elites will not be
enough if there is enough resistance and protest from ordinary people. In
September 2002, George W Bush threatened the United Nations with
'irrelevance' if it didn't support his war. The reverse is true: the UN
demonstrates its irrelevance when it takes decisions that the people of
the world are against. Whatever the UN Security Council does, the people
of the world are not irrelevant.

People who cannot be persuaded to trade human lives for oil concessions,
who won't accept a slaughter of civilians simply because the elites of the
states who vote in the United Nations were bribed and threatened into
signing off on the war, can mobilize to stop the war. If US war plans
have been slowed at all, it has been because of them-the tens of thousands
mobilizing in the US, the hundreds of thousands mobilizing in Europe and
all over the world.

6) Oil a Collateral Objective of Impending War
Humberto Márquez

Petroleum may not be the central aim of a U.S.-led attack against Iraq, but war would shift control over the world's energy markets and could undermine the power of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), note oil experts.

CARACAS, Nov 12 (IPS) - Petroleum may not be the central aim of a U.S.-led attack against Iraq, but war would shift control over the world's energy markets and could undermine the power of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), note oil experts.

Iraq, one of the 11 members of OPEC, holds an estimated 11 percent of the planet's oil reserves.

What the United States is seeking, "before putting a hand on Iraqi oil, is to advance its war against terrorism and to ensure the Middle East as a free petroleum supply zone," Alberto Quirós, former president of the Maraven company, a branch of the state-run Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), told IPS. Venezuela is the sole Latin American member of OPEC.

The threat of war heightened Tuesday when the Iraqi parliament voted unanimously to recommend rejection of the resolution adopted Friday by the United Nations Security Council.

President Saddam Hussein has the final word on the matter, and he is head of Baghdad's maximum decision-making body, the "Revolutionary Command Council", which was expected to meet late Tuesday or early Wednesday to discuss a response to the UN resolution.

The UN Security Council demands Iraq's full acceptance of its terms within seven days (as of last Friday) and a "precise and complete" statement of its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missile stockpile within a month.

According to the resolution, the UN weapons inspectors will renew their efforts "on the ground" in Iraq within 45 days, and will have another 60 days to report back to the international forum.

Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tarik Aziz, charges that the ultimate aim of Washington's policy in the Arabian Gulf is "to take over Iraqi oil."

But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer maintains that "the only interest the United States has in the region is furthering the cause of peace and stability."

In a conversation with IPS, Mahzar Al-Shereidah, a Venezuela-based oil industry analyst, says he believes "the main confrontation of the United States is not with Iraq. That is just a pretext, or an opportunity. The dispute is with the European Union, Japan, Russia and China, so that they accept Washington's hegemonic role."

"In the war in Afghanistan, the United States became a major actor in Central Asia, with military bases in countries that have ports on the Caspian Sea. It is deploying its power in the Gulf through the 'petro-monarchies'," explained Al-Shereidah, in reference to the monarchic regimes in the Gulf's oil-producing nations.

"An operation that would allow the placement of a puppet government in Iraq would give the United States the keys to 65 percent of the world's petroleum reserves," added the expert.

In Al-Shereidah's opinion, that scenario "would mean the liquidation of OPEC," the cartel encompassing the Gulf's leading oil producers. The organisation controls a third of the global petroleum supply and possesses 75 percent of crude reserves.

The OPEC membership is made up of Algeria, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Liberia, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.

According to the oil news agency Platts, Iraq holds reserves of 112.5 billion 159-litre barrels of crude, 11 percent of the world total, putting it in second place, after Saudi Arabia, with an estimated 262 billion barrels.

Iran, Kuwait, Qatar and United Arab Emirates -- fellow oil producers in the Gulf -- hold combined reserves of 300 billion barrels, while Venezuela has 77 billion and Nigeria 24 billion barrels of crude.

Among the non-OPEC oil producing nations, Russia has reserves estimated at 49 billion barrels, the United States 30 billion, Mexico 27 billion, and China 24 billion barrels of crude.

Says former Venezuelan oil executive Quirós, "It's clear that the region's status as oil producer makes that part of the world more important for the war against terrorism. That is why the United States is in such a hurry -- to prevent terrorism from contaminating the entire oil-producing zone around the Gulf."

But Al-Shereidah asserts that "Washington is accelerating the conflict with Baghdad because it is an historic opportunity to lay the groundwork for a new global system that favours its position and subordinates its competitors" from Europe and Asia.

This new system of international relations is based on a quartet that is confronting Islamic fundamentalism in Asia: United States, Russia, India and China, says Giandomenico Picco, former adviser to the UN secretariat, in the publication The Middle East Economic Survey.

That group is a long way from the European and Japanese approach of consensus building and of solutions based on international law and negotiations, and instead is inclined to the use of force, according to Picco.

Another factor weighing in the analysis are the links of a portion of the U.S. governmental cast, beginning with President George W. Bush himself, a former petroleum executive and founder of the Arbusto Energy firm in 1978.

U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney led Halliburton, a company dedicated to digging oil wells, Interior Secretary Gale Norton served as an attorney for big oil companies, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was an executive at Chevron, with one of the company's tanker vessels bearing her name for several years.

Some of the actors in the world's oil sector have not hidden their apprehensions. The head of the Russian company Zarubzhneft, Nikolai Tokarev, fears that an Iraq without Saddam Hussein will hand over the country's entire oil and natural gas apparatus to the United States.

Baghdad has negotiated operating contracts with Russia's Lukoil, France's TotalFinaElf, and the China National Oil Company, among others.

Quirós, however, says "Bush's oil-related past has been blown out of proportion. I don't think he's working with a plan to make Iraq produce petroleum for U.S. companies. And an annulment of existing contracts is farfetched."

But Al-Shereidah stressed his opinion that "no U.S. or British oil company is operating in Iraq. It is inconceivable that in the future they would accept less than 60 percent of its output, even if leaving a smaller portion, say 40 percent, for the rest."

Following an eventual U.S. victory in a yet-to-occur war, Iraqi production, which totalled 2.4 million barrels of oil daily in 2001, could put an end to the dominance of Saudi Arabia, which extracts 8.7 million barrels a day, according to the London-based Centre for Global Energy Studies and the British magazine The Economist.

The two agree that Iraq's petroleum reserves could far surpass current estimates.

Growing Iraqi oil production would push prices down, as its ability to flood the market would be added to the factor of low production costs.

Most of Iraq's crude can be extracted at a cost of 1.5 dollars per barrel, compared to nearly five dollars a barrel in Venezuela and 10 dollars of Brent North Sea crude.

Currently, Iraq's hands are tied by a UN-imposed embargo that limits oil exports as part of the "oil for food" programme.

If the United States attacks Iraq, petroleum prices would immediately rise, and could even double the current rates of 23 to 27 dollars a barrel, warn experts.

In a war scenario, if conflict is limited to Iraq, prices would rise to around 40 dollars a barrel, but if its Gulf neighbours are affected, prices "could reach triple digits," says former Saudi oil minister, Ahmed Zaki Yamani.

In the Western Hemisphere, that panorama would to a certain extent benefit oil producers like Venezuela and Mexico, notes Quirós.

"The Mexicans would benefit less due to smaller reserves and greater domestic consumption. In the Venezuelan case, it is a shame that we have neglected investment plans for greater oil output," said the former oil executive. (END)

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