The U.S. military’s objective is to knock out Iraq’s air defense network prior to an aerial assault.
"You go through everything you would do...as if you were actually dropping the weapons," stated Comdr. Jeffrey Penfield, who leads the VFA-115 strike fighter squadron that flies over southern Iraq. The squadron, equipped with the latest generation of strike bombers, is based on the USS Abraham Lincoln stationed in the Arab-Persian Gulf.
U.S. and British aircraft have patrolled the "no-fly" zones over northern and southern Iraq since they were imposed by imperialist forces after the 1990–91 Gulf War. Over the past couple of months the Pentagon has stepped up the number of bombings of targets there.
Imperialist naval blockade is reinforced
Washington has also tightened the imperialist naval blockade of Iraq. Under the overall command of Vice Adm. Timothy Keating of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, U.S., British, and Australian ships are more aggressively enforcing the embargo on Iraq’s shipping lanes.
These forces are boarding twice as many boats as last year and have stationed an Australian warship inside Iraq’s territorial waters.
A New York Times article described how Australian sailors boarded approaching vessels as U.S. Sea Hawk helicopters hovered overhead with their .50-caliber machine guns aimed at the crews.
Almost 320 vessels, some of them small boats, were boarded in September alone. "What was a blockade that was probably only 30 to 40 percent effective previously is now in the 80 to 90 percent range of effectiveness," said Commodore Peter Sinclair, the Australian officer who commands the blockading flotilla.
"We are operating continually inside Iraq’s territorial waters," he added. "The smugglers know there is a big gray warship blocking the river before they even set sail." The Melbourne, an Australian frigate, is stationed just six miles off Iraq’s coast, well within the country’s 12-mile-wide territorial waters.
"The combination of Australian bravado, advanced United States military technology and indirect Iranian cooperation has enabled Washington virtually to close the tap on oil smuggled through the gulf," reported the Times. The naval embargo has also virtually halted Iraq’s export of dates, adding to the devastating impact of the decade-long UN embargo.
U.S. military commanders report that coastal units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are lending assistance to the imperialist actions. The Times noted that the Iranian government--dubbed a member of the "axis of evil" by U.S. president Bush in January--might be acting "to deprive the Americans of a reason to venture into Iran’s territorial waters."
Alongside these aggressive actions, the U.S. military is continuing to build up its forces in the Middle East and broader region.
The Navy’s Military Sealift Command, which is in charge of transporting armor and military supplies for the U.S. armed forces, is planning to charter a vessel to move 550 containers of ammunition and explosives from the U.S. East Coast to four ports in the Red Sea and Gulf. Pentagon officials say that the weaponry will be unloaded between November 19 and December 3.
Debates over a U.S.- and British-sponsored resolution in the Security Council have not impeded this buildup. In these exchanges, the French government, in particular, has continued to express disagreements with Washington, in part to stake its own nationalist claim in the coming war.
Senior Times columnist William Safire pointed to the place of the UN in these developments, and the concerns of the French imperialists, in his October 28 column. He described "UN coloration for our"--that is, Washington’s--"overthrow of the outlaw [Iraqi] regime" as "useful, though not necessary."
After an imperialist victory, wrote Safire, "Britain would replace France as the chief European dealer in Iraqi oil and equipment.... The government of New Iraq... would reimburse the U.S. and Britain for much of their costs in the war."
The "New Iraq" government, added the conservative columnist, would also "repudiate the corrupt $8 billion ‘debt’ that Russia claims was run up by Saddam. Even more troubling to [Russian president] Putin will be the heavy investment to be made by the U.S. and British companies that will sharply increase the drilling and refining capacity of the only nation whose oil reserves rival those of Russia, Saudi Arabia and Mexico."
The October 30 Guardian, a British newspaper, reported that at least one British oil baron does not share Safire’s confidence that companies in the United Kingdom will come out ahead in a U.S.-led assault on Iraq.
Lord Browne, the chief executive of British Petroleum, the biggest company in the United Kingdom, "has warned Washington not to carve up Iraq for its own oil companies in the aftermath of any future war," reported the newspaper. Browne has "impeccable political connections," it noted, including a close relationship with Prime Minister Anthony Blair.
"The thing we would like to make sure, if Iraq changes regime, is that there should be a level playing field for the selection of oil companies to go in there," said the industrialist.
Browne "believed there was plenty of oil and gas waiting to be discovered in Iraq and that BP should be in prime position to capitalize because it had found most of the country’s oil before being thrown out in the 1970s," reported the Guardian.
Meanwhile, some 400 troops from the U.S. Central Command are expected to arrive shortly in Djibouti to establish a headquarters for the 800 U.S. troops, including Special Operations forces, already in the East African country or on ships offshore.
Announcing this move at an October 29 news conference, Gen. Thomas Franks, the commander of U.S. forces in the Arab-Persian Gulf, said, "we have security relationships or engagement opportunities--however you choose to think about them--in a great many countries in the Horn of Africa: Kenya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Yemen."
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