If asparagus and not oil was Iraq's leading export then the determination of the US, Britain and Australia to continue occupying the country would certainly be less than it is. Asked why the US invaded, many Iraqis promptly answer: "To steal our oil." By admitting that securing Iraq's oil supplies was one of the reasons why Australian troops are in Iraq, Brendan Nelson is stating the obvious. The prompt denial by John Howard that Australia has any such mercenary motive shows the sensitivity of the subject.
Ever since it was admitted Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, the US, Britain and the few remaining countries taking part in the occupation have cast around for a reason for being there. Mr Howard says Australia is motivated by a desire to "give the people of Iraq a possibility of embracing democracy." But the US only agreed to elections in 2005 under intense pressure from the Shia spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.
The most obvious reason why President George Bush was so intent on invading Iraq in 2003 was that he thought he would win an easy victory as he had just done in Afghanistan. He would be able to secure a second term in the White House and the Republicans could manipulate and exaggerate the threat to the US posed by al-Qa'ida to implement their domestic agenda, expanding the power of the state over individuals in the name of national security.
It worked for a time. By selling a disastrous war as one in which progress was being made, President Bush won re-election in 2004. Pulling out the troops, then as now, would be an admission of defeat that the White House dare not make. It also wanted to avoid Americans perceiving that a war sold as being against "terrorism" had given al-Qa'ida a base in the five million-strong Sunni community in Iraq.
The neocons, such as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle helped set the stage for the invasion and concocted evidence to justify it. Was this part of a Machiavellian plot by supporters of the Israeli right to dispose of Saddam? If so, the conspiracy was misconceived since the Islamic leaders, both Sunni and Shia, that succeeded the Baathist regime in Baghdad are potentially far more effective enemies of Israel than their predecessors.
The neocons, for all their intellectual pretensions, resemble the right-wing Masonic lodges such as P2 in Italy in the 1960s and 1970s whose real motive was to secure jobs, power and money for their members.
It is important to distinguish between the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the occupation of Iraq. The second did not necessarily follow the first as Tony Blair always pretended. If the coalition had overthrown Saddam Hussein and then left Iraq it would have avoided many of the present disasters.
The reason troops stayed was primarily because the US wanted to get rid of Saddam but not see him replaced by Shia religious parties heavily influenced by Iran. This prospect stopped President Bush Sr going all the way to Baghdad in 1991. His son never accepted the Shia majority in Iraq and Iran were bound to take power once Saddam Hussein was gone.
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