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A Brief History Of The Persian Gulf

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raq's takeover of Kuwait and subsequent massive US. intervention has catapulted the Gulf región into the news. But it is difficult to understand events there without some knowledge of the región' 's history. The present crisis, for example, is actually the third between Iraq and Kuwait in the last century. Whatfollows is a thumbnail sketch of a región with a rich history and a diverse popuiation. The First Crisis: Ottoman and British Colonial Period The first crisis carne in 1 899, when the Turkish Ottoman Empire - which had dominated the Arab Middle East for centuries - was crumbling, especially at its distant edges. While the rest of Iraq was based on feudal agriculture, Kuwait was typical of the tribal Gulf shipping settlements which engaged in commerce throughout the Indian Ocean. The British arrived en route to India in the early 19th century with large ships and machine-made textiles which gradually undermined the local shipping empire of Oman and the Gulf cities and textile industry of Iran. The British were troubled by their competitors, the Arab shippers (the British called them "pirates") who resisted British entry into the región. By military force the British imposed agreements with the families ruling the Gulf coastal tribes (up to that point they had been chosen fairly democratically). The British pledged to maintain these families in power in return for British military protection and, of course, a stop to the raiding of British ships. The small states near the outlet of the Gulf became known as the Trucial States because of the truces they signed with Britain tween 1819and 1853.Bahrainsigneditstreatyin 1892, andQatarin 1916. In 1 899 the Ottoman Empire tried to reincorpórate Kuwait into Iraq. The British gave military protection to Kuwait in return for the treaty the British imposed which made Kuwait into an effective British colony. During WWI, the British promised independence to the Arabs (Hussein-McMahon Treaty) in return for their support against the Ottoman Turks. But during the same period they were negotiating a treaty with the French that divided up the Arab región among the British and French empires, based on where each had built railroad Unes. The resulting Sykes-Picot treaty was posed to be secret; but when the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia in 1917, they found it in the czar's archives and published it. As a token, the British gave Jordán and Iraq to two branches of the Hashemite family which had ruled Mecca. During this period (1902-1935), Sheik Ibn Saud, the leader of the Saudi clan, was conquering most of the Aiabian Península with brutal military force, killing many adult men and confiscating flocks of sheep and goats which were the livelihood of people in the areas they took over. The Saudis took no male prisoners. This conquest, which is still fresh in the memories of those who were conquered, has engendered much hatred for the Saudi family. There is also religious dissatisfaction with the Saudis since they are not the traditional rulers of Mecca; the Saudis drove out the Hashemites. The Second Crisis: The Era of Oil Early in the century, massive oil deposits were discovered in Iran. The British set up a company to exploit the oil, now known as British Petroleum. In the '30s oil was discovered on the other side of the Gulf. The British feit they had plenty of oil in Iran and did not want to develop other deposits which might increase the supply and lower the price so U.S. companies managed to gain control over the oil in the Gulf states. King Ibn Saud, for example, who had large expenses and few sources of revenue, and sold his oil rights for apittance in 1 933 to Standard Oii of California (now Chevron). A number of U.S. oil interests - including present-day Exxon, Texaco, and Mobil, would later join Standard Oil - formed the Arabian-American Oil Company and began oil production in Saudi Arabia in 1938. In 1953 Ibn Saud died. His son andheir, Saud tried to break the agreement with Aramco in favor of Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis; but under strong American pressure, Saud was prevented from kicking Aramco out. In 1964 he was deposed in favor of his brothjer Faisal. After WWII the newly democratie govemment of Iran, led by Mohammed Mossadegh, nationalized Iranian oil production. Mossadegh was subsequently overthrown by a CIA-organized coup in 1953, and the shah was installed in power. The second IraqKuwait crisis carne in 1961 when the new Iraqi republic announced its impending annexation of Kuwait. The British airlifted troops into Kuwait and Iraq did not annex the country. At the time the borders in that area were drawn, oil had not been discovered and few were interested in the hinterland, for instance, of Kuwait. The British drew circles around the cities as borders. In the áreas between the circles nobody claimed ownership. These areas are now neutral zones. In the same period (1957-59), there was a revolution in northem Oman. Saudi Arabia supported the insurrection hoping to readjust the border and thereby gain access to potential oil fields. After the Iraqi revolution in 1958, the Saudis withdrew their support (fearing a wave of revolutions against monarchies) and the rebellion was crushed. The Omanis started a second revolt in 1965 in the southem province of Dhofar. In 1970, Omani Sultan Said bin Taimur was deposed in favor of his son Qaboos because the indigenous revolution was gaining ground strongly in the South. Qaboos turned to the shah of Iran for help in 1973. That same year brought the October War between Israel, Egypt, and Syria. Some of the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, declared an "embargo" intended to prevent their oil from going to the United States. Still, more oil carne into the U. S. thanbefore the embargo. Oil prices, however, and oil profits rose dramatically. The 1960s are known as an era of decolonization in the Middle East. The reality in most of these countries, however, was that while nominal political independence was granted, economie dependence continued and often intensified. A key element of this system of neocolonialism was to have former colonies pay their own administrative expenses. When Algeria nationalized its oil industry after gaining independence, strong national sentiment demanded that other Arab oil producers do the same. The neocolonial model suggested an attractive solution to the conservative oil states and the oil companies. In the Gulf, the so-called Participátion Agreements gradually turned over legal ownership of the oil-production facililies to the local govemments who, instead of the oil nies, had to pay production costs. Saudi Arabia, for example was given 25 % control in 1 972, 39% in 1 979, and 5 1 % in 1 983. Oil revenues incTeased dramatically for the producing countries. However, their control was merely financial and not directly related to production. In the early 70s, the price of oil was low (about $3 barrel), and the oil companies' pro fits dropped to as low as 9% on their invested capital. In 1973, they staged the so-called embargo, and oil company profits rose back to about 15%. Although the Gulf producers announced they were curtailing shipments to customers such as the U.S., studies show that, in fact, such ments actually increased. The dramatic rise in oil prices in the United States, Western Europe, and Japan was not caused by an oil embargo, but rather by manipulation by oil companies. British Withdrawal In the 1960s, Britain, the dominant military power in the región, went into an economie slump. At the same time, a strong revolution was underway in South Yemen. North Yemen had overthrown the Imam who ruled it in 1962 and then fought a five-year civil war with Egypt supporting the Republic and Saudi Arabia supporting the Imam's son. Egypt gave in after the 1 967 war, though ihe Imam was not reinstated. In 1971, Britain partially withdrew militarily from the región, despite U.S. attempts to get them to stay. In 1 969, South Yemen won its independence. At the same time, the U.S. was engaged in massive intervention in Vietnam. The Nixon Doctrine of "strength," "partnership," and "negoiiations" was developed to let "AsiansfightAsians."IntheMiddle East it meant that Iranians and Israelis fought Arabs. The overthrow of the shah of Iran came in 1979, the same year there were two uprisings in widely separated parts of Saudi Arabia: the oij regions and Mecca. "Partnership" in the Gulf was a failure, so the U.S. was forced to fall back on "strength." Since that time, the United States has been desperate to obtain military bases in the región to protect its control over the oil reserves. The Third Crisis President Jimmy Carter' s doctrine was the pledge to use U.S. troops to keep the Saudi royal family in power, and to intervene in the gulf to protect "our" oil. There was no threat to Saudi Arabia firom either Iraq or Iran at the time. Iran historically claimed Bahrain and did take some Arab islands in the Gulf under the shah, so it was clear that the U.S. government was pledged to protect the Saudi royal family from overthrow by its own citizens. Carter also pledged to intervene if U.S. oil companies were threatened with loss of control over oil production in the Gulf. The third and present crisis came after the ten-year Iran-Iraq War, in which Iraq was supported by the Gulf states and the U .S . who v ie wed Iraq as attacking Iran to reverse the spread of militant Islamic movements into the Arab countries. Once the war was fought to a stalemate, after over one million people were killed, Iraq was perceived as a threat by its former sponsors. Iraq had built a well-armed million-strong army and nurtured strong Arab ambitions to domínate the región. Kuwait and the smaller Gulf states overproduced their allotted OPEC quotas to keep the oil price down and maintain pressure on Iraq. Kuwait is also alleged to have pumped oil from a large oil field which straddles the Kuwait-Iraq border but is mostly in Iraq. After months of Iraqi complaints and negotiations, Iraq invaded Kuwait and the third crisis carne to a head. Th is article was reprinted with perm ssion from Palestine Focus, P.O. Box 27462, San Francisco, CA 94127. In 1899 the Ottoman Empire tried to reincorpórate Kuwait into Iraq. The second IraqKuwait crisis came in 1961 when the new Iraqi repubiic announced its impending annexation of Kuwait. The third and present crisis carne after a tenyear Iran-Iraq war, in which Iraq was supported by the Gulf states and the U.S.


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