US desire to control Middle East oil could have sparked terrorist attacks

Sep 13, 2001 02:00 AM

Although the pieces of the puzzle haven't all been put together yet, the early signs are that those responsible for the attacks in the US are associated with Islamic leader Osama bin Laden. And what could possibly have sparked those horrific attacks? As with so many other aspects of US foreign policy, much of the hatred that emanates from Islamic terrorist groups such as Mr. bin Laden's can be traced back to a single thing: Oil -- and more specifically, the US government's desire to maintain control over the vast quantities that exist in the Middle East.
Mr. bin Laden, a Saudi-born businessman who left the construction business to become a financier of international Islamic terrorism, is only the latest in a series of Middle Eastern figures who have become public enemy number one as a result of US oil policy.
Until Mr. bin Laden came along, for example, the most hated man in the Middle East was Saddam Hussein, the leader of Iraq -- who some military intelligence observers feel may be involved in assisting Mr. bin Laden with the war of terrorism against the US. Many political analysts believe that the war against Iraq was fought largely to ensure that the oil would continue to flow from Saudi Arabia.

During the Gulf War, the US stationed troops in Saudi Arabia at the request of the Saudi royal family -- a move that Mr. bin Laden and other Islamic groups have said was an affront to Muslims, and one which many security experts warned against at the time, arguing that it would increase tension in the Middle East.
"A lot of people advised [President George W.] Bush's father not to put US troops in Saudi Arabia -- to put them 'over the horizon' rather than in the heartland of Islam," said US policy expert John Sigler, a professor of political science at Carleton University.
While the State Department argued that the troops should be located in some other area, Prof. Sigler said, the Pentagon decided that they needed to be on the ground in Saudi Arabia for reasons of "military efficiency". Even after the Iraqi threat had eased, US soldiers remained in what Mr. bin Laden's group refers to as "the land of the two holy places" (Mecca and Medina). American officials said the troops needed to remain because they would protect the Saudi Arabian government of King Fahd from Iraqi attack -- but Prof. Sigler said this was largely a fiction, presumably designed to justify keeping troops to protect Saudi oilfields.
Not only does the presence of non-Muslim soldiers inflame the religious passions of fundamentalist Islamic groups such as Mr. bin Laden's, but their existence is also a regular reminder that the US is primarily interested in the Middle East because of its oil supplies. Much of Mr. bin Laden's anti-US rhetoric concerns the alleged "rape" and "plundering" of the Middle East by the United States, aimed at controlling the area's oil for the benefit of the US and other Western nations.

This idea is intricately intertwined with America's policy on Israel. Some Muslim groups believe that the US is in league with Israel to take control of the Middle East -- driven, they argue, by Israel's desire to crush all Islamic nations, combined with the American desire to control the source of the vast majority of the world's oil. Within Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, many critics of the monarchy see the US as supporting a "puppet" government for its own purposes, in the same way it did in Iran.
The problem for the US is that anything it does to try and influence the flow or supply of oil involves a large part of the Middle East, and impacts on nations that have an abiding hatred for the US -- including Iraq, Iran and Libya. And despite sources of oil such as Alberta's tar sands, some forecasters expect the US and the rest of the Western world are going to need even more supply from the Middle East in the future: A study by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies said the world will become increasingly dependent on the Middle East over the next 20 years.
The study said that oil-rich Persian Gulf nations will have to expand their oil production by almost 80 % over the next 20 years in order to keep up with demand, particularly demand from China and India. The potential for terrorism, supply interruptions and outright war will remain high, the study says -- adding that getting more oil from Iraq will be "crucial" to meeting the world's demands, since Iraq contains 11 % of the world's oil reserves, second only to Saudi Arabia's 25 %.

As long as the US continues its growing demand for oil, in other words, it will be forced to deal with the troubled politics of the Middle East in one way or another, whether it wants to or not.

Source: The Globe and Mail
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