Capitalism's Adverse Effect on the Persian Gulf Environment


Capitalism's Adverse Effect on the Persian Gulf Environment
reprinted from
The People
August 12, 1995



The end of a war is definitely no guarantee of the end of trouble in the region affected. A case in point is the environmental impact recent military conflicts have had on southeastern Iraq and the northern end of the Persian Gulf.

For about eight years, during the 1980s, Iraq and Iran fought a war over oil-rich land east of the Tigris and Shatt Al Arab rivers. The waters of the Shatt Al Arab, which flow into the northern end of the gulf, became very polluted, primarily because many oil tankers were sunk in the area during the fighting.

The "Desert Storm" War in 1991 resulted in more ships being sunk in the gulf. Today, the estuary of the Shatt Al Arab is congested by about 180 sunken ships, including about two dozen oil tankers.

Because steel corrodes rapidly in sea water, the hulls of these sunken tankers are about to split open. If that is allowed to happen it would cause a series of enormous oil spills. So far, however, the countries responsible for sinking the ships -- Iran, Iraq and the United States -- have done nothing about pumping the oil out of the rotting hulls, or about raising and removing the ships themselves.

The AMURIYAH, one of the decaying tankers at the estuary of the Shatt Al Arab, is thought to be in imminent danger of splitting open and losing its trapped cargo. If it does break open, 700,000 gallons of crude oil will pour into the gulf, and much of that oil will wash up on the Kuwaiti shoreline.

"That ship is practically cracking," said the Kuwait City-based executive secretary of a regional marine environmental group. "If it breaks down," he added, "all the oil is coming here."

THE SEATTLE TIMES also quoted an unnamed diplomat who described the AMURIYAH as a "time bomb" that is "tick, tick, ticking." Because the ship "is sitting there right on the border of Iraq and Kuwait," any plan to avert a disaster must begin by first negotiating certain political hurtles. "You kind of need Iraq to give the United Nations approval to clean it up," as the same unidentified official put it.

Disintegrating oil tankers are not the only environmental threat to the Persian Gulf and the countries that share its shores. The destruction of wetlands along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq to allow easier access to oil deposits has been linked to dramatic declines in the populations of certain wildlife, primarily birds and fish. In addition, the TIMES reported, "an estimated 20,000 barrels of oil spill into the gulf from tanker loading, ballasting operations and oil exploration." That is 20,000 barrels A DAY, or 7.3 million barrels a year.

These environmental problems stem directly from the ambitions of petty tyrants and petty states in the region, mixed in and overlapping similar ambitions among larger states and multinational capitalist corporations ambitious to exploit the natural resources of the Persian Gulf region. It seems all too obvious that every move ruling classes make is calculated to increase their profits or consolidate their power over the peoples and the countries they control. The cleanup of polluted waters, the reclamation of wetlands, and the restoration of the natural environment generally will have to wait for the advent of socialism. That is the only sane, logical and practical way to eliminate all such unnatural disasters because it is the only way to take control of the economy away from impervious and brutish ruling classes and place it under the direct control of society as a whole.