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Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani is the former oil minister in Saudi Arabia and now heads the Global Energy Institute. In this interview with Fred David for Global Viewpoint, he talks about Saddam, the Iraq war and its consequences for the oil economy. Yamani expects the Iraq war in the last week of March or mid-April at the latest. For Yamani it seems to be clear that the United States pursues two objectives: oil and pushing for a new world order. In his view, it will attain both.

FRED DAVID: You are a Saudi, you know the Middle East very well, and you have high-ranking contacts. When will we have war?

SHEIK AHMED ZAKI YAMANI: I believe the last week of March, after March 23, or the first half of April at the latest. All experts whom I have consulted tell me that it has to do with night vision and the phase of the moon. This is important for a preventive strike. Later on, the heat during the day would be too great. American and British troops must move in heavy fighting gear, with gas masks, in order to protect themselves from possible poison attacks. Furthermore, the Holy Time of the Shiites ends at the end of March. It would be psychologically wrong to attack during this Holy Time.

DAVID: You know Saddam Hussein from many personal encounters. How do you assess his personality on the basis of his most recent TV interviews?

YAMANI: In his most recent interview on CBS he sent a message to the American people, saying that there is no need for war. However, I also see him on Iraqi television, where he instigates his own people. There, his message is "be prepared for the worst." This is a totally different message from the one he sends through Western cameras.

DAVID: Arabic governments still continue their attempts behind the scenes to prompt Saddam to step down and go into exile. Does this possibility still exist?

YAMANI: I think that this is highly improbable. The Americans are counting very strongly on this option. They have always believed that they would be able to force him to resign. This option has so far not materialized.

DAVID: There is talk about guarantees to be given by the Security Council that Saddam would not be persecuted after resignation and that he would be given political immunity. Could war thus be avoided?

YAMANI: It could be avoided, yes, but I do not believe he will accept this. He does love both power and life. With war, he stands to lose both. By resigning and asking for asylum he could possibly save his life. But those who know him well tell me that, for Saddam, a life without power is no life. The message that transcends his statements on television is clear to me: He wishes to die in Iraq.

DAVID: Will he have his oil fields destroyed if attacked?

YAMANI: He did so without hesitation when he retreated from Kuwait. Reports indicating that he had some oil fields rigged with explosives sound reliable. There are some indicative and verified testimonials from Saddam's youth. When he was 9 years old, he stole a chicken. The owner, however, pursued and caught him. Just before he had to return the chicken under duress he quickly broke its neck. This is indicative of a major character trait in him.

DAVID: You know him personally. Does this man still live in reality?

YAMANI: What is reality? He conquered power in Iraq several decades ago and has since expanded his power with determination and brutality. He is the only power factor in Iraq. Everyone, up to the highest ranks, obeys his commands. This is the arrogance of power. What the Americans are doing right now also shows the arrogance of power. Once you have power, arrogance follows automatically.

DAVID: How do you remember Saddam from your personal meetings with him?

YAMANI: I remember him as a very tough, resolute but also an intelligent negotiator. I have only seen him as arrogant, unpleasant and provocative. In particular I remember a crisis in 1975. The Syrians had built a dam across the Euphrates. Too little water reached Iraq. This led to a most explosive crisis. Saddam immediately sent troops to the Syrian border. Saudi Arabia offered to mediate. I was the Saudi oil minister at the time and was asked to mediate.

Every morning at 7 o'clock I flew from Riyadh to Baghdad to meet with Saddam. Then I flew to Damascus to see President Assad and returned to Riyadh the same evening. The same scenario was repeated the following day, for five full weeks. The Syrians finished by giving in. Saddam played a cunning game of nerve poker.

DAVID: Which is precisely what he is doing again now. Do you think he will accept a partial destruction of Iraq and above all of Baghdad?

YAMANI: He already said in the '80s in a TV interview that any aggressor will find no human beings, just rubble. He said this purposely in public. I think he is capable of anything.

DAVID: Besides being about Saddam's fall, is this war about oil, after all?

YAMANI: It certainly is not about weapons of mass destruction. They are largely under control. This rationale sounds like a bad joke to me. No, first and foremost this is about the Iraqi oil. Second, it is about the desire of the United States to reshape the whole Middle Eastern region according to its interests. The question is whether the present world order, with the authority of the U.N. Security Council, is to continue to exist or whether there should be a new world order, without the Security Council, but with the White House as its center. This is the core issue. The American government does not define it in these clear terms. However, you have to read between the lines and look at the determination with which this policy is being pursued, not just lately, but for many years.

Condoleezza Rice, the president's National Security Advisor, already defined this policy five years ago as a professor in California. She stated that, in history, each war was followed by a new world order. After World War I it was the League of Nations that was dominated by France and Great Britain. After World War II there were five winners: the United States, France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and China. These nations became the dominating members of the Security Council, with veto power. The present world order, however, was not the result of a war. The Soviet Union fell without violence.

Rice, who speaks for the powerful group of people who can influence the U.S. president, defined this very clearly. The Cold War was a real war, although the major powers did not use weapons. Surrogate wars were fought in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nicaragua, the Near and Middle East and Afghanistan. Millions died. This Cold World War ended at the end of the '90s with a victory for the United States.

Now, there is but one world power, which has to win militarily in Iraq if it wants to keep its new role. Yes, this is the logic that dictates that Bush must occupy Iraq. He has no other choice.

DAVID: Will the Iraqi military try to topple or assassinate Saddam at the last moment?

YAMANI: The Iraqi armed forces are composed of three groups. The regular army is large but weak and poorly equipped. Its fighting morale will be poor. Then you have the Republican Guards and the president's private security forces. The latter are controlled by Saddam's son. These two groups will fight bitterly, knowing full well that Saddam's end also means their own.

DAVID: You suggest this war with Iraq is about oil. The United States only imports 4 percent of its oil consumption from Iraq; 24.5 percent of the U.S. oil imports come from the Gulf region, 16.5 percent from Saudi Arabia alone.

YAMANI: At the present time, the Iraqi oil production has been reduced. Yet, about one-half of its oil exports still go to the United States. Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world. Iraqi oil is among the best that exists. Furthermore, it can be harvested a lot more cheaply than in most other countries, such as Russia or the African countries. Even the transport of oil could be made simpler and safer, from the American point of view, for instance via pipelines to the Mediterranean. The Americans would thereby drastically reduce their dependency on Saudi Arabia, whom they have come to distrust in recent times. This is the picture and this appears to be a component of the American plan for the reorganization of the region.

DAVID: Is the oil export from Iraq to the United States handled without too many problems, in spite of all the disputes?

YAMANI: Yes, it is, although these transactions are not handled by the governments but between the Iraqi trade companies and the American multinational oil companies, such as Exxon or Mobil Oil.

DAVID: France also has oil interests in Iraq. Does this explain the staunch anti-American attitude of France?

YAMANI: There is a first preliminary contract with TotalFinaElf. I would not value it very highly in terms of the targeted production goal, nor in terms of its applicability.

DAVID: It has also been said that the United States wants to arrange the situation in the Middle East to its advantage before China gets its hands on it. Before long, China will depend on Arabic oil. Is this another reason for the intervention?

YAMANI: In my view, this is a secondary aspect, albeit an important one. China is in the middle of a rapid process of industrialization and will have to cover its oil needs up to 90 percent from abroad in 20 years at the latest. Then, it will be important who will have the power in the largest oil-exporting regions of all, the Gulf region.

DAVID: Will a war lead to an explosion of oil prices?

YAMANI: Perhaps in the short term. In any event, the quantity of oil that is freely available is large enough to cover the need. The reserves of many industrialized countries should be sufficient to offset temporary shortfalls over one or two months.

DAVID: Will oil prices fall once Iraq is under American control?

YAMANI: Provided that the oil wells are not seriously damaged or even destroyed, Iraq could, with American assistance, rapidly double its oil production and even quadruple it over the next 10 years.

Then oil would be cheaper and could even cost only half of the present price, to reach about $15 per barrel. It can be surmised that other oil-producing countries will follow Iraq and will have to increase their production substantially also. This would be good for the Western countries. For the producers, however, this would be a catastrophe and would lead to new dependencies.

DAVID: Will OPEC still have a role to play at all?

YAMANI: OPEC will continue to lose in importance. The fixed production quotas that should stabilize oil prices remain only empty words on a piece of paper for most countries.

(c) 2003, Fred David/Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 3/18/03)