Moving in for super-profits
By Nicole Colson | August 6, 2004 | Page 16
THERE'S ANOTHER invasion taking place in Iraq. But this time, it's not the U.S. military moving in--it's Corporate America. And it was all set up courtesy of outgoing former U.S. overseer, L. Paul Bremer.
According to a recent report by Antonia Juhasz in Foreign Policy in Focus, some 158,000 U.S. and international troops and 20,000 contractors still occupy Iraq. But "equally debilitating, however significantly less well reported upon, is the continued political and economic occupation by the Bush administration and its corporate allies," Juhasz wrote.
In the run-up to the sham "handover" of power from the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to the handpicked interim Iraqi government, Bremer executed some 100 executive orders--a sweeping set of laws opening up the Iraqi economy to foreign investment and free-market rule, without any say by Iraqis themselves.
Order number 39, for example, requires the "transition [of Iraq] from a...centrally planned economy to a market economy"--and allows 100 percent foreign ownership of Iraqi businesses. Order number 40 allows foreign banks to purchase up to 50 percent of Iraqi banks.
There are dozens more orders, and Bremer and Co. made sure that there would be no chance the orders wouldn't be carried out--by packing Iraqi ministries with U.S.-appointed stooges with five-year terms. Bremer even made sure that the interim constitution requires any effort to overturn his orders to secure the approval of the president, the two vice presidents and a majority of ministers.
Bremer's orders are not only unjust and undemocratic. They're illegal under international law, says Juhasz. But that hasn't stopped the Bush administration from letting politically connected companies carve up Iraq.
According to a recent report by the authority's inspector general, a government review has triggered at least 27 criminal investigations of the CPA--and produced evidence of millions of dollars' worth of fraud, waste and abuse. Senior U.S. officials manipulated or misspent contract money, according to the report, and millions of dollars' worth of equipment is missing.
According to the Los Angeles Times, one case involves a former senior U.S. adviser who conducted negotiations with a family connected to Saddam Hussein to form a new Iraqi airline. In another case, a contractor billed $3.3 million for nonexistent personnel working on an oil pipeline repair contract.
"We found problems in the CPA's financial management, procurement practices and operational controls," Stuart Bowen Jr., the inspector general, wrote in the report. Bowen tried to justify the theft by saying that the "results are not surprising: The CPA faced a variety of daunting challenges, including extremely hazardous working conditions."
Bowen should try telling ordinary Iraqis about "hazardous working conditions." Most ordinary Iraqis still can't find a job--and continue to suffer under the heel of the U.S. military and economic occupation. According a recent survey by the College of Economics at Baghdad University, the level of unemployment in Iraq stands at more than 70 percent.
Many Iraqis are so desperate for work that they risk their lives--lining up for a job as an Iraqi police recruit, or waiting outside U.S. headquarters in Baghdad's "Green Zone" for the hope of any kind of employment. Some 70 Iraqis were killed in Baquba July 28, when a bomber targeted new police recruits working for the U.S.
"I was offered more than four jobs, but all of them were either with U.S. forces and authorities, or with companies associated with them," Baghdad resident Nasrin al-Agha told Al-Jazeera last month. "I cannot work in these positions. Not everyone is willing to risk his life for the sake of making a living. What do my children gain if I am killed in one of those attacks on a U.S. installation?"
While the U.S. media turn their attention away from Iraq, the continued chaos caused by the U.S. occupation is more apparent every day. Late last month, for example, the interim government was forced to postpone its first national conference--for a second time--because of attacks by the Iraqi resistance and allegations of mismanagement and string-pulling by the U.S.
The conference would have chosen a de facto parliament until January elections. But many Iraqis say that the U.S.--and its puppets in Iraq--have already sewn up these votes. "The conference was not elected, and it had a lot to do with the U.S. administration," Wamidh Nadhmi, a political science professor at Baghdad University told the Christian Science Monitor. "We want to have a national dialogue, but not under an American umbrella."
It's clearer every day: There will be no freedom for ordinary Iraqis until the U.S. gets out!