the US calls reconstruction
The shameless corporate
feeding frenzy in Iraq is fuelling the resistance
news out of Baghdad: the Program Management Office, which
oversees the $18.4bn in US reconstruction funds, has finally
set a goal it can meet. Sure, electricity is below pre-war
levels, the streets are rivers of sewage and more Iraqis have
been fired than hired. But now the PMO has contracted the
British mercenary firm Aegis to protect its employees from
"assassination, kidnapping, injury and" get this
- "embarrassment". I don't know if Aegis will succeed
in protecting PMO employees from violent attacks, but embarrassment?
I'd say mission already accomplished. The people in charge
of rebuilding Iraq can't be embarrassed, because, clearly,
they have no shame.
run-up to the June 30 underhand (sorry, I can't bring myself
to call it a "handover"), US occupation powers have
been unabashed in their efforts to steal money that is supposed
to aid a war-ravaged people. The state department has taken
$184m earmarked for drinking water projects and moved it to
the budget for the lavish new US embassy in Saddam Hussein's
former palace. Short of $1bn for the embassy, Richard Armitage,
the deputy secretary of state, said he might have to "rob
from Peter in my fiefdom to pay Paul". In fact, he is
robbing Iraq's people, who, according to a recent study by
the consumer group Public Citizen, are facing "massive
outbreaks of cholera, diarrhoea, nausea and kidney stones"
from drinking contaminated water.
occupation chief Paul Bremer and his staff were capable of
embarrassment, they might be a little sheepish about having
spent only $3.2bn of the $18.4bn Congress allotted - the reason
the reconstruction is so disastrously behind schedule. At
first, Bremer said the money would be spent by the time Iraq
was sovereign, but apparently someone had a better idea: parcel
it out over five years so Ambassador John Negroponte can use
it as leverage. With $15bn outstanding, how likely are Iraq's
politicians to refuse US demands for military bases and economic
to let go of their own money, the shameless ones have had
no qualms about dipping into funds belonging to Iraqis. After
losing the fight to keep control of Iraq's oil money after
the underhand, occupation authorities grabbed $2.5bn of those
revenues and are now spending the money on projects that are
supposedly already covered by American tax dollars.
if financial scandals made you blush, the entire reconstruction
of Iraq would be pretty mortifying. From the start, its architects
rejected the idea that it should be a New Deal-style public
works project for Iraqis to reclaim their country. Instead,
it was treated as an ideological experiment in privatisation.
The dream was for multinational firms, mostly from the US,
to swoop in and dazzle the Iraqis with their speed and efficiency.
saw something else: desperately needed jobs going to Americans,
Europeans and south Asians; roads crowded with trucks shipping
in supplies produced in foreign plants, while Iraqi factories
were not even supplied with emergency generators. As a result,
the reconstruction was seen not as a recovery from war but
as an extension of the occupation, a foreign invasion of a
different sort. And so, as the resistance grew, the reconstruction
itself became a prime target.
have responded by behaving even more like an invading army,
building elaborate fortresses in the green zone - the walled-in
city within a city that houses the occupation authority in
Baghdad and surrounding themselves with mercenaries. And being
hated is expensive. According to the latest estimates, security
costs are eating up 25 per cent of reconstruction contracts
- money not being spent on hospitals, water-treatment plants
or telephone exchanges.
insurance brokers selling sudden-death policies to contractors
in Iraq have doubled their premiums, with insurance costs
reaching 30 per cent of payroll. That means many companies
are spending half their budgets arming and insuring themselves
against the people they are supposedly in Iraq to help. And,
according to Charles Adwan of Transparency International,
quoted on US National Public Radio's Marketplace programme,
"at least 20% of US spending in Iraq is lost to corruption".
How much is actually left over for reconstruction? Don't do
than models of speed and efficiency, the contractors look
more like overcharging, underperforming, lumbering beasts,
barely able to move for fear of the hatred they have helped
generate. The problem goes well beyond the latest reports
of Halliburton drivers abandoning $85,000 trucks on the road
because they don't carry spare tyres. Private contractors
are also accused of playing leadership roles in the torture
of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. A landmark class-action lawsuit
filed by the Centre for Constitutional Rights alleges that
Titan Corporation and CACI International conspired to "humiliate,
torture and abuse persons" in order to increase demand
for their "interrogation services".
there's Aegis, the company being paid $293m to save the PMO
from embarrassment. It turns out that Aegis's CEO, Tim Spicer,
has a bit of an embarrassing past himself. In the ’90s,
he helped to put down rebels and stage a military coup in
Papua New Guinea, as well as hatching a plan to break an arms
embargo in Sierra Leone.
occupiers were capable of feeling shame, they might have responded
by imposing tough new regulations. Instead, Senate Republicans
have just defeated an attempt to bar private contractors from
interrogating prisoners and also voted down a proposal to
impose stiffer penalties on contractors who overcharge. Meanwhile,
the White House is also trying to get immunity from prosecution
for US contractors in Iraq and has requested the exemption
from the new prime minister, Iyad Allawi.
likely that Allawi will agree, since he is, after all, a kind
of US contractor himself. A former CIA spy, he is already
threatening to declare martial law, while his defence minister
says of resistance fighters: "We will cut off their hands,
and we will behead them." In a final feat of outsourcing,
Iraqi governance has been subcontracted to even more brutal
surrogates. Is this embarrassing, after an invasion to overthrow
a dictatorship? Not at all; this is what the occupiers call
"sovereignty". The Aegis guys can relax -- embarrassment
is not going to be an issue.
article was first published in The Guardian
(R) thedailystar.net 2004