Monday 14 April 2003

Bomb before you buy

What is being planned in Iraq is not reconstruction but robbery

by Naomi Klein

Naomi Klein On April 6, deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz spelled it out: there will be no role for the UN in setting up an interim government in Iraq. The US-run regime will last at least six months, "probably longer than that". And by the time the Iraqi people have a say in choosing a government, the key economic decisions about their country's future will have been made by their occupiers. "There has to be an effective administration from day one," Wolfowitz said. "People need water and food and medicine, and the sewers have to work, the electricity has to work. And that's coalition responsibility."

The process of how they will get all this infrastructure to work is usually called "reconstruction". But American plans for Iraq's future economy go well beyond that. Rather than rebuilding, the country is being treated as a blank slate on which the most ideological Washington neo-liberals can design their dream economy: fully privatised, foreign-owned and open for business.

The $4.8m management contract for the port in Umm Qasr has already gone to a US company, Stevedoring Services, and there are similar deals for airport administration on the auction block. The United States Agency for International Development has invited US multinationals to bid on everything from rebuilding roads and bridges to distributing textbooks. The length of time these contracts will last is left unspecified. How long before they meld into long-term contracts for water services, transit systems, roads, schools and phones? When does reconstruction turn into privatisation in disguise?

Republican congressman Darrel Issa has introduced a bill that would require the defence department to build a CDMA cellphone system in postwar Iraq in order to benefit "US patent holders". As Farhad Manjoo noted in the internet magazine Salon, CDMA is the system used in the US, not in Europe, and was developed by Qualcomm, one of Issa's most generous donors.

Then there's oil. The Bush administration knows it can't talk openly about selling Iraq's oil resources to ExxonMobil and Shell. It leaves that to people like Fadhil Chalabi, a former Iraqi petroleum minister and executive director of the Center for Global Energy Studies. "We need to have a huge amount of money coming into the country. The only way is to partially privatise the industry," Chalabi says.

He is part of a group of Iraqi exiles that has been advising the state department on how to implement privatisation in such a way that it isn't seen to be coming from the US. Helpfully, the group held a conference in London on April 6 and called on Iraq to open itself up to oil multinationals shortly after the war. The Bush administration has shown its gratitude by promising that there will plenty of posts for Iraqi exiles in the interim government.

Some argue that it's too simplistic to say this war is about oil. They're right. It's about oil, water, roads, trains, phones, ports and drugs. And if this process isn't halted, "free Iraq" will be the most sold country on earth.

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