Tuesday 30 September 2003

Corporations are the main victors in Iraq

"It's not about oil. It's not about oil."

But we're taking their oil. And not just to finance reconstruction.

Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of the Iraqi occupation, made that clear back in July when he declared that Iraq needs to accept foreign investment and privatization of its oil before a permanent government is put in charge of the country. In other words, democracy is welcome only after the most important economic decisions regarding the future of Iraqis have been decided for them.

You'd think that such a blatant rejection of democracy and obvious grab at Iraq's oil would attract more notice. Bremer made it clear that corporations have priority over people in Iraq, and that the U.S. occupation plans to ensure that.

Our occupation of Iraq has an eerie similarity to another intervention in the Middle East that occurred 50 years ago -- the CIA-British coup that ousted Iran's democratically elected leader, Mohammed Mossadegh, and installed the infamous Shah of Iran.

So when Arab nations greet our rhetoric of creating democracy with suspicion or outright derision, we've earned it. Iranians struggled successfully for democracy and we promptly crushed their dream.

Then, as now, the U.S. and Great Britain used violence to prevent Iraq and Iran from controlling their own oil.

This set of priorities contrasts sharply with the U.S. occupation of Japan after WWII, when Americans sat down with Japanese scholars and collaboratively designed and implemented one of the most progressive democratic constitutions in the world. We can take pride for having helped Japan evolve into a peaceful, stable, and prosperous country that is one of our closest allies. Today, Iranian and Iraqi people resent our support of their previous corrupt regimes and, understandably, don't trust our intentions now.

The differences between the American occupations of 1945 Japan and 2003 Iraq reflect the rise of corporate power here and abroad, and within the Bush administration in particular. Dick Cheney's former company, Halliburton, is already cashing in on Iraqi "rebuilding" contracts that it obtained from the U.S. government. The oil companies that donated so heavily to the Bush campaign will reap huge profits if they are allowed to take over oil production in Iraq. The weapons makers profit from Bush's policies as well, and even telecommunications companies stand to benefit, since Bremer intends to give foreign corporations license to operate mobile phone networks in Iraq.

It's no surprise that Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld have been advocating an invasion of Iraq since at least 1998 through the Project for a New American Century. It could be argued that Saddam Hussein has been a marked man since he nationalized Iraqi oil back in 1973, but that's another story.

Meanwhile, the American occupation of Iraq increasingly resembles the cycle of violence between Palestinians and Israelis: American soldiers are ambushed and killed, and the U.S. military retaliates by rounding up and imprisoning Iraqi "suspects," including civilians, women, and children as young as 11. More Iraqi violence results, and the cycle continues. Iraqis have little hope that American troops will withdraw anytime soon and have not been treated with dignity or afforded human rights by their occupiers.

How did the American ideals of liberty and justice become hollow slogans for presidents to use to justify military attacks abroad? Ever since Eisenhower warned us of the dangers of the military-industrial complex, it has become steadily more powerful. Corporations should not be allowed to influence foreign policy.

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