One day after the war officially started, Tony Blair met with the European Union leaders to discuss the â€œre-construction of post war Iraqâ€. Re-construction, after wilful destruction of Iraqi public and private property through US and UK bombing raids. Re-construction, after destruction of public infrastructure by target oriented missiles. Re-construction, after destroying, through economic sanctions, a society that was among the most literate and well off, not just in the Middle East but the world until the 1990s.
What hopes can we attach to American and British plans of ‘reconstruction’ that are being hatched even as this destruction is going on? The precedent of Afghanistan’s reconstruction is not too reassuring. The White House forgot to ask for any money in this year’s annual budget for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. It was only after a fuss was raised in Congress by some representatives that $300 million were set aside, with no commitments for later years. Compare this to the $4.5 billion that was spent on bombing Afghanistan. Can the $300 million even begin to reverse the permanent destruction of fertile land, wipe-out of many crops, civil war, resurgence of feudal warlords, and resumption of poppy cultivation (let us not even mention the thousands of innocent casualties, termed as collateral damage)? Did the Americans not know this? Of course they did, but the purpose of bombing was never to restore Afghanistan to former glory or its development, but its ‘reconstruction’ as a colony.
That we could easily see this coming, and yet failed to stop it, is perhaps the most depressing aspect of it all. We were told, through international media, that a ‘representative government’ is being formed for Afghanistan in Bonn, and we went along (perhaps thinking that everything made in Germany is bound to be more durable than that made in Afghanistan). And there is much that the international Media forgot to report. At a recent talk focusing on building the anti-war movement in Cambridge University, renowned US dissident Michael Albert reported how dumbfounded he was to learn that while an extremely well researched story regarding the potential for 3 million civilians to die of starvation if the US were to bomb Afghanistan was wired to all newspapers, only one newspaper carried that story and that too buried deep in the back pages. He says he is unable to comprehend how the newspaper editors could read that story and yet decide not to carry it.
Even when such reports are not published in newspapers, the US government has access to them, and of course similar research on the impact of war on Iraqi civilians have been carried out. That George Bush and company have a clear idea of the destruction they will unleash on the Iraqi people is beyond doubt. However, that does not deter them from following this disastrous course of action. The US government is prepared to spend around $12bn on attacking Iraq. So far it has only offered $65 million to provide them with the basics of life. This $65 million is expected to last less than 6 months but that is all right according to the calculations of the Bush administration. By then, the world media would have moved on to some new crisis, just as Afghanistan is now relegated to the inner most pages of newspapers. This $65 million should help contain the misery of the Iraqi people within some parameters for the brief period of time that they expect the world to pay attention to Iraq.
The real ‘reconstruction’ of Afghanistan or Iraq has the US and UK, along with their cronies, salivating. In the name of reconstruction they will receive lucrative contracts for their respective private sectors. In the case of Iraq, for instance, the oil company Halliburton, which incidentally was headed by US Vice President Dick Cheney between 1995-2000, has already been awarded a multi-million dollar contract to clean up the Iraqi oilfields after the devastation of war, especially if a retreating Iraqi army puts them to fire. Other American and British oil companies are likely to exert complete control of Iraqi oilfields. Since the market for oil is relatively price-inelastic, and does not lend itself well to brand differentiation, control of supplies is everything in this industry. The prizes don’t come any bigger than the Iraqi oilfields.
Other companies who are being considered by US Aid also happen to be fairly close to the White House. These include construction giant Bechtel, the Fluor Corporation and Louis Berger group which is presently also involved in Afghanistan. The interesting aspect of these contracts is that these companies are being asked to list what they may be able to do within $900 million. Of course, there is a generous margin for their profits, reportedly allowing up to $80million out of the $900 million.
Other equally substantial payoffs await these companies in the future. For instance, apart from the immediate profits and control of natural resources, first mover advantages in these markets are bound to be enormous. As Steven Schooner, a George Washington University law professor maintains “the most sophisticated firms that come in first, and establish good will with the locals obviously will reap huge benefits down the road. These are going to become brand names in Iraq.”
The Americans are fairly blunt about promoting their corporate interests. A USAid spokeswoman was quoted recently pointing out that it should not come as a surprise that all of the companies short listed for work in Iraq are American. Her advice to non American companies is to pressurize their own governments. And this is driving the agenda of the European Union meeting in Brussels. President Chirac and others opposed to war have declared that while they condemn this war, they are willing to work with the UK and US on the reconstruction of Iraq. No doubt the popular sentiment in Europe favours providing support to the Iraqi people after a terrible devastation has been wrecked upon them. However, these governments are also under pressure to provide a role for their corporations in post war Iraq, a resource rich country.
Thus, before the war has ended, the more divisive fight over the spoils of war has already started. In the now marginalized United Nations lies France and Germany’s best hopes of making the division of the loot somewhat egalitarian. But the Americans are prepared, more than ever, to brush away the UN, and impose direct rule on Iraq. The British are hoping to receive their fair share of the crumbs for their loyalty. However, this comes at the heavy cost of alienating Britain from the rest of Europe. It is likely that this battle to divide the spoils will lead to important decisions concerning the future of the United Nations as well as the future relationship between America, Britain and Europe.
This article was also published by DAWN on April 7th.
For more ZNet articles on the history and context of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq go to http://www.zmag.org/CrisesCurEvts/Iraq/context.htm