The multibillion robbery the US calls reconstruction

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The multibillion robbery the US calls reconstruction

Post by admin » Sat Jun 26, 2004 10:05 pm

http://www.guardian.co.uk/
(The Guardian, 26 June 04)
The multibillion robbery the US calls reconstruction

The shameless corporate feeding frenzy in Iraq is fuelling the resistance

By Naomi Klein

Good 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 attack, but embarrassment? I'd say mission already accomplished. The people in charge of rebuilding Iraq can't be embarrassed, because, clea
rly, they have no shame.

In the 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, diarrhea, nausea and kidney stones" from drinking contaminated water.

If the 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 behin
d 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 "reforms"?

Unwilling 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.

But then, 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 experimen
t in privatisation. The dream was for multinational firms, mostly from the US, to swoop in and dazzle the Iraqis with their speed and
efficiency.

Iraqis 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.

The contractors 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% of reconstruction contracts - mon
ey not being spent on hospitals, water-treatment plants or telephone exchanges.

Meanwhile, insurance brokers selling sudden-death policies to contractors in Iraq have doubled their premiums, with insurance costs reaching 30% 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 the maths.

Rather 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 als
o 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".

And then 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.

If Iraq's 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 i
s also trying to get immunity from prosecution for US contractors in Iraq and has requested the exemption from the new prime minister, Iyad Allawi.

It seems 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.

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Reparations in Reverse

Post by admin » Thu Dec 23, 2004 9:34 pm

From www.nologo.org[quote] Reparations in Reverse
October 14 2004
by Naomi KleinNext week, something will happen that will unmask the upside-down morality of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. On October 21, Iraq will pay $200-million in war reparations to some of the richest countries and corporations in the world.

If that seems backwards, it's because it is. Iraqis have never been awarded reparations for any of the crimes they have suffered under Saddam, or the brutal sanctions regime that claimed the lives of at least half a million people, or the U.S.-led invasion, which United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Anan recently called “illegal.” Instead, Iraqis are still being forced to pay reparations for crimes committed by their former dictator.

Quite apart from its crushing $125-billion sovereign debt, Iraq ha
s paid $18.8-billion in reparations stemming from Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion and occupation of Kuwait. This is not in itself surprising: as a condition of the ceasefire that ended the 1991 Gulf War, Saddam agreed to pay damages stemming from the invasion. More than fifty countries have made claims, with most of the money awarded to Kuwait. What is surprising is that even after Saddam was overthrown, the payments from Iraq have continued.

Since Saddam was toppled in April, Iraq has paid out $1.8-billion in reparations to the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC), the Geneva-based quasi tribunal that assesses claims and disburses awards. Of those payments, $37-million have gone to Britain and $32.8-million have gone to the United States. That's right: in the past 18 months, Iraq's occupiers have collected $69.8-million in reparation payments from the desperate people they have been occupying. But it gets worse: the vast majority of those payments—78 per cent—have gone to multinational corpora
tions, according to statistics on the UNCC website.

Away from media scrutiny, this has been going on for years. Of course there are many legitimate claims for losses that have come before the UNCC: payments have gone to Kuwaitis who have lost loved ones, limbs, and property to Saddam's forces. But much larger awards have gone to corporations—of the total amount the UNCC has awarded in Gulf War reparations, $21.5-billion has gone to the oil industry alone. Jean-Claude Aimé, the UN diplomat who headed the UNCC until December 2000, publicly questioned the practice. “This is the first time as far as I know that the UN is engaged in retrieving lost corporate assets and profits,” he told the Wall Street Journal in 1997, and then mused: “I often wonder at the correctness of that.”

But the UNCC's corporate handouts only accelerated. Here is a small sample of who has been getting “reparation” awards from Iraq: Halliburton ($18-million), Bechtel ($7-million), Mobil ($2.3-million), Shell ($1.6-million), Ne
stle ($2.6-million), Pepsi ($3.8-million), Philip Morris ($1.3-million), Sheraton ($11-million), Kentucky Fried Chicken ($321-thousand) and Toys R Us ($189,449). In the vast majority of cases, these corporations did not claim that Saddam's forces damaged their property in Kuwait—only that they “lost profits” or, in the case of American Express, experienced a “decline in business,” because of the invasion and occupation of Kuwait. One of the biggest winners has been Texaco, which was awarded $505-million in 1999. According to a UNCC spokesperson, only 12 per cent of that reparation award has been paid, which means hundreds of millions more will have to come out of the coffers of post-Saddam Iraq.

The fact that Iraqis have been paying reparations to their occupiers is all the more shocking in the context of how little these countries have actually spent on aid in Iraq. Despite the $18.4-billion of U.S. tax dollars allocated for Iraq's reconstruction, the Washington Post estimates that only $29-million ha
s been spent on water, sanitation, health, roads, bridges, and public safety—combined. And in July (the latest figure available), the Department of Defense estimated that only $4 million had been spent compensating Iraqis who had been injured, or who lost family members or property as a direct result of the occupation—a fraction of what the U.S. has collected from Iraq in reparations since its occupation began.

For years there have been complaints about the UNCC being used as a slush fund for multinationals and rich oil emirates—a backdoor way for corporations to collect the money they were prevented from making as a result of the sanctions against Iraq. During the Saddam years, these concerns received little attention, for obvious reasons.

But now Saddam is gone and the slush fund survives. And every dollar sent to Geneva is a dollar not spent on humanitarian aid and reconstruction Iraq. Furthermore, if post-Saddam Iraq had not been forced to pay these reparations, it could have avoided the $43
7-million emergency loan that the International Monetary Fund approved on September 29. With all the talk of forgiving Iraq's debts, the country is actually being pushed deeper into the hole, forced to borrow money from the IMF, and to accept all of the conditions and restrictions that come along with those loans. The UNCC, meanwhile, continues to assess claims and make new awards: $377-million worth of new claims were awarded last month alone.

Fortunately, there is a simple way to put an end to these grotesque corporate subsidies. According to United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, which created the reparations program, payments from Iraq must take “into account the requirements of the people of Iraq, Iraq's payment capacityŠ and the needs of the Iraqi economy.” If a single one of the three were genuinely taken into account, the Security Council would vote to put an end to these payouts tomorrow.

That is the demand of Jubilee Iraq, a debt relief organization out of London. Reparations
are owed to the victims of Saddam Hussein, the group argues—both in Iraq and in Kuwait. But the people of Iraq, who were themselves Saddam's primary victims, should not be paying them. Instead, reparations should be the responsibility of the governments that loaned billions to Saddam, knowing the money was being spent on weapons so he could wage war on his neighbours and his own people. “If justice and not power prevailed in international affairs then Saddam's creditors would be paying reparations to Kuwait as well as far greater reparations to the Iraqi people,” says Justin Alexander, coordinator of Jubilee Iraq.

Right now precisely the opposite is happening: instead of flowing into Iraq, reparations are flowing out. It's time for the tide to turn.
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