Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Green Zone Pirates

While I'm sure the Sunday morning gas-bags were out in full force, attempting to solidify a positive narrative on Iraq's constitutional referendum (who is Khalilzad's publicist, anyway?!), I kept thinking back to a disturbing review article I read this summer. Ed Harriman's July 7, 2005 "Where has all the money gone?" in the London Review of Books was originally brought to my attention by Seymour Hersh (well, not personally...Hersh brought it up in an interview with Amy Goodman). It is a very long article but I think I can hit the salient bits here. *clears throat* :)

Harriman chronicles bribery, corruption and the resulting blowback in Iraq. Of course, by now everyone's aware of Halliburton/KBR's flagrant war-profiteering and no-bid contracts. While this article deals with now legendary overbilling of American taxpayers (e.g. see PBS/NOW's interview with whistleblower, Bunnatine Greenhouse), Harriman reminds us that untold amounts of Iraqi wealth was squandered, stolen and unaccounted for. He begins with tales of helicopters stuffed with pallets of $100 (U.S.) bills and Paul Bremer's $600 million slush-fund. :
"$200 million of this [$600 slush fund] was kept in a room in one of Saddam’s former palaces, and the US soldier in charge used to keep the key to the room in his backpack, which he left on his desk when he popped out for lunch. Again, this is Iraqi money, not US funds."

So how did the new occupiers get their hands on Iraq's oil wealth so soon after the end of the invasion? [click "Read on, MacDuff!" to continue reading]
"There was $6 billion left over from the UN Oil for Food Programme, as well as sequestered and frozen assets, and revenue from resumed oil exports (at least $10 billion in the year following the invasion). Under Security Council Resolution 1483, passed on 22 May 2003, all of these funds were transferred into a new account held at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, called the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI), so that they might be spent by the CPA ‘in a transparent manner . . . for the benefit of the Iraqi people’. Congress, it’s true, voted to spend $18.4 billion of US taxpayers’ money on the redevelopment of Iraq. But by 28 June last year, when Bremer left Baghdad two days early to avoid possible attack on the way to the airport, his CPA had spent up to $20 billion of Iraqi money, compared to $300 million of US funds."
[...] "They have also discovered that $8.8 billion that passed through the new Iraqi government ministries in Baghdad while Bremer was in charge is unaccounted for, with little prospect of finding out where it went."

Another thing that's always bothered me is that Iraqi oil exports went unmetered. British Respect MP, George Galloway brought this up in his congressional testimony this summer but I can't remember where I first heard this. Here's Harriman's summary:
"Officially, Iraq exported oil worth $10 billion in the first year of the American occupation. Christian Aid has estimated that oil worth up to an additional $4 billion may also have been exported and is unaccounted for. If this is correct, it would have created an off the books slush fund that both the Americans and their Iraqi allies could use with impunity to cover expenditures they would rather keep secret – among them the occupation costs, which were rising far beyond what the Bush administration could comfortably admit to Congress and the international community."

Harriman goes on to describe the rapid unravelling of security and, by extension, Bremer's CPA control. In the rush to hand-over "sovereignty" (HA!) in spring 2004, Bremer went on a massive spending spree, "hand[ing] out more than $3 billion in new contracts to be paid for with Iraqi funds and managed by the US embassy in Baghdad." The interim-puppet government was no better: Allawi's mob picked up where Bremer left-off:
"Not only the Americans are guilty of a lack of accountability. In January this year [2005], the SIGIR [Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction] issued a report detailing evidence of fraud, corruption and waste by the Iraqi Interim Government when Bremer was in charge. They found that $8.8 billion – the entire Iraqi Interim Government spending from October 2003 through June 2004 – was not properly accounted for. [...] There is simply no way of knowing how much of the $8.8 billion went to pay for private militias and into private pockets."

And what do Iraqis have to show for their occupiers'/puppets' profligate spending?
"The schools, hospitals, water supply and electricity, all of which were supposed to benefit from this money, are in ruins. The inescapable conclusion is that many of the American paying agents grabbed large bundles of cash for themselves and made sweet deals with their Iraqi contacts."

Harriman concludes:
"Both Saddam and the US profited handsomely during his reign. He controlled Iraq’s wealth while most of Iraq’s oil went to Californian refineries to provide cheap petrol for American voters. US corporations, like those who enjoyed Saddam’s favour, grew rich. Today the system is much the same: the oil goes to California, and the new Iraqi government spends the country’s money with impunity."

I decided to review Harriman's article here for a reason: nothing, repeat, nothing, about the invasion & occupation of Iraq was for the benefit of Iraqis themselves. A lot of people got very, very rich on the backs of these traumatized people (purple-fingers or no). In addition to Harriman's article, I would recommend reading Naomi Klein's Sept 2004 Harper's article, "Baghdad Year Zero." While Harriman chronicles the details, Klein gets at the black, ugly heart of the matter. Klein went to Iraq to document the so-called reconstruction to find out nothing of the kind was happening. The Wolfowitz/American Enterprise Institute's free-market utopia was turning into a nightmare. The bombed-out Tabula Rosa (blank slate) that was post-Saddam Iraq was supposed to be the perfect venue in which to test their neocon/neolib fantasies. A kind of "economic shock-therapy" where the citizens would be too dazed, too confused and too desperate to object to their experiments. In fact, the only Saddam-era law that Bremer went out of his way to enforce was the one against forming unions. Everything else was a "free"-marketer's wet dream. Flat Tax? Done. Open public/state-run industries to 100% foreign (read: American) ownership? Done. In fact, Greg Palast has an update on this last part in his Oct 14, 2005 article, "The Lobbyist Occupation of Iraq".

Now here's a really bizarre, obscure clue into the "free"-marketer's mind-set in post-invasion Iraq: "Paul Bremer introduced US-style rules that outlawed farmers exchanging patented seeds." Why is that important? Well, think of who really gains from such a move. It's not the farmers (just ask the Canadian farmer, who lost his suit to Monsanto Corp.). It's not the people of Iraq: such Bremer/WTO policies lead to less seed-genetic diversity. In fact, "commercial or government-run seed distribution systems are vulnerable to disruption by war, but local seed markets can survive brief conflicts and recover much more quickly afterwards." There is hope, though: well before the invasion, Iraqi plant scientists "packed up more than 1000 vital seed varieties" and sent them off to Aleppo, Syria for safe-keeping. "The contents of the black box in Aleppo are public property, so they won't be affected."

Well, at least for now. But I'm sure the Green Zone Pirates will return to collect their booty.

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