When US capitalism and its Bush administration planned the occupation of Iraq, they intended Iraqi society to be a poster child for the “free market”. Thus it was that the looting of the world-famous museums of ancient Mesopotamian culture – some of the earliest of human civilization - was freely allowed by the US forces.
Just a couple of weeks ago, President Obama announced the end of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq called “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Originally, the geniuses in the Bush administration were going to call it “Operation Iraqi Liberation” until somebody realized the acronym for that would be “OIL”.
Cost to Iraqis
In announcing the supposeded end of the US occupation (50,000 US troops will remain indefinitely), Obama paid homage to the sacrifices of the thousands of US troops there. He forgot to mention the 894,000 Iraqis killed and the close to 1.7 million seriously injured, as well as the 15 fold increase in birth defects in Fallujah as a result of the US assaults there. (These include such defects as a baby born with three heads, and are due to use of depleted uranium shells and possibly other toxins.) Also ignored was the Iraqi teenager who hears his father waking up screaming in the night as a result of his (the father’s) having been tortured in Abu Ghraib prison.
Some six months after elections in Iraq, the Iraqi ruling class, along with their US masters, have still not been able to establish a new regime there. The political turmoil in Iraq has very direct consequences: As journalist in Iraq Nir Rosen has said, “Life, in most ways for people (in Iraq), has gotten much worse. In terms of services, most places here have one hour of electricity a day.... No sewage, dirty water, mounds of trash on the street.” And while it has lessened, sectarian divide between the Sunnis and Shias still exists in Iraq. None of this was mentioned in his speech.
Obama did find time to praise George Bush. “No one could doubt President Bush’s . . . commitment to our security,” Obama said.
Cost to US Workers
The $3 trillion cost to the US economy for the war was not mentioned. (This cost includes the cost of long term health care for returning veterans, etc.) Nor was there any mention of the 40,000 US veterans who have been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (and the many more who haven’t been so diagnosed) nor of the five US soldiers per day who try to commit suicide.
Privatization and Profits
The US invasion and occupation of Iraq involved a huge step forward in the privatization of war. During the first Gulf war, there was one private mercenary soldier (officially a “private contractor”) for every 100 US soldiers. At the onset of the 2003 invasion that ratio was one to ten and four and a half years later it was one for every 1.4 US troops. The increase in these mercenary forces will also cost US workers in their struggles. In recent years, some of these same mercenaries have worked as security guards for struck companies in the US. With the “training” they received in Iraq, they will be absolutely vicious when they are fully set loose against US workers.
When US capitalism and its Bush administration planned the occupation of Iraq, they intended Iraqi society to be a poster child for the “free market”. Thus it was that the looting of the world-famous museums of ancient Mesopotamian culture – some of the earliest of human civilization - was freely allowed by the US forces. As a top advisor to US administrator Paul Bremer put it, this looting was a form of “privatization” and he thought it was “just fine” and as another advisor put it, this was “the opportunity for a clean slate,” (as quoted in Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine”).
Every function of war imaginable was privatized, most with no-bid, cost-plus contracts. Many contracts were not fulfilled, but the companies were paid in full. A typical instance was that of the Parsons Company, which was given a $186 million contract to build 142 health clinics. They built six.
Even the administration of the occupation was recognized as having been privatized by a US court. In one fraud case, a company called Custer Battles was accused by two former employees of having defrauded the US government out of millions of dollars. A federal jury ruled that it would have to pay $10 million in fines as a result. However, this ruling was thrown out by the judge, who had to accept that the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), which administered the occupation, was not officially part of the US government; it too had been privatized!
One thing that has not changed since the Saddam Hussein days are the laws prohibiting government workers from unionizing. In one report the president of the Basra-based Iraqi Electrical Utility Workers Union, Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein, said workers “were stunned this morning to see police forces raiding our union and confiscate all private files and documentations and emptying the contents of the office.”
Kurdish People and Oil
A major goal of the invasion and occupation was the privatization of Iraq’s oil fields. This meshed with the nationalist movement of the Kurdish people in northern Iraq, where much of the oil happens to be located. The US occupying forces installed Massoud Barzani, one of the pro-capitalist Kurdish nationalist leaders, into power. From there, Barzani struck his own bargain with Hunt Oil Corp. for them to exploit the oil fields in Iraqi Kurdistan. (His deal set of shock waves throughout Iraq since the rest of the ruling clique won’t be able to get their snouts into this particular trough if the agreement holds.)This oil wealth is causing billions of dollars of investment to flood into the region, but ordinary Kurds are not benefitting from it.
As Wikipidia reports: “Massoud Barzani and his relatives control a large number of commercial enterprises in Kurdistan-Iraq, with a gross value of several billion US dollars. The family is routinely accused of corruption and nepotism by Kurdish media as well as international observers… In May 2010 the journalist Sardasht Osman was murdered after criticising the Barzani family (for corruption and nepotism). In July 2010 the opposition paperRozhnama accused the Barzani-led KDP of pocketing large sums from illegal oil-smuggling.”
This is how capitalism grants national rights to oppressed nationalities such as the Kurds.
During his election campaign, Obama made clear his view that US capitalism could not afford to expand the war in Afghanistan while continuing the war in Iraq at its then present level. His partial withdrawal from Iraq is accompanied by a widening of the war in Afghanistan as well as increased interventions in other regions, such as in Yemen.
The US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq was a not a total defeat for US capitalism. It succeeded in overthrowing a national leader who thumbed his nose at Washington. It also managed to gain increased control over the oil wealth of Iraq as well as provide an opportunity to vastly increase the number of US military bases in the entire region. For a time, it increased the patriotic sentiments amongst many US workers, thus weakening the class consciousness at home.
However, it has failed miserably in establishing a stable regime in Iraq, one which could be counted as a reliable ally in the region. It has also strengthened the Iranian regime as well as increasing the hatred of US forces throughout the Muslim world.
The balance sheet can be summarized by the present situation in Iraq – one in which a new administration cannot be agreed upon six months after the election there. Neither the representatives of world imperialism nor those of the equally reactionary fundamentalist Muslim capitalism have been able to decisively assert themselves there.
World capitalism’s economic crisis is sharpening the class divide in every corner of the globe. As this develops, a new and infinitely more powerful force will arise to oppose both of these forces: The world working class, including that of the United States itself.
John Reimann is a retired carpenter and an expelled member of the Carpenters' Union in the United States. (He was expelled for leading rank and file struggles against the union bureaucracy.) He is a long-time socialist, who organized for a number of years in Mexico. He is presently a member of the Industrial Workers of the World.