No end in sight for Bushs Iraq mess

The much-anticipated international donors’ conference on Iraq, like the United Nations resolution adopted earlier in the month, failed to help the White House out of what Newsweek’s Nov. 3 cover story calls “Bush’s $87 billion mess.”

Most of the $13 billion pledged at the Oct. 23-24 Madrid donors’ conference was in the form of loans rather than grants, some was money countries had already given to Iraq, and some was merely debt forgiveness for past loans which probably would never be repaid anyway. And the total was far less than the $55 billion groups like the World Bank have estimated as needed to rebuild Iraq.

A public opinion poll in the 15 European Union countries before the Madrid meeting showed two-thirds think that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was unjustified and that the U.S. should pay for Iraq’s reconstruction. The biggest anti-war majorities were in Greece (96 percent), Austria (86 percent), France (81 percent) and Spain (79 percent).

Several countries that had said they might send troops to Iraq now say they will not do so any time soon. These include Bangladesh, Portugal, Turkey, India and Pakistan. South Korea had offered 5,000 troops, but now says it will send a survey team to Iraq before making a final decision, and in any case would send a far smaller number of troops, if any. The Pentagon was hoping to create a new international force to replace U.S. troops whose stays in Iraq have been extended, and to reduce reliance on Reserve and National Guard units. So far, no other countries have offered to supply or lead such a force.

This week in Iraq, violence directed at the U.S. occupation escalated sharply, with a series of rocket attacks and bloody suicide bombings that, along with killing and wounding U.S. troops, killed dozens of Iraqis and wounded hundreds more. A major rocket attack hit the Baghdad hotel where Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was staying. Wolfowitz was on a tour aimed at promoting the administration’s claimed successes in Iraq.

Bush insisted to reporters that the mounting violence was evidence of the occupation’s progress in Iraq. His statements were ridiculed by several Democratic presidential candidates, who are now making Bush’s failures in Iraq a centerpiece of their campaigns. “I just don’t understand the president’s logic — that because there is more violence and more deaths, things are going well. In my book, that means things are worse,” said former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. Fellow candidate Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry asked, “Is the president arguing that the better things get in Iraq, the more dangerous it will become for American soldiers?”

A public opinion poll conducted in Iraq by pollster John Zogby showed that three out of five want Iraqis left alone to work out a government for themselves, while only one in three want the U.S. and Britain to “help make sure a fair government is set up.” Two out of three Iraqis want U.S. and British forces out of Iraq in a year. Half of all Iraqis interviewed say the U.S. will hurt Iraq over the next five years. The poll was done in late August, but Zogby says there is no reason to believe opinions have changed substantially since then. “Iraqis, like their fellow Arabs, feel victimized by a history of betrayal and humiliation at the hands of Western powers,” Zogby wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “It appears that U.S. policymakers overlooked or misread this sentiment.”

Meanwhile, charges are cascading that companies like Halliburton and Bechtel, who were awarded billions in no-bid contracts for Iraq, are ripping off U.S. taxpayers and the Iraqi people through overcharging, kickbacks, and other corrupt practices. Christian Aid, a British-based humanitarian group, last week accused the U.S. occupation authority of failing to account for $4 billion of the $5 billion it has spent thus far. Most of that money came from Iraq’s oil revenues, which are supposed to belong to the Iraqi people. “There’s certainly the suspicion that what the Iraqi oil is being used for right now is not to the benefit of the Iraqi people but to the benefit of American corporations,” a Christian Aid spokesperson said.

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org