U.S. Rx for Iraq: privatization

After compelling United Nations authorization of an extended U.S.-British occupation of Iraq, the Bush administration is now openly focusing on privatizing Iraq’s economy, regardless of the hardships that will mean for the Iraqi people.

U.S. occupation chief L. Paul Bremer told reporters the U.S. will concentrate on installing a “market economy” and “free trade,” eliminating the government subsidies that made food, gasoline and other essentials affordable for the Iraqi people.

Bremer said nothing about allowing the return of democracy and self-government. Instead, he asserted the Bush administration’s intention to impose its neo-conservative ideology on Iraq, declaring, “History tells us that substantial and broadly held resources, protected by private property, private rights, are the best protection of political freedom.”

Bremer’s remarks, wrote Washington Post reporter Scott Wilson, “indicated that Iraqis would not be deciding for themselves what kind of economy will replace the state-planned system that functioned under Hussein.”

Iraq has had a state-run economy for decades. Its enormous oil revenues were used to subsidize basic necessities of life and to make imported goods available at affordable prices. Under 13 years of economic sanctions, the UN Oil for Food program used oil revenues to feed 90 percent of Iraq’s people.

While the U.S. occupation authority is failing to provide for the basic needs of the Iraqi people, it is rushing to restart oil production, control the revenues, and privatize the industry. Under newly passed UN Resolution 1483, the Oil for Food program will end in six months, and the oil revenues, on which Iraq’s economy depends, will go to a fund controlled by the U.S.

Uniting for Peace, a coalition of over 150 peace groups and global non-governmental organizations, criticized the resolution as virtually legitimizing the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. “The United States was successful in bulldozing its way because it offered too many bribes and held out too many threats,” said Rob Wheeler, a coalition spokesman.

With the Bush administration is unilaterally conquering and occupying Iraq, creating “facts on the ground,” some UN Security Council members indicated they felt compelled to approve the resolution in order to enable humanitarian and reconstruction work to begin, and to provide at least some role for the UN. “The ‘opposition’ on the Security Council, not to mention the UN secretariat, has to walk through a minefield,” Ian Williams, who writes on the UN and international affairs for Foreign Policy in Focus, commented earlier this month. “No one wants the Iraqi people to suffer, and they will want to encourage Colin Powell in the internecine battles in the White House. So they have to concede more than they would like … while trying to patch the tear in the global order and the UN Charter that the invasion represented.”

Civilian casualties as a result of the U.S. assault on Iraq are estimated at more than 7,000. Of those, thousands have been killed since the U.S. seized Baghdad seven weeks ago. Many of these deaths have been caused by detonation of unexploded cluster bombs.

Cluster bombs spray hundreds of “bomblets” over a large area. Many of the bomblets do not explode on impact, turning them into de facto anti-personnel mines. The victims are predominantly children who touch the bomblets, which are often brightly colored.

The rules of war prohibit use of indiscriminate weapons, notes IraqBodyCount, which compiles data on civilian casualties in Iraq. “Cluster bombs are … incapable of being used in a manner that complies with the obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants. Those who use them in civilian areas therefore open themselves to charges of war crimes.”

Scientists and relief officials also charge the Pentagon with irresponsible use of depleted uranium (DU) weaponry in Iraq, and with shirking responsibility for cleaning up the toxic residue. DU is denser than steel and lead. The U.S. military used it on a massive scale to penetrate tank armor. DU weapons are made from low-level radioactive wastes. On impact they produce dangerous radioactive dust.

The Christian Science Monitor found “significant levels of radioactive contamination” from U.S. shells at four sites around Baghdad, with radiation levels more than 1,000 times normal background levels. Destroyed tanks and other radioactive debris littering Iraqi cities pose a threat to Iraqis, as well as to U.S. troops.

The U.S. first used DU in the 1991 Gulf War. In the decade following, Iraqi health officials recorded a 200 percent rise in cancer and leukemia cases, particularly in young children, in Basra, close to the fighting.

The U.S. and Britain are the only countries that use depleted uranium.

The author can be reached at suewebb@pww.org