Naomi Klein of The Nation writes an incredibly damning piece on the “reconstruction efforts” taking place in Iraq, and how the corporate thieves are cashing in on our tax dollars and have little to show for it. It’s another outrage and reason why contractors are getting beheaded and kidnapped. The Iraqis are getting a raw deal, and you can see why:
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, clearly, 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, diarrhoea, 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 behind schedule.
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 experiment 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 – money 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.
…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 also 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”.