On April 6, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz spelled it out: There will be no role for the United Nations in setting up an interim government in Iraq. The US-run regime will last at least six months, “probably…longer than that.”
And by the time the Iraqi people have a say in choosing a government, the key economic decisions about their country’s future will have been made by their occupiers. “There has got to be an effective administration from day one,” Wolfowitz said. “People need water and food and medicine, and the sewers have to work, the electricity has to work. And that’s a coalition responsibility.”
The process of getting all this infrastructure to work is usually called “reconstruction.” But American plans for Iraq’s future economy go well beyond that. Rather, the country is being treated as a blank slate on which the most ideological Washington neoliberals can design their dream economy: fully privatized, foreign-owned and open for business.
Some highlights: The $4.8 million management contract for the port in Umm Qasr has already gone to a US company, Stevedoring Services of America, and the airports are on the auction block. The US Agency for International Development has invited US multinationals to bid on everything from rebuilding roads and bridges to printing textbooks. Most of these contracts are for about a year, but some have options that extend up to four. How long before they meld into long-term contracts for privatized water services, transit systems, roads, schools and phones? When does reconstruction turn into privatization in disguise?
California Republican Congressman Darrel Issa has introduced a bill that would require the Defense Department to build a CDMA cell-phone system in postwar Iraq in order to benefit “US patent holders.” As Farhad Manjoo noted in Salon, CDMA is the system used in the United States, not Europe, and was developed by Qualcomm, one of Issa’s most generous donors.
And then there’s oil. The Bush Administration knows it can’t talk openly about selling off Iraq’s oil resources to ExxonMobil and Shell. It leaves that to Fadhil Chalabi, a former Iraq petroleum ministry official. “We need to have a huge amount of money coming into the country,” Chalabi says. “The only way is to partially privatize the industry.”
He is part of a group of Iraqi exiles who have been advising the State Department on how to implement that privatization in such a way that it isn’t seen to be coming from the United States. Helpfully, the group held a conference on April 4-5 in London, where it called on Iraq to open itself up to oil multinationals after the war. The Administration has shown its gratitude by promising there will be plenty of posts for Iraqi exiles in the interim government.