Good news out of Baghdad: the Program Management Office, which oversees the $18.4 billion in US reconstruction funds, has finally set a goal it can meet. Sure, electricity is below prewar levels, streets are rivers of sewage and more Iraqis have been fired than hired. But now the PMO has contracted with 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 $184 million earmarked for drinking water projects and moved it to the budget for the lavish new US Embassy in Saddam’s former palace. Short $1 billion for the embassy, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage 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 Public Citizen, are facing “massive outbreaks of cholera, diarrhea, nausea and kidney stones” from drinking contaminated water.
If occupation chief Paul Bremer and his staff were capable of embarrassment, they might be a little sheepish about having spent only $3.2 billion of the $18.4 billion Congress allotted–the reason the reconstruction is so disastrously behind schedule. At first, Bremer said the money would be spent by the time Iraq was sovereign, but apparently someone had a better idea: Parcel it out over five years so Ambassador John Negroponte can use it as leverage. With $15 billion outstanding, how likely will Iraq’s politicians be to refuse US demands for military bases and economic “reforms”?
Unwilling to let go of their own money, the shameless ones have had no qualms about dipping into funds belonging to Iraqis. After losing the fight to keep control of Iraq’s oil money after the underhand, occupation authorities grabbed $2.5 billion of those revenues and are now spending the money on projects that are supposedly already covered by US tax dollars.
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 privatization. The dream was for multinational firms, mostly from the United States, 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.