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Why No Democracy in Iraq?


It’s almost a year since the Iraq war began, and
now that the “official” reasons for the invasion–Iraq’s
storied stockpiles of weapons, the imaginary ties between Saddam
Hussein and Osama bin Laden–lie in disrepute, the Bush administration’s
new tack is to say the war was really about something else all
along: democracy.

The trouble is, the Iraqi people seem
more interested in democracy than President Bush. Just three
weeks ago, 10,000 Iraqis marched on the U.S.-installed governing
council in Nasiriyah, just south of Baghdad, demanding that the
U.S. appointees resign and that elections be immediately held.

The Bush administration’s response? Paul
Bremer, U.S. head of the Iraq occupation, categorically declared
that there will be no elections before the planned June “handover”
of “sovereignty” to Iraqis. Which begs the question:
are a people truly “sovereign” if they have no say
in their country’s future?

Bush’s aversion to democracy in Iraq
not only makes his latest justification for war questionable;
it should also heighten scrutiny of Research Triangle Institute,
the North Carolina outfit officially tasked with “democracy
building” in war-torn Iraq.

Last March, just before the war began,
RTI was invited by the U.S. Agency for International Development
to bid on a contract for creating “local governance”
out of the post-invasion rubble. Two other bidders dropped out,
and RTI was awarded a deal worth $167.9 million in the first
year, and totaling up to $466 million.

If that seems like a lot of money, it
is. When U.S. AID’s inspector general audited the contract last
September, he concluded that the deal appeared designed to “justify
spending the available money” instead of being based on
the needs of the Iraqi people.

RTI has a history of solid domestic research
and a generally liberal image; its connections and campaign contributions,
unlike Halliburton, Bechtel, and other Bush-connected beneficiaries
of Iraq contracts, has favored the Democratic Party.

But that hasn’t made their plans any
more palatable to occupied Iraqis–plans which bear little resemblance
to “democracy.” As Christian Arandel of RTI’s International
Development program described his organization’s work at a Chapel
Hill forum earlier this month, “Let us be clear. These are
not elections. These are all processes of selections.”

Arandel’s admission reveals that not
much has changed since November, when the Washington Post issued
this dispatch from Iraq, which is worth quoting at length:

“With the RTI’s guidance, the military
will execute the plan. It will select neighborhood councils,
which in turn will select district councils, which in turn will
select county councils, which in turn will select a provincial
council, which, finally, will select a governor. Members of the
new councils will be appointed rather than elected. Local leaders
will be consulted, and some groups will actually cast votes to
select neighborhood leaders. But the final decisions will be
made by the military and the RTI.”

Military planning and decision-making?
Five steps of selection? Appointments rather than elections?
No wonder that one Iraqi from Taji–where locals had set up their
own elected council, only to have it disbanded–told the Post,
“We feel we are going backwards.”

As a UN report by Secretary General Kofi
Annan released on Monday states, “Elections are a necessary
step in the process of building democratic governance and reconstruction.
The [U.S. sponsored] caucus-style system as it now stands is
not practical and is not a substitute for elections.”

An appointee government, the child of
the caucus-style system, would very likely continue with the
US-unilateral, economic changes — or, at the very least, not
oppose changes — that open control of Iraq’s wealth and resources
to outside interests.

Which points to another controversial
aspect of RTI’s activities in Iraq. A July report of Iraq’s Coalition
Provisional Authority says that RTI is pushing for privatization
of public services such as garbage pickup. This is disturbingly
reminiscent of RTI’s efforts to turn over water supplies in South
Africa to foreign corporations in the mid-1990s–a move which
caused water prices to skyrocket to unaffordable levels in poor
black townships, sparking riots and, according to human rights
groups, a cholera epidemic which killed hundreds.

Both privately and in public, RTI employees
are voicing displeasure with their role in Iraq’s political landscape,
portraying themselves as caught between a Bush-and Pentagon-driven
agenda for Iraq on one hand, and the will of the Iraqi people
for self-rule on the other. But RTI is still in Iraq, and still
taking the money.

But the Iraqi people have grown tired
of excuses and platitudes. It’s time for real democracy in Iraq.

Chris Kromm,
Rania Masri and Tara Purohit work at the Institute
for Southern Studies
in Durham, N.C. and are coordinators
of the Institute’s Campaign to Stop the War Profiteers. They
can be reached at:

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