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Democracy Comes to Iraq

One month after the fall of Baghdad, the US has successfully liberated the people of Iraq from meaningful involvement in decisions about their own future.

A designer regime, concocted behind closed doors by Pentagon and State Department planners, is now being imposed on Iraq with great speed and without any kind of popular consent. Iraq’s nascent “democratic transition government” is window-dressing for a military dictatorship charged with insuring that US policy goals — especially the disposition of Iraq’s vast petroleum reserves — are protected from any troublesome outbreaks of democracy.

As journalist Naomi Klein recognized weeks ago, the Iraqi people will not be granted authority until fundamental and probably irrevocable features of the New Iraq are locked in place.

The essentials of the US blueprint for post-invasion Iraq were known to legislators by February 2003, when Undersecretary of State Douglas Feith outlined administration policy goals in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Feith drew on months of planning by a White House committee chaired by Iran-Contra perjurer Elliott Abrams, as well as input from Establishment intellectuals and a series of closed-door meetings sponsored by the State Department’s “Future of Iraq” program.

Further details of the blueprint were disclosed early this year to key Iraqi expatriates like White House favorite Ahmad Chalabi, the career dissident and convicted felon who is Bush’s man in Baghdad. The highhandedness of US plans alarmed even Chalabi, who partially summarized them in a February 19 Wall Street Journal op-ed:

“[T]he plan … calls for an American military governor to rule Iraq for up to two years. … The occupation authorities would appoint a ‘consultative council’ of handpicked Iraqis with non-executive powers and unspecified authority, serving at the pleasure of the American governor. The occupation authorities would also appoint a committee to draft a constitution for Iraq. After an unspecified period, indirect elections would be held for a ‘constituent assembly’ that would vote to ratify the new constitution without a popular referendum.”

At no point in this democratic transition, it should be noted, will the Iraqi people actually be permitted to vote.

Events of the past month suggest that the US is following its blueprint to the letter. Iraq is now controlled by a military occupation government known euphemistically as the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance. Its chief, former Lt. General Jay Garner, is de facto Viceroy of Iraq. (In a decision dictated partly by public relations considerations, Garner will soon be replaced in this role by a civilian, Kissinger crony L. Paul Bremer III. According to The New York Times, Bremer is being installed in order to “lessen the appearance of a military occupation.” Like Garner, however, he will be reporting to US Central Command.)

On April 15 and 27, the US convened official gatherings of handpicked Iraqi “delegates” in Ur and Baghdad. The meetings took place in halls encircled by US armored vehicles. Participation was by US invitation only; representatives from Iraq’s left-wing, fundamentalist, and nationalist parties were systematically excluded; ordinary citizens seeking to observe democracy in action were barred from the hall. White House envoy Zalmay Khalilzad presided.

On May 4, Garner announced that he had appointed the “consultative council” mentioned by Chalabi. Although Garner implied that the council’s makeup reflected the sentiments of the Baghdad conference, the nine members turned out to be the usual suspects: prominent Iraqi dissidents, mostly expatriates, who have been on the US payroll for years. Despite his evident unpopularity at all levels of Iraqi society, Chalabi is among them.

Garner further announced that the US is beginning the plan’s next phase, the selection of a constituent assembly. With surprising frankness, he described this puppet body as “a government with an Iraqi face on it that [will be] totally dealing with the coalition.”

Again, no elections will be held, but teams of Iraqi ex-dissidents close to the US are fanning out across the country to recruit amenable local officials and leaders. Recent disclosures suggest that their loyalty may well be secured through blackmail and bribery.

According to the new York Times, the US has provided Chalabi’s gang with a blackmail kit in the form of documents taken from the Ba’ath Party and Iraqi secret police archives, described as “incendiary material in a region where under-the-table payoffs to buy protection, loyalty or silence are the seamy side of political life.” The existence of a bribery program is not openly acknowledged, but can be inferred from leaks surrounding the April 10 assassination of US-sponsored Shiite cleric Abdul Majid al Khoei in Najaf. Shortly after his death, US intelligence sources revealed that Khoei had been provided with $13 million to buy the loyalty of Shiite leaders.

These, then, are the sordid realities behind President Bush’s recent declaration that the “we will stand with the new leaders of Iraq as they establish a government of, by, and for the Iraqi people.” And while the White House issues platitudes about democracy, anti-US street demonstrations, which arguably represent democracy in its purest form, are being put down by lethal force.

On April 15, soldiers opened fire on a crowd hostile to the US-imposed governor in Mosul, killing at least 10 people and injuring as many as 100. On April 29 and again on April 30, US troops machine-gunned protestors in the town of Fallujah, killing at least 15 Iraqis and wounding more than 75 in massacres reminiscent of the British firings in colonial India. An unmistakable message is being sent.

What’s at stake? In a word, oil. Indeed, a swift and sweeping restructuring of Iraq’s petroleum-fueled economy is already well underway.

Acting unilaterally, the U.S. has moved to radically restructure Iraq’s oil industry on the model of a Western private corporation, with a chief executive and a management team, vetted by American officials, who would answer to a “multinational” board of advisers. Oil production is now under the control of former ExxonMobil executive Gary Vogler, who has publicly warned Iraq’s indigenous oil ministers not to make any decisions without the approval of allied forces.

All this is a prelude to the privatization of Iraqi petroleum. Speaking for the State Department-sponsored Oil and Energy Working Group, Kurdish oil consultant Dara Attar says openly that Iraq is “going to ‘demonopolize’ the oil, inviting foreign companies to invest directly in development of new oil fields.” According to another working group member, former Iraqi oil minister Fadhil Chalabi, the US will then pull Iraq out of OPEC. The defection from OPEC of the nation with the world’s second-largest oil reserves could effectively destroy the organization, eliminating once for all the threat that oil-producing states may set the agenda for their own future.

Meanwhile, a careful reading of mainstream news stories suggests that the US is quietly foisting upon the people of Iraq a regimen of economic “shock therapy” reminiscent of the neo-liberal reforms that devastated Central European economies during the 1990s.

Acting on the advice of the US Treasury Department, CENTCOM has replaced the Iraqi dinar with the US dollar — wiping out the savings and pensions of the Iraqi people at one blow. Simultaneously, the system of price controls by which Saddam’s government kept food, electricity, and other necessities affordable has been abolished. Eventually a new dinar will be issued, but only after the US has set up a new central bank and “stabilized” the economy under Treasury Department supervision.

This stabilization will likely take the form of a wholesale, institutionalized looting of national wealth. The US has determined that the Iraqi people themselves, through the sale of their petroleum, will be made to finance repair of the immense infrastructural and social damage caused by two wars and a decade of punitive sanctions. This money will flow to well-connected US corporate giants like Halliburton and Bechtel, which have already been awarded no-bid contracts totaling nearly $2 billion. Ironically, the same defense-related firms that reaped huge profits from the destruction of Iraq will now benefit from its reconstruction.

Additionally, the Iraqi people will be expected to honor nearly $300 billion in foreign debt left over from the Saddam years — or at least, that portion of the debt owed to the US, UK, and other supporters of the war. Servicing of these debts will likely require further privatization of assets — in practice, a firesale of commonly held national assets to foreign private investors.

By the time Iraqis are granted some semblance of self-government, their country will already have been reduced to the status of a Third World debtor nation — incapacitated, brutalized, beggared, and therefore pliable enough to accommodate both international corporate interests and a massive, permanent US military presence.

Yet if history is any guide, the people of Iraq will not submit meekly to this latest form of tyranny. Resistance will escalate, and so will repression.

Bremer, arriving in Baghdad with a mandate to restore order and security, is a counterterrorism specialist who favors hardline measures, including “targeted killings.” So the near future isn’t hard to guess: dissenters will be jailed, “disappeared,” assassinated, or simply mowed down with automatic weapons.

They will of course be branded as recalcitrant Saddamists, Iranian spies, and al-Qaeda terrorists. Given what we know about the goals and nature of the occupation government, it might be more accurate to call them freedom fighters.

JACOB LEVICH assisted the Research Unit for Political Economy in the preparation of Behind the Invasion of Iraq (Monthly Review Press 2003). He is a writer, editor, and activist based in Queens, New York. He can be reached at: jlevich@earthlink.net

 

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Jacob Levich is a university administrator and independent researcher who tweets as @cordeliers.

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