Iraq: The Invisible War
The US continues to paint a rosy picture of progress in Iraq but the reality is one of poverty, violence, torture and political corruption.
War and Sanctions continue to be used to manipulate and control Iraq. Joy Gordon’s recent book on the sanctions and US policy shows them being used by the US and Britain, not as an alternative to war as many in the international community may have intended, but as a means of softening in preparation for war.
As it turned out, that was done not once, but twice in 1991 and 2003. This Invisible War, in Joy Gordon’s own terms, has been part of a twenty year long US war against Iraq which successive British governments have enthusiastically and dishonourably supported. We see and learn of more gruesome evidence of the human cost of this war with every day that passes, but western governments try to abdicate their responsibility for the cumulative damage of a war that has lasted a whole generation and which they continue to wage.
Even now, after seven years of invasion and occupation, the Invisible War is not finished. Under Security Council Resolutions, Iraq is still considered by the big powers who dominate and abuse the UN as a threat to international peace, and it is thus subject to punishments and enforceable measure under Chapter vii of the UN Charter.
The war on Iraq continues not just through the presence and activities of US occupation forces and foreign mercenaries, but also through a series of punitive tools that are used against Iraq in order to ensure compliance with US wishes.
As a residue of the sanctions imposed in 1990, Iraq’s oil revenues are deposited into a fund in the US that is overseen externally and which is subject to restrictions that give the US great leverage. All Iraq’s foreign reserves are also held in the US and have been explicitly threatened with legal action in US courts. This leverage was used by the US to obtain concessions in negotiations with the Iraqi Government over the Status of Forces and Strategic Framework Agreements in 2008. In September this year, Maliki’s government agreed to pay $400m in settlement of some bizarre claims against Iraq by US citizens in US courts; claims which the US government and court system can simply impose by impounding Iraqi financial assets. This mockery of law and civilised international relations is reminiscent of the pillage of Iraqi assets in the first year of the occupation, and it shows that claims of Iraq having recovered its sovereignty are vacuous.
So, the sanctions are still used to coerce and damage Iraq.
Iraq today is the injured party, as it has been for the past 19 years. Yet, it is Iraq that is paying compensation to Kuwait and to others imposed under a UN compensation scheme imposed in 1991. Claims under the scheme were highly and sometimes ludicrously exaggerated and judgements were imposed in an unjust manner. No matter the extent and evidence of US and British abuse in Iraq, and no matter the gruesome suffering of the Iraqi people, the rich and powerful continue to demand their “compensation” from a nation that has been traumatised and abused by the great powers. Iraq will have to continue paying compensation for decades to come unless it gets a government that has the courage to mount a challenge to this iniquity.
While the UN imposes this punishment, the IMF with its customary criminal recklessness has been trying to abolish Iraq’s food ration system which is essential for the daily sustenance of a large proportion of the Iraqi population. In the province of Diyala, where the system has not been operating effectively due to conflict, a recent official survey found that 51% of the population suffers from “food deprivation”, i.e. their dietary energy consumption is below the minimum energy requirement. In simple terms, half the population of what used to be Iraq’s fruit garden, continuously don’t get enough to eat. In Basra which British forces left last year, they left behind them 20% of a population that is food deprived, even with the ration system operating.
Almost 30% of the population of the country as a whole cannot find any or enough employment, despite a massive expansion in state and security jobs. This is not counting the millions who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, nor women who are discouraged by extreme conditions from seeking employment. Inflation is rising rapidly again, public services, electricity, clean water provisions and housing remain in acute crisis. The economy is still at a standstill, and yet, Iraq is forced to pay unjust reparations by those who claim to have liberated it.
The sanctions forced the Iraqi government to accept border changes that were designed to subject Iraq’s main maritime channel to Kuwaiti sovereignty, making Iraq almost landlocked. In border changes imposed by the UN, Iraq lost areas that had never even been claimed by Kuwait. This policy championed by the US and British governments is thereby effectively creating a security threat.
So despite the British land withdrawal last year, British Navy units are in and around Iraq ostensibly protecting Iraq’s main oil export terminals and its maritime access routes. This is protection like having a knife at the jugular.
Of course there are security dangers to Iraq’s vital installations, but one of the main such dangers emanates from Britain’s and the US gung-ho attitude towards Iran and their continuing destabilisation of the region. What is needed is a regional security arrangement that sees foreign forces out altogether.
The British record in Iraq is abominable. We know about the torture and murder committed by troops that the Ministry of Defence has tried to cover up, and we know of the failure to provide security in Basra and the south. Yet, the British Ministry of Defence claims that “British Armed Forces have been helping the Iraqis to secure and rebuild their country after years of neglect and conflict.”
This disingenuous claim by those who had earlier enforced the blockade against Iraq, is also belied by reality on the ground. Last week, Basra city Council warned that dykes near the Iranian border and close to the city are liable to collapse. Such a collapse would cause an area of soil full of landmines to slide into the city itself. This is an example of the security and rebuilding the British forces have left behind. What security and rebuilding, I ask, if the military would not deal with the dangers of landmines creeping in on a city in their clutches?
The Department for International Development (DFID), for its part, pronounces that it provided £14m in aid to Iraq in 2009 and almost £19m the previous year. This of course is a pittance when compared with the tens of billions spent by Britain on the war. Nevertheless, a quick look at so-called UK aid to Iraq shows that of £32.8 disbursed in 2008/2009, only 5% (amounting to barely £1.5m) was spent on water, sanitation and other social issues, while a third was spent on “Governance” and close to a half on a category described as “other” which seems to include contributions to humanitarian emergency efforts. Almost nothing is spent on economic development projects as in actual reconstruction of physical infrastructure.
According to the Iraqi Minister of Water Resources, last year (2009) in southern Iraq alone, 300,000 Iraqis became ecological refugees as they had to move because the quality of water available to their villages had deteriorated because of drought. In Basra today, and more so in Fallujah, there is a serious, even catastrophic increase in cancers and congenital diseases.
The main purpose of DFID’s aid programme is not to accept responsibility for damaged caused by Britain’s illegal war, but to build political influence and to promote foreign investment. Perhaps this is the partly why the Coalition Government says it is not cutting it back.
We keep hearing that Iraq is rich in oil, but this oil has now been auctioned off in the dead of night by a cleptocracy and a government that is totally incompetent and that is advised by an army of international consultants. Multi-national companies have been given twenty year contracts that offer them rewards and no risks while the companies control of most of Iraqi oil, field by field.
Many people in Iraq are already talking of the next oil nationalisation struggle. No wonder, the contracts did not all go to the major American and British oil companies alone. Had they done so, the battle lines would have been more clearly drawn and abrogation of the contracts would be easier, but it is a struggle that will come anyway.
Iraq’s industrial assets are also being auctioned and investors are hankering after prime state land. The country’s water resources are being siphoned off by neighbouring states upstream, and the country is once again beginning to sink into debt that threatens to go out of control under the guise of federalism and decentralisation. So, the promised new oil revenues are being skimmed away straight off the top.
The occupiers have come, destroyed, abused and created chaos. They have encouraged corruption, and they now give loud advice on economic policy, equitable distribution of resources, and good governance. The US occupiers still retain 50,000 troops and tens of thousands of mercenaries in the country and they keep a hold on Iraq’s lifeline and bank accounts. Terrorist atrocities are a daily occurrence, and the people of Iraq are victims of a defeat the US refuses to acknowledge. A failing political process has Iraq’s future hostage to the schemes of corrupt US political protégés and dark reactionary forces and regimes fomenting sectarianism and prejudice in Iraq and across the region.
The US continues to paint a rosy picture of progress which it measures largely by the march of its project for a corporate takeover of the country. Widespread corruption and chaotic conditions mean that this project cannot yet be trusted to the local political allies of the US, so I take the promised full US military withdrawal by December 2011 with more than a pinch of salt.
A last word on the recent Wikileaks revelations of abuse by US forces and by Iraqi security forces. A lot has been revealed about the killing, the torture, and the failure to protect civilians. The leaks must be utilised to expose occupation policy and crimes against the Iraqi people and to identify victims and perpetrators.
However, whatever else one may say and do, the focus on getting all US forces and mercenaries out of Iraq must not be lost. Abusive Iraqi security forces will not be reformed by abusive US forces, and certainly not by mercenaries.
Based on Kamil Mahdi's speech to the Stop the War Coalition conference.