Occupation brings death, corruption and poverty


The US troop death toll in Iraq in November — 37 — was the lowest since March 2006, when 31 US troops were killed. Nevertheless, 2007 has been the deadliest year on record for the US occupation forces, with 878 troops killed by the end of November — 56 more than last year.

Washington's puppet Iraqi government claimed on December 2 that only 538 Iraqi civilians were killed in war-related violence in November — less than half the total for June, when the last of an extra 30,000 US troops arrived in Iraq, boosting total US troop numbers to 168,000. The officially released Iraqi civilian death toll for June was 1227.

US and Iraqi government officials claimed that the decline was evidence that the US troop "surge" and accompanying "security crackdown" in Baghdad was working. However, the officially released November civilian death toll may be only half the real figure.

While the Iraqi government's officially released civilian death toll for October was 758, the November 2 Washington Post reported that an internal tally by the Iraqi health ministry showed that 1448 Iraqi civilians had died from war-related violence that month.

On December 4, US Army chief of staff General George Casey had told the Washington-based Brookings Institution policy think tank that the strain on his troops and the wear and destruction of equipment from the current pace of troop deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are "unsustainable". He said that the pace of deployments for these counter-insurgency wars had left the US Army ill-prepared to wage a conventional war against a major adversary.

As of December 4, there were 166,000 US troops in Iraq, according to the Pentagon, up from 135,000 in January. This "surge" was only made possible by extending US troops' tours in Iraq from 12 to 15 months. US troop numbers in Iraq have now begun to decline as units complete their 15-month tours.

The December 2 New York Times reported that even "as Iraqi and American officials assess the effects of this year's American troop increase, there is a growing sense that, even as security has improved, Iraq has slipped to new depths of lawlessness.

"One recent independent analysis ranked Iraq the third most corrupt country in the world. Of 180 countries surveyed, only Somalia and Myanmar [Burma] were worse, according to Transparency International, a Berlin-based group that publishes the index annually.

"And the extent of the theft is staggering. Some American officials estimate that as much as a third of what they spend on Iraqi contracts and grants ends up unaccounted for or stolen...

"Iraq's top anti-corruption official estimated this fall — before resigning and fleeing the country after 31 of his agency's employees were killed over a three-year period — that $18 billion in Iraqi government money had been lost to various stealing schemes since 2004."

Increasing poverty

The NYT reported that widespread official corruption has resulted in "nearly everything the government buys or sells
can now be found on the black market. Painkillers for cancer (from the Ministry of Health) cost $80 for a few capsules; electricity meters (from the Ministry of Electricity) go for $200 each, and even third-grade textbooks (stolen from the Ministry of Education) must be bought at bookstores for three times what schools once charged."

Noting that at least 40% of Iraqis are unemployed, the NYT reported that for "many Iraqis, minor theft seems justified because others take so much... Baghdad, in particular, is still marked by desperation, with more women begging at intersections and with many Iraqis barely getting by, even with a little cheating."

A UN Development Program study conducted in 2004 and released last February said that a third of Iraq's 26 million people were living in "abject poverty". The report's authors noted that from "a thriving middle-income economy in the 1970s and 1980s", 13 years of UN sanctions followed by the US-led occupation (with its imposition of neoliberal "free market" policies), had reduced Iraq to a country where one-third of households lived on the equivalent of less than $70 a week.

A July Oxfam study based on the most recent UN and Iraqi government data reported that 4 million Iraqis regularly could not buy enough to eat.

The report found that children were the hardest hit by the post-invasion fall in living standards, stating that child malnutrition rates had risen from 19% before the US-led invasion in 2003 to 28% currently.

It also found that 70% of Iraqis now lack access to adequate water supplies, up from 50% in 2003, and that 90% of the country's hospitals lack basic medical and surgical supplies.

"Iraqis are suffering from a growing lack of food, shelter, water and sanitation, health care, education, and employment", said the report.

One survey cited in the report, completed in May by the Iraqi planning ministry, found that 43% of Iraqis live in "absolute poverty", on less than US$1 a day.

At a December 1 anti-war conference in London, Hassan Juma Awad, president the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, which represents 28,000 Iraqi oil workers, accused Washington of invading Iraq because of its vast oil resources. Calling for the withdrawal of all US troops, Awad argued that the US occupation forces have been the main sponsors of sectarian violence in Iraq.

War for oil

In the December 3 Middle East Economic Survey, Issam Chalabi, president of the state-owned Iraq National Oil Company from 1981 to 1987, noted that, "Even before the invasion of March 2003, there had been many reports prepared or encouraged by certain US authorities or affiliated think-tanks on the privatization of Iraq's oil industry. The most significant was one by US officials submitted to a committee formed a few months before the war — one out of 15 committees that had been established by the US administration" to draw up plans to run a US-occupied Iraq.

"After the invasion", Chalabi continued, "these ideas were presented, but were not welcomed by the vast majority of Iraqi oil professionals inside and outside the country. Phil Caroll of Conoco and later Shell, appointed to oversee the oil industry, gave up on that. Yet efforts to prepare a new oil law continued, through US institutions, private consultants and committees formed for that purpose...

"After the formation of the Maliki government in May 2006, it was apparent that one of its major tasks, at the US's behest, was to issue a new oil law. A US consulting group named BearingPoint was appointed to assist the oil ministry in that task...

"By 26 February 2007 an official draft was agreed upon after months of secret negotiations and after direct intervention by senior US officials. That draft was not released, but its text became available to oil unions and professionals who considered it a sell-out to foreign oil companies...

"The oil unions held a number of meetings and issued declarations denouncing the said draft law as soon as the cabinet adopted it on 26 February...

"The Iraqi government then called for a gathering in Dubai last April to show support, but were surprised by a number of major obstacles: two of three professionals who had worked on the first draft of 2006 declared their disassociation from the draft...

"Also, the leaderships of all five of Iraq's trade union federations made a joint statement on the future of Iraq's oil, saying: 'We strongly reject the privatization of our oil wealth, as well as production-sharing agreements, and there is no room for discussion on this matter. This is the demand of the Iraqi street, and the privatization of oil is a red line that may not be crossed.'

"A 26 February cabinet decision set a 31 May deadline for the oil law, plus four annexes categorizing the oil fields and contract models... But none has been passed up to now...

"Despite strong objections of oil professionals and oil workers' unions and efforts of many Iraqi MPs, NGOs, media and others, the government is still dictating the theme of the law, advancing the ideas of possibly awarding foreign oil companies contracts on a production-sharing basis for fields discovered throughout the past decades...

"In the meantime, the oil minister issued orders considering the oil unions as illegal and barred the oil establishments from dealing with them simply because the unions continued their fierce campaign against the oil law...

"At a Stanford University discussion, retired General John Abizaid, the former CentCom commander, said what we all know: 'Of course it's about oil, we can't really deny that... We've treated the Arab world as a collection of big gas stations.'"