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[casi] Iraqis riot over unemployment, corruption

As Washington readies "reconstruction"
Iraqis riot over unemployment, corruption
By Bill Vann
2 October 2003

Violent clashes between unemployed demonstrators and security forces erupted
in both the center of Baghdad and Mosul, northern Iraq's largest city
Wednesday, underscoring the extreme social tensions that are generating
increasing resistance to the US occupation.

The largest of the demonstrations took place in Mosul, a city of nearly
700,000 people 240 miles north of Baghdad. Several thousand jobless Iraqis
gathered outside an employment office near the city hall. The crowd began
throwing stones at the office out of frustration over the lack of any
employment. Police and security guards opened fire to disperse the

"I need a salary now-I've been out of work since the war," Ayid Khalid, 24,
a former construction worker told the Reuters news agency.

Gunfire also erupted in Baghdad after job seekers rioted outside the offices
of a US-backed security agency that supplies guards for some civilian
installations. The protesters charged that the agency was demanding bribes
of up to $100-an amount beyond the reach of most Iraqis-to be considered for
a job.

The protest turned violent as job seekers stoned the building and set cars
ablaze and security guards and police responded with automatic weapons fire.
At least two of the job seekers were wounded by gunfire.

A number of those participating in the demonstrations were ex-soldiers.
Washington's colonial proconsul in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, disbanded the
350,000-member Iraqi army without pay as one of his first acts after
arriving in the country last May. The measure swelled the ranks of the
unemployed, now estimated at 60 percent of the country's workforce.

The desperate situation facing the Iraqi people six months after the US
invaded and occupied their country was further exposed in a report issued
September 23 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
and the World Food Program (WFP), which found that nearly half of the 26.3
million Iraqis are living in extreme poverty, unable to afford adequate

While starvation has been averted, largely through the continuation of the
oil-for-food program initiated under the deposed regime of Saddam Hussein,
several million people are suffering chronic malnutrition, according to the
report, including some 100,000 refugees and around 200,000 internally
displaced people.

The situation of mothers and children in central and southern Iraq is of
particular concern, according to the UN agency.

"Acute malnutrition, an indicator of deficiencies in current food security,
and chronic malnutrition, an indicator of chronic poverty, have been
declining up until 2002," the report states. "The damage and deterioration
during the recent conflict sustained by the health services,
water/sanitation and electricity sectors; the halting of TNP [Targeted
Nutrition Program-an Iraqi Health Ministry initiative to aid women and
children]; and instability, insecurity and unemployment in postwar Iraq have
put a stop to the trends of improvement."

Profiteering and reconstruction

Against this backdrop of deepening social catastrophe, a collection of
politically connected US corporations, Republican Party insiders and their
Iraqi collaborators are preparing to reap super profits off of the so-called
reconstruction effort in Iraq. The bribe scheme at the Baghdad security
agency that sparked yesterday's rioting is only a minute expression of the
colossal corruption that is emerging in Washington's plans for spending
$20.3 billion in reconstruction funds requested by the Bush administration
as part of its $87 billion package for the occupations of Iraq and

The US war against Iraq and the subsequent occupation of the country
constitute war crimes that are in blatant violation of international law.
The purpose of this war was not to "liberate" the Iraqi people-tens of
thousands of whom have been killed or wounded-or to spread democracy in the
Middle East, as the administration and its apologists claim. It is a
predatory use of military power to secure US control of the country's oil
wealth and further Washington's drive for global hegemony.

That being said, the venality that characterizes the Bush administration and
the layer of corporate criminals that constitute its principal base is so
uncontrolled that they are incapable of organizing the occupation of Iraq as
anything but a looting operation.

According to an article published in the October 1 issue of Newsweek titled
"The Unbuilding of Iraq," the civilian leadership of the Pentagon
systematically excluded anyone but right-wing political allies of the
administration from the occupation authority. Rumsfeld personally ordered
the ouster of 15 of the 20 State Department officials sent to Iraq on
suspicion that they were not sufficiently loyal to the Bush White House.

The magazine quoted one US official who was in Baghdad as saying that this
political vetting process "got so bad that even doctors sent to restore
medical services had to be anti-abortion."

A "dissident Pentagon official" quoted in the same article voiced the
growing consensus of contempt for the collection of Republican operatives
and White House loyalists who make up the Coalition Provisional Authority:
"So there they are, sitting in their palace: 800 people, 17 of whom speak
Arabi,c one is an expert on Iraq. Living in this cocoon. Writing papers. It'
s absurd."

There are definite reasons for this seemingly incongruous composition of the
occupation authority, however. The White House is determined to have in
Baghdad only those officials who can be relied upon to support the corrupt
deals that are to be made for the benefit of the administration's corporate

The Newsweek article indicated that at least in some cases orders for the
removal of State Department officials considered unreliable-or too
knowledgeable about Iraq-came personally from Vice President Richard Cheney.

The principal beneficiary of reconstruction funds thus far has been the
energy giant that Cheney headed for five years before being tapped as the
Republican Party's vice presidential candidate in 2000-the Texas-based
Halliburton Co.

The company's engineering subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root, was awarded a
no-bid contract worth up to $7 billion over two years for the reconstruction
and management of Iraq's oilfields. The contract is a "cost-plus" deal, with
the government guaranteeing Halliburton all of its expenses plus a 7 percent
profit, ensuring that the more the firm spends the more it makes.

In a September 14 appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," Cheney insisted that
he had severed connections with Halliburton. In fact, he received $162,392
in deferred compensation from the company last year and a similar amount in
2001. In addition, he holds 433,333 Halliburton stock options. The
Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan arm of Congress, released a
report last month stipulating the obvious: Cheney's deferred salary and
stock options constitute a "financial interest" under federal ethics

Administration-connected lobbyists

In an unmistakable signal that the $20.3 billion the administration is
requesting for reconstruction will be similarly awarded based on political
connections, figures closely linked to the administration have set up a pair
of consulting firms offering assistance in winning lucrative
 "reconstruction" contracts.

"The opportunities evolving in Iraq today are of such an unprecedented
nature and scope that no other existing firm has the necessary skills and
experience to be effective both in Washington, DC and on the ground in
 Iraq," reads the web site pitch made by New Bridge Strategies, LLC.

The firm's chairman and director is Joe Allbaugh, who left his post as
director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at the outset of
the Iraq war. Before that, he was the national campaign manager of the
Bush-Cheney presidential campaign in 2000 and the chief of staff to Bush
when he was Texas governor.

The office of the company is located on the same floor of the same
Washington office building as that of the lobbying firm Barbour Griffith &
Rogers, headed by the former chairman of the Republican Party and current
Republican nominee for Mississippi governor, Haley Barbour. Allbaugh's wife
is listed as "of counsel" to the Barbour firm, while its vice chairman, Ed
Rogers, is also the vice chairman and director of New Bridge Strategies.

A second firm, Iraqi International Law Group, offers to "provide foreign
enterprise with the information and tools it needs to enter the emerging
Iraq and succeed." The firm's founder is Salem Chalabi, the nephew of Ahmed
Chalabi, the leader of the US-installed Iraqi Governing Council. Ahmed
Chalabi, who was convicted of bank fraud and embezzlement in Jordan and
sentenced to 22 years in prison, has been pressing for a more direct role in
controlling the money that the Bush administration is seeking from Congress.

Chalabi, who spent more than 40 years in exile, won the backing of the
right-wing civilian leadership in the Pentagon for his pretensions to emerge
as the head of a US-backed regime in Baghdad. Among his closest supporters
has been Douglas Feith, number-three man in the civilian hierarchy at the

Before taking his post at the Pentagon, Feith was a partner in Zell,
Goldberg & Co., a lobbying firm that specializes in Israeli military
contracts. According to the British Guardian newspaper, the web site of
Salem Chalabi's new firm is registered in the name of Marc Zell, Feith's
former partner at the Israeli-connected firm, who is also described as the
Iraqi International Group's "marketing consultant."

What is clearly emerging in Iraq is a massive criminal swindle involving all
but open partnerships between top government officials and corporations. The
goal of plundering Iraq's oil wealth and the rest of its economy is joined
with that of stealing billions of dollars in public US funds. The cost-plus
contracts to be awarded to the companies that are selected by outfits like
Allbaugh's and that of Zell-Chalabi will be paid for by American working
people through the further destruction of jobs and basic social conditions
in the US itself.

That none of this is intended to aid the Iraqi people is clear. Indeed,
attempts to ameliorate the conditions in Iraq are immediately squashed if
they pose a potential challenge to the lucrative contracts that the
administration is handing out to its corporate supporters. The result is
growing hostility from the Iraqi population and, arguably, a growing number
of dead American soldiers.

Efforts by Iraqi electrical engineers to repair and resuscitate the battered
power grid that is presently supplying only intermittent electricity to the
country's population have been stymied, so as not to cut across the $5.7
billion deal that is expected to go principally to Bechtel for rebuilding
the system.

Similarly, an attempt by a local company to set up cell phones in Baghdad,
which has been plagued by lack of reliable communications, was promptly
halted by the occupation authorities. No such service is allowed until the
contract, worth several hundred million dollars, is awarded. MCI, which has
no experience whatsoever in establishing cell phone systems, was brought in
to set up service for the occupation officials and is rumored to be the
administration's favorite for the contract.

Meanwhile, Democrats on Capitol Hill are attempting to force the Iraqi
people to pay for this massive boondoggle by mortgaging their future oil
wealth. A Democratic-sponsored amendment-defeated for now by a vote of 15-14
on the Senate Appropriations Committee-calls for the entire $20.3 billion
package to be financed by forming a new Iraqi financial authority that would
guarantee future oil revenues as collateral for the money that will be paid
out to Halliburton, Bechtel and other US corporations.

For the most part, the Democrats have remained silent on the shameless
corruption that pervades the reconstruction scheme, dependent as they are on
the same corporations that are seeking to profit off of Iraq.

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