Iraq: Enforced Democracy?

Iraq: Enforced Democracy?
by Rania Masri
University of California in San Diego, March 3, 2004

A report from U.N. weapons inspectors released March 2nd stated that they now believe there were no weapons of mass destruction of any significance in Iraq after 1994. The report is based on information gathered over more than seven years of U.N. inspections in Iraq before the 2003 war, plus postwar findings discussed publicly by David Kay, the former U.S. chief inspector.

No weapons of mass destruction of any significance in Iraq after 1994.

1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002—all those years of sanctions when we—the U.S. public—were told that sanctions have to be imposed on the 22 million people of Iraq. And, now, we were told that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, and thus we—the U.S. public—had to give our approval to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. But Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction after 1994.

We were told that Saddam Hussein has links to Al Qaeda, and later George W. Bush told us that he was mistaken. No links. The CIA was right all along.

Now we are told that we must stand by this invasion and occupation of Iraq because of democracy. Democracy.

Yet, when asked by Helen Thomas, “How many Iraqis have been killed in this war,” a U.S. Defense Department official replied, “We don’t track them. They don’t count. They are not important.”

And, when thousands of Iraqi people were marching a month ago 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, Paul Bremer, the U.S. head of the occupation, responded by declaring that there will be no elections before the planned June “handover” of “sovereignty” to Iraqis. Which begs the question: are people truly “sovereign” if they have no say in their country’s future?

Is a democracy being built in Iraq

Last March, days before the 2003 war, the Research Triangle Institute—a North Carolina non-profit—was awarded a $167.9 million contract for creating “local governance” out of the postinvasion rubble. Christian Arandel of RTI’s International Development program described his organization’s work at a Chapel Hill forum earlier this month in this fashion: “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 decisionmaking? Five steps of selection? Appointments rather than elections? No wonder the 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 U.N. report by Secretary General Kofi Annan released in late February states, “Elections are a necessary step in the process of building democratic governance and reconstruction. The {U.S. sponsored} caucus-style system, would very likely continue with the U.S. unilateral economic changes—or, at the very least, not oppose the changes—that open control of Iraq’s wealth and resources to outside interests.

And, herein lies the fundamental aspect: Why would the U.S. occupying power allow a democracy in Iraq, one that would represent Iraqi interests, rather than push for a U.S. appointee government that would represent U.S. (elite) economic interests?

Since the occupation began ten months ago, the occupying powers, under Bremer’s leadership, have imposed unilateral, illegal economic changes. Weeks into the occupation, Bremer stated Iraq is “open for business. Months into the occupation of Iraq, Bremer repeated, “The key message on Iraq since we got here is Iraq is now open to free trade.”

Bremer declared Iraq free of tariffs. “All tariffs, customs duties, import taxes, licensing fees and similar surcharges from goods entering or leaving Iraq, and all other trade restrictions that may apply to such goods are suspended until December 31, 2003.” This so-called “Trade Liberalization Policy” has been extended.

Bremer succeeded in imposing on Iraq what two presidential candidates and several senators had failed to impose on the U.S. public: a flat tax. Bremer declared, in Order 37, that “the highest individual and corporate income tax rates for 2004 and subsequent years shall not exceed 15 percent.”

The order by Bremer that sent shockwaves through Iraq and raised the alarm of breaking international law is the infamous Order 39, the “Foreign Direct Investment Law. On September 21, 2003, “acknowledging the {U.S. appointed} Governing Council’s desire to bring out significant change to the Iraqi economic system” Bremer allowed new unrestricted, 100 percent foreign ownership of all “economic sectors in Iraq,” except oil, and allowed 100 percent removal of their profits out of Iraq” without delay.”

Order 39 is a gross violation of international law. The 1907 Hague Regulations and 1949 Geneva Conventions forbid the sequestration of sovereign resources and properties through conquest and occupation.*

However, companies seeking business in Iraq are having difficulty finding insurance. Why? Because the insurance companies recognize the illegality of the economic changes imposed by Bremer, and until these changes are “legitimized,” this will remain the case. And legalizing these illegal laws is what an appointee government may be able to provide, an appointee government, we should remember, that lacks domestic legitimacy.

Allowing the current, rather destructive, economic changes to continue is only one parcel of what an appointee government is expected to do.

U.S. retired Gen. Jay Garner, who was in charge of planning and administering postwar reconstruction from January through May 2002, when asked how long U.S. troops might remain in Iraq, replied, “I hope they’re there a long time,” and then he compared U.S. goals in Iraq to U.S. military bases in the Philippines, between 1898 and 1992. “One of the most important things we can do right now is start getting basing rights with {the Iraqi authorities.} Look back on the Philippines around the turn of the 20th century: they were a coaling station for the navy, and that allowed us to keep a great presence in the Pacific. That’s what Iraq is for the next few decades: our coaling station that gives us great presence in the Middle East.”

So, what we have in Iraq now is more than a fight for democracy for democracy’s sake. Rather, it is a fight for Iraqi sovereignty—for Iraq for Iraqis, and not a playing field for corporations and the U.S. military.

When our corporate presses and our politicians seek to assure us that the occupation in Iraq is for “democracy,” let us remember the many lies that they have already told us.

Let us remember our own rallying cry: No to Occupation. No to Military Occupation. No to Economic Occupation. No to Imposed Governments.

*For more information on the privatization of Iraq’s economy, refer to an article by Rania Masri: “Freeing Iraq’s Economy—from its Occupiers.” at Swans, www.swans.com/library/art10/iraq

Writer-activist Rania Masri is the director of the Southern Peace
Research and Education Center at the Institute for Southern Studies in
Durham, NC (www.southernstudies.org). In August 2003, the Institute
launched the Campaign to Stop the War Profiteers and Corporate
Invasion of Iraq. Masri’s writings have been published in Iraq—a
Liberated Country? (Der Irak—ein befreites Land?) (2003); Iraq: Its
History, People and Politics (2003); The Struggle for Palestine (2002);
and Iraq Under Siege: The Deadly Impact of Sanctions and War (Second
Edition, 2002). She serves on the steering committee of the United
for Peace and Justice coalition (www.unitedforpeace.org). She is a
national board member of Peace Action, coordinator of the Iraq Action
Coalition, (www.iraqaction.org), and a member of three national
speakers’ bureaus. In addition, she is a member of the documentary
production team of “About Baghdad” (www.aboutbaghdad.com. Masri has a
doctorate from North Caroline State University. Born in Beirut, Lebanon,
she moved to the United States in 1986.

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