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Thursday, January 01, 2004

So here it is, 2004! Another year has passed into the annals of history and people have again begun pontificating about New Year's resolutions they will probably have broken within a week. In this spirit I have decided, inspired by Salam Pax's brilliant book, to actually make an effort to post here not only regularly, but with something interesting, so here goes...

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As we enter a New Year, 2003 comes to an end, but it is unlikely to be a year which will be forgotten quickly. The invasion and occupation of Iraq which was threatened this time last year has taken place and the consequences of the Bush-Blair Axis's decision are hard to ignore.

Resistance attacks continue on a daily basis, creating a situation which US/UK forces seem unable to cope with. With the "heart and minds" campaign failing, they are turning to increasingly aggressive responses, even surrounding villages with barbed wire. A move unlikely to endear them to the local population.

Meanwhile away from the glare focused on the military aspects of the occupation, the economic colonisation of the country continues apace. September 19 saw Paul Bremer enact Order 39 which announced the privatisation of 200 Iraqi state companies, decreed that foreign firms could retain 100% ownership of Iraqi banks and factories; and allowed these firms to move 100% of their profits out of Iraq. The Economist described the rules as a "capitalist dream", not without good reason. Not only is this decision nonsensical from a development point of view and morally abhorrent given the complete lack of imput into the decision from the Iraqi people, but it is also as Naomi Klein has noted illegal.

The Hague regulations of 1907 are the companion to the 1947 Geneva Convention and have been ratified by the US. These require that occupying powers "shall be regarded only as administrator and usufructuary of public buildings, real estate, forests and agricultural estates belonging to the hostile state, and situated in the occupied country. It must safeguard the capital of these properties, and administer them in accordance with the rules of usufruct." (Usufruct refers to an arrangement that grants one party the right to use and derive benefit from another's property without altering the substance of the thing.) This means, as Klein notes,
[I]f you are a housesitter, you can eat the food in the fridge, but you can't sell the house and turn it into condos. And yet that is just what Bremer is doing: what could more substantially alter "the substance" of a public asset than to turn it into a private one?" The US army's Law of Land Warfare reinforces the point stating that "the occupant does not have the right of sale or unqualified use of [non-military] property.
The UN Security Council resolution passed in May which recognised the US and UK's authority in Iraq provides no legal cover, specifically requiring the occupying powers to "comply fully with their obligations under international law including in particular the Geneva conventions of 1949 and the Hague regulations of 1907". It seems likely that the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) are aware of the illegality of their plans. A leaked memo from Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith to Tony Blair in March warned that "the imposition of major structural economic reforms would not be authorised by international law".

Unfortunately the "Great Iraqi Sell-Off", as Voices in the Wilderness have described it, is only one example of how US/UK policy in the country is driven less by humanitarian concerns than by economic considerations of even straight-forward greed. Something in the region of sixty to seventy per-cent of Iraqis are unemployed yet US employers hire overwhelmingly non-Iraqis either Americans or inexpensive migrant laborers from South Asia. Meanwhile US efforts to have Iraq's debts written off are a positive step the US decision to limit bidding for lucrative reconstruction contracts in Iraq to "Coalition" members, announced while James Baker toured Europe trying to build support for debt forgiveness, demonstrate the real reasoning behind the move: To allow US firms to get rich on the spoils of war.

Elsewhere, the occupying forces have sought to undermine efforts amongst Iraqi workers to organise unions. Saddam Hussein's 1987 anti-labor legislation remains in place, while a decree issued by the CPA in June forbade strikes. Furthermore there have been several arrests of prominent union activists. For instance, on the night of the 23/4 November, US soldiers in Baghdad arrested Mr. Kasim Hadi, president of the Union of the Unemployed in Iraq (UUI) and Adil Salih an UUI activist. Throughout world history trade unions have played a central role in the democratisation process, US/UK attacks on the labour movement within Iraq, many of whose members fought courageously against the Baath regime, demonstrates the contempt they have for genuine democracy in the country.

In short the occupation of Iraq will benefit US/UK elites and allow Western corporations to exploit the country's resources. It is possible that democracy will also emerge, but it certainly does not appear to be the occupier's primary concern and it is difficult to remain optimistic.

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