Two conferences are taking place today in London. They are not party conferences or gatherings of trade unions. No, these conferences are of a different type. One is being held at the Novotel hotel in Hammersmith, in West London. A similar event is taking place in Washington with around 1800 companies attending. Another is planned to be held in Kuwait.
The organisers of the Hammersmith conference are none other than the giant US construction firm, Bechtel. This is the company that has received the biggest contract for the rebuilding of Iraq, worth up to $680 million. There has been a widespread controversy about this.
Bechtel has close links with the Bush administration. The vice-president of Bechtel, Jack Sheehan, is on the Pentagon’s defence policy board. Its chairman is on Bush’s export council. The company has made very large donations to Republican Party funds. Now it is getting its “payback”.
Its record in “helping” developing countries is also not of the best, let us say. One example is what it did in Bolivia where it was involved in the privatisation of the country’s water supply. The first thing it did was to increase prices by 35%. This led to massive popular unrest and street demonstrations, where several people were killed by the Bolivian security forces that opened fire on the demonstrators. Bechtel was forced to pull out by these protests, but it is still demanding $25 million from this impoverished country in order to make up for its “losses”. We can imagine what they will do to the Iraqi people, once their “rebuilding” starts.
However, Bechtel is not the only US company to have been awarded big contracts. In fact all six companies on the USAid shortlist for such contracts are American. The USAid is a US government department that deals in the question of “international development”.
This decision understandably had raised some eyebrows among British companies. After the war in Kosovo British companies got nothing. They had hoped that this time they would get a share of the loot as Britain had provided a large amount of soldiers and weaponry for the war in Iraq. Surely they are entitled to some reward? Thus in an attempt to appease the British capitalists, Bechtel is now in London offering subcontracts to British companies for some of the work it has to in Iraq.
The first contracts to be handed out are said to be worth $1.1 billion, but at the end of the day they could mount up to $100 billion. So the US companies can obviously afford to throw some of the scraps to their British lapdogs, while keeping the bulk of the loot for themselves. And they are indeed scraps. One person attending the Bechtel conference has said that the value of the subcontracts on offer to British companies may not be more than half a million dollars. That is chicken feed compared to the billions that can be made.
So Blair cannot even claim to represent the interests of British companies. He has committed large numbers of men and money to the recent war in Iraq but all the profits will go to US companies. He has indeed proved to be a very loyal poodle of Bush!
Of course, while the British get at least some of the crumbs from the banqueting table of the Americans, no such conferences are being organised in Paris, Berlin, not to mention Moscow. They can forget it! Winner takes all, as the saying goes.
The other conference being held today in London has been organised by Trade Partners UK. USAid representatives will be there to give advice to the 250 or so British companies attending the conference on how to win the subcontracts.
UN resolution 1483
All this wheeling and dealing is going on just as the UN has declared legal the occupation of Iraq by US and British troops. It is no coincidence. Yesterday UN resolution 1483 was voted by all the Security Council members, bar Syria who did not take its seat in protest.
The resolution ends sanctions against Iraq. The resolution is supposedly a “compromise”. Apparently it allows for some UN participation in the rebuilding of Iraq. In reality it is a mere rubber stamp on what is a de facto US colony.
According to the British Guardian (May 23, 2003), “The resolution gives the UN a stronger role in establishing a democratic government than initially envisioned…” All this wishful thinking is based on the fact that the resolution leaves room for a “special representative” of the UN in Iraq. Of course, this representative would work “in cooperation” with the US and British occupying powers.
The favourite to take up this position is Sergio Vieira de Mello, who is currently the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights. He is also the US favourite for the job, so we can rest assured that he will be watching every move of the Americans in Iraq! If he is their favourite for the job, this means he will not raise any embarrassing questions, but will loyally support anything the Americans want.
But the essence of the UN resolution is not about a UN role in Iraq. No, the resolution grants the United States and Britain wide-ranging powers in the running of Iraq. And most importantly the resolution, as of yesterday, handed over legal control of the oil reserves in Iraq from the UN to the US and Britain. From now on the two occupying powers will have full control of Iraq’s oil and will be able to export it. It is expected that once the work on expanding the Iraqi oil industry is completed Iraq could be exporting about $22 billion worth of oil a year.
For how long is this situation to last? “…until an internationally recognised, representative government is established”. As no one seriously expects Iraq to have its own government before the beginning of next year, and some speculate that it may even be up to two years before this happens, yesterday’s resolution transforms Iraq into a de facto colony, at least for the next period.
De facto colony
So there we have it: Iraq now “legally” belongs to the US and Britain. The UN Security Council, in particular, France, Germany and Russia, had made such a noise about their “opposition” to the war, and now they bow down before the might of US imperialism. All they are doing is accepting the reality of the situation. They cannot stop US imperialism. There is no other power in the world that could have stopped the US in Iraq. The French and German governments just hope that, at least some of the contracts they had signed with the previous regime of Saddam Hussein, will be respected. But even that is highly unlikely. So they have bowed down before the mighty US without even as much as a thankyou!
Thus they have blatantly ignored their own rules, which up until recently they were shouting so much about. They had stated that until the UN weapons inspectors were allowed back in to verify if there were any weapons of mass destruction the sanctions could not be lifted. This of course was so much hypocrisy as it was merely a manoeuvre against US imperialism. They all know that these weapons most likely do not exist and will never be found. Now they have dropped even this little excuse.
This latest resolution not only ignores the position the majority of the Security Council had held up until recently, it also contradicts parts of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the duties of occupying powers. According to the Convention occupying powers do not have the legal right to create a new permanent government. Neither are they allowed to hand out long-term contracts, such as those for the extraction of oil that are presently being discussed. But then, as with all bourgeois laws, they are only as strong as the power that stands behind them. In this case the real power is the United States and therefore it rewrites the laws to fit its own interests, and the others can do nothing about it but acquiesce in the face of superior force.
Meanwhile the situation in Iraq remains critical. Looting is continuing and crime is widespread, while the US forces sit idly by, concentrating on protecting the oil wells. Power cuts are very common, as a large part of the grid has been damaged. Clean water is also in short supply. No doubt Bechtel will sort this one out. And in a country which has the second largest oil reserves in the world, there are massive traffic jams caused by vehicles queuing for petrol which has become scarce.
The people of Iraq suffered terribly under Saddam Hussein’s regime. While they were suffering, the imperialists - in particular the US – were aiding Saddam’s regime. He was their friend and ally at the time. Only when he stepped on their toes by invading Kuwait did he suddenly become a “threat”. Now the people of Iraq are suffering even more under the direct rule of US imperialism.
Terrible suffering of Iraqi people
With companies such as Bechtel coming in they can expect even worse treatment. The workers and poor people of Iraq will learn from bitter experience that they can place no hope in these robber barons of the 21st century. The US is in Iraq for economic and strategic reasons that have nothing to do with helping the Iraqi people.
The people of Iraq have also received a harsh lesson on the nature of the United Nations. Many, even on the left, have cultivated illusions in the UN over many decades. That illusion has now been dissipated. The real nature of the UN stands naked before the eyes of the world. It can offer nothing to the workers of the world. It is at best a rubber stamp, just like that of a post office employee stamping a document, no more.
The future of the Iraqi people can only be safeguarded by the workers of Iraq. They are the force that can change society. One little example of this comes from the South Refineries Company in Basra. The workers there have been demanding elections to choose their managers. The workers have a much better understanding of the meaning of democracy. The royal engineer, Major Mark Tilley of the British Army, in charge of overseeing things at the company seems not to have the same understanding! He has said he will have none of it. After all, why should they grant such rights to the Iraqi workers when even the British workers have no such right?
As always, once the boot of a repressive regime has been lifted, workers want to have more say in how things are run. They aren’t going to get it from the likes of Bechtel and co.