What's Left

April 18, 2003

Regime change in Iraq: A new government by and for US capital

By Stephen Gowans

Occupation or liberation? Now that the inevitable has happened, if a little later than expected, the toppling of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime has sparked a rhetorical skirmish between Washington's supporters and its detractors. Backers of the Anglo-American right to jackboot around the world—this time under the banner of crushing terrorism and rooting out weapons of mass destruction (Iraq's, Syria's and North Korea's, not Israel's or Pakistan's)--call the invasion a liberation, pointing to smiling young Iraqi men offering flowers to bashful and nubile female soldiers who smile coyly in return.  See, say the photographs: The face of Anglo-American imperialism: It is young, fresh, kind and smiling. See, say the photographs: The face of the conquered -- happy, grateful, charmed.

The defining moment for those who tilt toward the view the invasion was about liberation, not oil and profits, was the toppling of Saddam's statue in Firdos Square outside the Palestine Hotel, where unimbedded journalists bedded down in their down time and ducked artillery shells fired by US tanks. Iraqis, it seemed, had thronged before the effigy of a hated dictator, and expressed their disgust, all the while chanting "Bush good, Bush good," with the press in attendance, recording a pivotal moment in the first draft of history that would rank with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the fall of Berlin (it was said.) True, Saddam was widely admired as a kind of Saladin redivivus, but there can be no doubt that he was also high up on the "people I'd like to kick the living shit out of" list of many other Iraqis. Still, the toppling of the statue was hardly a genuine expression of contempt by a hate-filled throng. It was, instead, a dispassionately staged photo-op, set up with care in proximity to journalists, managed by US Marines, featuring walk on appearances by  associates of CIA-darling Ahmed Chalabi [1], head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), who had been spirited into Nasiriyah from exile by the Pentagon, as shepherd of the extras hired to play in the White House production of the Movie of the Week, titled "We Love Bush the Liberator!" [2] Not wag the dog, but close. Days later, "hundreds of Baghdad residents marched into the city centre...and demanded the U.S.-led coalition leave Iraq" chanting 'No, No, USA.' ... outside the very same Palestine Hotel. [3] Where the staged-managed Firdos Square affair hit 7.0 on the media's Richter scale, this genuine outpouring of Iraqi sentiment strained to rattle a few cupboards in the media kitchen.  Later, 20,000 protesters marched through the streets of Nasiriyah, chanting "No to America, No to Saddam." [4] In the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, American soldiers fired on a crowd venting its anger against a pro-US speech by a US-installed local governor. [5] Americans slept through this, dreaming pleasant dreams of Iraqis welcoming their liberation. That's how the script was written, and nothing, including the truth, would force anyone to rewrite it.

But the war was not all smiling faces, and statues of hated dictators being dragged to the ground. Nor was it all exposes of the disgusting opulence in which Saddam and his associates lived. Left unsaid in the pious expressions of distaste for the vast gulf between Saddam' gilded life and his people's crushing poverty was that those who lobbied for the war, and authorized it, and in whose interest it was fought, live in a splendor as great or greater, often on the edge of slums so bleak and dispiriting that they rival the Third World. And who will take over Saddam's palaces, now that the dictator is gone? Jay Garner will, the retired US general, who will head up the occupation government. [6] There will be no glimpses into Garner's private palace of pleasure. Some things are better left unsaid and unseen.

Among the other truths to be left in dark corners are the raw, grizzly scenes of war, which newspapers eschewed and television networks called offensive, and therefore deemed unfit to be seen, and which the Pentagon and its professional propagandists and stretchers of the truth worked vigorously to keep from the eyes of the public. People must not be allowed to see what war is really about: Brains spilling from the crushed skulls of little boys; young girls with stumps where their arms used to be; mothers screaming in despair as their children are crushed; a father gunned down before his children; feet and hands blown off by cluster bombs; people shitting their pants in terror; particles of bone and viscera splattered on a wall pockmarked by bullet holes; an American GI,  exulting over the slaughter, "We had a great day....We killed a lot of people." [7]  Too much reality, means too little support. And so people are spoon-fed patriotic pablum, and told their soldiers are heroes (not invaders and killers), their government's intentions are noble (not base and hypocritical and bound up with oil), that a monstrous tyrant has been toppled (not that the deck has simply been reshuffled, one ex-CIA asset to be replaced by one current CIA-asset.)

The awesome military might of the United States allowed it to "target a regime, not a nation," crowed Bush, to a crowd of 1,000 Boeing employees who work at the plant that makes F-18 Super Hornet fighter bombers. [8] If this repellent lie were to be believed, then Ali Ismaeel Abbas, a 12-year-old boy who suffered burns to 35 percent of his body and lost both arms, must be part of the regime. Ali, moaning in pain in a Kuwaiti hospital after undergoing a 75-minute operation to scrape away dead and suppurating skin, lost his father, his pregnant mother, and his brothers and sisters, when a US missile slammed into his house in Baghdad. [9] Perhaps the missile was delivered by one of the fighter bombers the cheering Boeing employees had made. No doubt they believed the odious lie that oozed from the mouth of an a odious little man about a regime being targeted.

You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, and you can't have a war without killing people, the defenders of this murderous conquest say. Surely, thousands of lives (or is tens of thousands?) is a small price to pay to "make America safe" and to "bring freedom to Iraq."  Only in America, where a monolithic media acts as mouthpiece for the lies conjured up by the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon, could such obvious nonsense be believed. Between Sept. 14, 2002 and Feb. 7, 2003, 92 percent of news stories on NBC, ABC and CBS came directly from the White House, the Pentagon or the State Department. [10] Is it any surprise then that many Americans believe Saddam Hussein was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, or that 69 percent of them, according to a 2002 poll [11], believed that Iraq has nuclear weapons? It has none.  Can it be doubted that most Americans have now forgotten that the invasion was supposed to have been launched to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction (which haven't been found), and now believe that it was undertaken to liberate Iraqis from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein? Can it be doubted that pressed to furnish evidence of Saddam's fabled banned weapons program, that Washington will simply do what it did before the invasion – make it up?

Surely, the grim consequences of the slaughter are not such a small price to those who have been blown away (most of whom, contrary to Bush's lies, were not part of the regime, but were part of a nation that apparently hadn't been targeted.) Surely, it was not such a small price to pay for Ali Ismaeel Abbas, or for Hosam Khaf, a 13-year-old boy from Baghdad Jeddidah, who now wears a colostomy bag, because an artillery shell ripped through his abdomen. [12] Surely, it was not such a small price to pay for Roesio Salem, a ten-year-old girl from Hai Risal, who shouted from the doorway of her house, "Bomb coming!" just moments before it hit. [13]  But if it is such a small price to pay,  those who say so should step forward and pay it themselves. They will not be missed.

Nor will Saddam be missed, but that will be small consolation for Iraqis, for Washington's regime change is nothing more than regime rotation: One CIA-asset (Saddam the monster) rotated out, as another, (perhaps Ahmed Chalabi, the CIA-darling who last set foot in Baghdad in 1958) is rotated in, this time by means of an election, where chances are Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress will duke it out with the INA, the Iraqi National Accord (disgruntled former Baath Party members with deep ties to Washington [14]) to see who will get the opportunity to ensure the economy and oil-wells remain in the hands of US capital, while keeping the lid on popular discontent. The only regime change that matters, however, is regime change engineered by Iraqis themselves, but while Bush promises freedom, Iraqis won't be given this particular freedom. Democracy, to Washington's way of thinking, isn't something that wells up from below; it's something that is imposed from above. But that Iraqis won't be left alone to govern themselves is nothing new -- but for brief interludes, Iraqis have been nothing more than natives occupying soil coveted by great powers, forced to subordinate their own interests to conquerors with big armies and insatiable appetites for power, resources, and profits. Saddam, for a time, was merely an extension of this.

Widely known as monster after Washington decided he had to go,  Saddam's monstrousness antedates its propaganda-friendly discovery by the Anglo-American media at the point he no longer served US interests. But that Saddam was a cut-throat and thug, as the CIA knew him [15], could not be denied. Indeed, it was his readiness to kill for personal and political gain, as well as to engage in Byzantine intrigues, that first recommended him to the US intelligence apparatus [16] about the time Ahmed Chalabi was fleeing Iraq for the comforting embrace of Washington and the CIA. Saddam's first contacts with U.S. officials "date back to 1959, when he was part of a CIA-authorized six-man squad tasked with assassinating then Iraqi Prime Minister Gen. Abd al-Karim Qasim." [17] While he bungled the assassination attempt, the Agency decided Saddam could be useful as a palladium against communism. He didn't disappoint. For the next 40 years, he was Washington's man, at one point presiding  as head of the Iraqi secret police over the torture and murder of countless communists, whose names were conveniently furnished to Saddam's thugs from lists assembled by another group of thugs, the CIA. [18]

Later, as president, Saddam would wage a long and bloody war against the Ayatollah's Iran. According to former US intelligence officials:

"The CIA/Defense Intelligence Agency relation with Saddam intensified after the start of the Iran-Iraq war in September of 1980. During the war, the CIA regularly sent a team to Saddam to deliver battlefield intelligence obtained from Saudi AWACS surveillance aircraft to aid the effectiveness of Iraq's armed forces." [19]

Donald Rumsfeld, then the Reagan administration's envoy, met Saddam in Baghdad in 1983, during the height of the Iran-Iraq war.  The State Department knew Iraq was using chemical weapons and it knew Saddam had ambitions to build a nuclear bomb. The dictator's human rights abuses were also well known, but agricultural loan guarantees and trade credits were nevertheless showered upon the Baathist regime. After an incident at Halabja, in which scores of Iraqi Kurds died in a poison gas attack, the US Congress tried to block trade credits to Iraq, but Bush pere overrode the legislators, citing national interest. [20]

Today, crimes committed by Saddam as a CIA-asset are denounced and trotted out to justify his ouster by force. A monster he was, but he was Washington's monster, and one the US foreign policy establishment was eager to cultivate as long as he was torturing and executing communists and fighting the Ayatollah.

Out with the old tyranny, in with the new. The new tyranny, to be imposed without the merest thought of asking Iraqis what they want, goes by the name "democracy," but it is hardly democracy, unless democracy means: any political system which fattens the bottom lines of US firms and makes Wall Street's corporate boardrooms a little plusher than they used to be. Lauded by Washington as the paragon of human political achievement, "democracy" in this Washingtonian sense, features two or more (business) parties, whose principal offices are occupied by people on loan from the lofty reaches of the corporate world, side-by-side with a coalition of the "willing to ingratiate themselves to moneyed interests in return for help getting elected." The Iraqi brand of the best democracy that money can buy will feature pro-Western Iraqis (Chalabi and company vs. the INA) who can be counted on to act as an executive committee for advancing the interests of Washington and its corporate clients at the expense of the domestic population, which is to say, either party will act as the compradors of a vassal state.

This democracy of, for, and by the few, will be rolled out after Jay Garner, the retired US general, dispatched by head-office to get the new branch plant up and running, has ensured the country can be left in safe, that is, pro-US hands. Garner's branch plant bosses will be Iraqi by birth, furnishing the illusion of solidity to the empty claim that Iraq is to be governed by Iraqis, not Americans. Of course, this will be true on one level, a superficial one.  For while the governors will lay claim to Iraqi birthplaces, they will be Iraqis with an unmistakable American-orienation.

In the new Rome and the cities of the new Empire, the compradors will be hailed as pro-Western (as if it is a virtue for non-Westerners to be pro-Western), and will be celebrated as democrats, that is, until the day they stop genuflecting to American corporate and geo-strategic interests -- those that really matter. When, and if that day comes, Washington's carefully crafted mask as defender of democracy will slip, and a campaign of destabilization, under the guise of restoring democracy, or bringing down a hated authoritarian regime, or overturning the results of a stolen election, will be unleashed.

Of course, the chances that radicals, or those disinclined to toady to Washington, will win, are slim at best, which is why Washington is so keen on multiparty democracy: it smiles warmly upon whoever can raise the most money, and spits scorn at those who cannot. Radicals, of course, rarely ever have enough money to get into the game, and can hardly expect handouts from corporate sponsors, or from the National Endowment for Democracy (which does openly what the CIA used to do covertly), or from any of the other agencies, foundations, and NGOs whose job it is to aggrandize US business interests under the flag of democracy. "What's going to happen the first time we hold an election in Iraq and it turns out the radicals win?" wonders Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to Bush pere: "What do you do? We're surely not going to let them take over." [21]

In other words, where CIA-asset Saddam Hussein, bulwark against communism, was once in charge, now US corporate interests, acting through the INC or  INA, will be in charge, and if the compradors fail to be elected, democracy will be cancelled. Nothing, least of all democracy, will stand in the way of a bonanza of profits for the US investor class. Already, the titans of the massive US killing industry, the Lockheed Martin's (manufacturer of PAC-3 missiles), the Boeing's (Apache helicopters) and Raytheon (Tomahawk and cruise missiles), whose furnishing the Pentagon with the armamentaria to blast away 12-year-old Ali Ismaeel Abbas's arms and condemn 13-year-old Hosam Khaf to a life of shitting into a colostomy bag, are sitting pretty. With possible Blitzkriegs to follow in Syria, Iran, and maybe Cuba and North Korea, the good times keep rolling on for war profiteers. But there are other corporate interests to be served.

The charmed circle of American capitalism demands that what Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon knock down, Bechtel and other American firms rebuild. There is an estimated $100 billion worth of reconstruction contracts [22]  to be snapped up by well-heeled American investors. Already Kellog, Brown and Root, subsidiary of Dick Cheney's former firm, Halliburton, has won a contract to put out oil-well fires. DynCorp, a US military contractor whose employees were involved in an illegal sex ring in Bosnia, has been awarded a contract to recruit police for a new Iraqi police force. [23] Bechtel, the giant construction firm connected to former US Secretary of State George Shultz, has been granted a contract to rebuild Iraq's electrical, water and sewage systems, destroyed by US forces in two wars. (Targeting civilian infrastructure, though a war crime, is a profitable one.) Bechtel also has the upper hand in getting further contracts to repair airports, hospitals, schools, government ministries, and irrigation systems, all destroyed or damaged by the Pentagon. [24] Shultz, a director of Bechtel, is the chairman of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, which lobbied Washington vigorously for a war to overthrow the Hussein government. [25] Bechtel's senior vice-president, Jack Sheehan, a former Marine Corps general, is a member of the Defence Policy Board, a Pentagon advisory group whose members are appointed by Pentagon chief, Donald Rumsfeld. [26] At least nine members of the board, whose chairman was Richard Perle until he resigned over a conflict of interest, are connected with companies that pocketed more than $76 billion in defense contracts from 2001 to 2002. [27]  Last month, Perle, who remains a member of the board, gave a talk to Goldman Sachs' clients to advise them on moneymaking opportunities arising from the US invasion of Iraq. The title of the talk was: "Implications of an Imminent War: Iraq Now. North Korea Next?" [28] And, of course, oil companies are drooling over the prospect of $3-trillion in profits and royalties. [29]

Oil, despite the laughable protestations of official Washington, has always been at the centre of Washington's designs on Iraq. Squeezed out of Iraq's oil game, US energy firms are now back in, and Washington has won control of a strategic asset its competitors in Europe and Asia count on.  Oil too is central to the question of who will pay for the estimated $9 billion per month it costs to keep US forces in Iraq [30] and the $100 billion that will be doled out to Bechtel and other corporate giants to rebuild the country the Pentagon destroyed.  For apart from the ordinary Americans who rally around their president and feel greater or somehow safer for the shit kicking a military that accounts for one-half of the world's total military spending gave to a military that accounted for far less than one percent [31], it is the proceeds from stolen oil that will be used to pay the bill. This theft was announced as long ago as August 2002 by Republican Senator Richard Lugar. "As part of our plan for Iraq, in addition to identifying the political leadership and the coalition and building democracy, we're going to run the oil business ... we're going to run it well, we're going to make money, and it's going to help pay for the rehabilitation of Iraq," Lugar said. [32] The plan, apparently put together long before rumblings in Washington over Saddam's mythical banned weapons became fodder for the media's cannons, was echoed later by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who, in typical Washington fashion, conflated the interests of ordinary people with those of shareholders of powerful US firms, substituting the words "their people" for Becthel, Dyncorp, Halliburton and Exxon. "We're going to use the assets of the people of Iraq, especially their oil assets, to benefit their people," Powell said. [33]

Not surprisingly then, the top item on the Pentagon's agenda, once it gave the order for jackboots to begin marching on Baghdad, was to secure the oil fields in southern Iraq. And when chaos broke out in Baghdad, US forces let gangs of looters and arsonists run riot through "the Ministry of Planning, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Irrigation, the Ministry of Trade, the Ministry of Industry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Information." [34] And they stood by as hospitals were looted and the Baghdad Archaeological Museum was sacked and robbed of priceless antiquities. But at the Ministry of Oil, where archives and files related to all the oil wealth Washington has been itching to get its hands on, all was calm, for ringing the Ministry was a phalanx of tanks and armoured personnel carriers. [35]

The United States will "help Iraq to build a government of, by and for the Iraqi people," the grand fabulist of Pennsylvania Avenue declared. [36]  What he really meant is that Washington will help Iraq to build a government of and by Iraqi proxies of American capital, in the interests of the US investor class.

1. "Political jockeying heats up among Iraqi organizations," The Globe and Mail, April 18, 2003.
2. Robert Fisk, "Baghdad: The day after," The Independent, April 11, 2003;  "The stage-managed events in Baghdad's Firdos Square: Image-making, lies, and the 'liberation' of Iraq," World Socialist Web Site, April 12, 2003.
3. "Iraqi police to take on looters," The Globe and Mail, April 15, 2003.
4. "Iraqis vexed by prospect of US control over country," The Globe and Mail, April 16, 2003.
5.  "The lessons of Iran," The Globe and Mail, April 16, 2003.
6. "A glimpse into dictator's private palace of pleasure," The Globe and Mail, April 11, 2003.
7. John Pilger, "The war for truth," www.zmag.org, April 7, 2003.
8. "Bush promises Iraq free society," The Globe and Mail, April 17, 2003.
9. "Famous Iraqi boy undergoes surgery," The Globe and Mail, April 17, 2003.)
10. "The shape of World War IV, by number," The Toronto Star, April 5, 2003.
11. Ibid.
12. Kathy Kelly, Iraq Peace Team  24 March 2003.
13. Ibid.
14. "Political jockeying heats up among Iraqi organizations," The Globe and Mail, April 18, 2003.
15. "Saddam key in early CIA plot, " Richard Sale/UPI, April, 11, 2003.
16. Ibid.
17. Ibid.
18. Ibid.
19. Ibid.
20. "Saddam Was Not Always Washington's Demon," Reuters, April 5, 2003.
21. Bob Herbert, "Spoils of war," The New York Times, April 10, 2003.
22. "The shape of World War IV, by number, The Toronto Star, April 5, 2003.
23. "Scandal-hit US firm wins key contracts," The Observer, April 13, 2003.
24. "Firm with close links to White House given $680m deal to rebuild electrical, water and sewage systems," The Guardian, April 18, 2003.
25. Ibid.
26. Ibid.
27. Bob Herbert, "Spoils of war," The New York Times, April 10, 2003.
28. Maureen Dowd, "Perle's Plunder Blunder." The New York Times, March 23, 2003.
29. "Iraq a field of dreams for big oil firms," The Globe and Mail, April 12, 2003.
30. "The shape of World War IV, by number, The Toronto Star, April 5, 2003.
31. Ibid.
32. "Make Iraq pay for war, U.S. senator says," Globe and Mail, 2 August 2002.
33. "Welcome aboard the Iraqi gravy train: Congratulations to all the winners of tickets to take part in the greatest rebuilding show on earth," The Observer, April 13, 2003.
34. Robert Fisk, The Independent, April 14, 2003.
35. Ibid.
36. "Bush promises Iraq free society," The Globe and Mail, April 17, 2003.


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