ReBuilding Iraq 2

Naomi Klein in the Guardian describes December’s crony imperialism trade show.

The reconstruction of Iraq has emerged as a vast protectionist racket, a neo-con New Deal that transfers limitless public funds – in contracts, loans and insurance – to private firms, and even gets rid of the foreign competition to boot, under the guise of “national security”. Ironically, these firms are being handed this corporate welfare so they can take full advantage of CPA-imposed laws that systematically strip Iraqi industry of all its protections, from import tariffs to limits on foreign ownership. Michael Fleisher, head of private-sector development for the CPA, recently explained to a group of Iraqi businesspeople why these protections had to be removed. “Protected businesses never, never become competitive,” he said. Quick, somebody tell Opic and US deputy secretary of defence Paul Wolfowitz.

The issue of US double standards comes up again at the conference when a CPA representative takes the podium. A legal adviser to Bremer, Carole Basri has a simple message: reconstruction is being sabotaged by Iraqi corruption. “My fear is that corruption will be the downfall,” she says ominously, blaming the problem on “a 35-year gap in knowledge” in Iraq that has made Iraqis “not aware of current accounting standards and ideas on anti-corruption”. Foreign investors, she adds, must engage in “education, bring people up to world-class standards”. It’s hard to imagine what world-class standards she’s referring to, or who, exactly, will be doing this educating. Halliburton, with its accounting scandals back home and its outrageous overbilling for gasoline in Iraq? The CPA, with its two officers under investigation for bribe-taking and nonexistent fiscal oversight?