Privatization, a strategy to eliminate public control over vital sectors of the economy, is nothing new.
What is new, and perhaps more ominous, is that privatization has become the preferred method by which the Bush administration neoconservatives and transnational global corporations take over and occupy whole countries. Recent revelations that the number of U.S.-paid private contractors now far exceeds the number of American combat troops in Iraq show that Bush and his corporate backers have found a new way to occupy a country.
Government figures the tip of the iceberg
The States and Defense departments released figures July 4 that admit to more than 180,000 U.S. civilians working in Iraq under U.S. contracts. That figure, which exceeds by at least 20,000 the number of combat troops, may be the tip of the iceberg because it does not include tens of thousands who have been hired by many of these as “sub-contractors” or tens of thousands who have been hired as “private security.”
Exclusive People’s Weekly World interviews with Iraqi trade union leaders reveal that many contractors have been used to strengthen the U.S. occupation in a variety of ways, including union-busting activities and mercenary operations to control whole towns.
In addition to all of these, the Defense Department admits to the existence of 43,000 “foreign” (non-American, non-Iraqi) contractors on the U.S. payroll.
‘Coalition of the billing’
Military experts say that the United States has never in its history relied so heavily on private corporations to fight its wars. President Bush earns the distinction of being the first president in U.S. history to rely on private corporations to carry out the occupation of a country.
“These numbers are huge and you are right when you say they are the tip of the iceberg,” Peter Singer, a Brookings Institution scholar who writes about military contracting, told the World. “This is not the coalition of the willing, as Bush called it in the beginning, but a coalition of the billing, and the coalition is billing the American taxpayer.”
But Gary Motsek, assistant deputy undersecretary of defense who oversees contractors, told the Los Angeles Times, “The only reason we have contractors is to support the war fighter.”
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a Democratic presidential candidate, scoffed at the remark when it was read to him over the phone and told the World, “This is all the more reason to end this war. Even in a justified conflict you expect contractors, if they were needed, to be there to support the soldiers. Now we have our young men and women dying to support corporate contractors who live off the tax dollars of the families of the people who are dying.”
Iraqi unionists expose the real deal
The Pentagon, when questioned by people in the mainstream media, says that the independent contractors do construction work, weapons systems maintenance and “private security.” Interviews granted to the People’s Weekly World by Iraqi trade unionists who recently toured the United States, however, tell a different story. The story they tell reveals that relying on corporations to occupy Iraq has much more to do with laying the groundwork for a permanent economic occupation of that country by the transnational global corporations.
Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein, president of the Electrical Workers Union of Iraq, took time out from her busy schedule at the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta recently to discuss the issue.
“In Basra in 2005, we had to fight the management of the electric power stations over working conditions. But even worse, they were subcontracting away the work of the members of our union,” she said. “We never had problems providing electricity to the people until they started this privatization with U.S.-paid operators.”
“So the damage suffered by the power stations during the war was only the beginning of our problem,” Hussein continued, “because under Saddam Hussein — he didn’t give the work of our people to contractors from foreign corporations. When his regime collapsed, we didn’t know how big this would be, but we started to see the beginning of something new and terrible for us. They started to give away even the simplest jobs to these contractors, and we began to have unemployed workers all over the place being locked out of their workplaces.”
Union members fight back
Hussein talked about the fight-back launched by her union. “We immediately began and we continue protests in front of the Basra mayor’s office and the governor’s office. The demand to stop the contracting is really our foremost demand because it is how they are trying to destroy our union, our jobs and permanently take over the wealth of our country,” she said.
“Why should your young soldiers die?” she asked. “Why should Americans have to pay taxes that are given to private companies who want to come to Iraq to steal our wealth? Those companies will not share this wealth with the American people.”
Oil is key
Interviews with Faleh Abood Umara, general secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, revealed that many thousands of U.S. paid contractors are involved, on one level or another, in a scheme to take that country’s oil industry away from the Iraqi people and put it in the hands of U.S.-based oil corporations.
“We have many of the same problems that Hashmeya mentioned with contractors being sent in to cause layoffs of our workers and to weaken the union,” he said. “But even more serious, in many ways, is that U.S.-paid contractors, especially in the north, are coming in to implement the new oil law even before it is passed.
“Through the use of these contractors they come in, take over the oil fields and do whatever they want. Our workers, our union, are shut out. It is impossible even for us to go into some of these fields and observe what it is that they are doing, and the U.S. claims it is bringing democracy to our country. Is this democracy?”
Umara also said, “The new oil law has no place in it for our union or for any other union.”
He indicated that in the southern part of Iraq the oil industry is still nationalized, and that is where his union is actually based. He told the World that in that region they are able to export 2.25 million barrels of oil a day, and that the workers and managers require no help from U.S.-paid contractors.
“If we end up with the new oil law that the U.S. wants,” Umara said, “all of Iraq’s oil, even what we now produce in the South, will be the property of foreign oil corporations. What will we do? If they steal this resource, how will we ever be able to rebuild our country?”
Flagrant human rights abuses
Bush administration use of corporate contractors to carry out the occupation of Iraq has introduced into that country flagrant abuses of human rights and undemocratic practices that would make the average American shudder.
The construction of the massive new U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad’s fortified “Green Zone” is one of the best examples of this abuse and also reveals why the official counts given for the numbers of paid U.S. contractors are far lower than the actual numbers.
Over the past two years, the State Department has received complaints from Americans in Baghdad that all is not well with one of its most ambitious projects — the largest, most heavily-fortified embassy complex in the world being built on the banks of the ancient Tigris River. It is larger than the Vatican.
Forced-labor works on U.S. embassy in Baghdad
The State Department has awarded a $600 million building contract to First Kuwaiti General Contracting. Two years ago, thousands of low-paid migrant workers were recruited from South Asia, the Philippines and other countries. When these workers were recruited, they were not told they were going to Iraq. When they got to Baghdad, their passports were confiscated. They were locked up in compounds behind security walls bordering the U.S. Embassy project.
Many Americans working in the compound were horrified at what they saw and have been complaining to the State Department. These construction workers, they say, live in crowded quarters, eat substandard food and receive no medical care. When drinking water is scarce in the blistering heat, coolers are filled on the banks of the Tigris, a river rife with water-borne disease, sewage and sometimes floating bodies.
Some Americans have been complaining that the workers’ passports were being held to prevent them from escaping and that they were virtual prisoners.
Howard J. Krongard, the State Department’s inspector general, flew to Baghdad recently for what he described as a “brief review.” When he returned to Washington, he said the complaints had no substance.
Dozens of migrant workers (subcontractors) from Nepal and the Philippines had previously charged that they had been recruited to work in Dubai and that they were then diverted to Iraq where they were used as forced labor at the U.S. Embassy compound. Those charges were never investigated by the State Department.
Overall, observers say, the manner in which the Bush administration has “privatized” the war effort by having corporations carry out major parts of the occupation shows better than anything else that the war has nothing to do with fighting terrorism or spreading democracy. It has much more to do, they say, with creating a Middle East that is friendly and hospitable to the profit hungry transnational global corporations. This includes the planned U.S. -Middle East Free Trade Area.
Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein spoke to the World one last time before her flight back to Iraq. She was asked what she thought about the intentions of President Bush to continue the occupation of her country for a long time to come.
“If it was up to Bush, he would occupy the whole world. But that’s not what the people of the world want and that is not what the people of America want,” Hussein said, adding, “We will do our best to end this occupation, and I think we will succeed.”
John Wojcik (jwojcik @pww.org) is the People’s Weekly World labor editor.
Top private contractors
The Defense Department has entered into 3,601 contracts worth $300 billion with 12 private military companies, according to the Center for Public Integrity. The State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development have their own contractors as well. Here are some of the top private contractors:
KBR (former subsidiary of Halliburton, separate company since April 2007)
Louis Berger Group Inc.
Military Professional Resources Inc.
Some 41 officials in the Bush administration have high level ties to the oil industry. Iraq possesses 11 percent of the world’s oil. The companies below have already gotten contracts to “explore” a postwar bonanza that they presumably will be the beneficiaries of. The U.S. is pressing Iraq for passage of a new oil law which would essentially give these companies control over Iraq’s oil:
Costs of Iraq war as of July 16
• 3,616 U.S. troops killed
• 26,558 U.S. troops wounded
• 67,265 – 73,611 Iraqi civilians dead directly from U.S. military actions. (Approximately 650,000 Iraqi dead from violence-related deaths since the war began.)
• $444 billion U.S. tax dollars spent
Sources: Iraq Body Count, The Lancet, Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, National Priorities Project