Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Global capital and the second occupation of Iraq

Much is being made of Tony Blair's memoir, particularly the section on Iraq. But the war is being treated like a part of history. US combat troops have withdrawn. Yesterday, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki said that his country "is sovereign and independent." But that isn't the end of the story.

For Al Jazeera, Mark Levine makes the following observations;
Winding down the war in Iraq and removing all troops from the country is considered the most important campaign promise Barack Obama, the US president, made. So actually, withdrawing troops on schedule would be a major accomplishment, perhaps the singular accomplishment, of his presidency thus far. But it should be noted that the schedule, and the reality underlying it, belong to President Bush, his predecessor, not Obama.

It was Bush who signed the memorandum of understanding that included the August 2011 timetable for withdrawing combat troops.

It was Bush who initiated the "surge" and, most important, it was the Bush Administration which set the conditions so that when it actually came time to "leave" Iraq, most Iraqis, however grudgingly, would opt to have some permanent US presence rather than be left completely to their own devices, with no one to referee and prevent a possible return to sectarian civil war.

And this is precisely where we are today.

Combat might officially be over for most US soldiers, but the US is not likely going anywhere anytime in the near future.

It was clear as I watched the huge convoys heading out into the desert six years ago that the US was there to stay. And today, listen to the words of Iraqi Lt Gen Babakir Zebari: "If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians, the U.S. army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020."

Ryan Crocker, the former US ambassador, revealed a core American reason, or excuse, depending on your point of view, for staying. "For a very long period of time, we're going to be on the ground, even if it's solely in support of its [Iraq's] US weapons systems," he said.
This ties in with the point that I made last week, when the "withdrawal" apparently came to pass.

Yes, on paper, Iraq is now "sovereign and independent." But the malign influence of capital remains, as does the shadow of 50,000 armed troops. (Though they will apparently "only use their weapons in self-defence or at the request of the Iraqi government." Call me cynical...)

The reasons, as Levine points out, don't really need exploring. "US oil companies may not have got all the spoils they'd hoped from the US takeover of Iraq, but the US defence industry has never had it better."

And, alongside the 50,000 armed US soldiers, there are "at least 7,000 private security contractors working for the state department, and tens of thousands of American military contractors." Not to mention the "tens of thousands of foreign contractors" serving corporate interests.

These private forces - the forces of global capital - are not always brought in, as they were in Iraq, at the point of a gun. In other parts of the world, bribery, extortion, and corruption are preferred to outright war. But nonetheless, the consequence is always the same - the rich-poor gap expands exponentially and incomprehensible levels of wealth flow into private hands.

This is the direction in which "sovereign" Iraq is headed. The military occupation is over, but the corporate one has barely begun. Though it is unlikely to make the history books.