May 19, 2003
The U.S. corporate invasion of Iraq may do more damage to the Iraqi people than the war itself.
The Bush administration is using the military invasion to advance a corporate globalization agenda that has not been chosen by the people of Iraq. What's more, that agenda is unlikely to meet the desperate humanitarian crisis that exists after two U.S.-led wars and 12 years of economic sanctions.
The first and most public stage of the corporate invasion has been the granting of multimillion-dollar contracts to U.S. corporations with deep ties to the administration.
Halliburton, Vice President Dick Cheney's former company, received a $77 million contract to repair and distribute Iraq's oil.
Bechtel, a company with many ties to Republican administrations, past and present -- including former Secretary of State George Schultz, a former Bechtel CEO and current director -- received a $608 million contract that could give it first dibs at Iraq's other most valuable resource: water.
Bechtel's contract includes rebuilding Iraq's water and wastewater systems. It is one of the top 10 water privatization companies in the world. If its contract is extended to include "distribution of water," just as Halliburton's was for oil, the people of Iraq have much to fear.
After privatizing the water systems in Cochabamba, Bolivia, a subsidiary of Bechtel made water so expensive that many were forced to do without. The government met public protests with deadly force. Bechtel waited. Finally, the Bolivian government canceled Bechtel's contract. The company responded with a $25 million lawsuit for lost profits.
The Wall Street Journal revealed the second stage of the corporate invasion on May 1 when it leaked a confidential Bush administration document outlining "sweeping plans to remake Iraq's economy in the U.S. image. Hoping to establish a free-market economy in Iraq ... the United States is calling for the privatization of state-owned industries such as parts of the oil sector." The document specifically outlines a "broad-based Mass Privatization Plan" with U.S. corporations in the lead.
The third stage takes the corporate invasion to the entire Middle East. After using military force in Iraq that defied global public opinion and the United Nations, the Bush administration is now returning to the more traditional model of advancing corporate globalization: the free-trade agreement.
On May 9, President Bush announced plans for an U.S.-Middle East Free Trade Area by 2013. The Middle East, insulated by oil revenue, has not had much need for free-trade agreements in the past, and for good reason. Such agreements have a history of "concentrating power and marginalizing the poor, both countries and people," according to the United Nations. Now it appears that the region has little choice unless the Bush administration's corporate takeover is stopped.
The Bush administration should turn the rebuilding process over to the Iraqi people, humanitarian organizations and the United Nations -- not U.S. corporations.
Antonia Juhasz is project director at the International Forum on Globalization (www.ifg.org).