July 19, 2007

Iraqis Will Be the Deciders

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As Congress debates whether to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, George Bush is trying to buy time. He and Dick Cheney have no intention of ever pulling out of Iraq.

Cheney commissioned a 2000 report by the neoconservative Project for a New American Century, which said “the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” A document for Cheney’s secret energy task force included a map of Iraqi oilfields, pipelines, refineries, charts detailing Iraqi oil and gas projects, and a “Foreign Suitors for Iraq Oil Contracts.” It was dated March 2001, six months before 9/11.

On April 19, 2003, shortly after U.S. troops invaded Baghdad, the New York Times quoted senior Bush officials as saying the United States was “planning a long-term military relationship with the emerging government of Iraq, one that would grant the Pentagon access to military bases and project American influence into the heart of the unsettled region.” They discussed “maintaining perhaps four bases in Iraq that could be used in the future.”

Indeed, Bush is building mega-bases In Iraq. Camp Anaconda, which sits on 15 square miles of Iraqi soil, has a pool, gym, theater, beauty salon, school and six apartment buildings. To avoid the negative connotation of “permanent,” Bush officials call their bases “enduring camps.” Our $600 million American embassy in the Green Zone will open in September. The largest embassy in the world, it is a self-contained city with no need for Iraqi electricity, food or water.

The motive for a permanent presence in Iraq has been obvious from day one. It’s the oil. The oft-mentioned benchmark for Iraqi progress, touted by Bush and Congress alike, is the so-called Iraqi oil law. The new law would turn over control of most oil production and royalties to foreign oil companies. The Iraqi people are opposed to the oil law.

The biggest impediment to the privatization of Iraq’s oil is the unions. Faleh Abood Umara, general secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, told U.S. photojournalist David Bacon, “It will undermine the sovereignty of Iraq and our people … If the law is ratified, there will be no reconstruction. The U.S. will keep its hegemony over Iraq.”

In early June, the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions shut down the oil pipelines. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki capitulated to the union’s demand that implementation of the oil law be postponed until October so the union could propose alternatives.

Arab labor leader Hacene Djemam said, “War makes privatization easy: First you destroy society; then you let the corporations rebuild it.” After Halliburton entered Iraq in 2003 and tried to control the wells and rigs by withholding reconstruction aid, the union went on strike for three days. Exports stopped and government revenue was cut off. Halliburton shut down its operations.

Iraqis overwhelmingly oppose a permanent U.S. presence in their country. A group of Iraqi nationalists, including Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, have formed a pan-Iraqi coalition to topple al-Maliki. They represent a vast majority of rank-and-file Iraqis outside of Parliament. Their primary basis of unity is opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq; they also strongly oppose Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Iranian influence in Iraq.

“All the problems come from the occupation,” Umara observed “… The occupation fosters the enormous corruption … As long as we have an occupation, we’ll have more sabotage and killing. But when people from the local tribes control the security, they have expelled the al-Qaeda forces and those others who are terrorizing people. This means we can protect ourselves and bring security to our nation, with no need of the U.S. forces. To those who believe that if the U.S. troops leave there will be chaos, I say, let them go, and if we fight each other afterwards, let us do that. We are being killed by the thousands already.”

The Iraqi unions want the occupation to end. Hashmeya Muhsin Hussein, president of the Electrical Workers Union of Iraq, told Bacon, “If it was up to Bush, he’d occupy the world. But that’s not what the nations of the world want. Would they accept occupation, as we have had to do? Our nation does not want to be occupied, and we’ll do our best to end it.”

Nationalists in the Iraqi Parliament recently passed a bill calling for the United States to set a timetable for withdrawal, and another demanding the Iraqi government present any plan to extend the occupation past 2007 to Parliament. They will not accept a proposal that includes permanent U.S. bases on Iraqi soil. Our national discourse must include a discussion of U.S. intentions for Iraq after a troop withdrawal. But ultimately, as in Vietnam, it will be the Iraqi people who are the deciders.