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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 67/No. 19June 9, 2003

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lead article
U.S., UK forces clear way
to control Iraq oil sales
Some 10,000 Shiite Muslims rallied in Baghdad May 19 to demand U.S. forces leave Iraq. Kurdish groups, which backed imperialist invasion, are objecting to announcement that U.S. and British occupiers intend to run the country for the foreseeable future.

The major political parties in the Kurdish and Shiite areas of Iraq have reacted with anger at Washington and London’s announcement that the imperialist powers occupying the country will not allow an Iraqi “interim” government to be formed anytime soon.

Chief U.S. “civilian” administrator of Iraq Paul Bremer, and other U.S. and British government officials, had delivered the news to the disappointed Iraqi politicians May 16.

The decision hammered home the reality that the U.S. and British armies are the sole governing authority there, and will remain so until they give further notice. One week later the United Nations Security Council adopted a U.S.-crafted resolution that recognized Washington and London as the “occupying powers.” The decision lifted the UN economic sanctions imposed 13 years ago and opened the way to selling the country’s oil on the open market.

Meeting on May 24 in Baghdad, major Iraqi organizations issued a formal protest at the reversal of previous plans to rapidly involve them in a figurehead transitional government.

Hamid al-Bayati of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is backed by many Shiites and orients to the Iranian government, proposed that the group organize protest actions in Iraq and abroad. Other participants balked at the idea, according to the New York Times.

Washington accuses the Supreme Council of being a tool of Tehran, and has moved to begin disarming its 10,000-strong Badr militia.

Frustrated by Bremer’s May 16 announcement, representatives of the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan have abandoned their expectant vigil in Baghdad and returned to their territories in the north. They invited Bremer to travel there to “confront the popular disenchantment” with the decision, reported the Times. The two parties have functioned as close allies of Washington through the 1990s, and during and after this year’s war.  
To the victor go the spoils
The vote in favor of the May 22 resolution in the UN Security Council, drafted by Washington and co-sponsored by London and Madrid, was virtually unanimous. Among the 14 “yes” votes were the representatives of France and Germany—the largest imperialist powers on continental Europe—and those of China and Russia. All had raised objections to the U.S.-British assault on Iraq because they expected that a U.S. victory would deal a fatal blow to their trade and investments in the oil-rich country, which is exactly what is happening.

Syria’s delegate left the country’s council seat empty during the voting. Syrian government officials later asserted that with more time to consider the issue, they too would have voted “yes.”

The vote cleared the last hurdle for the resumption of exports of Iraqi oil on the open market, which will now be carried out by the U.S.-run regime. Iraq possesses the world’s largest known oil reserves after those in Saudi Arabia. Revenues from this trade will be placed in a fund to be controlled by the U.S. and British governments. The fund will be held at the Iraqi central bank, where a former U.S. banking executive is now in charge.

The resolution instructed UN officials to undertake a review of contracts that Moscow, Beijing, Paris, and other governments as well as private corporations had signed with the Saddam Hussein regime. It suspended payments on Iraq’s foreign debt, which stands at more than $100 billion , for four years. Iraq is estimated to owe between $8 billion and $12 billion each to France and Russia, and a little more than half that amount to Germany.

Washington agreed to some minor amendments as a thinly veiled face-saving justification for French, German, and Russian backing for the resolution. Among them was the change in job description of the main UN official in Iraq from “special coordinator” to “special representative.” The man who got the job, Sérgio Vieira de Mello, received the endorsement of the Bush administration.

With their vote, Paris and Berlin admitted to the blows Washington had already dealt them with its assault on Iraq and takeover of the country, and tried to put the best spin on it.

“We have achieved substantial improvements,” said Germany’s UN ambassador, Gunther Pleuger, explaining his government’s affirmative vote. “The war that we did not want, and a majority of the council did not want, has taken place. We are now in a new situation. We cannot undo history.” French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin stated, “Even if this text does not go as far as we would like, we have decided to vote for this resolution.” Speaking at a news conference with his German and Russian counterparts, he added, “This is because we have chosen the path of unity of the international community.”

After praising Paris’s decision to vote for the resolution, U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell added, “Does it mean that the disagreements of the past are totally forgotten? No. Let’s not paper it over and pretend it didn’t happen—it happened.”  
UK reps criticize Baghdad operation
All is not well between the two main occupying powers, either. The London-based Guardian revealed May 24 that British commanders have held off sending troops to Baghdad in spite of requests by their U.S. counterparts. The British daily claimed that unlike the U.S. troops in Baghdad, British troops in the southern city of Basra have gained the trust of local residents. “In the capital the U.S. forces have not adopted the mingling profile with the populace that has been a success in other cities,” an anonymous British official told the Guardian.

British construction and infrastructure firms are among the first in line for contracts from Bechtel, the U.S. corporation chosen by Washington as the lead contractor in its “reconstruction” of Iraq.

London’s minister of state for trade and industry paid a special visit to Washington in mid-May to plead the British corporations’ case, accepting the monopolization of lead contracts by U.S. firms, and emphasizing that, “We’re not looking for specialized treatment, because we don’t feel we need to ask for special treatment. We’re the natural partners…. We believed in the war and gave our expertise. We believe in the reconstruction and offer our expertise.”

Captains of British industry claim that London’s record as the colonial power in Iraq, formerly Mesopotamia, gives them the inside track. “Our companies built many of the plants in Iraq and know how they operate,” said Anthony Allum of the Halcrow Group, which received the nod for a civil engineering subcontract.

Outfits from a range of imperialist countries—including Germany, Australia, Denmark, Portugal, and Spain—are also competing for the profits, along with firms from other countries.

Bremer’s decree calling on militias to surrender their automatic and heavy weapons, which has drawn protest from its principal target, the Badr Brigade, expressly exempted the pesh merga fighters linked to the two major Kurdish parties.

These militia fighters “fought with coalition forces and we look to leave them with some of their forces north of the green line,” said Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, commander of the U.S. and British land forces. The green line is the southern border of the areas controlled by the Kurdish parties under the Saddam Hussein government.

A spokesman for the Supreme Council, which is linked to the Badr Brigade, criticized the differential policy. “We will not accept that other militias will be allowed to stay there with their weapons while we will not be there with ours,” Adel Abdul Mahdi said. Mahdi rejected U.S. charges that the brigade is a puppet of the Iranian government. In mid-May Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, the deputy commander of U.S. forces in the region, claimed that the brigade is controlled by a “foreign government,” an accusation aimed at Tehran.  
U.S. holds former ally at arm’s length
As the occupying forces prepared their efforts to confiscate the Badr Brigade’s weapons, they also summarily dissolved the Free Iraqi Forces militia of the Iraqi National Congress.

The group and its leader, Ahmad Chalabi, had been promoted by Washington as the main force in an Iraqi “interim” administration. The group’s militia fighters had also been equipped by U.S. forces and trained under Pentagon supervision in both Iraq and Hungary. Given the cold shoulder by Washington after the White House clarified publicly that it—and no one else—intended to run Iraq, Chalabi has shut down his Baghdad office, which had been guarded by U.S. forces.

Washington now says that its forces will also disarm the People’s Mujahadeen troops that have carried out attacks on Iran from their bases in northern Iraq. U.S. officers signed a cease-fire with the Mujahadeen in April that allowed them to keep their weapons, which include tanks and artillery. Washington reversed that decision a few days later.

Meanwhile, one tale in the Pentagon’s managed presentation of its war on Iraq has come unraveled, reported Robert Scheer, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Scheer devoted a recent column to describing the BBC’s “shocking dissection of the ‘heroic’ rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch.”

Noting that Lynch herself has no memory of the events, Scheer stated, “almost nothing fed to reporters about Lynch’s capture by Iraqi forces or her ‘rescue’ by U.S. forces turns out to be true.”

Contrary to coverage in the Washington Post, which headlined one story, “She Was Fighting to the Death,” Scheer wrote, “It has since emerged that Lynch was neither shot nor stabbed but rather suffered accident injuries when her vehicle overturned. [U.S. doctors] confirmed the account of the Iraqi doctors, who said they had carefully tended her injuries.”

“The manipulation of this saga really gets ugly…in the premeditated manufacture of the rescue,” continued Scheer. In contrast to the Pentagon’s accounts of Special Forces risking life and limb to storm the hospital, the BBC investigation showed that “not only had Iraqi forces abandoned the area before the rescue effort but that the hospital’s staff had informed the United States of this and made arrangements…to turn Lynch over to the Americans.”

The Iraqi ambulance used to ferry the wounded Lynch did come under fire; the shooting came not from Iraqis, however, but from U.S. soldiers who “forced it to flee back to the hospital,” wrote Sheer.

Likewise, it has become clearer every day that Washington has not discovered any credible evidence that the Saddam Hussein regime had “weapons of mass destruction.”

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