ON MONDAY, Iraq's National Assembly will release a draft constitution to be voted
on by the people in two months. Since February, vital issues have been debated
and discussed by the drafting committee: the role of Islamic law, the rights of
women, the autonomy of the Kurds and the participation of the minority Sunnis.
But what hasn't been on the table is at least as important to the formation
of a new Iraq: the country's economic structure. The Bush administration has
succeeded in maintaining a stranglehold on issues such as public versus private
ownership of resources, foreign access to Iraqi oil and U.S. control of the
reconstruction effort — all of which are still governed by administration
policies put into place immediately after the invasion. The Bush economic agenda
favors foreign interests — American interests — over Iraqi self-determination.
Over a year ago, orders were put in place by L. Paul Bremer III, then the U.S.
administrator of Iraq, that were designed to "transition [Iraq] from a
… centrally planned economy to a market economy" virtually overnight
and by U.S. fiat. Those orders were also incorporated into the transitional
administrative law — Iraq's interim constitution — and the economic
restructuring they mandate is well underway.
Laws governing banking, investment, patents, copyrights, business ownership,
taxes, the media and trade have all been changed according to U.S. goals, with
little real participation from the Iraqi people. (The TAL can be changed, but
only with a two-thirds majority vote in the National Assembly, and with the
approval of the prime minister, the president and both vice presidents.) The
constitutional drafting committee has, in turn, left each of these laws in place.
A central component of the Bush economic agenda is foreign corporate access
to, and privatization of, Iraq's once state-run economy. Thus, an early Bremer
order allowed foreign investment in and the privatization of all 192 government-owned
industries (excluding oil extraction).
After the election of the transitional government, the Ministry of Industry
and Minerals fell right in line, announcing plans to partially privatize most
of its 46 state-owned companies and open them to foreign investment as part
of a plan to establish a "liberal, free-market economy."
Oil is, of course, at the heart of the agenda. In 2004, U.S.-appointed interim
Prime Minister Iyad Allawi submitted guidelines to Iraq's Supreme Council for
Oil Policy suggesting that the "Iraqi government disengage from running
the oil sector … and that the [Iraq National Oil Company] be partly privatized
in the future" and opened to international foreign investment, according
to International Oil Daily. (U.S oil imports from Iraq increased by more than
86% between 2003 and 2004 alone.)
Plans for a new Iraqi oil law were made public last December at a news conference
in Washington hosted by the U.S. government. The U.S.-appointed interim Finance
Minister Adel Abdul Mehdi explained that the new law would be "very promising
to the American investors and to American enterprise, certainly to oil companies."
A few weeks later, Mehdi became one of Iraq's two vice presidents and Allawi
was elected to the National Assembly. Iraq's new oil law is on track for implementation
Finally, consider Iraq's reconstruction, which also remains firmly under U.S.
control. One of Bremer's orders denied the Iraqi government the ability to give
preference to Iraqis in the reconstruction effort. Instead, more than 150 U.S.
companies were awarded contracts totaling more than $50 billion, more than twice
the GDP of Iraq. Halliburton has the largest, worth more than $11 billion, while
13 other U.S. companies are earning more than $1.5 billion each.
These contractors answer to the U.S. government not the Iraqi people, several
thousand of whom in the last few days have protested the failure of U.S. companies
to provide accessible water, sanitation and electricity at pre-war levels. Iraqis
argue that they have the knowledge, skill and experience to conduct the reconstruction
themselves; what they need is the money and decision-making control that they
are being denied.
By all accounts, the draft constitution has failed to provide Iraqis with the
means to control their economic future. As Iraq prepares for the October 15
referendum on the constitution these crucial issues must be added to the debate,
and the influence of the Bush administration countered, so that Iraqis can truly
determine their own economic and political fate.
Just as discussions are finally emerging for ending the U.S. military occupation
of Iraq, so too must the economic invasion be brought to an end.