Nov 3, 2003
For two days in October top-level U.S. government officials and representatives of big U.S. banks met behind closed doors with government officials and business representatives from 77 other countries in Madrid, Spain. Officially, the purpose of this "Donors' Conference" was to negotiate and determine the amount each country would "donate" for "the reconstruction of Iraq."
Of course, in the doublespeak of these governments, "reconstruction" stands for occupation. The Bush administration had made a decision to conduct the invasion of Iraq on its own, "without U.N. approval," that is, without the participation of other economic and military powers because it did not want to share Iraq's oil with the other powers. But now, faced with mounting difficulties in Iraq, the Bush administration is asking other countries to chip in to carry the burden of occupying Iraq.
In order to get that support, the Bush administration had to back down from its insistence that it would control all the spoils of the war. In exchange for sharing the costs of occupation, the U.S. promised to allow companies from other countries to "do business" in Iraq. Ten days before the Madrid conference, in fact, the U.S. had organized an international investors' conference entitled "Doing Business in Iraq: Kickstarting the Private Sector." These companies, many from other countries, were promised a share of the contracts, worth billions of dollars, which so far have been given only to U.S. corporations.
Nevertheless, no one is rushing to do business in Iraq, and even less to finance the country's occupation. Two days of negotiations produced some pledges from a number of countries, led by Japan with 1.5 billion dollars. The European Union followed with 812 million dollars. However, the total amount governments pledged in Madrid, 13 billion dollars, is only about one-fourth of what the Bush administration said would be needed from other countries for the occupation. And it remains to be seen, of course, how much of these pledges will actually materialize in the coming months. Besides, most of the pledges are for loans or business deals, not for the donations that the U.S. had asked for.
What's holding these governments back is first of all the fact that the situation in Iraq remains highly unstable. The U.S. military command in Iraq has admitted that the number of attacks on U.S. troops has increased significantly in recent weeks. The U.S. military has been using the word "resistance" more often in describing these attacks, admitting that much of it is coming from the population. The situation is so serious that so far even oil companies have been reluctant to start operations in Iraq.
The other governments also want the U.S. to allow them not just a few crumbs, but to share control of Iraq's assets before they send money and troops to Iraq. And they weren't given this share. All the revenues from the sale of Iraq's oil, as well as its former government's assets, are currently controlled by the Development Fund for Iraq, which may officially be a U.N. body, but in reality is controlled by the U.S. occupation authority.
Missing from this whole picture are the people of Iraq. No matter what agreement may be produced by these negotiations between the U.S. and other countries, mainly European powers like France and Germany, Iraqis will pay the price – for generations to come. Not only is the wealth of their country being plundered, Iraqis are also being indebted with loans so "generously" extended by the U.S. and other countries.
The Bush administration – unwilling to give much of a share of the spoils of war – had to know in advance that this conference would produce little but a pale show of support. In fact, that's mainly what this whole conference was all about – to create a show for the U.S. population, to slow down the growing opposition to this war.
At a time when the working class in the U.S. has been facing layoffs, cuts in wages and benefits, as well as cuts in social programs, Bush is certainly worried about the difficulty of getting the population to accept a costly continuing military occupation abroad. Not to mention the fact that opposition to the war is increasing among U.S. troops in Iraq themselves and among the population inside the U.S. that wants them brought home now.
The show put on in Madrid changes nothing. It's still a dirty war. U.S. troops still need to be brought home NOW!