PASSWORD RESET

Magazine of the Socialist Party in Australia

Iraq: Preparing the country for business

The recent United Nations conference in Stockholm on the future of Iraq, featuring Condoleezza Rice, was a propaganda show for US imperialism and the government in Baghdad. The message was that “security has improved”. Millions of refugees are supposed to return while big business can do business in Iraq again. Per-Ã…ke Westerlund, from our sister organisation in Sweden (Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna), reports on the situation.

Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and six ministers in his entourage, even promised that next year’s UN-sponsored summit – the ‘International Compact with Iraq’, with 500 delegates from 100 countries – will be held in Baghdad. On the same day, however, Swedish TV’s Channel 4 showed how al-Maliki himself had virtually fled from Baghdad’s ‘green zone’ in a convoy of 30 identical armoured cars.

The violence

The same day as the conference, 32 Iraqis were killed and another 65 wounded. It is about the average number of people killed per day this year and almost half the number of last year, but still more than in the year 2005. The “Surge” launched by George Bush in January 2007 seems to have had a certain effect. The latest is an agreement on 11 May in Sadr City, Baghdad, after seven weeks of heavy armed fighting between Moqtada al -Sadr’s Mahdi Army and US-led Iraqi troops. The fighting killed hundreds and destroyed parts of Sadr city when the US forces used missiles, tanks and heavy armed helicopters. The southern parts of Sadr City are sealed off to prevent continued rocket attacks against the Green Zone, where the US embassy and the government are based.

The ceasefire is fragile and already criticised by commanders in the Mahdi Army protesting against government troops arresting their fighters. Moqtada al-Sadr agreed to the ceasefire for the same reasons as he accepted a deal in Basra, south Iraq, in April. The Mahdi Army put up a fight and then retreated before a decisive battle. “Furthermore,” commented the US magazine, Time, about Basra on 1 April, “like Hizbollah in Lebanon after the Israeli invasion in 2006, the Mahdi Army can claim victory by simply surviving an assault by an Iraqi government backed by the Americans. That is significant ‘street cred'”. An agreement is also in line with Iran’s official position, to support the Iraqi government, and that armed groups should be integrated into the Iraqi army. In that way, troops influenced and armed by Iran will have an official status.

Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, is therefore paradoxically supported by both the US and Iran. If the Mahdi Army feels forced to break the ceasefire, armed fighting will, as in the spring, be predominantly Shia fighting Shia.

Another reason for the downturn in armed attacks, bombs etc. is the US tactic of reaching agreements with local Sunni leaders, who have been bought over in order to attack groups supporting al-Qaeda. Also these deals, however, could be temporary and new fighting can start. Nouri al-Maliki has also failed to attract Sunni leaders back into the government.

Improvement?

The conference held on 29 May in Stockholm, not very close to Iraq, was guarded by 1,700 Swedish police and hundreds of foreign security personnel. Behind a newly-built wall (to protect against snipers) was, as well as the US foreign secretary, Condoleezza Rice, Iran’s foreign minister. The notorious Manouchehr Mottaki is one of the leading oppressors of workers, women and revolutionaries in Iran.

The attempts to paint a bright picture in Iraq stumbles over facts:

* More than 500,000 Iraqis have been killed since the US invasion five years ago.
* More than 4.5 million people have become refugees – close on every fifth Iraqi.
* Electricity and water is accessible only for a few hours a day in Baghdad. Swedish TV4 showed how a bucket and one well in the yard is supposed to give water for a whole block.

Purely financially, the war is also a catastrophe. Nobel Price winner Joseph Stiglitz calculates the cost to more than 3,000 billion dollars.

Big business

Oil production in Iraq today is 2.6 million barrels a day. It is still less than the level in 1990, which was 3.5 barrels a day. But with today’s oil price, Iraq’s income from oil will be 70 billion dollars this year. This money was one of the main reasons for the conference.

“Iraq is open for all Swedish companies to invest in this very promising market”, al-Maliki stressed during his visit. The Swedish trade minister, right-winger Eva Björling, pointed out that already in January and February Swedish trade with the Middle East, mainly exporting, increased by 36 per cent. She is planning a trip to Iraq in the autumn, together with 22 Swedish companies, “to take advantage of these great opportunities for increased trade”.

Volvo and Scania are first in the Swedish race; they are willing to deliver trucks. The Iraqi government wants Scania to restart its assembly plant for trucks that existed in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq before the US Gulf war in 1991. Other companies licking their lips are Tetra Pak and ABB.

The key issue for multinational big business is of course oil. A new oil law has been postponed several times because of protests, mainly from the oil workers, against giving the oil to companies such as Shell and Exxon. The London Financial Times reports how Shell has meetings in Jordan every month with the Iraqi oil ministry and every week via video-link. With the draft law, “Iraq will be one of the rare countries in the region where companies will be allowed to claim reserves as their own” (FT 20 March).

The refugees

The other main reason for the conference is the demand from Sweden and other Western powers for a block on refugees from Iraq. Svenska Dagbladet, commented on 29 May: “Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is under huge pressure… The United Nations and several governments, among them the Swedish, hope that he will facilitate a return of Iraqi refugees”.

In 2007, 18,559 refugees from Iraq came to Sweden, which is a high number compared to the US (734) and Britain (1,260). But there are 1.3 million refugees in Syria, half a million in Jordan and more than 2.5 million internally in Iraq. For the Swedish migration minister, Tobias Billström, and the European Union, the main issue is to block more refugees and to start returning those already in Sweden and Europe. For this purpose, Billström and foreign minister Carl Bildt even visited Baghdad this winter.

Iraq’s government has been forced to promise 200,000 dollars for facilitating the return of refugees. This is despite the UN’s highest representative in Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, arguing against returns because of the shortage of housing and schools. $200,000 is also a small amount compared to Iraq’s $3.5 billion spent on interest rates for its debt.

The future

At the moment, negotiating is taking place about the continued US military presence in Iraq. The present UN mandate, decided after the invasion, is ending on 31 December this year. Whoever wins the presidential election in November, public opinion in the US expects troops to begin to be taken home. The US today has 155,000 troops in Iraq. Other countries are down to 10,000, but now also Australia and Poland, for long among Bush’s strongest allies, have started to take some of their soldiers home.

From the beginning, the strategy of the White House was to stay in Iraq, with a number of military bases. This they see as a means to keep control over oil and the government.

The massive opinion against the occupiers in Iraq, however, makes it hard for even al-Maliki’s government to just ‘OK’ the US demands without debate. They have given some signs of independence. Their calculation has to include Moqtada al-Sadr, whose popularity is based on his resistance to the occupation.

The Iraq conference public relations stunt has possibly opened new roads to profits for big business and encouraged opponents of refugees. But since the conference has been led by warmongers from 2003, it lacked all preconditions to improve the situation for the people of Iraq. Even on the issue of rebuilding and of profits a big question mark remains over the lack of security.

Instability and insecurity in Iraq and in the entire Middle East is caused by the wars and exploitation of capitalism and imperialism. To turn this trend around, mass struggle led by the working class is needed, a struggle that can unite oppressed from all ethnic and religious groups against the occupiers and the local rulers. Iraq and the entire Middle East needs democratically built revolutionary socialist mass parties.