Iraq, the UN, and US Corporations
So What Should Be Done?
by Phyllis Bennis
October 6, 2003
We should oppose any new UN resolution aimed at providing more legitimacy for the U.S.-UK occupation of Iraq. The UN should not endorse, and countries should not send troops or funds, to maintain or strengthen or "internationalize" Washington's occupation. We should demand that the UN return to its earlier position in which for 8 ½ months the Council stood defiant of the Bush administration to defend its Charter mandate to "prevent the scourge of war." That period, in which the UN was part of the international mobilization for peace, represented the global organization's most "relevant" and most democratic moment.
Only with the end of the U.S.-UK occupation should the United Nations, including a UN-commanded multilateral peacekeeping force, return to Iraq. Their mandate should be for a very short and defined period, with the goal of assisting Iraq in reconstruction and overseeing election of a governing authority. The UN political leadership should vocally oppose the U.S. demand that the global organization return to Iraq under the authority of the U.S. occupation.
As belligerent powers who initiated the war, and as occupying powers, the U.S. and the UK are obligated to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. While their military occupation should be ended immediately, Washington and London remain obligated to pay the continuing costs of Iraq's reconstruction, including the bulk of the cost of UN humanitarian and peacekeeping deployments. The U.S. should immediately make public a realistic estimate for the full cost of reconstruction in Iraq. Washington should reverse the spending priorities of its $87 billion request from Congress, and turn over to full UN authority (on behalf of the Iraqi people as a whole, not simply given to the U.S.-appointed Council) a starting grant of at least $75 billion (the initial amount Washington spent on waging the war) for reconstruction in Iraq.
The $15 billion (out of the $87 billion) requested by the Bush administration for Iraqi reconstruction is insufficient to meet Washington's obligations under international law. Opponents of the war should challenge the $65 billion scheduled for the Pentagon to continue the occupation of Iraq (and only a tiny amount of which is actually aimed at protecting U.S. soldiers with kevlar body armor, etc.). We should not challenge the $15 billion for reconstruction, except on the grounds of insufficiency, and we should demand that the funds be used to build the local economy, not to enrich U.S. corporations to do the same work.
The additional reconstruction funds should not come from ordinary taxpayers. They should be raised from (a) an excess profits tax on corporations benefiting from the war and post-war privatization in Iraq; (b) the Pentagon budget lines currently directed at continuing war in Iraq; and (c) a restored tax on the wealthiest 1% of Americans.
Reconstruction of Iraq should be based on rebuilding the economy of the country in a way that maximizes fulfilling the needs of Iraq's 23 million people. All contract processes should be completely transparent and accessible to Iraqis who may be without access to internet connections and who are denied access to U.S. occupation offices in Iraq. Contracts should privilege local companies, towards the goal of strengthening and diversifying local production, rather than being granted to U.S. corporations which charge more money and exclude local workers and local companies. Contracts should not be based on the false illusion of a "level playing field" in which impoverished Iraqi construction firms, for example, have to compete with Halliburton or Bechtel. Labor laws should ensure protection for local workers.
No contracts should be granted to U.S. corporate tax dodgers (with "offshore" tax haven bases). No contracts should be granted to any contracting corporation that pays its CEO more than 100 times the base pay of a U.S. soldier ($12,776.40 - or over $1.27 million). For example, Lockheed Martin CEO Vance Coffman receives $4.1 million in salary and bonuses, plus more than $20 million in options grants; last year he made nearly 2,000 times the pay of an entry-level soldier. Congress and the administration should recall FDR's words after World War II, when he said "I don't want to see a single war millionaire created in the United States as a result of this world disaster."
The total privatization of Iraq's economy, as announced by U.S. proconsul Paul Bremer, represents an illegal usurpation of the rights of a future Iraqi government. Privatization of public resources must be left for a legitimate government. Just as our own Constitution insures that only the legislative branch has the right to pass laws, only Iraq's future legislature has the right to sell off the resources of the country.
The General Assembly should reassert its power as the UN's most democratic agency to take an explicit position calling for an end to the U.S. occupation, and to request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the legality of "preemptive war." Such an effort will require international mobilization by global civil society demanding that the UN, and especially the General Assembly, play a central role in challenging the U.S. drive towards empire. We should urge Assembly member states to make clear that their willingness to support a central UN role in Iraq, including peacekeeping and political authority over the transition to Iraqi sovereignty is contingent on the end of the U.S.-UK occupation.
Real reform of the United Nations should return to the top of the global agenda. Those reforms include democratization (through expansion of the Security Council, ending the veto power, and expanding power of the General Assembly), transparency, and creation of an oversight agency to monitor the Security Council for violations of the UN Charter in its decisions. The U.S. should use this moment to reverse its longstanding opposition to the creation of a standing UN-controlled rapid-reaction military force, beginning with reconstituting the UN Charter-mandated Military Staff Committee.
Phyllis Bennis is the author of Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s UN (Olive Branch Press, 1996) and Before and After: US Foreign Policy and the September 11th Crisis (Olive Branch Press, 2002). She is a Middle East analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus (www.fpif.org) and a senior analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies, where this article first appeared . Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.