Stop Iraq War Profiteering: Activists Launch Campaign Calling for Congressional Investigations into Corporate War Profiteering in Iraq
by Bill Berkowitz
September 4, 2003
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."
-- President Dwight D. Eisenhower, April 16, 1953
A handful of companies, including the Dick Cheney-connected Halliburton, Bechtel, and MCI, are already reaping the benefits from President Bush's invasion of Iraq. Despite the ongoing instability -- marked most emphatically by last week's bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad -- all sorts of companies intend to vie for highly profitable contracts to rebuild the country devastated by the U.S. invasion, years of UN sanctions, and decades of the despotic rule of Saddam Hussein.
Anti-war activists, increasingly troubled by Bush administration plans for the wholesale sell-off of Iraq's resources through a U.S.-orchestrated corporate takeover, are organizing to stop war profiteering. In early August, the North Carolina-based Institute for Southern Studies, joined by a number of peace, religious, labor and veterans groups, launched a campaign to challenge the "'second invasion' of Iraq by powerful corporate interests seeking to control the country's oil, water and other resources."
Tara Purohit, an Institute associate working on this campaign, contrasted present U.S. policy with reconstruction following World War II when President Franklin D. Roosevelt said "I don't want to see a single war millionaire created in the United States as a result of this disaster." Harry Truman denounced war profiteering as "treason." And earlier in the century, according to Purohit, "Sen. Robert LaFollette called war profiteers 'enemies of democracy in the homeland.'"
"Our country has a proud history of leaders who have stood up to the war profiteers," said Purohit.
Stop the War Profiteers Campaign
The Stop the War Profiteers Campaign (www.southernstudies.org), is calling on elected officials to prevent "war profiteering at taxpayer expense and to end the 'corporate looting' of Iraq." The campaign wants Congress to: 1) Hold hearings "to investigate the activities and influence of war profiteers," focusing on "the influence of arms manufacturers during the war" and their "undue political influence"; and 2) "Curb war profiteering" by military contractors by instituting an "excess profits tax."
The campaign is also calling for "an end to the corporate take-over and selling-off of Iraq's industry and resources and [it] demand[s] that they be returned immediately to the Iraqi people."
"The U.S. is rushing to open Iraq to a flood of outside corporate interests, before the country's own government can take power," said Chris Kromm, director of the non-profit Institute for Southern Studies, the initiator of the Stop the War Profiteers Campaign. "If the Iraq war was really about democracy, why won't they wait and let the Iraqi people decide what to do with their economy?"
Representatives at June's Iraqi Reconstruction Conference in Washington -- sponsored by Equity International, a private international investment firm that facilitates corporate involvement in homeland and global security as well as "economic development in emerging markets" -- claimed that the $4.9 billion in U.S. and foreign funding had thus far been committed to reconstruction, "with U.S. funds accounting for more than two-thirds" of that figure. At the conference, corporate representatives were looking to get involved in either sub-contracting with a company that already attained a contract, or setting up partnerships with companies already investing in Iraq.
Washington lawyer Robert Kyle, a representative of several companies hunting down business, told Reuters that funds for company investments came from seized Iraqi assets, which were "'subject to a less formal approach' in their allocation than those from USAID, which used U.S. taxpayer money," he said.
This "less formal approach" has been profitable for Halliburton, Bechtel and Fluor, "companies that have generously supported Republican politicians and whose executives are no strangers to the revolving door connecting government and corporate jobs," claims Michael Renner, a senior researcher at Worldwatch Institute and a policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus. Renner pointed out that no-bid "reconstruction contracts" have already been awarded "to a closely drawn circle of politically well-connected US corporations."
David Champlin of the Texas-based technology and equipment company, Stewart & Stevenson, told Reuters that he had learned two lessons from the Iraqi Reconstruction Conference: "Firstly, there is a lot of uncertainty and insecurity and secondly it's clear to me that we have to have a presence on the ground to get anywhere here," he said, adding that a team from his company had just returned from Iraq.
Being present on the ground, however, is definitely a risky proposition. A British firm specializing in international risk management has come upon a solution for the businessman in a hurry to get to Baghdad. Pilgrims Specialist Training "offers the very best in safety and medical training for hostile environments." According to the Pilgrims Web site, "When public order turns to disorder Pilgrims train your people in how to lower their profile and use the environment to protect themselves, as well as defusing volatile crowd situations."
Why is the Institute for Southern Studies, an organization founded in 1970 to work for civil rights and economic and social justice at home, spearheading the Stop the War Profiteers Campaign? "The South has really become the home of the military-industrial complex in this country and is a driving force in the county's overall drive to war," Chris Kromm, the Institute's director recently told the Durham Independent. "As Southerners, we do need to understand and rise to the challenge of the fact that it's powerful corporate players in our own backyard that are driving a lot of the misery being experienced by U.S. soldiers and the Iraqi people."
Can the newly-launched campaign succeed? All the goals are a "long shot," Kromm admits, but given the chaotic situation on the ground, he believes the American public are growing more receptive to a campaign that raises questions about corporate war profiteering. "This is something almost everyone can get behind," he told the Independent. "Whether you were for the war or against it, the fact is that the idea of corporations making billions of dollars off of death and destruction, while U.S. soldiers are dying, is something that appalls lots of people."
Footnote: Resistance by Iraqis involved in the country's oil industry and "a reluctance by Iraqi former international oil executives to join the international oil advisory board" has resulted in the U.S. deciding "to leave the running of Iraq's oil industry to Iraqis," according to an August 19 report in the London-based Financial Times. "The group, which would include Iraqi government officials and oil experts from inside and outside the country, would oversee Iraq's oil policy, help advise the oil ministry on its investments and any decisions on what kind of role the country would play within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries."
As of August 19, twenty-nine organizations have already endorsed the Stop the War Profiteers Campaign. For more information or to endorse the campaign, visit http://www.southernstudies.org or contact the Southern Peace Research and Education Center at 919-419-8311 x27 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To order The War Profiteers Card Deck, "expos[ing] some of the real war criminals in the US's endless War of Terror": http://www.warprofiteers.com/.
Reports of interest:
"The Corporate Invasion of Iraq: Profile of U.S. Corporations Awarded Contracts in U.S./British Occupied-Iraq" prepared by U.S. Labor Against the War
"New Numbers: The Price of Freedom in Iraq and Power in Washington" by Ceara Donnelley and William D. Hartung
Useful Web sites:
Iraq Occupation Watch -- http://www.occupationwatch.org/
Arms Trade Resource Center -- http://www.worldpolicy.org/projects/arms/
Cost of the War in Iraq -- http://www.costofwar.com/
The Global Policy Forum -- http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/oil/irqindx.htm.
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.