Does Washington Intend to Establish a US Colony in Iraq?
Does Washington Intend to Establish a US Colony in Iraq? (Updated 7/8/03)

According to a hitherto uncorroborated article on the Israeli source debka.com,"The Americans are secretly building two giant intelligence facilities in Iraq at a cost of some half a billion dollars" --, one on a site north of the oil city of Mosul in Kurdistan and a second facility in Baghdad's Saadun district on the east bank of the Tigris. Debka concludes "from the vast dimensions of the two projects and their colossal expense that it is Washington's intention to retain a large US military presence in Iraq in the long term, for a decade at least."

Other critics suggest that US civil administrator Paul Bremer's disinterest in a speedy installation of an Iraqi government reflects a US Government intention to occupy and control Iraq for a long time. One reason would be to control from Washington the allocation of billion-dollar reconstruction contracts to American firms like KBR (a subsidiary of Vice-President Cheney's firm Halliburton). Another reason may be to present an eventual Iraqi regime with US-implemented plans for privatizing the economy and above all Iraq's oil reserves.

It is clear that as a first step the US, by abolishing all import and export controls, has de facto opened up the Iraqi market to a flood of foreign imports, with mixed effects on the domestic economy. On the one hand, the much warned-against humanitarian crisis has been largely averted, though not completely. On the other, Iraq's mostly socialized pre-war economic structure is being dismantled along with the Baathist political system.

One consequence of abandoning border controls, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported on July 2, is that traditional Kurdish smugglers are transporting to Iran massive amounts of looted Iraqi goods needed to rebuild the country. This includes new generators, water filters, and other heavy machines weighing tons that have been stolen from the power plants and water stations being rebuilt by Bechtel and Halliburton.

No one in authority has done anything so far to stop this smuggling. In fact it is facilitated by the US decision to leave Kurdish areas for now in the hands of Kurdish peshmerga, who for years have supported themselves by this kind of smuggling activity. But the outflow is bad news for Iraqi citizens and American tax-payers, even while not so bad for big business and the prospects of a long-time US occupation.

Does Washington in fact intend to become a successor colonial power to Great Britain in the Middle East? Refining the question, do some people in the Pentagon wish to restore the regional military base it enjoyed in pre-revolutionary Iran under the US-installed Shah? We will know better in the next few weeks by watching America's speed in establishing order and an interim government in Iraq. Paul Bremer, who answers to the Pentagon, has for the moment put off earlier plans for an elected civilian government. His current priority is to restore order by hunting out Baathist remnants and jump-starting the wrecked Iraqi economy.

But there is a risk that the combination of delay and aggressive military searches will only make a peaceful US exit less likely. Speaking for many of America's friends, the respected Iraqi elder statesman Adnan Pachachi, ambassador to the UN the 1960s, recently urged Bremer to suspend all offensive military sweeps until an Iraqi interim government has been put in place.

Bremer's predecessor, General Garner, had originally promised an Afghan-style conference in late May to create such a government. But such plans were postponed with Garner's departure in May - possibly because of the failure to find Iraqi leaders that are generally acceptable. An announced political conference to select a government, rescheduled for July, was recently canceled by Bremer altogether, with no new date in sight. Instead Bremer intends to appoint an advisory council of 25 to 30 Iraqis, selected by himself after extensive consultations. The Shiite leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who until recently was considered friendly to America, has issued a fatwa denouncing this plan for a council, and demanding elections instead.

(According to Forbes Business Newswire (7/8/03) Bremer also said in early July that "Iraq, sitting on the world's second largest oil reserves, should change laws passed during the Saddam years barring all but Arab investors entry to Iraq. With Washington and London restricted in their role as foreign occupiers from changing laws, Bremer said such legal changes would have to be discussed by an advisory Iraqi political council set to start work this month.")

Meanwhile U.S. military commanders have canceled plans for local elections in provincial Iraqi cities. Bremer explained to the Washington Post that "In a postwar situation like this, if you start holding elections, the people who are rejectionists tend to win." But many young Iraqis warn that, by dimming the hopes for democracy and self-rule, the US will increase the numbers in opposition.

Indeed the month of June has seen a large increase in attacks against both occupying forces and oil pipelines. The worst such attack was on June 24, when six British troops were killed in Majar Al-Kabir, a once-friendly Shiite town in southern Iraq. This was the first such post-war attack in a Shiite area, and the bloodiest since seven US troops were killed at Nassiriya on March 23.

Echoing the British Ministry of Defence, the New York Times (6/24/03) at first called this an "ambush ... on military police officers on a mission to train Iraqi officers." It has since emerged that the killings were in revenge for the killing of four Iraqis in the town (a fifth has since also died) in an incident arising out of yet another provocative military sweep.

Why the sudden upsurge? Undoubtedly one reason, as explained by Bremer, is the regrouping of Baathist remnants. But it is foolish to suggest, as the US Government radio RFE/RL did on June 25, that the killings in Majar Al-Kabir, a resolutely anti-Saddam region, could have been "organized by remnants of Hussein's regime."

A better explanation is that, with the hopes vanishing for an Iraqi administration and US troop withdrawal, tolerance for the occupation is running out everywhere. Even the pro-US Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani warned at the time of Gen. Garner's departure that "speed is of the essence -- we must get some form of government."

Timothy Carney, a former U.S. ambassador who retired recently from supervising Iraq's Industry Ministry, has told the BBC that America's "military officers simply did not understand or give enough priority to the transition from their military mission to the political military mission." He added that "There was a great gap in our knowledge of what Iraq was like,"

Officials in the current US occupation agree that, as one of them told the Washington Post, "We need to emphasize the political dimension more." But in most of Iraq the job of local administration and reconstruction remains the responsibility of the military's civil affairs teams, which are staffed largely with reservists who are given just one day of instruction for dealing with civilians.

Thus the success or failure of the American promise to create democracy in Iraq has been left to part-time military teams with little specialized training. One reason for such dangerous amateurism appears to be that, despite all the pre-invasion debate about the difficulty of winning the peace, the Pentagon simply did not prepare for the job.

On the contrary, as reported by Robert Dreyfuss in The Nation, serious warnings from the intelligence community of Iraqi displeasure at a future US occupation were ignored and overwritten by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. He relied instead on unsupported assurances that the US would be welcomed by the majority of Iraqis with open arms.

These assurances came chiefly from Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress. Chalabi is an Iraqi exile mistrusted by State and CIA, but adored by the Pentagon (and US oil companies), because of his willingness to say what he thinks Rumsfeld and his colleagues want to hear. But even Chalabi said in mid-June that the decision to limit Iraqi influence could spark increased opposition to the U.S.-led occupation.

Bremer announced on July 2 that his appointed council should be in place by mid-month. On the same day the private intelligence service Stratfor estimated that the tension in Iraq is still increasing, despite Rumsfeld's dismissal of the attackers as a disorganized rabble. It seems increasingly clear that America has no exit strategy, and clearer also that the Bush Administration may yet come to regret this.

On June 25 Army Lt. Gen. John P. Abizaid, the prospective future US Commander in the Middle East, confirmed to Congress that "Our military involvement there [in Iraq] will be certainly a long one."