Aftermath and Rebuilding Iraq

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  • by Anup Shah
  • This Page Last Updated Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The speed at which the entire occupation (or liberation or invasion or war or whatever is the appropriate term) took place, and the ease at which the Iraqi forces were decimated suggested that the imminent threat that Iraq had posed (for such a long time) has shown itself to be an exaggeration. This was one of the main justifications for war (that Saddam was a brutal dictator, and the accompanying humanitarian reasons were only used later when the U.S. and U.K. started to lose the propaganda war), as detailed on the propaganda page in this Iraq section. But the issue for Iraqi civilians and society remained throughout. From being under a dictatorship to now being in a power vacuum, occupation, insecurity and instability have become major problems.

Occupation

CNN reported that U.S. think tank, Council on Foreign Relations, produced a report in March, that “called on Bush to stress two messages: Explain the United States' vital interest in Iraq's future to the American people, so they will be willing to bear the cost of reconstruction; and to make the public commitment, so Iraqis understand the United States will not walk out before job is done.”

Side Note on vital interest and perception of continued occupation

It would remain to be seen if the “vital interests” are explained in geopolitical terms, or just left as “vital interests” or some other vague term that has often been used to explain geopolitical actions in the past. The second part of the message is interesting because it describes and supports U.S. presence in Iraq as being about not walking out before the job is done.

  • Yet, many in Iraq have pointed out that while they are happy Saddam is gone, they would also like to see the U.S. to leave, and allow the Iraqis to get on with the rebuilding of their country.
  • For example, on April 18, the BBC reports that thousands took to the streets to “protest against what they see as a foreign occupation of their country” in what was said to be “the biggest demonstration of Arab nationalism since the end of the war, and shows what powerful sentiments the US-led invasion of Iraq has stirred up.”
  • Many protests have been going on throughout the weeks because there has been so much chaos after Saddam was toppled. A lot of looting and killings have taken place. The U.S. have tried to even prevent the media from reporting some protests, as the Australian paper, The Age, pointed out (April 16, 2003).
  • In another example, the U.S. tried to bring together a number of leaders from various political factions in Iraq in the historic city of Ur. However, one of the largest groups did not attend, and in addition, there were many protests in parts of Iraq, including nearby Nassiriya, as Reuters reported (April 15, 2003) where possibly 20,000 people took part in protests, in fear of U.S. control.
  • An additional paradox is revealed by a reporter for the BBC in Iraq, who pointed out (April 18, 2003) that for years, radical Islam was one avenue that oppressed people would turn to. What if the democratic processes lead to Islamic leaders to come into power?
  • Another twist that the BBC did not note, (and typically most of the mainstream never has in comparison to say the frequency with which we are reminded of Saddam's brutality), is that for decades, the West, and the U.S. in particular has had the habit of supporting dicatators and other corrupt regimes. In the Middle East, such extreme oppression has often been expressed from a counter extremism of militant Islam, which has been able to readily recruit fresh minds to their causes.

Under the Geneva Conventions, an occupying force has responsibility over security and order, but Iraq has proven to be a difficult place to fully secure, with occupying troops meeting fierce pockets of resistance and anger.

A huge blast at the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad killed at least 24 people on August 19, 2003. It would at first appear odd why the U.N. would be targetted, when previous waves of attacks have been aimed at the U.S. and British troops. While we often see the U.N. and U.S. at odds on most international issues, many in areas such as the middle east have long seen the U.N. as a manipulated arm serving western/U.S. interests. As a result it has been conceivable that the U.N. may have also been a target too. But U.N. Secretary General, Koffi Annan blamed the U.S. for lack of security in Iraq on the whole, while the U.S. military said that the security for the U.N. was a U.N. issue. Quoting from an article in the South African, Daily Mail and Guardian at some length:

Annan criticised the US for failing to secure the situation in Iraq for international humanitarian workers: “The occupying power is responsible for law and order and the security of the country,” he said.

“We had hoped that by now the coalition forces would have secured the environment for us to be able to carry on the essential work of political and economic reconstruction, institution-building and for Iraqis to carry on with their work,” he said.

“That has not happened,” he said, while acknowledging that it was difficult to prevent such an attack.

A US military spokesperson disagreed with Annan, saying the UN was in charge of its own security.

“It was a UN issue to provide their own security,” said Lieutenant Peter Rekers.

“They had a private security company providing security around the [UN] compound,” Rekers said.

The UN and the US have been at loggerheads over the question of security in Iraq, and the UN's role in general.

Annan blames US for Iraq blast, Daily Mail and Guardian, August 22, 2003

In September, at a major United Nations conference in New York, Annan continued his criticism saying that nations (implying the United States) that take unilateral action risk breeding more terrorism. As Sydney Morning Herald reported:

Mr Annan said the use of military force against terrorist groups could encourage more terrorism, while pre-emptive strikes could lead to a lawless world where nations attack one another “with or without justification”.

Without mentioning the US or its allies in Iraq by name, he told a New York conference on terrorism that nations were deluded if they believed military action alone could end terrorism.

Caroline Overington and Maggie Farley, US aggression breeds terror: UN chief, Sydney Morning Herald, September 24, 2003

At that same conference, George Bush, speaking after Annan, defended the invasion of Iraq. However, Bush did not seem to get much international support of his speech.

Amongst the various things that Bush mentioned, he stated that another issue we must confront together “is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Outlaw regimes that possess nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons -- and the means to deliver them -- would be able to use blackmail and create chaos in entire regions. These weapons could be used by terrorists to bring sudden disaster and suffering on a scale we can scarcely imagine. The deadly combination of outlaw regimes, terror networks, and weapons of mass murder is a peril that cannot be ignored or wished away. If such a danger is allowed to fully materialize, all words, all protests, will come too late. Nations of the world must have the wisdom and the will to stop grave threats before they arrive.”

Former head of the UN oil-for-food program in Iraq and assistant secretary general of the UN, Dennis Halliday provides a very to-the-point critique of this talk. He noted that Bush's own disregard for international law is contributing to proliferation. “Nuclear proliferation? Does Bush not understand that his military aggression, disregard for the rule of international law and the UN, plus his concept of ‘pre-emptive’ strike is the very cause of proliferation, as countries openly threatened by Washington determine that nuclear capacity is the only defense against American madness?”

This issue of powerful nations using their might and possibly causing other countries to consider their nuclear options is discussed more on this site's sections on arms control and the arms trade.

In addition, no country has offered troops or financial contributions, as requested by George Bush, according to La Figaro (September 26, 2003). One of the reasons, the article suggests is that other countries do not want to legitimate the role of occupation. It might be early days, and “diplomacy” and such pressures from the U.S. and U.K. might sway some countries into various forms of assistance.

Koffi Annan, at the end of September 2003, ordered a cutback of international UN staff in Iraq, responding to recent security fears. This might be playing into the hands of the terrorists who have bombed the UN, some say, but whether or not, the security of Iraq continues to look shakey for the near future.

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U.S. or U.N.-led Reconstruction of Iraq?

At the time of writing, it is unclear what the United Nation's role will be in the reconstruction of Iraq. At different times, media reports from the U.S. indicate that the U.N. will have a “key role” (whatever that means!) and at other times it appears that the U.N. will likely have a role subordinate to the U.S. The United States appear to be keen to run the show, as if it were, while much of the international community want the effort to be headed by the United Nations. Politically, the criticism that would be charged against the U.S. if it were to lead the process would include that again it is usurping international will, and that the U.N. is again subdued by U.S. interests.

As of August 2003, it looks less likely that the U.N. will have the leading role, as the South African Daily Mail and Guardian comments, in an article on the bomb blast that killed 24 at the UN headquarters in Baghdad:

The UN and the US have been at loggerheads over the question of security in Iraq, and the UN's role in general.

According to a report last week in the New York Times, Washington is no longer seeking a major UN role in the occupation of Iraq, and will instead try to enlist individual countries to help the US-led occupation forces.

The report said the US government had specifically opted against giving the UN any authority over security in Iraq.

Other reports have indicated that Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld is strongly opposed to any dilution of military authority over Iraq by involving the UN.

Annan blames US for Iraq blast, Daily Mail and Guardian, August 22, 2003

With the U.S. appearing to struggle in retaining control and helping rebuild, and increasingly under pressure to do so, the United Nations has started to take a slightly more active role, including analysing and recommending how to transition control of Iraq to Iraqis. However, it appears that the U.S. would not be interested in completely relinquishing its ability to determine this to the United Nations. Throughout its history the U.N. has often been undermined by major powers. Stephen R. Shalom, Noam Chomsky, and Michael Albert commented on this during the East Timor crisis in 1999, but is worth repeating here due to is continued relevance:

It is a little misleading to speak of the role of the UN. The UN is nearly powerless as an abstract entity or even as a representative of the world's nations. It can act, instead, only insofar as it is given authorization by the great powers, which means primarily the United States.

The UN has no standing peacekeeping force and thus is dependent on finding countries willing to contribute troops for any particular mission. The organization suffers as well from an extreme shortage of funds because of the continual U.S. refusal to pay its dues.

...U.S. influence is greatest in the Security Council, but some organs of the UN, such as the General Assembly or bodies dealing with economic and social issues have had a Third World majority ever since the era of decolonization. Accordingly, U.S. policy has been to undermine and marginalize the UN. The United Nations should have an important role in world affairs, but U.S. policy and the policies of other leading states, severely limit the international organization. From the point of view of U.S. policymakers, however, there is one crucial role played by the UN: it serves as a convenient scapegoat when something goes wrong.

Stephen R. Shalom, Noam Chomsky, and Michael Albert, East Timor; Questions And Answers, ZNet, Undated (around 1999)

In addition, as mentioned further below, the U.S. is less willing for the United Nations to take the leading role in Iraq's rebuilding and transitioning of power away from the occupying forces. But, as Jim Lobe notes, the reasons may be due to a wider geopolitical strategy:

Asked [in an interview with the National Journal] how long U.S. troops might remain in Iraq, Garner replied, “I hope they're there a long time”, and then compared U.S. goals in Iraq to U.S. military bases in the Philippines between 1898 and 1992.

“One of the most important things we can do right now is start getting basing rights with (the Iraqi authorities)”, he said. “And I think we'll have basing rights in the north and basing rights in the south ... we'd want to keep at least a brigade”.

“Look back on the Philippines around the turn of the 20th century: they were a coaling station for the navy, and that allowed us to keep a great presence in the Pacific. That's what Iraq is for the next few decades: our coaling station that gives us great presence in the Middle East”, Garner added.

While U.S. military strategists have hinted for some time that a major goal of war was to establish several bases in Iraq, particularly given the ongoing military withdrawal from Saudi Arabia, Garner is the first to state it so baldly.

Until now, U.S. military chiefs have suggested they need to retain a military presence just to ensure stability for several years, during which they expect to draw down their forces.

If indeed Garner's understanding represents the thinking of his former bosses, then the ongoing struggle between Cheney and the Pentagon on the one hand and the State Department on the other over how much control Washington is willing to give the United Nations over the transition to Iraqi rule becomes more comprehensible.

Ceding too much control, particularly before a base agreement can be reached with whatever Iraqi authority will take over Jun. 30, will make permanent U.S. bases much less likely.

Jim Lobe, Chalabi, Garner Provide New Clues to War, Inter Press Service, February 20, 2004

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Rebuilding and Reconstruction

There has been long concern at where lucrative reconstruction costs and oil contracts are going.

Controversial Reconstruction Contracts

As reconstruction has supposedly begun, even Republicans are criticizing current efforts for not being near enough. For example, UK's mainstream newspaper, The Times, reports (May 23, 2003) that Richard Lugar, the “most senior Republican authority on foreign relations in Congress has warned President Bush that the United States is on the brink of catastrophe in Iraq.” Lugar said that “Washington was in danger of creating ‘an incubator for terrorist cells and activity’ unless it increased the scope and cost of its reconstruction efforts. He said that more troops, billions more dollars and a longer commitment were needed if the US were not to throw away the peace.” The New York Times adds (May 22, 2003) that there has been frustration at the Bush administration's “failure to consult in depth with Congress about the costs, methods and goals of rebuilding Iraq.” (We also begin to get a hint of the enormous challenges involved here in the rebuilding process, whereby some are advocating more U.S./U.K. involvement to prevent more turmoil and conflict, while others (including many Iraqis) suggest that the U.S. needs to withdraw quickly.)

In addition, criticisms about war profiteering by some multinationals, as well as preferential contracts to companies with ties to the U.S. Bush Administration are coming out as well. There are potential hundred of millions to billions of dollars worth of contracts in the reconstruction, and so large companies are of course attracted to this prospect. However, some have also had poor human rights or environmental records in the past as well.

Side Note

This is quite a large topic to be covered here. Instead, for now, see for the following links for example:

Into November 2003, Iraqi local businessmen have been complaining that most reconstruction contracts leave local business out.

Controversial Oil Contracts

Oil of course is an important issue. It turns out that some western companies have already secured some contracts. Critics of opposers of war were quick (and right) to point out that Russia, China, and France, for example, had oil contract interests with the Saddam Hussein regime. Yet, very early on, countries such as the U.S. and U.K. were exploiting their positions to get oil contracts. In the new round of contracts, while China and France managed to get some, Russia didn't get any, and look likely not to. As Pratap Chatterjee notes:

Executive order number 13303 [signed by George Bush, in May 2003] states “any attachment, judgment, decree, lien, execution, garnishment, or other judicial process is prohibited, and shall be deemed null and void”, with respect to “all Iraqi petroleum and petroleum products, and interests therein.”

With this, Bush granted Iraqi oil a lifetime exemption provided US companies are involved in the oil's production, transport, or distribution. This order applies to Iraqi oil products that are “in the United States, hereafter come within the United States, or that are or hereafter come within the possession or control of United States persons.” (Under US law, corporations are “persons.”)

“In other words, if ExxonMobil or ChevronTexaco touch Iraqi oil, anything they or anyone else does with it is immune from legal proceedings in the US,” explained Jim Vallette, an analyst with the Sustainable Energy & Economy Network of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC.

“Anything that has happened before with oil companies around the world -- a massive tanker accident; an explosion at an oil refinery; the employment of slave labor to build a pipeline; murder of locals by corporate security; the release of billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere; or lawsuits by Iraq's current creditors or the next true Iraqi government demanding compensation -- anything at all, is immune from judicial accountability,” he says.

“Effectively Bush has unilaterally declared Iraqi oil to be the unassailable province of US oil corporations,” Vallette added.

Pratap Chatterjee and Oula Al Farawati, To the Victors Go the Spoils of War; British Petroleum, Shell and Chevron Win Iraqi Oil Contracts, CorpWatch, August 8, 2003

Into June 2004, IPS also also adds that lack of transparency in the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) is leading to unaccountability:

Groups critical of the lack of transparency in the CPA's spending have been particularly angry that the authority is using Iraqi money to pay for questionable contracts -- some awarded without a public tendering process -- with U.S. companies.

Washington has restricted the most lucrative reconstruction contracts in Iraq to gigantic U.S. companies that appear set to rack up profitable contracts, fuelling accusations that the Bush administration is seeking to benefit a select few U.S. companies rather than find the best, and possibly the cheapest, options to help the Iraqi people rebuild.

Emad Mekay, Charity Finds Billions Missing In Iraqi Oil Revenues, Inter Press Service, June 28, 2004

Missing Billions of Iraqi Money that U.S.-led Coalition Cannot Account For

At the end of June 2004, just when the new interim government was to be announced, the British charity and development organization, Christian Aid noted that:

The US-controlled coalition in Baghdad is handing over power to an Iraqi government without having properly accounted for what it has done with some $20 billion of Iraq's own money...

Christian Aid believes this situation is in flagrant breach of the UN Security Council resolution that gave control of Iraq's oil revenues and other Iraqi funds to the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA)....

Resolution 1483 of May 2003 said that Iraq's oil revenues should be paid into the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI), that this money should be spent in the interests of the Iraqi people, and be independently audited. But it took until April 2004 to appoint an auditor - leaving only a matter of weeks to go through the books.

Fuelling suspicion: the coalition and Iraq's oil billions, Christian Aid, June 28, 2004

However, as Christian Aid also notes, they themselves highlighted in October 2003 that some $4 billion were unaccounted for then. That this is Iraq's money and being handled by the U.S., and still not being accounted for, is perhaps as scandalous as Sadam Hussein's lavish spending on weapons and palaces.

Iraq starts off with a lot of its own money missing as a result, which is a big problem in a country with a lot of instability and violence, unemployment and urgently needing to show credibility and effort to get things moving.

Very little actually spent on reconstruction so far

It was revealed all the way into mid September that very little has so far been spent on Iraqi reconstruction:

Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued other warnings on Wednesday about the American campaign in Iraq, saying the administration's request to divert more than $3 billion to security from the $18.4 billion aid package of last November was a sign of trouble.

“Although we recognize these funds must not be spent unwisely,” the committee chairman, Mr. Lugar said, “the slow pace of reconstruction spending means that we are failing to fully take advantage of one of our most potent tools to influence the direction of Iraq.”

Less than $1 billion has been spent so far.

Douglas Jehl, U.S. Intelligence Shows Pessimism on Iraq's Future, New York Times, September 16, 2004

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Looting and Lost Archeological Treasures

The terrible scenes of looting due to the power vacuum were initially broadcast all over the media, while the Coalition forces at first appeared to do little to prevent it. This was despite organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Red Cross, and others pointing out that the occupying power, under the Geneva Conventions, has an obligation to provide security and establish law and order. Under public pressure forces eventually started to provide some sort of security. However, looting was still continued for a while, and as the Observer reported (May 25, 2003), gangs and high crime levels have continued to be major problems in places like Baghdad.

Amidst the looting, many of Iraq's archaeological treasures were destroyed or stolen. At first it was reported that these were tragic aspects of looting, though now it is emerging that it was perhaps organized. Some of the treasures have been so valuable that is has been described as the equivaluent to the loss of many Mona Lisa's. A number of the items are some of the oldest archaeological findings (Some of the areas in modern Iraq are regarded as parts of the birthplace of civilization).

Inter Press Service reported during the war on the concerns about the archaeological sites, April 8, 2003. They pointed out the damage from the previous war. They also noted that “Iraqi territory is estimated to hold 10,000 archaeological sites with artefacts and constructions that have yet to be studied and countless secrets to decipher.” In addition, “Much of the country's treasures are in Mosul Nasiriya and Tikrit, three cities that have been bombed heavily by the invading forces.” Before the war began, academic experts met with the Pentagon to tell them about Iraq's most valuable cultural sites. “The Pentagon had a list of 150 important locations. The academic experts handed over a list of more than 4,000 and insisted that they represented just a small percentage of Iraq's rich heritage.”

The Pentagon itself had sent a memo in the early days of the war urging top commanders of U.S. ground forces to protect the Iraqi National Museum and other cultural sites from looters. The Washington Times obtained a copy of the memo. “Coalition forces must secure these facilities in order to prevent looting and the resulting irreparable loss of cultural treasures” the Washington Times reported. The US army had been criticized by the media for failing to do so adequately, resulting in 270,000 artefacts being stolen from Iraq's national museum alone, as mentioned by the Guardian (April 20, 2003).

The US military argued, (as the articles above also highlight), that its primary job in the first few days was to quell armed resistance in Baghdad, and that it could not tackle looters until it had finished fighting a war. U.S. Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, tried to fend off some of the criticism, saying that in a war situation such unfortunate circumstances cannot be helped, as it is difficult to stop. However, the head of President Bush's Advisory Committee on Cultural Property, Martin Sullivan, resigned over the issue, as the Guardian also reported, saying “it was ‘inexcusable’ that the museum should not have had the same priority as the Iraqi Oil Ministry” which was secured very soon. “In a pre-emptive war that's the kind of thing you should have planned for” he also added, as reported by Channel 4 News (April 18, 2003).

Side Note

It is interesting to note above the comment about protecting ministries other than just the oil ministry. Journalist Robert Fisk noted how so many ministries were left burning:

We claim that we want to preserve the national heritage of the Iraqi people, and yet my own count of government buildings burning in Baghdad before I left was 158, of which the only buildings protected by the United States army and the marines were the Ministry of Interior, which has the intelligence corp of Iraq and the Ministry of Oil, and I needn't say anything else about that. Every other ministry was burning. Even the Ministry of Higher Education/Computer Science was burning. And in some cases American marines were sitting on the wall next to the ministries watching them burn.

Robert Fisk, Interview by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, April 22, 2003

(For more about this aspect, see also the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) web site dealing with Iraq. It will contain more information as it becomes available on the details of the treasures lost, recovered, saved, and so forth.)

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Author and Page Information

  • by Anup Shah
  • Created: Sunday, March 30, 2003
  • Last Updated: Tuesday, September 28, 2004

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Document Revision History

DateReason
September 28, 2004Little spent on reconstruction so far
July 6, 2004Washington seems to have restricted lucrative oil contracts to mostly U.S. companies; U.S-led coalition cannot account for some $20 billion of Iraq's money.
April 24, 2004Updated on conflicting role of U.N. and U.S

Alternatives for broken links

Sometimes links to other sites may break beyond my control. Where possible, alternative links are provided to backups or reposted versions here.