For Sale: Iraq
For Sale: A fertile, wealthy country with a population of around
million… plus around 150,000 foreign troops, and a handful of puppets.
Conditions of sale: should be either an American or British corporation
(forget it if you’re French)… preferably affiliated with Halliburton.
Please contact one of the members of the Governing Council in Baghdad,
Iraq for more information.
hear of the first of the economic reforms announced by Kamil
Al-Gaylani, the new Iraqi Finance Minister, you’d think Iraq was a
Utopia and the economy was perfect only lacking in… foreign investment.
As the BBC so wonderfully summarized it: the sale of all state
industries except for oil and other natural resources. Basically, that
means the privatization of water, electricity, communications,
transportation, health… The BBC calls it a ‘surprise’… why were we not
After all, the Puppets have been bought- why not
buy the stage too? Iraq is being sold- piece by piece. People are
outraged. The companies are going to start buying chunks of Iraq. Or,
rather, they’re going to start buying the chunks the Governing Council
and CPA don’t reward to the ‘Supporters of Freedom’.
of the situation is that the oil industry, the one industry that is
*not* going to be sold out, is actually being run by foreigners anyway.
The whole neighborhood knows about S. who lives exactly two
streets away. He’s what is called a ‘merchant’ or ‘tajir’. He likes to
call himself a ‘businessman’. For the last six years, S. has worked
with the Ministry of Oil, importing spare parts for oil tankers under
the surveillance and guidelines of the “Food for Oil Program”. In early
March, all contracts were put ‘on hold’ in expectation of the war.
Thousands of contracts with international companies were either
cancelled or postponed.
S. was in a frenzy: he had a shipment
of engines coming in from a certain country and they were ‘waiting on
the border’. Everywhere he went, he chain-smoked one cigarette after
another and talked of ‘letters of credit’, ‘comm. numbers’, and nasty
truck drivers who were getting impatient.
After the war, the
CPA decided that certain contracts would be approved. The contracts
that had priority over the rest were the contracts that were going to
get the oil pumping again. S. was lucky- his engines were going to find
their way through… hopefully.
Unfortunately, every time he tried
to get the go-ahead to bring in the engines, he was sent from person to
person until he found himself, and his engines, tangled up in a
bureaucratic mess in-between the CPA, the Ministry of Oil and the
UNOPS. By the time things were somewhat sorted out, and he was
communicating directly with the Ministry of Oil, he was given a ‘tip’.
He was told that he shouldn’t bother doing anything if he wasn’t known
to KBR. If KBR didn’t approve of him, or recommend him, he needn’t
bother with anything.
For a week, the whole neighborhood was
discussing the KBR. Who were they? What did they do? We all had our own
speculations… E. said it was probably some sort of committee like the
CPA, but in charge of the contracts or reconstruction of the oil
infrastructure. I expected it was probably another company- but where
was it from? Was it Russian? Was it French? It didn’t matter so long as
it wasn’t Halliburton or Bechtel. It was a fresh new name or, at least,
a fresh new set of initials. Well, it was ‘fresh’ for a whole half-hour
until curiosity got the better of me and I looked it up on the
KBR stands for Kellogg, Brown and Root, a subsidiary
of… guess who?!... Halliburton. They handle ‘construction and
engineering services for the energy community’, amongst other things.
Apparently, KBR is famous for more than just its reconstruction
efforts. In 1997, KBR was sued $6 million dollars for overcharging the
American army on sheets of plywood! You can read something about the
whole sordid affair here.
are currently located in the ‘Conference Palace’. The Conference Palace
is a series of large conference rooms, located in front of the Rashid
Hotel and was reserved in the past for major international conferences.
It is now the headquarters of KBR, or so they say. So foreign companies
can’t completely own the oil industry, but they can run it… just like
they’ll never own Iraq, but they can run the Governing Council.
sent me an email a couple of weeks back praising Halliburton and
Bechtel to the skies. The argument was that we should consider
ourselves ‘lucky’ to have such prestigious corporations running the oil
industry and heading the reconstruction efforts because a. they are
efficient, and b. they employ the ‘locals’.
Ok. Fine. I’ll
pretend I never read that article that said it would take at least two
years to get the electricity back to pre-war levels. I’ll pretend that
it hasn’t been 5 months since the ‘end of the war’ and the very
efficient companies are terrified of beginning work because the
security situation is so messed up.
As for employing the locals…
things are becoming a little bit clearer. Major reconstruction
contracts are being given to the huge companies, like Bechtel and
Halliburton, for millions of dollars. These companies, in turn, employ
the Iraqis in the following way: they first ask for bids on specific
projects. The Iraqi company with the lowest bid is selected to do the
work. The Iraqi company gets *exactly* what it bid from the huge
conglomerate, which is usually only a fraction of the original contract
price. Hence, projects that should cost $1,000,000 end up costing
Now, call me naïve, or daft, or whatever you want,
but wouldn’t it be a. more economical and b. more profitable to the
Iraqis to hand the work over directly to experienced Iraqi companies?
Why not work directly with one of the 87 companies and factories that
once worked under the ‘Iraqi Military Council’ and made everything from
missiles to electrical components? Why not work directly with one of
the 158 factories and companies under the former Ministry of Industry
and Minerals that produced everything from candy to steel girders? Why
not work with the bridge, housing and building companies under the
Ministry of Housing that have been heading the reconstruction efforts
ever since 1991?
Some of the best engineers, scientists,
architects and technicians are currently out of work because their
companies have nothing to do and there are no funds to keep them
functioning. The employees get together a couple of days a week and
spend several hours brooding over ‘istikans’ of lukewarm tea and
‘finjans’ of Turkish coffee. Instead of spending the endless billions
on multinational companies, why not spend only millions on importing
spare parts and renovating factories and plants?
My father has
a friend with a wife and 3 children who is currently working for an
Italian internet company. He communicates online with his ‘boss’ who
sits thousands of kilometers away, in Rome, safe and sure that there
are people who need to feed their families doing the work in Baghdad.
This friend, and a crew of male techies, work 10 hours a day, 6 days a
week. They travel all over Baghdad, setting up networks. They travel in
a beat-up SUV armed with cables, wires, pliers, network cards,
installation CDs, and a Klashnikov for… you know… technical emergencies.
of the 20 guys who work with this company get $100/month. A hundred
dollars for 260 hours a month comes to… $0.38/hour. My 16-year-old
babysitter used to get more. The Italian company, like many other
foreign companies, seems to think that $100 is appropriate for the
present situation. One wonders the price of the original contract the
Italian company got… how many countless millions are being spent so 20
guys can make $100/month to set up networks?
John Snow, US
Treasury Secretary, claimed that the reforms were the “proposals,
ideas, and concepts of the Governing Council" with no pressure from the
American administration. If that’s true, then Bush can pull out the
troops any time he wants because he’ll be leaving behind a Governing
Council that is obviously more solicitous of Halliburton and Co. than
he and Cheney can ever hope to be…