Only an appointocracy can be trusted to accept US troops and corporations
January 24, 2004
By Naomi Klein
"The people of Iraq are free," declared President Bush in his state of the union address on Tuesday. The previous day, 100,000 Iraqis begged to differ. They took to Baghdad's streets, shouting: "Yes, yes to elections. No, no to selection."
According to Iraq occupation chief Paul Bremer, there really is no difference between the White House's version of freedom and the one being demanded on the street. Asked whether his plan to form an Iraqi government through appointed caucuses was heading towards a clash with Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's call for direct elections, Bremer said he had no "fundamental disagreement with him".
It was, he said, a mere quibble over details. "I don't want to go into the technical details of refinements. There are - if you talk to experts in these matters - all kinds of ways to organise partial elections and caucuses. And I'm not an election expert, so I don't want to go into the details. But we've always said we're willing to consider refinements."
I'm not an election expert either, but I'm pretty sure there are differences here that cannot be refined. Al-Sistani's supporters want all Iraqis to have a vote and the people they elect to write the laws of the country - your basic, imperfect, representative democracy.
Bremer wants his Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to appoint the members of 18 regional organising committees. These will then choose delegates to form 18 selection caucuses. These will then select representatives to a transitional national assembly. The assembly will have an internal vote to select an executive and ministers, who will form the new government. This, Bush said in the state of the union address, constitutes "a transition to full Iraqi sovereignty".
Got that? Iraqi sovereignty will be established by appointees appointing appointees to select appointees to select appointees. Add the fact that Bremer was appointed to his post by President Bush and Bush to his by the US Supreme Court, and you have the glorious new democratic tradition of the appointocracy: rule by an appointee's appointee's appointees' appointees' appointees' selectees.
The White House insists its aversion to elections is purely practical; there just isn't time to pull them off before the June 30 deadline. So why have the deadline? The favourite explanation is that Bush needs a "braggable" on the campaign trail: when his Democratic rival raises the spectre of Vietnam, Bush will reply that the occupation is over, we're on our way out.
Except that the US has no intention of actually getting out of Iraq: it wants its troops to remain, and it wants Bechtel, MCI and Halliburton to stay behind and run the water system, the phones and the oilfields. It was with this goal in mind that, on September 19, Bremer pushed through a package of economic reforms that the Economist described as a "capitalist dream".
But the dream, though still alive, is now in peril. A growing number of legal experts are challenging the legitimacy of Bremer's reforms, arguing that under the international agreements that govern occupying powers - the Hague regulations of 1907 and the Geneva conventions of 1949 - the CPA can only act as a caretaker of Iraq's economic assets, not its auctioneer. Radical changes - such as Bremer's order 39, which opened up Iraqi industry to 100% foreign ownership - violate these agreements and so could be easily overturned by a sovereign Iraqi government.
This prospect has foreign investors seriously spooked, and many are opting not to go into Iraq. The major private insurance brokers are also sitting it out. Bremer has responded by quietly cancelling his plan to privatise Iraq's 200 state firms, instead putting up 35 companies for lease (with a later option to buy). For the White House, the only way for its grand economic plan to continue is for its military occupation to end: only a sovereign government, unbound by the Hague and Geneva conventions, can legally sell off Iraq's assets.
But will it? Given the widespread perception that the US is not out to rebuild Iraq but to loot it, if Iraqis were given the chance to vote tomorrow, they could well decide to expel US troops immediately and to reverse Bremer's privatisation project, opting instead to protect local jobs. And that frightening prospect - far more than the absence of a census - explains why the White House is fighting so hard for its appointocracy.
Under the current American plan for Iraq, the transitional national assembly would hold on to power from June 30 until general elections are held "no later" than December 31 2005. That's 18 leisurely months for a non-elected government to do what the CPA could not legally do on its own: invite US troops to stay indefinitely and turn Bremer's capitalist dream into binding law. Only after these key decisions have been made will Iraqis be invited to have their say. The White House calls this "self-rule". It is, in fact, the very definition of outside-rule, occupation through outsourcing.
That means that the world is once again facing a choice about Iraq. Will its democracy emerge stillborn, with foreign troops dug in on its territory, multinationals locked into multi-year contracts controlling key resources, and an economic programme that has left 60-70% of the population unemployed? Or will its democracy be born with its heart still beating, capable of building the country Iraqis choose?
On one side are the occupation forces. On the other are growing movements demanding economic and voter rights in Iraq. Increasingly, occupying forces are responding to these forces by using fatal force to break up demonstrations, as British soldiers did in Amara earlier this month, killing six.
Yes, there are religious fundamentalists and Saddam loyalists capitalising on the rage, but the very existence of these pro-democracy movements is itself a kind of miracle; after 30 years of dictatorship, war, sanctions, and now occupation, it would certainly be understandable if Iraqis met further hardships with fatalism and resignation. Instead, the violence of Bremer's shock therapy appears to have jolted hundred of thousands into action.
This courage deserves our support. At the World Social Forum in Mumbai last weekend, the author and activist Arundhati Roy called on the global forces that opposed the Iraq war to "become the global resistance to the occupation". She suggested choosing "two of the major corporations that are profiting from the destruction of Iraq" and targeting them for boycotts and civil disobedience.
In his state of the union address, Bush said: "I believe that God has planted in every heart the desire to live in freedom. And even when that desire is crushed by tyranny for decades, it will rise again." He is being proven right in Iraq every day - and the rising voices are chanting: "No, no USA. Yes, yes elections."
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