Former Senator John Edwards, who ran for Vice President with John Kerry, has sent an e-mail to his supporters saying “It was a mistake to vote for this war in 2002.” The e-mail, which was published as a column in The Washington Post, admits: “Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction when our forces invaded Iraq in 2003.” The vote was based on “flawed” and “manipulated” intelligence.
Edwards believes the world needs “moral leadership” but that the United States cannot play that role until it tells the truth and that includes accepting responsibility when “we've made mistakes or been proven wrong.”
Most of Edward’s statement examines how the U.S. can extricate itself from Iraq. And, he puts forward -- as a first step toward fixing the mess in Iraq -- the withdrawal of U.S. corporate interests from Iraq. Edwards says: “we need to remove the image of the imperialist America from the landscape of Iraq. American contractors who have taken unfair advantage of the turmoil in Iraq need to leave Iraq. If that means Halliburton subsidiary, KBR, then KBR should go. Such departures, and the return of the work to Iraqi businesses, would be a real statement about our hopes for the new nation.”
Ralph Nader and I have consistently called for a “dual withdrawal of U.S. corporate and military interests,” but this is the first time I've heard it recommended by others. And, suggesting the corporate withdrawal as a first step makes enormous sense. By removing U.S. contractors, the United States will be signaling to Iraq that they are getting their country back and a first step is getting their economy back. Iraqis being hired to rebuild their country will lessen the tremendous unemployment in Iraq. And, Iraqis will do a better job rebuilding Iraq than the United States has been able to do.
On October 18, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) issued a report on Iraq reconstruction. He concludes: “the efforts to rebuild Iraq are failing. The Administration has spent literally billions of dollars on reconstruction in Iraq, yet progress has been limited or nonexistent and much of the money has been squandered.” His report on reconstruction particularly focused on the failure in three areas: oil, electricity and water.
On oil the report finds the U.S. has spent “over $2 billion and situation is actually worse off than when we arrived.”
On electricity, the U.S. has spent more than $4 billion in an effort to bring output up to 6,000 megawatts but the total output remains stagnant at 4,600 megawatts nearly the same as when the war began.
And, on water, the U.S. promised to provide clean, drinkable water to 90 percent of Iraqis but after spending over $1 billion one-third of Iraqis still do not have access to clean water.
The reason for the failure in reconstruction are two-fold: lack of security and monopoly contracts to companies like Halliburton. This resulted in no competition, and then the Administration put in weak oversight of fulfillment to other private contractors with blatant conflicts of interest.
As Ghazwan Al-Mukhtar, an Iraqi engineer who has been a long-term opponent of economic sanctions and U.S. occupation, points out, this reconstruction policy has negative consequences.
“U.S. reconstruction policy -- importing contractors rather than hiring Iraqis fuels economic problems in Iraq. Fewer than 25,000 Iraqis are working on projects in the U.S. reconstruction efforts. In fact the Bush administration concedes that less than one percent of Iraq's workforce of seven million is currently involved in the reconstruction process. Most of Iraq's reconstruction has been contracted out to American companies, rather than Iraqi or regional companies. This practice helps to maintain Iraq's high unemployment rate. Obviously, this has a disastrous impact on Iraq's economy.
To make matters worse, the work to date has proceeded far too slowly, AND it is extremely expensive, but of substandard quality. After 24 months of occupation hundreds of government buildings are still destroyed. We Iraqis see NO visible sign of ongoing work on these buildings. Local contractors and government contracting companies are capable and qualified to do the reconstruction work. Money for these reconstruction projects is available. As of June 22, 2004 the CPA had used “less than 2 percent of the reconstruction money lawmakers provided. The funds were meant to finance everything from training Iraqi police to starting small businesses to rebuilding the country's electric, water, health, and oil production facilities.”
John Edwards has made a valuable suggestion for policy makers and anti-war activists to consider: remove U.S. corporate interests first. Take the profit out of reconstruction! Allowing Iraqis to rebuild their country will take some of the wind out of the sails of the insurgency. The U.S. reconstruction has been failing anyway. Perhaps it is time to give Iraqis a chance. And by allowing Iraqis to rebuild their own infrastructure not only will it provide jobs and help the Iraq economy but also it will let them know that they are responsible and that the U.S. has no imperialist designs on their resources. Such a step would be the first smart move of the U.S. occupation. Let's see if anyone in the administration or Congress suggests it.
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