Retrieved from the memory hole

by John Quiggin on December 2, 2007

The NY Times says that Iraq is the third most corrupt country in the word after the failed states of Somalia and Myanmar (Burma). The article gives plenty of examples at all levels, but is striking in the way it represents US forces as dismayed, but largely helpless, onlookers.

It’s time, obviously, to dive into the memory hole, and point out that the looting that started the downward spiral was a matter of deliberate Coalition policy. As this report in the London Times stated in April 2003

The British view is that the sight of local youths dismantling the offices and barracks of a regime they used to fear shows they have confidence that Saddam Hussain’s henchmen will not be returning to these towns in southern Iraq.

One senior British officer said: “We believe this sends a powerful message that the old guard is truly finished.”

This report focuses on the British but the US and Australian governments were at least as culpable

As well as encouraging and condoning looting (“freedom is messy”) the US pushed convicted fraudster Ahmed Chalabhi as its preferred nominee to succeed Saddam and, when that proved impossible, put him and his cronies in charge of the oil ministry. And of course, the reconstruction program has been riddled with made-in-the-US corruption as well as the Iraqi variety.

Getting in early and punching above its weight in this respect, the Australian government, through its export monopoly AWB (initially a government enterprise and later a quasi-private business stacked with political appointees) colluded with Saddam to rip off $300 million from the oil-for-food fund by selling overpriced wheat. The margin was divided between payoffs to Saddam through bogus transport fees and huge bonuses to AWB executives, with the remainder going as a premium to Australian wheatgrowers.

The good news in the NY Times report is that the civil war in Iraq, while still bloody has abated to the point that a report like this is worth paying attention to. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, things are getting worse. More on this later, but one general lesson is that war is unpredictable and should always be a last resort. All wars come to an end, but that doesn’t bring the dead back to life, or turn a tragedy into a triumph.

{ 16 comments }

1

abb1 12.02.07 at 9:27 am

You all need to read this Nir Rosen interview. And everything else by Nir Rosen. He Da Man.

Though I must say that his empirical observation:

The Bush Administration is telling its proxies in the Lebanese government not to compromise on the selection of the next president. This is pushing Lebanon towards another civil war, which appears to be the plan. The US also started civil wars in Iraq, Gaza and Somalia.

kinda sorta seems to be in contradiction with his opinion:

I don’t believe that there was really any deliberate malice in the American policy [in Iraq]; regardless of the malice with which it may have been implemented by the troops on the ground.

2

Americaneocon 12.02.07 at 2:58 pm

Hey, if the paper’s losing the editorial battle against the surge, why not shift to corruption? Maybe they can keep their antiwar campaign alive.

Even public opinion’s picking back up on Iraq:

http://people-press.org/reports/display.php3?ReportID=373

3

P O'Neill 12.02.07 at 3:55 pm

I think Cheney had decided even going in that they could live with Iraq as another Nigeria. Sounds like the dream is on target.

4

roger 12.02.07 at 5:08 pm

I second the Nir Rosen nomination for da man status – he’s done the best reporting on Iraq of any reporter I’ve read, but has gotten an astonishing low level of recognition – I’m not quite sure why everyone knows Tom Ricks and nobody knows Nir Rosen.

It was one of the jokes of 2003 that the “decent Left” seemed so smitten with Ahmad Chalabi as the new Garibaldi/De Gaulle. I remember a hilarious screed by Hitchens in Slate where he solemnly intoned that nobody knows whether or not Chalabi was guilty of fraud in Jordan, which scrupulously avoided the fact that one could find out quite easily that Chalabi was guilty of fraud in Jordan, just as one could find out that his company had also been found guilty of fraud in Switzerland – and that “one”, here, included the vast majority of Iraqis, who just happen to live in a country that is next to Jordan. The crusade for democracy, led by a figure out of the Godfather – who could fail to laugh? Especially as the crusaders tended to call each other comrade.

Given the recent shenanigans in the U.S.’s own economy, however – for instance, the Federal Home Loan Bank’s loaning 163 billion dollars to three seedy mortgage companies, Countrywide, Washington Mutual, and Hudson City Bancorp – I’d still pit our good old American corruption against Iraqi corruption anytime. We are the champions, my friends! to quote Freddie Mercury.

5

P O'Neill 12.02.07 at 5:40 pm

Since we’re mentioning Hitch’s defences of Chalabi, I think the classic is his claim that the reason Chalabi happened to have Iranian codes in his possession is because, being a mathematical genius, he had cracked the codes himself.

6

Donald Johnson 12.02.07 at 6:09 pm

The Americanneocon is probably representative of how many Americans think (including many on the left)–what matters is the headline of the moment, not anything that requires a historical perspective stretchingfurther back than last Tuesday.

Taking the lowest casualty estimate available and putting the best possible face on motivation, the US invaded Iraq with no workable plan about what to do next and as a result, close to 100,000 civilians die. (In reality, probably many more than that, even if you don’t believe the Lancet II or latest ORB poll). But hey, violence levels are back to late 2005 levels.

USA, USA, USA….

7

The Next to Last Pope 12.02.07 at 7:42 pm

Do you suppose the Times counts the doings of Blackwater in determining the level of corruption in Iraq? Or do its activities count in determining how corrupt this US administration is?

8

vivian 12.03.07 at 1:22 am

7: Do you suppose anyone in the Times can count higher than 10 without taking of their shoes and socks? (Krugman and perhaps the folks in sales excepted, of course.)

9

c.l. ball 12.03.07 at 5:12 am

the looting that started the downward spiral was a matter of deliberate Coalition policy

If, by “deliberate”, you mean that the US-UK-Aus failed to plan adequately and ignored warnings that looting would be a problem given the low troop levels, ok.

But if you mean the US-UK-Aus. expected and hoped for looting, and therefore were not short-handed but willingly stood aside, then you drank some Kool-Aid.

Tim Judah and Mark Danner — no war-mongers — reported in 2003 from Baghdad that the coalition was taken off-guard by the looting due to insufficient forces and that some of the looting was likely part of insurgency planning, respectively.

The “senior” officer cited in the post was putting positive spin onto a miserable situation.

None of this takes the US off the hook for the looting. If it had more forces, as many said it should have had, it would have been able to stop more of the looting. But to describe the looting as the intended results of US or coalition policy would be to falsify the record.

10

abb1 12.03.07 at 11:05 am

But to describe the looting as the intended results of US or coalition policy would be to falsify the record.

According to Naomi Klein (Baghdad year zero: Pillaging Iraq in pursuit of a neocon utopia) it was indeed a part of the plan. In a Le monde va changer de base sort of way.

From the start, the neocons running Iraq had shown nothing but disdain for Iraq’s state-owned companies. In keeping with their Year Zero‒apocalyptic glee, when looters descended on the factories during the war, U.S. forces did nothing. Sabah Asaad, managing director of a refrigerator factory outside Baghdad, told me that while the looting was going on, he went to a nearby U.S. Army base and begged for help. “I asked one of the officers to send two soldiers and a vehicle to help me kick out the looters. I was crying. The officer said, ‘Sorry, we can’t do anything, we need an order from President Bush.’” Back in Washington, Donald Rumsfeld shrugged. “Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.”

11

John Quiggin 12.03.07 at 11:45 am

clb, have you read the report linked in the post? It doesn’t leave any room for doubt, at least as regards UK policy, and Australia gets a brief but sufficiently damning mention.

I certainly recall reading eyewitness reports of US troops standing aside to let looting proceed, and plausible claims that looters were encouraged, if not directed.

12

Ragout 12.03.07 at 2:02 pm

Well I read the London Times article that Quiggin links to, and all I found was a British officer putting the best face on a bad situation, and a UN official criticizing that statement.

We now know that in the post-war looting, 100s of thousands of tons of munitions went missing, and Iraq’s storage facility for yellowcake uranium was ransacked. Was this also a US/UK plot, or just the result of too few resources, too little planning, and general incompetence?

13

c.l. ball 12.04.07 at 12:45 am

I read the link and it pretty much says what ragout points out in #12. Klein’s reportage is the same.

No one has quote from a senior official in London, Canberra, or DC saying that looting was part of the planned program. Tim Judah’s piece (sadly behind a pay-wall; it was free initially) has him asking a US officer why they are doing little about the looting, and the officer takes him to a warehouse full of Iraqi weaponry that he has under US guard. He can’t spare the guys to guard everything.

14

chaizzilla 12.04.07 at 1:37 am

Please translate “decent Left” for American Lefties who might be wondering if you meant their subset of the Left in particular with regards to the appearance of supporting Chalabi (seeing that old piece back in play didn’t really work out as overtly funny an emergency public awareness test as Kissinger’s job offer was), or particularly Hitchens.

Thanks!

15

goatchowder 12.04.07 at 6:22 am

I have been told that the US equivalent to “decent Left” would be the “triangulation” DLC’ers.

16

guano 12.06.07 at 2:57 pm

Was the looting ploart of the plan? Well let’s just say that many of the people involved in the Iraq caper are unaware of the role and importance of State institutions, so I haven’t been too surprised that they have created a failed state in Iraq.

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