End of an Occupation: Whitewashing the Legacy of Iraq

The Editors, 16 December 2011 | 1 Comment

Categories: Iraq | War | USA | BBC News |

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Iraq is now free, if you believe the news coverage of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's diplomatic visit to the US. In what seems to be hailed as a step forward, the BBC report that Maliki has 'called on US business leaders to invest in his country'.

Maliki is reported as saying that it is now corporations, rather than generals, who will lead Iraq's future. And it's quite horribly true. The occupation has been marked by the vision - hardly one shared by the Iraqi people - of the 'corporate state that would open up the entire region', according to Naomi Klein. We might wonder how democracy can function in Iraq when corporations are charged with 'leading Iraq's future'.

A feeling that a world power can do no wrong (let alone intends to do wrong) blurs any reality of the corporate imperial takeover that has happened in Iraq. For example it is reported that 'foreign investment in Iraq has this year totalled $70bn (45bn)'. Yet no mention is made of the profits that were made on this investment, which might give an indication of the amount of money being siphoned out of the country. Mentioning the profits being made by this foreign investment might make the war and subsequent corporate involvement appear to be a money-making adventure. But to report only on foreign investment looks benevolent. We are reassured that our leaders and business-people are looking after the Iraqi people (Maliki promised the US chamber of commerce 'healthcare, telecommunications, construction and financial services' contracts) through 'investment' - a word that has strong, positive, connotations in a media that cares about little more than money and the markets.

Questions about the end of the occupation of Iraq fall into a frame within narrow limits. The only questions really addressed by the news coverage are those relating to whether or not it is too early for the US to leave. Mark Mardell provides some routine BBC 'balance' by speaking with Doug Feith, who opposes Obama's course of action, arguing that it was in fact too soon for American forces to leave Iraq. Mardell later brought the question of whether the war was 'dumb' (not 'wrong', 'bad', or 'illegal') or not, tweeting this from Obama's speech at Fort Bragg, as an end to the military operation in Iraq was announced:

Obama just about pulls off the trick of praising the troops and burying the war. But says Iraq is a better place. So was it a dumb war?

Was Mardell indeed suggesting justification for the war on the basis that the leader of the invading force called the invaded country a better place as a result of the invasion? Mardell's reporting, and possibly his mind, has neglected any notion that this was a brutal invasion and occupation which killed hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people, destroyed a nation, and has now resulted in a country with a Prime Minister inviting US corporations to plunder its resources and economy.

We should also remember at this time that Maliki is the Prime Minister who governed Iraq while security forces crushed an Arab Spring uprising in Baghdad in February 2011 - a clampdown about which there was very little noise in the UK media. While the oppression of protests in Libya or Syria has been discussed, the case of Iraq conveniently escaped western political or media criticism. Naturally, such a response from the Iraqi government poses some difficult questions about the Iraq that has been created under US occupation, and the rights and freedoms of its population, and also creates difficulties for writers such as John Simpson who claim that: 'At the national level the Americans turned Iraq into an open democracy'.

Simpson writes yesterday that 'Iraq's luck may be turning', a comment which rings of fatalism, as if the country's violent history was a matter of fate or hard luck. This line of reasoning is unhelpful in creating a critical understanding of the history of the war. It posits the events in Iraq since the US invasion in a passive light, as something that just happened to the country, rather than something that was actively imposed upon it. Simpson ends his article with: 'Its people deserve a little good luck at last.' The use of 'deserve' also reflects this view of an ill-fated occupation, as if the Iraqi people had been through some necessary right of passage and have now earned a little reprieve.

Simpson reflects on the looting of Iraq's archeological museum - 'Fifteen thousand priceless artefacts were stolen over three days. A senior museum official begged the Americans with tears in his eyes to stop the looters. They refused.' Yet he forgets that, during this chaos, the Americans were indeed taking action elsewhere. The looting of the museum, without a move by the occupiers to defend this institution of Iraqi history and culture, occurred as 'American troops surrounded the sand-colored [Ministry of Oil] building, protecting it like a strategic jewel', as witnessed by Peter Maass, author of Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil. The events of the war on Iraq and the 8 year occupation were the result of decisions made and actions taken. This must not be whitewashed as a matter of 'luck'.

As the US withdraws from Iraq, in a climate of increased aggression towards that country's neighbour, it is important to continue to analyse critically the legacy of the occupation, and what will be an ongoing corporate involvement in Iraq.

Categories in which this article appears: Iraq | War | USA | BBC News |

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Comments (1)

1. Someone NotReading20 December 2011 15:14

>We might wonder how democracy can function in Iraq when corporations are charged with 'leading Iraq's future'.

Stopped reading at this point.

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