Sunday, October 17, 2004

Pie for Everyone! 

From our eagle-eyed colleagues at the All Spin Zone: Here's something to ponder the next time you're reading about Saddam's efforts to game the U.N. Oil-for-Food program (at the expense of his own people!!): how is it that the poverty-stricken residents of war-torn Iraq, who have no electricity most of the day and whose drinking water is full of sewage, are nonetheless expected to make regular "reparation" payments to such corporations as Texaco ($505 million), Halliburton ($18m), Bechtel ($7m), Mobil ($2.3m), Shell ($1.6m), Nestlé ($2.6m), Pepsi ($3.8m), Philip Morris ($1.3m), Sheraton ($11m), Kentucky Fried Chicken ($321,000) and Toys R Us ($189,449) -- not to mention the very countries that bombed their cities to rubble? Naomi Klein elucidates:
If that seems backwards, it's because it is. Iraqis have never been awarded reparations for any of the crimes they suffered under Saddam, or the brutal sanctions regime that claimed the lives of at least half a million people, or the US-led invasion, which the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, recently called "illegal". Instead, Iraqis are still being forced to pay reparations for crimes committed by their former dictator.

Quite apart from its crushing $125bn sovereign debt, Iraq has paid $18.8bn in reparations stemming from Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion and occupation of Kuwait. This is not in itself surprising: as a condition of the ceasefire that ended the 1991 Gulf war, Saddam agreed to pay damages stemming from the invasion. More than 50 countries have made claims, with most of the money awarded to Kuwait. What is surprising is that even after Saddam was overthrown, the payments from Iraq have continued.

Since Saddam was toppled in April, Iraq has paid out $1.8bn in reparations to the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC), the Geneva-based quasi tribunal that assesses claims and disburses awards. Of those payments, $37m have gone to Britain and $32.8m have gone to the United States. That's right: in the past 18 months, Iraq's occupiers have collected $69.8m in reparation payments from the desperate people they have been occupying. But it gets worse: the vast majority of those payments, 78%, have gone to multinational corporations, according to statistics on the UNCC website . . . .

The fact that Iraqis have been paying reparations to their occupiers is all the more shocking in the context of how little these countries have actually spent on aid in Iraq. Despite the $18.4bn of US tax dollars allocated for Iraq's reconstruction, the Washington Post estimates that only $29m has been spent on water, sanitation, health, roads, bridges, and public safety combined. And in July (the latest figure available), the Department of Defence estimated that only $4m had been spent compensating Iraqis who had been injured, or who lost family members or property as a direct result of the occupation - a fraction of what the US has collected from Iraq in reparations since its occupation began . . . .

Fortunately, there is a simple way to put an end to these grotesque corporate subsidies. According to United Nations security council resolution 687, which created the reparations programme, payments from Iraq must take into account "the requirements of the people of Iraq, Iraq's payment capacity, and the needs of the Iraqi economy". If a single one of these three issues were genuinely taken into account, the security council would vote to put an end to these payouts tomorrow.

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