Iraq, Inc.: A Profitable Occupation

New book reveals the most complete-to-date chronicle of the exploits of private contractors hired to reconstruct and manage Iraq, says RIA JULIEN

Iraq, Inc.: A Profitable Occupation
15 November 2004
192 pages
ISBN 1-58322-667-2
$11.95 US

IN IRAQ, INC.: A Profitable Occupation, Pratap Chatterjee, managing editor of the watchdog group CorpWatch, brings us the dilapidated hospitals, looted ministries, and guarded corporate enclaves that mark the plunderous road to America's liberated Iraq. Bringing together a critical mass of evidence from major media sources with an on-the- ground account of the Iraq occupation business, Chatterjee presents the most complete-to-date chronicle of the exploits of private contractors hired to reconstruct and manage Iraq.

Chatterjee reveals the systemic failings of Bechtel, DynCorp, Halliburton and other war profiteers to make good to either their paymasters, the American public, or their "clients," the Iraqi public. He describes the insidious daily instances of incompetence, waste, and Iraqi humiliation that have become both the Achilles' heel of U.S. occupation architects and their contractors, as well as the key recruiting tool of the Iraqi resistance. Drawing on insights gained during his time in Washington, DC and Iraq, the author reveals the conflicting strategies of Pentagon and the State Department planners that have drawn thousands of civilians employed by these companies into a bloody no-exit scenario.

Conducting dozens of interviews with Iraqi administrators working at schools and hospitals across Iraq, as well as returned exiles involved in the political reconstruction of the country, and foreign bureaucrats stationed in Iraq, Chatterjee finds a country suffering from a lack of basic services and a corporate bureaucracy failing at both statecraft and basic administration. In a haunting illustration of the rising rate of infant mortality, a doctor watches infants die for lack of electricity, not for lack of incubators; a schoolteacher leads a tour of her school that has just been repaired by Iraqi subcontractors hired by Bechtel, yet amazingly in greater disrepair that when they began. At Baghdad's Kerkh sewage treatment plant, one year after liberation of Iraq, potable water had not been restored to the city, while such provision was part of the administration's 60-day mandate upon taking the city.

In interviews with whistleblowers as well as reporting testimony before the Government Reform Committee posted by Rep. Henry Waxman, Chatterjee finds a culture of overcharging promoted by the senior management of Halliburton to defraud the military. Here the author finds both incompetence and opportunism rife by Iraq's corporate managers, reporting employees' assertions that various company practices encourage inefficiency. Procurement supervisors, truck drivers, and foreign nationals posted in Iraq reveal the skewed logic of cost-plus contracts which reward gouging. Conversely, Chatterjee documents the subcontracting of conventional projects to cheap foreign labor -- from Bangladeshis to South Africans -- amidst a crisis of Iraqi unemployment. This system of subcontracting, he suggests, has led to a demonstrably shoddy system of accountability.

Iraq, Inc. introduces us to the former soldiers and police officers lured to the conflict zone by offers of high pay from companies including Blackwater and DynCorp. Yet, as illustrated by the private contractors hired to interrogate prisoners at Abu Ghraib, recruits often lack the expertise and training required to meet basic human rights standards in occupied Iraq. Further, the author investigates several other shadowy companies operating in Iraq and reveals the failures of the psychological warfare firm SAIC to run the Al Iraqiyah radio and television network, an American sanctioned Iraqi "free press." Such ironies, Chatterjee suggests, are not lost on the Iraqis even as they are unknown to the American public.

In the concluding chapter, the author describes the company hired to run elections for Iraq, the most plausible American exit strategy. Yet, Chatterjee shows that this very company is importing Mormon preachers and disgraced city officials from Texas to impose an election system that ignores basic principles of democracy. If the future of Iraq rests in these hands the author suggests, the continued American presence in Iraq will be judged a bloody failure, rather than a liberation to be celebrated with welcoming smiles and flowers. Yet, for all Iraq's horrors, business is booming and profits are soaring for foreign contractors.

(Pratap Chatterjee is program director and managing editor of CorpWatch ]], based in Oakland, California. His articles have appeared in the Financial Times, the New Republic, the Guardian, and the Independent, among others.)

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