How USAID & Co. Destroyed Iraq
From corruption, to sectarian divides, to indoctrination in Iraq: "Humanitarian assistance" isn't so humanitarian.
The US military has come to terms with the fact that it’s going to have a hard time shaking up social infrastructure into one that appeals to its interests – there must be way where one can completely destruct, dismantle, disintegrate the “dictatorship regime” and its state institutions to ash while also hammering civil values into the population.
The problem here is, bombs don’t build, they destroy – perhaps, imperialism with a kinder face that the local population can digest, accept and embrace was called for upon the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex, where hyper-capitalism will lead corporates to reap profits from war and disaster. But, little did he know that the extension of this complex, the nonprofit-industrial complex, will be sharking up big bags for some good ol’ regime change.
NGOs are dear to the US hyper-capitalist interests in West Asia: In October 2001, late US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who supervised the invasion of Iraq, called NGOs a “force multiplier” and described them as an integral part of the US military’s combat team. They're good to divide, arm, indoctrinate and steal resources - and USAID is here, just for that.
Confiscated Iraqi money & US taxpayer dollars
In Iraq, there was a regime change – popularly deemed a conspiracy, but the White House themselves admitted to it. It’s not as simple as it seems. In 2003, Saddam Hussain’s government was toppled, and reconstruction contracts worth over $60 billion for water, oil, and electricity systems, female empowerment workshops, school uniforms, fights against corruption, civil society and legal frameworks became the fashion.
For that regime change to come into effect, USAID used astronomical funds – confiscated Iraqi money and US taxpayer dollars – to infiltrate the social infrastructure of Iraq, rearranging public resources and assets. Privatization and decentralization are at the heart of the ‘new imperialism’ – as brilliant scholar Mehiyar Kathem likes to call it. Public institutions were rendered private property and the legitimacy of the state shattered before the eyes of the world.
According to the Wall Street Journal, USAID lodged in a list of 8 companies and 5 individuals who had closely worked with Hussain, opting the UN to freeze their assets on April 16, 2004. A year earlier, Bush had proposed a draft to "mass privatize" important economic sectors in Iraq, namely the oil sector. In no time, the country's oil was divided among giant oil corporates.
Saddam did not like NGOs – but can you blame him?
Saddam Hussain did not like NGOs and had strict laws regarding their formulation and registration: The global south – Syria, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and so on – “enjoyed” a history of tampering in internal affairs through the ostensible intentions of “humanitarian assistance." There was not much reason to trust them.
However, in 2003, the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), the Pentagon’s transitional government, issued some eyebrow-raising laws on the functionality of NGOs in the country. Re-establishing the judicial council in Iraq to do this – as well as appointing Iraqi loyalists in the court system – NGOs need not to undergo the tiring process of licensing, rather simply registration. Second, governmental power to accept or reject foreign funding of an NGO was rendered ineffective. Third, while NGOs can get banned if they disturb civil peace, the new law makes it increasingly difficult to stand in their way.
According to the National Center for Not-for-Profit Law, there are currently 3,200 registered NGOs in Iraq; seeing up to 12,000 registrations for NGOs throughout the invasion. The question is – what are they all doing there? For a country that has caused the registered deaths of about 200,000 Iraqis (as per the Iraqi Body Count), what could be so ‘humanitarian’ about, say, USAID’s humanitarian mission?
Here’s the plan: USAID planned to establish some 1,000 councils throughout Iraq, through awarding $500 million to its contractor, the Research Triangle Institute (RTI). This is the largest-funded project in the history of USAID – and it was not some cute humanitarian assistance on the ground.
Everyone gets a task.
The war on Iraq was planned years before the invasion: USAID, CIA, Joint Staff, Department of Defense, State, Treasury, Justice and Commerce worked 18-hour days on the “Future of Iraq Project,” which aimed to divide the state, society and economy among 17 different groups – a process of decentralization. Social relations, policies, elections, assets and resources were just some of the cards on the table which the USAID sought to sink its teeth into; a failed project which caused multigenerational misery.
As the invasion of Iraq carried through, tasks were assigned: USAID was responsible for the health, education, electricity, transportation, sharing governance with the Department of State; the Department of Treasury was responsible for economic planning, and the Pentagon handled the oil.
In the ‘new imperialism’, as opposed to traditional colonialism, it wasn’t necessarily the case where the White man would take direct control of state institutions. Instead, USAID and its likes operated through contractors on the ground. Some of the most prominent contractors, nonprofits and think tanks were Save the Children, Bechtel International, Research Triangle Institute, Creative Associates International, Bearing Point and the International Rescue Committee, in addition to local NGOs who knew and understood local Iraqis. On April 17, 2003, USAID awarded Bechtel Corporation an 18-month long contract worth up $680 million – deemed “the largest single contract ever let by USAID.”
Where did all that reconstruction money go?
Remember the confiscated Iraqi money and US taxpayer dollars? USAID & co., as of 2021, have spent over $60 billion to “reconstruct” Iraq since 2003. The White House and Iraqi officials both agree that the reconstruction program was a failure. But, an influx of $25 million-per-day into reconstruction must have gone somewhere, right?
Audited by Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, findings showed that almost no paperwork was found regarding what was done with that money. Iraqi officials agree that a lot of money-laundering and corruption came from the budgets, which saw $800 million being transferred out of Iraq each week. This stripped the Iraqi economy of $40 billion.
Donald Rumsfeld, the Defense Secretary at the time, had a chuckle at the notion: “If you think we're going to spend a billion dollars of our money over there, you are sadly mistaken." Exhibit A.
‘Divide and conquer’ say hello.
Dealing with an Iraq already divided by King Faisal and Churchill’s ethno-religious-geographies leaves room for advantage. The invasion of Iraq destroyed dairy, cigarette, battery, and cement factories, leaving hundreds of thousands out of jobs, rendered them vulnerable to sectarian militia conscription. In the minds of the Americans, every sect is subject to “the creation of the enemy.” Instilling the 'fear of the other' only served; and the United States only saw the opportunity and snatched it. With the complete dismantlement of the Iraqi state in 2003, the CPA granted the poor, marginalized populations in Sadr City their first local government, giving birth to the District Advisory Council (DAC).
“We’ll save you!” – Sadr City’s Council gets some bags.
This was one of the USAID’s biggest projects ‘since the Marshall Plan.’ The District Advisory Council was a policy maker. Through the RTI, in 2003, the project saw a $513 million USAID cash flow to develop, train and strengthen the DAC. The goal was to instill a US-friendly “civil society” that will not see the light of sovereignty in its lifetime. The RTI employed 3,000 Americans and Iraqis for this.
Members in the DAC were appointed by the CPA and the RTI to serve USAID’s agendas. With Iraqis acquiring money and training, loyalists preserved the interests of USAID, welcomed rivers of cash, and legitimized the US occupation and its policies. The DAC generated ‘moderate’ individuals capable of controlling the Council after withdrawal.
Sadr City was only a piece in the sectarian mosaic USAID was planning for Iraq. Everyone gets a piece in the sectarian mosaic.
The DAC is one case of many on how the US acts as an opportunist. The occupation exacerbated sectarianism legitimately. How did they do it? One word: Muhasasa. Local governmental elections were forbidden. Members of the DAC were chosen by the CPA, RTI and US military. Election candidates and members were based on ethnic/religious quotas in the name of ‘inclusivity.’ State institutions were attributed to sects and political parties. Muhasasa - getting a piece of the sectarian mosaic.
This process took some money and time. From 2003 till 2005, the Ambassador of the CPA, Paul Bremer, devised a sect-based model to choose members of the DAC. Keeping Iraq divided served US interests, as it weakened unity and solidarity, but more importantly, it weakened the state’s ability to govern.
What happened to the rest of the NGOs?
USAID either suppressed or bought off local NGOs to serve their interests. NGOs that were previously against occupation within no time were serving ‘civil society’ and the political agendas of USAID. They even took advantage of the widespread unemployment situation, acquiring loyalists on dollar payrolls while the majority of the rest of the population were left with manual jobs.
The war on Iraq could not have been executed if it weren’t for ‘humanitarian assistance” and its close cooperation with the US military. Exploiting needs to tamper with the social fabric of Iraq is the USAID’s masterpiece - mind you, their mosaic. As Iraq, today, grapples with sectarian quarrels, maintaining the imperialist legacy of the billions-of-dollars-worth of work left behind, the occupation monster is alive and well post-withdrawal.