Capitalism is alive and well in Iraq. With a 70% unemployment rate, soaring housing
costs, and late or non-existent government rations driving up the prices of food
staples and energy necessities, the Iraqi people are ‘just lovin it’.
Yes, capitalism is alive and well.
[Posted By remarcus]
By Dahr Jamail and Harb Al-Mukhtar
Republished from IPS
Yes, Mr. president, the Iraqi people are much better off now.
BAGHDAD, Dec 1 (IPS) – Despite the allocation of billions of dollars of
U.S. government money for “reconstruction”, Iraqis are struggling
to exist amidst soaring prices, unemployment, a devastated infrastructure, and
cuts in services.
Iraqis received a monthly food ration during the Oil for Food programme which
was set up to provide relief during the sanctions against Iraq up to the invasion
in 2003. The head of each family was allotted monthly food coupons for commodities
like sugar, rice, tea, detergents, cooking oil, beans and baby milk.
But the U.S.-backed governments, starting with the Iraqi Governing Council,
have failed to consistently deliver the monthly food basket on time, amidst
an unemployment rate estimated at close to 70 percent.
Abu Ali, 66, worked until recently as a distributor of the monthly food ration.
“The Ministry of Trade used to give us sugar for the people,” he
said. “But not any more. This means we have to buy it from the market
at twice the price just to achieve the same quantity. What will poor people
do now to get their sugar?”
Abu Mushtaq, a 40 year-old father of five lacks the money to buy products in
the market, even after receiving 120,000 Iraqi Dinars (roughly 85 dollars) monthly
from the government to offset the shortfall in the food ration.
“Everything has gone up in price so many times,” Abu Mushtaq told
IPS. “Petrol, kerosene, even the price of bread has gone up so many times
since the invasion. The invaders only came to Iraq to fill up their own pockets.”
The recent influx of government money to offset the untimely delivery of food
rations has raised the demand for particular items, along with prices. This
trend is disconcerting because the government’s record of keeping food
supplied is getting worse.
“The Ministry of Trade did not give sugar for the last seven months,
nor rice for two months,” Abu Ali said. “Nor tea for four months,
and no cooking oil for the last three months.”
Meanwhile the market price of sugar has risen 25 percent, of rice 80 percent,
tea 100 percent and cooking oil 50 percent.
Most homes in Baghdad get on average only three hours of electricity supply
per day, and Iraqis who can afford them use small generators. But petrol shortages
and rationing continue, with only 40-50 litres allowed per vehicle monthly.
The interim government is considering a five-fold increase in petrol prices
early next year.
The situation is being further complicated by attempts by some Iraqis to compensate
for the dramatic shifts in their economy. “Many landlords are raising
rents two or three times the normal amount,” said Abu Ali. “This
creates a bad spiral for everyone.”
Hope also appears to be in short supply. “Anybody who tells you there
are plans for this is a liar,” Abu Anas, who works in the Ministry of
Trade told IPS. “The government is still interim, so they cannot make
plans, and they don’t think that is their task. God help the Iraqi people.”
Many analysts have blamed the U.S. government squarely for this situation.
“The ‘reconstruction’ of Iraq is the largest American-led
occupation programme since the Marshall Plan (for reconstruction of Europe after
the second world war),” analyst Ed Harriman wrote in the London Review
of Books. “But there is a difference: the U.S.. government funded the
Marshall Plan whereas (defence secretary) Donald Rumsfeld and (former administrator
of Iraq) Paul Bremer have made sure that the reconstruction of Iraq is paid
for by the ‘liberated’ country, by the Iraqis themselves.”
According to Harriman’s research, 6 billion dollars in assets were left
over from the UN Oil for Food programme, and revenue from resumed Iraqi oil
exports brought another 10 billion dollars in the year following the invasion.
Nevertheless, while the U.S. Congress voted to spend 18.4 billion dollars of
U.S. taxpayers’ money in Iraq on ‘reconstruction’, Harriman
says that “by 28 June last year, when Bremer left Baghdad two days early
to avoid possible attack on the way to the airport, his CPA (Coalition Provisional
Authority) had spent up to 20 billion dollars of Iraqi money, compared to 300
million dollars of U.S. funds.”
Allegations of fraud and theft have plagued the occupiers of Iraq from the
beginning. Auditors with the U.S. government are reported to have found serious
“The auditors have so far referred more than a hundred contracts, involving
billions of dollars paid to American personnel and corporations, for investigation
and possible criminal prosecution,” writes Harriman.
“They have also discovered that 8.8 billion dollars that passed through
the new Iraqi government ministries in Baghdad while Bremer was in charge is
unaccounted for, with little prospect of finding out where it went. A further
3.4 billion dollars earmarked by Congress for Iraqi development has since been
siphoned off to finance ‘security’.”
Iraq has oil and dollar wealth, but the people do not see it.