THE ROVING EYE
Why Iraq won't be South Korea
By Pepe Escobar
The United States invasion of Iraq then takes on an even broader meaning. Not only does it constitute an attempt to control the global oil spigot and hence the global economy though domination over the Middle East. It also constitutes a powerful US military bridgehead on the Eurasian land mass which ... yields it a powerful geostrategic position in Eurasia with at least the potentiality to disrupt any consolidation of an Eurasian power that could indeed be the next step in that endless accumulation of political power that must always accompany the equally endless accumulation of capital.
- David Harvey, The New Imperialism, 2003
WASHINGTON - Everyone remembers the George W Bush "Mission Accomplished" victory speech on board of an aircraft carrier off the San Diego coast in the spring of 2003. Over five years - and a trillion dollars - later, Bush's last stand is to force a neo-colonial Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) under Iraqi throats by the end of July, acquire the right to go on "war on terror" mode in Iraq forever, declare victory and thus win - finally - his war, now opposed by a striking majority of Americans.
Call it "occupation forever". But there's one glitch: Iraqis are not falling for it.
I need your oil so bad
Flash back to September 2001. The neo-conservatives wanted their "new Pearl Harbor" really bad - something they had virtually implored for via the Project for a New American Century. They got it on September 11, 2001. Then the short anti-Taliban war in Afghanistan turned out to be a sort of test drive for Iraq. Echoing astute past observations by Hannah Arendt, US nationalism and imperialism was coupled with racism (towards Arabs and Islam).
And the invasion of Iraq was finally conceptualized as a "demonstration project" - the push to create in the Mesopotamian sands a US-style, wealthy consumer society, a demilitarized client state under benign US protection. Better yet, a 21st century version of the South Korean "tiger" miracle - engineered by US military-technological power.
But it all went way beyond Iraq as a new South Korea. David Harvey, the brilliant Oxford-educated American geographer who proposes, in his own words, long-term geopolitical analysis based on "historical-geographical materialism", wrote in 2003 that the invasion of Iraq offered "a vital strategic bridgehead ... on the Eurasian land mass that just happens to be the center of production of the oil that currently fuels (and will continue to fuel for at least the next 50 years) not only the global economy but also every large military machine that dares to oppose that of the United States."
An empire of military bases and control of oil fields. These two crucial "benchmarks", applied to Iraq, are what's left of that alliance between the neo-cons and the Christian Right which took over the US government with an imperial project of military rule over global oil resources. Now it's twilight time; and no wonder the Bush administration has come out with all guns blazing. Without a new, US Big Oil-friendly Iraqi oil law, and without a SOFA, US$3 trillion - according to Joseph Stiglitz's and Linda Bilmes' book - will have been spent for nothing.
However, on Thursday, the New York Times reported that Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP were in the final stages of negotiations on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization by Saddam Hussein.
They are reportedly in negotiations with the Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq's largest fields. Should the deals go through, they would lay the foundation for the first commercial work for major Western companies in Iraq since the American invasion in 2003. It is expected that Iraq's output could increase to about 3 million barrels a day from its current 2.5 million.
Initially, the Bush administration wanted no less than 58 permanent US bases in Iraq. There are already 30 in place. It doesn't matter that on April 8, US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker had said the US "will not establish permanent bases in Iraq and we anticipate that it will expressly foreswear them".
The Bush administration's ploy essentially amounts to turning over legal control of US bases to a client regime. Heavy pressure is the name of the game. To convince the Iraqis, the Bush administration is holding no less than $50 billion of Iraqi money in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Other "subtle" forms of pressure also apply. The Iraqis wanted to sell oil in euros as well as in dollars. The Bush administration issued its fatwa - and it's a "no".
This shady deal the Bush administration wants so badly is a SOFA only in theory. In fact, it's a smokescreen. Under US law, it would have to be submitted to the senate. The Bush administration wants to totally bypass the senate.
And the deal is not about Iraq either. It's essentially about Iran - as in the neo-con 2003 mantra "real men go to Tehran". That's the meaning of the Bush administration demand, according to Iraqi lawmakers, of "the right ... to strike, from within Iraqi territory, any country it considers a threat to its national security."
The Bush administration wants to totally control Iraqi airspace. The Bush administration wants to employ US firepower without approval from the "sovereign" Iraqi government. The Bush administration wants immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts for all American troops and even dozens of thousands of contractors - most of them Blackwater-style mercenaries. The US Army simply cannot function properly without these privatized warriors.
Were a deal to be reached under the current terms - the deadline remains July 31 - nothing would be easier for the Bush administration than to accuse Iran of interfering in Iraq - as it is already doing non stop - and then attack Iran under the "legal" cover of this SOFA.
The Bush administration also would have a hard time getting the US Congress to explicitly approve an attack on Iran. So why not use the Iraqi Parliament instead? No wonder scores of Iraqi parliamentarians, Sunni and Shi'ite alike, fear the deal is basically a cover to use Iraq as a base to attack Iran. Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, went to Tehran and solemnly promised that Iraq would not be used as a US base for an attack on Iran.
Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Maliki that Iraqis have to "think of a solution to free" themselves from US power. Not surprisingly, Khamenei advised Maliki not to sign the deal. Maliki, for his part, reassured the Iranians in no uncertain terms Iraq is not an arena for a deadly US-Iran Armageddon.
Get me to the deal on time
The consensus now in Baghdad seems to be that no deal will be reached before the US presidential election in November. Anyway the Bush administration will not give up without a fierce fight. The State Department's top Iraq adviser, David Satterfield, insists the deal "can be achieved, and by the end of the July deadline".
How? Well, the Bush administration has invested in a little rewriting - they are now on a fourth draft. Some "concessions" have been made in terms of immunity of contractors to Iraqi law. But the deal still has no timetable for a definitive draw down of US troops. And Defense, Interior and National Security ministries, as well as weapons contracts, are still meant to be under US control for 10 years.
Under these circumstances how can you convince people like Iman al-Asadi, a Shi'ite member of the committee on legal affairs in Baghdad? According to her, "what happens to our dignity? What happens to our sovereignty? ... If the US controls the air, the ground and the sea, this means no sovereignty."
Democratic Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign has demanded that the deal be submitted to the US Congress - and that Iraqis should be told in no uncertain terms that the US does not want permanent bases in Iraq. Republican John McCain's campaign ... has had nothing to say.
In fact, it had. McCain - with a huge help from Bush - attacked Obama because Obama said he would meet with the "evil" Iranian leadership. That's exactly what Bush's man in Baghdad, Maliki, did only a few days ago.
The only man who can stop the deal dead in its tracks is Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. True, he fears that without critical US support the Shi'ite parties in government will be much more fragile. But Sistani also fears the street power of Muqtada al-Sadr - who called the Sadrists to demonstrate every Friday against the deal, until it is scrapped. It's fair to say the majority of Iraqis - the Kurds, Vice President Dick Cheney's "base", are the exception - want to know who they'll be dealing with, Obama or McCain, before they embark on the highly sensitive negotiation of the long-term role of the US in Iraq.
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, talks like he's a State Department employee: he says the deal will be clinched. Grand Ayatollah Sistani forced Maliki to call for a parliament vote. And Muqtada wants a national referendum - that would be the Bush administration's bete noire.
For days this has been a top political story all over the Middle East - as well as in Western Europe. It has been broken by the London-based, Saudi-owned al-Hayat newspaper and by Patrick Cockburn of the London Independent. What about US public opinion? It's been kept literally in the dark. Corporate media coverage has been virtually invisible. Maybe this is what corporate newsrooms call "mission accomplished" - not to explain to the American public how Iraq cannot possibly become South Korea.
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. He may be reached at email@example.com.
(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)