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ATTENTION EDITORS AND CORRESPONDENTS: WE ARE DISTRIBUTING BELOW A NEW COLUMN BY VANDANA SHIVA ON IRAQ AND THE TRANSNATIONAL CORPORATION BECHTEL. THE FIRST COLUMN WAS DISTRIBUTED ON 21.05.03.: WAR AS GLOBALISATION BY OTHER MEANS

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NEW DELHI, May 1 2003 (IPS) - Little more than two months from the start of the war against Iraq, the real victor is emerging: Bechtel, with its 680-million- dollar contract for \’\’rebuilding\’\’ Iraq, writes Vandana Shiva, author, international campaigner for women and the environment, and recipient of the Right Livelihood Award (Alternative Nobel Prize) in 1993. In a period of declining economic growth and a slowing of the globalisation juggernaut, war has become a convenient excuse for enlarging corporate rule, Shiva writes in this article. In essence, Bechtel was given a license to make money in a closed-door process restricted to a handful of politically-connected US companies. The Bechtel contract and the Iraq war which created the opportunity for \’\’reconstruction\’\’ profits highlight the lack of democracy, transparency, and accountability in the way economic and political decisions are made by a US administration which has become indistinguishable from US corporations. A regime in which government becomes the instrument of corporate interests is no longer a democracy.

Little more than two months from the start of the war against Iraq, the real victor is emerging: Bechtel, with its 680-million-dollar contract for ”rebuilding” Iraq.

The US-led war began with the bombing of Iraq’s hospitals, bridges, and water works. Now US corporations are reaping the profits from ”reconstructing” the country. Blood was shed not just for oil but also for control over water and other vital services. In a period of declining economic growth and a slowing of the globalisation juggernaut, war has become a convenient excuse for enlarging corporate rule. When the World Trade Organisation is not enough, try force.

This seems to be the underlying economic and political philosophy of the neo-conservatives now ruling the US and trying to rule the world. What the past month has revealed is the total corruption on which the new world order is based.

The Bush administration gave Bechtel the first big Iraqi reconstruction contract –USD 680 million over 18 months– putting the firm in the driver’s seat for the long-term reconstruction of the country, which could cost USD 100 billion or more.

In essence, Bechtel was given a license to make money — and that license was granted in a closed-door process restricted to a handful of politically-connected US companies.

Today Saddam’s dictatorship is being replaced by a US corporate dictatorship in which there is little distinction left between those who sit in the board rooms and those who sit in the White House, the Pentagon, and other government bodies.

Bechtel, a privately-held firm, is one the world’s largest construction and engineering companies. Heavily involved in the post-World War Two US construction boom, it is currently

responsible for over 19,000 projects in 140 countries, with operations on all continents save Antarctica.

The way in which Bechtel received the Iraq contract is a glaring example of how corporate rule is established. Whether with water privatisation contracts in Bolivia or India or ”reconstruction” contracts for Iraq, secrecy and a lack of democracy and transparency characterises the methods employed to win markets and profits.

In awarding the contracts for rebuilding Iraq, US laws governing agency procurement were suspended. The standard competitive bidding process was ignored, and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) hand picked a few select companies to bid on the contract. Of these, only two actually bid, with Bechtel emerging victorious.

People are already questioning the process USAID and the Department of Defense used in awarding these contracts. The US General Accounting Office has launched a sweeping investigation, and a group of senators have introduced a bill requiring the agencies involved to disclose more details. As examples from around the world show, this secretive collusion of huge corporations and government bureaucrats is not an isolated phenomenon.

The US also seems caught in a fundamental confusion about ”reconstruction” and destruction. What happened in Iraq was destruction. Yet it is being referred to as reconstruction. Innocent people were killed, thousands of years of a civilisation’s history was destroyed and erased. Yet Jay Garner, the retired US general who served briefly as the head of the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, spoke of ”giving birth to a new system in Iraq”.

Bombs do not give ”birth” to society. They kill. New societies are not ”born” by destroying the historical and cultural legacy of ancient civilisations.

Maybe the choice to allow destruction of Iraq’s historical legacy was a prerequisite for this illusion of giving ”birth” to a new society. Maybe the rulers in the US do not perceive these violations because their own society was built on the genocide of native Americans. Annihilation of the ”other” seems ”natural” to those in control of the world’s lone superpower.

Maybe the perception of the deliberate destruction of a civilisation and thousands of innocent lives as a ”birthing” process is an expression of the western patriarchy’s ”illusion of creation” which confuses destruction with creation and annihilation with birthing.

The war profiteering by corporations like Bechtel confirms that war is globalisation by other means. For people around the world the challenge is to merge the energies of the anti-globalisation movement, the peace movement, and movements for real democracy.

We must reclaim the real meaning of freedom, rescuing it from the degradation of the doublespeak of ”free trade” and ”Operation Iraqi Freedom”. The ”freedom” sought through free-trade treaties and the Iraq war is the freedom of corporations to profit, a license to loot. And corporate loot and corporate freedom is destroying democracy and freedom for people and societies.

The Bechtel contract and the Iraq war which created the opportunity for ”reconstruction” profits highlight the lack of democracy, transparency, and accountability in the way economic and political decisions are made by a US administration which has become indistinguishable from US corporations. A system in which government becomes the instrument of corporate interests is no longer a democracy. For democracy to thrive, ”regime change” is urgently needed, in the US, in Iraq, and in every country where corporate dictatorship is being entrenched. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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