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The Plundered Iraq and Collaborationist Unions

Fatma Ülkü Selçuk | 17.11.2005 08:11 | Repression | Social Struggles | Workers' Movements

The imperialist assault of March-April 2003 has stolen the jobs, income, and lives of the Iraqi people. For the time being, the plunder takes mainly the form of contracts awarded. Meanwhile, the Iraqi labor organizations do not resist the invasion in a united manner.

The Plundered Iraq and Collaborationist Unions

by Fatma Ülkü Selçuk

Destructions may bring happiness for a small minority while pain for the rest of humanity. The world economy entered into a state of growth in 1945, following the second imperialist partition war. However, it rose on the ruins of houses, factories, roads, bridges, and infrastructure. The growth became possible only with the reconstruction of the destroyed. But the deceased did not come back.

Today, Iraq is going through a similar process. Prior to the US-led occupation, oil industry accounted for nearly 95 per cent of the country’s revenues. Iraq Petroleum Company, the major oil producer firm was nationalized in 1972. Iraq’s industrial sector was small but diversified. A third of the workforce was employed in the agricultural sector. Agricultural production has never been sufficient to meet the country’s food requirements (1). Anyhow, the lands were not reduced to ashes, and the factories were not broken into pieces. As for today, Iraq is the land of ruins, dead bodies, and vultures.

Neo-liberalism on the agenda

The imperialist assault of March-April 2003 has stolen the jobs, income, and lives of the Iraqi people. Neo-liberal practices have become among the major operations of the occupation forces (2). Paul Bremer, the US governor of Iraq (May 2003-June 2004), has issued a number of orders with the goal of establishing a neo-liberal order. In this respect, Order 39 permitted 100% foreign ownership of Iraqi assets and the privatization of everything aside from the “primary extraction and initial processing” of the oil reserves. Another order permitted foreign corporations to repatriate 100% profits earned in Iraq.

Neo-liberal intentions were witnessed also considering a US$130 billion of debt linked to the Iran-Iraq war. However, certain objections were raised against the debt which had not been serviced during the 13 years of sanctions. It was argued that this money was lent to a dictator and gave a great deal of harm to the Iraqi people, and that the debt was illegitimate and should be written off unconditionally. On the other hand, the Paris Club cartel of creditors signed the deal that offered only a partial reduction and rescheduling of their claims in return for Iraq’s commitment to implement an International Monetary Fund (IMF) economic program (3).

However, as long as the resistance stays strong in Iraq, it does not seem possible for the imperialists to implement their neo-liberal agenda. The occupation forces announced in 2003 that the privatization process would start in a few years’ time. However, until now, it has not been much possible to take the necessary steps. The resistance has upset the imperialist plans.

Corporation spoils

For the time being, the spoils of the giant US corporations in Iraq are principally from the contracts some of which are awarded without competitive bidding (4). An important number of corporations that take the lion’s share have close relations with Bush administration. Several of them are predominantly non-union at home. Halliburton and its subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) are among the ones that take the biggest share. Halliburton, founded in 1919, is the world’s second largest provider of oil and gas pipeline services to the oil and gas industries. As for KBR, it has a long history of providing defense logistics support and construction services. These firms have been awarded contracts of billions of dollars in Iraq. Dick Cheney, the Vice President of the United States, was Halliburton’s former Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Lawrence Eagleburger, the former US Secretary of State under President George H.W. Bush, sits on the company’s Board of Directors. He also had various assistant positions to Henry Kissinger under Presidents Nixon, Carter, Regan, and George H.W. Bush. From 1999-2002 Halliburton gave US$709,320 as political contributions to the Republicans and George W. Bush. Another firm that backs the power-holders is the giant engineering firm Bechtel that has received a big share from the contracts awarded in Iraq. It made a political contribution of US$1,297,465, 59% of which was given to Republicans. George Shultz was the company president for eight years before becoming Reagan’s Secretary of State. Now, he serves on the company’s board of directors. He is at the same time the chairman of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq while CEO Rily Bechtel serves on the President’s Export Council.

Among other vultures in Iraq, the following firms can be stated: MCI WorldCom which is awarded a contract to build a wireless network; Stevedoring Services of America which is awarded a contract to manage and repair Iraqi ports; Skylink Air and Logistic Support USA Inc. which is awarded a contract related to airport damage and management; ABT Associates Inc. which is awarded a contract related to the Iraqi Ministry of Health; Menlo Worldwide Forwarding which is engaged in the transportation and logistics needs of reconstructing and providing humanitarian relief; International Resource Groups which is engaged in jobs in emergency relief and rehabilitation activities; Black & Veatch Holding Company, Louis Berger Group, Parsons Corporation, Perini Corporation, and Washington Group International which are awarded various engineering or construction contracts. The imperialists have put the appetizers on the market and opened the roads, bridges, ports, airports, and infrastructure they destroyed for construction. Corporations fed by the devastated Iraqi land have multiplied their profits. However, the plunder is not limited to a few repair jobs. Minds are also plundered to manipulate the Iraqi people’s future and worldview. The Research Triangle Institute, having assumed the task of training administrators, injects the pro-US values to the brains of Iraqi people. It also intervenes in the policies of the Iraqi Ministry of Education under the guise of ‘help’. As for Creative Associates International Inc., it has substantial experience in transitional regions. It has been awarded the contracts on primary and secondary schools, and has undertaken the task of primary and secondary teacher training.

In addition to these, a number of large and small firms also take their share from the spoils of the invasion. An example is from Turkey: Turkish cement exports to Iraq amounted to 50,403 tones for January-June 2004 while this figure rose to 176,354 tones for the same months of 2005 (5). Obviously, destruction takes the form of profit for the capitalist. According to Bremer’s estimation in late 2003, the cost of rebuilding Iraq was going to be US$100 billion (6). This means that the corporations would benefit from the destruction at least US$100 billion.

Development Fund for Iraq

For the comfort of its corporations, US government endeavors to implement its program of exploitation. The insecure environment in Iraq, namely the possibility of being sent back by the Iraqi resisters makes it hard for the capitalists to find cheap credits. Therefore, the US Export-Import Bank (ExIm) steps in to facilitate the US business in Iraq that would in turn be financed by the plundered resources of Iraq.

In May 2003, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1483 that ended the sanctions and endorsed the creation of Development Fund for Iraq. This fund was to be controlled by Paul Bremer, and overseen by a board of accountants, including the World Bank and IMF representatives. Over US$1 billion of Iraqi oil money was decided to be transferred into the fund from the Oil-for-Food program.

The Bush administration also established a legal protective circle for US corporations in Iraq. In the Executive Order 13303, it was decreed that “any attachment, judgment, decree, lien, execution, garnishment, or other judicial process is prohibited, and shall be deemed null and void” with respect to the Development Fund for Iraq and “all Iraqi petroleum products, and interests therein”. (7)

Labor movement in Iraq

Meanwhile, the Iraqi labor organizations have not resisted the imperialist assault in a united manner. On the contrary, major ones have collaborated with the imperialists; some shyly, some boldly. Yet, there is also a growing power: Those who struggle with their hearts and souls to expel the invaders.
Actually, labor activism in Iraq dates back to early 1900s. First strike was organized in 1927 by the railway workers. Two years later, the first trade union was established. Labor movement played an important role to overthrow the monarchy in 1958. By 1959, a quarter million Iraqi workers entered in a vivid process of action. Saddam Hussein’s seizure of power in 1979 clamped down on labor rights. Independent trade unions were outlawed in favor of a government-controlled federation, unions in the public sector and state-owned enterprises were prohibited, almost all strikes were made illegal. As for today, there are stirrings among the workers; protests to demand unpaid wages, demonstrations against corrupt managers, resistance to the indignities of occupation. (8)

Currently, there are a few unions active in Iraq. The biggest of all is IFTU (Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions). IFTU is the sole legal union federation. It was organized by the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP). In collaboration with the imperialists, ICP accepted two ministerial posts in the Interim Governing Council. It has become a left-cover for Anglo-American forces. As for IFTU, it explicitly supports US and occupation of Iraq. It has taken over the assets and membership lists from Saddam Hussein’s government-controlled unions.

Another labor organization active in Iraq was established with the initiative of the unemployed in 2003. The Union of the Unemployed merged with the Workers Councils, initiated by the Workers Communist Party, to form the FWCUI (Federation of Workers Councils and Unions of Iraq). Although this organization declares that its policy is non-collaboration with the occupation, it shyly plays into the hands of the imperialists. It condemns the Iraqi resistance.
The major union that has a strong anti-occupation stance is GUOE (General Union of Oil Employees) that has its origins in a strike by workers at Iraq’s Southern Oil Company against KBR. GUOE leader Hassan Jumaa denounces the occupation besides those union leaders that call for the extension of occupation, due to the ‘fears of civil war’. (9)

Mission calls working class

Resistance grows in the Iraqi lands under relentless occupation. It is not yet certain whether the occupiers will succeed or not. On account of this uncertainty, capitalists could not start the privatization process yet. For the time being, the plunder takes mainly the form of contracts awarded, the obligations of which are in the most part uncontrolled. Several companies pretend to fulfill their obligations, but in reality, do not perform the promised tasks. People drink infected water. Disease prowls around grieved bodies.

Meanwhile, vultures continue to perform their macabre dance. Their motto is profit, claws are imperialism. Destruction gives life to the imperialists. Today’s plunder will be only a small part of the future’s plunder in case the occupation succeeds. Collaborationists within the working class act in line with those who put Iraq’s future up for sale. The place working class will benefit is not the arms of the occupiers or capitalists. Money-driven imperialists intend to turn the Middle East, and then the rest of the world, into bloodshed. Defeating imperialism will be possible only with the success of the life-promising struggles of workers in Latin America, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Iraq. The victory of the Iraqi resistance will be the sledgehammer blow to the order of exploitation.


(1) For information on Iraq economy, see
(2) For further information on the following lines of this section
(3) However, the interim Iraqi National Assembly issued a resolution that declared that the debt was odious and rejected the Paris Club’s terms. See
(4) For further information on these contracts and the following lines of this section, see U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW), ‘The Corporate Invasion of Iraq: Profile of U.S. Corporations Awarded Contracts in U.S./British Occupation of Iraq’, available at
(5) See ‘Çimento sektörünün yüzünü Irak güldürdü’, July 11, 2005, available at
(6) See
(7) For the information in this section, see Steve Kretzmann and Jim Vallette, ‘Bush Gives Legal Immunity to Transnational Oil Corporations in Iraq’, July 28, 2003, available at
(8) See U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW), ‘The Corporate Invasion of Iraq: Profile of U.S. Corporations Awarded Contracts in U.S./British Occupation of Iraq’, available at
(9) For information on IFTU, ICP, FWCUI, and GUOE, see Lee Sustar, ‘Behind the IFTU Controversy: Does Iraq’s Main Labor Union Support the Occupation?’, June 18/19, 2005, available at

Fatma Ülkü Selçuk
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