Bring Halliburton Home

Article excerpt

Cancel the contracts. Ditch the deals. Rip up the rules.

Those are a few suggestions for slogans that could help unify the growing movement against the occupation of Iraq. So far, activist debates have focused on whether the demand should be for a complete withdrawal of troops, or for the United States to cede power to the United Nations.

But the "Troops Out" debate overlooks an important fact. If every last soldier pulled out of the Gulf tomorrow and a sovereign government came to power, Iraq would still be occupied: by laws written in the interest of another country, by foreign corporations controlling its essential services, by 70 percent unemployment sparked by public sector layoffs.

Any movement serious about Iraqi self-determination must call not only for an end to Iraq's military occupation, but to its economic colonization as well. That means reversing the shock therapy reforms that US occupation chief Paul Bremer has fraudulently passed off as "reconstruction" and canceling all privatization contracts flowing from these reforms.

How can such an ambitious goal be achieved? Easy: by showing that Bremer's reforms were illegal to begin with. They clearly violate the international convention governing the behavior of occupying forces, the Hague Regulations of 1907 (the companion to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, both ratified by the United States), as well as the US Army's own code of war.

The Hague Regulations state that an occupying power must respect "unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country." The Coalition Provisional Authority has shredded that simple rule with gleeful defiance. Iraq's Constitution outlaws the privatization of key state assets, and it bars foreigners from owning Iraqi firms. No plausible argument can be made that the CPA was "absolutely prevented" from respecting those laws, and yet two months ago, the CPA overturned them unilaterally.

On September 19, Bremer enacted the now-infamous Order 39. It announced that 200 Iraqi state companies would be privatized; decreed that foreign firms can retain 100 percent ownership of Iraqi banks, mines and factories; and allowed these firms to move 100 percent of their profits out of Iraq. The Economist declared the new rules a "capitalist dream."

Order 39 violated the Hague Regulations in other ways as well. The convention states that occupying powers "shall be regarded only as administrator and usufructuary of public buildings, real estate, forests, and agricultural estates belonging to the hostile State, and situated in the occupied country. It must safeguard the capital of these properties, and administer them in accordance with the rules of usufruct."

Bouvier's Law Dictionary defines "usufruct" (possibly the ugliest word in the English language) as an arrangement that grants one party the right to use and derive benefit from another's property "without altering the substance of the thing." Put more simply, if you are a housesitter, you can eat the food in the fridge, but you can't sell the house and turn it into condos. …