No. 257, Dec.18-24, 2003



To read an article, click on the headline.

Mbeki says UK to blame for
crisis in Zimbabwe

The privatization of war

Karzai accused of
attempting a dictatorship

Iraq contracts expose
Washington’s true aims - critics




Mbeki says UK to blame for crisis in Zimbabwe

By Basildon Peta

Dec. 13— President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa has sprung to the defense of Robert Mugabe and blamed Britain for the crisis in Zimbabwe. In his weekly letter to the ruling African National Congress, Mbeki said President Mugabe’s seizures of white farms had become inevitable because Britain had not honored its commitment to fund land reform. Mbeki also criticized the Commonwealth, saying it did not have the interests of Zimbabwe’s people at heart when it decided to renew the country’s suspension from the organization. Mugabe pulled his country out of the Commonwealth on Sunday night in protest at the decision.

President Mbeki dismissed Commonwealth concerns about human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, saying it had lost sight of the land issue, which he described as the core of the problems in Zimbabwe.

His remarks are certain to further disappoint those who are already angered by his defense of Mugabe at the Commonwealth summit in Nigeria and his attempts to oust its secretary general Don McKinnon, who has been a vocal critic of Mugabe.

Lovemore Madhuku, a prominent Zimbabwean academic, said: “The point is that Mbeki is now looking a bit silly by his campaign to defend the totally indefensible.

“I think he has made it clear that his African Renaissance and Nepad [New Partnership for Africa’s Development] pet projects, which are predicated on good governance, are not worth the paper on which they are written. Rich countries must take note and not waste time on these things.” In his defense of Mugabe’s government, Mbeki quoted the Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiongo: “Africa actually enriches Europe but Africa is made to believe that it needs Europe to rescue it from poverty.” Mbeki said those who fought for a democratic Zimbabwe “with thousands paying the supreme price during the struggle, and forgave their oppressors and torturers in a spirit of national reconciliation, have been turned into repugnant enemies of democracy.” In a direct reference to Britain, he said: “Those who, in the interest of their [white] ‘kith and kin,’ did what they could to deny the people of Zimbabwe their liberty, for as long as they could, have become the eminent defenders of the democratic rights of the people of Zimbabwe.” Mbeki asked why the land issue had disappeared from the global agenda when it was at the “core” of the problems in Zimbabwe. Whenever the land issue was mentioned, he said, it was only “to highlight the plight of the former white landowners, and to attribute food shortages in Zimbabwe to the land redistribution program.”

He accused Britain, the United Nations and European Union of not honoring commitments to help finance land redistribution in Zimbabwe after colonial rule left most productive farms in the hands of the white minority.

“A forcible process of land redistribution perhaps became inevitable,” Mbeki said. He accused “some within Zimbabwe and elsewhere” of treating human rights as a tool to overthrow the Zimbabwe government. While acknowledging that “many things have gone wrong in Zimbabwe,” Mbeki attributed the crisis to machinations by British governments which were meant to protect the interests of their “white kith and kin.’

Source: Independent (UK)

The privatization of war

By Ian Traynor

Dec. 10— Private corporations have penetrated western warfare so deeply that they are now the second biggest contributor to coalition forces in Iraq after the Pentagon, a Guardian investigation has established. While the official coalition figures list the British as the second largest contingent with around 9,900 troops, they are narrowly outnumbered by the 10,000 private military contractors now on the ground. The investigation has also discovered that the proportion of contracted security personnel in the firing line is 10 times greater than during the first Gulf war. In 1991, for every private contractor, there were about 100 servicemen and women; now there are 10.

The private sector is so firmly embedded in combat, occupation and peacekeeping duties that the phenomenon may have reached the point of no return: the US military would struggle to wage war without it. While reliable figures are difficult to come by and governmental accounting and monitoring of the contracts are notoriously shoddy, the US army estimates that of the $87 billion earmarked this year for the broader Iraqi campaign, including central Asia and Afghanistan, one third of that, nearly $30 billion, will be spent on contracts to private companies. The myriad military and security companies thriving on this largess are at the sharp end of a revolution in military affairs that is taking us into unknown territory — the partial privatization of war. “This is a trend that is growing and Iraq is the high point of the trend,” said Peter Singer, a security analyst at Washington’s Brookings Institution. “This is a sea change in the way we prosecute warfare. There are historical parallels, but we haven’t seen them for 250 years.” When America launched its invasion in March, the battleships in the Gulf were manned by US navy personnel. But alongside them sat civilians from four companies operating some of the world’s most sophisticated weapons systems.

When the unmanned Predator drones, the Global Hawks, and the B-2 stealth bombers went into action, their weapons systems, too, were operated and maintained by non-military personnel working for private companies. The private sector is even more deeply involved in the war’s aftermath. A US company has the lucrative contracts to train the new Iraqi army, another to recruit and train an Iraqi police force.

But this is a field in which British companies dominate, with nearly half of the dozen or so private firms in Iraq coming from the UK. The big British player in Iraq is Global Risk International, based in Hampton, Middlesex. It is supplying hired Gurkhas, Fijian paramilitaries and, it is believed, ex-SAS veterans, to guard the Baghdad headquarters of Paul Bremer, the US overlord, according to analysts. It is a trend that has been growing worldwide since the end of the Cold War, a booming business which entails replacing soldiers wherever possible with highly paid civilians and hired guns not subject to standard military disciplinary procedures.

The biggest US military base built since Vietnam, Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo, was constructed and continues to be serviced by private contractors. At Tuzla in northern Bosnia, headquarters for US peacekeepers, everything that can be farmed out to private businesses has been. The bill so far runs to more than $5 billion. The contracts include those to the US company ITT, which supplies the armed guards, overwhelmingly US private citizens, at US installations.

In Israel, a US company supplies the security for American diplomats, a very risky business. In Colombia, a US company flies the planes destroying the coca plantations and the helicopter gunships protecting them, in what some would characterize as a small undeclared war. In Kabul, a US company provides the bodyguards to try to save President Hamid Karzai from assassination, raising questions over whether they are combatants in a deepening conflict with emboldened Taliban insurgents. And in the small town of Hadzici west of Sarajevo, a military compound houses the latest computer technology, the war games simulations challenging the Bosnian army’s brightest young officers. Crucial to transforming what was an improvised militia desperately fighting for survival into a modern army fit eventually to join NATO the army computer center was established by US officers who structured, trained, and armed the Bosnian military. The Americans accomplished a similar mission in Croatia and are carrying out the same job in Macedonia. The input from the US military has been so important that the US experts can credibly claim to have tipped the military balance in a region ravaged by four wars in a decade. But the American officers, including several four-star generals, are retired, not serving. They work, at least directly, not for the US government, but for a private company, Military Professional Resources Inc.

“In the Balkans MPRI are playing an incredibly critical role. The balance of power in the region was altered by a private company. That’s one measure of the sea change,” said Singer, the author of a recent book on the subject, Corporate Warriors.

The surge in the use of private companies should not be confused with the traditional use of mercenaries in armed conflicts. The use of mercenaries is outlawed by the Geneva conventions, but no one is accusing the Pentagon, while awarding more than 3,000 contracts to private companies over the past decade, of violating the laws of war.

The Pentagon will “pursue additional opportunities to outsource and privatize,” the US defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, pledged last year and military analysts expect him to try to cut a further 200,000 jobs in the armed forces.

It is this kind of “downsizing” that has fed the growth of the military private sector.

Since the end of the Cold War it is reckoned that six million servicemen have been thrown on to the employment market with little to peddle but their fighting and military skills. The US military is 60 percent the size of a decade ago, the Soviet collapse wrecked the colossal Red Army, the East German military melted away, the end of Apartheid destroyed the white officer class in South Africa. The British armed forces, notes Singer, are at their smallest since the Napoleonic wars.

The booming private sector has soaked up much of this manpower and expertise. It also enables the Americans, in particular, to wage wars by proxy and without the kind of Congressional and media oversight to which conventional deployments are subject.

From the level of the street or the trenches to the rarefied corridors of strategic analysis and policy-making, however, the problems surfacing are immense and complex.

One senior British officer complains that his driver was recently approached and offered a fortune to move to a “rather dodgy outfit.” Ex-SAS veterans in Iraq can charge up to $1,000 a day.

“There’s an explosion of these companies attracting our servicemen financially,” said Rear Admiral Hugh Edleston, a Royal Navy officer who is just completing three years as chief military adviser to the international administration running Bosnia.

He said that outside agencies were sometimes better placed to provide training and resources. “But you should never mix serving military with security operations. You need to be absolutely clear on the division between the military and the paramilitary.”

“If these things weren’t privatized, uniformed men would have to do it and that draws down your strength,” said another senior retired officer engaged in the private sector. But he warned: “There is a slight risk that things can get out of hand and these companies become small armies themselves.” And in Baghdad or Bogota, Kabul or Tuzla, there are armed company employees effectively licensed to kill. On the job, say guarding a peacekeepers’ compound in Tuzla, the civilian employees are subject to the same rules of engagement as foreign troops.

But if an American GI draws and uses his weapon in an off-duty bar brawl, he will be subject to the US judicial military code. If an American guard employed by the US company ITT in Tuzla does the same, he answers to Bosnian law. By definition these companies are frequently operating in “failed states” where national law is notional. The risk is the employees can literally get away with murder.

Or lesser, but appalling crimes. Dyncorp, for example, a Pentagon favorite, has the contract worth tens of millions of dollars to train an Iraqi police force. It also won the contracts to train the Bosnian police and was implicated in a grim sex slavery scandal, with its employees accused of rape and the buying and selling of girls as young as 12 - years - old. A number of employees were fired, but never prosecuted. The only court cases to result involved the two whistleblowers who exposed the episode and were sacked.

“Dyncorp should never have been awarded the Iraqi police contract,” said Madeleine Rees, the chief United Nations human rights officer in Sarajevo. Of the two court cases, one US police officer working for Dyncorp in Bosnia, Kathryn Bolkovac, won her suit for wrongful dismissal. The other involving a mechanic, Ben Johnston, was settled out of court. Johnston’s suit against Dyncorp charged that he “witnessed co-workers and supervisors literally buying and selling women for their own personal enjoyment, and employees would brag about the various ages and talents of the individual slaves they had purchased.”

There are other formidable problems surfacing in what is uncharted territory — issues of loyalty, accountability, ideology, and national interest. By definition, a private military company is in Iraq or Bosnia not to pursue US, UN, or EU policy, but to make money. The growing clout of the military services corporations raises questions about an insidious, longer-term impact on governments’ planning, strategy and decision-taking.

Singer argues that for the first time in the history of the modern nation state, governments are surrendering one of the essential and defining attributes of statehood, the state’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force.

But for those on the receiving end, there seems scant alternative. “I had some problems with some of the American generals,” said Enes Becirbasic, a Bosnian military official who managed the Bosnian side of the MPRI projects to build and arm a Bosnian army. “It’s a conflict of interest. I represent our national interest, but they’re businessmen. I would have preferred direct cooperation with state organizations like NATO or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But we had no choice. We had to use MPRI.”

Source: Guardian (UK)

Karzai accused of attempting a dictatorship

By Hamida Ghafour

Kabul, Afghanistan, Dec. 15— President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan stood accused yesterday of weaving a “dangerous” path between democracy and tyranny as he sought a powerful new presidency unchecked by parliament.

Karzai opened a loya jirga, or grand assembly, in Kabul amid considerable acrimony as he sought agreement from the 500 delegates on the shape of a new constitution.

As the ceremony began amid tight security in a great white tent in the grounds of the old Kabul polytechnic, he soon came under verbal fire.

Opponents in the gathering of tribal and ethnic representatives accused him of trying to establish a dictatorship, sidelining them by seeking to deny parliamentary checks on the powers of the president.

Karzai wants a presidential system, claiming that a country torn apart by years of war and factional fighting needs a strong centralized authority to unite the nation.

But he encountered strong opposition from almost half of the delegates, a strange alliance of former jihad fighters, democrats, Islamic fundamentalists, and monarchists who favor a parliamentary system with even distribution of power.

“The constitution is going to give our society the opportunity to choose the future,” Karzai said. “It is the first time in the history of Afghanistan that public opinion is given due value.”

But his comments drew immediate protests. “He wants to control the government,” said Abdul Hafiz Mansoor, a fundamentalist and former mujahideen fighter who has emerged as one of Karzai’s most powerful opponents.

“There is tension now between democracy and tyranny. Power in the hands of one man is dangerous.”

The ceremony began with children singing traditional songs and the touching scene of the solemn youngsters wearing national costumes reduced many tribal chiefs to tears.

But they did not forget why they were there and a petition demanding that Karzai hold a referendum on the presidential system was circulating with 210 signatories.

He may have to make concessions, perhaps appoint more than one vice-president to appease the dissenters. That was the view of Masood Khalili, a delegate and once the closest adviser to Ahmad Shah Masood, the Northern Alliance leader assassinated before the coalition campaign to unseat the Taliban regime.

“He will have to make small changes to please the ones who want a parliament,” said Khalili. “But most of those here have their own political agendas. It’s about personalities and personal agendas.”

The opposition group says the 50 delegates Karzai appointed to the loya jirga should not vote on the constitution. They want the current loya jirga established as a permanent council, equivalent to a parliament.

The constitution calls for a moderate Islamic republic with a directly elected executive president, no prime minister and two legislative chambers.

Mohammed Amin Ahmedi, a member of the constitutional review commission, said it was a delicate balance between secularism and religious law and delegates must not allow special interests to hijack it.

“It is a rational relationship between Islam and democracy,” he said. “It is not fundamentalist, nor secularist. It is based on the rights of minorities, national unity, and stability. I hope the fundamentalists don’t change it.”

Source: Daily Telegraph (UK)

Iraq contracts expose Washington’s
true aims - critics

By Emad Mekay

Washington, DC, Dec. 12 (IPS)— The George W. Bush administration’s decision to exclude countries that opposed the US-led war on Iraq from multi-billion-dollar reconstruction deals contradicts its position both on free trade and its self-described mission in Iraq, analysts here say.

US allies like Canada, France and Germany, and its old foe Russia, will lose lucrative contracts because they opposed the US-led war. The countries have objected, especially since the United States is simultaneously asking them to forgive Iraq’s enormous foreign debts.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder challenged the move Dec. 11, saying “international law must apply here.”

Washington defended the policy, first revealed in a memo by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, as “appropriate and reasonable” since the US is committing troops and taxpayers’ money.

The directive signed by Wolfowitz states that “it is necessary for the protection of the essential security interests of the United States to limit competition for the prime contracts of these procurements to companies from the United States, Iraq, Coalition partners and force contributing nations.”

The restrictions apply to 18.6 billion dollars in reconstruction contracts.

However, some analysts here say the move raises doubts about whether the reconstruction of Iraq is the administration’s main goal at all.

“Wolfowitz’s decree forces us all to ask the question again: are these reconstruction contracts for the benefit of Iraq, or are they political rewards, handed out to “friends?” said Rania Masri of the US-based Institute for Southern Studies.

Masri said the decision shows that “transforming the Iraqi economy for foreign ownership and foreign plunder is the main goal.”

Masri referred to the quick move to privatize the Iraqi economy. Weeks into the occupation, while the Iraqi infrastructure was still in ruins, the US civilian administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, removed all tariffs and trade restrictions. This devastated the Iraqi textile and poultry industries, she said.

Bremer has also imposed a 15 percent flat tax, and allowed 100 percent foreign ownership of almost all Iraqi industries, as well as the resulting removal of profits from the country.

Other experts say this is not what the United States, as the occupying power, should be doing.

“The reconstruction of Iraq should be for the benefit of Iraqis, not a reward for any corporations,” said Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies. “Reconstruction funds from the US should be used to build up the devastated Iraqi economy — meaning that Iraqi firms and workers should be hired to rebuild the country, not US or international firms.”

William Hartung of the World Policy Institute said the decision could hurt both Iraqis and US taxpayers.

“Keeping qualified French, German, Canadian and Russian firms out of the bidding on the next round of reconstruction contracts, worth 18.6 billion dollars, will make it that much harder to eliminate rampant price gouging by companies like Halliburton,” he said.

On Friday, senior defense officials said a Pentagon audit found that Vice Pres. Dick Cheney’s former company, Halliburton, one of the administration’s favored corporate partners in Iraq, may have overcharged the US Army by 1.09 dollars per gallon on a total of nearly 57 million gallons of gasoline that were delivered to Iraqi citizens under a no-bid contract.

The economic repercussions of the decision extend to other areas, analysts say. By excluding countries that have prior experience constructing Iraqi factories, electrical grids, hospitals and water pumping stations, Washington will likely end up rebuilding those facilities rather than simply repairing them — a much more expensive endeavor.

The decision also strongly undermines US rhetoric on free trade, according to Gayle Smith of the Washington-based Center for American Progress. By ensuring that the Iraqi market is only accessible to Coalition members, the United States is restricting the space for Iraq’s future trade ties, she said.

The White House decision has legitimized political interference in government procurement operations, setting the stage for future contracts to be subject to the whims of individual government agencies, Smith said.

“It has upended trade relations by using its status as occupying authority to monopolize a single market,” she said. “And it has certainly lent credence to the view held by some that one of its aims is to secure the spoils of victory.”

The exclusion policy even drew fire from some of the staunchest backers of the administration. Neo-conservative analysts William Kristol and Robert Kagan wrote in the right-wing Weekly Standard that the policy was “heavy-handed,” “stupid” and “counter-productive.”

One thing that almost all analysts agree on is that the decision will certainly hinder attempts to increase international involvement in Iraq.

“The Bush administration has poured another bucket of cold water on efforts to internationalize the stabilization of Iraq,” Smith said. “The Pentagon has increased the cost to Americans, weakened the traditional alliances America needs to defeat terrorism, and undermined Iraq’s long-term future.”