Sunday, January 06, 2008

Neo-liberalism: The Big Picture

(See also the comments for a discussion of the specific IMF role in this)

Hunger is not one of the widely-discussed or advertised issues in Iraq or anywhere else for that matter, usually assigned instead to the cubbyhole of the "humanitarian". So probably a lot of people, certainly myself included, didn't notice what was arguably the most important announcement of 2007 from Baghdad, namely that the recent security-improvements will not be used to boost ration-card food-allocations to Iraqis, but rather that the food allocations will be cut. AlJazeera carried a brief announcement about this under the heading "economics" on December 6.
The Iraqi government announced its decision to diminish the ration-card allocation to Iraqi citizens in the coming year, on account of what it called budgetary insufficiency to provide the food-assistance which serves over 60% of Iraqis.

The Trade Minister said [only] five commodities will be distributed, namely sugar, flour, rice, milk, and cooking-oil. The ministry had asked for a budget of $7 billion for distribution of the 10 basic commodities, but all they were allocated was $3 billion. He said the ministry will continue distributing its existing stores of [the other five commodities that have normally been included in these rations, including] lentils, chickpeas and soap, but it won't be able to buy any more of these. The Minister noted that over 60% of Iraqis have a basic reliance on these food-rations.

The food ration system was begun in the era of the late president Saddam Hussein after the imposition by the United Nations of economic sanctions on Iraq following the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
And yesterday (January 4) Azzaman ran a short item as part of its selection of English-language news, headed "Food rationing to continue but with fewer items".

If you go to and type "Iraq rations" in their search-box, you will see something very interesting. In January 2003 their executive director warned against invading Iraq, citing the certain effects this would have on the civilian population. Here is the beginning of that report:
Oxfam International today called on the international community to oppose a war with Iraq on the grounds that it would lead to a massive humanitarian crisis. (Porto Alegre, 26/Jan/2003) - Speaking at the World Social Forum at Porto Alegre Oxfam International’s Executive Director Jeremy Hobbs said that assessments made by Oxfam staff indicated an enormously vulnerable civilian population. ‘The impact of a war on civilians would simply not be acceptable and we do not believe that those advocating war have understood this. Oxfam demands that governments who are considering war as a positive option explain properly to the public how they are going to avert a humanitarian catastrophe,’ Mr Hobbs said.

Oxfam’s assessment is that with over 15 million people of Iraq’s 22 million people already on World Food Program food rations –a consequence of the last war, over ten years of sanctions, and the policies of the Iraqi government - there are huge risks to millions especially vulnerable groups such as children and the elderly.

‘One of the major risks is that in using so-called ‘surgical’ airstrikes - as happened in the last gulf war – there is a grave risk that power stations will be targeted and destroyed. Oxfam knows that if that happened, the Iraqi water and sanitation system, which depends on electricity and which is already in a parlous state, would collapse, leaving millions of people vulnerable to diseases and epidemics.’

Then a few months ago in July 2007 they issued a report they summarized as follows:
While horrific violence dominates the lives of millions of ordinary people inside Iraq, another kind of crisis, also due to the impact of war, has been slowly unfolding. Up to eight million people are now in need of emergency assistance. This figure includes:

  • four million people who are ‘food-insecure and in dire need of different types of humanitarian assistance’
  • more than two million displaced people inside Iraq
  • over two million Iraqis in neighboring countries, mainly Syria and Jordan, making this the fastest-growing refugee crisis in the world.

This paper describes the humanitarian situation facing ordinary Iraqis and argues that, while violence and a failure to protect fundamental human rights pose the greatest problems, humanitarian needs such as food, shelter, water and sanitation must be given more attention.

So in addition to the two million internally displaced, and the two million refugees in other countries, there are around four million Iraqis, Oxfam figures, that are on the edge of chronic hunger. And in the face of this, the US supported GreenZone regime cuts back the food-ration allocations. I think someone noted that the $3 or $4 billion alleged budgetary shortfall is equivalent to the cost of about two weeks or a month of US military "operations" in that country.

It's amazing what you can do with words nowadays. Everyone knows that "we" helped "improve security" with the "surge", but naturally it is assumed that, with respect to those four million Iraqis on the edge of hunger, that is something that has nothing really to do with "us". That's because "we" are specialists in military affairs. That's why we are there. For the surgical air-strikes, wall-building, random arrests, arming of vigilante groups, and the rest of it. All of which is merely to clear the ground for others to fulfill their humanitarian responsibilities to their own citizens. Military operations are the service we provide. It is up to others to provide the other services.

Of course, most people in the world consider this ludicrous. Anyway, we already have this debate about whether the progressive dismantlement of Iraq has been American policy or merely the result of American "bad policy implementation", and as time goes by, no doubt there could same debate about hunger and starvation. Already, for those who very plausibly see American policy as anti-Arab, there is the example of Gaza to point the way.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Probably this is not news to you, but dismantling all "socialist" aspects of Iraqi society, including the food and fuel oil rationing program, public pensions, the oil industry, etc. has been part of U.S. policy for Iraq at least since the days of Bremer and the CPA and probably pre-invasion.
In December 2007, the Iraqi government surprised many by paying off all outstanding loans from the International Monetary Fund two years ahead of schedule. But then it turned around and signed on for another $744 million, with the standard conditions that further economic "liberalization" be carried out. Scrapping the food rations program is just one item on the IMF list. I have read about Iraqi resistance to the U.S. plan to de-nationalize the oil industry; have you seen any Iraqi/Arabic discussion about getting further enmeshed with the (now largely discredited)IMF?

12:43 PM  
Blogger badger said...

You're more alert than I am.

(1) For everyone's information, the new IMF agreement he is talking about (Dec 07) was announced by the IMF here

(2) These IMF announcements seem to only contain the usual weasel-words about "containing current government spending" (the wording in Dec 07) or "redirect[ing] expenditures away from general subsidies towards providing improved public services..." (05 and 06). But there's no doubt in my mind that the commenter is right, and that phasing out the food program is one of a long list of IMF demands. Otherwise you'd just have to think of this alleged "budget shortfall" impacting the food program in 08 as just a coincidence...

(3) when in fact, the IMF thinks the 08 Iraq government budget is just fine, having taken ample current-spending cutbacks and allocated plenty to "investment" (see the annex to the announcement linked-to above).

(4) And of course, as the commenter also notes, the famous "oil law" is part of this whole program.

(5) In answer to the commenter's last question: I haven't seen any Iraqi/Arabic discussion of this IMF entanglement, and I think one reason is that the facts of the agreements aren't being reported, or rather are quite likely being deliberately misrepresented. For instance, the current Dec 07 text refers to cutting current spending on govt wages and pensions, but in point of fact as the govt paper Al-Sabah reports this weekend, the first legislative proposal to be finalized by cabinet in the new year was a measure to boost starting salaries for government employees and to increase "allocations" to government employees generally. that link is here

2:01 PM  

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