With U.S. military forces set to withdraw from Iraq by the end of the year, in an agreement originally brokered by former President Bush, the landscape left behind will look remarkably the same. The spaces and places still driven by a capitalist and imperialist logic fused together in a wasteful embrace: from the world’s biggest embassy visible from space (which could cost anywhere between $736 to a billion) to the contractors that will protect and staff it. Indeed, Washington lobbyists are keen to abrogate the withdrawal agreement, which is hardly surprising given the money involved.
Peter Van Buren’s article in TomDispatch is an eye-opener. He reports that:
The war wont really end at all. On October 1st, 2011, full responsibility for U.S. presence in Iraq will be transferred to the State Department, which it expects to be staffed by 17,000 personnel across 15 sites: 5,500 will be mercenaries, with support roles going to the remaining 11,500. Oh and probably just a couple of hundred in traditional diplomatic roles.
For static security, a company named SOC will guard the embassy facilities for up to $973 million over five years. That deflowered old warhorse Blackwater (now Xe), under yet another dummy corporate name, will also get a piece of action, and of the money pie.
SOC will undoubtedly follow the current security company’s lead and employ almost exclusively Ugandans and Peruvians transported to Iraq for that purpose. For the same reasons Mexicans cut American lawns and Hondurans clean American hotel rooms, embassy guards come from poverty-stricken countries and get paid accordingly — about $600 a month. Their U.S. supervisors, on the other hand, pull down $20,000 of your tax dollars monthly. Many of the Ugandan and Peruvian guards got their jobs through nasty intermediaries (“pimps,” “slavers”), who take back most of their meager salaries to repay “recruitment costs,” leaving many guards as little more than indentured servants.
Long-time merc group Triple Canopy will provide protection outside the embassy fortress, reputedly for $1.5 billion over a five-year span. The overall goal is for State to have its own private army in Iraq: those 5,500 hired guns, almost two full brigades worth of them. The Army guards Fort Knox with fewer soldiers; my Forward Operating Base made due with less then 400 troops and I slept comfortably.
And the cost?
Well, some 74% of embassy Baghdad’s operating costs will be going to “security.” State requested $2.7 billion from Congress for its Iraq operations in FY 2011, but got only $2.3 billion from a budget-minded Capitol Hill. Facing the possibility of being all alone in a dangerous universe in FY 2012, the Department has requested $6.3 billion for Iraq. Congress has yet to decide what to do. To put these figures in perspective, the State Department total operating budget for this year is only about $14 billion (the cost of running the place, absent the foreign aid money), so $6.3 billion for one more year in Iraq is a genuine chunk of change.
The real tragedy, as Buren sees it, is that after the billions of dollars spent and the hundreds of thousands of lives destroyed, the invasion of Iraq was utterly pointless.