An April 14th AP article by Anne Flaherty reported that U.S. Senators and Representatives are finding common ground in asking that Iraqis begin picking up the tab for the cost of war. The lawmakers are troubled that Iraqis might experience windfall surpluses of revenue generated by rising oil prices, while U.S. people bear the burden of paying for war in Iraq. "In hearings last week," Flaherty writes, "Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates whether Baghdad should start paying some U.S. combat costs, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., raised the possibility that an anticipated Iraqi budget surplus this year could be used to help Afghanistan, whose $700 million in annual revenue represents a small fraction of Iraq's $46.8 billion budget."
In light of reports that rising oil prices will endow Iraqis with a large surplus of funds, it's helpful to consult commentary by seasoned analysts regarding energy issues. On April 11, UPI's Energy Editor Ben Lando clarified that "Iraq would not make $100 billion in oil sales this year ... unless the price of oil went substantially higher, like nearing $200 per barrel. And the 'surplus' would be anything beyond the $50 billion 2008 budget, which at current oil prices will give it just about a $10 billion surplus."
In February, Iraq produced 2.4 million barrels per day of oil, of which about 1.6 million barrels per day are exported from the south (the rest being for domestic consumption). Assume a price of $100 per barrel of oil; multiply it by 1.6 million barrels; and multiply again by 365 days and you get $58.4 billion in annual revenue from oil. Iraq's budget for 2008 is about $54.3 billion, according to the International Monetary Fund. Any decline in oil prices, damage to Iraq's oil infrastructure, or other shock to production and Iraq's "surplus" vanishes into thin air.
Before U.S. lawmakers imagine ways to spend Iraq's possible "surplus", they should be asked about the "rights" of an aggressor nation that illegally invades another country. The U.S. waged an unprovoked war of choice against Iraq, a country which posed no threat whatsoever to U.S. people. Did Iraq have any "rights" after it invaded Kuwait? An aggressor nation has no rights. Period. Indeed, the international community -- via the U.N. Security Council -- continues to punish the Iraqi people for the crimes of Saddam Hussein's regime by requiring Iraq to pay five percent of its oil revenues as "war reparations" for the prior regime's invasion and occupation of Kuwait in 1990 - 91 (with virtually all of the remaining payments going to the governments of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia or those country's state owned oil enterprises).
Commenting on suggestions that the U.S. impose financial obligations on Iraq, Lando writes:
"This begs the question as to whether a country can invade another country -- which inherently destroys the capital, political and societal infrastructure -- poorly spend both occupying and occupied funds, unilaterally create conditions of chaos requiring ongoing security and reconstruction funds, and then bind the occupied country to make reparations and take out loans from the occupying country?"
What are some of the "conditions of chaos requiring ongoing security and reconstruction funds" in Iraq? In 1991, the United States deliberately targeted, bombed and destroyed Iraq's infrastructure-in particular its water treatment plants, its electrical plants, and its electrical power grid. This damage was exacerbated over the next thirteen years as the U.S. and UK insisted that the UN maintain brutally punitive economic sanctions that prevented Iraq from substantively rebuilding and caused further decay and debilitation in every sector of Iraq's infrastructure. The sanctions also caused widespread disease, starvation and impoverishment -- directly contributing toward the deaths of over one half million children under age five.
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Today, available statistics about the consequences of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq speak of misery and chaos nearly unimaginable to most U.S. people. One out of six Iraqis has been displaced from their homes. A March 2007 report from Save the Children, a US based NGO, stated that 122,000 Iraqi children didn't reach their fifth birthdays in the year 2005 alone. UNAMI, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq, in its most recently issued report on humanitarian conditions in Iraq, stated that 54% of Iraqis live on less than $1 per day, including 15% who are forced to live on less than fifty cents per day. 70% of Iraq's people lack access to potable water. 43 % of Iraqi children under age five suffer a form of malnourishment, with 23% suffering from chronic malnourishment and 8% suffering acute malnourishment. 40% of Iraq's population are children under 15 years of age. Should these children be deprived of food and clean water so that their country is instead forced to pay U.S. forces to drop bombs on them, shoot at them, and exacerbate any or all of the three civil wars which analyst Juan Cole says are now well underway in Iraq?
In the past year, U.S. aerial bombardments of Iraqi neighborhoods increased five fold while the number of Iraqis incarcerated in U.S. prisons in Iraq has doubled. (Some 24,000 Iraqis are now imprisoned by U.S. forces, approximately 650 of whom are juveniles). If a foreign country were bombing U.S. cities and imprisoning U.S. civilians, would we ever agree to pay the invaders' military expenses? Would we agree that the aggressor nation had no fiscal responsibilities to pay for reparations?
Perhaps news of U.S. lawmakers' weariness over Iraq's "free ride" will prompt some Iraqis currently aligned with U.S. forces to stop aiming their weapons against other Iraqis and to instead find common cause, using all means of nonviolent resistance, to defy the U.S. occupation.
But what of our own culpability? What about our options for nonviolent resistance?
We do have options. We each can, at the very least, pressure our elected representative, through legal or extralegal lobbying, to vote against President Bush's 102 billion dollar supplemental funding request which the U.S. House of Representatives will likely vote on the last week of April and with the Senate following suit shortly thereafter.
Another option was pursued, this year, by the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Campaign's "War Tax Boycott." This project helped people eliminate at least a portion of war making from their personal budget. They did so by collectively redirecting $100 of their federal income tax to assist Iraqis who've been forced to flee their country as well as victims of Hurricane Katrina whose needs remain unmet. (See www.nwtrcc.org).
Yes, it's outrageous to think that U.S. lawmakers could propose that Iraq's people should be asked to pay for any aspect of U.S. occupation. But it's also an outrage for U.S. people to foot the bill for the continued military occupation. We owe the Iraqi people reparations for the damage our country has caused over these past 18 years of economic and military warfare -- not an ever-lasting occupation. If you're among those who are wearied and exasperated by the wrongfulness of this ongoing war, allow yourself some relief: don't collaborate.