What do Detroit and Iraq have in common? Both are the targets of disaster capitalism

The title above comes from a thoughtful and perceptive article by Margaret Kimberley, writer and activist with Black Agenda Report. Her essay called ‘The Plunder of Detroit and Iraq’ was republished in the Common Dreams online magazine, a nonprofit reader-driven independent news outlet dedicated to building a progressive community, an antidote to the corporate-controlled media. Kimberley accurately points out that disaster capitalism, driven by the imperative of corporate profits, has created and is responsible for the humanitarian catastrophes that we are now witnessing in Detroit and Iraq. Kimberley starts her essay by stating that ‘the ugly face of empire and disaster capitalism is visible all over the world’.

Detroit deindustrialised

Detroit exhibits all the classic signs of a city that has been systematically deindustrialised over many decades. Once the hub of the car industry in America, a city that exemplified the best US labour, industry and technology, Detroit is now a bankrupted city, with urban decay, declining infrastructure, a diminishing population, and a financial system that is preserving its own wealth while leaving the residents to struggle with making ends meet. Dollars and Sense magazine, which publishes articles on economic justice, critiques of the mainstream bourgeois economics and primers on economics for activists, published an extensive analysis of the decline of Detroit back in 2013. The authors of that article correctly note that there were the standard conservative-driven reasons given for the blight of Detroit – greedy unions, incompetent black American politicians, people taking easy loans from the big banks knowing that they could ill-afford repayments. Perhaps all of these are partially valid.

However, the major share of the blame for the deindustrialisation and subsequent decline of Detroit rests on the shoulders of the corporate class, the owners of the large multinational corporations, the large financial institutions that not only systematically withdrew from Detroit and undermined the living and working conditions of the majority of people. The new financial managers of Detroit, led by the emergency manager Kevyn Orr, are deliberately shifting the cost of the financial burden onto the working people. Detroit’s plan of adjustment, introduced by the city’s creditors, involves privatisating the city’s public assets, massive cuts to pensions and health services, the sell-off of the electricity and sewerage systems, and most scandalously of all, selling off the assets of the Detroit Institute of Arts. In the meantime, the residents of Detroit will have to continue living in squalid conditions, recorded in a photo-essay here.

Meanwhile in Iraq

The nation of Iraq lies in tatters, fractured by sectarian divisions enshrined in the post-2003 invasion political establishment. The country underwent terrible destruction as a result of sanctions, and they took their toll on the population. Food, medicines, the necessities of life were denied Iraqis as they struggled to overcome the destitution brought on by crippling sanctions. For instance, water purification became virtually impossible, because chlorine was banned as an import. What happens to drinking water if it is not regularly purified? What bacterial diseases spread when water supplies become contaminated?

Iraqis bravely resisted the US invasion, and brought the troops of the marauding empire into defeat. So the US empire, just like the Roman empire of old, resorted to the tried-and-true tactic of divide and rule, inflaming sectarian divisions by rewarding political office on the basis of religious affiliation. The current Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, was installed with US support, even though his political party has strong ideological ties to Iran. Maliki implemented the sectarian division of the country, worsening relations between Iraq’s ethnic and religious communities. Meanwhile, he did nothing to restore the once-functioning health and electricity systems that made Iraq a standout in the Arab world.

The Baghdad government is now tottering precipitously on the brink of total defeat, after its much-vaunted and American-sponsored army was routed by the Islamist guerrillas of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). While this is a stunning defeat for American (and British) foreign policy in Iraq, the ISIS guerrillas, buoyed by a burgeoning Sunni insurgency that began back in 2013, will only worsen the sectarian hatreds that are currently inflicting damage on the country. Margaret Kimberley of the Black Agenda Report correctly notes that the Islamist guerrillas, once financed by Washington, represent a growing threat not just to the American empire’s interests in the region, but also undermine the existence of a corporate-viable Iraqi state that can be subjugated to imperial dominance.

The invasion of Iraq was driven by deep capitalist interests intending on exploiting the vast mineral and economic resources of the Arab region. The plunder of Iraq, just like the devastation of Detroit, is designed to enrich a tiny financial minority class while the majority are left to struggle to their own devices. Margaret Kimberley points out in her article that;

Iraq was invaded with soldiers, guns and bombs. Detroit was invaded by the corporate “suits” who made a fast buck for themselves. The end result is the same for Michiganders and Iraqis alike. They end up suffering in a plundered society while other people make out like the bandits that they really are.

The Obama administration, while marketing itself as an anti-war government, has actually continued to expend resources on propping up and extending the imperial reach of the US empire, while impoverishing the American people at home. The demolition of viable societies in Iraq and Detroit are not the result of any innate human propensities, but rather the end result of a specific political programme to enrich a capitalist financial oligarchy at the expense of working people. As Kimberley explains in her essay:

…millions of Americans live an existence far from the myth of the great country. They are struggling to survive just like millions in the so-called third world. It is the gangsters who run the show in Baghdad and in Michigan too.

It is time to overthrow this criminal regime. Go read Margaret Kimberley’s full article here.


Unresolved issues, Fallujah and Iraqi protests

The Washington Post, the ‘liberal’ mouthpiece of the US ruling class, published an interesting article earlier this month examining the latest round of protests to erupt in Fallujah, Iraq, against the current Iraqi regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In similar tactics used by other Arab protesters in this Arab Awakening, the mainly Sunni demonstrators in Fallujah have risen up because of unresolved grievances since the armed truce of 2008-09 and the purported withdrawal of American forces in 2011. Although the US withdrawal was accompanied with great fanfare, the US has mandated a more discreet, clandestine presence in Iraq through its intelligence services, special force operatives and armed mercenaries. The withdrawal was more about removing the immediate, direct presence of the US and rebranding the occupation in more disguised form. But make no mistake, the withdrawal of US forces from the major cities of Iraq represents a serious defeat for US policy in that country.

The current peaceful protests in Iraq, triggered by the sacking and suppression of Iraqi Sunni politicians in Maliki’s coalition government, actually reflect wider political and social grievances that stem from the destructive US invasion of that country and the failure of the current Iraqi government. The Sunni Iraqis feel disenfranchised and ignored by the current Maliki administration, and have campaigned to remove the sectarian influence of the Shia-dominated Baghdad government. Maliki has accused the protests of being orchestrated by external powers, namely the Sunni regimes of Qatar and Saudi Arabia. His accusations are unfounded and reflect a desperate attempt to deflect attention from the real, unresolved grievances of the Iraqi population. The protesters denounce the sectarian hostility of the Maliki government, the widespread corruption and use of torture, the lack of employment and education, the breakdown of basic social services, and the general economic downturn that has afflicted Iraq since the US invasion.

The Iraqis on the streets of Fallujah are motivated by the historic and unbroken line of Iraqi Arab nationalism. The Iraqi people have carried out several nationalist uprisings throughout the twentieth century. The Iraqis first rose in 1920 against the British colonial regime and its puppets, the royalist dictatorship of King Faisal I. In 1958, the British-supported monarchy was overthrown in a nationalist revolution, and ushered in the period of Republican Iraq and Ba’athist Party political domination. It is no secret that the rise and rule of Saddam Hussein, a Ba’athist official, was supported and nurtured by US intelligence agencies, namely the CIA. Hussein was a key asset for the United States throughout the 1980s in Iraq’s long and savage war against Iran. The Ba’athist party controlled the police state apparatus of the regime, and committed its worst crimes against the Iraqi Kurds and Shias while receiving military arms and largesse from the imperialist powers. The Ba’athist regime promoted Iraqi nationalism, through its educational policies, identifying the Babylonian and Islamic heritage of the country with the Hussein regime.

The first American attack on Iraq in 1991, and the subsequent sanctions regime, reduced the economic and social health of the country. But the 2003 US invasion brought death and destruction to a relatively developed society, destroying the electricity, health and education infrastructure of the country. The American-installed regime, having swept out the Ba’athist Party from power, resorted to extreme violence, torture and sectarian killing to suppress the population. After the mass insurgency by the Iraqi people throughout the mid-2000s, the Maliki regime came to an arrangement of sorts to end the immediate violence and include various Shia militias in a new political setup. However, Maliki is entirely dependent on the United States and Iran, the latter having gained an increased presence in the country with the removal of the Hussein regime. Iraqi government forces, trained and armed by the United States, have attacked the recent protests.

It is important to view these protests not just as a ‘Sunni’ concern, but rather a resurgence of Iraqi Arab nationalist political motivation. The demands of the protesters are not confined to a purely sectarian viewpoint – they are articulating basic demands for an improved economic and political system. Among their list of demands is the release of political prisoners, and end to torture and the death penalty, the provision of health and electricity services to impoverished communities, to stop corruption and to fight against sectarianism.

Patrick Cockburn, writing in Counterpunch, has explained that this revolt is motivated by domestic concerns, grievances that have remained unaddressed since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. He writes that Maliki does not have the force to suppress this revolt;

It is unlikely the Maliki government would succeed where Saddam and the US failed. It has military superiority but not dominance in Iraq, fully controlling only about half the country. It has no authority in the Kurdistan Regional Government’s three provinces or in the Kurdish-held disputed territories further south. Its authority is contested in the Sunni majority provinces and cities in western and central Iraq.

Go read Cockburn’s complete article here.

The Iraqi revolt has demolished the myth peddled by the corporate media that the Iraqi war is ‘all over’. The protesters are responding to the unhealed wounds and divisions caused by the US occupation and its compliant tool, the Maliki regime. They give hope that the Iraqis are rising up to assert their legitimate demands to repair the damage done by the US war and sectarian division.