Anti-war activists have long denounced the United States occupation of Iraq as a case in point of economic imperialism. They say that the war in Iraq is a war for oil, and their concerns are not without cause. As the occupation continues, we’re witnessing increasing numbers of private U.S. companies establish their stronghold in Iraq. When Paul Bremmer enacted Order 39 last September, 200 Iraqi state companies were privatized and it was declared that foreign firms can retain 100 percent ownership of Iraqi banks, mines and factories.
The debate about U.S. corporate interests in the country hit closer to home last Friday when students called upon Yale’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility to disclose its portfolio in order to confirm whether the University holds investments in Halliburton, the world’s second largest oil company that received contracts worth over $500 million from the Department of Defense to aid in the reconstruction of Iraq. As Saqib Bhatti (“University might hold Halliburton,” 4/5) wrote earlier this week, “It’s infuriating to think that Yale might be directly profiting from the war in Iraq. On a campus where over 2,000 students signed a petition against the war and where the administration repeatedly made assurances of neutrality, it’s disheartening to learn that those promises may have been just lip service.”
Yet Bhatti’s concern that our University may be supporting, however indirectly, the promotion of U.S. corporate interests abroad deals only with one of the issues that would emerge should the University hold investments in Halliburton. The more fundamental issue at stake is not simply whether or not the University is supporting a company with an incredibly corrupt history and that is currently engaged in an even more corrupt enterprise in Iraq. The question is whether or not the University’s investments are supporting the overthrow of international law. If Yale does in fact have investments in Halliburton, they should be withdrawn not in the interest of upholding an abstract notion of morality or appeasing the 2,000 students on campus who are against the war. They should be withdrawn because Halliburton’s, and all other U.S.-owned companies’, takeover in Iraq is in direct violation of international law.
In a column that Naomi Klein wrote for The Nation last November, she presents the shocking and overlooked fact that the privatization of Iraqi state companies and the granting of contracts to U.S. private companies are contrary to both Iraq’s domestic law and international law. The fallibility of our practices in the region go beyond the morally questionable practice of what some might call economic colonization. According to the Hague Regulations that govern the conduct of occupying forces, occupying powers must respect “unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.” According to the Iraqi constitution adopted in 1990, the privatization of key state assets is illegal, as is foreign ownership of Iraqi firms. When Paul Bremer enacted Order 39 last September and announced that 200 Iraqi state companies would be privatized, he did so in violation of the Hague regulations that were ratified by the United States.
Those who support the United States’ exercise of economic power in Iraq and their refusal to hand control over to the Iraqi people may claim that Bremmer in fact did not violate the Hague convention. On March 9, Iraq’s Governing Council signed an interim constitution that makes no mention of foreign ownership of Iraqi or state-held firms. Such a critique points only to the sad fact that the United States is covering its bases and allowing for continued corporate infiltration as it begins its rebuilding efforts. More importantly, the interim constitution was signed only last month, while Halliburton signed its contract with the Defense Department in 2001.
The more compelling argument against Klein’s analysis is that the reconstruction of Iraq inevitably entails a revision of their previous constitution. Yet Order 39 violated other sections of Hague regulations. As Klein reports, occupying powers according to the Convention, “shall be regarded only as administrator and usufructuary of public buildings, real estate, forests and agricultural estates belonging to the hostile State.” And our own U.S. Army’s Law of Land Warfare explicitly states that “the occupant does not have the right of sale or unqualified use of [nonmilitary] property.” The fact that we “won” in Iraq does not give us the right to sell Iraq.
Calling upon the University to disclose its investments portfolio and liquidate any investments in Halliburton does not have to do with demonstrating a moral stance against the occupation or Halliburton’s corrupt practices. The University holds investments in many corporations whose practices we may find morally questionable. The University should withdraw any investments it may have in Halliburton in order to be a respectful global citizen and show its respect for international law — something that the U.S. government has overlooked, again.
Benita Singh is a senior in Branford College. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.