Sophia's Peace Work

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Nosh to Iraq!

“Nosh! Nosh to ourselves! Nosh to our health! Nosh to love!” These Kurdish toasts seem to be the salutation of choice by our host, a dapper and energetic former Kurdish minister, Pesh merga and Iraqi media mogul. When in doubt, when energies lull, when a moment of silence arises, just cry out “Nosh!” and all will be well.

Just how I had ended up in the garden of this man’s comfortable home on a mild February evening in the affluent Jadiriya neighborhood of Baghdad, I am still not sure. For some reason, he has taken a liking to me … though he barely knows me. He had invited us over to his home for what I had thought would be a small evening repast, but it turned out to be a large dinner party of “Important People” involved in the Development and Reconstruction Effort (Capital letters are required here).

Our host appears to be a key figure in the Democracy movement in Iraq. He seems to know and be known by everyone. His party was attended by oil and reconstruction business executives, a university law professor, and a former government minister from Eastern Europe just to name a few. Wonderful food and some incredible conversations did ensue but, for me, there was something disturbing about the party too. Could it have been the not insignificant presence of armed guards at the gate? My host’s occasional inappropriate physical advances? Or was it the fact that there were also representatives from DynCorp and the Cato Institute in attendance? During the party, I had only a vague recollection about these two organizations … something like a bad taste in my mouth but I was uncertain of the reason why. A little searching around on the internet the next day cleared things up.

The man from the Cato Institute, a DC-based think tank, was in Iraq to attend a conference on “International Examples of Teaching Civics.” A school privatization proponent, he seemed to fit quite well, I later found, within the Cato “libertarian” paradigm. One source calls the Cato Institute a “quasi-academic think-tank which acts as a mouthpiece for the globalism, corporatism, and neoliberalism of its corporate and conservative funders …. There is no significant participation by the tiny libertarian minority. They do not fund it or affect its goals.” (Source: Critiques of Libertarianism site). According to Norman Soloman of the Institute for Public Accuracy, Cato "receives most of its financial support from entrepreneurs, securities and commodities traders, and corporations such as oil and gas companies, Federal Express, and Philip Morris that abhor government regulation." Is this person a proper U.S. representative to help inform the new Iraqi educational system on civics?

Then there was the man from DynCorp, which is a multi-billion dollar defense contractor. It has provided police forces in Bosnia, security in Afghanistan, border control and operations of the Air Force One presidential fleet in the U.S., as well as providing planes and pilots for defoliation of coca crops for the “War on Drugs” (Remember that one?) in South America.

Despite this impressive background DynCorp has seen some significant controversy. In Ecuador there were allegations of misapplications of herbicides that have resulted in legitimate crop destruction, human and livestock illnesses and in some cases the death of children. There are also cases of DynCorp whistleblowers exposing problems with extensive government over billing, shoddy workmanship, sex trafficking, mafia connections and even slavery.

"DynCorp is just as immoral and elite as possible, and any rule they can break they do," whistleblower Ben Johnston, a DynCorp aircraft mechanic in Kosovo told Insight magazine. (Sources: Kelly Patricia O Meara, Insight Magazine, 03/02/04 & Pratap Chatterjee, CorpWatch, April 9, 2003). Will a similar philosophy inform DynCorps behavior in Iraq?

These men (and some women) represented a slice of life I don’t normally get to see and, aside from a philosophic difference in perspective, I enjoyed meeting and talking with them. It is entirely possible that these people are doing good work here in Iraq, despite the some cases the somewhat dubious reputations of their employers, but I am well aware of the fact that pleasing conversation and amiable demeanor can mask darker things. It can make some things that are unacceptable, perhaps immoral, appear normal and even enjoyable. But out there in the night, past the guards bristling with their guns and their tough demeanor, is a place that is truly suffering and in pain. Are these the people that can put things to right? Are these the people that can build tolerance and peace and prosperity for Iraq? I would like to hope so, but I am not yet convinced.


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