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NPR’s Science Friday used to Justify the Plunder of Iraq’s Power Grid
Letter to NPR, followed by its response

Date : 2/10/2006 5:05:39 PM

I was deeply saddened and disappointed to hear Science Friday today, which is normally a very interesting and objective program, used as a vehicle for promoting some pretty monstrous distortions and falsehoods about the US occupation of Iraq. Your guest, who was embedded with US contractors there, was supposedly commenting on the difficulty of rebuilding Iraq's power generation capacity. What we got was a long series of excuses for the occupation's failure, and no truth about the real role of the people with whom he was embedded.

I have written quite a bit about elecctrical power generation and deregulation in Mexico and California, so I'm not ignorant about the industry. I've also been to Iraq twice myself, not embedded with either the US military or corporate contractors, and I've spoken with power generation workers, as well as other ordinary Iraqi working people.

Your guest was never asked for the names of the corporations with whom he was travelling. That was an unpardonable failure by your host, as it would have revealed the bias of your guest and his corporate supporters.

Iraq's power generation workers, and their unions in Basra and Baghdad, have been opposed from the beginning of the occupation to the efforts by US corporations like Bechtel and KBR/Halliburton to bring in people to do their jobs. Remember, Iraq has a well-trained workforce, from operators to engineers and managers, who are very familiar with their own power generation system. They go to work every day, without the heavy mercenary bodyguards described by your guest, and are the real people who keep the system running. Iraqi unions (unmentioned by your guest) have struck over the efforts by US contractors to replace them and take over their work. In the oil industry and the ports, they have even forced some foreign companies, like KBR, Stevedoring Services of America, and the Danish Maersk shipping giant, to relinquish their Iraqi concessions. When I was in Basra last May, Hashimia Mohsin Hussein, the first woman to head a national union in Iraq, was threatening to shut down power stations in the south to stop contractors like the ones who hosted your guest, from replacing Iraqi workers.

Your guest talked about the disastrous decision to build combustion turbine instead of steam turbine plants, but doesn't explain why the Coalition Authority decided to do waste billions of dollars on this terrible mistake. The corporations who entered Iraq in the wake of the invasion made that decision -- without consulting the Iraqis, who would have told them, and tried to, that they needed to rebuild the existing steam generation plants injured in the war. Instead, those corpoations brought in combustion turbine plants because they made a great deal of money selling them to Iraq, for far more than they would have if they had simply repaired the existing plants, or helped Iraqis build new ones based on the existing technology they already had.

That all would have been bad enough, had we simply paid for this corruption from the $18 billion Congress appropriated at the occupation's start for reconstruction. But as we've learned now from numerous press accounts, that money was never spent. Instead, Bremer and the Coalition Authority seized Iraq's oil income, desperately needed for raising the standard of living of its people, and used it to pay for these corrupt contracts. Iraq's oil wealth was simply stolen to pay the contractors with whom your guest was embedded -- for power plants that were and are inoperable. Your guest didn't mention that either, and your host didn't ask. No wonder the Iraqis don't like us much.

Then your guest announced that the reason for the power shortages plaguing Iraq since the start of the occupation is that Iraqi's are better off now, buying loads of consumer electronics which drain the grid. This is a ridiculous claim, and any unembedded journalist who talked to ordinary Iraqis would know the truth. Unemployment in Iraq is still over 50%, far greater than in Saddam's time. The former subsidies for necessities for the great majority of the people have been cut. The standard of living for most Iraqi's has plummeted. Your guest, embedded with rich contractors in the Green Zone, was too blind or unconcerned to see.

Your guest's solution -- to privatize the Iraqi power system -- just happens to be the economic reform pushed by the occupation authorities and the big contractors. This is just one more giveaway of Iraq's national assets to foreign corporations, using the armed might of the occupation to keep Iraqis from resisting. Every union I spoke with there was totally opposed to these privatization schemes. Even the manager of the Baghdad oil refinery told me that these privatizations would force him to lay off half the plant's workers, condemning them to hunger, unemployment and worse. And for the benefit of whom? Those same contractors with whom your guest was embedded.

This is not science. Science Friday was used to defend a deeply unpopular policy (both here and in Iraq), and allowed uncontested falsehoods and distortions to back up this dubious and self-interested endeavor. Using the program for this purpose is a travesty.

I suggest that TOTN air another program which examines truthfully the role of contractors and workers in Iraq.

Thanks for your attention.

David Bacon

Dear David,

Thank you for contacting NPR's Talk of the Nation.

I regret that our programming has not met your expectations. We strive to offer the highest quality of news and information available. Listener feedback helps us to accomplish this goal.

We welcome praise, as well as criticism, and your thoughts will be taken into consideration.

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Sincerely, Alan NPR Services
(202) 513-3232 www.npr.org


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