War on Iraq

PayPal-ing the War

$200 billion in taxes isn't enough? USAID launches an online venture to solicit donations from the American public for rebuilding projects in Iraq.
The nearly $200 billion that American taxpayers have already ponied up for the war in Iraq -- including $30 billion earmarked specifically for reconstruction projects (more than $28 billion higher than Team Bush originally projected) -- is apparently not enough to get the job done. Now, the brain trust running the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has come up with a new fundraising plan that asks the American public to dig a little deeper into their pockets in order to help rebuild Iraq.

In cooperation with a company called GlobalGiving, USAID recently launched IraqPartnership.org. The web site was introduced to the public during a recent speech by USAID's Andrew Natsios at a meeting of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce.

In early September, the Los Angeles Times reported that the deteriorating situation on the ground in Iraq has forced the U.S. to divert money, originally earmarked for construction of some water and power plants in Iraq, to security projects: "Security costs have cut into the money available to complete some major infrastructure projects. ... As a result, the United States is funding only those projects deemed essential by the Iraqi government."

The heavy price paid to secure the country is not the only financial issue in Iraq that is raising eyebrows these days: According to recent reports, $1 billion was stolen from Iraq's defense ministry, money that was intended to train and equip Iraqi troops for the fight against the insurgency. In addition, another $500 to $600 million disappeared from the electricity, transport, interior and other ministries, Iraq's Finance Minister Ali Allawi told London paper The Independent.

The missing "Benjamins" and misspent treasure have apparently forced the admninistration to come up with an alternative fundraising scheme for rebuilding Iraq. "IraqPartnership.org demonstrates the proud American tradition of private citizens working in partnership with government," said Natsios. "At the President's direction USAID will work even harder to engage the private sector to help Iraqis create an environment where democracy and economic opportunity can take root and grow."

IraqPartnership.org is a cooperative endeavor between USAID and GlobalGiving, a leader in online philanthropy; USAID provides the content for the web site, and GlobalGiving supplies "their internet-based donation technology," a September 9 USAID press release pointed out.

Visitors to IraqPartnership.org can check out a selection of current USAID Iraq projects, including providing water pumps to Iraqi farmers, supplying desks, blackboards and school supplies to schools, buying computers and other teaching aids for regional business improvement centers, and contributing to a work program that builds ramps and improves access for handicapped individuals at priority government locations.

With a click of the mouse, contributors choose the projects they are interested in supporting. According to the USAID press release, "All projects have been carefully selected from USAID/Iraq's current mission portfolio allowing donors to confidently and securely donate to projects in Iraq. This transparent, direct connection between 'citizen donors' and project leaders, democratizes the practice of development and gives Americans a further stake in building a free and prosperous Iraq." USAID assures donors that "additional projects and resources will be added in the coming months."

"We are pleased to include Iraq as one of the 63 countries represented on GlobalGiving," said Mari Kuraishi, President of the GlobalGiving Foundation. "Without our relationship with USAID, we would not have been able to connect private American donors and effective development projects 'on the ground' in Iraq."

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad thinks the project is a great idea: "Active citizen participation is the hallmark of democracy. Iraq's success will assist in democratizing a vital region of the world and increase prospects for global security and prosperity for future generations. IraqPartnership.org engages American citizens and multiplies the impact of official U.S. development assistance for Iraq."

Americans already have a huge stake in Iraq. After all, over 1,900 American soldiers have been killed, and more than 14,000 have been wounded since the Bush's March 2003 invasion.

Peter Lems, of the American Friends service Committee (AFSC), believes this new USAID initiative soliciting private contributions to fund the reconstruction of Iraq "is wrongheaded on at least two fronts." According to Lems, the project serves to "further militarize relief since the U.S. military will be the primary agents, and it allows the U.S. government to spend $1 billion dollars a week on the occupation without a similar commitment to the critical needs of the Iraqi people."

"U.S. contributions toward Iraq's reconstruction are an obligation, not an act of charity, and should be appropriate to the damage incurred," an AFSC position paper entitled "Building Hope for Iraq" states.

According to the paper:
The obligation to pay for war damages has a long history in international law and was further clarified after the first Gulf War when the United Nations Security Council established Iraq's legal responsibility for damages from its invasion of Kuwait. Security Council Resolution 687 states that "Iraq ... is liable under international law for any direct loss, damage, including environmental damage and the depletion of natural resources, or injury to foreign governments, nationals and corporations, as a result of Iraq's unlawful invasion and occupation of Kuwait." The same principles should apply to damage caused by the U.S.'s unsanctioned invasion of Iraq. U.S. contributions toward Iraq's reconstruction are an obligation, not an act of charity, and should be appropriate to the damage incurred.
In 2004, according to the Chicago Tribune, the American public donated more than $250 billion to charities, including support for the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami. Given the overwhelming financial needs of the people still suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it is difficult to envision USAID's fundraising scheme garnering much additional support. HalifaxLive.com recently reported that as of Friday, September 16, IraqPartnership.org had "generated contributions of only $39."

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Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering right-wing groups and movements.