One more war crime: Death of Iraqi agriculture

by Richard Brenneman

Way back when esnl was a budding anthropology student, we learned about the history of agriculture, and the development of wheat cultivation and irrigation in the Fertile Crescent, the flood basins of the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates rivers.

Now, thanks to the American military conquest of Iraq and the installation of an American Big Agra corporate executive as the region’s agricultural overlord, Iraqi farming has collapsed, and industrially farmed GMOs have replaced the small farms that once supplied all of the nation’s food needs.

A once self-sufficient land has been reduced to a food importer, relying on imports, mainly for the U.S., to replace the food it once grew for itself. So a war we were endlessly told was waged to bestow “freedom” has instead brought poverty and corporate servitude.

This clip is an excerpt from a documentary in progress from Richard G. Rowley, co-founder of Big Noise Films. We look forward to completed film.

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The Assault on Iraqi Agriculture — U.S. Agribusiness Targets the Fertile Crescent

  • By Daniel Stone
    Coastal Post, August 2006

via Organic Consumers Association

Blessed with abundant fertile land and water, Iraq, the cradle of civilization, the center of the Fertile Crescent of ancient Mesopotamia, the birthplace of agriculture 13 millenia ago, has, in the past, not only been able to feed itself, but to supply other areas of the world with its bountiful harvest of grains, pulses, dates and vegetables. How unfortunate that now these proud people are receiving most of their food as “aid.” Over the past 20 years, due to the Iraq-Iran war, the two U.S. Gulf “wars,” and the brutal, illegal, U.S.-driven sanctions over 13 years, during both Republican and Democratic administrations, Iraq’s agricultural sector has been devastated.

20 Years of Bombing, Sanctions, Oil-for-Food, and Depleted Uranium

In 1991, the U.S. deliberately bombed Iraq’s civilian infrastructure of water purification and electrical plants, and then prevented Iraq from rebuilding same by imposing sanctions (more accurately a “military blockade” – an act of war). In both 1991 and 2003, “US bombing raids targeted cattle feed lots, poultry farms, fertilizer warehouses, pumping stations, irrigation systems, fuel depots and pesticide factories —the very infrastructure of Iraqi agriculture.” It will take years to restore these operations under good conditions.

Under the U.S.-driven sanctions’ rubric of “dual use,” the most common and necessary materials were blocked from entering Iraq. For instance, some parts for irrigation systems were banned, thus preventing the repair and use of irrigation. Consequently, only half the irrigable southern part of Iraq is now irrigated and properly utilized. Similarly, parts and materials for water-purification systems were banned by the U.S., resulting in widespread disease and death, particularly among children under age five. The lack of the most basic medicines during the years of blockade compounded the deaths, estimated as high as two million, mostly children. The hundreds of tons of depleted uranium the U.S. illegally expended in weapons’ discharges in Iraq both in 1991 and in 2003 account for many anomalous birth defects and soil contamination. Our aerial bombing of, and sanctions on, Iraq over the past 15 years are perhaps the world’s most blatant example of state terrorism in recent history. Two heads of the Oil-For-Food (“OFF”) Program — Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponek — quit in disgust, refusing to be a part of what they saw as a genocidal process of slowing murdering Iraqi civilians by sanctions.

The Oil-For-Food Program — Agribusiness Disguised as Aid

As the OFF Program related to Iraqi agriculture, it was a severe disincentive to farmers. Except in the northern region, the OFF Program was prohibited from purchasing locally-produced food. The OFF Program was characterized by some critics as a scheme to guarantee oil supplies to the west, and to create food dependency in Iraq. Now over half of Iraq’s food is imported, and a significant part of the population is dependent upon government-financed food rations for survival.

U.S. Policies — Fox Put in Charge of the Chicken Coop

As Heather Gray has pointed out, “Wars are invariably a pretext for economic expansion and opportunities for corporate greed.” What better target for U.S. agribusiness than a U.S.-occupied country such as Iraq? Such a country would be powerless to oppose the re-writing of its laws, and the conversion of its sovereignty to becoming just a vassal state, a colony, a breadbasket for the “Homeland.” No better evidence of this was the installation in April 2003 of Daniel Amstutz, former Cargill Corporation executive, to oversee the “rehabilitization” of agriculture in Iraq.

Cargill, a violator of the rights and independence of family farmers throughout the world, is notorious for using massive subsidies from the U.S. government to dump vast amounts of grains in poorer countries. This action “undermines small farmers, helps to destroy the local food production systems, and forces dependence of small farmers and local rural economies on corporate agribusiness.”

U.S. Policies — GMOs and the Detrimental Effects of Order 81

After the so-called “transfer of sovereignty” in June 2004, when former Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administrator L. Paul Bremer III left Baghdad, he left behind the 100 orders he enacted as head of the occupation authority in Iraq. Of Bremer’s 100 Orders, Order 81 contains the edicts (paragraphs 51 – 79) pertinent to agriculture. Order 81, while claiming otherwise, will actually reduce biodiversity and thus lead to a monoculture susceptible to disease, increase chemical use, and pave the way for Genetically Modified Organisms (“GMOs”) to dominate food production in Iraq.

In fact, Order 81 was written to promote the patenting of seeds and the sale of GMOs. Before the U.S. illegally invaded and occupied Iraq, it was not legal to patent seeds. Now, under U.S. decree, to patent varieties of seed, all that is necessary is to be the first to “describe” or “characterize” them. Even though technically, the Iraqi farmer is not being stopped from saving and sharing seed from traditional crops at this time, nevertheless there is now also nothing stopping Monsanto, Cargill, Dow, Syngenta, Bayer and other multinationals from “describing” or “characterizing” those traditional seeds, and thereby patenting those seeds in the future. And, when they do, the Iraqi farmer then will be prohibited from saving and sharing those seeds that have been passed down from generations, and will have to buy them from “the company store,” “trapped into a high-cost cash crop economy from which he will find it impossible to escape.”9

Iraqi farmers can be sued now by Monsanto “if their non-GMO crops are polluted by GMO crops planted in their vicinity.”10 A Canadian farmer, Percy Schmeiser (, was sued for such. No one came to his aid, and so Monsanto was able to win judgment, even though the court waived monetary damages. So it is important that people defend small farmers against the corporations. And, if Iraqis ever get their country back, they must immediately repeal the 100 Orders of Paul Bremer.

Order 81 was not written to rejuvenate Iraq’s agriculture nor protect biodiversity, but to protect the “intellectual property rights” of U.S. biotechnical and agribusiness corporations, such as Monsanto and Cargill. Iraqis were blocked from having any input regarding the language of Order 81. To compound this injurious legislation, the Bush administration issued an “executive order” to indemnify corporate looters from prosecution.

The broader U.S. plan is to incorporate Iraqi agriculture into the web of U.S. agribusiness, with Iraq growing a few high-yield cash crops for export to the Homeland (the U.S.) instead of growing basic crops to feed the Iraqi people. Subsequently, state-run food companies will be privitized, farm subsidies will be eliminated, and food prices will increase, all in keeping with the same U.S. agenda world-wide. Driving Iraqi farmers into a privitized free market will destroy small family farms in Iraq just as similar policies have done here in the U.S.

Small farmers are the best caretakers and sustainers of the land, as well as the most efficient food producers per unit of land. Since they are closer to the land than the agribusiness giants, they know best how to care for it, to nurture it. So agriculture should remain primarily local, and not global. The essence of food security is in locally controlled and produced food.

Iraqi Agriculture as Part of the Larger Picture in Iraq and the World

As Iraqi agriculture is a part of, and affected by, the overall situation in Iraq, it is important to know the larger picture. For instance, how is American “reconstruction” going?

“In fact, reconstruction has failed. Almost three years after the war began, oil production is well below pre-war levels, Baghdad is getting only an average of 3.2 hours of electricity a day, and more than 60 percent of water and sanitation projects have been canceled.

“So now, having squandered billions in Iraqi oil revenue, as well as American taxpayer dollars, we have told the Iraqis that from here on it is their problem. America’s would-be Marshall Plan in Iraq, reports The Los Angeles Times, ‘is drawing to a close this year with much of its promise unmet …'” – Paul Krugman, “State of Delusion,” New York Times, 02-03-06, p. A27

The Bush Administration has been accused of “incompetence” in the handling of the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. However, the agenda of the Bush Administration’s neo-conservative cabal, which runs America’s foreign policy, was always to destroy Iraq as a sovereign nation, to colonize it, not to “democratize” it, or in any other way reconstruct it, except in our own image and under our total control. Even before they became major figures in the Bush foreign policy team, David Wurmser, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith predicted in 1997, as members of the “Project for a New American Century,” that a post-Saddam Iraq would likely be torn apart by sectarian conflicts, but advocated that the U.S. “expedite” such a collapse anyway.

In conclusion, we can see how the predatory capitalism practiced by American agribusiness in Iraq fits into the larger world picture described by A. V. Krebs:

“Food, next to life itself, has become our greatest common denominator. Its availability, quality, price, its reflection of the culture it feeds and its moral and religious significance make it quite literally history’s ‘staff of life.’ Today, in the never-ending worldwide struggle to determine who will control its production, quality and accessibility, food is no longer viewed first and foremost as a sustainer of life. Rather, to those who seek to command our food supply it has become instead a major source of corporate cash flow, economic leverage, a form of currency, a tool of international politics, an instrument of power — a weapon!”

– A.V. Krebs, The Corporate Reapers: The Book of Agribusiness (Essential Books: 1992); Director of the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project, PO Box 2201, Everett, WA 98203. He publishes a free e-mail newsletter, The Agribusiness Examiner; email; web site

Daniel Stone is a member of the East Bay Coalition to Support Self-Rule for Iraqis (“EB-COSSI”), a collection of individuals and organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area dedicated to non-violent activities to assist the people of Iraq in achieving self-rule, so that they can live healthful, prosperous lives. To accomplish this end we are working through lobbying, education, and other means.

The members of EB-COSSI have been inspired by Voices for Creative Nonviolence ( to table at San Francisco Bay Area Farmers’ Market in the winter of 2006 as part of Voices’ “Winter of Our Discontent” Project to distribute articles and information about the plight of Iraq and Iraqi farmers in particular. Voices for Creative Nonviolence is an organization working since 1996 to nonviolently challenge the economic warfare being waged by the US against the people of Iraq. Voices continues its work today, acting to end the illegal, immoral US occupation of Iraq.

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