Friday, September 21, 2007

Poisoned Gift or Second-Hand Present?

Blackwater USA finally went too far. Though they've been committing low-level atrocities outside the jurisdiction of any body with oversight capabilities for some time now, the incident last Sunday that resulted in the deaths of approximately twenty Iraqi civilians appears to have been the final straw. The Iraqi Ministry of the Interior's review, released today, concluded that Blackwater was wholey responsible for the violence, and demanded that they be replaced with Iraqi security companies (a delicious prospect, I must add. Given that the Iraqis overwhelmingly hate the the US occupation, I think that the possibility of key US diplomatic figures being placed under Iraqi care is one that anti-imperialists cannot help but relish).

The US response to this rather rude assertion of Iraqi sovereignty has been, of course, to flatly ignore it. The Yankee occupiers seem to have decided that a week of soul-searching is enough to ensure that Blackwater will cease and desist from such wanton violence in the future. This situation, I think, creates something of a problem for those seeking to blame the occupation's failure on the Iraqi government. While they insist that the al-Maliki government has the power and responsibility to stop sectarian violence, they brazenly inhibit the exercise of Iraqi sovereignty in the most basic areas. Do Iraqis have the power to determine whether insane ex-marines with automatic weapons will operate in their country with no oversight, or do they not? The US has answered decisively in the negative, and in doing so, they have ripped to shreds whatever thin veil of supposed sovereignty with which the occupiers sought to cover their war crimes.

This blatant level of imperial control is interesting, I think, in terms of larger trends in international law in the last century. China Mieville, the Marxist historian and theorist of international law, has described national sovereignty for oppressed nations as "a poisoned gift" (he takes the term from Hardt and Negri.) While on the one hand the removal of the colonial presence is undoubtedly a boon for the colonized, it also exposes starkly the dimension of internal class exploitation which an occupation often hides. At the same time, it casts the liberated country willy-nilly into the Hobbesian world of inter-imperialist rivalries.

Iraq, it seems, received this gift second-hand. The Us has already opened it, and taken all the fun toys, leaving Iraqis with little more than wrapping.