Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Governments come and go, but for BAE it's business as usual

IRAQIS are still trying to get over the aftermaths of war, from destroyed buildings and services to the effect of depleted uranium, but resources are being found to start rebuilding one arm of the state - the Iraqi air force.

British weaponry giant BAE systems looks to be in poll position over competition to supply the goods, with a deal nearing conclusion to supply 24 Hawk "trainer" jets. With support and maintenance included the deal would be worth £1 billion. Iraqi air force officers will be coming to try the Hawk in the coming months.

It would be Iraq's biggest arms purchase from Britain for more than two decades. A previous bid by BAE's predecessor British Aerospace to sell Hawk jets to Saddam Hussein's regime in 1989 was blocked by the British government, concerned that the jets could be converted to fly combat missions. But this time the deal would be between the two governments.

During the 1980s and '90s, starting with Margaret Thatcher's encouragement, the firm sold dozens of Hawk jets to the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia. As feared by opponents, these "trainers" were put to combat use, that is to sorties against rebels in East Timor, fighting against Indonesian occupation.

British sales to Saddam Hussein were financed with loans from banks like Midland (now HSBC), and these were in turn underwritten by the British taxpayer, through Export Credit Guarantees from the Department of Trade and Industry.

We don't know exactly how this deal would be financed, or how it might be linked with British companies acquiring a stake in Iraqi oil assets.

But campaigners against the arms trade say the billion pounds could be put to better use.

Campaign Against Arms Trade(CAAT) spokeswoman Kaye Stearman said: "Iraq is a nation in ruins, in good part due to disastrous military interventions, including by the UK. It desperately needs to rebuild its civilian infrastructure - water, sanitation, health, education.

"Instead, we are trying to sell them weapons in the form of BAE Hawk jets. This money should be spent on areas which directly benefit Iraq citizens, rather than add to BAE's already handsome profits."

In February, former attorney-general Lord Goldsmith defended a deal which enabled BAE to pay fines without having to go to court on bribery and corruption charges. Comparisons were made with the way Tony Blair was able to get altered legal advice ennabling him to go to war with Iraq.

Stop the War's convenor Lindsay German sees more than a touch of irony:
"This points to what the war was really all about in the first place. For all the talk of restoring democracy it is absolutely clear that this was about regime change which would open up the country for Western exploitation.

"The Iraqi air force was destroyed by the UK/US offensive and now in a classic manoeuvre BAE is trying to get the contract to replace it. There are a number of companies doing the same thing, especially oil firms, trying to loot the country".


BAE Systems hold its annual general meeting tomorrow, May 5, at the QEII Centre in Westminster. The centre was also the location for the Iraq war inquiry. It's the day before the general election, but scarcely a word about war has been heard from the three main parties whose leaders are contending to be prime minister. Whichever of them wins, BAE Systems expects to continue business as usual.

CAAT campaigners will protest both outside and inside the meeting and stage a "people's trial" of the company.

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