Iraq: Tensions threaten to explode

Several large bomb attacks on Iraqi government buildings this autumn have demonstrated that the war there is far from over. The Iraqi government, which had begun to remove the US-built concrete blast walls, has been forced to start rebuilding them. 1.6 million internal refugees are still unable to return to their homes because of the violence. The attacks have highlighted the inability of Iraqi forces to maintain security and thus throw into doubt whether US forces will pull out according to the schedule promised by President Obama.

There are still 120,000 US troops in Iraq, supposedly away from the towns and not in combat roles. In reality, town boundaries have been redefined to allow US bases to remain nearby and US troops have been accompanying Iraqi forces on combat missions re-labelled as ‘reconstruction’. US forces are supposed to fall to 50,000 by 31 August 2010. Any delay will affect US options in Afghanistan.

Power in Iraq is contested by four major blocs: the mainly Shi’ite national government; the pro-Iranian Shi’ite groups in southern Iraq; the Kurdish regional government in the north; and the mainly Sunni groups still fighting the occupation and the collaborationist government. Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha, tribal leader of the Al Sahwa movement has refused to support national Prime Minister Maliki’s election coalition. Al Sahwa consists of Sunni resistance fighters who agreed a ceasefire in return for US pay and protection from sectarian attacks. The potential for further civil war or the division of Iraq remains. Tensions between the Kurds and the central government over control of oil are heightening. It has proved impossible to agree on a national hydrocarbon law, so the Kurds have made unilateral agreements with foreign firms.

In the first national auction for petroleum rights last June, BP and China’s CNPC took the right to develop Rumala, Iraq’s largest oil field. Others shied away from the Iraqi government’s terms. However, knowing that Iraq is one of the few places where they can expand, since 80% of the world’s oil is now protected by their owners, the oil giants came back to the negotiating table. Shell is holding discussions in Baghdad, while the Russian/USLukoil/ConocoPhillips consortium is negotiating for the West Qurna field. A consortium led by Italy’s Eni has been given the go ahead to develop the Zubair field but was forced to ditch the Chinese state company Sinopec as one of their partners, because it had a stake in one of the outlawed Kurdish agreements, not recognised by the Iraqi government.

The multinationals may be rubbing their hands at the prospect of exploiting what they expect to be the world’s second largest oil producer, but their plans could flounder in a new bloodbath. Despite the dangerous situation that remains in Iraq, Britain is deporting Iraqi asylum seekers, claiming the country is now safe!

In Britain the inquiry into the Iraq war has been safely neutered at the outset with the government and the carefully selected inquiry panel agreeing that the government can stop publication of material which would ‘cause harm or damage to the public interest’. In other words, the government will censor the inquiry into its own conduct.

Jim Craven

FRFI 212 December 2009 / January 2010


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