Iraq: Tensions threaten to explode / FRFI 212 Dec 2009 / Jan 2010

FRFI 212 December 2009 / January 2010

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

Iraq: US occupation under threat / FRFI 211 Oct / Nov 2009

FRFI 211 October / November 2009

Despite President Obama’s much vaunted pull-out from Iraq, there are still 134,000 US troops in the country, occupying 320 outposts and bases. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said he will maintain an average of 100,000 troops in Iraq during the next fiscal year and at least 50,000 throughout 2011. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has reiterated that US troops may stay beyond the 2011 deadline. In addition, there are around 133,000 military contractors in the country, 36,000 of whom are US citizens.

US combat troops were supposed to have withdrawn from Iraqi cities by the end of June, according to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Several city bases were able to remain, however, by simply redrawing city boundaries to define them as being outside. British television has also shown US troops continuing to operate within the cities in full combat gear, with guns at the ready supposedly undertaking reconstruction missions.

Rising violence

Both the US and its Iraqi puppets are aware that the recent relative peace and improvement in security is very tenuous. On 19 August, 95 people were killed and over 500 injured in bomb attacks on Iraqi government buildings. The Foreign Ministry and Parliament building in the Green Zone were damaged, as were the Finance Ministry and the Reuters News Agency. The Baghdad Provincial Government building also came under mortar attack. The Iraqi government was subsequently forced to curtail its programme of removing the concrete blast walls erected by the US occupiers.

Another simmering area of renewed violence is the Kurdish north. The Kurds have been pushing for greater autonomy and control of their oil reserves ever since the start of the occupation. A more confident central government seeks to assert itself against the Kurdish claims. In the last provincial election, Sunni parties, standing for the first time, made substantial gains. Violence was threatened from both sides and the Iraqi government was forced to send troops to the region in order to maintain control. US commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno has requested more troops to be sent to the region. In September US Vice-President Biden visited Iraq and met with Kurdish leaders Barzani and Talibani. US forces have now been stationed between Kurdish and Arab forces and intend joint patrols with Iraqi government soldiers and Kurdish militias. The US claims that these patrols do not conflict with the SOFA as they are joint patrols.

Torture continues

Elsewhere, Human Rights Watch has reported a campaign of torture and murder against homosexuals by Iraqi militias linked to the government. Thomas Cruise, a US adviser to the Iraqi Ministry of Defence, has admitted that torture is still being used by Iraqi security forces, stating that, ‘Torture is part of Iraqi society’. Victims have given evidence of beatings, the use of cow prods, castration, electric shock, whipping, threats to rape sisters and daughters,  gouged-out eyes, severed limbs  and damaged organs. Judges have freed those suspected of torture and there has been no pressure from the US or Britain for the Iraqi government to stop the torture. Gordon Brown’s human rights envoy to Iraq, Labour MP Ann Clwyd, said, ‘I think the Iraqis have made remarkable progress.’ As we go to press the public inquiry into the death of hotel receptionist Baha Mousa in September 2003 in Basra reveals horrendous sadism committed by British soldiers, six of whom had been acquitted at a court martial in 2007. Torture remains an integral part of the armoury of the British state (see FRFI 210).

Jim Craven and Trevor Rayne

Obama’s great vanishing trick / FRFI 210 Aug / Sep 2009

FRFI 210 August / September 2009

Obama’s great vanishing trick

On 4 June President Obama made a speech at Cairo University that was intended to cement ‘better relations’ between the US and the Muslim world. The cornerstone of the speech was a promise that the US would keep no bases in Iraq and would withdraw its military forces from the country by the end of 2011. Fine words, but reality does not mirror them. Obama has stated that only ‘combat’ troops will be withdrawn; such troops make up only about a third of the 130,000 US forces still in Iraq. The rest of the military personnel have now been re-labelled ‘advisors’ so that they can stay on in the areas vacated by ‘combat’ troops.

Language helps sow the illusion of withdrawal. The imperialist governments and the bourgeois press use such doubletalk to deceive their own public. Iraq is not going to be a client state, they say, but, in the words of General Odierno, the highest US commanding officer in Iraq, it is ‘a long-term partner with the United States in the Middle East’. The US embassy in Iraq is by far the biggest in the world, housing not just ‘diplomats’ and various ‘assistants’ but military technicians and intelligence chiefs. The US is setting the conditions for a long-term presence in the region.

The US marked 30 June as the date for its ‘withdrawal’ from Iraq’s cities and made a big show. The Iraqi puppet government represented by President Nouri Al-Maliki marked the day as a ‘great victory’. A victory for whom? Presumably not the Iraqi people, hundreds of thousands of whom have been murdered, traumatised, and left in dire poverty.

30 June did not mark independence for Iraq. Though US troops may now be less visible on the streets, the US military is still effectively running the country. The Iraqi security force is being directed in all major respects by the pervasive US military advisers still embedded in Iraq.

Sectarian violence returns
Iraq has suffered further sectarian violence. In the week leading up to 30 June, a string of bombs, including in the Kurdish region of Kirkuk and the eastern Baghdad district of Sadr City, killed more than 200 people. A series of further attacks, again mainly sectarian in nature, also followed the ‘handover’. Such attacks have been fostered, directly and indirectly, by US intelligence services. Sectarian violence can be useful for the US as it plays two roles. Firstly, it thwarts any move towards a unified Sunni-Shia-Kurdish anti-occupation resistance and, secondly, helps the US to justify its continued military presence. This also helps to maintain the view that the Iraqi security forces, though ready to die in military operations, are not yet able to command them.

Let the bidding commence!
‘Iraq is the last big, low-cost play in conventional oil anywhere in the world,’ says Bill Farren-Price, a Middle East expert and energy director at Medley Global Advisors. Iraq not only has the world’s third largest official reserves of oil at 115 billion barrels but, due to three decades of war and sanctions, its vast oil fields are uniquely underexploited. It is no surprise that bidding for drilling licences at the end of June attracted more than 30 oil companies from around the world.

The licence round was meant to raise Iraqi oil production from 2.4 million barrels a day to 4 million, and provide the lucky winners with huge revenues for years to come. However, the bidding exposed a massive gulf between the expectations of the companies and those of the government, so in the end just one contract was signed. The government needs money for reconstruction, yet its income has plunged due to a collapse in oil prices over the last year. So the government sought to squeeze the oil companies, but they were not open to being squeezed. They walked away from the bidding table promising to return only when a better deal is on offer.

The Iraqi government exerts little control over Iraqi oil revenues. The Development Fund for Iraq, whose revenues are deposited in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, was established under the auspices of the UN after the invasion and receives 95% of the proceeds from Iraq’s oil sales. The solitary signed contract was jointly won by BP and China’s CNPC to produce oil at the giant Rumaila field near the Kuwaiti border. Whoever wins the contracts in the future, the US embassy will almost certainly be responsible for inspecting and supervising the contract winners, while the US military and private contractors will become guarantors of their security. Fayed Al Nema, the CEO of the Iraqi South Oil Company, said that the contracts, if approved, would ‘put the Iraqi economy in chains and shackle its independence for the next 20 years.’

Andrew Alexander

US extends Afghan war into Pakistan

‘Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.’ Thus, in the first significant statement of his in­augural address, President Obama reiterated US imperialism’s justification for its military rampage in pursuit of global domination. In February he announced that 17,000 extra US troops will be sent to Afghanistan this spring. More will follow later in the year. Obama has requested $75 billion this year and $130 billion next year for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in addition to a 4% increase in the Pentagon budget, bringing it to $534 billion: over $23,000 a second. JIM CRAVEN reports.

The US is preparing more intense aggression over a wider area. Rules of engagement suggested by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to try and prevent civilian casualties were dismissed as ‘unworkable’ by US/ NATO commanders. NATO’s senior military commander General John Craddock called for the indiscriminate shooting of alleged drug traffickers. US army chief General George Casey spoke of ‘no quick fixes’, expecting the military to be in Afghanistan in ten years’ time. The arena of war is now referred to as ‘AFPAK’ – Afghanistan and Pakistan combined. Within days of his inauguration, Obama sanctioned missile attacks on Pakistani villages that killed 22 people, including children; attacks that have continued with bloody regularity since. Rustam Shah Mohmand, former Pakistani ambassador to Afghanistan, said, ‘If anything, the policy [of missile attacks] is going to be more focused, more aggressive under Obama.’

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Iraq – internal conflicts threaten US plans

Between 92,000 and 107,000 US combat troops are to leave Iraq by the end of August 2010, four months later than Obama promised in his election campaign. His top generals wanted an even later date. Up to 50,000 troops will remain in the country. These troops are supposed to leave by the end of 2011. However, Defence Secretary Robert Gates has argued for ‘some very modest-sized presence for training and helping’ beyond 2011. Furthermore, a get-out clause in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) allows the Iraqi government to ‘request continued US presence after the 2011 deadline’. The collaborationist Iraqi regime will be dependent on US money and weapons to maintain its power.

Corruption and election apathy
In January’s provincial elections Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki appeared to strengthen his position. His State of the Law coalition now dominates the councils in 10 provinces. Al Maliki, however, has been accused of using the state machinery to buy political support, giving money to tribal councils in return for votes, using the government-controlled media and doling out patronage and jobs. Turnout in the election was 51%, less than in 2005. In Baghdad the turnout was just 40%. As one Baghdad woman told the Financial Times, ‘What’s the point? All the local councils do is give money to their friends.’ In Salahaddin province Faka’a Ahmed Jihad concurred, ‘Electricity, water and employment, these are the three main things. But usually, everyone who comes along just pockets the money and changes nothing.’ The US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction is investigating the misuse of $125 billion of aid, including $50 billion that has ‘gone missing’. Senior US military officers are under suspicion.

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