Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Yay! The Brits are pulling out of Iraq! Oh, shit, we're still there

1. Oily Truth Emerges in Iraq -- by Juan Gonzalez/ New York Daily News

Throughout nearly four years of the daily mayhem and carnage in Iraq, President Bush and his aides in the White House have scoffed at even the slightest suggestion that the U.S. military occupation has anything to do with oil.

The President presumably would have us all believe that if Iraq had the world's second-largest supply of bananas instead of petroleum, American troops would still be there.

Now comes new evidence of the big prize in Iraq that rarely gets mentioned at White House briefings.

A proposed new Iraqi oil and gas law began circulating last week among that country's top government leaders and was quickly leaked to various Internet sites - before it has even been presented to the Iraqi parliament.

Under the proposed law, Iraq's immense oil reserves would not simply be opened to foreign oil exploration, as many had expected. Amazingly, executives from those companies would actually be given seats on a new Federal Oil and Gas Council that would control all of Iraq's reserves.

In other words, Chevron, ExxonMobil, British Petroleum and the other Western oil giants could end up on the board of directors of the Iraqi Federal Oil and Gas Council, while Iraq's own national oil company would become just another competitor.

The new law would grant the council virtually all power to develop policies and plans for undeveloped oil fields and to review and change all exploration and production contracts.

Since most of Iraq's 73 proven petroleum fields have yet to be developed, the new council would instantly become a world energy powerhouse.

"We're talking about trillions of dollars of oil that are at stake," said Raed Jarrar, an independent Iraqi journalist and blogger who obtained an Arabic copy of the draft law and posted an English-language translation on his Web site over the weekend.

Take, for example, the massive Majnoon field in southern Iraq near the Iranian border, which contains an estimated 20 billion barrels. Before Saddam Hussein was toppled by the U.S. invasion in 2003, he had granted a $4 billion contract to French oil giant TotalFinaElf to develop the field.

In the same way, the Iraqi dictator signed contracts with Chinese, Russian, Korean, Italian and Spanish companies to develop 10 other big oil fields once international sanctions against his regime were lifted.

The big British and American companies had been shut out of Iraq, thanks to more than a decade of U.S. sanctions against Saddam.

But if the new law passes, those companies will be the ones reviewing those very contracts and any others.

"Iraq's economic security and development will be thrown into question with this law," said Antonia Juhasz of Oil Change International, a petroleum industry watchdog group. "It's a radical departure not only from Iraq's existing structure but from how oil is managed in most of the world today."

Throughout the developing world, national oil companies control the bulk of oil production, though they often develop joint agreements with foreign commercial oil groups.

But under the proposed law, the government-owned Iraqi National Oil Co. "will not get any preference over foreign companies," Juhasz said.

The law must still be presented to the Iraqi parliament. Given the many political and religious divisions in the country, its passage is hardly guaranteed.

The main religious and ethnic groups are all pushing to control contracts and oil revenues for their regions, while the Bush administration is seeking more centralized control.

While the politicians in Washington and Baghdad bicker to carve up the real prize, and just what share Big Oil will get, more Iraqi civilians and American soldiers die each each day - for freedom, we're told.

(Juan Gonzalez is a Daily News columnist. Email:

2. The Retreat from Basra -- by Patrick Cockburn/ Independent / UK

It is an admission of defeat. Iraq is turning into one of the world's bloodiest battlefields in which nobody is safe. Blind to this reality, Tony Blair said yesterday that Britain could safely cut its forces in Iraq because the apparatus of the Iraqi government is growing stronger.

In fact the civil war is getting worse by the day. Food is short in parts of the country. A quarter of the population would starve without government rations. Many Iraqis are ill because their only drinking water comes from the highly polluted Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Nowhere in Mr Blair's statement was any admission of regret for reducing Iraq to a wasteland from which 2 million people have fled and 1.5 million are displaced internally.

Nadia al-Mashadani, a Sunni woman with four children, was forced from her house in the Hurriya district of Baghdad under threat of death by Shia militiamen on 25 December. She was not allowed to take any possessions and is living with her family in a small room in a school in a Sunni neighbourhood. She told The Independent : "They promised us freedom and now we find ourselves like slaves: no rights, no homes, no freedom, no democracy, and not enough strength to say a word." Like many Sunni she believed the US had deliberately fomented sectarian hatred in Iraq to keep control of the country.

Mr Blair's description of Iraq might have been of a different country from that in which Mrs Mashadani is trying to survive. He dodged the question of why Britain can reduce its forces in Iraq below 5,000 by late summer at the same time as the US is sending a further 21,500 soldiers as reinforcements.

He stressed that the situation where British troops are based around Basra is very different from Baghdad and central Iraq where the bulk of US forces are concentrated.

The speed of the reduction in British forces in southern Iraq will be slower than many senior British officers had privately urged. Mr Blair said "the UK military presence will continue into 2008". But long before then almost all the remaining British forces will be located at Basra air base and act in support of Iraqi military and police units.

Mr Blair gave the impression that the presence of US and British forces is popular among Iraqis. In fact an opinion poll cited by the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton report of senior Democrats and Republicans in Washington showed that 61 per cent of Iraqis favour armed attacks on US and British forces.

Even as Mr Blair was speaking there were bitter divisions within Iraq over the alleged rape of a Sunni woman in Baghdad by three members of the Shia-dominated security forces last Sunday. The predominantly Shia government denounced the alleged rape victim, claimed she was lying and commended the three officers she accused of raping her. Although UN figures show that almost 3,000 Iraqis are murdered by sectarian killers every month, the alleged gang-rape has the capacity to move the country more deeply into a civil war.

Mr Blair painted a picture of Iraq in which political and economic progress is only being hampered by mindless terrorists. He claimed that the aim of these groups was "to prevent Iraq's democracy from working". But one of the main problems is that the constitution and two elections in 2005 have embedded differences between Sunni, Shia and Kurds.

The Prime Minister said there were 130,000 soldiers in the Iraqi army and 135,000 in the police force. He showed only limited appreciation, however, of the extent to which these forces are allied to the Shia militias or the Sunni insurgents.

US government officials were putting on a brave face yesterday in reacting to the drawdown of British troops in Iraq. US spokesman still refer to "the coalition" but it is now a very small group of countries. The largest group after the British contingent is 2,300 soldiers from South Korea. Denmark announced yesterday that it would withdraw its 470 soldiers by August.

The government of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki is being torn apart by conflicting pressures from the US and its own Shia supporters. The US has considered forcing him out of office but any succeeding government might be closer to the US but would have limited popular support. Meanwhile Mr Maliki has complained that, for all the coalition talk of respecting Iraqi sovereignty, he cannot move a company of soldiers without US permission.

3. Paying for the Damage Done to Iraq
Defund the War and Fund Reparations Instead
By CINDY LITMAN/Counterpunch

"This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation's self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers." --Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1967

The landscape has shifted and we are finally hearing significant bipartisan opposition to the war. Yet little of this opposition focuses on the plight of the Iraqi people. Even the peace movement, with its focus on supporting the troops by bringing them home, is largely silent on the question of Iraqi victims of the war.

Six years ago, I wrote an OpEd piece for the Davis (California) Enterprise opposing the US/UN sanctions against Iraq. At that time, a small handful of Davis activists were trying to raise awareness about the effects of the sanctions on the Iraqi people. Week after week we tabled at the Davis Farmers Market, and week after week I witnessed an outpouring of empathy and donations-not for the 500,000 Iraqi children who had died as a result of the sanctions, but for the neighboring booth, Labrador Retriever Rescue. I puzzled over the question of what it would take to rouse similar interest in the plight of Iraqis.

Nearly a decade, an occupation and over 654,965 Iraqi deaths later, I am still pondering the same question. Recently, an experience akin to the Labrador Retriever Rescue incident brought this question to the fore.

In January my friend, activist poet David Smith-Ferri, published a volume of poetry, Battlefield without Borders . The poems, written during David's two visits to Iraq, speak to the steadfast humanity of the Iraqi people despite nearly two decades of economic and military attacks by the US. David is currently on a book tour to raise money for Iraqi war victims. I approached International House, Davis about hosting a book reading. International House is an independent, non-profit community organization whose purpose, according to its mission statement, is "to promote respect and appreciation for all peoples and cultures and to work for world peace." Despite the humanitarian focus of the event-and despite cosponsoring a similar fundraiser for Myanmar orphans in January- International House declined to sponsor David's talk, arguing that "these issues are highly subjective and emotional."

Yet the escalating Iraqi death toll and refugee crisis are hardly subjective. According to a study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 654,965 civilians-about 2.5 percent of Iraqi's civilian population-have died as a consequence of the occupation. Over 90% of the deaths were caused by violence. Thirty-one percent of deaths were directly linked to coalition forces. To put this in context, if Davis, California were an Iraqi city, we would have buried over 1,508 of our family members, friends, and neighbors.

In addition, 2 million Iraqis- about 8 percent of the prewar population--have been forced by violence and persecution to flee their country (U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees). Another 1.7 million have been displaced inside Iraq.

As belligerent occupiers of Iraq, US conduct is governed by the Geneva Conventions and the Hague Regulations. International law generally requires that a state using force unlawfully should pay reparations for the damage caused. Iraq itself paid billions of dollars to Kuwait and others for its unlawful invasion in 1990. The same rule requires the US and other members of the coalition to pay for the damage they have caused in Iraq.

Yet of the numerous bills in Congress aimed at de-escalating the war, only one, H.R. 508 (Woolsey, [CA-6]), acknowledges responsibility and provides compensation for Iraqi victims of the US occupation.

Asked about the absence of reparations for Iraqi casualties in his bill, H.R. 787, Congressman Mike Thompson recently responded, "The number of innocent Iraqis killed by sectarian violence is a tragedy of incomprehensible magnitude. However, the war in Iraq has cost American taxpayers more than $400 billion, and the president just requested an additional $100 billion for this year and nearly $150 billion for 2008. With a national debt of nearly $9 trillion, our country simply does not have the funds to compensate wounded Iraqis." (personal communication, February 2007)

The Congressman likewise abdicated U.S. responsibility for the Iraqi refugee crisis, suggesting that "Iraq's neighbors must play a role in helping these refugees." According to UNHCR, Jordan and Syria have taken in 1.2 million Iraqis and are unable to accommodate additional refugees; earlier this month the agency issued a plea to all nations to share the burden. The official quota for Iraqi refugees to be allowed into the US this year stands at 500 (there is talk of increasing this to 7,000).

The U.S. has a legal and moral obligation to very generously compensate the Iraqi people for the immeasurable harm we have done them and their country. But even if we are not moved by legal and moral obligations, we should heed the strategic imperative of providing such reparations. According to UNHCR's Andrew Harper, "We cannot afford to neglect Iraq, because Iraq and its humanitarian consequences are going to be a problem for the international community for years to come." As are its political consequences in a world that is increasingly outraged by U.S. hegemony.

(Cindy Litman writes a monthly column for the Davis (California) Enterprise. She can be reached at:

4. A New Strategy for Ending the War -- by Ira Chernus

Every day, devotees of peace pour out tens of thousands of words. The vast majority excoriate the Bush administration's murderous policies and the political leaders who won't stand up against those policies. We need those words, and lots more like them. Every day, they persuade more Americans to turn against the war.

But let's face it. They don't persuade enough Americans to turn against the war. Bush can continue his insane "surge" plan, and the Republicans can block even the mildest Congressional rebuke, because the public's antiwar opinion is not yet firm, deep, and wide enough.

In recent polls, 50% say the U.S. is likely to succeed in Iraq. 43% would keep troop levels the same or increase them. While 60% or more oppose new troops in Iraq, only 40% would deny funding for those troops. The number who would deny funding for the war overall is tiny. A mere 10% say "the U.S. military's response in Iraq has been too aggressive," while 44% say "not aggressive enough."

With public opinion so mixed up, politicians have little incentive to take a clear, decisive stand against the war. We can, and should, demand day and night that they act on principle and oppose the war. But they are weathermen who always want to know which way the political wind blows. Right now, with the wind so changeable, they have every incentive to hedge, waffle, and stand on both sides of the fence.

The best way to move the politicians is to change public opinion. That means talking day and night to our friends, relatives, co-workers, and neighbors. But that's just where peace activists and progressives need a better strategy.

Consider the typical conversation between Lefty and her (or his) politically centrist Neighbor, who feels that the war is wrong but can't see how to set things right.

Lefty: "Bush, Cheney, and all the others are such liars. They claim to be fighting for democracy and a better life for Iraqis. But we know this war is really all about (fill in the blank with your favorite: "oil," "corporate profits," "U.S. imperialism," or whatever)."

Neighbor: "How do you know that? What's your evidence?"

Lefty responds with lots of facts and sews them together to form a patchwork quilt to "prove" that the administration's true motives are far from what it says in public. But the thread that holds the patchwork of evidence together is a set of assumptions about Bush & Co.'s motives. They are driven by greed. They are tools of the multinational corporate capitalists. That's why they always lie to us. Etc., etc.

Neighbor replies: "I just don't believe your assumptions. You can't prove they are true. You take them on faith. I don't share the same faith. So why should I believe you? I think that Bush sincerely wants to do the right thing, even if he can't figure out how. He certainly did the right thing in deposing Saddam Hussein. Iraq deserves a functioning democracy like ours. Since the U.S. disrupted Iraqi life so badly, we have a moral responsibility to stay there until they have a stable, more-or-less democratic government that can provide security to its people. In that sense, the president is right. Defeat is not an option. Once we leave, chaos will engulf Iraq, and it will become a haven for terrorists. So we need our troops there for a while. And as long as they are there, we must support them. We have to spend whatever it takes to give them what they need to do the job."

Lefty: "No, no, no. You are swallowing Bush's line. Don't you see that it's all about oil, greed, and imperialism?"

At this point, the conversation has reached a dead end. Lefty and Neighbor part ways, agreeing to disagree. Lefty has not done anything to shift the political winds.

If Lefty wants to change Neighbor's mind, a better strategy is to take Neighbor's views seriously, understand where they come from, and engage them directly.

Neighbor is clinging to the age-old American fantasy that, though our means may sometimes be inept, our motives are always pure. We have a higher moral vision than other nations and (usually) more practical skills to turn that vision into reality. So we are uniquely dedicated to, and capable of, bringing a better life to people around the world. Neighbor probably has a lot of emotion invested in that belief. Lefty may not ever be able to challenge it effectively.

But Lefty can get Neighbor to see how her American values are not being implemented in Iraq. Thoughtful, well-informed critics of the war have been making this point effectively for a long time. Their bottom line is that U.S. forces cannot help the Iraqis stabilize their country, because U.S. forces are the root cause of the instability. It's like trying to put out a fire by pouring more gasoline on it.

There's every reason to believe that the departure of U.S. troops will make Iraq less chaotic. It will give Iraqi leaders a better chance to work together to create a viable government. Though the process is bound to be long and hard at best, it can't start until the U.S. leaves. That's the best way for us to fulfill our responsibility to the Iraqis.

Moreover, the U.S. presence in Iraq is the best recruiting poster that militant Islamists of the Al Qaeda kind ever had. And the current chaos in Iraq may give those militants a stronger hand. Once the U.S. leaves, the Iraqis themselves will deal with those militants, who have weak roots and little warm welcome in Iraq. And a U.S. departure will make it more possible for governments in other predominantly Muslim lands to support U.S. foreign policy moves, including the war on terrorism.

Lefty can make all these points, and more, effectively without saying anything about the Bush administration's motives.

Of course all these points already get made in left-wing speaking and writing against the war. But they are quite secondary in the overall scheme of antiwar words. They get lost amid the torrent of anti-Bush, anti-greed, anti-imperialist outbursts.

That torrent shuts Neighbor's ears and mind. Eventually, we need to get Neighbor thinking about the ways greed and imperialism shape U.S. foreign policy. But a direct assault is not the most effective way to do it.

Right now, Neighbor is probably on the fence about the war. If logical rebuttals of her main pro-war arguments can push her off that fence, onto firmly antiwar ground, she'll have a more open mind. Once she realizes that the arguments used to keep her on the fence were spurious, she can begin to think about whether other ideas she gleans from political leaders and he mainstream media may be spurious, too.

To get Neighbor to open her mind, a direct assault on the beliefs she holds dear about "America" is just not a smart strategy. A smarter strategy is one that's more likely to get Neighbor listening, thinking, and continuing the conversation.

(Ira Chernus is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Monsters To Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin .)


At 2/13/2009 6:25 AM, Anonymous Jay said...

Dr. King Deserves Better in Charlotte, NC!


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