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Daily Column
Iraq Papers Sat: Anbar Handover Delayed
US Allegedly "Bans" Western Companies from Investing in Iraqi Oil
By AMER MOHSEN 06/27/2008 7:15 PM ET
Az-Zaman’s headlines were dominated by two major “events.” On the one hand, the US is reportedly trying to “ban” major Western companies from investing in the Iraqi oil sector before a comprehensive Oil and Gas law is promulgated in the Parliament. On the other hand, regarding the sensitive matter of “disputed territories” (especially in Kirkuk, where both Arabs and Kurds insist on their ownership of the strategic city,) Az-Zaman reported that the UN Security Council has informed both the Iraqi government and the KRG that the decisions issued by its fact-finding mission in Iraq are “binding” to all sides and need to be applied promptly.

This comes as a major departure from previous UN positions on Kirkuk (where the specter of ethnic warfare has been looming for years,) the international organization usually insisted on the advisory nature of its mission, especially with the controversial history of the UN in Iraq dating from the imposition of the sanctions’ regime in 1990 until the bombing of the UN Baghdad mission in 2003.

According to the London edition of Az-Zaman, a source close the UN fact-finding mission affirmed that the Security Council is taking a more aggressive posture on the “disputed territories,” relying on its chapter VII mandate that gives – on paper - extraordinary powers to the Council regarding Iraq. The unnamed “source” implied that instead of mediating between the parties and proposing “roadmaps” for the easing of ethnic tensions, the mission will be basically charting a “solution” for Kirkuk and other disputed regions, and will enforce its decision regardless of the opinion of the parties involved. The source also detailed the methodology that will be used by the mission to allocate the contested areas.

Regardless of the credibility of this report, such a piece appearing in Az-Zaman may also be interpreted as a “threat” to Iraqi politicians, with the Security Council (or Az-Zaman’s “source”) demonstrating the potential liabilities for keeping Iraq under the Chapter VII mandate. When will Iraq regain its sovereignty from the Security Council? According to the US: by signing the “Strategic Treaty” with the American government, which was presented as a major “benefit” for Iraq; especially since it notes the ending of the Chapter VII UN mandate in the country.

Many Iraqis have expressed doubts as to the “benefits” of terminating the Chapter VII mandate. The UN has scant on-the-ground presence in the country since 2003, and the only nation likely to send large forces to enforce UN decisions in Iraq is the US itself. By involving the Security Council in an explosive issue like Kirkuk, Az-Zaman (or its “source”) may be trying to prove otherwise.

In other news, the report on a US “ban” on foreign oil investment in Iraq would have been a major shock – had it only been true. Recently, the Iraqi government tendered several oil contracts (mostly to maintain and service existing fields) to some of the largest energy companies in the world. These contracts were handed while the Oil and Gas law – designed to regulate the Iraqi energy market - remains stalled in the Parliament. According to press reports, the major reason for the debacle is a long-lasting disagreement between the Shi’a pro-government parties and the Kurdistan Alliance over the contents of the law.

Most likely, the alleged “ban” is a characteristic Az-Zaman exaggeration; the paper was referring – again – to an “unnamed source in the State Department” who affirmed that no major companies were likely to invest in the country while a regulatory structure (in the form of the Oil Law) remains absent.

The paper interpreted these statements as proof that the recently-signed contracts “will not be executed,” in addition to 18 smaller contracts granted by the KRG to foreign companies for the exploration and production of oil in Kurdistan. The paper’s front-page story opened thus: “The US administration has yesterday banned major oil companies from executing contracts in Iraq.” The actual story had little to corroborate such a bold statement.

Lastly, the Anbar situation was the focus of several papers. The Sunni-majority province, considered for a long time a hotbed of the Iraqi insurgency, was to be handed to Iraqi government control this Saturday - a sign of stable security conditions. The handover, however, will not take place on the assigned date, and al-‘Arabiya (and several other outlets) affirm that it is due to the weather conditions!

In reality, al-Anbar yesterday witnessed a major attack that cost the lives of key pro-US Anbari leaders, in addition to several US and Iraqi soldiers. What is even more serious is that, according to Iraqi officials, the bombing revealed the deep “infiltration” of Iraqi security forces by insurgent elements.

The attack took place during an important meeting in Karma, grouping pro-US tribal leaders, local administrators, Iraqi officials and American officers. The meeting was interrupted by a suicide bombing, al-Hayat reported – quoting US sources – killing over 20 individuals, including the leader of the local tribal council and several members of the “Anbari gentry.”

Falluja’s police Chief, Faysal al-Zauba'i, made an arresting statement to the London-based paper, affirming that “the major reason behind such attacks” is the infiltration of his forces by insurgent operatives.


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