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US Papers Wed: Iraq: Forgotten and in Trouble?
Worrying Signs for Post-Withdrawal Falluja, A Look at Oil Minister Shahristani
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/24/2009 02:00 AM ET
Today, we cover whether security is deteriorating or not and why (in Fallujah and elsewhere) and look Iraqi oil policy and the man behind it.

From Iraq
On the front page of the New York Times is a story by Rod Nordland about today’s Fallujah. A year ago, he writes, things were looking good in the city known for being “the site of the war’s only real set-piece battles, in 2004, and probably the fiercest urban warfare involving American troops since the 1968 battle of Hue, in Vietnam.” Reconstruction was buzzing (or rather, construction – given the city’s near leveled status after 2004) and security incidents were at an all-time low. In recent months, there have been deadly attacks on Iraqi security forces, and US military and civilian patrols. “In 2008 it was almost completely stabilized,” said Brig. Gen. Sadoun Taleb, a Sahwa member. “In eight months, not one thing happened. Now these last seven months, it’s getting worse and worse.”
American commanders in the region dispute that perception. “The facts and statistics prove it’s a much safer city than it was a year ago,” said Col. Matthew Lopez, commander of the Marines in eastern Anbar Province. Instances of violence have declined 20 percent in the past six months in eastern Anbar, he said.

The new attacks are aimed at the Iraqi Security Forces, not the Marines, he said. “The leadership of the I.S.F., and especially the Iraqi police, are much more sensitive to attacks on them,” Colonel Lopez said.”
Well, yes – I guess they would be.

Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal has one of the more compelling oil-related stories you're likely to read for some time. It starts off being about the upcoming smorgasbord oil contract auctions which are set to revitalize Iraq’s oil production. We’ve all read innumerable rewordings of underutilized oilfields, foreign firms scrambling to pick up the slack on limits to Iraqi companies’ capacity, etc. Recently we’ve been hearing about criticism of Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani for failing to increase production and claims of mismanagement and corruption.

What sets this article apart is that it veers off to paint a portrait of Shahristani himself and stays there long enough to be really interesting. His past as the chief adviser to the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission in the late 1970s, a less than pleasant meeting with Saddam Hussein, and the even less pleasant 10 years of imprisonment which followed are recounted. More recently, it should be noted that being called “too by-the-book” is fairly unusual for members of the Iraqi cabinet.
Deals in Iraq often are reached over cups of tea late at night, but Mr. Shahristani doesn't like schmoozing. In a capital built on patronage, he has denied plum jobs to longtime friends. He's earned a reputation as a stickler for rules, including cumbersome purchasing regulations that other oil officials blame for slowing down Iraqi oil development. He has refused even small gifts, such as neckties, from visiting oil executives, he says.

...Mr. Shahristani fired 250 members of the ministry's security staff thought to be militia members, and replaced top security officials with people he trusted. He turned over evidence of wrongdoing to the ministry's inspector general, and fired or transferred those suspected of malfeasance.
The Christian Science Monitor’s Howard LaFranchi reports on the US city withdrawal/recent violence issue. Recent attacks in Baghdad and Kirkuk this week are highlighted, and the argument focuses mostly on the US military’s role in keeping Iraq secure. both Iraqi security forces and politicians must be “nudged”.
The US must figure out how to continue to nudge Iraq to address issues of mutual concern, even as the US footprint lightens, some analysts say.

"Stability in Iraq is going to continue to be based for some time on an American security presence, and we have not done a good job of communicating that reality to either the Iraqi people or the American people," says John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security, a defense policy think tank in Washington.

A less physically imposing but still robust American military and diplomatic presence should focus on developing "good governance" principles at all levels of the Iraqi government, says Mr. Nagl, author of a new report, "After the Fire: Shaping the US Relationship with Iraq." Moreover, the US must concentrate on building professionalism within the Iraqi military.
USA Today, Washington Post, no original Iraq coverage.

Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at


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