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US Papers Wed: 'Milestone' Day Marred by Blast
Iraqis Celebrate US Troops' Pullback, Oil Companies Reject Iraq's Contract Terms
By DANIEL W. SMITH 07/01/2009 02:01 AM ET
As Iraqis celebrated, a bomb in Kirkuk killed 34 and oil bidding didn’t go as well as Iraq’s Oil Minister had hoped. Iran makes an appearance as well, in regard to claims of its support extremist groups Iraq.

The Big Day
With much material somewhat similar to yesterday’s papers about the US drawdown in Iraq cities and Iraqi public’s celebration/worry, the articles a little less in depth, but good reading all around. The main new additions were the bombing in Kirkuk and some official statements. Iraqi government and security forces are still patting themselves on the back.

Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times points out that Prime Minister al-Maliki didn’t mention America in a nationally televised speech.
Mr. Maliki’s effort to capitalize on Iraq’s latent anti-Americanism and to extol the abilities of his troops is a risky strategy. If it turns out that Iraqi troops cannot control the violence, Mr. Maliki will be vulnerable to criticism from rivals — not only if he has to ask the Americans to return but also if he fails to enforce security without them.

Some American commanders have said they were taken aback by Mr. Maliki’s insistence on taking credit for all the security successes in Iraq. However, they also see the importance of having him and Iraqi troops appear strong, especially in the face of insurgent factions intent on destabilizing the government.
In Diyala, where 11 out of 18 bases have been closed, the formal transfer is reported to have been postponed, due to Iraqi complaints that at a camp near Baquba, the US military did not leave behind generators and air conditioners, as had been agreed upon.

Ernesto Londoño of the Washington Post focuses on attacks which killed Iraqis and Americans in the past few days of celebration, and hits the main points. He contrasts al-Maliki’s bombastic speeches with President Obama’s decidedly muted tone in comments about Iraq. Comments made on Tuesday by Gen. Odierno were summed up.
Odierno said he would carry out a 45-day assessment of the impact of the troop pullout and recommend adjustments as needed in August. In September and October and again after elections in January, he said, he will make further decisions on the pace of U.S. troop withdrawals. He said he expected an initial reduction to bring the force to about 120,000 in December before it drops to about 50,000 by September 2010.
The Christian Science Monitor’s Jane Arraf writes that of the same big issues, but starts from the bravado of a parade of Iraqi’s many brands of security forces with crisp uniforms as they marched past al-Maliki, near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Baghdad.
American and Romanian tanks, armored vehicles, humvees, and firetrucks rolled past an audience of dignitaries that included US Gen. Ray Odierno, whose combat forces have now pulled out of Iraqi cities under a landmark security agreement. In the background, the crossed swords of Saddam Hussein's monument to the Iran-Iraq war – modeled after his own fists – rose over the parade ground.

It was a far cry from the massive parades highlighting dozens of tanks and missiles that the late Iraqi leader presided over before he was toppled in 2003 – but much more heartfelt. Behind the monument, as units of Iraqi forces grouped near immaculate vehicles waited their turn to enter the grounds, there was a backstage atmosphere.
"If I were to compare where we were today to where we were four, five years ago, the progress is undeniable and is very impressive. But we still have some very serious problems," says Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salah. "We really need to attend to the politics quickly, that's No. 1. No. 2 is, we really cannot be complacent, because this enemy that we are fighting is still tenacious, ruthless, and will stop at nothing to disrupt what we have gained."

In USA Today, Aamer Madhani and Nadeem Majeed write of some of al-Maliki’s, Obama’s and Odierno’s remarks, and wrote up a more succinct version.
The Iraqi government marked what it called National Sovereignty Day with a military parade inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone and placed flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier monument to honor Iraqi troops killed since the start of the 6-year-old war.

About 131,000 U.S. servicemembers are in Iraq, and a small number will remain inside the cities for advisory and training roles. U.S. troops are now prohibited from conducting combat missions, such as raids, inside cities without permission of the Iraqi government.
"Nobody wants to see foreign armies move on their streets and patrol in their cities," said Mohammed al-Askari, spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. "We will do the mission ourselves"

Iraq going it alone happened in another less-expected way yesterday, as the much-hyped and nationally televised oil auction ended up with only one successful oil contract awarded to a foreign bidder. That contract, for the largest field offered, went to BP and the China National Petroleum Corporation. Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani had been expected to at least make great progress on awarding all eight contracts offered on Tuesday. Timothy Williams of the New York Times writes...
Throughout the day, clusters of men in dark suits spoke to each other in their common language: broken English, with Dutch, Chinese, Russian and Thai accents. A member of a Korean delegation wore a flak vest inside the hotel ballroom.

While the companies finally agreed to the government’s price, it was the only time all day that the usually wide gaps between what the government was willing to pay and what the companies said they needed to be paid were bridged.
Gina Chon at the Wall Street Journal reports that “The outcome raised questions about how quickly Iraq could rehabilitate its oil sector, which has suffered from years of war and neglect. The country relies on oil sales for more than 90% of government revenue.” She explains some of what happened.
The Iraqi oil ministry set aggressive pricing for the 20-year technical-service contracts in which companies will be paid a fee for boosting output. The oil ministry typically offered a maximum bonus for any output beyond current levels at $2 a barrel for several fields -- a figure that proved a dealbreaker, according to a number of oil executives. Company bids ranged from about twice that figure, in most cases, to more than 10 times the oil ministry amount.
"It's a losing proposition," one official at an Asian oil company said. "It's not worth it for us to pursue this."

Chon continues, reporting that ”some of the Iraqi Shiite extremist groups that the U.S. claims are backed by Iran say they are ratcheting up attacks in Iraq in tandem with Tehran's post-election crackdown on protesters.” She has quotes from a member of an extremist group who said that as the Iranian government became more aggressive with its own protesters, orders to Iranian-backed Iraqi groups have done so, as well. "We are coming back, and we have new missions now," said one. It is interesting reading.
Analysts and officials have suggested that grim images of the crackdown in Tehran may stall the ascendancy of Iranian influence across the Middle East, and that the unrest may push Tehran to act more aggressively to show it remains undaunted by domestic strife.

...Since the crackdown on protesters after Iran's June 12 elections, "our supporters are more determined now to have an influence in Iraq," said a cell leader for an Iraqi Shiite extremist group. This person said he receives orders from two Iraqi leaders who have been in Iran since seeking refuge there last year.
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