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Blunders
Atlanta Courtesan's August Trip to Security Organization Goes Viral
By ROBERT Y. PELTON 07/31/2007 9:36 PM ET

It's not often you see the Private Security Contractors Association of Iraq's logo so imagine the industry's surprise to see it on an ad offering sexual services by "Tori of Atlanta" The ad on The Erotic Review is guaranteed to get attention in the sausage fest that is Baghdad:

DNA - No Logo - Private contractors: deploying soon????- IZ beginning 08/04/2007 Posted by Tori Of ATL , 7/31/2007 12:01:13 PM Rare availability those reading from the IZ or soon to be there (*August 8-24*)

While in the IZ- I am in a unique position of entertaining from a secured compound. I’m entertaining all members of the PMC community registered with PSCAI with a few stipulations. My compound is within the central population and easy to find.

Check my webpage on date-check for specific details on setting aside a few moments to enjoy some R&R .American Style.

Sandstorms, Camels, heat and protective gear now a quick reminder of home!! Tori will be in the IZ August 8th through the 24th. (*If you are in the region and have leave on the books, I’ll be in Kuwait August 27th*) My travel will be exclusively limited to the region until November of 2007 so make contact now and arrange your own private get-away from the worries of the Region. -If only for a little while

My apologies but at this time I am unable to plan any meetings w/ active duty military. (*The members of PMC community has an exclusive arrangement during this visit*) Kisses ~Tori

Turns out its no hoax her ad was picked up by Wonkette and then spread like..uh..a virus..among the PMC community.Tori is a real gal (petite, well built and mature) Based on her reviews she is clearly in the business of pleasure...and may need someone to meet her at the airport.. It may be the largest single PSD in Iraq history.


AS of August 3 the head of PSCAI, Lawrence Peter issued an official condemnation and rebuttal to the Wonkette's post. We assume that Tori will now be seeking an even more secure venue for her mercenary activities while in Baghdad.

Press_Release___PSCAI_8.3.pdf

Baghdad Buzz
Zibari Reportedly Tried to Quit After Disagreement With Defense Minister Obeidi
07/31/2007 12:25 PM ET
Baghdad, Jul 31, (VOI)- General Babikr Zibari, chief of Iraqi army staff, submitted his resignation but the Iraqi Prime Minister and Armed forces Command-in-Chief rejected it, a Kurdish legislator said on Tuesday.

"General Babikr Zibari, a Kurdish professional officer, has submitted his resignation for technical and professional, not political reasons, but the Prime Minister who is also the Iraqi Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief rejected it," parliamentarian Fariad Rawandozi, from the Kurdistan Alliance, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

Rawandozi added "the resignation came due to differences between General Zibari and the current Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul-Qader Mohammed al-Obeidi."

"There are efforts made to settle these differences between the top military officials," the legislator said.

The Latest
Iraqis Jubilant as Their National Soccer Team Captures Its First Ever Asian Cup
07/29/2007 10:52 PM ET
Basra/Photo by Khaldoon Zubeir/Getty Images

Basra/Photo by Khaldoon Zubeir/Getty Images

Najaf/Photo by Saad Serhan/Getty Images

Najaf/Photo by Saad Serhan/Getty Images

Baghdad/Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Basra/Photo by Khaldoon Zubeir/Getty Images

Tune in Here
Asian Cup 2007 Finals Live on al-Iraqiya at 1635 Iraq Time; Live Webcast 0835 ET
07/28/2007 09:55 AM ET
Baghdad - July 25: Iraqi children hold a poster of the Iraq National soccer team after their team beat South Korea during the 2007 AFC Asian Cup semifinal soccer match. Iraq faces off with Saudi Arabia in the Asian Cup finals Sunday in Jakarta.
Photo by Getty Images
Baghdad - July 25: Iraqi children hold a poster of the Iraq National soccer team after their team beat South Korea during the 2007 AFC Asian Cup semifinal soccer match. Iraq faces off with Saudi Arabia in the Asian Cup finals Sunday in Jakarta.

The big national state-owned Iraqi broadcaster al-Iraqiya will televise the big Jakarta showdown, which the network will stream live on the Web for the world here.

You can learn much more about the match at the official Asian Cup 2007 Web site.

Because previous Iraq wins in this year's Asian Cup have prompted countless volleys of killer celebratory gunfire -- at least 13 killed after the water-finals victory -- and at least two suicide bomber attacks that killed dozens, the safest bet for all in Iraq is to remain indoors during and immediately after the big match.

Smackdown
Unions Object to Draft Hydrocarbons Law, Call for Shahrastani's Resignation
By BEN LANDO 07/26/2007 09:30 AM ET
Basra, IRAQ: Iraqi oil workers shout slogans opposing the draft hydrocarbons bill at a protest organized by trade unions in the southern city of Basra, 16 July 2007.
Essam al-Sudani/AFP/Getty
Basra, IRAQ: Iraqi oil workers shout slogans opposing the draft hydrocarbons bill at a protest organized by trade unions in the southern city of Basra, 16 July 2007.

WASHINGTON, DC (UPI) -- Iraq's oil minister said Iraq's oil unions are not legitimate and have no more standing in the debate over the oil law than an ordinary citizen.

"There are no legal unions in Iraq," Hussein al-Shahristani said Wednesday in response to a question about various factions' positions on the controversial oil law. "Those people who call themselves representatives of the oil workers have not been elected to the position."

Shahristani spoke to UPI by phone from Baghdad.

The lone remaining law from the Saddam Hussein regime kept by U.S. occupying powers and the successive Iraqi government is the one that bans worker organizing in the public sector.

Despite that, workers have come together and leveraged their power. Since 2003 they've blocked numerous attempts to privatize management of both oil and other facilities and stopped work over disputes -- most recently early last month over the oil law and other unmet demands.

Earlier this month workers in the southern, oil-rich town of Basra marched in protest against the oil law and demanded Shahristani's resignation.

The law would govern exploration and development of Iraq's 115 billion barrels of proven reserves and unknown reserves to be found in under-explored areas. But the law is stuck over central government vs. regional/local control over certain oil fields. And the unions, along with other political elements, have led the charge that the law allows for contracts they see as too friendly to foreign oil companies

IN THE STREETS
Even Medical Professionals Need Bodyguards in Iraq
07/25/2007 1:20 PM ET
BAGHDAD, 25 July 2007 (IRIN) - Nearly 150 doctors in Basra, Iraq's second largest city about 600km south of Baghdad, began a three-day strike on 23 July, demanding the government protect them and their families.

“We will not attend our clinics and will not do operations for three days to draw to the government's attention our plight as doctors living in harsh conditions,” said Dr Muaid Jumaa, head of the Basra Doctors’ Association.

Jumaa said 12 doctors had been killed in Basra by unidentified gunmen since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, and dozens of others had fled the city.

“We are protesting against the assassinations, kidnappings, threats and blackmail facing doctors in Basra and calling on the government to shoulder its responsibilities in protecting this important sector of our society,” Jumaa said.

“The government has to improve the security situation in the province and this is not hard,” he continued.

"We call on the government and parliament to adopt laws to protect doctors. Tough punishments should be meted out to those who threaten, kidnap and kill doctors.”

According to figures from the Iraqi Health Ministry released earlier this year, 618 medical employees, including 132 doctors, as well as medics and other health care workers, have been killed nationwide since 2003. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of other medical personnel are believed to have fled to Iraq's northern semi-autonomous Kurdistan region and neighbouring countries.

Bodyguards

Iraqi medical personnel have adopted their own security measures to stay safe.

For nearly two years now, dentist Mohammed Adil Tawfiq has not been moving a metre without his two bodyguards, after three of his best friends were killed by unidentified gunmen.

“I have no confidence in government security forces and since I can't afford to leave the country, I've decided to employ two bodyguards," said Tawfiq, a 44-year-old father of three.

"No one seems to be concerned about our plight or offered us protection and that’s why I've decided to take this step. Of course, I’ve had to fork out a huge chunk of my income to pay for them,” said Tawfiq, who refused to divulge his salary.

"This is not at all in the government’s interests because those who can leave will leave, and this will affect the provision of health services," he added.
Exclusive
Low-Wage Workers on US-Funded Projects in Iraq Endure Dismal Conditions
By DAVID PHINNEY 07/25/2007 09:47 AM ET
This meal is what a low-wage contract laborer working at Camp Diamondback is served on a good day.
This meal is what a low-wage contract laborer working at Camp Diamondback is served on a "good" day.

Despite US measures designed to halt labor abuses perpetrated by contractors working on US-funded projects in Iraq, anecdotal evidence indicates serious problems persist.

American civilian sources working at military camps report low-wage contracted laborers having limited access to medical care, crowded and decrepit living quarters, and questionable food. Some were reportedly tricked into working in Iraq, and accounts of contractors holding employees' passports continue, despite an April 2006 order from the US military specifically barring the practices.

“These issues are commonly known and there has been nothing done about this,” said one American contractor in a string of emails earlier this month from Camp Diamondback. He said he had been speaking with Sri Lankans who were recruited with the understanding they would be working in Kuwait.

According to the contractor, they were informed they would be going to Iraq after arriving in Dubai during transit. “The two men I speak with most often arrived in Mosul in late March,” wrote the contractor. “They were to make 2 to 3 times their normal salary. Thus far, they've not been paid and have only received an advance of $50.”

The contractor also sent photos of bathrooms, reporting that the only running water was on the floor. Old toilets are discarded outside the workers' living quarters, he said, where they sleep ten to a room on thin mattresses.

One worker suffering from diarrhea and vomiting was reportedly told the condition couldn’t be too severe since the employee had worked all day before reporting it. The doctor told the worker to “deal with it or go back” to Sri Lanka. “I asked one if he had any paperwork and he had none,” the contractor said.

Describing a photograph of the typical meal of mostly rice with a side of slop served to low-wage contract workers, the contractor commented: “This picture is of their food today. This is apparently a good day (with) double the usual meat portions.... The days are hit-and-miss whether they get vegetables.”

Another American contractor familiar with working conditions prior to the 2006 contractor order said in an email last week that “the treatment is still pretty much the same” at a large camp outside Baghdad. He said that 6,000 workers have no dentist and must travel to Kuwait for treatment.

“I know all of this because I had a laborer with bad pain in two teeth last week and the medic was giving him ‘tablets’ which were totally ineffective in alleviating this poor guy's pain. They are given the option of taking off work and flying to Kuwait for treatment at their own expense.”
The contractor said that “incoming laborers are still paying agency fees, and though they now carry their passports and a copy of their contract, all that did was create an additional task for us with no improvement.”

Even having passports returned can be a problem, said one Pakistani worker near Fallujah during a telephone conversation several weeks ago. He complained that while passports had been returned, the front pages had been ripped out.

But having part of a passport may be better than none at all. An American contractor at Camp Stryker said in an email last March that dozens of Indian workers found employment conditions with a Saudi subcontractor so bad that:

"They are running away at night from their camps here at Stryker and jumping the wire.... I am concerned for them because they are running and have no where to go..... The embassy is in the Green zone ten miles away.... and you have to go in the red zone to get to there from here."

The source said that Americans brought the Indian laborers back to the camp and that none of the low-paid workers had identification or passports. A manager with the Saudi contractors had taken the documents away before they fled the camp, the source was told. The Indian workers said they were quitting their jobs because they were being beaten. One reported he had been handcuffed to a post for hours.

Each of these anecdotes come from single sources, but the accounts of labor conditions closely track common complaints previously reported.

The Saudi contractor did not reply to email inquiries or phone calls requesting an interview. The US Army referred the inquiry to a spokesperson at KBR, which holds the prime contract with the Army for maintenance and dining at Camp Stryker. The spokesperson said the incident was untrue:

KBR has determined the information you have to be incorrect and does not involve KBR or its subcontractor. However, we can assure you that KBR does not condone and will not tolerate any practice that unlawfully compels subcontractor employees to deploy, perform work or remain in a place against their will.

The KBR spokesperson did not respond to a request for a contact with the Saudi subcontractor.

David Phinney is a freelance journalist based in Washington, DC. He can be reached at phinneydavid@yahoo.com.

Life Goes On
SIIC Reportedly Leader Worked Behind Scenes on US-Iran Meeting
07/24/2007 11:20 AM ET
Baghdad, IRAQ: Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Shiite cleric and chief of the supreme council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, speaks during the reconciliation conference for Iraqi political forces in Baghdad 16 December 2006.
AFP/Getty
Baghdad, IRAQ: Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Shiite cleric and chief of the supreme council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, speaks during the reconciliation conference for Iraqi political forces in Baghdad 16 December 2006.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, returned from Tehran on Tuesday, after completing a second round of chemotherapy treatment for lung cancer.

The head of the SIIC's office in Tehran, Majed Ghamas, said Hakim along with his political council deputy, Mohsen Hakim left Tehran for Baghdad Tuesday morning.

An SIIC spokesman told VOI, "Iraq's Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, several Iraqi ministers and government officials and a large number of Iraqi citizens received Hakim (at the airport)," adding "Hakim is in good health and is currently receiving visitors in his office."

According to Ghamas, Hakim had played an integral role in bringing together US and Iranian officials for their second round of talks, but Iraqi government officials would be setting the agenda. Hakim himself currently has no meetings on his schedule.

Iran Factor
Early Word From Baghdad Meeting Reports Tension
07/24/2007 10:44 AM ET
Baghdad, IRAQ: A picture released by Iraq's Prime Minister's Office, 24 July 2007 shows Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki (3rdL) attending with members of his government the US-Iranian talks in Baghdad.
AFP/Getty
Baghdad, IRAQ: A picture released by Iraq's Prime Minister's Office, 24 July 2007 shows Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki (3rdL) attending with members of his government the US-Iranian talks in Baghdad.

The United States and Iran began their second round of talks on Iraq security Tuesday. Despite excitement sparked by the rarity of the encounter, any air of cooperation has apparently soured, with early word from Baghdad reporting that the Iranians have not responded favorably to the delivery of the US message.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki brought together US Ambassador Ryan Crocker with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kadhemi Qomi, on Tuesday for the second diplomatic encounter since the two countries severed ties in 1979. After the first exchange back in May, the countries agreed that a second meeting would be arranged.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Monday that the main purpose of the meeting would be to underscore the public message that Iran should stop meddling in Iraq.

"Sometimes in diplomacy, it is worth taking the opportunity for one more meeting, for taking the opportunity to convey something in person and directly, he said. "It's an opportunity to speak directly to the Iranian Government and say, 'Here is our message to you. Here's what we're saying. Play a positive role in Iraq.'"

Iran has always providing support to Iraqi insurgents and militias, so it's no real surprise the Iranian delegation had a negative reaction to the message Ambassador Crocker delivered.

According to the Associated Press, an Iraqi official who was present at the meeting room said Crocker and Qomi were involved in a heated exchange early in the talks.

Crocker reportedly confronted the Iranians with charges that Tehran was supporting Shiite militiamen killing U.S. troops, providing them with weapons and training, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to disclose the information.

Qomi dismissed the allegations, saying the Americans had no proof, the official said.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad-Ali Hosseini said Tuesday from Tehran that US accusations would not help the ongoing Iran-US talks on Iraq.

Commenting on the latest accusations made by the US officials over Iran's alleged aid to Iraqi militants, Hosseini advised the US side to stop using "instrumental approaches." "It is crystal clear that the main objective behind repetition of such baseless accusations against Iran is to pursue US propaganda fuss and psychological warfare against the country," Hosseini argued.

Ambassador Ryan Crocker is scheduled to hold a press conference later today to discuss the meeting, so check back for an update.

Smackdown
Criticizes Lack of Security, Services, Rise of "New Dictatorships"
07/20/2007 3:23 PM ET
Karbala, Jul 20, (VOI)- Representative of the top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Karbala criticized on Friday Iraqi officials for the deteriorating services and security all over the country and warned against what he described as new growing "dictatorships" during the Friday prayer today in the Shiite shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala.

"Seven months have elapsed from 2007, yet the citizen finds no improvement in the services rendered to him," Sheikh Ahmed al-Safi addressed worshippers in the Shiite sacred shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala.

The Sistani's representative added "the Iraqi national budget, branded as revolutionary, reached $41 billion this year but I received reliable information that only 1% of the budget was virtually spent as it is only the officials' mode that determines the priority of implementing the suggested projects."

"In Iraq, we have a new syndrome, which has become the prevailing law, that is the official's mode," al-Safi noted.

The Friday sermon preacher also warned against what he named as "new kinds of dictatorships growing in Iraq."

"There are new dictatorships in Iraq, similar to those of the past, they want to demolish all highly qualified people. These dictatorships now have established themselves well in the governmental departments where things are adapted to the way liked by the dictator official," the Sistani's representative.

Al-Safi also called upon Iraqi political blocs to unify their political tone as most of their platforms "share much in common."

The Friday preacher also considered any improvement in the security situation in Baghdad as a key to solve all problems in other provinces.

"Efforts should be made to regain security in Baghdad because it would affect the security situation in Diala, Mosul and elsewhere," Sistani's representative said.

PETROL POLITICS
Return of Quorom Does Not Mean Hydrocarbon Bill Will Be Passed
By BEN LANDO 07/19/2007 3:45 PM ET
WASHINGTON, July 19 (UPI) -- Iraqi lawmakers who have boycotted Parliament over disputes with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki returned Thursday. This gives the body little time to deal with weighty issues such as an oil law the Bush administration is pressing them on.

The largest Sunni bloc, the Iraq Accord Front, which holds 44 of Parliament's 275 seats, has returned. It reached a deal that reinstated speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who was removed five weeks ago. The details of a back-room agreement were not released.

The Sadr Movement, a major Shiite party with 32 seats, also returned. It has been frustrated with Maliki, in part because of lax reconstruction of the bombed al-Askari shrine in Samara.

While Maliki's coalition parties plus the returning parties may meet quorum, pending chronic absenteeism, those opposed to the oil law may still block the measure if it's taken up.

"It's not suitable for us," Nawal al-Majeed, an IAF parliamentarian, told United Press International from Baghdad in a telephone interview. "Iraq now doesn't need an oil law. We need other things."

Her party, like others, opposes a draft of the law they say weakens the federal government's authority and is too friendly to foreign oil companies.

The current version of the law is less than clear, as is its status. Negotiations between the Kurdistan Regional government and the federal government in Baghdad have been ongoing for a year. At issue is regional/local versus federal control over the oil reserves -- 115 billion barrels, the third-largest in the world, though experts say that number will more than double when the country is fully explored.

The KRG and Baghdad reached a tentative deal in February, which the KRG then blocked when Baghdad revealed its breakdown of oil-field control, citing its interpretation of the 2005 constitution. The KRG says changes made to the measure earlier this month, when the Council of Ministers approved the law and sent it to Parliament, are a no-go. The oil law should not be confused with the revenue-sharing law, which would redistribute the oil proceeds.

The Kurds are trying to move past the isolation and brutality inflicted by Saddam Hussein's regime by demanding regional strength. (Sunnis, on the other hand, with little oil land, fear they'll miss out on investment if regions are strong.) And Kurds want to capitalize on the economically evolving and relatively violence-free autonomous region they've developed. It's from that standpoint they negotiate on the seemingly stalled oil law.

"Unfortunately, right now we are only talking at cross purposes," KRG Natural Resources Minister Ashti Hawrami told UPI in an e-mail message. He said changes to the law adopted earlier this year "changed the original agreed document beyond recognition."

"We are trying to recover from that unauthorized intervention, but the progress is very slow," Hawrami said. "This was a calculated attempt by those involved to bury the agreed document and prevent the law from being passed."

Earlier this week 108 Iraqi oil, economic and legal experts wrote a letter to Parliament urging it to retain a strong federal role and to put the law on hold until potential amendments to the constitution are dealt with.

"I think it's a legitimate call," a senior Iraqi official who received a copy of the letter said on condition of anonymity. "This law is going to affect our lives; it's going to affect the lives of our children."

The official panned the oil law's inclusion as part of President Bush's and Congress' benchmarks for Iraq's government. "I think the legislation is going to be the hardest to deliver on," adding doubts it will be approved before the Parliament takes an August recess.

"Legislation itself does not solve the problem," the official said. "I'd rather adopt something like how many families come back to their homes as a key indicator of progress."

Mustafa al-Hiti, a parliamentarian with the secular Sunni party National Dialogue Front, 11 seats, said his party will not show.

"What's the point of going to Parliament if you are doing nothing or can't do anything for your people," Hiti said from Baghdad in a telephone interview with UPI. "Nothing is working in Iraq. It is paralyzed completely. So the country is really in chaos."

He said Maliki's ruling coalition -- dominated by Shiites with links to Iran and Kurds -- is trying to consolidate power in Parliament as a means of evading dissidents. "Instead of Parliament addressing the government and controlling the government, I feel the government is controlling the Parliament."

Hiti said his party is working with other opponents of the oil law in their backing of the central government's role and limited foreign involvement.

"Many members of Parliament share our attitude," he said. "We are working now outside the Parliament to conduct all these groups together in order to vote against this when the time comes."

He said Parliament's prerogative should address the security situation.

"The militia is the only people who are in the street. The fear is just covering the faces of the people," he said. "There's no services."

He said there's been no electricity for three nights straight at the al-Rashid Hotel, where he has stayed. It's located in the "green zone," the U.S.-protected safe haven for government that has taken on such an increase in attacks the U.S. State Department has ordered its employees to wear flak jackets at zone restaurants.

"So what do you expect for the other part of Baghdad and what about the state of the people outside?" Hiti said. "So we don't have, really, a feeling, we don't think the Parliament is dong anything for the people of Iraq."

In that state of violence, of fear and mistrust between parties and ethnicities, the oil law -- pulled in numerous directions by various Iraqi factions and the United States -- remains in limbo.

Ben Lando is UPI's energy correspondent. This article re-printed by permission.

© Copyright 2007 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

PETROL POLITICS
Second Draft "Too Similar" to First; Many Recommendations "Ignored"
07/18/2007 10:24 PM ET
An Iraqi walks past oil reservoirs at the Iraqi Pipelines Company in Basra, June 2007.
Photo by Essam Al-Sudani/AFP.
An Iraqi walks past oil reservoirs at the Iraqi Pipelines Company in Basra, June 2007.

Baghdad, Jul 18, (VOI) – A total of 108 Iraqi oil experts called on the Iraqi parliament on Wednesday not to rush into passing the law on oil and gas, one of the most controversial laws on the Iraqi political scene.

"The draft oil and gas law, which is now before the parliament, does not differ in essence from the first draft, except for the noticeable improvement in language. Some remarks passed by the state's Shura Council. The remarks that we made in Amman symposium and meetings of oil trade unions and civil society organizations, were ignored," said a letter signed by experts and former employees from the Iraqi Ministry of Oil and received by the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

"In view of the supreme importance of the oil and gas law for the present and future of our country, we urge you again to make every effort to thoroughly reexamine the law and address all pitfalls in it with the help of loyal Iraqi experts," the letter read.

The experts stressed the importance of giving priority to the law on the Iraqi National Oil Company (INOC) and constitutional amendments to articles pertaining to oil and gas.

The letter also called on the INOC to assume full responsibility for managing oil fields and protecting the rights of the Iraqi people.

The experts said that a central and comprehensive plan should be developed to set priorities in relation to oil excavation. Moreover, the participation of all Iraqi provinces and regions in the planning and implementation process was one of the recommendations contained in the letter.

Iraq's Kurdistan Prime Minister Negervan al-Barazani said last month that he had sent a message to the central government in Baghdad conveying his government's approval of the draft oil and gas law.

The controversial law was recently ratified by the Iraqi cabinet after a number of Shura Council amendments were made to it, described by the government as "peripheral." The law was referred to the parliament for approval and is currently under discussion by its committees. The current draft gives foreign investors the right to set up refineries and oil facilities and to invest in them for 50 years, after which they will belong to the Iraqi government.

PETROL POLITICS
100+ Experts Sign Letter Calling for Strong Central Control of Resources
By BEN LANDO 07/17/2007 4:34 PM ET
Basra, IRAQ: A general view shows Iraqi oil workers walking on the dock of the harbour in the Iraqi city of Basra, south of Baghdad, 15 July 2007.
Essam al-Sudani/AFP/Getty
Basra, IRAQ: A general view shows Iraqi oil workers walking on the dock of the harbour in the Iraqi city of Basra, south of Baghdad, 15 July 2007.

WASHINGTON, July 17 (UPI) -- More than 100 Iraqi oil, economic and legal experts sent a letter to Iraq's Parliament urging it to consider their critique of the draft oil law.

A senior Iraqi government official was also given a copy and agreed with the technocrats' assessment.

"With our conviction for the need of a law to organize the upstream sector and its development, and due to its extreme importance, we emphasize the importance of acting steadily," the letter states, "and not rushing its issuance before enriching it with more discussions and carry out amendments that ensure the interest of all the Iraqi people."

The letter calls for a strong central government arm in maintaining and developing Iraq's vast oil and gas sector, though with the "participation of the regions and the governorates in the operations of planning, implementation and management within a comprehensive vision that ensures the maximum benefits for the whole people of Iraq."

The oil law has been in negotiations since last summer. The Kurds claim the rights to strong regional control over their share of Iraq's 115 billion barrels of proven while others want a varied amount of central control. Also at issue is how the sector may be opened up to foreign, private investment.

Iraq produces 2 million barrels per day, of which more than 75 percent are sent to the global market.

The letter, signed by 108 experts, calls for the oil law to be put on hold until ongoing constitutional wrangling is completed. "There are ongoing discussions aiming to amend the Iraqi constitution, including the items relating to oil and gas," it states. "Hence we do not see, from the legal and technical point of view, the necessity to enact the law presented to you now before the constitutional amendments are finalized."

The senior Iraqi official, speaking on condition of anonymity, called for a thorough examination of the law, especially as the U.S. benchmarks requiring the law's passage by September loom large.

"I think it's a legitimate call," the official said. "This law is going to affect our lives; it's going to affect the lives of our children."

Ben Lando is UPI Energy Correspondent. This article was re-printed by permission. © Copyright 2007 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Baghdad Buzz
Citizens Would Eventually Need Proper Papers to Enter Capital
07/17/2007 11:49 AM ET
Baghdad, Jul 17, (VOI) - Special passes will be given to Baghdad’s residents to control their entry and exit to the capital, to prevent gunmen and militias from getting in, the spokesman for the ‘Law Imposition’ plan said on Tuesday.

“Areas in Baghdad like Dora, Amirya, Ghazalia, Saydia and Hay al-Amil will witness an improved security situation in the coming period,” the spokesman told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

He revealed the “existence of extensive military and security plans to eradicate terrorist groups by relying on precise intelligence reports provided by citizens,” adding that three joint security centers will open in Dora, Khadhimya and Ghazalia, and two centers each in Hay al-Jamea, Amirya and Hay al-Amil.”

“The issuing of civilian passes will be expanded to include all areas of Baghdad after cleansing the terrorist elements out and before the start of the second phase of the ‘Law Imposition’ plan, which includes holding ground, in addition to establishing joint security centers,” he continued.

PETROL POLITICS
Union Protests Oil Law, Government Increase on Fuel Prices
07/16/2007 4:54 PM ET
Basra, IRAQ: Iraqis shout slogans as they demonstrate in the southern city of Basra, 16 July 2007.
Essam al-Sudani/AFP/Getty
Basra, IRAQ: Iraqis shout slogans as they demonstrate in the southern city of Basra, 16 July 2007.

Basra, Jul 16, (VOI) – The executive bureau of Basra's trade unions organized a large demonstration on Monday, where hundreds of workers called for reconsidering the oil and gas law and the government's recent decision to increase fuel prices.

"Members of all Basra's trade unions took to the streets to show solidarity with the oil trade union, calling for reconsidering the oil and gas law and the government decision to increase fuel prices," the head of the bureau, Hussein Fadel, told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

The executive bureau issued a statement last week calling for the removal of the oil minister, freedom of syndicates to organize their administrations and activities and the cancellation of decision no. 150, which bans syndicates' activities in public sector institutions.

"The demonstration reflected the unity of Basra's trade unions. The ports, electricity, services, municipalities and other trade unions all united to call for the legitimate demands of the oil trade union's workers," he added.

A media spokesman for Basra's trade unions, Faraj Ribat Mazban, told VOI that the demonstrators were protesting against the oil and gas law, which he said allows foreign companies to exploit Iraq's wealth.

The law on oil and gas is one of the most controversial laws on the Iraqi political scene. It was recently ratified by the Iraqi cabinet after a number of Shura Council amendments were made to it, described by the government as "peripheral." The law was referred to the parliament for approval and is currently under discussion. The current draft gives foreign investors the right to set up refineries and oil facilities and to invest in them for 50 years, after which they will belong to the Iraqi government.

Mazban added that the demonstrators were also angry at being unheard. Representatives from the syndicate of trade unions met several officials, including the prime minister and the oil minister, "but all they gave were empty promises," he indicated.

The Iraqi Oil Ministry said earlier that starting July 1, 2007, premium gas will be sold at 450 Iraqi dinars per liter (36 U.S. cents) and regular gas for 400 dinars (32 U.S. cents), attributing the price increase to pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Paris Club to remove subsidies on oil derivatives.

Basra, a Shiite province with 20% Sunni population, is 590 km south of Baghdad.

IRAQ'S OIL WAR
Shoura Council Suggests Postponing Hydrocarbons Bill
07/13/2007 6:23 PM ET
WASHINGTON, July 13 (UPI) -- Iraqi Kurds say the oil law has been delayed for political gain and accuse Oil Ministry officials of influencing a legal body's recent oil law report.

The Council of Ministers apparently approved the oil law last week, sending it to Parliament, but that has caused an uproar from Baghdad to Irbil, capital of the Kurdistan Regional government.

Opponents of an earlier draft's decentralization, as well as potential foreign oil company access, threatened to block the law's passage.

The Kurds, the draft's biggest promoter, also oppose it now, for what they call "unauthorized changes made to it."

That's because the new draft relied on changes made to it by the Shoura Council, a body designated to ensure the law used proper format and language and was consistent with the constitution.

"It's taken this back to square one, frankly," KRG Natural Resources Minister Ashti Hawrami told UPI from his mobile phone in Irbil. He was referring to additional changes that centralized authority given to regions and governorates in the draft agreed upon in February, including the control over oil.

The dispute over Iraq's oil includes political officials, oil experts and the unions, with varied demands on federalism, as well as limitations on foreign oil company access.

Much of it relates to the vaguely written 2005 constitution. The Kurds want the oil law to clarify the vagueness, while others want the constitution amended.

The Shoura Council weighed in, saying the law should be postponed. "They assume the constitution will be changed and they took the view the (disputed) articles in the law should be brought in line with the future constitution, not the current constitution," Hawrami said. "You can't be more political than that, with no authority."

And, he said, according to a memo from the Shoura Council, it carried out "their legal review with the assistance and guidance of the Oil Ministry officials." He blamed them for injecting politics into the debate.

"We want this law to go through, but we want this to go through as agreed," Hawrami said. "We don't want any delays."

Ben Lando is UPI energy correspondent. This article was re-printed by permission. © Copyright 2007 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

PETROL POLITICS
Council of Ministers Substantially Altered Draft, Negotiators Discuss Revision
By BEN LANDO 07/13/2007 09:29 AM ET
Taq Taq, IRAQ: A general view shows a drilling platform at an oil well digging site near the village of Taq Taq, in the autonomous Iraqi region of Kurdistan, 23 June 2007.
Ali al-Saadi/AFP/Getty
Taq Taq, IRAQ: A general view shows a drilling platform at an oil well digging site near the village of Taq Taq, in the autonomous Iraqi region of Kurdistan, 23 June 2007.

WASHINGTON, DC (UPI) -- Although Iraqi Kurds are now opposing changes made to a draft oil law, their top envoy to Washington says there's time -- though not without end -- to reach a compromise on key issues.

"I doubt we'll veto the law based on a few scattered changes," Qubad Talabani, son of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and the Kurdistan Regional government's representative to the United States, told United Press International at his Washington office. "However, we still need to ensure we stick within the guidelines outlined in the constitution."

KRG and federal government delegates have been negotiating since last summer the law governing the world's third-largest oil reserves. At issue is how much control the federal government has over exploration, development and production of oil versus the regions or governorates.

Last week the Council of Ministers approved a draft of the law -- which had already been opposed by oil technocrats, unions and Sunni parties seeking a stronger central government arm -- and sent it to Parliament. Sunni and some Shiite parties opposed to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government are alternately threatening to boycott Parliament or return to oppose the law.

"I think too many Iraqi officials are commenting on the hydrocarbons law without fully reading it," Talabani said. The KRG was almost completely in agreement with the law before the approval of the council, which further changed it.

"Some substantive changes were made," Talabani said. "Some language that we had put in has been taken out. Now whether it has been taken out with malicious intent or whether it has been taken out because it was deemed not legal language is what we're trying to determine."

A team from Baghdad has been in Kurdistan to discuss the issues, which Talabani said would be ironed out in talks, not bluster. "In a friendly atmosphere, not raising a stink about it," he said.

Kurds take a somewhat hard line in talks about the future of Iraq to ensure there's no repeat of their pre-2003 treatment, where investment was kept from them and the brutality of Saddam Hussein was in full force. They've been semi-autonomous since 1992, however, and are keen on retaining that, if not strengthening it.

"It's concerns that we have that are a result of history. And neglect. Mismanagement throughout its history. It's made us as Kurds very insecure that future governments in Iraq will mismanage the resources," Talabani said.

He points to the Iraqi Constitution, approved in 2005, that requires the federal government to work "with" regions and governorates to develop the oil sector. Exactly how that takes shape is at the crux of the federalism dispute.

Talabani said the oil law should be the instrument to further flesh out the constitutional vagueness.

"We want to have a say in how the south is developed, how the west is developed, how Baghdad is developed," he said. "If we are partners, if we are Iraqis, then we want to be full partners. It's a fair request. It shows our willingness to be part of this federal Iraq." And vice versa with other factions in the country, he said.

Iraq has 115 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, nearly all located in the Shiite-controlled south or Kurdish north (though a large oil field near the KRG zone is considered a disputed territory). Iraq needs investment in its sector to fix and modernize its current infrastructure so it can increase production. Last month Iraq averaged less than 2 million barrels per day, according to the global energy information firm Platts, a drop from the month prior and far below the 2.6 million bpd before the war.

Opponents of the oil law want to limit the access of foreign oil companies to Iraq's nationalized sector, though the Kurds are pulling for more of a free-market model.

The oil law is to be one of four laws in a general hydrocarbons regime package. Iraq sent an average of 1.6 million bpd to market last year, bringing in enough money to fund 93 percent of its federal budget. A revenue-sharing law that will determine how proceeds from Iraq's oil sales will be redistributed throughout the country -- and how much -- was agreed on by KRG and federal government negotiators and sent to the Council of Ministers, which has yet to take it up.

"The fact that we could overcome our differences and come to an agreement on that means that the prognoses for the other three components are good," Talabani said. Laws governing the Iraqi National Oil Co. and the Ministry of Oil round out the hydrocarbons package.

Meanwhile, the KRG makes progress on its own. It's relatively less violent than the rest of the country. Daily flights in and out of the capital, Irbil, have increased and Talabani said he saw an "entrepreneurial spirit" during his recent visit. The KRG has signed five deals with foreign oil companies, which the Iraq oil minister said will be brought in line with the eventual federal oil law. The KRG is moving forward with its own regional oil law, also aligned with the federal law.

That's if the federal legislation is approved.

"It's difficult to say how long we will wait," Talabani said. "We know that this is part of a much larger picture and we don't want to do something that could upset the larger picture.

"We've been patient up until now. I think we'll continue to be patient. We'll continue to be pragmatic. We can't have an all-or-nothing policy and we've seen this throughout the negotiations, there are things that are going to upset us as Kurds, there are things that are going to upset our Arab brothers," he said.

Ben Lando is UPI energy correspondent. This article re-printed by permission. © Copyright 2007 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Stay Tuned
Woman Held Six Months, Negotiators Still Working to Secure Son's Freedom
07/11/2007 11:57 AM ET
Baghdad, IRAQ: A video grab taken from Arab news channel Al-Arabiya, 11 July 2007 shows the released German hostage Hannelore Krause during an interview in Baghdad, 11 July 2007.
AFP/Getty
Baghdad, IRAQ: A video grab taken from Arab news channel Al-Arabiya, 11 July 2007 shows the released German hostage Hannelore Krause during an interview in Baghdad, 11 July 2007.

A German woman held hostage in Iraq since early February has been freed but her son remains in the hands of the kidnappers, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier announced Wednesday.

"Hannelore Krause's hostage ordeal has come to an end after 155 days. We are relieved and share in the joy of the family," Steinmeier told reporters in Berlin.

Krause, 61, is married to an Iraqi doctor and had lived in Iraq for forty years when armed men showed up at her home in February. In March, group called "Swords of Righteousness" claimed credit for taking Krause and her 20-year-old son, Sidan, and announced they would be killed if the German government did not pull forces out of Afghanistan.

Steinmeier said she was currently in the German embassy in Baghdad, and that the German government was continuing working to secure Sidan's release. The foreign minister declined to go into details of the release and did not say if a ransom had been paid.

Analysis
Disparate Groups Find Common Ground in Lobbying Against Maliki's Move
By BEN LANDO 07/09/2007 3:30 PM ET
Baghdad, IRAQ: Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki chairs a meeting of the Iraqi Cabinet in Baghdad, 03 July 2007.
Getty
Baghdad, IRAQ: Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki chairs a meeting of the Iraqi Cabinet in Baghdad, 03 July 2007.

WASHINGTON, July 9 (UPI) -- U.S. President Bush may be right: Iraq's oil law, although highly controversial, could be a "benchmark for reconciliation."

When Iraq's council of ministers last week suddenly approved the law, critics of various stripes united in opposition. Shiite and Sunni political parties alike denounced it, vowed to defeat it, even threatened to ensure Parliament can't take it up. It is seen by some as weakening the central government and giving too much to foreign companies.

Iraq depends on the sale of oil for the vast majority of its federal budget. It's infrastructure badly needs investment to boost production. A law governing the world's third largest reserves -- and a sizable amount of natural gas -- has been as elusive as security there.

In one attack alone Saturday in the northern city of Tuz Khurmato, nearly five times as many were killed than at the Virginia Tech massacre in the United States.

In the midst of a war zone of more than four years old, the Bush administration itself could be the most divisive agent. And, it's the White House's support for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's administration, as well as the heavy pressure on it to pass the oil law, that could draw together the fractured country.

The fate of and fight for control over Iraq's oil is the same for the country itself. At issue is to what extent the federal government, as stewards of Iraq as a whole, will decide oil policy. Local governments, especially the Kurdistan Regional Government, disapprove of strong central control; their suspicions rest on memories of Saddam's Iraq, where the central government's uneven investment hand benefited only some, and its heavy hand brutalized the rest.

Taq Taq, IRAQ: TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY MATHIEU GORSE: Workers walk past a drilling platform at an oil well digging site near the village of Taq Taq, in the autonomous Iraqi region of Kurdistan, 23 June 2007.
Ali al-Saadi/AFP/Getty
Taq Taq, IRAQ: TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY MATHIEU GORSE: Workers walk past a drilling platform at an oil well digging site near the village of Taq Taq, in the autonomous Iraqi region of Kurdistan, 23 June 2007.
Much more oil is in the ground than being pumped now, that's likely why a law governing the oil has been held up in the United States as the tool for grand compromise, leading toward the path of more hand-shaking.

President Bush himself, as well as U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in separate meetings in Washington and Baghdad are all regularly urging the passage of the law.

KRG and federal government negotiations on the oil law began last summer. Deals were reached and stalled since late February. Then Tuesday the ministers approved it.

"It has to be a package of laws in which all the Iraqis can agree, which is why it is a benchmark of national reconciliation," a State Department official told UPI in May, adding that's why revenue sharing is the main emphasis of the U.S. government. Revenue sharing would be decided in a revenue sharing law, not the oil law, two of four laws that comprise the package. The revenue sharing law is to be taken up this week by the ministerial council.

The oil law already faced opposition from Iraq oil experts -- including two of the law's three original authors -- as well as the powerful oil unions. The unions say they're willing to stop production and exports if the law gives foreign oil companies too much access to or ownership of the oil.

"The last four years have witnessed repeated attempts at dismantling the basis for any well planned resources management for the whole nation, only to replace it with market oriented destabilization and fragmentation policies that are at variance and in competition with each other and the national interest," said Tariq Shafiq, an Iraqi now living in Amman and London, tasked last spring by the Iraq oil minister to co-write the law. It was subsequently altered in negotiations and he now opposes it.

"Would this law really optimize the management of the oil and gas? Would it really unite the country?," Shafiq said. "I believe sincerely it is naive to think it would."

"It's really important to challenge the notion that the law is going to unite 'warring factions,'" said Ewa Jasiewicz of the London-based campaigner Platform. "The language in which the law is being couched and reported is incredibly sectarian and is creating de facto Sunni, Kurdish and Shiite regional power blocks in the imagination and political landscape and, in the process, the conditions for the creating of these kinds of facts on the ground."

Many political parties opposed Maliki's government before the oil law. As security in Iraq diminishes, so does the political strength of Maliki's coalition of Shiites -- many backed by Iran -- and Kurds.

The ministerial council just barely had quorum last week because of boycotts of key Shiite allies and Sunni parties. Parliament was supposed to take up the oil law Wednesday but boycotts and chronic absenteeism scrapped that.

The Sadr Movement and the Iraqi Accord Front now say they may end the boycott specifically to challenge the law. The former held mass rallies over the weekend in opposition to Maliki. IAF says it will call for a vote of no confidence in him.

The Association of Muslim Scholars issued an edict against any Parliamentarian approving the law. Off the record talk by campaigners, unionists and oil experts express the need to turn up the heat of opposition.

Last week the Iraq Freedom Congress -- whose motto is "Working for a Democratic, Secular and Progressive Alternative to both the U.S. Occupation and Political Islam in Iraq" -- teamed up with the new Anti Oil Law Frontier to rally masses against the law.

All the while a coalition in Iraq grows. It encompasses Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and secularists. Its goal is to keep Iraq together. But it also wants an end to the U.S. occupation.

"They are also strongly opposed both to the terrorist forces of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and to the growing influence of Iran in Iraq," Robert Dreyfuss wrote of the opposition in The Nation.

Despite sharing two key tenets of the war on terrorism, the United States isn't supporting the coalition.

State Department Iraq Coordinator David Satterfield, answering questions in March about what has been self-termed the "National Salvation Government," vowed support for Maliki's government. "It is not helpful to talk about alternatives," he said.

But alternatives may force themselves into the conversation, especially on the heels of the oil law.

Ben Lando is UPI energy correspondent. This article was re-printed by permission. © Copyright 2007 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Latest
Despite Denials, Mixed Reports Spark Speculation Shi'ite Leader Has Left Iraq
07/09/2007 09:58 AM ET
Baghdad, IRAQ: An Iraqi boy is reflected on the glass of a framed picture of Shiite firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images
Baghdad, IRAQ: An Iraqi boy is reflected on the glass of a framed picture of Shiite firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
A Sadrist legislator is rejecting claims by the US military that the Shi'ite leader has fled to Iran, accusing the Americans of propagating rumors to "undermine the Sadrist bloc."

Verbal sparring between the Maliki and Sadr camps has dominated the Iraqi political scene in recent days.

Al-Maliki announced Saturday that the Sadrist Current has become a “host for criminal gangs” and is inhabited by “Saddamists and Ba'thists” who commit crimes and attacks against civilians.

Ahmad Al Shibani, a senior aid of cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, shot back that al-Maliki’s government is “practically over, in what concerns us and the occupation" and accused the PM of giving a "green light" for US forces to attack Sadrists.

Reuters reported Sunday that a military source said Sadr had gone to Iran, raising speculation that the cleric may have feared the perceived "green light."

But Falah Hassan Shanshal, a member of parliament from the Sadrist bloc, rejected those reports on Monday, telling VOI, "Muqtada al-Sadr is now in Najaf, where he resides, and has never left Iraq for any other country."

Shansal also took the opportunity to heap more criticism on the Maliki regime, saying "Maliki's groundless accusations against the Sadrists were part of unbalanced statements. We say that the Baathists and takfirists have infiltrated into state institutions, which is indicated by governmental calls to have the former repressive security agencies back in public organizations."

He pointed out that the Maliki government "has turned out to be a failure, one and a half years after coming to power, as far as providing security and services to citizens are concerned."

Analysis
Factions Disagree Over Next Step Forward
By BEN LANDO 07/06/2007 10:34 AM ET
Basra, IRAQ: A general view shows an oil refinery in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, 03 July 2007.
Essam al-Sudani/AFP/Getty
Basra, IRAQ: A general view shows an oil refinery in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, 03 July 2007.

WASHINGTON, July 5 (UPI) -- It looks like a whirlwind of activity in Iraq as politicians seemingly make progress on key legislation governing the world's third largest proven oil reserves. As the dust settles, however, a look into the eye of the Iraq hydrocarbons law storm this week shows not everyone considers the action a step forward.

Just last week key members of negotiating teams representing the federal government in Baghdad and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government said agreement on the draft oil law was maybe two months away. The two sides were stuck, basically, on the extent of federal vs. regional/governorate control over the oil reserves.

Suddenly Tuesday, the council of ministers approved the oil law and sent it to Parliament.

Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said the draft included "some changes," including format and other legalese recommendations made by the Shoura Council -- a constitutional and legal checking body.

"In addition to improving the legal format of the draft law, it also introduced or changed some basic points that have been debated and agreed," said Shahristani, speaking to United Press International from Baghdad in a telephone interview. Those agreements, between the Kurds and federal government, would not be changed, he added.

The Parliament was to take up the law Wednesday, but could not reach quorum. They will likely not address the oil law until next week, at the earliest. The council of ministers meeting just barely made quorum. Numerous key parties are boycotting either out of opposition to the oil law or the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Three bills related to the oil law are also to be decided. The revenue sharing law, which will decide how oil sales will be divided across the country, was to be taken up by the council of ministers Thursday. Shahristani said that was postponed to next week. Needed bills defining the role of the Iraq National Oil Company and the Ministry of Oil are still being negotiated, a step prior to being sent to the council of ministers for approval and then on to the Parliament.

KRG Natural Resources Minister Ashti Hawrami said Tuesday he hadn't been consulted on the language the council approved and warned against any law that made "substantive changes" to what was agreed upon in March. Although the Kurds signed onto the March draft of the oil law, in late April they stalled it after the unveiling of what is termed "the annexes" to the law -- four lists detailing control of currently producing oil fields, discovered fields that aren't producing and areas to be explored, to either the federal government, via INOC, or the region/governorate where the oil is located. The Kurds say too much is given outright to INOC, which they called unconstitutional.

"If the Kurds are not in, they can never approve" the law, said the Amman and London-based consultant Tariq Shafiq, an Iraqi who was one of three tasked with drafting the oil law last summer. (He and co-author Farouk al-Kasim have joined more than 60 Iraqi technocrats now opposed to the law. Thamir Ghadhban, the third, is now Maliki's top energy adviser and part of the negotiations on behalf of the federal government.)

Shahristani said the law approved by the council of ministers Tuesday set aside the annexes. Instead, a federal oil and gas council, enshrined in the oil law, would determine who gets what oil. Hawrami told UPI last week that was an option being looked at, but the KRG would only agree to it if the role of INOC were more defined.

While Hawrami said the Kurds are still evaluating the ministers' draft, other factions have strongly opposed it.

The Shiite Sadr Movement and the Iraqi Accord Front and Iraq Front for National Dialogue, both Sunni parties, are leading the Parliament boycott. They -- along with many technocrats, the powerful oil unions, and others -- oppose a decentralized oil sector and too much access by foreign companies to Iraq's oil. The Association of Muslim Scholars -- Sunni clerics -- has issued an edict against voting for the law. "Unlike in Shiite Islam, the authority of Sunni clerics is limited, and the AMS fatwa may not be decisive," wrote University of Michigan Middle East expert Juan Cole. "But given that Sunni fundamentalist deputies already oppose the draft, it adds oil the fire."

While Iraq is still a major producer at 2 million barrels per day, its reserves could handle more. But Saddam Hussein's mismanagement, U.N. sanctions and now the war have crippled the infrastructure. Investment, both internal and foreign, is seen as necessary -- even the latter, in some measure, is supported by every side. The Kurds, however, favor more of a free market approach, with a limited role for INOC where it mostly competes against other oil companies for work.

The Shoura Council called for a hold on the oil law, until the 2005 constitution is amended and INOC, the federal government's arm in the oil sector, is established. Among other issues, aspects of the constitution concerning oil are vague, leading to various interpretations.

The council also, among other recommendations, changed the Kurd-approved draft of the oil law, calling for all contracts for exploration, development and production of Iraq's oil to be signed by the federal government.

The Bush administration is pushing hard for action on the oil law, calling it a "benchmark for reconciliation." Whether the law will bring political, sectarian and religious factions together -- or create a larger wedge -- is as unknown as the future of the oil law itself.

Ben Lando is UPI energy correspondent. This article was re-printed by permission. © Copyright 2007 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Video
Sightings Spread Horror, Conspiracy Theories Among Locals
By ZEYAD KASIM 07/06/2007 01:52 AM ET
For over a month now, people in Basrah have been circulating rumors about a “strange,” bear-like deadly creature that attacks people at night with its strong claws. Locals in rural areas around Basrah claim it has killed three people and injured six others, and that it usually pounces on its victims as they are sleeping outdoors during hot summer nights, when electric power outages are common. Farmers at Garmat Ali, Abu Skheer, Jisr and Shikhatta were so alarmed, they assigned guarding duties at night to prevent its attacks, the Nahrain website and Radio Sawa reported last week.

Eventually, several animals were caught or killed – up to 28, locals claimed – and cell phone videos of them were published on Iraqi websites and forums. The dead creatures look like honey badgers, compact but vicious omnivores that typically consume insects and small animals. Honey badgers are more prevalent in Iran--their presence in Iraq dwindled after the destruction of the salt marsh habitat in the south.

Residents of Garmat Ali, north west of Basrah, hanged one of the killed badgers on the Garma bridge that connects the southern city to the main Baghdad-Basrah highway, according to Mudhar Nazar, a resident interviewed by the pan-Arab Al-Hayat daily. “It looks like a dog, but its head looks like that of a bear,” said Nazar. “It has short hands and 15-cm-long claws, long hair, a penis like a man’s, and it only moves around at night.”

The animal is known locally as the Garta or ‘the muncher,’ and mothers in Basrah used to tell scary stories about the Garta to their children so they would not wander out alone at night. Old families in Basrah believe the animal brings bad luck because it is mostly found in cemeteries at night. The unusual phenomenon, however, is their sudden appearance in large numbers near the city and their increasingly aggressive behavior.

The rumors led people to indulge in conspiracy theories, speculating that U.S. or British forces have dropped large numbers of this animal, or its “eggs,” around Basrah in order to spread chaos and instability, while others say the animal crossed over from neighboring Iran through the marshes.

The mysterious origin of the badgers has become the talk of the town and outlandish stories have proliferated in Basrah as a result, local Slogger sources say. People are now sharing stories about British troops unleashing stray dogs – which locals have described as German Shepherds, known in Iraq as “police dogs.” British troops often release military dogs, used to detect explosives, on the streets when they become too old to perform their duties, said Abbas Kadhim, an Iraqi policeman in Basrah, according to Al-Hayat.

In the orchards of Abu Al-Khasib (20 km south east of Basrah), locals are talking about huge 6-metre-long snakes in water creeks, with one fisherman even claiming a seal (sea lion) fell into his nets. Fisherman in Faw, near the Persian (Arabian) Gulf, also claimed to have caught two dolphins in the Shatt Al-Arab waterway.

Authorities in Basrah have not commented on the rumors, but Dr. Mishtaq Abdul Mahdi, director of the Basrah Veterinary Hospital, dismissed them as nonsense and revealed that the honey badger is actually an indigenous animal that has been present in the marshes of southern Iraq and rural areas around Basrah for decades, in an interview with WNA News.

Dr. Abdul Mahdi said the hospital has so far received three of the badgers killed by farmers in Garmat Ali, Shikhatta and Abu Sikheer.




Slogger reader Eike Wulfmeyer, of the University of Cologne, sends the following helpful information:

These are not hog badgers but honey badgers (Mellivora capensis, known as "ratel" in southern Africa). Fierce critters for their size; lions usually avoid them because they're not worth the effort. They might attack humans if - for example if food is scarce due to adverse weather conditions (what's the summer like this year down in Basrah?), they'll enter settled areas and feed on livestock which naturally brings them into conflict with local residents.

They have two habits that make them particularly scary: First, as they favor honey over other food, their skin is thick and loose to ward off bee stings. So if you try to catch it, it can "turn around" in its own skin and bite you. Second, if cornered, it will try to go for the scrotum; it can't jump very high and consequently they go for the most vulnerable accessible area.

In short, this is a no-nonsense predator.

The Latest
Maliki Tells Brown Security Forces Ready to Take Over
07/05/2007 6:40 PM ET
Iraq Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki
Ali al-Saadi/AFP/Getty
Iraq Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki

Iraqi security forces should take over from the British in Basra within three months, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told new British PM Gordon Brown in a phone conversation on Thursday.

"Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki confirmed the intention of Iraq's forces to assume the security file of Basra within three months," according to a statement from Maliki's office.

The Prime Minister's public expression of confidence in the capacity for Iraqi forces to ensure security in the oil-rich southern city comes on the heels of news earlier this week that the city's security committee, which directs the Iraqi military and police in the province, had been disbanded after being accused of cooperating with some Shi'ite militias and other armed groups.

Thursday's statement said Maliki expressed hope to Brown that British forces would only play a supporting role after three months, but did not elaborate.

Iraq security forces have regained command from the British in three of four southern provinces, with only Basra remaining.

The change of leadership in Britain has led to widespread speculation that the incoming prime minister might accelerate British troop withdrawals in an attempt to repair public confidence in the Labour party, which took a deep hit in popularity because of distaste for Blair's Iraq policy.

Brown suggested sweeping revisions to Constitutional powers earlier this week, including surrendering to Parliament the executive's right to declare war, but has yet to specify any plans for accelerated troop withdrawal.

With Maliki insisting Iraqi forces are ready to assume control of Basra, Brown's hopes for a politically tidy end to the messy Iraq chapter may become easier.

Baghdad Journal
Imams Issue Rulings Because of Contaminated RIver Water
07/05/2007 10:41 AM ET
The river Tigris running through Baghdad
Chris Hondros/Getty
The river Tigris running through Baghdad

BAGHDAD, 5 July 2007 (IRIN) - Fishing in the River Tigris is under threat after Imams , Shia as well as Sunni, issued fatwas banning fishing in the river.

The fatwas were issued after government officials from the Ministry of the Environment said at end of May that the Tigris was contaminated and not fit either for drinking or personal use. As a result, hundreds of fishermen are desperate as fishing in the river is their only source of income.

“For years we have been fishing for carp, using the money to feed our families, but now we are banned from fishing because the government has said the water is polluted, and militants are targeting anyone who tries to break the law,” said Abu Khalid, 49, a fisherman in Baghdad.

“People don’t buy our fish any more. They have been frightened off by the latest information about water contamination, but we are desperate to try and find a way to support our families,” Khalid added.

Assassinations

Many fishermen have been killed by militants while trying to fish in the river, according to the local police.

In Adhamyia District, one of the main places for fishing, policeman Col Ayad Jamil said many bodies had been found in the past two months on the riverbank. They had been killed while trying to fish. Some bodies were found inside boats with fishing gear.

“We ask fishermen to be careful because they are putting their lives at risk. We can’t protect each person who tries to fish, but we condemn the assassinations which we have discovered were being carried out by militants after fatwas issued by their religious leaders,” Jamil said.

Fatwas
Some Islamic religious leaders have issued fatwas since the end of May.

“We decided to issue a fatwa after insisted on fishing and drinking the unsafe water,” Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad Aydan, a Sunni religious leader who issued one of the fatwas, said. “We know many people depend on fish in the river to survive but we are just preventing them from getting sick and dying from infections and other diseases.”
Survey

According to a Ministry of Environment survey of the river, various pollutants and bacteria were found in samples taken.

“So many bodies have been dumped in the river in recent months. Rubbish and industrial waste are being dumped there and dozens of pipes are discharging sewage into it,” said Duraid Abdul-Sattar, one of the biologists responsible for the Ministry of Environment’s survey. “It is completely unsafe, undrinkable and even the fish may have been affected.”

A physician in a local hospital said they had reported some cases of poisoning, especially among children, after they had drunk river water or eaten carp.
PETROL POLITICS
Maliki Energy Adviser Says Oil Law Reflects Decentralization of Post-Saddam Era
By BEN LANDO 07/04/2007 09:10 AM ET
Basra, IRAQ: A general view shows an oil refinery in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, 03 July 2007.
Essam al-Sudani/AFP/Getty
Basra, IRAQ: A general view shows an oil refinery in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, 03 July 2007.

ISTANBUL, Turkey (UPI)--Critics of Iraq's draft oil law claim it either cedes too much to regional control or creates too strong a central government. Neither is necessarily wrong, depending on each side's definition of the constitution and their respective beliefs in how best to optimize the third largest oil reserves in the world.

But a longtime Iraqi oil technocrat and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's top energy adviser says opponents of any stripe should know the law must reflect not what Iraq was, but what it is now.

"This is a new era in Iraq," said Thamir Ghadhban, a former oil minister. "There have been changes and now Iraq is a federal state with sharing of powers between the federal government and the people and therefore we have to have legislation to set things right."

Iraq as a whole, and the lucrative oil sector specifically, was governed in a top-down structure by Saddam Hussein, from the center that he controlled and in a nationalized system he directed.

"Iraq is no more a centralized government. Everybody has to know that," Ghadhban told United Press International last week in Istanbul, on the sidelines of Cambridge Energy Research Associates' "East Meets West: New Frontiers of Energy Security" conference.

Iraq's oil law hung in the conference as a major undertone: Demand for oil is increasing while prices hover in the high $60 per barrel range. International oil companies -- which control less than 22 percent of the world's reserves -- as well as state-owned firms await the law that will set the rules for governance of, and foreign access to, 115 billion barrels of proven reserves.

"Iraq is the least explored country among the big oil producers," Ghadhban said, "and has probable oil reserves of 214 billion barrels."

Iraq only produced about 2 million barrels per day in 2006, down from 2.6 before the 2003 invasion; it remains besieged in a war zone and by the lingering effects of Saddam Hussein's mismanagement of the oil sector and U.N. sanctions that hamstrung its development.

The vast reserves could push production far beyond what is pumping now. To do that, investment is needed to maximize the current infrastructure and bring more reserves to production.

Various entities within Iraq differ on how that should be done, whether the vague constitution retains all or most of the oil for the federal policy or should be in the hands of the regions and governorates.

"I was a member of the constitutional committee in the national assembly which prepared the constitution and I know there are conflicting interests within the country," Ghadhban said, adding the goal of both the constitution and the oil law is to preserve Iraq as an entire country with a federal government system, while sharing the power with the regions and governorates.

He recommends the constitution be amended to clarify a key article dealing with oil that uses terms not recognized by the oil sector and isn't specific enough with regards to the federal government's role.

The Kurdistan Regional Government wants to move forward on developing its semi-autonomous, relatively violence-free and oil rich area in the north. (Kurdistan is currently the only official region.) The Kurds, as well as a minority of Shiites, are pushing for more control over oil to be distributed to the regions and oil-producing governorates. They've already signed five deals with small, foreign oil companies -- raising ire in Baghdad for moving forward unilaterally. Ashti Hawrami, the KRG's natural resources minister, told UPI they'll wait, for now, until a federal oil law is passed to continue development.

Sunnis, a minority population controlling very little oil reserves, fear a weak central government. Most Shiites, the majority in Iraq, also want strong Baghdad control.

Hawrami and Ghadhban have led their respective sides in negotiations over the law since last summer. Prior to that Ghadhban, along with two other Iraqi oil experts -- Tariq Shafiq, now based in Amman and London, and Farouk Al-Kasim, working in Norway -- spent three months crafting the law. The two have since come out against the law, for changes made that have decentralized control and strategy-making by the federal government.

"What my two colleagues said, it is correct, and I told them from the very beginning, that this draft that was prepared by the three of us and ... that this draft will be subject to serious negotiations," Ghadhban said, "and I expect that there will be changes.

"I believe that we managed to make the structure of the powers of the various entities in such a way they share power but the final say rests with the federal government," Ghadhban said of the current draft of the oil law. It allows regional/governorate involvement in setting oil policy, though no final decision-making authority.

And most important, he said, the federal government will control oil revenues, the actual selling of oil, the pipeline infrastructure and will approve all contracts with oil companies.

The security situation in Iraq is also major factor moving forward, every minute of every day for its citizens as well as for the oil sector. Dangerous conditions on the ground could limit investment and increase the costs of deals with oil companies.

In Baghdad, where sectarian violence is the worst, parliamentarians are set to wrangle with the oil law once it is approved by negotiators and the council of ministers. Ghadhban said that could happen within two months. Hawrami said movement could be days away. Neither would give guarantees of a timeline. Earlier Wednesday media reports surfaced that a deal was reached, though Hawrami denies it and sources couldn't confirm it.

When the law moves to parliament -- "the most powerful entity in Iraq," Ghadhban said -- each political party and, in turn, each religious and sectarian interest, as well as the more secular members, will further shape it.
The Latest
KRG Minister Rejects Maliki Statement That Bill Finalized, Ready for Parliament
07/03/2007 12:35 PM ET
WASHINGTON, July 3 (UPI) -- The top Kurdish energy official says no deal has been reached on an Iraq oil law, despite news reports the Parliament is to take up the bill.

"We are not aware of anything being passed by the Cabinet," said Kurdistan Regional Government Natural Resources Minister Ashti Hawrami, speaking to United Press International via mobile phone.

Numerous media have reported Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his top adviser, Ali al-Dabbagh, said the oil law governing the world's third largest oil reserves would be sent to Parliament as early as Wednesday.

The Kurdistan Regional Government and the federal government in Baghdad have been negotiating the law since last summer. At issue is whether which oil fields the federal and regional governments control, as well as the distribution of oil revenue.

A draft of the law approved by negotiators and the council of ministers in February and finalized in March, "is the only approved text," said Hawrami, the KRG's lead negotiator.

"Even the text of the March draft is not complete," he said. A revenue sharing law was approved and sent to the council of ministers earlier this month, though there may still be some complaints from Sunni politicians. It must still be passed on to Parliament.

Hawrami said the issue of oil control still looms large, though progress is being made. After the draft law was approved earlier this month, the Iraq Oil Ministry unveiled four annexes -- a list of which oil fields would be under the federal government control, via the Iraq National Oil Co, and which would be under regional control (Kurdistan is the only official region currently).

"We've not been consulted about anything being agreed upon apart from March," he said.

Reports of progress and disputes over the law have been convoluted in the past. The Kurds, a strong player in the oil talks, would need to agree on a deal to move forward. What is not known is the fate of other crucial sticking points, including the new roles of INOC and the Ministry of Oil, concerns over the oil law's language and extent of transparency, as well as revenue sharing and the annexes.

Ben Lando is UPI's Energy correspondent

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