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Daily Column
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"

Oil
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."

Iran
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.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at dwsmithemail@yahoo.com


Daily Column
Shahrastani Faces an Uncertain Fate, Dozens of Iraqis Killed in Kirkuk
By AMER MOHSEN 06/30/2009 5:11 PM ET
Az-Zaman
Az-Zaman
Note from the author: After two and a half years of reporting on the Iraqi and Arab media for the readers of Iraq Slogger, this experience has come to a close. It has been an honor and a pleasure, and I hope that my daily column has been of help to our faithful readers. I also hope that, one day not too far, good news will finally start emanating from Iraq, this fascinating country that has been tormented beyond belief. Please stay in touch: amer@berkeley.edu

Iraqi papers are out today due to the national holiday announced for the occasion of US withdrawal from Iraqi cities and urban centers. However, the day that Maliki described as “a great victory,” calling for Iraqis “to be joyous” and celebrate, has been marred by dozens of victims who fell in a massive explosion in Kirkuk.

Al-Jazeera reports that at least 32 Iraqis were killed in the northern city when a car exploded in a busy market. According to the local correspondent of the news channel, the incident took place in a mixed area containing both Kurds and Arabs, and that the number of casualties is likely to rise as the search for victims continues.

Also on the day of US withdrawal, al-Jazeera reports that four US soldiers were killed in Baghdad in clashes. But the US Army has refused – so far – to reveal the circumstances of their death, contenting to state that an investigation into the incident is ongoing.

Another important piece of news pertains to the auction of Iraqi oil fields that began today in Baghdad, live on national television. Arab and international media agencies are reporting very bad news for the Oil Minister Husain al-Shahrastani: the auction was a failure.

According to early reports, the first day of the event (which will continue through tomorrow) did not witness the amount of interest and competition that was expected of the energy giants that attended and bid on several Iraqi oil and gas fields.

Only the Rumaila oil field in the south (the largest on offer) was successfully contracted to British Petroleum, which acceded to the government offer of $2 per barrel produced (above a minimum limit and over 20 years.) Some of the other fields did not receive any offers; and as for the rest, companies were unwilling to match the prices set by the government. In fact, the only bids that were made in some cases exceeded the price limit by several folds – companies cited security threats among others as factors that significantly raise the commercial risk of investing in Iraqi oil.

This uncertain beginning for the first round of oil contracts will put al-Shahrastani in a real bind. The Oil Minister – whose person is already opposed by powerful political forces – has been accused of mismanaging Iraq’s oil wealth and of failing to raise the levels of production. Al-Shahrastani used to point to the upcoming round as the cornerstone of his plan to expand output and investment. Critics will now point out that the Minister’s decision to refrain from offering smaller service contracts (that could have significantly improved the performance of existing fields) in favor of packaged, long-term, contracts was not a wise one. Comparisons will no doubt be made between the fate of Iraq’s largest oil fields – which still remain untapped – and the smaller oil fields of Kurdistan (such as Taq Taq and Tawqe) that have already begun production (through foreign contracts that were fiercely opposed by the Minister. )

In other news, pan-Arab al-Sharq al-Awsat published a report on the pro-US Sahwa militias, who stand to lose the most from the US withdrawal from Iraqi cities. As US patrols stop roaming Iraqi streets, Sahwa leaders exclaim: “we could pay a heavy price.” The Sunni militias find themselves now in direct contact with their nemesis, al-Qa'ida, which has vowed to wage an unrelenting war against these “collaborators.” Sahwa members told the paper that they felt confident near US units, knowing that al-Qa'ida would not dare wage attacks against them, “they knew who was the strongest,” an assurance that is now largely gone with the US Army concentrating its forces in five bases outside the major cities.

Other Sahwa fighters expressed fears that Shi'a militias will also “return” to target them. Worse yet, the Sunni militias face an uncertain fate with the Iraqi government that is now responsible for their equipment and salaries, and which views them with extreme suspicion. A Sahwa fighter standing at a checkpoint gazed at his antique machine gun and exclaimed: “if the terrorists return, they will surely kill us, how do you expect us to defend ourselves with this?”

The Latest
Doctor in Anbar Province Was Married to Provincial Council Member
06/29/2009 9:39 PM ET
A “sticky bomb” in Anbar Province has killed a doctor and prominent local leader in the Iraqi Islamic Party in the province, according to a report in Arabic on an Iraqi news website.

INA news writes that the device killed Dr. Khamis Matar al-Dulaimi outside his house, citing its local sources.

INA adds that the victim was a surgeon in Ramadi General Hospital, and leader in the Anbar Province branch of the Iraqi Islamic Party was killed in an explosion of an adhesive device that had been attached to his vehicle as he left his house in the city center headed for work at the hospital. Dulaimi was married to a member of the Anbar Provincial Council, Dr. Fatima al-Rawi, INA adds.

The blast also reportedly injured one of the doctor’s family members who transferred to the hospital for treatment.

Daily Column
New Kurdistan Constitution "A Bomb"!
By AMER MOHSEN 06/28/2009 5:40 PM ET
al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda
al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda
According to al-'Arabiya, a freak sandstorm that has enveloped Baghdad has apparently postponed the controversial tendering process for Iraqi oil and gas fields, which was supposed to be launched over two days, starting today, by the Iraqi Oil Ministry.

In the “first round” of contracts, whose launch is now postponed till tomorrow, several giant oil fields containing over 40 billion barrels of proved reserves will be given up for development by foreign companies. For the sake of comparison, that amount represents more than double the entire proved reserves of the US. And in an age where control over oil deposits is shifting away from private companies to sovereign states, the Iraq oil bounty has attracted most of the big names in the international energy industry.

The granting of these contracts is supposed to occur through a complex process – on live TV. The Oil Ministry is to open the envelopes containing the bids of the energy companies, announce a winner for a specific project, then allow the contenders to adjust their offers for the rest of the oil fields, including the possibility of making joint proposals, all within a span of 48 hours.

We have previously reported on the protests to Shahrastani’s plan, which are emanating from the Kurdistan Regional Government (which is opposing the tendering of oil fields situated in “contested territories”,) the Parliament and the Iraqi national oil companies. While multinational firms are salivating over the Iraqi contracts, these political questions, in addition to the well-known security risks, could endanger the contracts or transform them into a protracted legal battle. Unlike countries such as Lybia, Saudi Arabia or Saddam’s Iraq, where a contract granted by the supreme authority is sure to be enforced, political power in Iraq is currently fractionalized into several bodies, each of which are claiming authority over the national oil wealth. In addition to the Kurdish leaders, members of Parliament are already saying that the oil contracts may not be considered legal if they were not approved first by the legislature, which already casts doubts over the Oil Ministry’s tenders.

In other news, and two days prior to the date of US withdrawal from urban centers, Az-Zaman reports on a new deadly explosion that targeted a motorcycle market in Baghdad, killing 20 Iraqis and injuring 46.

The proliferation of these attacks has prompted the Iraqi Premier, Nuri al-Maliki, to renew his attacks against unnamed “Arab governments,” this time accusing neighboring states of “remaining silent” in the face of “excommunication fatwas” that he considered responsible for the attacks and suicide bombings targeting Iraqi civilians.

An interesting trend has been Maliki’s departure from accusing Syria and Iran of facilitating attacks (these two governments were the main target of Iraqi government criticisms, especially during the days of their intense feuds with the Bush administration) and his directing – thinly veiled – accusations at Saudi Arabia, which is the main exporter of extremist Wahhabi ideas and which hosts many of the extremist Sheikhs who openly advocate against shi'as as “infidels.”

In parallel, al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda (a Shi'a – openly – sectarian paper that specializes in attacking Saudi Arabia and Sunni Gulf states) devoted its front page to the latest conspiracy theory: allegedly, a “sectarian meeting” took place in Dubai, joining 'Izzat al-Duri (the highest ranking Ba'thi still at large) and Yunis al-Ahmad (the leader of a competing Ba'thi wing) and the anti-American cleric Harith al-Dhari. In this alleged meeting of personalities with radically different ideological convictions, an agreement was struck against the Shi'a! The conferees wrote a “secret” statement (that the paper published) calling for the “extermination” of the Shi'a in Iraq. To complete the circle, the paper alleged that personalities participating in the meeting were each handed two million dollars provided by the Saudis.

Lastly, Iraqi papers report that the new constitution of Kurdistan (which was approved last Wednesday) is causing broad protests among Iraqi Arabs. Az-Zaman and al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda quoted Iraqi politicians who described the new constitution as “unconstitutional,” “illegal” and “a bomb that will undermine the process of building the new Iraq.”

The most controversial parts of the constitution consist in announcing oil-rich Kirkuk, in addition to parts of the Nineveh and Diyala provinces, as inseparable parts of Kurdistan, an escalation that will take the conflict over “disputed territories” into a new dimension. In a first response, Az-Zaman reports that Iraqi MPs representing Mosul (the Nineveh province) published a strongly-worded statement rejecting any “encroachments” against their province’s territories, referring to Kurdish “expansionism” and “territorial ambitions” (an Arabic term usually employed in conflicts between states) and claiming that these constitutional articles represent a “provocation to the feelings of the province’s masses, and the entire people of Iraq.”

Daily Column
Stoking Fears, Baghdad Bombs Kill About a Dozen
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/27/2009 02:00 AM ET
The themes of the week keep developing – continued violence and trying to ascertain the exact nature of American military involvement in Iraq after June 30, now just three days away.

From Iraq
The Christian Science Monitor’s Jane Arraf files from Mosul, where she speaks to Maj, Gen. Robert Caslen, commander of US forces in the north of Iraq, about plans for the still very violent city. In past months, there has been a kind of back-and-forth from US officials on whether and how many US forces will remain in Mosul, while Iraqi officials have (publicly, at least) been clearly saying that none would remain.

"The strategic question is whether right now the Iraqi security forces have the capacity and capability to maintain the pressure on the insurgency," says Caslen. ..."There is going to be a period of testing – it is going to be one of those 'two steps forward, one step back.' ... "I would be concerned if there was a portion of a village, a town, or a portion of a city where the Iraqi security forces felt uncomfortable to even address – physically go in there – and as a result it became a safe haven for Al Qaeda," he says. Arraf writes that US “advisers” are to be kept in cities, and battalions that had been inside Mosul in particular will be redeployed to surrounding areas.
The counterinsurgency strategy credited with helping to dramatically reduce violence over the past year included a surge of forces around Baghdad, which disrupted the network of fighters and weapons flowing into the capital. With the pullout of combat troops outside of Mosul and Baquba, essentially the same strategy will be put in place in the belts around those cities and in areas that are potential flashpoints of Kurdish-Arab tension.

"In the event that Iraqi security forces can maintain security at the level it is right now inside Mosul, coalition forces start working more effectively in the belts, and you now have the opportunity to increase the security overall in the entire province," says Caslen.
Sam Dagher and Alissa J. Rubin of the New York Times report on the third straight day of violence in Baghdad. Among the attacks were two more bombs placed in motorbikes. In response, all motorbikes have been ordered off the streets. They write, of one of the scenes...
Iraqi Army officers at the scene said, killing 10 and wounding 12. The officers spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were prohibited from speaking to reporters. Later in the day, an official at the Interior Ministry said at least 13 had been killed and 45 were wounded. “Their bodies were torn up to pieces, even their next of kin could not identify them,” an enraged Iraqi soldier said. “It is Iraqi blood, but it is cheap,” he added, pointing to a pool of blood.
Dagher and Rubin cover some of the angry response to the attacks, which have occurred mostly in Shi’a-majority areas – focusing on followers of Muqtada al-Sadr, who have staged demonstrations. The general mood of one in Baghdad was described as, “albeit tense, was less inflamed than it had been at times. Mr. Sadr’s statement counseled his followers to be patient, to pursue ‘peaceful resistance’ and to not give “others the excuse to attack you.” Still, some sectarian concerns are present.
...Sheik Hamid al-Mualla, a Shiite cleric and member of Parliament, said there were Sunni extremists backed by forces within some neighboring Arab gulf states like Saudi Arabia who were doing their utmost to rekindle Iraq’s sectarian violence. “I criticize the Arab silence toward the massacres that are happening in our country,” he said in a sermon at Buratha Mosque in Baghdad.

In a statement on Thursday, the prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, said Arab states had to take a “clear and definitive stance toward these horrific crimes, because silence is no longer acceptable.”
Film
In the Christian Science Monitor, Peter Rainer |reviews “The Hurt Locker”, a new film about Army bomb-squad technicians in Baghdad, which he says “is the only one that conveys with the utmost vividness a documentarylike immediacy,” and “almost never lapses into Hollywoodese”. It is directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal.

Boal, whose journalism was the basis for the story behind Paul Haggis's "In the Valley of Elah," about a father trying to discover how his soldier son died after returning from Iraq. Boal was embedded in Iraq with an explosive ordnance disposal squad, and this helps give "The Hurt Locker," set in presurge 2004, its core of verity. The drills, the vernacular, the missions all seem freshly observed. Bigelow's gift for orchestrating violence works especially well in this context because so much of the violence in the movie erupts with such stunning irregularity. She keeps us on edge throughout.
Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, no original Iraq coverage.
USA Today, no Saturday Edition.


Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com


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