Sunday, September 21, 2008

Iraq's chief export: Delusions

The Iraqi tag sale never ends. In today's New York Times, Erica Goode and Riyadh Mohammed offer "Promoting a Vison of Tourist Bliss in Baghdad's Dusty Rubble" about the chair of the country's Board of Tourism, Humoud Yakobi, who plans to use the isle of Jazirat A'aras (conviently located in proximity to the Green Zone, which also puts it in walking distance from various drive-bys and bombings) into a one-stop resort with "hotels, restaurants and shopping malls" -- in fact, "'a six-star hotel,' spas, a yacht club, an amusement park, a shopping center and luxury villa". Readers of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism will no doubt flash on other areas where the US brought 'democracy' -- slums alongside vast wealth, shopping malls built ontop of torture chambers. And Yakobi just needs some (gullible) investors willing to help him stake his claim.

Hopefully tongue-in-cheek, Goode and Mohammed observe, "Some might argue that Mr. Yakobi's vision is premature, if not absurd." Yakobi insists that tourism continues in Iraq! Look at the religious pilgrims! As reports repeatedly demonstrate the pilgrims do a long march by foot throughout Iraq. Not exactly the "six-star" crowd. While, no doubt, some wealthy foreigners come into Iraq to make the pilgrimage even now, there numbers are most likely small and it's the continued daily violence -- not the lack of a "six-star" hotel -- that's made that the case. The reporters tell you that Yakobi is jazzed over a November conference (in Baghdad) that will "promote the island . . . and other projects. Those include a hotel expected to open soon in the ancient city of Babylon in Babel Province, where cholera cases have recently been reported." Well talk about a fun get-away! On the issue of the November conference (in Baghdad) it needs to be noted that conferences in Baghdad don't always come off. In fact, another Baghdad conference planned for October was cancelled just this month. From the September 12th "Iraq snapshot:"

Starting with Iraqi oil. Edward S. Herman (ZNet) noted at the start of this month, "On the oil front, in late June the newspapers featured the announcement of the Iraqi oil minister Mohamad Sharastani that contracts had been drawn up between the Maliki government and five major Western oil companies to develop some of the largest fields in Iraq. No competitive bidding was allowed and the terms announced were very poor by existing international contract standards. The contracts were written with the help of 'a group of U.S. advisers led by a small State Department team.' This was all in conformity with the Declaration of Principles of November 26, 2007, whereby the 'sovereign country' of Iraq would use 'especially American investments' in its attempt to recover from the effects of the American aggression." Thursday Andrew E. Kramer and Campbell Robertson (New York Times) reported on a Tuesday press conference, held by Hussain al-Shahristani (Iraq's Minister of Oil) at OPEC's meet-up, where it was announced that the contracts with western corporations (including Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP) were being cancelled which the coporations "confirmed on Wednesday." Ernesto London (Washington Post) reports on the cancellations today and notes that the companies "are expected to submit bids in coming weeks for deals" and explains it was not just public outrage that killed the contracts, "The oil companies were not surprised by the Iraqi decision, given the political sensitivities raised by the issue, according to an executive at one of the five companies. Speaking on the condition that he not be identified further, the executive said the deals had become less attractive because Iraqi officials had shortened the proposed length of the contracts from two years to one in response to criticism." The cancelled contracts aren't the only bad news for those hoping to play Let's Steal Iraqi Oil! Not all that long ago, with much happy gasbagging in the press, Iraq announced Iraq's Energy Expo and Conference to be held October 17th through 19th. Ben Lando (UPI) reports that, woops, no one bothered to think about construction -- the convention center's not done yet -- so the Expo's dates have been moved to December 3rd through 5th. The puppet government can't get it together to hold provincial elections and they can't even pull off a conference they got a ton of positive press for when they announced it. And Andy Rowell (Oil Change International) offers, "Oh it's so good to be back. After a 35 year absence Shell has become the first western oil company to land a major deal with the government in Baghdad since the invasion of the country five years ago. They will be smiling in the Hague and London. Shell has been awarded a $4bn contract in the south of the country to supply gas for Iraqi domestic use but also for export. Shell's project is intended to make use of the gas flared off by the oil industry in the south of Iraq. In that region alone, an estimated 700m cubic feet of gas is burned off every day -- enough to meet the demand for power generation in the entire country."

Since the convention center's not completed (hence the cancellation of the Expo), one wonders where Yakobi plans to hold his conference? Or maybe he's assuming, drive-bys, kidnappings, bombings, cholera, lack of potable water, electricity shortage, et al won't result in too large of a crowd?

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