Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Iraq, ExxonMobil and the US government

ExxonMobil signed a deal with the Kurdish Regional Government this month which has ticked off the central government out of Baghdad. Not enough to make them actually do something, you understand. It's been weeks and still it's threats of this and whines of that. Dar Addustour notes the Deputy Prime Minister for Energy, Hussein al-Shahristani, declared yesterday that the government is contemplating sanctions. Simon Falush and Carolyn Cohn (Reuters) quote al-Shahristanti stating, "The Iraqi government is considering sanctions, and will inform the company before they make a public announcement. The position of the U.S. government has been that they were unaware of it and if they had been asked, they would have obliged (Exxon) to get approval of the Iraqi government." Really?

They would have 'obliged' ExxonMobil? What country does al-Shahristanti think he was dealing with?

Here's the official US government position as outlined by Victoria Nuland at the State Dept yesterday:

QUESTION: Couple of things. One, just a quick question on Exxon’s agreement with the Kurdish regions of Iraq. What does the U.S. Government – well, a couple things. One, what does the U.S. Government think about the fact that Exxon went ahead and cut this deal?

MS. NULAND: Well, first to say that the United States has advised all of our companies, including ExxonMobil, that want to invest in the Iraqi security sector that they run significant political and legal risks if they sign contracts with any parties in Iraq before there has been a national agreement to work out the complex issues having to do with oil revenue distribution within Iraq. That said, you know that for many years, in fact, the United States has been urging all parties in Iraq to enact the necessary national laws that can govern the oil and gas sector because the sooner they do that, the sooner companies can invest in a legally viable way.

QUESTION: You said the Iraq security sector. Did you mean the Iraqi energy sector?

MS. NULAND: I meant the Iraqi energy sector. I apologize.

QUESTION: So you told them for ages that they should not – that they run significant risks if they go ahead and do this, absent the revenue sharing agreement, which has not been there despite the fact that they’ve been trying to work this out for seven or eight years, right? So did you specifically advise Exxon against this specific deal? Did they come to you and say, hey, we plan to do this? And did you say, hey, not such a good idea?

MS. NULAND: I can’t speak to whether anybody at Exxon spoke to anybody in USG about its intention to go ahead and sign this, but we have had conversations with Exxon for some time, as we have with all of our firms, advising them to wait for national legislation.

QUESTION: The Iraqi Government is saying that they may sanction Exxon. Normally, it’s the U.S. Government that is slapping sanctions on other people. Is this – in this instance, does it strike you as warranted on the part of the Iraqi Government to consider sanctioning Exxon for doing something that you yourselves have advised them and others was not a good idea?

MS. NULAND: Well, I’m not going to get into the business of advising the Iraqi Government one way or the other how to respond to this – simply to say that our message to Iraq and to all the parties involved in the crafting of national legislation is that this is overdue, that it is in Iraq’s interest to get this done so that companies like Exxon can invest in a way that is legally viable and sustainable. That said, when Exxon has sought our advice about this, we asked them to wait them to wait for national legislation. We told them we thought that was the best course of action.

QUESTION: And just so I’m clear, when you say when Exxon has asked us about this, did that include this particular transaction, or you just mean as a general principle with regard to Iraq?

MS. NULAND: Well, certainly as a general principle. I can’t speak to whether there was an exchange with regard to this specific signing.

QUESTION: Could you take that one? And I realize I’m asking that on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, but we still have maybe 24 hours where people will be working, so if you could check whether there was a specific contact with Exxon about this specific deal, that would be, I think, interesting and helpful. Are you willing to take that?

MS. NULAND: Well, let’s – let me take it in the following manner. I will check whether Embassy Baghdad had contact with Exxon about this particular signing.

QUESTION: And the second part of this would be: Has the U.S. Government had contacts subsequent to this signing with either Exxon or with Iraq? I mean, Exxon is one of the largest capitalization companies in the world. It’s a major American corporation. It would not surprise me if the U.S. Government might not have reached out to them after this deal or reached out to the Iraqi Government about this to see what might be done to resolve the situation. Have you done so?

MS. NULAND: Well, again, let me take it in terms of whether either Embassy Baghdad or our new energy bureau here have had contact either with the Iraqis or with Exxon since this incident began.

First thing on the above, the US government owns no interest in ExxonMobil and Nuland needs to grasp she speaks as an employee of the federal government. In other words, when Barack has freaked out so many business owners, Nuland needs to be a little more careful with her words so that she's not implying possession via pronoun choice.

Second, there's no would-have-obliged. Hussain al-Shahristanti might need to brush up on US laws if he's going to broadcast what he thinks is possible in the US. The federal government can answer questions re: Iraq. That's where their role starts and ends with regards to businesses.

The official position of the US government is that the Iraq War is over (it's not), the official position of the US Commerce Dept is that businesses need to invest in Iraq and the sanctions set in place in the 90s are gone. What ExxonMobil does or does not do in their legal business dealings matters to the US government only in terms of taxes (as Anne Bancroft, playing a con woman posing as an IRS agent, says in Heartbreakers, "We just want our cut.") The government (US) could have shown up and expressed their desires on the matter to ExxonMobil and ExxonMobil could have told them to go f**k themselves.

Al Sabaah reports there was a jobs fair in Baghdad and over 100,000 unemployed turned out seeking jobs -- more than three times the number of jobs available at the fair.

David Brunnstrom (Reuters) notes that as the central government out of Baghdad insists it will be removing people from Camp Ashraf, the European Union is calling for any plans to be put on hold to allow time for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to complete interviews with the residents to allow the UN to make a determination regarding their status.

Camp Ashraf houses a group of Iranian dissidents (approximately 3,500 people). Iranian dissidents were welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp attacked twice. July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8th of this year Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out." Nouri al-Maliki is seen as close to the government in Tehran. They have made it clear that they want the dissidents out of Iraq and returned to Iran -- where they would face trial at best, torture most likely. Nouri has announced he will be closing Camp Ashraf at the end of this year. UK MP Brian Binley (Huffington Post) writes, "As things are evolving and if Maliki gets away with his plan to impose the deadline, just as the Christmas and New Year holidays are in full swing, the prospect is that the world will sit and watch while men and women are killed in cold blood or mutilated, crushed by US-supplied armoured personal carriers."

At one point, Nouri and his flunkies were floating that the residents might remain in Iraq but dispersed to other areas within the country. That was apparently empty talk in an attempt to distract. Aswat al-Iraq reports:

State of Law MP Ali al-Shalah said that there are moves to close anti-Iranian Ashraf Camp through the Iraqi foreign ministry, which is trying to find a haven for them in European countries.
Shalah told Aswat al-Iraq that his bloc "is trying to reach a peaceful and humanitarian solution to Ashraf Camp question", calling "western European countries to extend their assistance to finalize this question".

The following community sites -- plus Jane Fonda,, the Guardian and the ACLU -- updated last night and this morning.

Lastly Zed Books has a new slate of books and events. Click here for Zed on Facebook, here for Zed on Twitter and here for Zed on Blogspot.

The Delusions of Economics
The Misguided Certainties of a Hazardous Science
Gilbert Rist

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Economic Policy and Human Rights
Holding Governments to Account
Radhika Balakrishnan and Diane Elson

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Right-wing Politics in the New Latin America
Reaction and Revolt
Francisco Dominguez, Geraldine Lievesley and Steve Ludlam, eds.

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A Liberal Peace?
The Problems and Practices of Peacebuilding
Susanna Campbell, David Chandler and Meera Sabaratnam

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