Thursday, October 18, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, ExxonMobil brushes off Nouri, Nouri's son is in trouble, Falluja's victims remain ignored, Nouri spends more billions on weapons, and more.
So I'm at a daily paper visiting a friend who's an editor when a name reporter decides he's going to make small talk while the editor's on the phone and hijacks the computer to show me "something you won't believe. It's so sad." Wrongly, I assumed I was about to see the children of Falluja. Wrong. I saw a dog from Australia that people around the world are donating to because it lost its snout saving a child. And the dog's coming to -- or now in -- the United States with a friend and will have surgery at one of the UCLAs (Davis?) and, turns out, the dog's also got tumors and a sexually transmitted disease and -- On and on, it went. Now I love dogs. And if someone wants to send a terminal dog across the globe for reconstructive surgery of a snout, that's their decision. But I do think it's very sad that people want to pull up a picture of this dog and oh-and-ah over it and these same people will not even look at the children of Falluja.
Monday, we noted a new study by the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. The study documented the miscarriages and the birth defects and the huge increase in both. The linked study even has photos of the children. But that didn't become an internet sensation. What does that say about us that we can feel for an injured dog but ignore suffering children? If you're a citizen of the United States, especially what does that say about us? These birth defects are a result of weapons the US used.
A study published in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology focuses on an extraordinary epidemic of congenital birth defects in Iraqi cities over the past decade, particularly in Fallujah and in the southern city of Basra, assaulted by British troops in 2003.
This study has been released only one month before a broader survey is due to be released by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO report has looked at nine areas in Iraq and is also expected to show increases in birth defects.
As summarized in the British newspaper The Independent, the first study, entitled "Metal Contamination and the Epidemic of Congenital Birth Defects in Iraqi Cities" and published online on September 16, pinpoints statistics for Fallujah and Basra that add up to a public health crisis that is as serious as any other around the world.
More than 50 percent of all births surveyed in Fallujah were born with a birth defect between 2007 and 2010, the newspaper explains. In the 1990s, Falllujah had a birth defect rate of 2 percent. This rose to about 10 percent in the early years of the twenty-first century, and then exploded in the years following the siege of Fallujah in 2004.
The data on miscarriages was also significant. Before the 2004 attacks on Fallujah, both in April and in November-December of that year, about 10 percent of pregnancies ended in miscarriage. This rose to a rate of 45 percent in the two years after the bombings. It fell as the most drastic attacks subsided, but the rate still remained high, at one in six pregnancies.
If today's conversation had taken place anywhere but a newsroom and involved people other than journalists, I wouldn't be writing about it. But in the supposed information industry, not only did the reporter not know about the above, when I pulled up the study to show the photos, his response was "Eww, gross." No, not "gross," tragic. Those poor children who never hurt anyone and who suffer now because of an illegal war. I think, my opinion -- I could be wrong, I often am -- that we've soaked up enough entertainment, gossip and cute animals online. I think it's really past time we learned to actually care -- especially when the harmed are harmed because the actions of our government.
Early this morning, Laura Rozen (The Back Channel) reported, "Oil giant Exxon Mobil is expected to soon announce that it is pulling out of non-Kurdish Iraq, an energy expert source told Al-Monitor Wednesday on condition of anonymity. The decision would not apply to Exxon's contracts in Kurdish Iraq, which has been a source of on-going tension with Baghdad authorities for the company, the source said." Ahmed Rasheed and Patricky Markey (Reuters) state the corporation didn't inform "Iraq of its interest in quitting the country's West Qurna oilfield project" according to unnamed sources. Sometimes unnamed sources lie. This may be one of those times. This is very embarrassing for Nouri and his government and feigning surprise may be their effort to play it off. 'How could we have stopped it? We didn't even know it was coming!' That would explain why the 'big surprise' that isn't is being played like it is. Derek Brower (Petroleum Economist) has been covering this story for over 48 hours (including a source that stated ExxonMobil had informed the Iraqi government) and he notes that ExxonMobil will be focusing all their "efforts on upstream projects in Kurdistan instead." In addition to the claim in Rasheed and Markey's piece about Iraq having had no meeting on this, Brower notes that a meeting took place today at the Ministry of Oil. It would appear Nouri's spinning like crazy in an effort to save his faltering image. (Nouri can certainly spend billions -- as he proved last week on his mad shopping spree for weapons, he just doesn't seem able to maintain releations with those who help Iraq generate large revenues.)
This Reuters story notes that unnamed US officials stated Iraq was informed and it adds the Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister for Energy, Hussain al-Shahristani, "told Reuters in an e-mail that Baghdad was sticking to its line that all contract signed with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) without the approval of Baghdad were illegal." ExxonMobil has long had problems with their deal with Baghdad. In March, Emily Knapp (Wall St Cheat Sheet) explained, "Foreign oil companies involved in Iraq's oil expansion generally prefer to be compensated for capital expenditure and service fees in oil because cash payments are more complicated to arrange. Now the parties have reached an agreement in which they will be paid in crude. Exxon and Shell spent $910 million on West Qurna-1 last year, and were repaid $470 million in cash." Hassan Hafidh (Wall St. Journal) adds today, "Exxon's 2010 deal with the Iraqi central government to improve production in the West Qurna-1 field was never expected to be lucrative under the best circumstances, the person said. The government had agreed to pay Exxon Mobil and its partners $1.90 for each additional barrel of oil they pumped after refurbishing the already producing field. The fees would barely be enough to cover the companies' costs."
And there is the issue of the nature of the contracts. The KRG is offering production sharing ones while Baghdad sticks with the less return-friendly technical service contracts. Dropping back to the November 11, 2011 snapshot:
In Iraq, things are heating up over an oil deal. Hassan Hafidh and James Herron (Wall St. Journal) report, "ExxonMobil Corp. could lose its current contract to develop the West Qurna oil field in Iraq if it proceeds with an agreement to explore for oil in the Kurdistan region of the country, an Iraqi official said. The spat highlights the political challenges for foreign companies operating in Iraq" as Nouri's Baghdad-based 'national' government attempts to rewrite the oil law over the objection of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Tom Bergin and Ahmed Rasheed (Reuters) offer, "Exxon declined to comment, and experts speculated the move could indicate Baghdad and the Kurdish leaders are nearing agreement on new rules for oil companies seeking to tap into Iraq's vast oil reserves." UPI declares, "The breakaway move into Kurdistan, the first by any of the oil majors operating in Iraq under 20-year production contract signed in 2009, could cost Exxon Mobil its stake in the giant West Qurna Phase One mega-oil field in southern Iraq." Salam Faraj (AFP) speaks with Abdelmahdi al-Amidi (in Iraq's Ministry of Oil) declares that the Exxon contract means that Exxon would lose a contract it had previously signed with Baghdad for the West Qurna-1 field. Faraj sketches out the deal with the KRG beginning last month with Exxon being notified that they had "48 hours to make a decision on investing in an oil field in the region." Exxon was interested but sought an okay from the Baghdad government only to be denied.
November 11th, things heated up and they never cooled down. For months, Nouri's people sent angry letters to ExxonMobil. The multi-national corporation chose not to respond leaving Nouri looking like an angry, spurned lover. Or a stalker. Nouri's people continued to send those letters with no response. And we pointed out how ridiculous Nouri was looking and making Iraq look throughout that period. There were threats of lawsuits, there was barring ExxonMobil from auctions, it was ridiculous. First of all, it didn't build confidence among the international business sector that Iraq had its act together. Second of all, those remaining acutions? In the February 22nd snapshot we noted what was being offered by Baghdad in the March acution was "a dingo dog with fleas." Were we wrong? The auction was a bust. They had no takers. Instead of grasping that Nouri had created a serious image problem for Iraq, they decided they just needed to have the same auction all over again. So they scheduled it for two days at the end of May. From the May 31st snapshot:
Iraq's two day energy auction ended today. Yesterday brought one successful bid. W.G. Dunlop and Salam Faraj (AFP) explain, "Iraq on Thursday closed a landmark auction of energy exploration blocks with just three contracts awarded out of a potential 12, dampening hopes the sale would cement its role as a key global supplier." The offerings weren't seen as desirable and the deals offered even less so. But big business began sending signals this auction would not go well over two months ago. (And we've noted that at least three times in previous months.) That's due to the instability in Iraq caused by Nouri -- and it is seen as caused by Nouri in the oil sector because he is the prime minister, he did pick a fight with Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, he did order Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi arrested. All the instability in recent months have not helped. His attacks on ExxonMobil and their deal with the KRG has not helped. Nouri al-Maliki is bad for business. If Iraq had the arrangement they did under Saddam Hussein, Nouri could get away with that. But he's going to have to grasp real soon that state oil isn't what it was under Hussein. The economic model (imposed by the US) is mixed. And if Iraqis hadn't fought back, it would be strictly privatized. Nouri's not yet learned that his actions impact Iraq's business. (And, in fairness to Nouri, this is a new thing for Iraq. Saddam Hussein could do anything and it wasn't an issue unless the super powers decided it was. But, again, it's a mixed model now. Nouri might need to bring in some economic advisors from out of the country.) W.G. Dunlop and Salam Faraj (AFP) report Iraq's response to the poor showing at the auction is to declare that they will hold another one.
Well one is greater than zero. But not worth the cost of putting together one auction, let alone two. Following the twin embarrassments of March and May, Nouri had a new 'brilliant idea:'
get the White House to tell Exxon "no." So he made noises and made public letters to the White House. Then, on July 19th, Nouri al-Maliki insisted that the White House had conveyed, in a letter, their support for his attempts to cancel the October contract the Kurdistan Regional Government signed with ExxonMobil. No such thing happened. But damned if some in the press reported differently. The US does not have state-control over oil companies -- certainly not over multi-national ones like ExxonMobil -- "multi-national" meaning more than one nation. Like so many of Nouri's brilliant plans, that one fell apart. Derek Brower explains, "Pressure has been building on the central government to punish ExxonMobil for its investment in Kurdistan, he said. The government knows it could not win a court case if it stripped the US firm of its contract, he said, but could make operations intolerably difficult." It couldn't win a court case. What the KRG and ExxonMobil did, for all of Nouri's pouting and foot stomping, ws legal. Thomas W. Donovan (The National) explains:
The most urgent need is for a comprehensive federal law to regulate the hydrocarbons industry. At present, petroleum operations are governed by a collection of laws from previous regimes and by the 2005 constitution. This legal hodgepodge gives no guidance on the interplay between the federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), nor does it set out any rules for oil-revenue sharing between the central administration and the regional governorates.
A draft law to govern oil and gas production was tentatively agreed upon as far back as 2007. However, disputes between Baghdad and the KRG blocked enactment of a law, and today there are three draft versions, none of them likely to win approval anytime soon.
2007 is a key date. Not just because Nouri was prime minister (but he was -- the US government installed him in April 2006). In the lead up to the US 2006 mid-terms, Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress lied to the American people, swearing, "Give us back one House of Congress and we'll end the Iraq War." The American people trusted that they were being told the truth and did something pretty amazing -- turned both house of Congress over to the Democratic Party. That was so surprising that even Pelosi and company hadn't been pushing it as a possibility. Afraid the Democrats might be telling the truth and might pull the funding on the illegal war, Bully Boy Bush quickly devised a series of benchmarks in 2007. He signed off on them, Nouri al-Maliki signed off on them. This was the tool by which, the White House insisted, progress could be measured in Iraq.
Because the US press is as stupid as the US Congress (well, the Congress didn't want to end the Iraq War, let's be honest, so they weren't stupid so much as they were pretending to be), no progess was always somehow turned into success. In April of 2007, Mike Peska (NPR's Day By Day -- link is text and audio) decided to grade the progress on the benchmarks. He should have just stuck to putting happy face stickers on each one. Needing people to help him deceive, he enlisted the master of deception Philip Zelikow (adviser to Condi Rice, betrayer of 9-11 Jersey Widows and others who thought they'd get a real investigation into the events of 9-11) and the Brookings Institution's Carlos Pascual. Here's how the 'brain trust' graded the 'progress' on the oil law:
Pres. BUSH: Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.
PESCA: Both Pascual and Zelikow said this is happening as we speak. Details are still to be worked out, but sharing oil revenue is something the Iraqis can point to as an area of real progress, much more so than the third plank that the president touch on.
They needed to pass legislation. And Pesca 'reported' that his hand-picked brain trust said "this is happening as we speak." Seriously?
It was a lie then, it's a lie over five years later. Happening as we speak? It never happened. The press sold the Iraq War. Not just the start of it but all of it. There has never been accountability for any of these actions. No one's ever done their update of, "Remember when we said . . . Well, turns out . . ." And let's remember that Mike Pesca was just on Weekend Editon Sunday ridiculing the New York Daily News' Filip Bondy for being creative with languge in his description of a home run. That home run mattered to baseball fans. Those benchmarks? All the press whores that lied -- that includes Pesca -- provided cover for Nouri and Iraqis suffer because of Pesca and his ilk. Filip Bondy's descriptive powers didn't have a fly. Pesca might need to remember that before he takes to NPR next to slam another journalist. And Rachel Martin might want to think about who she goes on air with to mock other journalists.
Having agreed, in writing, to pass an oil and gas law and never having accomplished it, over five years later, Nouri's got no standing to whine about what the KRG is doing. If he doesn't like it, he should have kept his word and passed an oil and gas law. Didn't do it, so the current law(s) allow the KRG to make the deals they're making. Considering the money involved, you'd think even a semi-functioning government would have taken this seriously. The Ministry of Oil notes on their website, "The ministry of oil of Iraq declared that the daily oil exports for September 2012 rose to 2.6 million barrels with 8.4 billion dollars outcome [. . .]"
All that money and Nouri still can't turn on the lights. The Iraqi people still have to use generators because daily electricity isn't 24 hours, it's more like six to twelve. And Nouri can't provide potable water -- despite all the billions the Iraqi government takes in each month. That's why Iraq keeps having the cholera outbreaks. Just this week,Al Mada reported that UNICEF declared that the cholera problems will not go away in Iraq while the poor sanitation continues. The World Health Organization explains, "Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It has a short incubation period, from less than one day to five days, and produces an enterotoxin that causes a copious, painless, watery diarrhoea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if treatment is not promptly given. Vomiting also occurs in most patients." Also this week, AFP noted that there have been 4 deaths and 272 confirmed cases including thirty-one that are children in the last weeks. And Nouri can't even give a portion to the people. He recently declared there wasn't any to give and Moqtada al-Sadr expressed doubt and disapproval. All Iraq News explains that Moqtada and his poltical bloc have not let the matter die or just resorted to words, they're actively working with the Minister of Finance Rafie al-Issawi and the Minister of Planning Ali Shukri to find oil money that can go to the Iraqi people with plans to set aside 25% of future revenues for that.
Six years as prime minister and he can't fix the basic needs and public services? But last week he could fly to Russia and sign a $4.2 billion dollar weapons deal and then on to the Czech Republic to sign a $1 billion weapons deal. And today? Suadad al-Salhy, Patrick Markey and Andrew Heavens (Reuters) report that Iraq's signed a deal for another 18 F-16 fighter jets and since the "financial details" are the same (according to the Ministry of Defence), that means the deal will cost Iraq at least $3 billion. AFP reports Nouri didn't just place an order, he also wants the US to speed it up. And while he spends on weapons, the Iraqi people are left to depend upon charity from other countries. The Camden New Journal reports, "The Highgate hospital recently brought new cervical screening equipment and decided to give the old machinery to the women of Iraq."
Yesterday's snapshot noted a press release from the White House on the Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough's visit to Iraq. I didn't have a link and couldn't find it online. The link is here (thank you to my friend for supplying that). ANI reports on it here, AFPhere, and KUNA here.
Like the violence, the polticial crisis continues. Iraq had a political stalemate that lasted a little over 8 months following the March 2010 elections when Iraqiy came in first and Nouri's State of Law came in second but Nouri refused to honor the results and allow Iraqiya to move to establish a cabinet. The White House tossed the will of the Iraqi people, democracy and respect for elections to the side to back Nouri. The country was at a standstill for months as the US government shamed the various political blocs for standing in the way of second place Nouri and worked the guilt angle pretending that they -- not Nouri -- was the one keeping Iraq from moving forward. They also negotiated the Erbil Agreement which ended the political stalemate in November 2010. This contract gave them various concessions in return for their allowing Nouri to have a second term as prime minister. Nouri signed the contract and used it to get his second term and then trashed the contract and refused to make good on what he'd promised in exchange for holding on as prime minister.
It was fairly obvious that he was trashing the agreement but the US government and the press covered for him repeatedly. Such as when he failed to nominate people to head the security ministries. Iraqiya rightly labled that a power grab. The press (I'm referring to the US and European press) rushed in to insist it was no such thing and Nouri would name people to head the ministries in a matter of weeks. The three year mark is closing in and Nouri's still not nominated people to head the seucrity ministires. It was, indeed, a power grab.
In 2011, he tried an even greater power grab. He wanted control of two bodies the Constitution has made independent of the prime minister: the Electoral Comission and Central Bank. Unreast in the region and protests in Iraq resulted in Nouri fearing his own ouster. He quickly promised (lied) he wouldn't seek a third term as prime minister (about 24 hours after the foreign press had run with that, it was announced that Nouri reserved the right to run for a third office, but he'd already gotten his headlines and his praise from stupid -- as opposed to skeptical -- reporters) and backed off that power grab.
For a brief moment.
This week, charges were brought against Sinan al-Shabibi, the governor of the Central Bank, and he was replaced. Al Mada reports that Parliament's Legal Committee is saying the actions were both rash and illegal. Nouri does not control the Central Bank and he cannot fire a governor with it. They point to Article 103 of the Iraqi Constitution which has two clauses pertaining to the Central Bank:
First: The Central Bank of Iraq, the Board of Supreme Audit, the Communication and Media Commission, and the Endowment Commissions are financially and administratively independent institutions, and the work of each of these institutions shall be regulated by law. Second: The Central Bank of Iraq is responsible before the Council of Representatives. The Board of Supreme Audit and the Communication and Media Commission shall be attached to the Council of Representatives.
The second clause puts the Parliament over the Central Bank. (The third clause, not quoted, puts the Cabinet over the Endowment Commission.) Michael Peel (Financial Times of London) reports an arrest warrant has been sworn out for "Sinan al-Shabibi and 15 of his colleagues." Peel also observes, "While no evidence has yet been produced about the allegations, analysts and business people have raised concerns about the way the government has handled the case. Some observers see it as an extension of efforts by Nouri al-Maliki, prime minister, to extend his control over important security and financial institutions, a charge the governmnet denies."
In more bad news for Nouri, Al Mada reports Ahmad al-Maliki, Nouri's son, can't get along with other employees (we'll assume the problems are more than that) and the complaints have led Nouri to freeze his son's salary in the hopes that this will let the matter die down.
In even worse news for Nouri? Remember last month's assault on the Tikrit prison that left many dead and wounded and over 100 prisoners escaped? Dropping back to the September 27th snapshot:
The latest day's violence includes a prison attack BBC News reports assailants using bombs and guns attacked a Tikrit prison. AFP quotes a police Lieutenant Colonel stating, "A suicide bomber targeted the gate of the prison with a car bomb and gunment then assaulted the prison, after which they killed guards" and a police Colonel stating, "The prisoners killed one policeman and wounded (prison director) Brigadier General Laith al-Sagmani, the gunmen took control of the prison, and clashes are continuing." Kitabat states two car bombs were used to blow up the entrance to the prison and gain access and they also state 12 guards have been killed. Reports note the riot is continuing. Alsumaria reports four guards have died, 1 police officer and the injured include two soldiers and the prison director al-Sagmani. There's confusion as to whether a number of prisoners were able to escape in the early stages after the bombing and during gunfire. Reuters goes with "dozens" escaping which is probably smarter than the hard number some are repeating. Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) reports 5 police officers killed and another two injured -- the numbers are going to vary until tomorrow, this is ongoing -- and state over 200 prisoners escaped with 33 of them already having been recaptured. If you skip the English language media, what's not confusing is why it happened and why it was able to happen. Alsumaria reports that there are approximately 900 inmates in the prison and that many have death sentences. Alsumaria does even more than that. It notes the recent prison violence throughout the country and ties it into the death sentences. These aren't just happening at random, this is about the many people being sentenced to death -- a fact the English language press either doesn't know or doesn't think people need to know.
That was an extremely violent act. And apparently one that was preventable. Alsumaria has an exclusive report that the police chief in Salahuddin Province had warned the Ministry of Interior over 3 days in advance -- in writing -- that there were serious problems and the possibility of a prison break. Why is that so damning to Nouri especially? Three months ago, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed, "Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has struggled to forge a lasting power-sharing agreement and has yet to fill key Cabinet positions, including the ministers of defense, interior and national security, while his backers have also shown signs of wobbling support."
With no minister nominated to Parliament and approved by Parilament, Nouri controls the Ministry of Interior. If the Ministry had information over 3 days ahead that something was supposed to have happened and nothing was done to try to prevent it, that goes to Nouri's leadership.