The height of the U.S. military surge in Iraq was a key factor in this year’s analysis of that country. And though Iraq’s score improved slightly, the gains that one might hope for—those that reflect fundamental, long-term changes—did not occur. The desperate predicament of nearly 4 million people driven from their homes, the abysmal state of public services, and the discord among sectarian factions have shown no real improvement. The incremental security and economic progress that has occurred are dependent on tenuous, short-term factors that could unravel at any time. Eager to cobble together a fragile peace, the U.S. military has armed dozens of new Sunni militia groups that could later turn their guns on the Iraqi government, their Shiite rivals, or the Americans many still regard as occupiers. Similarly, Iraq’s economy has improved only moderately, thanks largely to the spike in global oil prices, not Iraqi production. In short, progress in Iraq last year was negligible at best and deeply susceptible to reversal should the country suffer the kind of shock—a food shortage, a high-level assassination, an attack that unleashes ethnic hatreds—that has exposed so many states’ deep vulnerabilities in recent months.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Really, no one can deny the great progress that was made in Iraq over the last year. I mean, in 2007 Iraq was ranked as second failed state after Sudan, but in 2008 we are the fifth most failed state in the world, beating Somalia, Sudan, Zimbabwe and Chad, though we are still behind countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan:
Five students were wounded when the bodyguards of Education Minister Khudhair al-Khuza'i (Da'wa) randomly opened fire at students inside the campus of the College of Education in the Saba' Abkar district north of Adhamiya last Thursday. The minister, who was visiting the campus to oversee the ministry board examinations, first claimed there was an assassination attempt by one of the students prompting his security detail to open fire, though he later retracted his claim on an interview with Radio Sawa. PM Maliki has promised to investigate the incident. And we all know how these investigations end.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
BAGHDAD — Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.
Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat.
The deals, expected to be announced on June 30, will lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations.
The no-bid contracts are unusual for the industry, and the offers prevailed over others by more than 40 companies, including companies in Russia, China and India. The contracts, which would run for one to two years and are relatively small by industry standards, would nonetheless give the companies an advantage in bidding on future contracts in a country that many experts consider to be the best hope for a large-scale increase in oil production.
There was suspicion among many in the Arab world and among parts of the American public that the United States had gone to war in Iraq precisely to secure the oil wealth these contracts seek to extract. The Bush administration has said that the war was necessary to combat terrorism. It is not clear what role the United States played in awarding the contracts; there are still American advisers to Iraq’s Oil Ministry.
Sunday, June 08, 2008
During the five years the United States has occupied Iraq, the Bush administration has created a new state with a number of notable features: A venal, dysfunctional government. A terrorist haven and training ground. A nation so violent and dangerous that 10 percent of the population has fled.
Add to that a new hallmark: Nearly the most corrupt nation on Earth.
Only two states out of 180, Somalia and Burma, outrank Iraq in Transparency International's latest worldwide corruption index. They are tied for last place. But Iraq has plummeted through the rankings since 2004, when it was near the middle of the pack, and is now within a hair's width of crashing to the bottom.
Along the way, U.S. officials say, Iraqi government officers, from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on down, have embezzled not only uncounted billions of dollars from their own treasury -- but also $18 billion in U.S. aid. That's about equal to the annual budget for Colorado.
Radhi al-Radhi, an Iraqi judge who provided that figure, was the state's chief anti-corruption official, until death threats forced him to flee last year. He called the theft among the largest in modern history.
In recent months, several U.S. government reports have detailed the problem, and Congress has held hearings. The conclusion: Not only has the United States provided much of the money Iraqi officials have purloined, U.S. officials have aided and abetted the theft.
Thursday, June 05, 2008
America currently has 151,000 troops in Iraq and, even after projected withdrawals next month, troop levels will stand at more than 142,000 – 10 000 more than when the military "surge" began in January 2007. Under the terms of the new treaty, the Americans would retain the long-term use of more than 50 bases in Iraq. American negotiators are also demanding immunity from Iraqi law for US troops and contractors, and a free hand to carry out arrests and conduct military activities in Iraq without consulting the Baghdad government.
The precise nature of the American demands has been kept secret until now. The leaks are certain to generate an angry backlash in Iraq. "It is a terrible breach of our sovereignty," said one Iraqi politician, adding that if the security deal was signed it would delegitimise the government in Baghdad which will be seen as an American pawn.
The US has repeatedly denied it wants permanent bases in Iraq but one Iraqi source said: "This is just a tactical subterfuge." Washington also wants control of Iraqi airspace below 29,000ft and the right to pursue its "war on terror" in Iraq, giving it the authority to arrest anybody it wants and to launch military campaigns without consultation.
George Bush, Dick Cheney and their advisors may want to look up the unpopular Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of the last century between Great Britain and the nominally independent Hashemite Kingdom of Iraq, which gave Great Britain military and political privileges in Iraq that are similar to what the US is seeking today, including the right to build unlimited military bases and complete freedom of movement of British troops in Iraqi territories and airspace.
They may also want to look up how that treaty ended, as well as the fate of the Iraqi prime minister responsible for signing the treaty (and later the Baghdad Pact). The PM, who was incidentally named Nuri al-Sa'id, tried to escape Baghdad in a woman's dress on 14 July, 1958--when the Iraqi army led by Colonel Abdul Karim Qassim staged a coup against the Hashemite monarchy--but he was captured, shot, tied with ropes, dragged on the streets, mutilated beyond recognition by Iraqis who hit the corpse with slippers, and then hung from a building in central Baghdad and later burned.
UPDATE: Former Iraqi Finance Minister Ali Allawi writes:
The Bush administration has set 31 July as the deadline for the signing of the agreement. Under the present plan, the draft of the agreement will have to be brought to Iraq's parliament for approval. Parliament, however, is beholden to the political parties that dominate the present coalition, and there is unlikely to be substantive debate on the matter. The Shia religious leadership in Najaf, especially Grand Ayatollah Sistani, has not clearly come out against the agreement, although his spokesmen have set out markers that must be respected by the negotiators. The Najaf religious hierarchy is probably the only remaining institution that can block the agreement. But it is unclear whether the political or religious leadership are prepared to confront the US. President Bush, with an eye on history, is seeking to salvage his Iraq expedition by claiming that Iraq is now pacified and is a loyal American ally in the Middle East and the War on Terror.
It is only now that Iraqis have woken up to the possibility that Iraq might be a signatory on a long-term security treaty with the US, as a price for regaining its full sovereignty. Iraqis must know its details and implications. How would such an alliance constrain Iraq's freedom in choosing its commercial, military and political partners? Will Iraq be obliged to openly or covertly support all of America's policies in the Middle East? These are issues of a vital nature that cannot be brushed aside with the Iraqi government's platitudes about "protecting Iraqi interests". A treaty of such singular significance to Iraq cannot be rammed through with less than a few weeks of debate. Otherwise, the proposed strategic alliance will most certainly be a divisive element in Iraqi politics. It will have the same disastrous effect as the treaty with Britain nearly eighty years ago.