Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Time Mag on the new Iraq oil law

This is not a bad article considering it comes from Time, but it contrasts with the Escobar article that goes into detail about the secrecy and the actual involvement of foreign oil executives and IMF and US and UK governments. Time is not just mum about this but quotes as saying that the oil companies are laying low! So low that Time cant even see them!

Barely two days have passed since Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hailed the country's new petroleum law as a "solid base for unity of all Iraqis" — a rare boast these days. President Bush has also trumpeted it as proof that Iraq has a viable future. But parliamentarians and Iraq's oil unions have already begun mobilizing against the draft legislation, arguing that it is a desperate attempt by al-Maliki's government to satisfy Western demands, which could damage Iraq's economic future and speed the country's ultimate disintegration.

The law is a dramatic break from the past. Foreign oil companies will have a stake in Iraq's vast oil wealth for the first time since 1972, when Iraq nationalized the oil industry. In theory, that could finally fix Iraq's shambolic oil sector, whose infrastructure has been crippled by decades of wars and sanctions. Production these days hovers around 2 million barrels a day, a big drop from Iraq's prewar peak of more than 3 million barrels a day.

But political infighting could yet scuttle the deal once it goes to a vote in parliament, perhaps in early March, say the law's detractors. "The feeling is that the law is focused very much on sectarianism," says Saleh al-Mutlaq, who heads the National Dialogue Front, a small secular party with 11 seats in parliament. "It divides the country and the wealth into groups — Kurds, Sunnis, Shi'ites," he said on the phone from Amman on Tuesday.

Some Sunni groups fear that their less oil-rich areas could lose out when Iraq's potentially huge wealth is distributed. The ability of regions to sign their own contracts was bitterly argued for months by negotiators from Kurdistan, where there is deep distrust of Baghdad's politicians. Under the law, companies can deal with both the central Ministry of Oil, as well as regional entities. But that concession has provoked intense anxiety that Iraq could break apart, if some regions — or perhaps even powerful Shi'ite clans in southern Iraq — calculate that they can finance autonomous states from their massive oil deposits.

Billions of dollars — and Iraq's future — are at stake. Virtually all the revenues Iraq has to rebuild its shattered economy will come from its mammoth energy deposits — some of the world's biggest untapped reserves — of about 115 billion barrels of oil and about 110 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. In addition, Iraq's major creditors have made clear they expect a working oil industry, as a precondition for forgiving billions of dollars in Iraqi debt incurred largely by Saddam Hussein's wars against Iran and Kuwait and by his mega-splurging at home.

Under the new law, agreed on Monday by Iraq's cabinet, foreign oil companies will be allowed to cut long-term exploration and development deals with the government for 20 years, renewable for a further five years. Companies willing to operate in a country with high physical risks — insurgents regularly blow up pipelines and kill contractors — will be allowed to export their oil after paying the government a minimum 12.5% royalty, although there are usually also cash signing bonuses to the government, and most "profit oil," extracted after operating costs are met, would likely go to Baghdad. Regional governments — only Kurdistan has one right now — can sign their own contracts under the law, a dizzying change from decades when Saddam dictated the terms and stifled oil production in Kurdistan. A Baghdad-based Federal Council on Oil & Gas will be formed; it will have 60 days to appoint a team to arbitrate a contract, if it has strong concerns.

Despite the grumbling from politicians, it is still unclear whether opposition to the law is strong enough to kill it. Among the parliamentarians arguing against the law are Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc, which fears that foreign oil companies will move into Iraq in force, and stay long after U.S. soldiers have left. But logistically they will have to race back to Baghdad to vote against it. Many parliamentarians, like al-Mutlaq, spend much of their time outside Iraq — al-Sadr himself is frequently in Iran. "I'm going back for this very reason," al-Mutlaq says. "We cannot yet figure out how many people will stand against it." He says he is certain he will find allies among his colleagues, who he says believe that the law is geared to the needs of Western oil companies rather than Iraqis. There has been no public hearing on the draft, whose details have largely been kept secret. Iraqi lawmakers fumed last July when U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman discussed the draft during a trip to the region, "when hardly a single parliamentarian had seen it," says Kamil Mahdi, an Iraqi who is senior lecturer in Middle East economics at the University of Exeter in Britain, and who spent Tuesday discussing the law by phone with several parliamentarians. He said several believe that the government should wait until the war ends before locking Iraq into long-term deals with foreigners, he says. "This draft is totally out of synch with any notion of the interests of Iraq," he says.

The rumblings of opposition go beyond parliament to the oil fields themselves. Iraq's biggest oil unions, which could potentially disrupt production, have been among the law's strongest opponents. Hassan Jum'ah Awwad Al-Asadi, head of Iraq's Federation of Oil Unions, the largest union group, says he intends to mobilize his 23,000 or so members against the draft. "We want a new, different law, which will be in the interests of Iraqis," he said by phone from Basra on Wednesday. "If there is no solution we can stop production, stop exports." In a more threatening tone, he told union members at a conference on the law in Basra in early February: "We strongly warn all the foreign companies and foreign capital in the form of American companies against coming into our lands under the guise of production-sharing agreements."

The view inside the negotiating room, through months of wrangling over the law, was starkly different. At least one person who sat through the talks said he was amazed to find that U.S. officials and diplomats appeared to lie low, perhaps because they were overwhelmed by fighting the war. "The U.S. was so afraid to be seen to be meddling in Iraq's oil that they took a backseat," says Jonathan Morrow, legal adviser to the Kurdistan Regional Government and a former senior legal adviser to the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington. Rather than simply satisfying oil companies, the new law "offers oil companies risk and reward" deals, which are necessary to attract the multibillion-dollar investments needed for companies to create new fields and extract large quantities of oil, Morrow says. "It's very obvious to me that oil companies, including large ones, are following these negotiations closely, looking for a clear legal regime for Iraq." But before they find clarity, they are likely to be looking at some fiery arguments in Iraq's parliament.

New Iraq Oil Law: Cover for Privatization?

Imagine before even the parliament or Iraqi press saw the new draft law it was shown to international oil executives, the govts of the UK and US, and the International Monetary Fund. It is clear who runs Irag. It certainly isnt the Iraqis and there is nothing democratic about it.


IRAQ:
New Oil Law Seen as Cover for Privatisation
Emad Mekay

WASHINGTON, Feb 27 (IPS) - The U.S.-backed Iraqi cabinet approved a new oil law Monday that is set to give foreign companies the long-term contracts and safe legal framework they have been waiting for, but which has rattled labour unions and international campaigners who say oil production should remain in the hands of Iraqis.

Independent analysts and labour groups have also criticised the process of drafting the law and warned that that the bill is so skewed in favour of foreign firms that it could end up heightening political tensions in the Arab nation and spreading instability.

For example, it specifies that up to two-thirds of Iraq's known reserves would be developed by multinationals, under contracts lasting for 15 to 20 years.

This policy would represent a u-turn for Iraq's oil industry, which has been in the public sector for more than three decades, and would break from normal practice in the Middle East.

According to local labour leaders, transferring ownership to the foreign companies would give a further pretext to continue the U.S. occupation on the grounds that those companies will need protection.

Union leaders have complained that they, along with other civil society groups, were left out of the drafting process despite U.S. claims it has created a functioning democracy in Iraq.

Under the production-sharing agreements provided for in the draft law, companies will not come under the jurisdiction of Iraqi courts in the event of a dispute, nor to the general auditor.

The ownership of the oil reserves under this draft law will remain with the state in form, but not in substance, critics say.

On Feb. 8, the labour unions sent a letter in Arabic to Iraqi President Jalal Talbani urging him to reconsider this kind of agreement.

"Production-sharing agreements are a relic of the 1960s," said the letter, seen by IPS. "They will re-imprison the Iraqi economy and impinge on Iraq's sovereignty since they only preserve the interests of foreign companies. We warn against falling into this trap."

Ewa Jasiewicz, a researcher at PLATFORM, a British human rights and environmental group that monitors the oil industry, told IPS in a phone interview from London that, "First of all, it hasn't been put together in any kind of democratic process... It's been put through a war and an occupation which in itself is a grotesquely undemocratic process."

The law was prepared by a three-member Iraqi cabinet committee, dominated by the Kurds and the Shiites. It is now expected to be ratified by parliament because the powerful faction leaders in the government have cleared it.

The first draft was seen only by the committee of the Iraqi technocrat who penned it, nine international oil companies, the British and the U.S. governments and the International Monetary Fund. The Iraqi parliament will get its first glimpse next week.

Concerns about the process are compounded because of the ongoing disputes in Iraq over the legitimacy of the Iraqi cabinet and the Iraqi parliament, which have been constructed by the occupation-created governing council, which itself was created in 2004 along sectarian lines.

In a speech earlier this month by Hassan Juma, head of the Iraqi Oil Labour Union, posted on the union's website, he called on the Iraqi government to consult with Iraqi oil experts and "ask their opinion before sinking Iraq into an ocean of dark injustice."

The content of the law has also worried both international campaigners and local Iraqi groups who say that it puts Iraqi oil wealth firmly on the path to full privatisation.

"The hydrocarbon law reflects the process of readying Iraq's oil for privatisation," said Jasiewicz. "Drafted in secret, shaped by foreign powers, untransparent, undemocratic and forced through under military occupation."

Jasiewicz said the law can be regarded as the economic goal of the war and occupation and that "it will be viewed by most Iraqis as not just illegitimate, but a war crime."

But officials from the Iraqi government, who have already sent the draft oil law to parliament for consideration, say it represents a step forward for the war-torn country. Under the law, oil revenues would be distributed to all 18 provinces based on population size, and regional administrations have the authority to negotiate contracts with international oil companies.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a close ally of Washington, called the law "another founding stone in state-building."

"This law will guarantee for Iraqis, not just now but for future generations too, complete national control over this natural wealth," Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani has reportedly said.

Initial drafts of the law starting eight months ago saw squabbles between the Kurdish factions who control the northern part of Iraq and the Shiite-led regime, as they both vied for bigger shares of the country's oil wealth, estimated at 115 billion barrels. That they have finally come to a final agreement may be a sign of long-sought stability.

Yet critics, including Iraqi oil professionals, engineers and technicians in the unions, are instead advocating for technical service contracts, meaning a company would come in and offer services such as building a refinery, laying a pipeline, or offering consultancy services, get their fees and then leave.

"It is a much more equitable relationship because the control of production, development of oil will stay with the Iraqi state," said Jasiewicz.

"That is the model that Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait generally operate. There's no other country in the Middle East with the kind of oil reserves that Iraq has that would consider signing a production-sharing agreement," she said. "It's a form of privatisation and that's why those countries haven't signed these because it's not in their interests." (END/2007)

Pepe Escobar: On the New Iraq Oil Law

From Asia Times
As usual with Escobar a hard hitting article, quite different both in tone and substance from most of the main line press reports--when the press even notices.

Middle East
Feb 28, 2007



THE ROVING EYE
US's Iraq oil grab is a done deal
By Pepe Escobar

"By 2010 we will need [a further] 50 million barrels a day. The Middle East, with two-thirds of the oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize lies." - US Vice President Dick Cheney, then Halliburton chief executive officer, London, autumn 1999

US President George W Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney might as well declare the Iraq war over and out. As far as they - and the humongous energy interests they defend - are concerned,



only now is the mission really accomplished. More than half a trillion dollars spent and perhaps half a million Iraqis killed have come down to this.

On Monday, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's cabinet in Baghdad approved the draft of the new Iraqi oil law. The government regards it as "a major national project". The key point of the law is that Iraq's immense oil wealth (115 billion barrels of proven reserves, third in the world after Saudi Arabia and Iran) will be under the iron rule of a fuzzy "Federal Oil and Gas Council" boasting "a panel of oil experts from inside and outside Iraq". That is, nothing less than predominantly US Big Oil executives.

The law represents no less than institutionalized raping and pillaging of Iraq's oil wealth. It represents the death knell of nationalized (from 1972 to 1975) Iraqi resources, now replaced by production sharing agreements (PSAs) - which translate into savage privatization and monster profit rates of up to 75% for (basically US) Big Oil. Sixty-five of Iraq's roughly 80 oilfields already known will be offered for Big Oil to exploit. As if this were not enough, the law reduces in practice the role of Baghdad to a minimum. Oil wealth, in theory, will be distributed directly to Kurds in the north, Shi'ites in the south and Sunnis in the center. For all practical purposes, Iraq will be partitioned into three statelets. Most of the country's reserves are in the Shi'ite-dominated south, while the Kurdish north holds the best prospects for future drilling.

The approval of the draft law by the fractious 275-member Iraqi Parliament, in March, will be a mere formality. Hussain al-Shahristani, Iraq's oil minister, is beaming. So is dodgy Barnham Salih: a Kurd, committed cheerleader of the US invasion and occupation, then deputy prime minister, big PSA fan, and head of a committee that was debating the law.

But there was not much to be debated. The law was in essence drafted, behind locked doors, by a US consulting firm hired by the Bush administration and then carefully retouched by Big Oil, the International Monetary Fund, former US deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz' World Bank, and the United States Agency for International Development. It's virtually a US law (its original language is English, not Arabic).

Scandalously, Iraqi public opinion had absolute no knowledge of it - not to mention the overwhelming majority of Parliament members. Were this to be a truly representative Iraqi government, any change to the legislation concerning the highly sensitive question of oil wealth would have to be approved by a popular referendum.

In real life, Iraq's vital national interests are in the hands of a small bunch of highly impressionable (or downright corrupt) technocrats. Ministries are no more than political party feuds; the national interest is never considered, only private, ethnic and sectarian interests. Corruption and theft are endemic. Big Oil will profit handsomely - and long-term, 30 years minimum, with fabulous rates of return - from a former developing-world stalwart methodically devastated into failed-state status.

Get me a PSA on time
In these past few weeks, US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has been crucial in mollifying the Kurds. In the end, in practice, the pro-US Kurds will have all the power to sign oil contracts with whatever companies they want. Sunnis will be more dependent on the Oil Ministry in Baghdad. And Shi'ites will be more or less midway between total independence in the south and Baghdad's dictum (which they control anyway). But the crucial point remains: nobody will sign anything unless the "advisers" at the US-manipulated Federal Oil and Gas Council say so.

Nobody wants to colonial-style PSAs forced down their throat anymore. According to the International Energy Agency, PSAs apply to only 12% of global oil reserves, in cases where costs are very high and nobody knows what will be found (certainly not the Iraqi case). No big Middle Eastern oil producer works with PSAs. Russia and Venezuela are renegotiating all of them. Bolivia nationalized its gas. Algeria and Indonesia have new rules for future contracts. But Iraq, of course, is not a sovereign country.

Big Oil is obviously ecstatic - not only ExxonMobil, but also ConocoPhillips, Chevron, BP and Shell (which have collected invaluable info on two of Iraq's biggest oilfields), TotalFinaElf, Lukoil from Russia and the Chinese majors. Iraq has as many as 70 undeveloped fields - "small" ones hold a minimum of a billion barrels. As desert western Iraq has not even been exploited, reserves may reach 300 billion barrels - way more than Saudi Arabia. Gargantuan profits under the PSA arrangement are in a class by themselves. Iraqi oil costs only US$1 a barrel to extract. With a barrel worth $60 and up, happy days are here again.

What revenue the regions do get will be distributed to all 18 provinces based on population size - an apparent concession to the Sunnis, whose central areas have relatively few proven reserves.

The Sunni Arab muqawama (resistance) certainly has other ideas - as in future rolling thunder against pipelines, refineries and Western personnel. Iraq's oil independence will not go down quietly - at least among Sunnis. On the same day the oil law was being approved, a powerful bomb at the Ministry of Municipalities killed at least 12 people and injured 42, including Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi. Mahdi has always been a feverish supporter of the oil law. He's a top official of the Shi'ite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution of Iraq (SCIRI).

A whole case can be made of SCIRI delivering Iraq's Holy Grail to Bush/Cheney and Big Oil - in exchange for not being chased out of power by the Pentagon. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the SCIRI's leader, is much more of a Bush ally than Maliki, who is from the Da'wa Party. No wonder SCIRI's Badr Organization and their death squads were never the target of Washington's wrath - unlike Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army (Muqtada is fiercely against the oil law). The SCIRI certainly listened to the White House, which has always made it very clear: any more funds to the Iraqi government are tied up with passing the oil law.

Bush and Cheney got their oily cake - and they will eat it, too (or be drenched in its glory). Mission accomplished: permanent, sprawling military bases on the eastern flank of the Arab nation and control of some of largest, untapped oil wealth on the planet - a key geostrategic goal of the New American Century. Now it's time to move east, bomb Iran, force regime change and - what else? - force PSAs down their Persian throats.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Kucinich: Collision Course with Iran

It is interesting to see all the times that there could have been a negotiated settlement with Iran. At least it seems that there will be an upcoming meeting with the US and other countries with Iran and also Syria on the situation in Iraq. This is the first sign of US willingness to sit down and talk with either country.


This article can be found on the web at
http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070312/kucinich
Collision Course With Iran

by REP. DENNIS J. KUCINICH

[posted online on February 26, 2007]

President Bush has claimed the Iranian government is supplying deadly
weapons to fighters in Iraq and that those weapons are being used to
kill US troops in Iraq. This sounds horrific and frightening--and that
is the point. The Administration is preparing for a military strike
against Iran. The justification chosen by the Administration is the
one circumstance in which a President could bypass Congress and still
wage a military conflict.

The intelligence backing up these assertions is questionable. The
sources were anonymous. Since the briefing, the Administration has
backed away from the assertion made by Pentagon briefers the day
before that Tehran was behind these weapons transfers. No new evidence
has been presented. But the President, the Defense Secretary and the
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff all repeat the questionable
assertions.

The newly claimed grievance with Iran could be used to satisfy section
2(c) of the 1973 War Powers Resolution, which states that the
President can introduce armed forces into a conflict or a national
emergency created by an attack upon the armed forces. The President
seems to have laid the groundwork for an attack on Iran while avoiding
Congressional approval.

This Administration has set a collision course with Iran. Time and
again, it has refused to enter into direct diplomatic talks with Iran.

• After the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the
Iranian government signaled to the Administration a willingness to
cooperate with the United States, including cooperation with the
overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan. But in January 2002,
President Bush labeled Iran a member of the "axis of evil" in his
State of the Union address.

• In early 2003, Iran offered to enter into dialogue with the United
States regarding several outstanding US-Iran issues, including full
transparency of all nuclear facilities; the cessation of support of
Palestinian opposition groups; transformation of Hezbollah into a
political organization; coordination of counterterrorism efforts;
cooperation with political stabilization in Iraq; and the acceptance
of the Arab League "Beirut Declaration"--a comprehensive peace,
including the establishment of normal relations with Israel. The
United States did not respond to this "grand bargain" offered by Iran.

• Also in 2003, the United States refused to join France, Britain and
Germany (the EU-3) in a diplomatic effort to curb Iran's nuclear
program.

• In November 2005, the US Ambassador to Iraq received permission to
begin a diplomatic dialogue with Iran on the issue of Iraqi stability.
The Iranians accepted the offer; however, no talks materialized.

• On May 8, 2006, the Administration said it would support a renewed
diplomatic overture by the EU-3. At the same time, the Administration
ignored a letter from President Ahmadinejad to President Bush.

• On May 31, 2006, the Administration said it would join the EU-3
talks but would not negotiate with Iran until Iran agreed, ahead of
the talks, to abide by US demands.

• On November 29, 2006, President Ahmadinejad sent an open letter to
the American people. The Bush Administration refused to respond.

• The White House is now selectively leaking intelligence to set the
stage for a military attack on Iran.

With Democrats in charge of the House and Senate, the President might
have trouble starting another war. In light of the vote by the House
of Representatives to disapprove of the President's escalation in Iraq
and the mounting opposition to the war in Iraq, the President's new
assertions about Iran hold the key to an attempt to bypass
Congressional approval for another military conflict.

There are additional reasons to believe the President is setting us on
a path to another war. In his primetime address to the nation last
month, the President ordered a second battle group led by the aircraft
carrier USS John Stennis to the Gulf. The Administration has armed
Iran's Arab neighbors with Patriot missiles, sent minesweepers to the
Persian Gulf and ordered an increase in the national strategic oil
reserve to guard against potential oil embargoes.

It was not long ago when Iran was portrayed as a nuclear threat. But
the news of a diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea changed what
the Administration could say about Iran. For North Korea really
possesses nuclear weapons, while Iran is five to ten years away from
the ability to produce the fissile material to have even one nuclear
bomb. Yet the United States was able to use diplomacy with North
Korea. Obviously, diplomacy could be applied to the Iran situation as
well. Instead, the Administration is escalating tensions with Iran,
laying the groundwork for an attack and attempting to make a case to
bypass Congressional authorization.

UK court allows deportation of Islamic cleric to Jordan.

One can't help thinking that this is just a new form of rendition using the courts. No doubt it will be appealed. Perhaps these steps are being taken in cahoots with Washington who would like nothing better than to see what can be extracted through torture. With the evidence against this cleric it would seem that the government would have a good case for a trial that could send him to prison but obviously that is not what is wanted.


U.K. court allows deportation of Islamic cleric
By Jane Perlez Published: February 26, 2007 LONDON: A British court ruled Monday that the government could deport a radical Islamic cleric to Jordan, setting the stage for the deportation of other foreign terror suspects in Britain to countries with poor human rights records.

The case of Abu Qatada, which has been watched closely in Washington, is the first involving foreigners in Britain accused of posing threats to national security whom the government wants to deport rather than put on trial.

Qatada, 45, a Jordanian citizen of Palestinian background, has been described by the British as a spiritual guide to Al Qaeda. Tapes of his preaching encouraging violence against the West were found among the belongings of Mohamed Atta, the leader of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers, and he met with Richard Reid, a London-born convert to Islam who tried to blow up a flight from Paris to Miami in December 2001 using explosives hidden in his shoes.

Qatada is regarded as one of 10 foreign-born extremists who the government says have helped radicalize young British Muslims, encouraging them to carry out terror attacks. A court judgment in 2004 described Qatada as being "at the center in the United Kingdom of terrorist activities associated with Al Qaeda."

The ruling by the Special Immigration Appeals Court rejected an appeal by Qatada in which his lawyers argued that the cleric would be subject to torture while in prison in Jordan and would not be granted a fair trial there. Qatada's lawyers said they would appeal the decision.

Human rights advocates criticized the ruling on the ground that it set a precedent for allowing suspects to be turned over to foreign countries where torture is used to extract evidence.

A lawyer for Human Rights Watch, Julia Hall, said that a memorandum of understanding between Britain and Jordan that torture would not be used on terror suspects returned to Jordan was an insufficient guarantee.

In addition to Jordan, the British government has negotiated agreements with Lebanon and Libya that are intended to prevent the torture of suspects returned to their homeland.

Hall said an August 2005 agreement between Britain and Jordan empowered a Jordanian nongovernmental organization to monitor Qatada's conditions in prison once he returned to Jordan and to report on any abuses. He is wanted in Jordan on criminal charges.

But Hall described the group assigned to monitor him, Al Adaleh Human Rights Center, as "a tiny organization, a local organization that has no influence with the government."

In documents presented to a parliamentary committee, the British government said it was working with the Adaleh Center, established in 2003, to improve its capacity.

Hall said the British government had spent tens of thousands of pounds to strengthen the fledgling group. But this investment would not overcome what the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Nowak, found to be "institutional impunity" of the Jordanian intelligence services regarding torture, Hall said. Nowak's report on torture in Jordan was issued by the United Nations in January.

The British government hailed the decision Monday, saying it confirmed that a policy to deport foreign terror suspects was the right one. The government has focused on the new policy since the subway and bus attacks in London in 2005 that killed 56 people, including the four bombers.

"We welcome the decision of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission that Abu Qatada presents a threat to our national security and can be deported," John Reid, the home secretary, said. "We are also pleased that the court has recognized the value of memoranda of understanding."

For the Bush administration, Qatada's deportation to Jordan would mean easier access to a terror suspect with potentially valuable information.

The issue of torture to extract evidence from terror suspects returned to their home countries for interrogation became an issue last year when the Canadian government found that Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen was sent to Syria by U.S. officials because of alleged links to Al Qaeda, was tortured while in a Syrian prison for 10 months.

Arar was cleared of all terrorism charges by a Canadian commission of inquiry last year. The commission found that even though a Canadian diplomat visited Arar during his imprisonment in Syria, Arar was too afraid of retribution from prison officials to tell him of the torture against him.

Another article on the Iraq Oil Law

Note that Khalilzad brokered the deal. Apparently the US has made reaching a deal a condition of aid. Notice that no details are available only the spoon feeding of the press by officials of the Iraqi govt. A crucial bill was not available to the press nor even to the parliamentarians. Of course the bill was leaked over a week ago to deafening silence from the world mainstream press with nary a single commentary as far as I can find. Only in the blogosphere you say. A pity! I suggested to the CBC that they make the law a story. No answer. Of course now that the world press is abuzz with the story they may chime in with something.


Christian Berthelsen and Tina Susman in Baghdad
February 28, 2007

AFTER months of negotiations over the postwar spoils of Iraq's most valuable natural resource, the Government has approved a draft plan to increase oil production and share the proceeds.

The agreement on the terms by Iraq's cabinet, announced on Monday, was touted as a breakthrough. It must still be approved by the parliament, but because all of Iraq's vested ethnic and regional interests are represented in the cabinet, the deal was viewed as having overcome a significant hurdle.

The US has long wanted to capitalise on Iraq's oil resources, as a means of paying for the country's reconstruction since the 2003 invasion. Oil's importance was reiterated in the Iraq Study Group report released in December.

The agreement not only will open up Iraq's oil industry to international investment - a bonanza for foreign oil companies - but also produce revenue for a nation badly in need of cash to finance its reconstruction.

Iraq's oil riches predominantly lie in the Kurdish-controlled north and the Shiite-controlled south. Reaching an agreement required both parties to be willing to share their bounty with Sunnis in the middle - a particularly painful prospect as Sunnis under Saddam Hussein controlled the entire government.

In addition, Kurds, who are pushing for a referendum on withdrawal from Iraq, wanted more control to strike contracts with foreign firms and spend profits as they see fit.

The statement from the office of the US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, who reportedly brokered the deal, said all revenues from oil sales will go into a single national account, but all regions and provinces will have a seat on an energy policy-making body, and provinces will receive shares of revenue and have control over how they spend it.

It was unclear what concessions led to the compromise, and the precise terms of the deal were not immediately available.

Speaking later to reporters, the Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, said: "The benefits of this wealth will form a firm pillar for the unity of Iraqis and consolidate their social structure."

Iraqi MPs were cautious about embracing the plan. Still, most agreed that a cabinet compromise was a good sign.

Los Angeles Times, Reuters

More on the Iraq Oil Law

This is from the Age an Australian newspaper. It does not give very much detail either but does mention some of the pitfalls of the law.


Cabinet endorses new oil law.

The endorsement reflected a major agreement among the country's ethnic and sectarian political blocs on one of Iraq's most divisive issues.

The draft law approved by the cabinet allows the central Government to distribute oil revenues to the provinces or regions based on population, which could lessen the economic concerns of the rebellious Sunni Arabs, who fear being cut out of Iraq's vast potential oil wealth by the dominant Shiites and Kurds.

Most of Iraq's crude oil reserves lie in the Shiite south and Kurdish north.

The law also grants regional oil companies or governments the power to sign contracts with foreign companies for exploration and development of fields, opening the door for investment by foreign companies in a country whose oil reserves rank among the world's three largest.

Iraqi officials say dozens of major foreign companies, including ones based in the United States, Russia and China, have expressed strong interest in developing fields or have done some work with the Iraqi industry.

The national oil law would allow regions to enter into production-sharing agreements with foreign companies, which some Iraqis say could lead to foreigners reaping too much of the country's oil wealth.

Iraqi officials say all such contracts will be subjected to a fair bidding process, but US inspectors have reported that the upper echelons of the Iraqi Government, including the senior ranks of the Oil Ministry, are rife with corruption.

There are also fears among non-Americans that US companies could be favoured. But oil industry analysts in the US say it is unclear if companies will rush to sign contracts because the law is vague about what legal protections investors would be given.

The oil law and several related measures must still be approved by Parliament before they are enacted. Post-2003-invasion Iraqi politics often has been split bitterly along ethnic and sectarian lines, and that kind of conflict could stall the law's passage

Sadr still supports surge---sort of!

Sadr is not at all averse to cracking down on Al Qaeda and Sunni insurgents but he wants Iraqi control and the US out. He is probably wise to stay in Iran for the duration of the surge since there is little doubt he would be arrested by the US or even killed if he were in Baghdad.
It is not surprising but rather misguided to claim that the surge is a success because there has been relatively less violence except for some spectacular suicide bombings. The classic tactic of guerrilla warfare is to lay low when faced by superior force.


Sadr still supports Baghdad crackdown-aides
26 Feb 2007 09:00:24 GMT
Source: Reuters
More BAGHDAD, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Powerful Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has not withdrawn his support from a U.S.-backed crackdown in Baghdad, his aides said on Monday.

Salih al-Ugeyli, a spokesman for Sadr's political movement, said Sunday's strongly worded statement from the Shi'ite cleric was meant to encourage Iraqi forces to act independently from the U.S. military in the capital.

In the statement read out to a large crowd in Sadr's Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City, the cleric said the Baghdad security plan would not work because U.S. forces were involved.

"The media misinterpreted the statement because we are still fully behind the plan. It was meant as advice for our security forces who are capable of achieving more without American help," Ugeyli said.

A senior politician from Sadr's political movement echoed Ugeyli's comments.

"We have not withdrawn our support for the security plan. All we did was ask Iraqis to take more of a lead and we repeated our demands for a withdrawal of the occupation," said Falah Hasan Shanshal.

Sadr, an anti-American cleric, made his criticism hours after a female suicide bomber wearing a vest packed with explosives killed 40 in a student college.

The plan is regarded as a last attempt to halt all-out civil war in Iraq. Sadr led his Mehdi Army Shi'ite militia in two uprisings against U.S. forces in 2004.

Mehdi Army militiamen have so far avoided a confrontation with U.S. forces sweeping the capital.

New Iran Oil Law approved by Cabinet

This article is noteworthy by what it does not say. After ignoring the translation of the draft bill that has been in the blogosphere for over a week while the cabinet considered the law out of the public eye now we get an optimistic report that glosses over any of the details of foreign involvement! That is a free press for you!
The section on revenue sharing is certainly essential to ensure Sunni support. The section about maximising revenues for the Iraqi people also sounds good but there is nothing about how in practice the foreign contracts are to work.


Iraq cabinet endorses landmark draft oil law

2/26/2007 Reuters - By Claudia Parsons and Mariam Karouny
BAGHDAD/BEIRUT - Iraq's cabinet on Monday endorsed a draft oil law crucial to regulating how wealth from the country's vast oil reserves will be shared by its ethnic and sectarian groups, a move hailed as a major political milestone.

Passing a law to help settle potentially explosive disputes over the world's third largest oil reserves has been a key demand of the United States, which has linked it to continuing support for the Shi'ite-led national unity government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih told Reuters that Iraq's leaders had pledged to have the law enacted by the end of May. The draft has to be approved by parliament first.

"The political leadership have committed to have the law and other associated laws and regulations be implemented by the end of May 2007 -- admittedly tough, and a gruelling schedule, but economic and political imperatives of the country require all of us to rise to the challenge," Salih said.

"The cabinet endorsement ... represents a major breakthrough for Iraq's political and economic transition," added Salih, who is also head of the committee that drafted the law.

Speaking later to reporters, Maliki said: "The benefits of this wealth will form a firm pillar for the unity of Iraqis and consolidate their social structure."

Salih said that as previously agreed, revenues would be put in a central account and distributed according to population.

Most of Iraq's proven oil reserves are in the Shi'ite south or the Kurdish north. That has left Sunni Arabs in central and western Iraq fearful they would miss out on any windfall should security improve enough to substantially boost production.

Planning Minister Ali Baban, a Sunni, said all main political forces in the government agreed the draft.

"This law will add a real and practical dimension to the ... the unity of the Iraqi people," he said.

Iraq needs billions of dollars in foreign investment to revive the oil industry. Officials missed a self-imposed deadline of the end of 2006 to agree the law amid Kurdish concerns about the relations between the regions and Baghdad.

The draft would allow the Kurdish regional government (KRG) to review existing contracts it has signed with foreign firms to ensure consistency with the terms of the new law, Salih said.

KURDISH CONCERNS ALLAYED

Agreement on the law had been held up partly because officials from Kurdistan, where relative security has encouraged more development than elsewhere in Iraq, had said they wanted assurances a new federal council will not invalidate their existing contracts, including with Norway's DNO.

"The existing contracts signed by the KRG will be reviewed by the KRG to be made consistent with the premise of the law," said Salih.

"A commission of independent experts will ratify consistency in case of contention."

Regional authorities in Iraq would also be able to negotiate oil contracts with foreign companies.

"Negotiations can be conducted by the regional authority in accordance with procedures and guidelines established by the Federal Council of Oil and Gas," said Salih.

"The negotiations and contracts will have to be based on the main criteria of maximising revenues for Iraqi people."

The law will also restructure the Iraqi National Oil Company (INOC) as an independent holding company and establish a Federal Council as a forum for national oil policy.

INOC will have affiliated regional operating companies and the oil ministry will be the regulator for the sector.

"The law ends decades of excessive centralised control over the industry which was often the impediment to development for the sector," Salih said.

Iraq has the world's third largest proven oil reserves but has been hampered in developing them by decades of sanctions under Saddam Hussein and nearly four years of violence since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

The world's top oil companies have been manoeuvring for years to win a stake in Iraq's prized oilfields such as Bin Umar, Majnoon, Nassiriyah, West Qurna and Ratawi -- all located in the south of the country.

Russia's LUKOIL would be prepared to start work at West Qurna if Baghdad were to validate its deal struck under Saddam, analysts said. China's contract for the al-Ahdab oilfield, signed during the same period, is under review.

Monday, February 26, 2007

War on Poverty in the US

This is from the Information Clearing House. The war on poverty in the US is not going any better than the war in Iraq. Perhaps the war on poverty needs a bigger budget!


U.S. Severe poverty rate at highest in three decades

Plight of poorest of poor extends to suburban areas

By TONY PUGH
Mcclatchy-Tribune

02/26/07 "Huston Chronicle" -- -- WASHINGTON — The percentage of poor Americans who are living in severe poverty has reached a 32-year high as the gulf between the nation's "haves" and "have-nots" continues to widen.

A McClatchy Newspapers analysis of the 2005 census figures, the latest available, found that nearly 16 million Americans are living in deep or severe poverty. A family of four with two children and an annual income of less than $9,903 — half the federal poverty line — was considered severely poor in 2005. So were individuals who made less than $5,080 a year.

The McClatchy analysis found that the number of severely poor Americans grew by 26 percent from 2000 to 2005. That's 56 percent faster than the overall poverty population grew in the same period.

McClatchy's review also suggested that the rise in severely poor residents isn't confined to large urban counties but extends to other areas.

The plight of the severely poor is a distressing sidebar to an unusual economic expansion. Worker productivity has increased dramatically since the brief recession of 2001, but wages and job growth have lagged behind. At the same time, the share of national income going to corporate profits has dwarfed the amount going to wages and salaries.

That helps explain why the median household income for working-age families, adjusted for inflation, has fallen for five straight years.

These and other factors have helped push 43 percent of the nation's 37 million poor people into deep poverty — the highest rate since at least 1975.

The growth, which leveled off in 2005, in part reflects how hard it is for low-skilled workers to earn their way out of poverty in an unstable job market that favors skilled and educated workers. It also suggests that social programs aren't as effective as they once were at catching those who fall into economic despair.

Cheney preaches to Pakistan

I imagine Musharraf did not invite Cheney to go hunting with him!


Cheney warns Pak on terror
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

NDTV Correspondent

Monday, February 26, 2007 (Islamabad):


Paying a surprise visit to Pakistan, US Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday voiced apprehensions over regrouping of al-Qaeda in its border areas with Afghanistan at a meeting with President Pervez Musharraf.

Cheney held two-hour-long talks with Musharraf in the backdrop of reports in the US that President George W Bush has decided to send a tough message to the Pakistani president that aid would cut to Islamabad if al-Qaeda militants were not hunted down.

"Cheney expressed US apprehensions of regrouping of al-Qaeda in the tribal areas and called for concerted efforts in countering the threat," according to a Pakistan government statement issued after the meeting.

He expressed serious US concerns on the intelligence being picked up of an impending Taliban and al-Qaeda "spring offensive" against allied forces in Afghanistan," the statement said.

Pivotal role

Cheney, however, appreciated Pakistan's pivotal role in the fight against terrorism and pledged to further augment mutually beneficial multifaceted ties.

Musharraf, on complaints relating to Pakistan's lack of co-operation in cracking down on Taliban, told Cheney that the international community was collectively responsible for defeating the scourge of terrorism and curbing militant activities inside Afghanistan.

Musharraf said Pakistan has done the maximum in the fight against terrorism, but stressed that joint efforts were needed for achieving the desired objectives.

He also briefed Cheney about the Indo-Pak talks to resolve their differences over Kashmir and other issues. (With PTI Inputs)



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Pakistan Fed Up with US and Allies on Afghanistan

I suppose the point of all the negative articles on Pakistan is to force it to do even more against the border rebels. Musharraf as the article notes has lost more troops in his battles within Pakistan than any of the allies in Afghanistan. He also has turned over many suspects to the US--often victims of the rewards offered though. Any co-operation with the US is anathema to many Pakistanis. Perhaps the US and its allies would think differently if Musharraf were overthrown and a genuine pro-Taliban government were installed in Pakistan. This is not to deny that many in the Pakistani intelligence service had and probably still have links to the Taliban.
Musharraf even though a dictator has to play a difficult balancing act to stay in power. Misquided brickbats from the US and others hardly helps.

, February 25 2007 @ 10:44 AM MST

Pakistan Fed Up With U.S. And Allies On Afghanistan
Contributed by: 4Canada

Pakistan tired of hearing it's not doing enough on Taliban and Al Qaeda, says Haroon Siddiqui

Feb 25, 2007 04:30 AM
Haroon Siddiqui

PESHAWAR–Those who invaded Iraq claiming it had weapons of mass destruction and have been blaming Iran and Syria for the murderous mess in Iraq, are also the same people now blaming Pakistan for the mess in Afghanistan.

They say Pakistan is aiding and abetting the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Maybe it is. But U.S. President George W. Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have offered little or no proof.

The American media are running a parallel campaign, hurling a more serious allegation, that the Pakistan army is extending logistical help to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Most such stories are based on unnamed sources.

The New York Times, which in the pre-Iraq war days carried phony WMD stories, is back practising the same sort of discredited journalism.

In a Washington-datelined story last week on ostensible Al Qaeda camps in North Waziristan, I counted 20 attributions to unnamed "American officials," "intelligence officials and terrorism experts," "American analysts," "counterterrorism officials," etc.

The assertions of Pakistani involvement have been repeated so often they have become part of the received wisdom of many Canadian politicians, editorial writers and pundits as well. I do not know and have not been able to ascertain whether Pakistan is guilty or not. But, given the track record of those making the allegations, we should be skeptical.

In the circumstances, it is useful to know what the Pakistanis, from President Pervez Musharraf down, have been saying.

Pakistan cannot possibly fully control the 2,400-kilometre border, most of it uninhabited terrain.

"If the U.S. cannot stop infiltration from Mexico, how do you expect us to control our border with Afghanistan that's mostly desolate and mountainous?" pleaded Tariq Azim, minister of information, in an interview in Islamabad, the capital.

Pakistan has done more in battling terrorism in the neighbourhood than any other nation. It has deployed 80,000 troops along the Afghan border, double the entire American and NATO contingent in Afghanistan, and has lost more than 700 soldiers, more than double the casualty count of all the allies.

It has helped arrest dozens of Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives, in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Musharraf: "Tell me how many Taliban leaders have been caught in Afghanistan. Name me one."

The Taliban do have sympathizers among their 15-million fellow-Pushtuns in Pakistan and among the 2.6 million Afghan Pushtun refugees living in Pakistan. But the main problem lies in Afghanistan, because of widespread corruption, opium production and the incompetence of the American and NATO forces, which have failed to bring security and economic development to the population.

"We don't deny that Taliban come and go but that's not the entire truth," Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, spokesperson for Musharraf, told me. "If 25 per cent of the problem lies on our side, 75 per cent lies on that side."

http://www.thestar.com/opinion/article/185202
(1515 Views:)


more on this from Google News
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Sunday, February 25, 2007

US helping terrorists, meddling in Iran

This terrorism is of course OK because it is meddling by the good guy against the bad guys. The moralistic claptrap about Iran meddling in Iraq mouthed by US officials is rather ironic given actions such as these.

US funds terror groups to sow chaos in Iran
By William Lowther in Washington DC and Colin Freeman, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:30am GMT 25/02/2007



America is secretly funding militant ethnic separatist groups in Iran in an attempt to pile pressure on the Islamic regime to give up its nuclear programme.


President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime is accused of repressing minority rights and culture
In a move that reflects Washington's growing concern with the failure of diplomatic initiatives, CIA officials are understood to be helping opposition militias among the numerous ethnic minority groups clustered in Iran's border regions.

The operations are controversial because they involve dealing with movements that resort to terrorist methods in pursuit of their grievances against the Iranian regime.

In the past year there has been a wave of unrest in ethnic minority border areas of Iran, with bombing and assassination campaigns against soldiers and government officials.

Such incidents have been carried out by the Kurds in the west, the Azeris in the north-west, the Ahwazi Arabs in the south-west, and the Baluchis in the south-east. Non-Persians make up nearly 40 per cent of Iran's 69 million population, with around 16 million Azeris, seven million Kurds, five million Ahwazis and one million Baluchis. Most Baluchis live over the border in Pakistan.

advertisementFunding for their separatist causes comes directly from the CIA's classified budget but is now "no great secret", according to one former high-ranking CIA official in Washington who spoke anonymously to The Sunday Telegraph.

His claims were backed by Fred Burton, a former US state department counter-terrorism agent, who said: "The latest attacks inside Iran fall in line with US efforts to supply and train Iran's ethnic minorities to destabilise the Iranian regime."

Although Washington officially denies involvement in such activity, Teheran has long claimed to detect the hand of both America and Britain in attacks by guerrilla groups on its internal security forces. Last Monday, Iran publicly hanged a man, Nasrollah Shanbe Zehi, for his involvement in a bomb attack that killed 11 Revolutionary Guards in the city of Zahedan in Sistan-Baluchistan. An unnamed local official told the semi-official Fars news agency that weapons used in the attack were British and US-made.

Yesterday, Iranian forces also claimed to have killed 17 rebels described as "mercenary elements" in clashes near the Turkish border, which is a stronghold of the Pejak, a Kurdish militant party linked to Turkey's outlawed PKK Kurdistan Workers' Party.

John Pike, the head of the influential Global Security think tank in Washington, said: "The activities of the ethnic groups have hotted up over the last two years and it would be a scandal if that was not at least in part the result of CIA activity."

Such a policy is fraught with risk, however. Many of the groups share little common cause with Washington other than their opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose regime they accuse of stepping up repression of minority rights and culture.

The Baluchistan-based Brigade of God group, which last year kidnapped and killed eight Iranian soldiers, is a volatile Sunni organisation that many fear could easily turn against Washington after taking its money.

A row has also broken out in Washington over whether to "unleash" the military wing of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), an Iraq-based Iranian opposition group with a long and bloody history of armed opposition to the Iranian regime.

The group is currently listed by the US state department as terrorist organisation, but Mr Pike said: "A faction in the Defence Department wants to unleash them. They could never overthrow the current Iranian regime but they might cause a lot of damage."

At present, none of the opposition groups are much more than irritants to Teheran, but US analysts believe that they could become emboldened if the regime was attacked by America or Israel. Such a prospect began to look more likely last week, as the UN Security Council deadline passed for Iran to stop its uranium enrichment programme, and a second American aircraft carrier joined the build up of US naval power off Iran's southern coastal waters.

The US has also moved six heavy bombers from a British base on the Pacific island of Diego Garcia to the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, which could allow them to carry out strikes on Iran without seeking permission from Downing Street.

While Tony Blair reiterated last week that Britain still wanted a diplomatic solution to the crisis, US Vice-President Dick Cheney yesterday insisted that military force was a real possibility.

"It would be a serious mistake if a nation like Iran were to become a nuclear power," Mr Cheney warned during a visit to Australia. "All options are still on the table."

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany will meet in London tomorrow to discuss further punitive measures against Iran. Sanctions barring the transfer of nuclear technology and know-how were imposed in December. Additional penalties might include a travel ban on senior Iranian officials and restrictions on non-nuclear business.

Additional reporting by Gethin Chamberlain.

US bombs part of Baghdad

This bombing will no doubt be almost completely ignored while every paper will report the suicide bombing at the university. The bombing is bound to produce a lot of civilian casualties and will hardly endear the population to the US occupiers.

US bombing 'terror targets'
24/02/2007 22:38 - (SA)





Baghdad - US forces launched air strikes in southeast Baghdad on Saturday, Iraqi officials said, as a series of massive explosions rocked the war-torn city.

"American aircraft are bombarding terrorist targets that have been chosen by US and Iraqi forces, as part of our Baghdad security plan," said Brigadier-General Qasim al-Mussawi, spokesperson for the operation.

There was no immediate comment from the US, but AFP reporters in downtown Baghdad heard the rumble of more than three dozen powerful blasts in rapid succession at around 22:00pm (19:00 GMT).

Shortly after the first blasts, electricity was cut in part of central Baghdad, but it was not clear if these events were linked.

A senior Iraqi interior ministry official told AFP that the air strikes were aimed at insurgent strongholds in Bo'aitha, a sparsely populated neighbourhood on the west bank of the Tigris, south of the city centre.

While lying within the city limits, Bo'aitha is a district of farms and smallholdings, whose scattered villages are known to house the hideouts of Sunni insurgent gangs linked to al-Qaeda.

Iraqi officials said that the bombardment would run hand-in-hand with sweeps on the ground by US and Iraqi ground forces.

Iraq Syndicate of Journalist raided by US soldiers

Ironic that just after being recognised the offices of the ISJ are raided. Press freedom in Iraq has declined even more since Hussein was overthrown according to international rankings of countries.Iraq has gone from 130 to 154. No doubt this raid will be below the radar of most of the western press.


IRAQ:
Another U.S. Military Assault on Media
Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily

BAGHDAD, Feb 23 (IPS) - Iraqi journalists are outraged over yet another U.S. military raid on the media.

U.S. soldiers raided and ransacked the offices of the Iraq Syndicate of Journalists (ISJ) in central Baghdad Tuesday this week. Ten armed guards were arrested, and 10 computers and 15 small electricity generators kept for donation to families of killed journalists were seized.

This is not the first time U.S. troops have attacked the media in Iraq, but this time the raid was against the very symbol of it. Many Iraqis believe the U.S. soldiers did all they could to deliver the message of their leadership to Iraqi journalists to keep their mouth shut about anything going wrong with the U.S.-led occupation.

"The Americans have delivered so many messages to us, but we simply refused all of them," Youssif al-Tamimi of the ISJ in Baghdad told IPS. "They killed our colleagues, closed so many newspapers, arrested hundreds of us and now they are shooting at our hearts by raiding our headquarters. This is the freedom of speech we received."

Some Iraqi journalists blame the Iraqi government.

"Four years of occupation, and those Americans still commit such foolish mistakes by following the advice of their Iraqi collaborators," Ahmad Hassan, a freelance journalist from Basra visiting Baghdad told IPS. "They (the U.S. military) have not learned yet that Iraqi journalists will raise their voice against such acts and will keep their promise to their people to search for the truth and deliver it to them at any cost."

There is a growing belief in Iraq that U.S. allies in the current Iraqi government are leading the U.S. military to raid places and people who do not follow Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's directions.

"It is our Iraqi colleagues who pushed the Americans to that hole," Fadhil Abbas, an Iraqi television producer told IPS. "Some journalists who failed to fake the truth here are trying hard to silence truth seekers by providing false information to the U.S. military in order to take advantage of their stupidity in handling the whole Iraqi issue."

The incident occurred just two days after the Iraqi Union covering journalists received formal recognition from the government. The new status allowed the Syndicate access to its previously blocked bank account, and it had just purchased new computers and satellite equipment.

"Just at the point when the Syndicate achieves formal recognition for its work as an independent body of professionals, the American military carries out a brutal and unprovoked assault," International Federation of Journalists General Secretary Aidan White said in a statement. "Anyone working for media that does not endorse U.S. policy and actions could now be at risk."

The raid was a "shocking violation of journalists' rights," White said. "In the past three years more than 120 Iraqi journalists, many of them Syndicate members, have been killed, and now their union has been turned over in an unprovoked act of intimidation."

"The Americans and their Iraqi government followers are destroying social activities and civil unions so that no group can oppose their crimes and plans," 55-year-old lawyer Hashim Jawad of the Iraqi Lawyers Union in Baghdad told IPS. "The press is our remaining lung to breathe democracy in this country and now it is being targeted."

The Press Emblem Campaign (PEC), an independent humanitarian association based in Geneva which seeks to strengthen legal protection and safety of journalists around the world also strongly condemned the U.S. military raid.

The media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders lists at least 148 journalists and media workers killed in Iraq since the beginning of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

The group also compiles an annual Press Freedom Index for countries around the world. In 2002, under Saddam Hussein's rule, Iraq ranked 130. In the 2006 index, Iraq fell to position 154.

The same index listed the U.S. at 17 in 2002, a rank that fell to 56 by 2006.

The Brussels Tribunal, a group of "intellectuals, artists and activists who denounce the...war," lists the names, dates and circumstances in which 191 media professionals of Iraqi nationality have been killed.

The PEC and the other watchdogs have requested the Iraqi government to launch an immediate inquiry into the attack.

"I only wish the U.S. administration and our government would stop lying about freedom in Iraq," Mansoor Salim, a retired journalist, told IPS. "How stupid we were to have believed their statements about freedom. I admit that I was one of the fools."

(Ali al-Fadhily is our Baghdad correspondent. Dahr Jamail is our specialist writer who has spent eight months reporting from inside Iraq and has been covering the Middle East for several years.) (END/2007)

More on the Iraq Oil Law from the UK

Finally the Observer in the UK has taken notice of the new oil law in Iraq.


Iraq poised to hand control of oil fields to foreign firms


Baghdad under pressure from Britain to pass a law giving multinationals rights to the country's reserves

Heather Stewart, economics correspondent
Sunday February 25, 2007
The Observer


Baghdad is under pressure from Britain and the US to pass an oil law which would hand long-term control of Iraq's energy assets to foreign multinationals, according to campaigners.
Iraqi trades unions have called for the country's oil reserves - the second-largest in the world - to be kept in public hands. But a leaked draft of the oil law, seen by The Observer, would see the government sign away the right to exploit its untapped fields in so-called exploration contracts, which could then be extended for more than 30 years.



Foreign Office minister Kim Howells has admitted that the government has discussed the wording of the Iraqi law with Britain's oil giants.
In a written answer to a parliamentary question, from Labour's Alan Simpson, Howells said: 'These exchanges have included discussion of Iraq's evolving hydrocarbons legislation where British international oil companies have valuable perspectives to offer based on their experience in other countries.' The talks had covered 'the range of contract types which Iraq is considering'.

Control of oil is an explosive political issue in Iraq. Hasan Jumah Awwad al-Asadi, leader of the country's oil workers' union formed after the invasion in 2003, warned this month: 'History will not forgive those who play recklessly with the wealth and destiny of a people.'

With much of the country on the brink of civil war, and a fractious government in Baghdad, campaigners say Iraq is in a poor position to negotiate with foreign oil firms. 'Iraq is under occupation and its people are facing relentless insecurity and crippling poverty. Yet, with the support of our government, multinationals are poised to take control of Iraq's oil wealth,' said Ruth Tanner, senior campaigner at War On Want.

The law, which is being discussed by the Iraqi cabinet before being put to the parliament, says the untapped oil would remain state-owned but that contracts would be drawn up giving private sector firms the exclusive right to extract it.

'There is this fine line, that the wording is seeking to draw, that allows companies to claim that the oil is still Iraqi oil, whereas the extraction rights belong to the oil companies,' says Kamil Mahdi, an Iraqi economist at Exeter University. He criticised the US and Britain, saying: 'The whole idea of the law is due to external pressure. The law is no protection against corruption, or against weakness of government. It's not a recipe for stability.'

Simpson said 'This confirms the view of those who have said all along that the war in Iraq was not about weapons of mass destruction, but the control of the levers of mass production ... This is a cartel carve-up by the occupying powers.'

Oil production in Iraq has slipped to below two million barrels a day - less than before the invasion - and Britain and the US argue that Iraq urgently needs foreign investment to boost output. But Ewa Jasiewicz, of campaign group Platform, said all the other Gulf states had kept production in government hands. 'Iraq could borrow the money to develop its industry, and pay that off through oil revenues.'

Kurds accept new Oil Law in Iraq

This is from Al Jazeera. There is still virtually no discussion of this bill in the mainstream press over a week after the first translation appeared in the blogosphere.The only free press it seems is in the blogosphere. Eventually no doubt the world free press will feel shamed enough to insert a few columns in back pages.
It seems that the International Monetary Fund is already starting to determine prices in Iraq as it insists that gas is too cheap and so lo and behold the price rises.


Kurds 'back' new draft Iraq oil law





Barzani's Kurdistan government wants to have
a bigger say in Iraq's economic decisions [AP]



Kurdish authorities have agreed to back a draft law to manage and share Iraq's oil wealth, removing the last major obstacle to approving the measure.

Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish government in the north, announced this at a joint news conference on Saturday in Baghdad with Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi president, and the US ambassador.




Barzani said he and Talabani had discussed the latest draft law by telephone with Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, and "the results were good".



"We reached a final agreement ... we accept the draft," Barzani said.








There was no comment on the announcement from Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador, or Talabani, and Barzani did not elaborate.



It was unclear whether new concessions had to be made to win his approval.



After the cabinet signs off, the measure goes to parliament for final approval once the legislators return from a recess early next month.



'Change needed'



Analysts believe that a new law is needed to encourage international companies to invest in Iraq to repair pipelines, upgrade wells, develop new fields and to exploit the country's vast petroleum reserves, which is estimated at about 115bn barrels.



According to Iraqis familiar with the deliberations, the draft law would offer international oil companies several methods to invest, including production-sharing agreements.



The agreements would give US and other international companies a substantial share of the oil revenues to recover their initial investments and then allow them big tax breaks.



That angers some Iraqis, who believe foreign investors will get too much control of the nation's wealth.



But the biggest battle is over who gets the most say in awarding contracts and managing the revenues. The Kurds, who have run their own mini-state in the north since 1991, want regional administrations to have a bigger role.



Most of the country's proven oil reserves lie in the Kurdish north and the Shia-dominated south, which also wants to establish a self-ruled region.



That has led the Sunni Iraqis to demand more power for the central government, to assure them a share of the wealth.


Wealth distribution



To win Kurdish approval, the current draft gives a major role to the regional administrations in awarding contracts but allows a committee under the prime minister to review them.



To satisfy Iraqi Sunnis, oil revenues would be distributed to the 18 provinces based on their populations - not on whether they have oil.



While the Kurds want more control of revenue generated from their fields, others think the new proposals give the regions too much control.



Speaking at an oil seminar in Jordan this month, Tariq Shafiq, a former oil official, who helped draft the first version, said: "If implemented, the balance of power in the management of Iraq's oil and gas resources would have shifted alarmingly from the centre to the regions."



Price increases



In a related development, Hussein al-Shahrastani, Iraqi oil minister, has announced a 15 per cent increase in fuel prices to be applied as early as March.



Al Shahrastani said that the decision was made after consultation with the International Monetary Fund to lift subsidies on fuel products.



The government plans to raise the price of benzene to 400 dinars a gallon and petrol to 350 dinars a gallon.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

US worried about blowback from renditions

Another obvious reason why the US will not admit Arar's innocence is that Arar still has an appeal in place of the rejection of an earlier suit against the US government.
This is from the Globe and Mail.

A world of Maher Arars
Why won't the U.S. admit Maher Arar's innocence? It may be fear of precedent. Tales of other suspects seized and sent abroad to face torture are beginning to come to light in Europe. This week, those stories helped bring down the Italian government. And as Doug Saunders reports, this could be just the beginning.
DOUG SAUNDERS

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

E-mail Doug Saunders | Read Bio | Latest Columns
On an October evening five years ago, a Gulfstream III executive jet appeared in the sky above Rome and requested a landing at Ciampino Airport, a small military and tourist-flight destination on the ancient Via Appia. On board the 14-seat plane were two pilots, a steward, five CIA agents and a tall, elegant Canadian wearing a green sweater, a pair of jeans and metal shackles.

The Gulfstream, registered to a CIA-connected firm known as Presidential Aviation, was on European soil for exactly 37 minutes. When it had finished refuelling, it left Ciampino at 8:59 p.m. and headed to Amman, Jordan. There, Maher Arar was carried off the plane, beaten, and loaded into a van headed to Damascus, where he would face 10 months and 10 days of horrendous torture.

Those 37 minutes are now coming back to haunt Europe.

Mr. Arar's ordeal, and the wealth of investigations and recriminations that have followed in Canada, has provoked a deep sense of alarm in European politics this week. This Syrian-Canadian's case, the abject apology he received from Prime Minister Stephen Harper last month and the bewildering lack of acknowledgment from Washington, has made a half-dozen governments realize that they may soon face similar public self-examinations.




The possibility, revealed in a European Union report last week, that as many as 20 more Arar-like cases may be emerging within Europe, is souring relations between Europe and the U.S. in anti-terrorism operations, and between European governments and their own people in electoral politics.

Major court cases are under way in Germany and Italy against domestic and U.S. agents for kidnapping citizens and sending them to Muslim countries to be tortured — cases that could implicate senior government officials and tarnish national leaders, as they have in Canada.

It is fair to say that Mr. Arar's spectre claimed its first major victim on Wednesday in Rome, when a parliamentary conflict over co-operation with the U.S. "war on terrorism," tainted by the use of Italian airports to transport Mr. Arar and others to sites of torture, led to the collapse of Italy's government.

Those 37 minutes that Mr. Arar spent on the tarmac in Rome, apparently with the consent of Italian authorities under anti-terrorism agreements with the U.S., have now become part of the controversy. An Italian magistrate, Salvatore Vitello, will travel to Canada later this winter as part of his investigation to determine whether Italians and Americans were guilty of kidnapping.

Across Europe, prosecutors such as Mr. Vitello have shifted their energies from charging potential al-Qaeda terrorists to investigating officials who may have overstepped the bounds of law in their pursuit of antiterrorism.

"We are investigating Mr. Arar's transit through Rome, which is itself a crime if behind it there was an actual crime — that is, if in the U.S. he was illegally kidnapped. If that is the case, if he was kidnapped, then Rome was part of it," Mr. Vitello told The Globe and Mail. "The fact that he was in Rome for those 37 minutes — somebody must have given permission for that."

A year ago, his investigation would have been another colourful sideshow in the flamboyant world of European jurisprudence. But Mr. Arar's precedent has changed that.

In Canada, the Arar case has led to the resignation of RCMP chief Giuliano Zaccardelli, to an apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the payment of $11.5-million in damages to Mr. Arar, and to tensions between a Conservative government and a U.S. Republican administration. Foreign minister Stockwell Day has engaged in a heated showdown with his U.S. counterparts over his demand that Mr. Arar be removed from an American no-fly list. And the Liberal Party, in a forthcoming election, will be confronted with its indifference and possible collusion in the Arar case.

The issue of "extraordinary rendition" — the U.S. practice of seizing suspected terrorists, placing them on unmarked airplanes, and sending them without charge or trial to countries that practice torture — has festered for years in the background of European politics. But it has been an issue that has mainly concerned political parties and activists on the far left, groups that are predictably anti-American. In mainstream politics, it has simply been part of the War on Terrorism's background noise.

There has now been a palpable change. The carte blanche given after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to U.S. authorities to conduct anti-terror operations on European soil has become a menacing liability, and the subject of potentially destructive investigations, in several European countries. Governments are also reducing military co-operation with the U.S: This week saw Britain and Denmark announcing plans to withdraw troops from Iraq, with others expected to follow.

And when the European Parliament last week released a report condemning the 1,245 CIA flights made in Europe and the 20 European citizens subjected to "rendition," the responses no longer fell along predictable left-right lines.

European leaders are now looking nervously to Canada. Mr. Arar's "rendition" in 2002 was probably the first major use of the practice to come to light, and Canada is the first country to have been scorched politically by the explosive discovery that innocent people were tortured as a result of the practice.

Senior Canadian government officials and European Union diplomats have told The Globe and Mail that they believe the U.S. is avoiding any apology or acknowledgment of wrongdoing in the Arar case because it could open a Pandora's box of recriminations from Europe, where two cases almost identical to Mr. Arar's are being tried in Germany and Italy and at least 18 more could be pending.

American intelligence officials are facing criminal charges in European courts, and an admission that mistakes have been made could transform transatlantic relations into an enormous forensic investigation, they say.

Europe is now feeling the pain that Canada has undergone, in part as a result of information unearthed in the half-dozen inquiries into Mr. Arar's treatment. In Italy, the fallout has centred on the case of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a Milan cleric also known as Abu Omar, who was seized by CIA agents in 2003 and flown to Cairo, where he was tortured and sexually abused in prison. He was released this week.

Last Friday, Italy had its Arar moment. Milan magistrate Armando Spataro indicted 26 U.S. citizens, including Italian CIA station chief Robert Seldon Lady, and five Italians in the rendition of Abu Omar. All of them face charges of kidnapping. The Italian officials include the head of intelligence, Nicolo Pollari, who like the RCMP chief was forced to resign over the case, which is known in Italy as the Imam Rapito ("kidnapped imam") affair.

The U.S. has refused to acknowledge the Italian prosecution or to admit that the rendition occurred. It has also refused the magistrate's request to extradite the defendants (the Italian government has also decided not to press the extradition request at the highest levels). But Italian law allows people to be tried, convicted and sentenced in absentia, so the case will continue, likely revealing embarrassing information about high-level support for the renditions in Italian governments.

In Germany, a case strikingly similar to Mr. Arar's has led to arrest warrants against 13 CIA officers and damning revelations about German complicity in kidnapping. That case involves Khaled el-Masri, who was seized while on vacation in 2003 and sent to Afghanistan for five months (similarly, Mr. Arar, a computer programmer, had been returning from a family vacation). As with Mr. Arar, it appears that Mr. el-Masri has no relationship with terrorism and that his rendition was founded on completely false evidence.

Both Sweden and Portugal are also facing major investigations which accuse their governments of allowing citizens to be seized and sent to Egypt and other countries for torture, without any criminal charges.

Significantly, the case against the U.S. is now being made by judges and officials who have traditionally held pro-American, terror-fighting positions.

Mr. Spataro, the Milan magistrate, is as far from an anti-American firebrand as you can get in Italy: He has spent much of the past 30 years prosecuting terrorist and Mafia groups in Italy, and is not known for a hostility to U.S. interests.

"The job is the same — I have led many investigations against internal terrorism since the early 1970s. Many of my colleagues were killed by terrorist organizations," Mr. Spataro said this week from a Milan office filled with Americana — the wall behind his desk is dominated by a Norman Rockwell print chronicling the integration of southern U.S. schools.

"But we were absolutely sure that it is impossible to fight terrorism without respect for the laws. And with this investigation I hope that we can confirm that it is impossible to win over Islamic terrorism without the respect for law."

The Arar and Abu Omar cases were different in this respect: Along with his indictments of intelligence officials last week, Mr. Spataro laid criminal charges against Abu Omar himself, charging him with membership in a criminal organization (a crime in Italy). Mr. Spataro said that he strongly believes that Abu Omar could have been prosecuted for terrorism far more efficiently if the U.S. practice of rendition had not been followed. But now, he says, the terror-fighters are just as guilty as the alleged terrorist.

"I want to make clear that according to Italian law there is no difference between prosecuting terrorism and prosecuting those who fight terrorism," he said.

That seems to be the bridge that was crossed in Europe this week: It is now the people who were the most stalwart anti-terrorist fighters, the most loyal supporters of George W. Bush's approach to al-Qaeda, who are speaking out against the abuses of that system. With an eye on Canada, the moderates and centre-rightists of Europe are realizing that the U.S. is not prepared to offer a reasonable explanation for those abuses.

That was the case this week with Gijs de Vries, the EU's head of anti-terrrorism, who announced that he will step down in March because he has lost faith in his U.S. partners. He previously had embraced the American approach to counterterrorism, and harshly criticized the European parliament for its rendition-system investigation, with which he refused to co-operate. But on Wednesday, he said that the lack of U.S. explanation for its actions had made it impossible for him to do his job properly.

"The CIA renditions, together with Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and the military commissions act, unfortunately have tarnished the image of the United States in the fight against terrorism, among Muslims and non-Muslims," he told reporters. "I hope the United States, now that there is a new political dynamic in the U.S. Congress, can return to a mainstream interpretation of international human rights."

It was this sort of realization, on a larger scale, that led to the collapse of the Italian government on Wednesday. The expansion of a U.S. military base and the presence of Italian troops in Afghanistan were bound to be divisive in Italy, where Communists and other parties of the extreme left always have built a strong base on anti-Americanism. Those parties make up part of the left-wing coalition government of Romano Prodi, which took power from Silvio Berlusconi in last spring's elections.

But the U.S. base became a rallying point for more than just the far left. A public sense that Italian airports and bases have been used for immoral or questionable activities has led the wider Italian public to take part in protests against the expansion, drawing tens of thousands of people.

It created an environment where even the parties of Mr. Berlusconi's right could vote against the pro-American measures without upsetting their constituencies. On Wednesday, it was mainly right-wing politicians who voted against the military-base expansion and the Afghanistan measure, bringing down the government.

Sergio Romano, a former Italian senior diplomat and leading voice of the country's centre-right, told The Globe and Mail that he now believes that the U.S. should not have bases on Italian soil, because it has abused its friendly relationship with its European allies to the point that it can no longer be trusted.

"I believe that the very same people who have been most aware that terrorism is a threat are now the people who are critical in this case of kidnapping," he said from his Milan office. "I think that calling it a 'war on terrorism' has caused a number of mistakes on our part."

It is bizarre to find the likes of Mr. Romano, an ardently pro-American voice, calling for restrictions on U.S. rights in Europe. But with an eye to Mr. Harper's government, European leaders are realizing that it is perilous to support the Bush administration at this awkward political moment.

"I think there is a body of opinion which feels that this kind of thing should be looked at with new eyes," Mr. Romano said "We know very well that the Americans used their bases in Djibouti to attack al-Qaeda in Ethiopia this year . . . If they decide to attack Hezbollah, God forbid, they'll be using Italian bases to do it.

"And we won't be told beforehand. We'll learn the next day. And you become complicit in such things. We do not want that any more."

Doug Saunders is a London-based member of The Globe and Mail's European bureau. His Focus column, Reckoning, will return next week.

More on the New Iraq Oil Law

There still seems to be absolutely no discussion of this law in the mainstream press. It seems pending bills in the Iraqi parliament are not made public. The oil law draft was leaked.

Oil Grab in Iraq
Antonia Juhasz and Raed Jarrar | February 22, 2007

Editor: John Feffer, IRC and Erik Leaver, IPS




Foreign Policy In Focus www.fpif.org


While debate rages in the United States about the military in Iraq, an equally important decision is being made inside of Iraq--the future of Iraq’s oil. A new Iraqi law proposes to open the country’s currently nationalized oil system to foreign corporate control. But emblematic of the flawed promotion of “democracy” by the Bush administration, this new law is news to most Iraqi politicians.

A leaked copy of the proposed hydrocarbon law appeared on the Internet last week at the same time that it was introduced to the Iraqi Council of Ministers. The law is expected to go to the Iraqi Council of Representatives within weeks. Yet the Internet version was the first look that most members of Iraq’s parliament had of the new law.

Many Iraqi oil experts, like Fouad Al-Ameer who was responsible for the leak, think that this law is not an urgent item on the country's agenda. Other observers and analysis share Al-Ameer's views and believe the Bush administration, foreign oil companies, and the International Monetary Fund are rushing the Iraqi government to pass the law.

Not every aspect of the law is harmful to Iraq. However, the current language favors the interests of foreign oil corporations over the economic security and development of Iraq. The law’s key negative components harm Iraq’s national sovereignty, financial security, territorial integrity, and democracy.

National Sovereignty and Financial Security
The new oil law gives foreign corporations access to almost every sector of Iraq’s oil and natural gas industry. This includes service contracts on existing fields that are already being developed and that are managed and operated by the Iraqi National Oil Company (INOC). For fields that have already been discovered, but not yet developed, the proposed law stipulates that INOC will have to be a partner on these contracts. But for as-yet-undiscovered fields, neither INOC nor private Iraqi companies receive preference in new exploration and development. Foreign companies have full access to these contracts.

The exploration and production contracts give firms exclusive control of fields for up to 35 years including contracts that guarantee profits for 25-years. A foreign company, if hired, is not required to partner with an Iraqi company or reinvest any of its money in the Iraqi economy. It’s not obligated to hire Iraqi workers train Iraqi workers, or transfer technology.

The current law remains silent on the type of contracts that the Iraqi government can use. The law establishes a new Iraqi Federal Oil and Gas Council with ultimate decision-making authority over the types of contracts that will be employed. This Council will include, among others, “executive managers of from important related petroleum companies.” Thus, it is possible that foreign oil company executives could sit on the Council. It would be unprecedented for a sovereign country to have, for instance, an executive of ExxonMobil on the board of its key oil and gas decision-making body.

The law also does not appear to restrict foreign corporate executives from making decisions on their own contracts. Nor does there appear to be a “quorum” requirement. Thus, if only five members of the Federal Oil and Gas Council met--one from ExxonMobil, Shell, ChevronTexaco, and two Iraqis--the foreign company representatives would apparently be permitted to approve contacts for themselves.

Under the proposed law, the Council has the ultimate power and authority to approve and re-write any contract using whichever model it prefers if a "2/3 majority of the members in attendance" agree. Early drafts of the bill, and the proposed model by the U.S. advocate very unfair, and unconventional for Iraq, models such as Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs) which would set long term contracts with unfair conditions that may lead to the loss of hundreds of billions of dollars of the Iraqi oil money as profits to foreign companies.

The Council will also decide the fate of the existing exploration and production contracts already signed with the French, Chinese, and Russians, among others.

The law does not clarify who ultimately controls production levels. The contractee--the INOC, foreign, or domestic firms--appears to have the right to determine levels of production. However, a clause reads, “In the event that, for national policy considerations, there is a need to introduce limitations on the national level of Petroleum Production, such limitations shall be applied in a fair and equitable manner and on a pro-rata basis for each Contract Area on the basis of approved Field Development Plans.” The clause does not indicate who makes this decision, what a “fair and equitable manner” means, or how it is enforced. If foreign companies, rather than the Iraqi government, ultimately have control over production levels, then Iraq’s relationship to OPEC and other similar organizations would be deeply threatened.

Democracy and Territorial Integrity
Many Iraqi oil experts are already referring to the draft law as the "Split Iraq Fund," arguing that it facilitates plans for splitting Iraq into three ethnic/religious regions. The experts believe the law undermines the central government and shifts important decision-making and responsibilities to the regional entities. This shift could serve as the foundation for establishing three new independent states, which is the goal of a number of separatist leaders.

The law opens the possibility of the regions taking control of Iraq’s oil, but it also maintains the possibility of the central government retaining control. In fact, the law was written in a vague manner to help ensure passage, a ploy reminiscent of the passage of the Iraqi constitution. There is a significant conflict between the Bush administration and others in Iraq who would like ultimate authority for Iraq’s oil to rest with the central government and those who would like to see the nation split in three. Both groups are powerful in Iraq. Both groups have been mollified, for now, to ensure the law's passage.

But two very different outcomes are possible. If the central government remains the ultimate decision-making authority in Iraq, then the Iraq Federal Oil and Gas Council will exercise power over the regions. And if the regions emerge as the strongest power in Iraq, then the Council could simply become a silent rubber stamp, enforcing the will of the regions. The same lack of clarity exists in Iraq's constitution.

The daily lives of most people in Iraq are overwhelmed with meeting basic needs. They are unaware of the details and full nature of the oil law shortly to be considered in parliament. Their parliamentarians, in turn, have not been included in the debate over the law and were unable to even read the draft until it was leaked on the Internet. Those Iraqis able to make their voices heard on the oil law want more time. They urge postponing a decision until Iraqis have their own sovereign state without a foreign occupation.

Passing this oil law while the political future of Iraq is unclear can only further the existing schisms in the Iraqi government. Forcing its passage will achieve nothing more than an increase in the levels of violence, anger, and instability in Iraq and a prolongation of the U.S. occupation.


Raed Jarrar Iraq Project Director for Global Exchange. He is an Iraqi blogger and architect. He runs a blog called "Raed in the Middle." Antonia Juhasz is the Ida Tarbell Fellow at Oil Change International, a Visiting Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, and author of The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time (HarperCollins, April 2006).

Naomi Klein on Padilla trial

From information clearing house. It is disheartening that practices such as this are allowed to continue and none of the perpretrators are brought to justice because they are protected by anti-terror laws. In the name of fighting terrorism it is quite legal to terrorise suspects and even drive them insane.




A Trial for Thousands Denied Trial

By Naomi Klein

02/23/07 "The Nation" -- [from the March 12, 2007 issue] -- Something remarkable is going on in a Miami courtroom. The cruel methods US interrogators have used since September 11 to "break" prisoners are finally being put on trial.

This was not supposed to happen. The Bush Administration's plan was to put José Padilla on trial for allegedly being part of a network linked to international terrorists. But Padilla's lawyers are arguing that he is not fit to stand trial because he has been driven insane by the government.

Arrested in May 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare airport, Padilla, a Brooklyn-born former gang member, was classified as an "enemy combatant" and taken to a Navy prison in Charleston, South Carolina. He was kept in a 9-by-7-foot cell with no natural light, no clock and no calendar. Whenever Padilla left the cell, he was shackled and suited in heavy goggles and headphones. Padilla was kept under these conditions for 1,307 days. He was forbidden contact with anyone but his interrogators, who punctured the extreme sensory deprivation with sensory overload, blasting him with harsh lights and pounding sounds. Padilla also says he was injected with a "truth serum," a substance his lawyers believe was LSD or PCP.

According to his lawyers and two mental health specialists who examined him, Padilla has been so shattered that he lacks the ability to assist in his own defense. He is convinced that his lawyers are "part of a continuing interrogation program" and sees his captors as protectors. In order to prove that "the extended torture visited upon Mr. Padilla has left him damaged," his lawyers want to tell the court what happened during those years in the Navy brig. The prosecution strenuously objects, maintaining that "Padilla is competent," that his treatment is irrelevant.

US District Judge Marcia Cooke disagrees. "It's not like Mr. Padilla was living in a box. He was at a place. Things happened to him at that place." The judge has ordered several prison employees to testify at the hearings on Padilla's mental state, which begin February 22. They will be asked how a man alleged to have engaged in elaborate antigovernment plots now acts, in the words of brig staff, "like a piece of furniture."

It's difficult to overstate the significance of these hearings. The techniques used to break Padilla have been standard operating procedure at Guantánamo Bay since the first prisoners arrived five years ago. They wore blackout goggles and sound-blocking headphones and were placed in extended isolation, interrupted by strobe lights and heavy metal music. These same practices have been documented in dozens of cases of CIA "extraordinary rendition" as well as in prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many have suffered the same symptoms as Padilla. According to James Yee, former Army Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo, there is an entire section of the prison called Delta Block for detainees who have been reduced to a delusional state. "They would respond to me in a childlike voice, talking complete nonsense. Many of them would loudly sing childish songs, repeating the song over and over." All of Delta Block was on twenty-four-hour suicide watch.

Human Rights Watch has exposed a US-run detention facility near Kabul known as the "prison of darkness"--tiny pitch-black cells, strange blaring sounds. "Plenty lost their minds," one former inmate recalled. "I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and the doors."

These standard mind-breaking techniques have never faced scrutiny in a US court because the prisoners in the jails are foreigners and have been stripped of the right of habeas corpus--a denial that, scandalously, was just upheld by a federal appeals court in Washington, DC. There is only one reason Padilla's case is different: He is a US citizen. The Administration did not originally intend to bring Padilla to trial, but when his status as an enemy combatant faced a Supreme Court challenge, the Administration abruptly changed course, charging Padilla and transferring him to civilian custody. That makes Padilla's case unique: He is the only victim of the post-9/11 legal netherworld to face an ordinary US trial.

Now that Padilla's mental state is the central issue in the case, the government prosecutors have a problem. The CIA and the military have known since the early 1960s that extreme sensory deprivation and sensory overload cause personality disintegration--that's the whole point. "The deprivation of stimuli induces regression by depriving the subject's mind of contact with an outer world and thus forcing it in upon itself. At the same time, the calculated provision of stimuli during interrogation tends to make the regressed subject view the interrogator as a father-figure." That comes from Kubark Counterintelligence Interrogation, a 1963 declassified CIA manual for interrogating "resistant sources."

The manual was based on the findings of the agency's notorious MK Ultra program, which in the 1950s funneled about $25 million to scientists to research "unusual techniques of interrogation." One of the psychiatrists who received CIA funding was the infamous Ewen Cameron of Montreal's McGill University. Cameron subjected hundreds of psychiatric patients to large doses of electroshock and total sensory isolation and drugged them with LSD and PCP. In 1960 Cameron gave a lecture at the Brooks Airforce Base in Texas in which he stated that sensory deprivation "produces the primary symptoms of schizophrenia."

There is no need to go so far back to prove that the US military knew full well that it was driving Padilla mad. The Army's field manual, reissued just last year, states, "Sensory deprivation may result in extreme anxiety, hallucinations, bizarre thoughts, depression, and anti-social behavior," as well as "significant psychological distress."

If these techniques drove Padilla insane, that means the US government has been deliberately driving hundreds, possibly thousands, of prisoners insane around the world. What is on trial in Florida is not one man's mental state. It is the whole system of US psychological torture.
Copyright © 2007 The Nation

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