Sunday, October 19, 2008
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
October 14, 2008 02:49 PM
McCain Transition Chief Aided Saddam in Lobbying Effort
William Timmons, the Washington lobbyist who John McCain has named to head his presidential transition team, aided an influence effort on behalf of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to ease international sanctions against his regime.
The two lobbyists who Timmons worked closely with over a five year period on the lobbying campaign later either pleaded guilty to or were convicted of federal criminal charges that they had acted as unregistered agents of Saddam Hussein's government.
During the same period beginning in 1992, Timmons worked closely with the two lobbyists, Samir Vincent and Tongsun Park, on a previously unreported prospective deal with the Iraqis in which they hoped to be awarded a contract to purchase and resell Iraqi oil. Timmons, Vincent, and Park stood to share at least $45 million if the business deal went through.
Timmons' activities occurred in the years following the first Gulf War, when Washington considered Iraq to be a rogue enemy state and a sponsor of terrorism. His dealings on behalf of the deceased Iraqi leader stand in stark contrast to the views his current employer held at the time.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Iraq makes historic return to oil sales as PM calls for British troops to leave
Iraq has moved to put itself at the centre of the global oil industry as it launches its first sale of production rights to Western companies at a summit in London.
By Damien McElroy, Foreign Affairs Correspondent
Last Updated: 6:40PM BST 13 Oct 2008
The recent drop in violence across Iraq has increased the prospects of Baghdad doubling its oil output by 2012 by allowing foreign investors to bring the most advanced production techniques to the war-torn country.
Iraq was at the forefront of world-wide oil production until the Ba'athist regime nationalised the industry in the 1970s. Although Saddam Hussein made deals with French, Russian and Chinese oil companies in the 1990s, United Nations sanctions barred the country's re-emergence as a leading source of energy supplies.
Representatives of 35 companies have been given six months to apply for a 20-year right to operate oilfields that hold up to 40 per cent of the country's 115 barrels of proven reserves. Hussain al-Shahristani, Iraq's Minister for Oil, convened the meeting at a Park Lane hotel in central London. Aides said the location was deliberately chosen to demonstrate that Iraq had shed its old pre-occupations about foreign powers dominating the industry, which generates ninety per cent of its annual income.
A British firm is acting as Baghdad's strategic advisor as it overhauls its most important asset. The firm, Gaffney, Cline and Associates, was responsible for a presentation given by Mr Shahristani to the executives. The major British oil firms BP and Shell are seen as leading contenders to gain access to the six major oil fields and two gas fields on offer.
Baghdad hopes to sign the final agreements by next June, months before the country's ruling coalition of Shia and Kurdish parties face the second democratic general election since the 2003 campaign to depose Saddam. But the exercise has kicked-off without a final agreement on a national oil law, a key measure that Baghdad has been under immense pressure to enact.
Enthusiastic bidding despite a recent drop in oil prices would translate into a political windfall for the government. "International interest will be extremely high," said Muhammad-Ali Zainy, senior analyst at the Center for Global Energy Studies in London. "The Iraqi oil industry has been stagnant – and has actually been deteriorating – and it's time to open it to foreign direct investment."
Shell became the first big British oil company to open an office in Baghdad last month. In a signal it had Baghdad's seal of approval, the company was granted a £2 billion deal to modernise an existing gas field.
Critics of the war suggested yesterday's conference represented the breakthrough America and Britain had sought at the outset of the war, a claim that ignored China's equally strong position in the pursuit of Iraqi resources. China has already secured a £1.78 billion deal to renew an agreement it signed with Saddam under sanctions.
Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, declared the country was keen to deepen its economic co-operation with British companies despite his call for UK troops to withdraw from the Iraqi frontline by the end of the year. "Definitely, the presence of this number of British soldiers is no longer necessary," he said. "We thank them for the role they have played, but I think that their stay is not necessary for maintaining security and control."
Mr Maliki said differences over British forces failure to control violence in Basra would not affect overall ties between Baghdad and London. "Our relationship now is good and we are working to improve it further in other fields as we take over responsibility for security," he said. "The Iraqi arena is open for British companies and British friendship, for economic exchange and positive cooperation in science and education."
Iraq's Sunnis Fear Life Without U.S. Oversight
U.S. Turns Over 'Son's of Iraq' Program to Iraq, Sparking Sunni Fears of Reprisals
By JOHN HENDREN
JAMBARIYAH, Iraq, Oct. 1, 2008
As the Iraqi government takes over responsibility for paying the salaries of the so-called Sons of Iraq, many of these mostly Sunni fighters fear the nation's Shiite-led government will leave them jobless -- or worse -- Shiite militias within the Iraqi police and army will target them for assassination.
The Iraqi government began taking over responsibility for these informal security forces today, with the first paychecks coming from the Iraqi government next month. Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told ABC News Iraq plans to give 20 percent of the nation's 100,000 Sons of Iraq jobs to the police force and army.
"I don't think that the Iraqi government neither the Multi National Forces could achieve such success and security without their participation," al-Dabbagh told ABC News.
But here in the small village of Jambariyah, an al Qaeda stronghold north of Baghdad until early this year, just one of 70 Sons of Iraq has been hired to date, and of the 1,200 in the city of Dujail, none.
If his men go without jobs, al Qaeda and violence will return, said Saad Hatem Farhan, mayor -- or mukhtar -- of Jambariyah. "Most of us will be killed. The rest, they'll force them to be insurgents again."
Now, despite their success, Iraq's Shiite-controlled government plans to disband the Sons of Iraq here and throughout the country. That has the Sons of Iraq, according to Farhan, "very, very worried" that government neglect or malice toward these groups will unravel a fragile peace in village after village across Iraq.
The program has been widely deemed a success, hailed by American military leaders as a key to the success of the American troop surge in quelling violence in this fragile, war-torn nation. As he departed last week as the top commander on the ground in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus was asked if hiring 20 percent into the security forces was enough.
"That depends on what happens to the other 80 percent," he said.
The government says it has a plan. After hiring 20,000 Sons of Iraq in the army and police, the government says it will vet the remaining 80,000 for criminal ties and hire those who are qualified in other civil service jobs, at least until they find other work. But in a country where jobs are scarce and sectarian suspicions linger, leaders of these groups put little trust in the government.
"We distrust the Iraqi government to fulfill its promises," Farhan said, "especially in the Sunni areas."
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Saddam's defense attorneys assert that the execution of Saddam was an act of vengeance, not justice. Most Iraqi Shia would disagree. I will never forget the day Saddam was executed. On that day I received a phone call from a Palestinian American friend, who said "bad move Shia". The Sunni Arab reaction to the trial and execution of Saddam is symbolic of the deep sectarian divisions in the Arab world. Instead of heeling wounds, the trial and execution seemed to only intensify the sectarian conflict.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Thursday, October 09, 2008
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Saturday, October 04, 2008
"In 1968, Iraq had a weak president who was beholden to Nasser, a follower of Nasser. But the defeat of [the Arabs by Israel] in 1967 meant that whatever government was in power when that defeat took place had to go. So the Ba'ath saw an opportunity in this and they thought the time has come for them to take over the country again. The background was extremely interesting. There were two things happening within Iraq at that time. They were developing their own oil and very close to giving the concessions for huge new oil fields, to the USSR and France. And the price of sulpher had shot up so greatly that they were about to mine the sulpher mines in the north and sell it in the world market.
The United States didn't want either to happen. The United States wanted the oil for American oil companies; they wanted the sulpher for themselves. They thought that if Iraq went to the Soviet Union or France, Iraq would be lost to them. In this they were joined by the Ba'ath Party. The Party used the concessions for oil and sulpher as a bargaining point to endear itself once again to America. And they arrived once again at some kind of an agreement of collaboration between the two sides. On the American side negotiating for both the oil and sulpher was a well-known personality, Robert Anderson, the former secretary of treasury under Eisenhower. He met secretly with the Ba'ath and they agreed that if they took over power these concessions will be given to the United States.
And so once again the United States was in the business of supporting the Ba'ath office for the government of Iraq. The Ba'ath was successful. This time Saddam Hussein played a key role. He was one of the people who donned a military uniform -- though he's not a military man -- and attacked the presidential palace and occupied it. The president, being weak, surrendered immediately. Two weeks after they took over power on the 17th of July 1968, there was what they call "the correction movement." That meant getting rid of the non-Ba'ath elements in the coup, and Saddam was prominent in that. As a matter of fact he held a gun to the head of the prime minister and said, "You're going with me to the airport because you're leaving this country." And the guy pleaded with him, said, "I have family, I have a wife and kids." And Saddam said, "Well as long as you behave, they'll be fine." He took him to the airport, he put him in a plane, he deported him, and of course years after, he assassinated him in front of the Intercontinental Hotel in London. The man couldn't escape him in the long run.
However, the communists are hardly thrown out and not long after, they turn to Saddam, and he personally leads a delegation to Moscow, and there's a development of a relationship between the two. What game was he playing?
Well, alliances of convenience don't last very long. The Ba'ath Party was committed to certain things which American foreign policy could not tolerate. In this particular case it lasted a very short time, really a matter of two weeks. And Saddam got rid of all of the pro-American elements in the government and he asserted his authority on the country. He was not the president. He was the second man, after a relation of his from Tikrit, President Ahmed Bakr. But what happened immediately after that is the things they needed, they couldn't get from the United States anymore. They needed help economically. They needed arms. And the United States were not in the business of openly supplying arms to Arab countries to re-equip themselves for another round of fighting. That was the major issue between the two sides. Saddam knew he could get the arms from Russia and he journeyed to Russia -- this was his first trip outside Iraq, outside of exile of course -- and he got what he wanted. And the alliance of convenience disintegrated as they always do.
So, there was a new alliance, this time with the Soviets.
In 1972, Iraq and the Soviet Union signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation. They wanted to seal the cooperation taking place between them in a formal alliance. The reason Saddam signed that treaty of friendship and cooperation was because that obligated the local communist party, which was very strong, to cooperate with the Ba'ath Party, which was not so strong at that time.
Of course the Russians loved an opportunity to have a hold on Iraq and they signed the treaty and told the local communist party to join the Iraqi government. That alliance internally did not last very long. But the external one was on and off for a very long time. And the Soviet Union at one point thought Iraq was a more important ally than Egypt. Its army always acquitted itself better than the Egyptian army. It was a wealthy country that didn't need a lot of aid, like Egypt. And it was the gateway to the Gulf, to oil. It represented a more immediate threat to the West's lifeline than Egypt did.
So Saddam in the early '70s is Iraq's vice president. Could you describe how he's already setting up a Stalinist system with control of the government.
In the early '70s, Saddam started out controlling one small department called the Peasants Department; at that time the Ba'ath regime, for a very brief period of time, was committed to installing a democratic system in Iraq. It was a bit of a dream. Came the time for them to assign the job of head of the security system, and no one from the inner circle wanted the job. Everybody says, "This is a dirty job. I don't want it." Young Saddam Hussein raised his hand, and said, "I want the job. I'll take over the security system."
He took over the security system, called it the Department of General Relations and proceeded to expand it. This was his first step towards attaining power.
The president at the time, Ahmed Bakr had been a general, and a very nice man. Quite a religious man too. Saddam was a relation of his. He surrendered everything to Saddam, because Saddam worked an 18-hour day. In no time at all, Saddam was head of security, he was head of the Peasants Department, he was head of relations with the Kurds, he was head of the committee that controlled the oil. He was head of the committee that controlled relations with the Arab countries. He was head of the workers syndicate.
There was a conflict between all these departments that Saddam controlled so tightly and the armed forces -- because the armed forces is the one organization capable of overthrowing government. Saddam proceeded to emasculate the army and place his professional soldier relations from Tikrit in key positions. For example, his brother-in-law became chief of staff of the army. And of course soon enough, like all people who are dictators, who are jealous of the army, he appointed himself general and eventually like Stalin he became field marshal.
So much of what you just described certainly has Stalinist overtones.
Without any doubt everything Saddam did had Stalinist overtones. In particular, the reliance on the security system rather than the armed forces, the jealousy of the generals in the armed forces, the use of criminal elements within the country, and, incorporating them into the security system. And those people were sort of semi-literate thugs whose loyalty was to Saddam, without whom, they were nothing. And so he brought them in, he depended on them, and they did him service. Anybody he wanted to get rid of he got rid of. And the door was wide open.He had two qualities that put him ahead of his colleagues. His ability to work an 18-hour day. Endlessly. And a sense of organization. You didn't see Saddam at three o'clock and miss that appointment by five minutes. Because Saddam would ask you why you are five minutes late, or five minutes early. If you had an appointment with Saddam at three, you showed up at three. That was that. He is that organized. He is that methodical. "
"So far, the United States is trying to cajole Maliki into supporting the Awakening, offering $300 to $500 per month for each member of the Sunni militia. At the same time, US military officers in Iraq have promised to guarantee the payments to the Sunni forces and to shield the Awakening from attacks or reprisals by the regime. But among Sunnis, including those interviewed for this story, there is widespread concern that they are on their own and that the United States will not abandon the government in Baghdad despite its sectarian, pro-Iran leanings.
In that case, said a former top Iraqi official, many Sunnis may turn to an unlikely source for support: Russia. "The Russians are very active," he said. "They are talking with many Iraqis, including resistance leaders and Awakening members, in Damascus, Syria. They are in discussions with big Baathists." According to this official, former Baathists, army officers and Awakening members in Damascus, Amman and inside Iraq are looking to Russia for support, especially since Russia seems intent on reasserting itself in the Middle East. "The Russians intend to come out strongly to play with the Sunnis," he said. "I heard this from sahwa members in Damascus and Amman. 'If the Americans abandon us, we will go to the Russians.'"
Friday, October 03, 2008
"A counterpoint to the Baghdad bombings was the gesture of reconciliation in Samarra, where a Sunni-Shiite prayer service at the city's grand mosque Wednesday drew about 700 worshipers. In their speeches, clerics from each sect agreed on the need for tolerance -- and jointly blamed much of the sectarian war on the U.S.-led coalition forces.
Violence in Iraq has dropped markedly from last year, with 860 people killed in war-related incidents in September, down from 2,431 in the same period a year earlier, according to figures obtained from the Iraqi Interior and Health ministries."