Monday, December 26, 2011

The power struggle in Iraq may be more about Exxon and other oil companies wanting contracts with the Kurdistan regional government than sectarianism

and the US and it’s allies have not tried to prevent sectarian violence, but encouraged it as a means to divide and conquer

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki’s sacking and arrest warrants for Iraqi Sunni Vice President Tareq Al Hashemi and the bombings happening at the same time are being talked of as sectarian politics resuming due to the withdrawal of US forces.

In fact the divisions in Iraq are about politics and power more than ethnicity or religion and the US government and American oil companies have encouraged them, partly to divide and conquer Iraqis and partly to get the power to negotiate oil contracts devolved to regional governments, which will give oil companies a stronger hand in negotiations than they would have with the central government. The current crisis has probably been triggered by the Maliki government’s decision to declare contracts between Exxon-Mobil and the regional government of Iraqi Kurdistan, made in November 2010, illegal (1).

This and the fact that Maliki allied himself with Moqtadr Al Sadr’s party to get a majority after the 2010 elections may have led the Americans to go all out to try to get the opposition Iraqiya coalition, which includes their client Ayad Allawi, into government.

There are major divisions between Maliki’s Dawa party and it’s ISCI allies on the one hand and the third main Shia party in Iraq – Moqtadr Al Sadr’s; and as in the past Sadr is closer on many issues to two of the three Sunni parties in the Iraqiya opposition than to the Shia Dawa and ISCI.

During the build up to the 2004 Coalition offensive on Sunni rebels in Fallujah, Sadrists and other Shia in Najaf declared their support for the rebels and sent aid convoys of food and medicines to Fallujah (2). Sunnis and Shia have often marched together against the occupation over the last eight years (3) – (4).

In 2008 Maliki, a Shia, was leading the Shia ISCI and Dawa government in joint Coalition and Iraqi government offensives on Al Sadr’s Shia Madhi army militia in Baghdad, but not on other militias responsible for as much or more killing, including the ISCI’s Badr Brigades (5) – (6).

One reason was that Maliki was reliant on US support for his position; and Sadr and his party were allied to Sunni parties in opposing the presence of US troops, US influence in Iraq, and the oil law the US government wanted to get favourable contracts for it’s oil companies. Another was that Sadr was Maliki’s rival for Shia votes. (7)

The ISCI and Dawa are both closer to Iran’s government than Sadr and his party are – the Sadrists historically being strong Iraqi nationalists. The US government’s belief that all Shia are pro-Iranian or Iranian backed is also far from the truth. During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s Khomeini hoped that Iraqi Shia would defect from Saddam’s forces. A few did and joined armed exile groups in Iran, but the vast majority of Shia conscripts fought loyally for Saddam, not because they supported him, but because they were Iraqi before they were Shia. Most Iraqis, with the exception of the Kurds, remain Iraqi first and whatever religious or ethnic group they are second.

The US and other Coalition governments are mostly net oil importers and their main aim in Iraq is to get their own oil companies contracts in Iraq on favourable terms. They are torn between on the one hand wanting to keep a strong central government in Iraq under their control ; and on the other wanting to weaken the central government so they can make separate contracts with regional governments like that of Iraqi Kurdistan. As long as Maliki remains allied to Sadr to stay in power the US has failed in it’s attempt to control the central government so will prefer strengthening the regional governments by dividing Iraqis.

However Sadr and Maliki are increasingly at odds again and the Sadrists’ call for early elections may be more about trying to gain seats from Dawa and the ISCI than about keeping Sunnis out of it, though the Sadrists will not be comfortable with all of the Iraqiya party as it includes former Baathist and then US client Ayad Allawi (8).

One Iraqi website quoting Sadr says he said that “The issue of Hashimy’s trial should take place under the auspices of the Parliament and the people….even the sacking of politicians from their posts must take place in a legal manner.”

“The issue of confessions against Vice-President, Tareq al-Hashimy and the raising of this issue at the current period may harm the country, its unity and security, including the downfall of the current political process and the security situation, along with harming the political process as well,” Sadr said.

Sadr also stressed that the said case “had boosted the isolation of Iraq nowadays, including the transformation of the government into a single-party government and the imposition of its power on the necks of everybody.” (9)

The quotes seem to be confirmed by a CNN report that repeats part of the above and adds ‘Al-Sadr said the crisis could tarnish the prime minister's [i.e Maliki’s] reputation and result in the consolidation of power with one-man rule.’ (10)

An alliance between the Kurds and the Iraqiya party would suit the US as a potential alternative to the Iranian brokered alliance between Maliki’s Dawa, the ISCI and the Sadrists. If Maliki’s accusation that Hashemi and Mutlak were proposing an autonomous Sunni regional government , that would suit Exxon very nicely too (11).

Former Bush (senior) official Peter Galbraith wrote a book called ‘The End of Iraq’ advocating the break up of Iraq into three states – Kurdish, Sunni and Shia – but his motives were cast into doubt when it was found that he was receiving money from oil companies seeking contracts in Iraqi Kurdistan and had a 5% share of any profits in contracts on some  deals. A complete breakup of Iraq would not be needed to achieve the oil companies’ aims though – only a change to regional governments having the final say on oil contracts (12).

The Iraqiya party is made up of three parties. Two of them – Hashemi’s and Mutlak’s are Sunni parties and  have been as strongly opposed to the presence of US troops and US influence in Iraq as the Sadrists, but the third – Ayad Allawi’s party – are US clients and mostly secular (13) – (14).

Allawi, although a Shia, started off as a Ba’athist under Saddam , assassinating Iraqi dissidents who had fled to Europe. Later he fell out with Saddam, went into exile himself and was carried out car and cinema bombings in Baghdad with CIA support. He was appointed Interim Iraqi Prime Minister by Bush’s ‘Governor of Iraq’ Paul Bremer and oversaw El Salvador style US trained Iraqi death squads, along with the TV programme ‘Terrorism in the Hands of Justice’ in which torture victims confessed live to being terrorists (15) – (16).

In the first post-war elections Allawi was the candidate backed by the US and British governments, but he lost heavily. US support for Allawi has continued though under Bush and Obama. The Iraqiya coalition of parties did far better in the 2010 parliamentary elections and was initially thought to have won, but couldn’t form a working coalition.

The idea that the US government and military have been trying to prevent sectarian violence in Iraq , or that their withdrawal and a fall in US influence has been the cause of it, are also pretty far fetched.

The US government and other Coalition members have encouraged sectarian divisions and violence among Iraqis from the start, because unless Iraqis are divided and fighting one another for power, foreign powers can’t have that much influence in Iraq. In the first few years of the Iraq war they trained mostly Shia extremist units like the Wolf Brigade of the US trained ‘Special Police Commandos’ to target Sunnis, on the faulty logic that all Sunnis were Saddam supporters (17) – (19).

Then in 2007 came what Seymour Hersh called ‘the re-direction’. The US government had decided that Shia dominance of Iraq’s politics had given the Shia Iranian government too much influence in Iraq and began paying the same Sunni tribal militias that had been fighting US forces to fight Al Sadr’s Medhi army militia and the Sunni extremist Al Qa’ida instead (but not the Shia, pro-Iranian ISCI’s Badr Brigades, who didn’t oppose the oil law). This was on the dodgy theory that the Sadrists were proxies of the Iranian government, which became a self-fulfilling prophecy (20) – (22).

(1) = NYT 13 Nov 2011 ‘Iraq Criticizes Exxon Mobil for Its Deal With the Kurds’, ; ‘A deputy prime minister overseeing Iraq’s oil industry criticized Exxon Mobil on Sunday over its effort to expand into the semiautonomous Kurdish region in the country’s north…. The statement from the official, Hussein al-Shahristani, said the central government had cautioned Exxon against pursuing oil deals in Kurdistan. The government considers such agreements to be illegal until long-awaited rules can be worked that would divide revenues among Iraq’s fractious regions.

Mr. Shahristani’s office issued its statement after Exxon, whose headquarters are in Irving, Tex., became the first major international oil company to sign a contract in Kurdistan.’

(2) =

(3)  = Guardian 10 Apr 2004, ‘Sunni and Shia unite against common enemy’,

(4) = Guardian 10 Apr 07, ‘Moqtada rallies Shia to demand withdrawal of foreign troops’,,,2053247,00.html

(5) = Washington Post 26 Mar 2008 ‘U.S. Armor Forces Join Offensive In Baghdad Against Sadr Militia’,

(6) = HRW 28 Oct 2006 ‘Iraq: End Interior Ministry Death Squads’,

(7) = BBC News 3 July 2007, ‘Iraqi cabinet backs draft oil law’,

(8) = NYT 26 Dec 2011 ‘In Blow to Government, Sadr Followers Call for New Elections’,

(9) = the 25 Dec 2011 ‘Shiite Cleric, al-Sadr, calls for trial of Iraq’s Vice-President Hashimy under Parliament’s auspices’,

(10) = CNN 26 Dec 2011 ‘Al-Sadr's bloc calls for dissolution of Iraqi parliament’,

(11) = Al Jazeera 25 Dec 2011 ‘Iraqi VP refuses to face court in Baghdad’, ; ‘Maliki convened a meeting of his crisis-response cell on Saturday, his office said. …In separate comments on Saturday, Maliki warned that any efforts to create an autonomous Sunni region within Iraq would cause deep divisions in the country and lead to "rivers of blood".’

(12) = NYT 11 Nov 2009 ‘U.S. Adviser to Kurds Stands to Reap Oil Profits’,

(13) = Al Jazeera 28 Oct 2008 ‘Iraq Sunni party severs US ties’,  ; ‘But the IIP has been locked in a bitter rivalry with the Sunni tribal leaders who joined forces with the US and that has raised concerns that the political tensions could spark violence and disrupt the Awakening Councils.’

(14) =

(15) = Times 01 May 2005 ‘West turns blind eye as police put Saddam's torturers back to work’,

(16) = NYT magazine 01 May 2005 ‘The Way of the Commandos’,

(17) = BBC News 11 Jun 2005 ‘Profile: Iraq's Wolf Brigade’,

(18) = See (14) above

(19) = 28 Oct 2010 ‘Iraq war logs: 'The US was part of the Wolf Brigade operation against us'’,

(20) = The New Yorker 05 Mar 2007 ‘Annals of National Security - The Redirection’,

(21) = NPR 17 July 2008, 'U.S. Trains Ex-Sunni Militias as Iraqi Police',

(22) = Sunday Times 25 Nov 2007, ‘American-backed killer militias strut across Iraq’,

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