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By Noemie Emery
A funny thing happened this summer: John McCain taunted Barack Obama into making a trip to Iraq, whereupon the press looked around and finally noticed what those who were paying attention had known for some months now. The country portrayed for the last four years by the press and the Democrats as Vietnam-in-the-Desert is doing much better, what with al Qaeda on the run, the Sunnis and Shias coming together, the Shia militias largely defeated, and the war itself looking more or less .??.??. won.
"The combat phase finally is ending," trilled the Associated Press, which had been warning of doom only weeks earlier. "The United States is now winning the war that two years ago had seemed lost. .??.??. People are expressing a new confidence in their security forces. .??.??. Parks are filled every weekend with families playing." Was this good news for McCain, who had staked his career on calling for the surge when all appeared hopeless? Well, no. But it was, apparently, good news for Obama, as less stress in Iraq made the world seem less threatening, made his lack of experience in foreign relations appear less disturbing, and made voters more likely to feel safe taking chances on him. When Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki said that Obama's plan for a 16-month-long phased withdrawal of American troops struck him as not an illogical timeline, it seemed yet another leg up for the audacious contender. For McCain, it was the old, unfair rule that to solve a problem was to make oneself seem redundant, as shown by the dismissal in 1945 of British prime minister Winston Churchill.
But wait! If the war is now "won," it may help Obama, but doesn't it also help President Bush? His catastrophic, failed, mess of a war in Iraq--the worst decision ever made, by the worst president ever (as the ranters tell us)--was supposed to be the battering ram that would break the Republican hold on the White House, the core of the case Democrats intended to make that his administration had been a disaster like no other in history, Vietnam cubed. When Bush doubled down with the surge in early 2007, Democrats placed a huge bet on failure and sat back to enjoy and cash in their winnings. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate majority leader Harry Reid released a joint letter that said a surge would be useless; Senators Joe Biden and Chuck Hagel introduced a resolution opposing the buildup; votes of no confidence followed in rapid succession. "We are going to pick up seats as a result of this war," Reid exulted. Democrats in the Senate spent much of their time forcing a series of votes designed to get their opponents on record as backing the war and the president. In June 2007, Reid declared the war lost.
By the end of that summer, disturbed by some hint that better news might be coming, Democrats tried a preemptive strike on the testimony to Congress of General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. "Dead flat wrong," Biden pronounced their assessment, before it had even been delivered. Rahm Emanuel predicted a report deserving of a "Nobel Prize for creative statistics or the Pulitzer for fiction." Hillary Clinton said the reports of improvement in Iraq required a "willing suspension of disbelief." Signs of success gave Democrats the vapors. In the face of an optimistic report from General Jack Keane, one of the principal authors of the surge strategy, Representative Nancy Boyda of Kansas became so unnerved that she fled from the hearing. "There was only so much that you could take until we in fact had to leave the room for a while," she said.
If the mere possibility of small signs of progress could so unnerve Democrats last summer, the party might want to lie down and rest for a while as it contemplates a convention, a campaign, and an election to follow, with no failed war to run on, and no George Bush to blame for it. If the war has been won, somebody has to have won it. They can still claim the war failed (in spite of succeeding), or is likely to flare up again at any moment, but that makes Obama's lack of experience still more disturbing. On the other hand, if Iraq is now tame enough to trust Obama to mess with, it means that the president has done something right. Or does it? Can a commander in chief be detached from a victory? Can Obama be trusted if there isn't a victory? Can the president be losing a war while the country is winning it? These are the small contradictions the party will have to explain.
Meanwhile, the party is losing its signature issue, losing the use of the president as an all-purpose piρata, and has to channel the wrath of its base into alternative venues that may lack the original's pop and oomph. Added to this is the fact that the Democrats' exertions last year to get Republicans on record supporting the surge now seem to have been a complete waste of effort, as these votes are now assets, and Democrats are the ones being asked to explain why they voted to block it. When Harry Reid laid his traps for an "Iraq Summer," this was not quite the outcome he sought.
The conventional view is that the success of the surge has leveled the field between McCain and Obama, leaving each with one "good" and one "bad" call apiece: Obama with his opposition to the war in 2002 (which McCain supported), and McCain with his vote for the surge in 2007 (which Obama opposed). Opinion polls tend to sustain this division, noting that while Americans feel that the surge has been working--and think for the first time in years that the larger war on terror is being won by their country--they still think by something close to a two-to-one margin that the war in Iraq has been a mistake.
This is the good news in the eyes of the Democrats. The good news for the Republicans is that the same polls show that these views go along with the mistaken and outdated conclusion that the war in Iraq has been lost. Polls taken as recently as May and June showed that 54 percent of respondents thought victory in Iraq was not possible; 61 percent thought Iraq would never become a democracy; 62 percent thought the war was going "badly" or "very badly." But those numbers reflect the state of affairs in October, November, and December of 2006, the dark night of the war that coincided with and was the cause of the Democrats' sweep of the 2006 midterms, when violence peaked, and civil war seemed imminent.
In the spring of 2007, the surge met and merged with the Anbar Awakening. Before long, al Qaeda was fleeing from the Sunni-held provinces, the Shia started to turn on their own sectarian radicals, and Sunnis were rejoining the army and government. Late in the summer, casualty rates started to plummet. At the end of September 2007, Bartle Bull became the first journalist to use the w word in print and in public, titling a piece in the Times of London, "How We've Won the War in Iraq." "The country is whole," Bull wrote. "It has embraced the ballot box. It has created a fair and popular constitution. It has avoided civil war. .??.??. Iraq's violence has largely become local and criminal. .??.??. The violence, while tragic, has ceased being political, and is therefore no longer nearly as important as it was."
In the event, the decision of both the Sunnis and Shia to turn their backs both on jihad and on sectarian violence was an act of remarkable political consequence, creating the Iraqi center that Bush had hoped for when he invaded in 2003, but that had not yet existed. In 2008, the laggard Iraqi government finally began to cohere. In April, the overwhelmingly Shiite Maliki government did the unexpected and attacked and defeated the Shiite Mahdi Army in the city of Basra, a definitive act that impressed the Sunnis enough to make them want to come back to the national government. This was the state of affairs that prevailed in late July when Obama made his celebrated visit to Baghdad, and prompted the assertion of victory just days later by the Associated Press.
The AP story was the first inkling most Americans had of Iraq's real conditions and came several months after the last set of polls on Iraq had come out. Over time, if conditions remain as they are, the AP-Bartle Bull view of Iraq will probably replace the 2006 view in the minds of the public, though how soon, and to what extent, is less clear. Some people will always believe that the cost and the chaos of 2004-2006 make the war an epic Bush failure, but if the opinion of others rests on the view that the war was lost, their minds over time may be changed. This means that while the success of the surge is now established beyond refutation, the verdict on the war itself may be open to revision. It will be up to McCain and his backers to make their case strongly, and it may have only a marginal impact on this election. But in a close race, even the margins can be important. And it is no longer a wholly lost cause.
For Obama, his vote on the surge is quite a complication, and one that he never foresaw. Some claim it won't hurt him, as it will have been cast almost two years ago come November, and elections are fought over the future, not the past. But try telling that one to Hillary Clinton, who lost the Democratic nomination on the strength of the go-to-war vote that she cast five years earlier, and that her party's voters refused to forgive or forget. The final insult was that she refused to apologize for it, or at least to apologize for it abjectly enough to please Democratic primary voters. And no one hammered her for it more than Obama, who providentially enough is now being asked to explain his against-the-surge vote in 2007, or at least to admit he was wrong. If he refuses, as USA Today said in a July 24 editorial, he is clearly denying the obvious. But if he admits it, he is compromising his campaign's rationale. In the place of experience, of which he has little, he is basing his claim to leadership on his superior judgment, shown by his opposition to the invasion, expressed in 2002 when he was still a state senator, and unable to vote on the issue. But this is called into question by his stance on the surge, which he was able to vote on, and in which case the judgment of John McCain (and of the president) was demonstrably better than his.
As Slate's John Dickerson noted, it was the most important vote Obama has cast. "As Obama pointed out regularly during the Democratic primaries," he said, "a person's past vote tells you something about his or her judgment. Obama talked a lot about the clarity of his judgment in opposing the Iraq war." On the surge, however, he flunked his own standard. "When he voted against the surge in January 2007, he claimed on more than one occasion that it would lead to increased casualties and sectarian violence. It didn't. How'd he get that one wrong?"
As Dickerson notes, that's not all he got wrong--he's been mistaken in nearly everything he said on Iraq since he came to the Senate. He claimed that the Anbar Awakening took place as a result of the Democrats' congressional victories, but it began in September 2006, two months before the voting took place. He opposed not only the troop surge, but the strategic changes that took place along with it, that did so much to enable the victory. He said the American military had nothing to do with the Anbar Awakening or with the retreat of the Sadr militia, something denied by the military and by the Iraqi Sunnis themselves. He was also wrong in his predictions of what would occur. "In January 2007, Obama claimed that the Iraqi government would make no hard choices if the United States stayed," wrote Dickerson, noting however that "they have made hard choices," such as Maliki's decision to attack and defeat Sadr and his Mahdi Army. This of course casts doubt on the senator's current projections. "If Obama was wrong about the tactical gains that would be made by the new strategy, and wrong about how the Iraqi political leaders will react, can his larger theory about how Iraqis will respond to a troop pullout remain intact?"
It can't, and neither can his claim to superior judgment. Picture this ad, as it might be run by the McCain forces sometime this fall:
From the GOP's standpoint, the ads write themselves.
- Cut to Obama, praising his own judgment.
- Cut to Obama, opposing the surge, repeatedly, as it is bound to prove useless.
- Cut to Obama after the surge has succeeded, claiming he had always said that adding additional troops would improve security.
- Cut to Obama telling ABC News's Terry Moran that he would vote against the surge all over again, as he was opposed to the president's overall strategy.
- Cut to Obama again, touting the strength of his intuition and judgment.
Such are the perils of seeking advantage in this strange new political age. McCain needs Iraq to be won, as it was his war and he knew how to fight it, but not won so thoroughly as to be handed off risk-free to the neophyte challenger. Obama needs the war to be won to make it safe to elect him, but if it is won it indicts his own poor judgment and deprives his party of its favorite issue and most emotional line of attack on his rival, and on Bush.
McCain and his party at least wanted to win the war all along, but for Obama and many Democrats, the sudden lurch from the catastrophic Bush failure to unexpected victory has caused incoherence. Last year, in damage control, Chuck Schumer declared that the surge itself had been counterproductive: "The violence in Anbar has gone down despite the surge, not because of the surge," he insisted, without quite explaining it. "It wasn't that the surge brought peace." Nancy Pelosi said the surge hadn't worked, and then said it worked only because Iran let it. To Time's Joe Klein, the surge is whipped cream on top of the pile of excrement that is the war, a debacle that somehow produced undeniable victory. "The reality is that neither Barack Obama nor Nuri al-Maliki nor most anybody else believes that the Iraq war can be 'lost' at this point," Klein wrote on July 22, a day after he compared the war effort to fertilizer, and the same day he called the war he said had been won a "disastrous" enterprise. Obama tried the same thing when he called the surge a tactical success within a larger strategic debacle, but a success he would still vote against--knowing in advance it would still be successful--if once again given the chance.
A commander in chief who votes against the success of his own armed forces? Is this the judgment--and change--that we can believe in?
Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.
By FREDERICK W. KAGAN , KIMBERLY KAGAN AND JACK KEANE
July 16, 2008
All of the most important objectives of the surge have been accomplished in Iraq. The sectarian civil war is ended; al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has been dealt a devastating blow; and the Sadrist militia and other Iranian-backed militant groups have been disrupted.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi government has accomplished almost all of the legislative benchmarks set by the U.S. Congress and the Bush administration. More important, it is gaining wider legitimacy among the population. The attention of Iraqis across the country is focused on the upcoming provincial elections, which will be a pivotal moment in Iraq's development.
The result is that we have an extraordinary but fleeting opportunity to advance America's security and the stability of a vital region of the world.
As far as the civil war is concerned, there have been virtually no sectarian killings recorded for the past 10 weeks. Violence is still perpetrated by organized groups, but AQI, the remnant Sunni insurgents and Shiite fighters are now focused on attacking their own members who have defected to our side. This is a measure of their weakness. The Iraqi population is increasingly mobilizing against the perpetrators of violence, flooding American and Iraqi forces with tips about the locations of weapons caches and key militant leaders Sunnis turning in Sunnis and Shia turning in Shia.
The fighters have not simply hidden their weapons and gone to ground to await the next opportunity to kill each other. The Sunni insurgency, as well as AQI, has been severely disrupted. Coalition and Iraqi forces have killed or detained many key leaders, driven the militants out of every one of Iraq's major cities (including Mosul), and are pursuing the remnants vigorously in rural areas and the desert.
The Shiite militias have also been broken apart, sending thousands of their leaders scurrying for safety in Iran. Iraqi forces continue to hammer Iranian-backed Special Groups and elements of the Sadrist Jaysh al Mahdi that have been fighting with them in Sadr City, Maysan Province and elsewhere. At this time, none of these networks can conduct operations that could seriously destabilize the Iraqi government. But both al Qaeda and the Iranians are working hard to refit their networks.
The larger strategic meaning of these military and political advances must be kept clearly in mind. Iraq remains a critical front in al Qaeda's war against the U.S.
Discussions in the American media about whether AQI is "really" al Qaeda are puerile. AQI's leadership, largely foreign, is part of the global al Qaeda network operating in support of Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden and his lieutenants in Pakistan and around the world send support (including foreign fighters) to Iraq and closely follow the situation there, as their repeated public pronouncements show no less than their actions. Al Qaeda's central leadership is not prepared to lose in Iraq, and has been seeking ways to regain lost ground.
Within Iraq, AQI operatives are still seeking aggressively to re-establish bases from which they can launch more substantial operations in the future. They are failing because of the continuous pressure American and Iraqi forces are putting on them from Baghdad to Mosul. If that pressure is relaxed, they will begin to succeed again.
The Iranian leaders responsible for Iranian policy in Iraq principally Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Brigadier General Qassim Soleimani, commander of the Qods Force also remain determined. They are retraining and re-equipping thousands of fighters who fled the most recent Iraqi and Coalition operations in Basra, Baghdad, and Maysan Provinces.
Past patterns suggest those fighters will return to Iraq and attempt to restart attacks against Coalition Forces in time to disrupt Iraqi elections and to affect America's voting. Their attacks are likely to be more spectacular, but less effective at disrupting Iraqi government and society.
If America remains firm in its commitment to success in Iraq, success is very likely. The AQI and Shiite militias at present do not have the capacity to drive Iraq off course unless both the U.S. and the Iraqi government make a number of serious mistakes.
The most serious error would be to withdraw American forces too rapidly. That would strengthen the resolve of both al Qaeda and Iran to persevere in their efforts to disrupt the young Iraqi state and weaken the resolve of those Iraqis, particularly in the Iraqi Security Forces, who are betting their lives on continued American assistance.
The blunt fact is this. In Iraq, al Qaeda is on the ropes, and the Shiite militias are badly off-balance. Now is exactly the time to continue the pressure to keep them from regaining their equilibrium. It need not, and probably will not, require large numbers of American casualties to keep this pressure on. But it will require a considerable number of American troops through 2009.
Recent suggestions in Washington that reductions could begin sooner or proceed more rapidly are premature. The current force levels will be needed through the Iraqi provincial elections later this year, and consideration of force reductions makes sense only after those elections are over and the incoming commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, has evaluated the new situation.
The benefits to the U.S. from seeing the fight through to the end far outweigh the likely costs. For one thing, Iraqis have shown their determination to increase their oil output, currently averaging 2.5 million barrels a day, as fast as they can something that can only happen if their country is secure.
Far more important is the opportunity in our hands today to work with a Muslim country in the heart of the Arab world to inflict the most visible and humiliating defeat possible on al Qaeda. Success in Iraq also makes it possible to establish a strategic partnership with a legitimate, democratic majority-Shia state that is aligned with the U.S. against Iran.
Recent comments by some Iraqi leaders about the current negotiations for a status-of-force agreement made in the context of an increasingly heated election season in Iraq, and with the desire to improve Iraq's bargaining position in the negotiations do not call the U.S. partnership into question. As we recently found in Baghdad, even the most outspoken advocates of rapid American force reductions strongly insist on a strategic partnership with America that helps Iraq stand up to Iran. Most of Iraq's military leaders are unequivocal about the need for a continued U.S. force presence.
The Iraqi government and people whose surging anti-Persian feeling is more obvious every day have already shown their willingness to push back against Iranian intervention. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's attack on Iranian-backed forces in Basra, followed by Iraqi-led operations in Baghdad, central Iraq and Maysan, is proof of Baghdad's willingness. Helping Iraq to succeed is our best hope of finding a way of resolving our differences with Iran over the long term without coming to blows.
It is time for Americans to recognize it's a whole new ballgame in Iraq. The civil war is over, American troops are not an "irritant" fueling the unrest, and far from becoming dependent upon us, the Iraqi government and the army show more determination every day to run their country and to protect it. But they continue to want and need our assistance.
While victory in war is never certain until the war is over, the odds are strongly with us for once provided we do the right thing. That is to stand by our best ally in the war against al Qaeda, and the struggle to contain Iran.
Mr. Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Ms. Kagan is president of the Institute for the Study of War. Mr. Keane is a former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army. All have just returned from their most recent visit to Iraq.
By Wall St.Journal
July 5, 2008
Here's a thought experiment: Assume that Iraq's democratic government declared it was nationalizing its oil industry, a la Venezuela or Saudi Arabia, while excluding American companies from the country. How do you think U.S. politicians would react? With angry cries of "ingratitude" and "this is what Americans died for"?
Of course they would, led no doubt by that critic for all reasons, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York. So it is passing strange that Mr. Schumer and other Senators are now assailing Iraq precisely because it is opening up to foreign oil companies, especially to U.S. majors like Exxon Mobil and Chevron. For some American pols, everything that happens in Iraq is bad news, especially when it's good news for the U.S.
Iraq announced this week that it is inviting global competition to develop its major oil reserves, with 35 oil companies invited to bid. By tapping outside capital and expertise, Iraq hopes to increase production by 60%, providing a much-needed boost to its own coffers and the world's tight oil supply.
This is welcome news. With elections looming later this year and next, the temptation for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government must have been to play the nationalist card - the way that Mr. Schumer did against Dubai Ports World's proposed U.S. investment in 2006 (see, for instance, "Ports of Gall"). Many Iraqis remain suspicious of outside oil companies - the legacy of a colonial past in which Iraq felt exploited for its oil.
Instead, Iraq chose competitive bidding that will bring in the best expertise to exploit its national resource. Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani is predicting that, with outside help, Iraq could become the second or third largest oil-producing country in the world. Today it produces about 2.5 million barrels a day, compared to 11 million for the world-leading Saudis. Foreign companies will be required to have an Iraqi partner, and to hire Iraqis, while most oil revenues will still flow to the Iraqi people.
What seems to irk Mr. Schumer - and running mates John Kerry and Missouri's Claire McCaskill - is Iraq's decision to sign shorter-term, no-bid service contracts with Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Total and Chevron. Most of these firms had extensive experience in Iraq prior to Saddam Hussein's nationalization, and were chosen because their knowledge will help Iraq boost near-term production. The contracts will run no more than two years, and all five firms have spent the past three years providing training, analysis and advice to Iraq - free of charge.
The Democrats nonetheless stomped their feet in a letter last week to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. They demanded that she intervene to stop the Iraqis "from signing contracts with multinational oil companies until a [national oil law] is in effect in Iraq." Their complaint is that a hydrocarbon law is one of the Bush Administration's "benchmarks for reconciliation" in Iraq, and that these oil contracts would only "further deepen political tension in Iraq and put our service members in even greater danger." They also griped that the five firms would get an "insider's advantage" to later oil bidding.
Also piling on is House baron Henry Waxman, who is upset with a separate contract that the Kurdistan Regional Government has signed with Texas's Hunt Oil. Mr. Waxman thinks the Bush Administration didn't do enough to stop the deal. Then again, this is old news, as the contract was signed last year. And while the Baghdad central government wasn't pleased the Kurds had moved on a contract without national approval, the deal hasn't impeded Iraq's broader progress.
We doubt French politicians are objecting to Total's contract, but American Democrats are so blinkered about Iraq that they now object even to U.S. companies getting business on the merits. The hydrocarbon law would help to clarify revenue-sharing between Baghdad and Iraq's outlying provinces. But even without that law, oil revenues are already flowing throughout the country, including to Sunni-majority areas.
The faster and more efficiently the oil deposits are developed, the more revenue there will be to distribute. And the faster Iraq will be able to rebuild on its own - which is what Democrats say they want. Meanwhile, by inviting foreign partners, Iraq is avoiding the trap of nationalization that has harmed so many countries. It concentrates political power, undermining democracy. National oil companies also tend to underinvest in technology, letting harder-to-exploit oil become a wasting asset.
What the U.S. should promote in Iraq is some kind of oil trust, or stock or revenue dispersal, that would give individual Iraqis a share of their oil wealth. This would be both a tool to build national unity and to prevent any one political group from dominating Iraq's main revenue source. If Mr. Schumer wants to help on that score, he might do some good.
By Andrew E. Kramer
June 19, 2008
BAGHDAD: Four Western oil companies are in the final stages of negotiations this month on contracts that will return them to Iraq, 36 years after losing their oil concession to nationalization as Saddam Hussein rose to power.
Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP - the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company - along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq's Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq's largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat.
The deals, expected to be announced on June 30, will lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations.
The no-bid contracts are unusual for the industry, and the offers prevailed over others by more than 40 companies, including companies in Russia, China and India. The contracts, which would run for one to two years and are relatively small by industry standards, would nonetheless give the companies an advantage in bidding on future contracts in a country that many experts consider to be the best hope for a large-scale increase in oil production.
There was suspicion among many in the Arab world and among parts of the American public that the United States had gone to war in Iraq precisely to secure the oil wealth these contracts seek to extract. The Bush administration has said that the war was necessary to combat terrorism. It is not clear what role the United States played in awarding the contracts; there are still American advisers to Iraq's Oil Ministry.
Sensitive to the appearance that they were profiting from the war and already under pressure because of record high oil prices, senior officials of two of the companies, speaking only on the condition that they not be identified, said they were helping Iraq rebuild its decrepit oil industry.
For an industry being frozen out of new ventures in the world's dominant oil-producing countries, from Russia to Venezuela, Iraq offers a rare and prized opportunity.
While enriched by $140 per barrel oil, the oil majors are also struggling to replace their reserves as ever more of the world's oil patch becomes off limits. Governments in countries like Bolivia and Venezuela are nationalizing their oil industries or seeking a larger share of the record profits for their national budgets. Russia and Kazakhstan have forced the major companies to renegotiate contracts.
The Iraqi government's stated goal in inviting back the major companies is to increase oil production by half a million barrels per day by attracting modern technology and expertise to oil fields now desperately short of both. The revenue would be used for reconstruction, although the Iraqi government has had trouble spending the oil revenues it now has, in part because of bureaucratic inefficiency.
For the American government, increasing output in Iraq, as elsewhere, serves the foreign policy goal of increasing oil production globally to alleviate the exceptionally tight supply that is a cause of soaring prices.
The Iraqi Oil Ministry, through a spokesman, said the no-bid contracts were a stop-gap measure to bring modern skills into the fields while the oil law was pending in Parliament.
It said the companies had been chosen because they had been advising the ministry without charge for two years before being awarded the contracts, and because these companies had the needed technology.
A Shell spokeswoman hinted at the kind of work the companies might be engaged in. "We can confirm that we have submitted a conceptual proposal to the Iraqi authorities to minimize current and future gas flaring in the south through gas gathering and utilization," said the spokeswoman, Marnie Funk. "The contents of the proposal are confidential."
While small, the deals hold great promise for the companies.
"The bigger prize everybody is waiting for is development of the giant new fields," Leila Benali, an authority on Middle East oil at Cambridge Energy Research Associates, said in a telephone interview from the firm's Paris office. The current contracts, she said, are a "foothold" in Iraq for companies striving for these longer-term deals.
Any Western oil official who comes to Iraq would require heavy security, exposing the companies to all the same logistical nightmares that have hampered previous attempts, often undertaken at huge cost, to rebuild Iraq's oil infrastructure.
And work in the deserts and swamps that contain much of Iraq's oil reserves would be virtually impossible unless carried out solely by Iraqi subcontractors, who would likely be threatened by insurgents for cooperating with Western companies.
Yet at today's oil prices, there is no shortage of companies coveting a contract in Iraq. It is not only one of the few countries where oil reserves are up for grabs, but also one of the few that is viewed within the industry as having considerable potential to rapidly increase production.
David Fyfe, a Middle East analyst at the International Energy Agency, a Paris-based group that monitors oil production for the developed countries, said he believed that Iraq's output could increase to about 3 million barrels a day from its current 2.5 million, though it would probably take longer than the six months the Oil Ministry estimated.
Fyfe's organization estimated that repair work on existing fields could bring Iraq's output up to roughly four million barrels per day within several years. After new fields are tapped, Iraq is expected to reach a plateau of about six million barrels per day, Fyfe said, which could suppress current world oil prices.
The contracts, the two oil company officials said, are a continuation of work the companies had been conducting here to assist the Oil Ministry under two-year-old memorandums of understanding. The companies provided free advice and training to the Iraqis. This relationship with the ministry, said company officials and an American diplomat, was a reason the contracts were not opened to competitive bidding.
A total of 46 companies, including the leading oil companies of China, India and Russia, had memorandums of understanding with the Oil Ministry, yet were not awarded contracts.
The no-bid deals are structured as service contracts. The companies will be paid for their work, rather than offered a license to the oil deposits. As such, they do not require the passage of an oil law setting out terms for competitive bidding. The legislation has been stalled by disputes among Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties over revenue sharing and other conditions.
The first oil contracts for the majors in Iraq are exceptional for the oil industry.
They include a provision that could allow the companies to reap large profits at today's prices: the ministry and companies are negotiating payment in oil rather than cash.
"These are not actually service contracts," Benali said. "They were designed to circumvent the legislative stalemate" and bring Western companies with experience managing large projects into Iraq before the passage of the oil law.
A clause in the draft contracts would allow the companies to match bids from competing companies to retain the work once it is opened to bidding, according to the Iraq country manager for a major oil company who did not consent to be cited publicly discussing the terms.
Assem Jihad, the Oil Ministry spokesman, said the ministry chose companies it was comfortable working with under the charitable memorandum of understanding agreements, and for their technical prowess. "Because of that, they got the priority," he said.
In all cases but one, the same company that had provided free advice to the ministry for work on a specific field was offered the technical support contract for that field, one of the companies' officials said.
The exception is the West Qurna field in southern Iraq, outside Basra. There, the Russian company Lukoil, which claims a Saddam-era contract for the field, had been providing free training to Iraqi engineers, but a consortium of Chevron and Total, a French company, was offered the contract. A spokesman for Lukoil declined to comment.
Charles Ries, the chief economic official in the American Embassy in Baghdad, described the no-bid contracts as a bridging mechanism to bring modern technology into the fields before the oil law was passed, and as an extension of the earlier work without charge.
To be sure, these are not the first foreign oil contracts in Iraq, and all have proved contentious.
The Kurdistan regional government, which in many respects functions as an independent entity in northern Iraq, has concluded a number of deals. Hunt Oil Company of Dallas, for example, signed a production-sharing agreement with the regional government last fall, though its legality is questioned by the central Iraqi government. The technical support agreements, however, are the first commercial work by the major oil companies in Iraq.
The impact, experts say, could be remarkable increases in Iraqi oil output.
While the current contracts are unrelated to the companies' previous work in Iraq, in a twist of corporate history for some of the world's largest companies, all four oil majors that had lost their concessions in Iraq are now back.
But a spokesman for Exxon said the company's approach to Iraq was no different from its work elsewhere.
"Consistent with our longstanding, global business strategy, ExxonMobil would pursue business opportunities as they arise in Iraq, just as we would in other countries in which we are permitted to operate," the spokesman, Len D'Eramo, said in an e-mailed statement.
But the company is clearly aware of the history. In an interview with Newsweek last fall, the former chief executive of Exxon, Lee Raymond, praised Iraq's potential as an oil-producing country and added that Exxon was in a position to know. "There is an enormous amount of oil in Iraq," Raymond said. "We were part of the consortium, the four companies that were there when Saddam Hussein threw us out, and we basically had the whole country."
James Glanz and Jad Mouawad contributed reporting from New York.
By Randall Hoven
July 08, 2008
For years, the media and Democrats have sold the public an understanding that Gerorge W. Bush fabricated a story that Saddam Hussein had a WMD program in order to justify invading Iraq, which invasion then becomes "based on a lie."
About 550 metric tons of yellowcake concentrated uranium were recently shipped out of Iraq. It had been part of Saddam Hussein's nuclear program. That much was recently reported by the Associated Press . I wrote an article for American Thinker that commented on that story the day it appeared.
That yellowcake stockpile pre-dated 1991, and had been under the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency "safeguard" from then until 2003. That was mentioned in the AP article and I mentioned it in the update to my article the day it was published. In fact, American Thinker contributors Douglas Hanson and Rick Moran had written about that yellowcake stockpile years ago here, here and here. Douglas Hanson reported four years ago:
"Professor Norman Dombey, professor of theoretical physics at the University of Sussex, England, has confirmed that Saddam Hussein had more than enough yellowcake uranium to make over 100 nuclear weapons."
The recent AP story was not news with respect to the existence of this stockpile in Iraq to those who follow such things closely. But I'm sure many readers had never been aware of this large stockpile of yellowcake in Iraq at all. This new AP story, and perhaps my article, helped get that information out. As Investor's Business Daily more recently put it , "Seems to us this should be big news," but "the mainstream media find it inconveniently contradicts the story they have been telling you for years."
Also, this new story reminded even those aware of its existence of what a huge and dangerous stockpile it was. First, it took 37 military flights to ship it from Baghdad to Diego Garcia. Even when not processed into nuclear weapons, it was dangerous in its own right, being radioactive. It could also be used in other methods of spreading radiation short of full nuclear bombs. The AP story explained the logistical nightmare of simply transporting it. It also cited the fear of it falling into the hands of insurgents. That is how dangerous it was when we were in control of it.
However, some readers have noted its "old news" aspect. One wrote the American Thinker as follows.
"Of course there was lots of yellow cake in Iraq . Those news orgs you so dislike reported five years ago on how tons of it was just sitting out in the open in Tawaitha. It was so accessible that the locals were looting the site. Most of the articles at that time were critical of the lack of security from U.S. troops for the former nuclear development site. Please note the word former...it's pretty important since former was the word you could use in 2000 as well. Anyway, that isn't news. Neither is the fact that Saddam had delivery mechanisms. However, he did not have an active nuclear weapons program, unless one means the capacity to deliver one or two dirty bombs (which the yellow cake couldn't be used for, btw, because it is basically an inert compound). But even dirty bombs aren't a particularly scary threat, since you or I or anyone else could buy materials for dirty bombs at Home Depot. But Saddam just didn't have the resources to do anything more than that due to IAEA inspections and other international efforts. In fact, he didn't have any technology or raw materials dating anytime after 1991. He was technologically impotent. Which means the UN's efforts, so belittled by the Bush administration in the ramp-up to invasion (as well as by revisionist neocon historians...?) had worked exactly as intended. So the "American Thinker" article is really a great example of precisely the distorted sort of ranting that it tries to claim is nobly contrary to popular sentiment but somehow true. But it's not true. It's simply bizarre."
I believe the dirty bomb scenario is irrelevant here. Saddam could have had an active program without having anything in production or deliverable at all. A weapon program is not a weapon; it is a program -- it means the potential for future weapons. This distinction seems to get lost way too often.
I also believe it is way too naive to think being under IAEA safeguard really means "safe". First, Saddam continually defied the IAEA as it was; that was a reason for multiple UN resolutions to sanction him. Second, the IAEA got what little respect it did from Saddam because the U.S. was backing it up with about 150,000 troops on the ready nearby. Third, Saddam was using oil-for-food money to bribe away the sanctions and inspection regime (see the Duelfer Report). Fourth, why didn't the IAEA make Saddam get rid of it? In short, the IAEA was no guarantee that Saddam would keep his hands off that stockpile in the near future, or that he was keeping away from it even then.
But a question remains: Was Saddam's nuclear weapon program active at the time of our invasion in 2003? As IBD puts it, this yellowcake stockpile "more or less proves Saddam in 2003 had a program on hold for building WMD and that he planned to boot it up again soon."
Is a program that is "on hold" not an "active" program? Does it matter? After all, a "program" is not currently deliverable WMD; it is the potential of future WMD. In turn, a program "on hold" just pushes the date of deliverable WMD a little more into the future. How tightly do you want to time defending yourself against incoming WMD? (To many critics, there just never seems to be a good time. From the time WMD are in development to the time nuclear missiles are inbound, these critics just can't seem to find an appropriate window of opportunity to defend against them.)
But let me get back to the question of whether Saddam had an active nuclear program in 2003, in the strong sense of the word "active". The recent AP story on the shipment of the stockpile to Canada does not let us conclude anything one way or the other on that. But that does not mean that Saddam did not have an active WMD program in 2003. Nor does it mean the 550 tons of yellowcake were "safe", even if under UN "safeguard". Nor does it mean we had nothing to worry about from Saddam regarding WMD in 2003. It simply means, as it always did, that in 2003 Saddam was sitting on enough yellowcake to make more than 100 nuclear weapons.
While some read the Duelfer Report as conclusive and definitive (meaning no nuclear program in 2003, period), read its "findings" closely. Duelfer states that "Iraq's ability to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program progressively decayed" after 1991, and the "ISG found no evidence to suggest concerted efforts to restart the program."
A "decayed" ability does not mean non-existent. Finding "no evidence" does not mean no existence. And why would an effort need to be "concerted?" (Always beware of adjectives in executive summaries.) Duelfer also reports "Iraq took steps to conceal key elements of its program." In the nuclear section of the Duelfer report, the word "looted" is found 28 times, as in "U.S. military forces found Al-Athir abandoned and heavily looted. ISG visited and found no evidence of uranium conversion activities."
I do not think it "bizarre" that the Saddam regime, one that had once had WMD programs and deployable chemical weapons (which are WMD), a government that had defied UN inspectors multiple times, and one that "took steps to conceal" its WMD programs, might just clear out evidence of its programs -- those areas that were "looted" -- once it was likely they would fall into the hands of the U.S. Coalition. As I have said before , Eliot Ness also found "no evidence" in Al Capone's hotel room.
Frankly, I don't know for sure what is true. Saddam might have had ready-to-go WMD, but they were hidden or taken to another country by the time our CIA inspectors showed up in Iraq. (Duelfer says "we cannot express a firm view on the possibility that WMD elements were relocated out of Iraq prior to the war.") Saddam might have had active programs, but they were concealed at the time, with the evidence destroyed ("looted") by March 2003. Or maybe he really did put all his programs on hiatus by 2003. But even Charles Duelfer concluded that Saddam had every intention of getting back into the WMD business as soon as he could end the sanctions regime, which he was busy doing with oil-for-food bribes.
I think it neither illogical nor bizarre to think Saddam had WMD or WMD programs in 2003. I still believe he did, in a "preponderance of the evidence" sense. And I believe, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he would have been back in the WMD business by now, if not by 2004, had we not invaded.
That he sat on 550 metric tons of yellowcake under UN "safeguard" is about as comforting to me as knowing the convicted child rapist next door has a case of duct tape (dual use, by the way) that the police check up on every week.