Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Maybe they should have worried in July?






Starting with oil. James Kanter (New York Times) reports that Lukoil and Statoil have signed a joint-contract with the government out of Baghdad "to develop the vast West Qurna 2 oil field". Kanter identifies Lukoil as "of Russia" which is meaningless or are we all supposed to be stupid and ignorant of the 90s tag sale on Russia's public sector? The same sort of privatization that's happening in Iraq -- but slower than the US wanted. Lukoil brags about being "the second largest private oil Company worldwide". And of course, they're not a "Russia" private company. A private Russian company doesn't have US citizen Donald Evert Wallette Jr. on their board (he is also President of ConocoPhillips Russia/Caspian Region -- somewhere Averell Harriman is offering a lusty groan of despair). Statoil is also a public company (headquarters in Norway) and a multi-national company with a multi-national board (such as British citizen Roy Franklin). Hassan Hafidh (Wall St. Journal) reports, "Lukoil president Vagit Alekperov told a Russian television service this week that Lukoil aims to invest $4.5 billion in the West Qurna Phase 2 project in the next three to five years. He said he believed that the project would be profitable and would have a rate of return of 15%. Iraq awarded this year 10 oil fields contracts to international oil companies in two postwar licensing auctions. If these contracts were implemented, they would quadruple Iraq's crude oil production to nearly 11 million barrels a day, which could match or even exceeds that of the world's largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia." Xinhua adds, "Lukoil owns 85 percent of the venture, while Statoil, 15 percent." But Kanter notes Statoil asserts they redid the contract so that their share "will eventually" increase to 18.75. Grab that three percent, Statoil!

Look for the above to start off another frenzy of misinformed (in fairness, some were not misinformed, they were LIARS) chatter that the US is suffering!!!! Such suffering!!! These are multi-national companies. These are publicly traded companies. Meanwhile? You could have been more than a name on the door on the 1400 suite in the air more than a credit card swimming pool in the backyard. That's Joni Mitchell's "The Arrangement" (first appears on her Ladies of the Canyon album). Only she says "33rd floor." I say 1400 suite because that's your clue to who's getting ready for the big score. The US oil company that's not only set its sites on oil fields -- in the north, in the KRG -- but has the White House pledge to push through the deal. The deal that seemed a no-go shortly after it was announced in the fall of 2007. That's what everyone's talking about (but no one's writiing about it for the public). Nouri's agreed to now go along with the agreement -- as part of the arrangment to push through the elections law. The KRG wants the money. The White House promised it would happen (this is part of Barack's ten minute personal phone call) and the KRG told the US based company (also a multinational) that the deal is 'done' . Nouri could still balk (though he said he wouldn't). But not only are multi-nationals signing but a US based multi-national is gearing up for, as they say on Wheel of Fortune, "Big money!" And since information on this deal is now available for pay (I didn't pay and I heard about the Monday after the Parliament passed the election law), we'll go ahead and note it here. Since it is available for pay and since a number of 'business' reporters now know about it, the only real question is why they aren't talking about. (Repeating: The deal could fall through. Anyone who ever trusts Nouri's word is an idiot. Equally true, Nouri could be out as prime minister which would mean new trading with the next prime minister. But right now, the KRG, the White House and the company on the 19th floor think it's a go. If you go sleuthing and identify 19th floor and sink your money in there and the deal falls through, that's on you. You shouldn't be trying to make blood money anyway.)

That's a KRG contract. Back to those wacky Baghdad contracts? Not so rock solid. Mohammed Abbas and Christian Wissner (Reuters) report this afternoon, "Ali al-Dabbagh said ministers had decided that proposed long-term service contracts for the oilfields, which were offered in two bidding rounds this year, needed "technical and legal" changes even after initial agreements for most of the fields had been signed." Not surprising and apparently not legal. Earlier this month on Inside Iraq (Al Jazeera) Jasim al-Azzawi discussed the issue of Iraqi oil with Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain Ibrahim Saleh al-Shahristani and the country's previous Oil Minister Issam al-Chalabi.

Jasim al-Azzawi: Issam, how dangerous is it for Iraq to sign these contracts and Memorandum of Understanding with no oil law in place.

Issam al-Chalabi: With all due respect, Dr. al-Shahristani seems to be moving on a shaky ground. I think he had fallen in his answers to your question, had fallen in the conflict between the Constitution and the existing laws. The Constitution says that, the two Articles about the oil and gas ought to be explained and there will be separate law to be issued. Until then, in a very clear, separate Article, it says that all existing oils will remain valid. Hence Law 97 of 1967 is valid as he mentioned and he ought to abide by it. That means, yes, the Minister of Oil is authorized provided they go and seek endorsement from the existing legislative body which is the Parliament for each case.

Jasim al-Azzawi: So far they haven't done that. Is that a reflection on the lack of oversight by Iraqi Parliament about this huge and overreaching contracts?

Issam al-Chalabi: No, the Oil & Gas Committee and many Parliamentarians have sought that and they have asked him, they have subpeoned him, that they should look into the matter. In fact, one particular member had gone to the federal court. And you asked about the dangers of these new contracts, I do say that it is very possible that in the future these contracts could very well be under questioning and somebody could question the legitimacy of these contracts and maybe they would be required to be amended or maybe anulled.

More excerpts from that broadcast can be found in the December 21st snapshot.
Meanwhile Alsumaria TV reports that Iraq's Ministry of Oil is calling on OPEC [Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] "to grant Iraqi its natural right in exporting crude oil" because "it owns huge oil reserves." Carol Sonenklar (HeatingOil) observes, "OPEC members have said they are content with oil prices in the range of $70–80 per barrel and maintained their production targets at their recent annual meeting. But Iraq might not adhere to OPEC's production quotas. The cash-poor country recently auctioned off some of its largest oil fields, with Russian and Chinese companies winning the most lucrative contracts. According to analysts, the auction could boost Iraqi oil production from 2.5 million barrels per day to as much as 12 million by 2016, which would quadruple its capacity and make it a rival to Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil producer. Such a drastic increase in oil production could threaten to undermine OPEC's influence on oil prices, which currently stand at an amount that the Saudi Arabian oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, believes keep producers and consumers happy."

Still with oil, maybe Iran invaded Iraq and seized an oil well maybe they didn't. It's still a mess of accusations and heated denials. Alsumaria TV reports today, "Iraqi Vice President Tarek Al Hashemi affirmed that Iran has transgressed the border and violated Iraq's sovereignty on 96 different occasions. Iraq's Parliamentary defense and security committee MP Abbas Al Bayati confirmed that Iranian troops have withdrawn from oil well no.4 in Al Fakka oil field." Iranian government officials have maintained no such violation of Iraq's territorial sovereignty took place and Iran's Press TV reported that Iran and Iraq are just fine, thank you very much. Iranian government officials have also stated that the whole story is an attempt by 'foreigners' to inflame tensions between Iran and Iraq. Certainly the two appear to still be prepping to enter into a national gas deal in the new year. Khayoon Saleh (Azzaman) reported Iraq and Iran are drawing close to an agreement on the importation of natural gas from Iran: "The statement said the delegation would seek striking a long-term contract to supply gas-driven power plants with fuel particularly in southern and central Iraq." Fatima Kamal (Azzaman) reports:Iraq has set up a committee which is to draw up a road map on how to develop oil fields the country shares with neighboring Iran, Oil Ministry Undersecretary Abdulkarim al-Aibi said. Aibi said the committee will soon travel to Tehran to meet with Iranian officials.The committee's formation comes following border tension between the countries over Iran army's occupation of a producing oil field inside Iraqi territory.Aibi made no comment on the Fakka oil field which Iran currently controls.Fakka is not a joint field as it is situated within Iraqi territory. Zawya notes, "Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mihman-Parast said on Tuesday that implementation of the 1975 accord signed by Iran and Iraq is the best way to remove any possible misunderstandings between the two neighboring states. Talking to reporters during his weekly press briefing, he added that the accord is an international one which can settle any possible border disputes between Iran and Iraq." Alsumaria TV also reports that Nouri al-Maliki is insisting that Iraq gives up no land to its neighbors but that he "denied that Al Fakka oil well crisis will affect oil and investment licenses rounds. Iranian violation should not have occurred because the oil well is suspended since 1979, Al Maliki said stressing the necessity to return back to the past situation."

Turning to the topic of Sahwa. Sahwa are also known as "Sons Of Iraq" and "Awakenings" and they are Sunnis the US military put on the (US tax payer) payroll (at an estimated $300 a month per Sahwa -- Sahwa leaders made more) in order to . . . Well let's drop back to April 2008 when the then-top US commander in Iraq David Petraeus and the then-US Abassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker were giving their joint-testimonies to the House and Senate. April 8, 2008 they started the day before the US Senate Armed Services Committee. From that day's snapshot: "The most hilarious moment was hearing Petraeus explain that it's tough in the school yard and America needs to fork over their lunch money in Iraq to avoid getting beat up. In his opening remarks, Petraues explained of the 'Awakening' Council (aka 'Sons of Iraq,' et al) that it was a good thing 'there are now over 91,000 Sons of Iraq -- Shia as well as Sunni -- under contract to help Coalition and Iraqi Forces protect their neighborhoods and secure infrastructure and roads. These volunteers have contributed significantly in various areas, and the savings in vehicles not lost because of reduced violence -- not to mention the priceless lives saved -- have far outweighed the cost of their monthly contracts.' Again, the US must fork over their lunch money, apparently, to avoid being beat up." Pride and Joy, as Marvin Gaye once sang. Nouri al-Maliki, stashing away billions in oil revenues at the time, was supposed to pay for all the Sahwa . . . in the fall of 2008. And? In November 2008 there was a bunch of hot air from the press (and no one ever retracted their 'reports') but the US was still paying. Feburary another round of panting but the US was still paying. As late as June, the US was still paying significant amounts. Arab media has been reporting that next month Nouri intends to stop payments. Over the weekend Chelsea J. Carter (AP) reported that the US military is expressing concerns over Nouri's plans for the Sahwa ("Awakenings" or "Sons Of Iraq") and that 212 of them have been killed in the last two years. Paul McLeary (Aviation Week) reports on a new study by the US Marine Corps, "Al-Anbar Awakeing: Iraqi Perspectives From Insurgency to Counterinsurgency in Iraq," on the Sahwa which "mkes some blunt assessments of the insurgnecy, including who caused it and what fixed it. According to the USMC report: 'In Iraq to a very large degree, we -- the U.S. military and civilians -- were the source of the insurgency. Honest men and women can argue the whys, what-ifs, and what-might-have-beens, but ultimately, it was mostly about unfulfilled promises and the heavy-handed military approach taken by some over the summer of 2003 that caused events to spiral out of control'." McLearly notes that the report can "be interpreted as the Corps' pushback against the celebrity of Army Gen. David Petraeus and the counter-insurgency field manuel he championed" and goes on to quote from the report, "No single personality was the key in Anbar, no shiny new field manual the reason why, and no 'surge' or single unit made it happen. It was a combination of many factors, not the least of which -- perhaps the most important -- was the consistent command philosophy that drove operations in Anbar from March 2004 forward." Also weighing in on the Sahwa is Jeff Huber (Antiwar):Petraeus' personal stenographer, former journalist Thomas E. Ricks, admits that Petraeus misled Congress and the public into thinking he was trying to end the war when he was in fact laying "the groundwork for a much more prolonged engagement in Iraq." Three years after the surge began, violence shows no signs of disappearing. Holiday attacks were especially brutal. Mosul Mayor Zuhair Muhsen al-Aaraji escaped an assassination attempt on Christmas Eve. (Mosul is the town Petraeus supposedly "tamed" during his first tour in Iraq. Within weeks after he left and the graft well ran dry, Mosul went up for grabs and has been a trouble spot ever since.) Also on Dec. 24, as the Shi'ite religious festival of Ashura approached, five attacks killed at least 19 people and wounded over 100. The Iraqi government was quick to blame al-Qaeda in Iraq, but I'll bet you a shiny new Ohio quarter that the Sunni-based Awakening movement that Petraeus armed and funded had more than a little something to do with the attacks.

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