As they prepare to take over, indications are that the Shiites are dealing oil for power.  --  The Shiite interim finance minister (who is suddenly a darling of the Times and possible future prime minister, see below) appeared at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, back in December to say so, though this has scarcely been mentioned in the U.S. press.  --  But then "America's media mavens," in Chris Floyd's words, "seem preternaturally incapable of recognizing the truth -- even when it stands before them, monstrous and unavoidable, like a giant Cyclops smeared with blood.  For just as they botched the most important story of our time -- the Bush Administration's transparently deceptive campaign to launch a war of aggression against Iraq -- the clubby mavens are now missing the crowning achievement of this vast crime:  the mother of all backroom deals, a cynical pact sealed by murder, unfolding before our eyes."  --  Pepe Escobar of Asia Times Online calls it "a Faustian bargain."  --  So forget about the Oil For Food program.  --  There's a bigger story.  --  Oil For Power.  --  UFPPC's Jay Ruskin presents a commentary; five complete articles follow Ruskin's piece....

OIL FOR POWER
By Jay Ruskin

United for Peace of Pierce County (WA)
February 11, 2005

On Thursday, the New York Times ran a story on Adel Abdul Mahdi, touting the finance minister in the interim government as a leading possibility to be next prime minister of Iraq.[1]

For Dexter Filkins, who can never speak of Moqtada al-Sadr and his rabble without contempt dripping from his prose, Mahdi is the kind of leader Iraq needs. Filkins is cheered by the thought of Mahdi as a champion of a "strong secular current that runs through the alliance" of which he is a member, the Sistani-backed United Iraqi Alliance.

The piece, which ran on the front page, is typical of a genre of articles in which the Times specializes: presenting pro-U.S.-national-security-state leaders's "attractive" qualities to readers.

The Times leaves something significant out of its article on Mahdi, though: his position on Iraqi oil.

Back in December, Mahdi came to Washington and spoke to the National Press Club. The visit was scarcely mentioned in the U.S. press; only David Baker of the San Francisco Chronicle bothered to write an article, which only appeared a month later, on Jan. 26, and was buried in the business section of the newspaper.[2] The news it contained, however, was of some interest, and clarifies the enthusiasm that the Bush administration -- and the Times -- feel for Mahdi.

"Iraqi officials are drafting a law that would encourage international companies to invest in the country's tattered oil industry, run by the state since 1972," Baker reported two weeks ago. "The current finance minister, a candidate in the election, announced the legislation late last month, although he offered few details. 'So I think this is very promising to the American investors and to American enterprises, certainly to oil companies,' Finance Minister Adil Abd Al-Mahdi said at a National Press Club conference in December."

Baker's piece was filled with examples of the kind generosity of Royal Dutch/Shell and ChervonTexaco, "literally working for free" for the Iraqis and ever so concerned lest their good intentions be interpreted as in some way venal. "ChevronTexaco describes the program as a goodwill gesture, one that will not necessarily result in future contracts with the Iraqis. 'We made it clear there will be no quid pro quo,' said company spokesman Don Campbell."

It's necessary to turn to the foreign press for comment equal what's going on.

In the Moscow Times, Chris Lloyd does not mince words: "America's media mavens . . . seem preternaturally incapable of recognizing the truth -- even when it stands before them, monstrous and unavoidable, like a giant Cyclops smeared with blood. For just as they botched the most important story of our time -- the Bush Administration's transparently deceptive campaign to launch a war of aggression against Iraq -- the clubby mavens are now missing the crowning achievement of this vast crime: the mother of all backroom deals, a cynical pact sealed by murder, unfolding before our eyes.

"The Administration's true objective in Iraq is brutally simple: U.S. domination of Middle East oil. This is no secret. Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz began writing about this 'strategic necessity' in 1992, as Alternet reminds us; and in September 2000, a group led by Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld openly called for a U.S. military takeover of Iraq -- even if the regime of Saddam Hussein was no longer in power. At every point in their savaging of Iraq, the Bushists have pressed relentlessly toward this oily goal.

"The objective was revealed -- yet again -- in a recent Washington appearance by Iraqi Finance Minister Adil Abdel-Mahdi. Standing alongside a top State Department official, Abdel-Mahdi announced that Iraq's government wants to open the nation's oil fields to foreign investment -- not only the pumped product flowing through the pipes, but the very oil in the ground, the common patrimony of the Iraqi people. The minister said plainly that this sweet deal -- placing the world's second-largest oil reserves in a few private hands -- would be 'very promising to the American investors and to American enterprise, certainly to oil companies,' InterPress reports. These are the spoils for which George W. Bush has killed more than 100,000 human beings.

"The American media completely ignored Abdel-Mahdi's declaration, but this is not surprising. After all, it occurred in the most obscure venue imaginable: an appearance before oil barons and journalists at the, er, National Press Club. Where better to hide open confessions of war crimes than in the very midst of the Washington hack pack?"[3]

(Lloyd is wrong to say that the American media "completely ignored" Abdel-Mahdi's declaration, of course. It was right there for all Americans to read, on page C1 of the San Francisco Chronicle.)

Another overseas observer, Pepe Escobar, writing for Asia Times Online, also noticed what escaped America's "newspaper of record."

Escobar writes: "On December 22, Mahdi -- with U.S. Under Secretary of State Alan Larson by his side -- told the National Press Club in Washington in so many words, and to the delight of corporate U.S. oil majors, that a new oil law would privatize Iraq's oil industry. The new law would allow investment in both downstream and "maybe even upstream" operations, meaning foreigners could become de facto owners of Iraqi oilfields. No wonder Mahdi has been touted by U.S. corporate media as the next best candidate for prime minister after 'the Americans' man,' former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) asset and current Prime Minister Iyad Allawi."[4]

For Escobar, the signs are that the Shiite leaders are contemplating a "Faustian pact" -- political power in Iraq in return for American control of oil. But he doesn't think it'll work.

Why not? Because the Shiite rank and file hate the idea of continued American occupation and American control of Iraqi oil upon which it is predicated.

That could be a problem. But on Thursday, the Financial Times (UK) published an Iraqi oil official's ideas about how to make this palatable to the Iraqi people.

In this piece, we learn Mussab Hassan Al-Dujaili of Iraq's State Oil Marketing Organization that the Western oil companies only want to take away Iraqis' oil for the Iraqi people's own good. You see, "oil leads to dictatorship, and that the monopolization of oil revenues by previous Iraqi governments was the root cause of tyranny, war and the fragmentation of Iraq's territory and people."[5]

The solution? Simple. Give the oil companies will take over 70% of the oil, and Iraq will be spared the tyranny, war, and fragmentation that come with oil.

Leaving those things for us, I guess.

--

1.

International

Middle East

SHIITE OFFERS SECULAR VISION OF IRAQ FUTURE
By Dexter Filkins

New York Times
February 10, 2005
Page A01

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/10/international/middleeast/10shiite.html

[PHOTO CAPTION: Adel Abdul Mahdi, greeting people in Baghdad recently, belongs to the Shiite coalition that is about to win a majority in the national assembly.]

[PHOTO CAPTION: Abdul Aziz Hakim, the leader of Mr. Mahdi's party, Sciri, is a cleric who is said to favor a broader role for Islam in the new constitution.]

BAGHDAD -- Adel Abdul Mahdi, one of the leading candidates to become the new Iraqi prime minister, recalled the day last year when he and other Iraqi leaders were summoned to the holy city of Najaf by the country's senior Shiite clerics.

The topic was the role of Islam in the new Iraqi state. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's most powerful Shiite leader, questioned whether Mr. Mahdi and the others, members of the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, had the legitimacy to draft an interim constitution.

"You were not elected," Ayatollah Sistani told the group.

Mr. Mahdi says he did not hesitate to answer.

"You were not elected," he told the ayatollah.

With that, Mr. Mahdi and the others returned to the capital and drafted an interim constitution intended to govern Iraqi [sic] for the next year, naming Islam as a source, but not the only source, of legislation. The language bridged one of the most divisive issues in forming the new government, whether it should be secular or religious.

Mr. Mahdi, one of the leaders of the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite coalition on the verge of capturing a majority of seats in the national assembly, recalled the moment to illustrate the limitations of the Shiite clerics in political affairs here.

"Victory is the most dangerous moment," Mr. Mahdi, 63, said in an interview at his home in Baghdad this week. "There will be some people trying to push for extreme measures. If we start with such behavior, we will lose the country."

Mr. Mahdi, a witty, affable, French-trained economist who serves as the finance minister in the current government, personifies a strong secular current that runs through the alliance. That strand is likely to resist demands for an Iranian-style Islamic state, where ultimate power resides with clerics, political rights are limited and women face harsh restrictions.

The question for Iraqis, as well as the Bush administration, is whether Mr. Mahdi's secular vision extends to the rest of the Shiite alliance, or whether it is being used as cover for a more ambitious religious agenda.

The leaders of the Shiite alliance have said the new Iraqi government, if they end up with enough votes to form it, will be headed by a secular figure. Fewer than a half dozen of the alliance's 228 candidates are clerics. And a likely alliance with the Kurdish parties, which are secular, could blunt the Islamists.

Still, many Iraqis say Mr. Mahdi, secular-minded though he is, would be under fierce pressure from Iraq's clerical establishment to accord Islam an expansive role in the permanent Iraqi constitution the national assembly is to write this year.

He is thought to be an attractive candidate to the Americans. He has worked closely with the Bush administration, and helped renegotiate Iraq's foreign debt. Like many Iraqi leaders, including even many of the clerics themselves, he takes a cold-eyed view of the need for American troops to stay in the country until Iraqi security forces are strong enough to defeat the guerrilla insurgency on their own.

Mr. Mahdi's conversion from young Baath Party member to Maoist cadre to pro-American Islamic moderate is emblematic of the journey taken by many intellectuals who came of age in the 1960's, swept up in the left-wing currents of the time, only turn back to the faith into which they were born.

Yet in all of his transformations, there is, to his rivals, the whiff of the opportunist. Far from being devoutly religious himself, they say, Mr. Mahdi is a secular man who attached himself to a largely Islamist group to get closer to power, and by so doing made that group more acceptable to the outside word.

Within the wider world of Iraqi Shiites, a struggle for influence in the new government has already begun. Earlier this week, Ayatollah Muhammad Eshaq al-Faeath, one of five ayatollahs who make up the senior Shiite religious leadership here, publicly demanded that Islam be named as the "only" source of legislation, a feature that would probably render Iraq an Islamic state. Others are demanding that family and personal relations be regulated by Koranic law.

"He will be under pressure on the power of religion in the state," said Adnan Pachachi, a secular Sunni leader, referring to Mr. Mahdi. "But if he gets the job, it will actually help him resist the pressure."

Even those Iraqis, like Mr. Pachachi, who are convinced of Mr. Mahdi's relatively secular mind-set say they are concerned that he could end up becoming a pawn of Abdul Aziz Hakim, the leader of his party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, known as Sciri.

The steely-eyed Mr. Hakim, the former leader of the party's military wing who is believed to have close connections to Iranian intelligence agencies, is the scion of one of the most prominent Shiite religious families in Iraq. He is said to favor a broader role for Islam in the new constitution.

"Hakim has decided that he can realize his ambitions through Adel Abdul Mahdi," said Adnan Ali, a senior leader in the Dawa Party, a member of the Shiite alliance, which supports a different candidate for prime minister.

Who will become prime minister is expected to be one of the most hard-fought battles after election results are in, and with the vote-counting nearing completion, the political deal making has already begun.

For Mr. Mahdi to arrive at the spot where he is now is perhaps not as surprising as the path that he took to get there. He comes from a family active in politics; his father, Abdul Mahdi Shobar, was a guerrilla leader against the British in 1920 and later became a minister of education during the monarchy of King Faisal. He is a boyhood playmate of Ahmad Chalabi, a rival for the job of prime minister, and Ayad Allawi, who now holds the post.

Mr. Mahdi said he joined the Baath Party when it was largely a youth movement, and was even an acquaintance of the future leader, Saddam Hussein, who at the time, he said, worked in the party's Peasant Division.

Mr. Mahdi said he had joined out of a romantic attraction to the ideals of Arab nationalism and socialist economics, but quit the party in the 1960's, after it came to power and when, he said, its leaders began killing and imprisoning political opponents.

"When we saw the experience of blood, torture, executions, killings, we were shocked," he said, then turning to an Arab proverb to describe the party: "The fish was rotten from the head."

After the ouster of the Baath Party from its first stint in power in 1963, Mr. Mahdi was arrested, jailed and tortured; his jailers, he said, used pliers to pull chunks of flesh from his thighs. Five years later, as the Baath Party prepared to return to power and begin its 34-year reign of terror, he fled the country, tipped off that he was a target for execution.

Ending up in France, where he earned master's degrees in political science and economics, he said he embraced Marxism, and especially the brand espoused by Mao, which Mr. Mahdi said he found appealing for its emphasis on popular participation.

Yet even in his years as a follower of Mao, he said he never abandoned his Islamic faith.

"We weren't of those people who were trying to defy religion, trying to defy their family," he said of his youthful philosophical detours.

Like many Iraqis, Mr. Mahdi was inspired by the Iranian revolution of 1979, which appeared as a model for Iraq's long-suppressed Shiite majority and a real-life example of an Islamic-guided government. He and many other Iraqi Shiites in exile, including Mr. Hakim, began using Iran as a base to organize against Mr. Hussein's government. The two men were both founders of Sciri in the 1980's.

American officials say Sciri continues to receive support from the Iranian government, and the party's relationship to Iran has given rise to concerns, in the United States and in Iraq, about the movement's independence.

As the Iranian revolution transformed into a theocracy, it alienated many Iraqi Shiites, some of whom rejected it as a model for Iraq. Mr. Mahdi is tempered in his criticism of the Iranian government.

"They have to be more open," he said. But he professes a vision of political Islam that is substantially more mild than the Iranian variety.

To Mr. Mahdi, the Shiite religious hierarchy has an important role in leading the country, but he says the religious leadership has to make way for democratic politics, in contrast to the Iranian model.

"We accept the role of the religious leadership," he said. "They are part of society. People respect them. They have a natural part. But this natural part should not stop the nation from practicing its rights. The nation should elect its representatives. Because the nation is not just the religious people but all the citizens."

Mr. Mahdi said he believed that the dangers of a full-blown Islamic theocracy coming to Iraq were minimal. Ayatollah Sistani, he said, has ruled out the use of Koranic law in governing family law.

But in saying so, Mr. Mahdi makes it clear that moderates like himself need all the help they can get.

"They have the right to be worried," he said of the Iraqi people. "I hope they would stay worried. All the people should be cautious. They should keep criticizing. I am not asking people to stop criticizing, to trust blindly."

As to the charge that he is a political opportunist, Mr. Mahdi confesses that he is a practical politician, but one who has stayed true to his principles.

"Why are you married?" he asked. "If they need me and I need them, then this is a very solid relationship."

Likewise, he makes no apologies for his intellectual evolution.

"It took 50 years to have such development," he said of his political journey. "With major events in the region going on, countries changed, their ideologies changed. It didn't take two days."

2.

Seeking Iraq's oil prize

GOVERNMENT MAY ALLOW FOREIGN PETROLEUM FIRMS TO INVEST
By David R. Baker

San Francisco Chronicle
January 26, 2005
Page C01

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2005/01/26/BUG6IB0AEJ1.DTL
or
http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/oil/2005/0126prize.htm (different paragraph divisions)
or
http://www.publicdomainprogress.info/2005/01/one-nation-under-occupation-deeply.html

The Iraqi government that emerges from Sunday's election may open its oil business to foreign investment, and international petroleum companies are jockeying to curry favor with the war-torn country.

Firms from the United States and Europe -- including Royal Dutch/Shell Group and the Bay Area's own ChevronTexaco -- are literally working for free on certain engineering and training projects to get their feet in the door.

The companies are forging these arrangements with Iraq's oil ministry to help train Iraqi engineers and study ways to tap more of the country's vast oil reserves, estimated to be either the second- or third-largest in the world.

Meanwhile, Iraqi officials are drafting a law that would encourage international companies to invest in the country's tattered oil industry, run by the state since 1972. The current finance minister, a candidate in the election, announced the legislation late last month, although he offered few details.

"So I think this is very promising to the American investors and to American enterprises, certainly to oil companies," Finance Minister Adil Abd Al-Mahdi said at a National Press Club conference in December.

The idea of bringing international companies and their money into Iraq's oil business isn't new.

In the 21 months since Saddam Hussein's ouster, the interim Iraqi government and its American advisers have suggested several times opening up the country's oil industry, which is saddled with ancient equipment and sabotaged by insurgents. But many Iraqis bridled at the notion that the country's oil reserves should be controlled by foreigners.

The widespread conviction in the country that the United States invaded to seize their oil hasn't helped.

"There is a strong belief, which should not be underestimated, that the whole purpose of the war was to gain U.S. control over Iraqi oil," said Walid Khadduri, editor of the Middle East Economic Survey, in a recent speech. "It is going to take a good deal of persuasion and a great deal of transparency to convince a majority of public opinion that the gradual privatization of the oil industry is for the good of the people and neither a war prize nor a way for carpetbaggers to get rich quickly."

FLURRY OF AGREEMENTS

International oil companies have approached post-Hussein Iraq with caution, their hunger for new crude supplies tempered by near-daily insurgent attacks on the country's pipelines.

But the companies' ties to Iraq are growing. In the last two months, Iraq's oil ministry has signed a flurry of agreements to study the potential of some of the country's underdeveloped oil fields and train its engineers on the latest technology and techniques.

Royal Dutch/Shell Group signed an agreement with the ministry Jan. 14 to study the vast Kirkuk field, which has been producing for decades and is currently estimated to hold 8.7 billion barrels of reserves. Shell also will help draft a master plan for tapping Iraq's natural gas.

Shell will do the work for free as a way to strengthen its links with the ministry, said spokesman Simon Buerk in the firm's London headquarters.

"It's our aspiration to build a relationship with the Iraqis," Buerk said. "We want to establish ourselves as a credible partner."

BP, formerly known as British Petroleum, signed a contract last week to study the Rumailah oil field near Basra. Exxon Mobil Corp. inked a memorandum of cooperation with the ministry last fall, laying groundwork to provide the ministry with technical assistance and conduct joint studies. An Iraqi-Turkish consortium won a contract in late December to help develop the Khurmala Dome oil field.

CHEVRONTEXACO TRAINING

San Ramon's ChevronTexaco has been flying Iraqi oil engineers to the United States for four-week training courses since early last year. The company also helps those engineers analyze data from the Kirkuk and South Rumailah fields.

ChevronTexaco describes the program as a goodwill gesture, one that will not necessarily result in future contracts with the Iraqis. "We made it clear there will be no quid pro quo," said company spokesman Don Campbell.

For years, Iraq's oil has been a tempting but forbidden prize.

The Baathist government nationalized Iraq's oil industry in 1972, slamming the door on foreign ownership or investment. Thirteen years of international sanctions after Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait further isolated the industry, cutting it off from new equipment and new techniques.

UNEXPLOITED RESOURCES

That isolation left much of Iraq's oil wealth untapped. Only 17 of the country's 80 discovered oil fields have been developed, according to the U.S. government's Energy Information Administration. Only 2,300 wells have been drilled in Iraq. Texas has about 1 million.

No one is quite sure how much oil the country has, in part because large swaths of the land remain unexplored by oil companies. Confirmed reserves of 112 billion barrels to 115 billion barrels would give Iraq the world's third- largest supply, behind Saudi Arabia and Canada. Estimates of the country's full holdings go as high as 214 billion barrels.

Global oil companies, faced with declining production in many of their existing fields, want in.

"That's the name of the game today for (integrated oil companies) -- access to new supplies," said Robert Ebel, director of the energy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The companies, however, have been hesitant to push for deals with Iraq's transitional government as the election nears.

"The people they may start talking with today might not be around next week or next month," Ebel said.

The insurgency has added to their caution. Most analysts don't expect big oil companies to invest heavily in Iraq until the violence against Westerners and anyone helping them subsides. Shell's study of the Kirkuk oil field, for example, will be performed outside Iraq, using data already collected.

"In terms of security, we're monitoring the situation, and clearly, right now, we'd have concerns about the safety of staff there," Buerk said.

Iraqi officials have moved slowly on opening up their oil industry to the outside world. They badly want to increase production, which supplies 95 percent of their government's revenues. Foreign cash could help.

But in the invasion's aftermath, oil is a sensitive subject. Iraqis see oil as a part of their national identity. Oil money pouring into the state budget in the 1970s -- after nationalization -- built schools, hospitals and highways. Many Iraqis are leery of letting foreigners own any piece of the industry.

Antonia Juhasz, a project director at the International Forum on Globalization think tank, said Iraqis may see the proposed law to invite investment as confirmation that the war was, at heart, a struggle over oil. Her organization has criticized both the war and the involvement of American companies in Iraq's reconstruction.

"It seems like the most blatant description of why everyone thought we went to war in Iraq," Juhasz said.

E-mail David R. Baker at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

3.

Global Eye

MOTHER LODE
By Chris Floyd

Moscow Times
February 11, 2005

http://context.themoscowtimes.com/story/139988/

The hoary adage that "there are none so blind as those who will not see" should be carved in stone at the National Press Club in Washington. Surely there can be no better motto for the cozy clubhouse of America's media mavens, who seem preternaturally incapable of recognizing the truth -- even when it stands before them, monstrous and unavoidable, like a giant Cyclops smeared with blood.

For just as they botched the most important story of our time -- the Bush Administration's transparently deceptive campaign to launch a war of aggression against Iraq -- the clubby mavens are now missing the crowning achievement of this vast crime: the mother of all backroom deals, a cynical pact sealed by murder, unfolding before our eyes.

The Administration's true objective in Iraq is brutally simple: U.S. domination of Middle East oil. This is no secret. Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz began writing about this "strategic necessity" in 1992, as Alternet reminds us; and in September 2000, a group led by Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld openly called for a U.S. military takeover of Iraq -- even if the regime of Saddam Hussein was no longer in power. At every point in their savaging of Iraq, the Bushists have pressed relentlessly toward this oily goal.

The objective was revealed -- yet again -- in a recent Washington appearance by Iraqi Finance Minister Adil Abdel-Mahdi. Standing alongside a top State Department official, Abdel-Mahdi announced that Iraq's government wants to open the nation's oil fields to foreign investment -- not only the pumped product flowing through the pipes, but the very oil in the ground, the common patrimony of the Iraqi people. The minister said plainly that this sweet deal -- placing the world's second-largest oil reserves in a few private hands -- would be "very promising to the American investors and to American enterprise, certainly to oil companies," InterPress reports. These are the spoils for which George W. Bush has killed more than 100,000 human beings.

The American media completely ignored Abdel-Mahdi's declaration, but this is not surprising. After all, it occurred in the most obscure venue imaginable: an appearance before oil barons and journalists at the, er, National Press Club. Where better to hide open confessions of war crimes than in the very midst of the Washington hack pack? Yet here was a story of immense importance. For Abdel-Mahdi is not only a functionary in the discredited collaborationist government now in its last days. He is also one of the leading figures in the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the Shiite faction that has been swept to somewhat more legitimate power by the national election that was forced on George W. Bush by Islamic fundamentalist Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. In fact, Abdel-Mahdi is frequently mentioned as a leading choice for prime minister in the new government; whatever happens, he will certainly play a primary role.

So we have a top official -- perhaps the top official -- in the incoming government offering American oilmen ownership rights in Iraqi oil. We have top American officials -- such as Cheney and Rumsfeld this week -- taking a benign view of the UIA's demand that the new Iraqi state be based solely on Islamic law, with crippling restrictions on women's rights, free expression, free association, plus, if Sistani has his way, Talibanic bans on music, dancing and even playing chess, Newsweek reports.

What we have, in other words, is the making of a monstrous, Cyclopean deal: not just "Blood for Oil," as the anti-war critics have said all along, but also "God for Oil." The Shiite clerics -- who eschew direct control but whose precepts can be translated into state power by secular representatives like Abdel-Mahdi -- seem willing to trade a goodly portion of Iraq's oil wealth in exchange for establishing a de facto "Islamic Republic" in the conquered land, with tacit American approval.

Sistani's word could move millions into the street to hamstring U.S. forces; but despite his notional disapproval of the occupation, he has stayed his hand, waiting for power to fall like a ripe fruit into the Shiite basket. Like Bush, he is apparently willing to countenance mass slaughter by the U.S.-led "Coalition" to achieve his objectives; but then, like Bush, Sistani is not an Iraqi either: He's an Iranian. Now these two foreigners are rolling dice to settle the nation's fate. But there's yet another glaring truth that's escaped the media mavens, and most of the war's opponents as well. Even if the grand objective of oil control slips away somehow -- through a falling-out with Sistani, say, or civil war -- Bush has already won the game. The war has transferred billions of dollars from the public treasuries of the United States and Iraq into the coffers of an elite clique of oilmen, arms dealers, investment firms, construction giants and political operatives associated with the Bush family. And this goes beyond the official, guaranteed-profit contracts to favored firms; Bush's own inspector general reported this month that $8.8 billion in unaccounted "reconstruction" funds have simply vanished -- much of it in bribes for Bush officials and corporate kickbacks, the BBC reported.

This blood money will further entrench the Bushist clique in unassailable power and privilege for decades to come, regardless of the bloody chaos they cause, or even the occasional loss of political office. The American power structure has been permanently altered by the war -- just as American society has been immeasurably corrupted by Bush's proud embrace of aggression, torture, lawlessness and militarism as national values.

Bush lied. He stole. He murdered. In broad daylight. And he got away with it. That's the story. But you'll never hear it at the Press Club.

4.

THE SHIITES' FAUSTIAN PACT
By Pepe Escobar

Asia Times Online
February 11, 2005

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/GB11Ak02.html

In Najaf, the holy Shi'ite city, the grand ayatollahs are busy advancing a religious agenda: Ali al-Sistani, Mohammad Ishaq al-Fayad, Bashir al-Najafi and Mohammad Said Hakim compose the al-marja' iyyah (source of infallible authority on all religious matters). They are unanimous: the Shi'ite religious parties, the big winners in the elections, must implement Sharia (Islamic) law -- and in fact this is one of the parties' top priorities. This does not mean that Sistani wants -- or needs -- to control an Iraqi theocracy: it means that the Shi'ite religious parties themselves -- led by secular people -- will give birth to an Iraqi Islamic republic.

Sistani's representatives have been stressing in the past few days that what matters for the grand ayatollah is equal rights for all. According to his senior aide, Mohammad al-Haboubi, the top priority in the writing of the future Iraqi constitution is "the preservation of the rights of all citizens, majority or minority, so they are all equal in the eyes of the law."

Most Shi'ite scholars insist the Americans must stay away from the writing of the new constitution. Whether the Americans like it or not, Sharia law will prevail over civil law. What's left is a matter of degree: how deep will Sharia in Iraq rule over everything -- apart from stating that women may not shake hands with men, music is allowed only "if it is not for enjoyment" and daughters inherit less than sons?

Sistani will have the last word as far as who will be the new Iraqi prime minister, not to mention the turbulent process of drafting the permanent constitution. He will refuse to allow the Kurds a veto power over the constitution -- something they already have thanks to an administrative law passed by the Americans. Baghdad sources confirm that a key reason for Sistani to "bless" the Shi'ite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) was that he was assured a primordial role in drafting the constitution. Moreover, Sistani himself is infinitely more popular and respected than the two main Shi'ite parties, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Da'wa Party. For the majority of Sunnis and even for some secular Shi'ites, they are Iranian agents: during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the SCIRI was on Iran's side, i.e. against Saddam. Without Sistani's "blessing," these parties would never have been voted for en masse on January 30.

WHAT ABOUT ALL THAT OIL?

Abdel Mahdi, currently the finance minister and a member of the SCIRI, remains a strong contender for prime minister, alongside Ibrahim al-Jafaari of Da'wa.

On December 22, Mahdi -- with U.S. Under Secretary of State Alan Larson by his side -- told the National Press Club in Washington in so many words, and to the delight of corporate U.S. oil majors, that a new oil law would privatize Iraq's oil industry. The new law would allow investment in both downstream and "maybe even upstream" operations, meaning foreigners could become de facto owners of Iraqi oilfields. No wonder Mahdi has been touted by U.S. corporate media as the next best candidate for prime minister after "the Americans' man," former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) asset and current Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

Apart from an item by Inter Press Service at the time, Antonia Juhasz, a Foreign Policy in Focus scholar currently writing a book about the economic invasion of Iraq, has been the only one to sound alarm bells: Is it possible that Washington has made a deal -- oil for power -- with the SCIRI?

This is the fine print that President George W. Bush's freedom rhetoric does not cover. Iraq may have a new "elected" National Assembly and a new Iraqi constitution may be written in the next few months. But the fact is that during 2005 the U.S. remains in total control. Follow the money: US$24 billion funded by American taxpayers toward the reconstruction, plus all the rules that have been passed by the U.S. that control Iraq's economy, plus the military occupation.

Both the billions of dollars and the maze of rules are controlled by auditors sitting in every Iraqi ministry for five years, all of them appointed (and controlled) by the Americans. The only thing that the Bush administration does not control in Iraq is unlimited, no-holds-barred access to oil -- which anyone familiar with Vice President Dick Cheney's worldview knows to be the key reason for the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The whole point of an indefinite, muscular U.S. military presence in Iraq (14 military bases, more than 100,000 troops, the massive embassy in Baghdad, the CIA-trained "Salvador option" death squads) would be to protect U.S. corporate interests in the oil industry. But the possibility of a law privatizing Iraq's oil coming to pass under a UIA-dominated government is less than zero -- for two main reasons. In terms of Iraqi nationalism, this would spell political suicide to either the SCIRI or the Da'wa Party: most Shi'ites who voted in the elections, following Sistani's dictum, thought they were voting for the U.S. to leave, for good. And in geopolitical terms, all the Shi'ite religious parties have close connections with Iran, which, encircled by the U.S. from the east (Afghanistan) and west (Iraq), would find innumerable creative ways to turn the Americans' lives into a living hell.

One of the key -- if not the key -- challenges for the new Iraqi government will be a U.S. demand to negotiate a SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement), the agreement that stipulates the legal status of U.S. garrisons. A cursory look at a world map will teach Iraqis to be extremely careful not to fall into a trap. There are insistent rumors in Baghdad that a SOFA will not be negotiated in 2005: the responsibility will fall to the permanent government that will be elected next December. This is one more indication of the irrelevance of the new elected government. The Pentagon anyway has already determined it will keep 120,000 troops in Iraq into at least 2007, even if a withdrawal is demanded tomorrow.

Predictably, the Shi'ites don't want the U.S. military to leave -- at least for now. Ibrahim al-Jafaari, the Da'wa Party leader and strong contender for one of the three top posts, has repeatedly said this would lead to a bloodbath. But both Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the SCIRI's No 1, and interim President Ghazi al-Yawer, a Sunni, agree: the U.S. military must begin a substantial withdrawal by the end of 2005.

Shi'ite firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr is just waiting to pounce. It's increasingly possible that the Sadrists who contested the elections may capture something like 7% of the seats in the new assembly. They've already said they will demand an immediate timetable for total U.S. withdrawal. Muqtada wants the Americans out and he wants them out now. That's also exactly what disgruntled, religious Sunnis want. This spells a possible alliance between the Shi'ite urban proletariat and middle-class religious Sunnis -- one more nail in the coffin of the myth propagated by the Bush administration that the resistance against the occupation is dominated by "terrorists." Significantly, Abdul Salam al-Kubaisi, the leader of the powerful Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS), has said he is in close contact with the Sadrists.

An extraordinary new development in Baghdad is that now the AMS is floating a clear proposal: we accept the new elected government as legitimate, as long as it sets a definitive timetable for U.S. withdrawal. Although this is what the overwhelming majority of Iraqis want, nobody -- no Shi'ite party, no Kurdish party, not even Sistani himself -- is contemplating it at this stage. Baghdad sources tell Asia Times Online that the AMS would even issue a fatwa (religious edict) calling for the end of the resistance if the new government sets a date for U.S. withdrawal in writing -- with the United Nations as a watchdog. If true, that would certainly be the only way to lead the Baghdad sniper to retire his rifle.

WHAT YOU WANT IS NOT WHAT YOU GET

UIA spokesmen are saying that the Shi'ite alliance will capture half of the seats in the 275-member parliament, or a little less than 140 seats. They would need 182 to govern by themselves, without a coalition. The Kurds believe they will get about 65 seats: this only happened because the Sunni vote ranged from weak to non-existent. (Election results were due on Thursday, but were delayed over the re-examination of some ballot boxes.)

The consensus in rumor-filled Baghdad is that really bad news would mean the Shi'ites capturing 140 seats, the Kurds from 75 to 85 seats, and Allawi's list the rest. Sunnis in Baghdad are very gloomy: it looks like the bad-news scenario -- a Shi'ite/Kurd landslide -- is about to happen, with Kurds bragging they may have captured as many as 75 seats.

The UIA may be Shi'ite-dominated, but it contains more than 20 groups, movements and political parties -- Christians, Turkomans, even Sunnis and Kurds, including the Badr Organization (the former Badr Brigades, trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards), the Hezbollah Movement in Iraq and the Islamic Union for Iraqi Turkomans.

The only Iraqi government that would have a minimum of stability would be a UIA/Kurdish alliance. It's very unlikely to happen, and even if it did it would send even moderate Sunni Arabs into open guerrilla mode. The Shi'ite religious parties in the UIA want Sharia law. The White House is relying on the Kurds to veto Sharia law. The relatively secular Kurds are obsessed with loose federalism and a fully fledged, autonomous Kurdistan province. They want nothing less than the presidency for Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leader Jalal Talabani.

The current foreign minister, the affable Kurd Hoshyar Zebari, says that the only way to placate the Sunnis would be to offer them one of the key three posts -- president, prime minister or Speaker of the National Assembly. It may not be enough. Sunni Arabs know the Kurds supported the war and occupation of Iraq and have been a de facto U.S. protectorate for more than a decade. Sunni Arabs also know that the only indigenous allies the Americans have at the moment are the Kurdish tribes: the Kurdish 36th Command Battalion, for instance, helped the marines to attack Sunni Arab Fallujah. Many Sunnis, even moderate, consider the Kurds traitors.

What the Kurdish tribal chiefs really want is the ultimate prize: they want independence (it could even be some kind of U.S.-Israeli protectorate) and they want Kirkuk's oil. All of this, for them, is non-negotiable. Supposing Turkey -- a key North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally dreaming of being accepted by the European Union -- buries the Kurdish dream, and the Americans cannot deliver, it's fair to assume that even the Kurds will abandon the Americans.

Meanwhile, in a Najaf still under piles of rubble there's widespread fear that in the end the same former CIA asset Allawi will continue to be prime minister. Allawi has been controlling Iraqi security for more than six months now. His new Iraqi National Guard is a remix of Saddam's security -- and not by any coincidence infested with Saddam's men: after all, Allawi is also a former Ba'athist.

As the Bush administration needs a ruthless Iraqi police state to fight not only the resistance but all kinds of emerging protests against the appalling living conditions throughout the country, Allawi is indeed "the Americans' man," as he is known in Baghdad. His tough-guy profile will be his main argument to convince the UIA he should remain as premier. But Baghdad sources tell Asia Times Online that this is all cosmetic anyway: only the terminally naive may believe that the Washington-Green Zone axis is not controlling the selection of the top three posts.

NO SURRENDER

The Bush administration script is well known: Iraq was "liberated" from "tyranny" and the "insurgents" are fighting democracy -- of which the elections were the first manifestation. These are the facts: Iraq was conquered, not liberated; the new government will not have any say in economic and oil issues; and the resistance fights the occupying power, not democracy.

Sistani sold the elections to the pious Shi'ite masses as the first step toward the end of the occupation. In the next few months his promise will be subjected to a groundbreaking reality test. Shi'ites at the polls unmistakably said that they were voting to expel the Americans, not to legitimize them.

If the Kurds get too much power, if the Shi'ite list disintegrates, if the U.S. keeps building its sprawling military bases -- which means they will be in Iraq for the long run, supported by puppet governments -- the Sunni resistance will definitely become a national, Sunni-Shi'ite resistance. As for "terrorism," according to Baghdad sources, an overwhelming number of moderate, secular Sunnis and Shi'ites are convinced that "arch terrorist" Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is being exploited in a CIA black-ops designed to exacerbate ethnic tensions.

Many Israeli and American intellectuals and officials are already busy preparing global public opinion, calling for an independent Kurdistan. One of the top-flight propagandists is ambassador Peter Galbraith, one of the negotiators of the Dayton accords and currently a professor at the National War College. Independence is what the Kurdish leadership wants. Kurds hate the idea of Iraq: the Iraqi flag is practically forbidden in some remote mountainous areas. Kurds refuse to hand the control of their borders to Arab troops from Baghdad. Former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger is enthusiastically calling for a Kurdistan, a Sunni center and a Shi'ite south. Why not three weak countries instead of one strong, united Iraq? It's divide and conquer all over again.

The key reason for the war was control of Iraqi oil, supported by the installation of strategic U.S. military bases. The key question now is which Iraqis will embrace the agenda of the Bush administration. Secular, moderate Sunni observers in Baghdad simply cannot believe the Shi'ite leadership will maintain public support for the rest of the year without telling the Americans to leave.

Moreover, the majority of Iraqis -- those who voted and especially those who didn't -- are not willing to surrender their oil, their economy and their land to corporate America. The popular resistance, on a national level, tends only to increase. Shi'ites -- from Sistani to the SCIRI -- better not enter into a Faustian pact.

5.

IRAQ'S OIL REVENUES SHOULD BELONG TO THE PEOPLE
By Mussab Hassan Al-Dujaili

Financial Times
February 10, 2005

http://news.ft.com/cms/s/eb7722c4-7b96-11d9-9af4-00000e2511c8.html (subscribers only)

The main task of Iraq's newly elected assembly will be to draft a constitution, to be approved by Iraqis later this year. Ownership of Iraq's oil resources -- and how to distribute oil revenue to the Iraqi people -- is one of the most important issues that the new parliament and constitution need to take into account. It is therefore worth reminding members of the new assembly that oil leads to dictatorship, and that the monopolization of oil revenues by previous Iraqi governments was the root cause of tyranny, war and the fragmentation of Iraq's territory and people.

Take the most virtuous of governments, brought to power by democratic means, and give it huge oil revenues. I bet that within three years this same government will be just as corrupt as any authoritarian regime in the developing world, because a politician who can finance his economic and social policies, his police force and an army with natural resources no longer needs to raise taxes or listen to the people.

As the end of his mandate approaches, he can set up an efficient propaganda ministry and secret police. If necessary, he can fix elections or organise a coup d'├ętat to ensure his succession. Little by little, the citizens lose all right to control the actions of their government, because it is not they who finance it but oil. Instead of being masters of their own country and of their own destiny, they become slaves to a tyrant: their well-being, freedom and future depend on his generosity -- or his cruelty.

The system prevents the development of an industrialized middle-class. To distract attention from the lack of democracy, the despot announces "holy causes," in the form of oppression of a minority or the declaration of war on a nearby country.

This is the history of Iraq over the past 40 years and it is the reason why this Iraqi government and its successors must be deprived as quickly as possible of any access to the oil revenues. Like any western government, the Iraqi government must be financed by taxes and tariffs.

This could easily have been achieved if the Americans had developed a more generous and intelligent vision for Iraq. I sent this proposal -- more fully described in American Chaos by Serge Michel and Paolo Woods -- to Paul Bremer, while he was U.S. administrator in Iraq, and he never replied. But it is still possible, through the new assembly and constitution.

It is reasonable to ask: if the government does not own the Iraqi oil industry, who does? The answer is simple: the Iraqi people. This would be the most reliable way to ensure the security of our oil installations, currently the targets of daily attacks that are reducing our export capacity to almost nothing. Iraqis would be a lot less happy to blow up a pipeline if it belonged to them.

How would this plan work? A national oil company -- the Iraqi Petroleum Company -- private, but not listed on the stock exchange, would be created. Each Iraqi citizen, at birth, would receive a share in the company, a share that could be neither sold nor inherited. The board of the IPC would be chosen at regular intervals by the parliament, which is directly elected by the people. This would ensure democratic control over the company while leaving it a large measure of economic freedom. As for oil production, Iraqi and foreign companies would compete for contracts, according to international standards. Consortiums would be welcomed, along the lines of the one BP is running in Azerbaijan.

The statutes of the IPC would compel it to use its profits in the following way: 10 per cent would be distributed to shareholders (every citizen would receive a small cheque), 10 per cent to healthcare programmes for the poorest and 10 per cent to provide primary education for all. The remaining 70 per cent would go into a fund investing in big industrial projects (in such sectors as petrochemicals, food, textiles and cars), which would be privatised at their fair value as soon as they were operational. In the interim period, these funds would be co-administered by Iraqis and representatives of the United Nations and the World Bank.

Only initiatives that are courageous and highly innovative can halt -- and ultimately reverse -- Iraq's descent into hell. An effective private company, belonging to Iraqis, is also in my view the only way to increase the capacity of Iraqi oil production from today's 2m barrels a day to between 6m and 10m b/d. This would be Iraq's contribution to world economic stability.

--The writer, formerly Iraq's Opec governor, is a director responsible for European and Asian markets at the country's State Oil Marketing Organization.