26 September 2005

Are Iraqi Thugs Home Grown or Free Agents

Interesting. Evidently, the folks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) refute the claims by the White House that foreign terrorists are the largest block of thugs in Iraq. The CSIS starting line up lists some pretty heavy hitters...Interesting…

AsiaTimesonlinedotcom reports:
BANGALORE - A new study by a Washington-based think tank has trashed American and Iraqi government claims that foreign fighters dominate the insurgency in Iraq.

The report, which was brought out by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), an independent think tank, says that foreign militants - mainly from Algeria, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia - account for less than 10% of the estimated 30,000 insurgents in Iraq.

"The pattern of detainments and intelligence analysis indicates that the total number of foreign volunteers is well below 10%, and may well be closer to 4-6%," the study says.

The CSIS study refutes the claim made by the Bush administration and perpetuated by the Western mainstream media that foreign fighters make up a large proportion of the fighters in the insurgency. The number of foreign fighters "pales beside those for the Iraqis themselves", the study notes.

The US government has repeatedly drawn attention to the large component of foreign fighters in the insurgency in Iraq to quash the idea that Iraqis are rising up against its military occupation of that country. President George W Bush has often cited the presence of "global terrorists" in Iraq to justify his description of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq as part of the "war against terror" and as a reason for continued US military operations in that country.

While the number of foreign fighters in Iraq might pale in comparison to that of Iraqi fighters, the impact of the former in terms of violence has been far greater. Most of the suicide attacks on the American and Iraqi security forces and the attacks on Iraq's Shi'ite majority have been carried out by the foreigners.

The CSIS study also disputes reports that Saudis comprise the largest group of foreign fighters. It says that of the estimated 3,000 foreign fighters in Iraq, Algerians are the largest group (20%), followed by Syrians (18%), Yemenis (17%), Sudanese (15%), Egyptians (13%), Saudis (12%) and those from other states (5%). "Analysts and government officials in the US and Iraq have overstated the size of the foreign element in the Iraqi insurgency, especially that of the Saudi contingent," says the study, which was carried out by Nawaf Obaidi, a Saudi security adviser, and Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East analyst at the CSIS. "Saudis seem to make up only between 1-2% of the fighters currently operating in the country."

The CSIS study’s conclusion that Saudis form a small component of the fighters is disputed by other studies. In his March study of Arab fighters in Iraq, Reuven Paz (director of the Project for the Research of Islamist Movements - PRISM - at Herzliya, Israel) pointed out that "the vast majority of the volunteers that streamed into Iraq are Arabs", and most of these are from Saudi Arabia. He describes as "significant" the involvement of Saudis in the Islamist insurgency in Iraq.

In his analysis of 154 Arabs killed in Iraq in the preceding six month, Paz found that 61% were from Saudi Arabia. He also found that 70% of the suicide bombers were Saudis. "The number of Saudis killed in the past six months in Iraq [94] is too large to be ignored. It strongly suggests the Saudis' direct and active involvement both in the insurgency battles as well as in terrorist operations."

The proportion of Saudis among the insurgents in general might be small but their numbers among the Islamists in Iraq appear to be high. Paz said that what is of concern about the Saudi presence among the fighters is not just their numbers but their influence. He told Asia Times Online that one "should look not only at the numbers but also at the quality of their [Saudi fighters'] contribution to the insurgency, at least the Islamist one. They bring with them more radicalism. Saudis were among those who influenced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to adopt Takfiri ideas [a belief that sects that are not Wahhabi-based are infidel and apostate] and increase the massive attacks against Shi'ites, Sufis and Muslim 'infidel' Sunnis."

The CSIS study as well as the PRISM study demolish another Bush administration myth - that international terrorists were streaming into Iraq, compelling the US to occupy the country as part of its "war on terror". Paz points out in his study that "the vast majority of [non-Iraqi] Arabs killed in Iraq have never taken part in any terrorist activity prior to their arrival in Iraq".

"Only a few were involved in past Islamic insurgencies in Afghanistan, Bosnia or Chechnya." Out of the 154 fighters Paz analyzed, only a few had past links with terrorism including six who "were sons of Afghan alumni".

The CSIS report says that 85% of those interrogated were not on any watch list of known terrorists. "The vast majority of Saudi militants who entered Iraq were not terrorist sympathizers before the war," the report states. Most of the Saudi fighters were "radicalized almost exclusively by the coalition invasion ... Most of the Saudi militants were motivated by revulsion at the idea of an Arab land being occupied by a non-Arab country. These feelings are intensified by the images of the occupation they see on television and the Internet ... the catalyst most often cited [in interrogations] is Abu Ghraib, though images from Guantanamo Bay also feed into the pathology," the CSIS study points out.

The occupation of Arab land and the ill-treatment of Arabs contributed to radicalization of Arabs in the past. This radicalization is poised to witness a surge. "Wait and see what is going to happen when Saddam’s trial starts," Paz told Asia Times Online. "They are going to view him in human eyes as persecuted by the US, rather than judge him by his past horrible image."

For the other foreign fighters in Iraq - the US-led occupation forces - the further radicalization of Arabs and the surge in the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq is bad news.
Thanks to The Mudville Gazette Post for their Open Post.

Unit of the Day Award

Periodically, or less than so lately, I have published a Unit of the Day Award -- or what I have referred to as "What the MSM Neglected to tell me About." Here is today's installment. The Gulf Region Southern District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, acting as construction management, contracting and procurment support, is assisting in the construction of many Primary Healtcare Centers (PHCs) across Iraq. Upon completion of the $44.2 million contract, the project will result in the construction of 58 PHCs and performed the design work. Physical construction of the centers was subcontracted to local Iraqi firms. Defenselink reports:
BASE CAMP ADDER, Iraq, Sept. 26, 2005 — Three wars, 12 years of sanctions and 20 plus years of inadequate funding and neglect by Saddam Hussein and the Baath Party fractured Iraq’s healthcare system and put it into a death spiral.

Additionally, since April 2003, the anti-Coalition insurgency has created enormous physical and emotional hardship for the Iraqi people. Despite those obstacles, there have been improvements in the healthcare system. There has been a significant increase in the number of healthcare workers and a drastic increase in the salaries of doctors and nurses, but the infrastructure is still in need of major repair.

Typically, clinical laboratory equipment is old and malfunctioning. At one point, 70 percent of the hospitals were unable to provide the necessary laboratory tests and radiological functions to support the clinical activities in the hospitals. "When finished, the center will house a pharmacy, an emergency room, an examination area, a vaccination room, an X-ray room, an ultrasound room and a dining facility."

With the aid and assistance of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Project and Contracting Office and other organizations, the Iraqi Ministry of Health is putting its healthcare system on the road to recovery. A coordinated effort has been underway to rebuild, restore, and replace buildings, equipment, and pharmaceuticals. In many cases, this entails new construction in areas that never had ready access to healthcare facilities.

A new Primary Healthcare Center (PHC) near Diwaniyah is one of three designs of construction the Corps’ Gulf Region Southern District (GRS) is overseeing.

“When finished, the center will house a pharmacy, an emergency room, an examination area, a vaccination room, an X-ray room, an ultrasound room and a dining facility (as well as other support facilities),” said Barry Stuard, a GRS construction representative for the Qadisiyah Resident Office. In essence the center will be “a mini hospital.”

Stuard said the center would also have a training room and living quarters for the medical staff.

Parsons Delaware Corporation was awarded the $44.2 million contract for construction of 58 PHCs and performed the design work. However, physical construction of the centers was subcontracted to local Iraqi firms.

Contracting and subcontracting to local firms supports reconstruction goals, and thereby directly supports the rebuilding of Iraq’s infrastructure. It provides work for the local populace and local businesses and it puts money directly into the local economy, said Stuard, a volunteer from the Corp’s Little Rock District in Arkansas.

“That’s why were here,” said Stuard, “to put people to work and to rebuild the country.”

One critical issue for the construction representatives is ensuring the contractor stays on schedule. Part of that is making sure the contractor has enough workers on site to do the job. Stuard said the center near Diwaniyah was slightly behind schedule, because initially the contractor didn’t have enough people on site to handle the workload. After meeting with the contractor and emphasizing the need for a larger workforce to meet the deadline, the problem, for this site, seems to be resolved.

“I’m happy!” said Stuard. “He’s (the contractor) got 40 workers on site and they’re doing a good job.” He also pointed out that almost all the workers were wearing the appropriate safety equipment such as hardhats and boots — a stark contrast from the beginning when the workers arrived bareheaded and wearing sandals. Additionally, supervisors were enforcing other safety measures, such as ensuring caps were placed on exposed rebar.

Stuard said he believes his work, and that of the Corps, is making a difference in the way the Iraqi people perceive the Coalition. As projects are completed the “people are a lot more friendly,” he said. “A lot of people thank us for what we’re doing…at least once a week someone stops to tell us thank you.”

Stuard related that recently one of the local sheiks, whose house was near the road, saw the convoy drive by and tracked them down just to express his appreciation for the work they are doing.

While rebuilding the medical infrastructure will take time, the construction of the PHCs helps put the healthcare system on the road to recovery.
Once again, BZ to GRS and shame on the MSM for letting this one slip by...again.

Thanks to The Mudville Gazette for their Open Post.

10 September 2005

Mosul Dam Repairs Benefit Tigris Basins

So, if you thought the western U.S. had water issues, imagine your water bill from the Iraq Ministry of Water Resources. Once again, here is a story that was overlooked by the MSM. Anyhoo, kudos to the Corps for assisting IMWR in restoring a much needed piece of infrastructure. DOD reports
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Sept. 9, 2005 — Stabilization of the Mosul Dam continues with an additional $20 million in Iraq Reconstruction and Relief Funds allocated this week for that purpose. The Iraq Ministry of Water Resources and the Ministry of Electricity have made the dam a top priority for the region.

The largest dam in Iraq, Mosul earthen dam holds back upwards of 12 billion cubic meters of water for the arid western Ninewah Province while creating hydroelectric power for the 1.7 million residents of Mosul. This reconstruction project includes an upgrade of specialized maintenance equipment, seismic monitors, materials and spare parts. A training element is included with the aid package, which will help make the project self-sustaining in the future.

Completed in 1983, the dam has required maintenance to plug or “grout” areas of leakage on a regular basis. Without this needed work, the dam could develop problems over time with the possibility of a catastrophic failure. An event of this magnitude would be profound, devastating the rich agricultural valley of the Tigris and endangering the population of Mosul.

New automatic grout-injection equipment included in the project will help arrest seepage under the dam. Seismic equipment will provide information to monitor the dam’s stability. Both types of work are critical in continuing flood protection, irrigating farmland, and maintaining sufficient water to generate 320 MW of electricity.

The Mosul dam holds back upwards of 12 billion cubic meters of water for the arid western Ninewah Province, while creating hydroelectric power for the 1.7 million residents of Mosul. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo

An Iraqi contractor has been selected for this important work as part of an effort to encourage local economic development and jobs. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will provide engineering and quality-control oversight from Gulf Region North near the city of Mosul. The project is scheduled for completion in early 2006.

At the time of transfer of sovereignty in June 2004 to the Iraqi Interim Government, there were just over 200 reconstruction projects started in Iraq. Today 2,827 projects have started - valued at about $6.6 billion. Currently 1,099 projects are ongoing at a program value of about $ 4.6 billion, and 1,728 projects are completed - valued at about $2 billion.

What About Iran???

Sixty-eight bucks. That's what is cost to fill up my truck today. As I was watching the $$$ run much faster than the gallons, I was wondering what else was out there. I'm not talking about the BILLIONS in quarterly profits "earned" by Big Oil, I'm talking about tin-horn dictatorships, which are truly fueled by oil. Venezuala? Nah. Turkey? Nope. Kazakhstan? Not a chance. To me, the big dog in this game is Iran. Remember them? Pepe Escobar in Asiatimesonlinedotcom reports...
TEHRAN - The black chador-clad secretaries behind rows of flat computer monitors at the Petroleum Ministry building in central Tehran are all smiles. Not to mention their bosses. No wonder. According to the ministry's latest estimates in August, Iran will export at least US$60 billion in oil in 2005 - more than $10 billion more than the June estimate. And with oil hovering about $70 a barrel, it could be even more.

Internal turbulence, though, was the norm during the first days of the presidency of Mahmud Ahmadinejad. His appointed oil minister, close friend, tea and carper trader and former acting mayor of Tehran, Ali Saeedlou, was rejected at parliamentary hearings, shown nationwide on live TV. Ahmadinejad had pledged to rid the country of what he called "oil mafias" and vowed to better distribute Iran's oil wealth. So he appointed an outsider, Saeedlou - who was revealed to be too much of an outsider: he got his geology degree only in 2003 from one Hartford University, a virtual, Internet operation.

Saeedlou was expected to "purge" the state-run National Iranian Oil Co (NIOC), the fourth-largest oil company in the world, but somewhat inefficient and riddled with bureaucracy. After Saeedlou's rejection, Ahmadinejad hinted he would be the acting oil minister, only to nominate a caretaker, Karem Vaziri-Hamaneh - a former deputy oil minister, member of the NIOC board and thus an industry insider all over again. Ahmadinejad has up to three months to come up with another name to be ratified by the majlis (parliament).

As far as both oil and gas are concerned, Iran has everything going for it: 13% of the world's total fossil fuel reserves (132 billion barrels of crude oil and gas liquids, 27.4 trillion cubic meters of gas), which makes it the second-largest oil-and-gas rich country in the world and second-largest Organization of Petroleum Exporting Country (OPEC) producer, behind Saudi Arabia.
Second largest behind the Saudis. That's pretty big.
According to the ministry's own estimates, Iranian oil will last from 70 to a maximum of 86 years, while gas may last longer than 200 years. But internal consumption of oil products and gas is growing at a rate of 5.2% a year. The country is already forced to import refined products. That's one of the key reasons, Tehran argues, for its civilian nuclear program.
I love it. Iran is number two behind the Saudis, but they still have to import refined products. "Civilian" nuclear program???? No such thing. Anyhoo.
If the current trends persist, Iran will be forced to suspend its oil exports before 2020. This stunning paradox is caused by a multitude of factors: lack of investment in the maintenance of oil and gas installations; lack of rebuilding of installations destroyed during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war; years of non-relations with foreign companies; terrible management; and crucially, American

Iran is currently producing 4.3 million barrels of oil a day. It used to be 6 million in 1978, immediately before the Islamic revolution. According to OPEC's current quota system, Iran will only reach this level again in 2025. The Petroleum Ministry for its part argues that Iran will be producing 7 million barrels a day by 2015.

To increase production and efficiency, estimates by the Office for Planning at the Petroleum Ministry have projected an annual investment of at least $4 billion until 2012. Where will all this money come from? Ahmadinejad has pledged to favor domestic investors in the oil industry (there are not many, apart from NIOC). But every player in the industry at large knows the key for Iran is to be able to attract much-needed foreign investment.

As far as the optimistic Petroleum Ministry is concerned, "The stage has been set for as much exploration as possible for oil and gas in the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea." This means "introduction of exportable onshore and offshore blocs for the discovery of new oil and gas resources through attraction of foreign capital". Global Big Oil just can't wait to get access to the giant Yadavaran and Azadegan oilfields. (Azadegan, with 36 billion barrels of proven reserves, is the largest discovered oilfield in Iran for the past 50 years.)

Just as top officials from Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey were opening the much-hyped, American-supported Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, Iran started to advertise its counterpunch: an oil pipeline between Iran, Iraq and Syria. True, they are substantially different. BTC will carry Caspian Sea crude to Europe, while the Iranian route would initially carry Caspian Sea crude to Asia.
Here's where the story starts to get interesting.
But Iran has a tremendous potential to supply Europe as well - as France's TotalFinaElf, Italy's ENI and Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell know more than anyone. The Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline arriving at the Syrian port of Ladicia perfectly fits the bill. Iran thus can swap Caspian Sea crude to be refined in the country and then deliver the final product to the Mediterranean. The killer argument: as far as both Asian and European customers are concerned, the cost of using this pipeline route is way lower than using BTC - something that even American oil industry insiders recognized long ago.

As much as the Bush administration may recoil in horror, regarding this pipeline as an oil version of the axis of evil (or an evil version of the axis of oil), negotiations are ongoing. The pipeline was seriously discussed during Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari's visit to former president Mohammad Khatami. And it was again seriously discussed during Syrian President Bashar Assad's recent visit to the just-elected Ahmadinejad. Iran and Iraq had been negotiating for months the construction of a pipeline between Abadan and Basra, which are practically neighbors. Now they have signed an agreement, and the pipeline is a given.

Iraq will send crude from Basra to be refined in Abadan, and in exchange will get oil derivatives. Iraq's refineries remain in a disastrous state. The country has to import $300 million of oil derivatives a month. Jaafari's government had no problems agreeing to Iran investing in its petrochemical industry. Tehran insists that despite the Iraqi chaos and the avalanche of pipeline sabotage by the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement, it is fully committed to revitalizing Iraq's petrochemical industry. An oil swap deal between them is practically inevitable: this way, Iran gets Iraqi crude in Abadan and delivers the same amount to Iraq at its oil terminal on the island of Kharg.

Iran has been swapping oil with Turkmenistan since early 2000 after the Turkmens - against cries of horror from Washington - built a small pipeline to northern Iran. The next inevitable step was to swap with Kazakhstan - negotiations had been going on for years. For this purpose, Iran built a new terminal at the Caspian port of Neka and a new pipeline to Tehran, as well as two new refineries capable of processing 500,000 barrels of Kazakh crude a day.

Pipelineistan's greatest hit in the Caspian, from Iran's point of view, starts in Kazakhstan along the eastern Caspian shore, through Turkmenistan, crossing to eastern Iran, and down to Bandar Abbas. Any official at the Petroleum Ministry or NIOC will recite the same mantra: Iran can get Caspian crude to any market at a fraction of the price of BTC. And there's absolutely nothing the Bush administration can do about it. As Mahmood Khagani, a former Iranian director for Caspian affairs used to say, "The 'golden gate' from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf is now open."

Iran has its eyes set on Asia. It's not only the much-hyped multibillion dollar deal with China. Iran is also extremely active in the South Asian front. Bush administration pressure notwithstanding, Iran, India and Pakistan are starting trilateral negotiations before November on the mammoth $7.2 billion Iran-Indian pipeline. The project could start by April 2006. India is considering three proposed pipelines - from Iran, Qatar and Turkmenistan, but its deal with Iran is a certainty, according to India's Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar. Iran, Pakistan and India have to decide whether they launch separate consortiums or a joint consortium. This pipeline should run 1,115 kilometers in Iran, 705 kilometers in Pakistan and 850 kilometers in India.

A clear worry in New Delhi is to make sure that Pakistan will not be able to disrupt the flow of oil from Iran - considering the South Asia neighbors' turbulent and sometimes torrid relationship. India wants the pipeline secured by World Trade Organization rules on freedom of transit.

The pillar of Iran's gas program is the gigantic offshore South Pars field - on the Persian Gulf, 300 kilometers from Bushehr and 580 kilometers from Bandar Abbas - which by itself contains no less than 9% of the world's proven reserves. A substantial part of its production will be exported as liquefied natural gas (LNG), which will convert Iran in one of the world's top exporters of LNG. Tehran wants the Pars Special Econo-Energy Zone, established in 1998, to become "one of the most important industrial energy poles of the Middle East".

Turkey for the moment is the only importer of Iranian gas, according to the International Affairs bureau at the Petroleum Ministry. This is about to change - and radically. Iran's gas exports to Europe - estimated to be 300 billion cubic meters annually - will start most probably in 2009. A gas pipeline to Greece via Turkey is already in construction, but Iran can also use a different route through Bulgaria and Romania. As the need for Iranian gas is more than pressing, the list of Western European buyers is inevitably huge.

Turkey wants to buy gas from Iran and sell it to Europe. But Iran wants to skip the middleman. So the Iranian option is to go through Ukraine. A cooperation agreement has already been signed between Tehran and Kiev. They are now discussing the volume of gas to be exported. A crucial meeting between Iran, Ukraine, Armenia, Georgia and Russia is to be held this month. According to deputy Oil Minister for International Affairs Mohammad-Hadi Nejad-Hosseinian, Russia's approval of the project will get things going fast. Ukraine has proposed two pipeline routes to Iran: number one is Iran-Armenia-Georgia-Russia-Ukraine-Europe, and number two Iran-Armenia-Georgia-Black Sea-Ukraine-Europe.

Whatever happens to the Petroleum Ministry as well as NIOC, Iran's energy policy under the Ahmadinejad presidency will remain substantially the same. This means in practice the full support by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei - Ahmadinejad's protector and the ultimate decision-maker - to any policies that lead to Iran becoming a big economic power. And this of course implies ample foreign investment in Iran's oil and gas industry.

Geopolitically, as a key energy supplier to China as well as India's major supplier, Iran will be in a more than enviable position. Its political relations with both China and India are excellent. Its trans-Caspian alliance with Russia is iron-clad, as both countries are dead-set, in diplomatic language, not to allow "other great foreign powers" to penetrate the Caspian. And Tehran will do all it takes to position itself, long term, as a key supplier to Western Europe as well. This means a peaceful, non-confrontational solution to the nuclear issue will be in the interest of all players involved. But not necessarily in the interest of Washington.