Friday, March 21, 2008

Solution to yesterday's puzzle, and a new one

An essay by one Jason Gluck for the oddly-named US Institute for Peace provides the answer to yesterday's puzzle: What did the US official mean when he said the Provincial Powers law could "clear a logjam of other laws, including a vital oil law..." and what did this have to do with Cheney's persuasive powers over Adel AbdulMahdi and Masoud Barzani. In fact, it almost seems possible the US official might have been Gluck himself.

In his essay, Gluck reviews some of the ways in which the three-law package passed last month (Budget, Amnesty, and Provincial Powers) represented horse-trading or compromise between different groups, representing in this way a first step in the direction of potential further GreenZone deal-making. The Supreme Council's veto of the Provincial Powers law put that supposed process in jeopardy, and hence the withdrawal of the veto represented a recovery of that, hence the title of his essay: "From Gridlock to Compromise..." In other words, the puzzling remark merely referred back to passage of the February three-law package, (and the Cheney magic is seen as merely resurrecting that).

In Mr Gluck's mind, this three-law package idea something that opens up the possibility of a brave new world of deal-making. He writes:
Recent failure to agree on other critical political issues, including amendments to the Constitution, the hydrocarbon and revenue sharing legislation, and resolution of the disputed territories through implementation of Article 140, might also be traced to treating each as single issues, standing alone. One can easily identify interconnected and underlying interests that might be positioned for a larger compromise over some, if not all, of these issues. For example, it is at least possible that handing over disputed territory (including Kirkuk) to Iraqi Kurdistan will be more palatable to Iraqi Arabs if accompanied by simultaneous agreement for national management over natural resources. Similarly, most Iraqi Arabs (Sunni and Shia) support greater centralization of powers vis-à-vis the regions—offering at least the possibility of a compromise involving constitutional amendments on the division of powers in exchange for implementation of Article 140. One can only hope that these sorts of deals will be contemplated, as they offer the potential for resolving currently deadlocked issues and moving forward national reconciliation and accord.
On the face of it, this is bizarre, if I may be permitted to say so. The idea that Sunni Arab groups would be so grateful for "national" (as opposed to regional or provincial) management of natural resources that they wouldn't mind giving Kirkuk to the Kurdistan Region; or that the "centralists" would be so grateful for meaningful central government powers that they would agree to resurrect Article 140 of the Constitution so as to reopen the struggle for Kirkuk and other "disputed areas"--these ideas seem at first sight fanciful.

But in fact, this line of argument is so speculative, especially in the context of an essay that is otherwise considerably fact-based, that it seems to me this brings us to our next puzzle: Could this be a reflection of a new US policy?

Gluck acknowledges--but only in within parentheses and deep within his essay--that the US has been providing strong support for the Kurd/SupremeCouncil pair. And he also acknowledges that the Supreme Council is now more and more on the ropes politically, not only in the Green Zone, but also in terms of popularity in the Center and the South. Gluck doesn't say so, but Cheney's arm-twisting to get the veto lifted suggests they might be on the ropes with their American sponsors too (not that there is any suggestion the recent embarrassment of the Ahmedinead visit has anything to do with this). If the Supreme Council is being downgraded, then it seems logical to think the US administration could have a new paradigm in mind, reflected in Gluck's back-of-the-envelope sketch: Compromise between the "centralists" (Sunni parties, Sadrists and others) and the Kurds, with Kirkuk going to the Kurds in exchange for the Kurds dropping their pretensions to sole oil jurisdiction in their region.

In other words, the idea would be to give the Iraqi nationalists their nation back (at least in terms of central government powers), in exchange for passage of an Oil and Gas Law and other concessions, including, although Gluck never mentions it, acquiescence in a long-term US-Iraq security agreement.

As befits something written for a US government agency, this essay of Gluck's maintains the facade that decision-making in the Green Zone is entirely in the hands of Iraqis, with no American influence to speak of. (It was published within a couple of days of Cheney's Baghdad visit, but as we know, he is nothing but a facilitator). So it is important, as usual, to reflect on how little we know about US government activities, not only in the Green Zone, but in other areas as well, for instance in the murky process of "reconciliation" talks with the resistance, and whether there are any offers or non-offers being made in that process.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe this is one aspect of the puzzle:

8:21 AM  
Blogger Compulsive Reader said...

Any sources on Cheney's message to Turkey? I wonder how happy they could be about Kirkuk, given the substantial Turkmen community there.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Compulsive Reader said...

Maybe this? -
"Orhan Duran, the general manager of Turkey's Genel Enerji, said the Cukurova Group-owned company has invested nearly US$200 million (€130 million) to drill six wells in a joint effort with Geneva-based Addax Petroleum.

There is enough oil to make the venture profitable, but the oil cannot be exported before the central government passes the oil and gas law, Duran said."

4:44 PM  
Blogger Compulsive Reader said...

Another interesting tidbit from an iht article along your same line of inquiry:
"Democrats and some Republicans have questioned whether the 2002 authorization of force in Iraq still applies legally because it referred to the need to get rid of Saddam Hussein and eliminate the threat of weapons of mass destruction. Since the 2003 invasion, Hussein has been captured and executed, and no weapons of mass destruction were ever found.

4:56 PM  
Blogger Compulsive Reader said...

Forgot the first paragraph:
"Administration officials say they probably will not seek Senate approval of the plan because the agreement will not be a treaty that provides Iraq with specific security guarantees. This position has prompted a backlash in Congress, where Democrats have proposed legislation that would render the agreement null and void without the Senate's blessing."

4:59 PM  
Blogger badger said...

cr, thanks for both those. I didn't realize there's already a Turkish energy company champing at the bit in northern Iraq, also demanding on Oil and Gas Law. The plot thickens. I wish I had more...

5:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have just read your analysis Badger, but have not had time to read the Gluck-essay.

Although you find this comment bizzar, I think there is something to it. In as sense this is not about Iraqi politics per se - this is about elite agreements within the Green Zone. Whether such agreements survive a meeting with real Iraqi politics at a later stage is somewhat beside the point for now.

Because, for the US, the important thing is to get the oil law, independent of what's in it (although the current drafts leans in their general direction).

As the situation stands today, this kind of trade off will be one way to solve the situation in the Green Zone and get the necessary votes for such laws and ensuring passage of the laws in the CoR.

It is not necessary to have any broad based acceptance as such.

And one of the reasons why a much more centralised version of the Oil Law can pass is illustrated by the comment from Genel: KRG has moved quickly and are now getting production that they need to export. But, they have no export route without a Federal law. Baghdad on the other hand, has no such need.

For ISCI this will mean less likelihood of establishing control over the resources by creating their Super-region - they still have to control the centre to control the oil.

As for the law itself, it is likley to be more about its implementation as it will give the Ministry of Oil a large degree of latitude to operate. And I for one do not expect that the devil reincarneted for many, PSAs, will be used to any large degree at all.

1:22 PM  

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