Iran is arming, training and funding members of the Lebanese Shiite Muslim militia Hezbollah in Iraq and using it as a “proxy” to wage war against American forces, a senior U.S. military spokesman said Monday.
Hezbollah, or Party of God, emerged in Lebanon in 1982 and receives funding and arms from Iran. It has a history of kidnapping and killing in its long-standing conflict with Israel, and provoked last summer’s Israeli intervention in Lebanon.
The news briefing by Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner marked the first time that a top U.S. military official had directly linked the radical Islamic group to violence in Iraq.
Citing documents and confessions from captured militants, including a Lebanese operative who’s worked with Hezbollah for more than two decades, Bergner also said that the Quds Force, a unit of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, had helped plan a Jan. 20 raid on a government compound in Karbala in which five U.S. soldiers had been killed.
Bergner didn’t say whether Iranian Quds units were operating in Iraq, and stopped short of saying that Iran itself is waging war against the United States. He said Iran’s role in fomenting violence in Iraq reached to Tehran’s highest levels of government. Article
Oil prices rebounded Monday from early declines to settle above $71 for the first time in 10 months as traders focused on a refinery outage in Kansas and new accusations about Iran’s role in Lebanon and Iraq. Article
In other oil news:
Iraqi oil law negotiators are unsure when they’ll reach a compromise on which oil fields the federal or regional governments will control.
“We hope that very soon, definitely within coming months, one or two months from now,” Thamir Ghadhban, energy adviser to Iraq’s prime minister, told reporters after a presentation at “East Meets West: New Frontiers of Energy Security,” a conference in Istanbul, Turkey. The conference was organized by Cambridge Energy Research Associates. He cautioned the timeline was his hope, but it could be sooner or later.
Negotiators from the Kurdistan Regional Government and Baghdad last week approved a companion law dictating how revenue from oil sales would be split among the federal and local governments, a major breakthrough in talks ongoing for nearly a year. That law, as well as the oil law and bills governing the Ministry of Oil and Iraq National Oil Co., need approval of the council of ministers and Parliament before they are official.
The negotiators had reached a deal on the oil law in February and the council approved it, but the KRG has since contested four annexes, the list dictating which government body has authority over which fields.
Ashti Hawrami, KRG’s natural resources minister and lead negotiator, told UPI this week via mobile phone from Iraq that with the revenue sharing law out of the way the oil law will come back to the front burner.
“We sort of are getting back now to reviewing the draft law and annexes, so it will take some time,” he said. Article
Also, noted FYI:
The cost to fix Iraq’s oil sector may have doubled, or more, since the 2003 invasion, the Iraqi prime minister’s top energy adviser said.
Thamir Ghadhban said the oil industry estimated Iraq needed $25 billion to increase its production from 2.6 million barrels per day to 6 million bpd. But that was before the war began, which shocked the country’s oil sector that produces only 2 million bpd currently.
“As you know, the costs are much higher,” Ghadhban told an audience in Istanbul, Turkey, attending Cambridge Energy Research Associates’ “East Meets West: New Frontiers of Energy Security” conference.
“The favorable characteristics of Iraqi oil fields, such as their simple geology, large reserves and high production rates, make their development cost to be the cheapest in the world,” Ghadhban said. But, citing OPEC President Mohamed bin Dhaen al Hamli’s estimation during the conference that field development costs have increased three-fold, “then it would cost $75 billion, or $50 billion if we use a factor of two,” to develop Iraq, Ghadhban said. “However, I am not sure if the rise in cost is of linear nature.”
“It definitely will be a high cost to the country,” he said.
Iraq’s oil sales last year brought in more than $30 billion. Article
Under the table, umetered or black market sales — anyone’s guess, but certainly not an insignificant sum.
Update 12:30 a.m. July 3:
Iraq’s cabinet approved changes to a landmark draft hydrocarbon law on Tuesday and will submit the bill to parliament after months of bickering between the central government and Kurdish officials.
“The cabinet has endorsed the oil law and is sending it to parliament,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told Reuters.
The main Sunni political bloc is currently boycotting cabinet meetings over legal steps being taken against one its ministers. Dabbagh told Reuters that ministers from the Sunni Accordance Front were not at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting. Article
Analysis du jour:
Now, by enraging the Shiite population they were ostensibly deployed to protect, U.S. commanders and their political overlords in Washington may themselves have driven the last nail into the coffin of the ’surge’ strategy.
The latest fighting in Sadr City carries even greater potential dangers for the U.S. forces that were trying to suppress Sadr’s men. The American troops were supposedly acting on behalf of the democratically elected Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Yet Maliki lost no time in condemning the U.S. forces, not the militia they were fighting.
The more U.S. forces clash with Sadr, the more they run the risk of alienating wider elements of the Shiite community as well, as Maliki’s tough talk about Saturday’s violence indicates. But U.S. forces in Iraq are neither numerous enough, nor are they appropriately deployed, to react quickly and effectively against a broad Shiite uprising against them. They still have their hands full struggling with the Sunni insurgency.
The new clashes with the Mahdi Army are therefore strategically far more important than the real but limited tactical successes U.S. forces are enjoying against Sunni guerrillas in the Baquba region. There are three times as many Shiites in Iraq as Sunnis, and Baquba is not remotely as important as Baghdad. Washington policymakers need to remember those two elementary facts. Article
For all intents and purposes, it is permanent. And the type of permanent prescence and facility no entity should be impelled to provide solely out of drastic and morbid necessity.
At half-past midnight, the helicopters dropped off the wounded - fleeting silhouettes wheeled away on gurneys in the glow of blue landing lights, four soldiers among the last of thousands to pass through the “M.A.S.H.” of the Iraq war.
The makeshift sprawl of tents that received them, the Air Force Theater Hospital, Iraq’s premier trauma center and a war-zone fixture, will soon give way to a modern, “hard-sided” complex across the road.
The opening of that 107,000-square-foot hospital, in stages throughout July, not only brings a more standard, state-of-the-art facility to Iraq. It also announces that the U.S. military, after more than 3,500 dead and 25,000 wounded in four years of war, will be well prepared to deal with severe casualties for years more to come.
At a time when no target date has been set for a U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq, the new Balad hospital looks ready for an extended U.S. stay.
“It’ll be good for 10 years, depending on how well you take care of it,” said Col. Brian Masterson, the hospital commander.
But Balad’s casualties are not just American. Among the side-by-side tents that serve as hospital wards, the Iraqi patient population at times has rivaled the American.
On one recent night, as the quiet was broken occasionally by moans, seven children lay in a 10-bed Iraqi ward, victims of explosions and other violence whose origins - crossfire, terrorism, U.S. airstrikes - usually remain murky to those who treat them.
“A typical city trauma center might admit 2,000 patients a year. We average 8,000,” Masterson said. And those numbers have grown.
Compared with the first four months of 2006, the hospital evacuated 25 percent more patients in the same period this year, Masterson said. That coincided with a rise in U.S. troop numbers and U.S. casualties in a new anti-insurgent offensive.
…doctors, nurses, technicians and others were looking forward to the move into the spacious new facility, which will offer 18 emergency-room beds, for example, triple the current number.
The new hospital - four steel-walled, interconnected buildings erected at a cost of $9.7 million - should also end problems with electrical power too erratic for some sophisticated equipment, with feeble air conditioning that allowed afternoon temperatures to top 100 degrees inside the tents, and with water supplies sometimes insufficient for intensive treatment of burns.
The U.S. command had vetoed a proposal for a $43 million “brick-and-mortar” hospital to replace the tents, to avoid giving the U.S. military presence too permanent a look, Masterson said. The new facility also wasn’t designed for eventual handover to Iraq’s health care system, he said. Article
In the warped lens through which the woebegone G. Walker administration views Iraq, they’re not militias (or even gangs), they’re “neighborhood watch groups.” (Source)
Keeping up with the charged:
The U.S. military said on Monday it had charged a U.S. soldier with the murder of an Iraqi and of trying to cover up the crime by placing a weapon by the body.
The charge is linked to an investigation into the unlawful killing of three Iraqis in separate incidents during U.S. operations between April and June near the town of Iskandariyah, 40 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad, the military said in a statement. Two other soldiers have been charged separately.
Sergeant Evan Vela, from Phoenix, Idaho, was charged with one count of premeditated murder, wrongfully placing a weapon beside a dead Iraqi, making a false official statement and obstruction of justice. Article