Category Archives: Middle Eastern Politics

Morality and Practicality: America’s Syrian Intervention

What if Obama’s plan — to punish Bashar al-Assad for his criminal use of chemical weapons by destroying his capability to employ them again — is too much of a success? The answer hinges on what Washington considers a victory.




[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s President Obama makes his case to the American Congress about intervention in Syria, his administration must confront contingencies and plan for unforeseeable challenges. Yet the most pressing question is not what might happen if something goes wrong. Quite the opposite. What if Obama’s plan — to punish Bashar al-Assad for his criminal use of chemical weapons by destroying his capability to employ them again — is too much of a success? The answer hinges on what Washington considers a victory.

On 3 September US Secretary of State muddied the waters of intervention, sending what TIME magazine called “mixed messages” against a congressional prohibition on the use of American soldiers in Syria: the feared “boots on the ground” option. In front of Congress, Kerry testified that “in the event Syria imploded, for instance, or in the event there was a threat of a chemical weapons cache falling into the hands of al-Nusra or someone else and it was clearly in the interest of our allies and all of us, the British, the French and others, to prevent those weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of the worst elements, I don’t want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to a president of the United States to secure our country.”

There is a real chance that airstrikes, if targeted effectively, could help topple Assad’s government, at the very least providing a much needed morale boost and significant breathing room for the mixed rebel front. Such inputs, when factored into the complexities of war in Syria, may lead to unforeseeable and magnified results. In such an environment of uncertainty, a clear definition of American objectives is needed. Yet such a framework has not been debated adequately.

What does the White House count as a “success” in its proposed intervention plan? Knocking out Assad’s future capability to employ his heinous arsenal, a strategic military objective? Or punishing the Syrian regime, a moral goal? Although subtle, the difference between these two outcomes is important, and has been confused in both Congress and the broader discussion. One can be achieved without extensive military involvement, the other cannot. If the answer lies in a murky middle ground — as it seems to be for now — the implications could be deep.

Discussion of a moral imperative to intervene in response to Assad’s most recent chemical war crime — since when has the killing 100,000 citizens, over two years, not been a war crime? — is dangerous because of this ambiguity. When morality becomes intermingled with strategy the result is a tendency towards escalation, as recent American history in Iraq has shown. And when the phrases “humanitarian intervention” and “protecting American interests” are used in the same breath, there is little doubt that such a co-mingling of objectives has arisen.

Limits become fuzzy when generals and politicians are fueled by lofty and noble principles. What is in the national interest, and what is in the human interest, drift closer together until two become one. True humanists must demand full intervention, the destruction of Assad’s military capability so that he will release his murderous grasp on power: No man who willingly kills 100,000 of his citizens has a right to rule. If humanity is national policy, as Washington’s rhetoric implies, where does the national interest end?

It is in this unsuspectingly ambiguous environment that Kerry’s statements become incredibly pertinent. If the United States goes through with its plans for intervention, it will be faced with the tough task of placing limits on its action. The hybrid policy of morality and military practicality handicaps this process, and could lead to an overstepping of acceptable boundaries. A few more tomahawk missiles in key sites could mean the difference between Assad’s survival or his end. If the latter becomes reality, the feared Syrian power vacuum becomes reality as well and with it serious questions of who controls the regime’s remaining military technologies. If such a possibility comes to pass, Kerry’s intimations may become all too concrete, as the spiral of American “national interest” unwinds.

Before Obama, his cabinet, and the American Congress make any decision regarding intervention in Syria, they must confront their own definitions of success. They need to grapple with their motivations for involvement, and their ultimate objectives. For if they continue to confuse morality with strategy, and work in the middle, the results could be just as Kerry described.


Photo Credit: stephen_medlock

Bombing Syria Would Violate the UK Government’s Criteria for Legality

The government presents three very loose criteria by which the bombing of Syria would be considered legal, but even these criteria cannot be considered met by any objective observer. 




[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he UK government today published its position on the legality of a UK military intervention in Syria, including three requirements under which a “humanitarian intervention” would be legal without UN authorisation, which it claims are “clearly” met. However, any objective observer must conclude that even these loose criteria are absolutely not met in this case, and thus any bombing of Syria would, according to the UK government’s own arguments, be manifestly illegal.

I shall now consider each of these criteria in turn.

(i) there is convincing evidence, generally accepted by the international community as a whole, of extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale, requiring immediate and urgent relief;

The government claims that this condition is “clearly” met, as “the Syrian regime has been killing its people for two years, with reported deaths now over 100,000 and refugees at nearly 2 million”, and has now engaged in “large-scale use of chemical weapons”. This rhetoric clearly flags the bias of the author(s). A civil war in which each side is “killing its people”, i.e. other Syrians, is attributed solely to one side, the regime, as are, implicitly, the total number of casualties and refugees so far – although these figures include victims of all sides, including the rebels. For example, the tens of thousands of Kurds who have fled into northern Iraq in the past weeks, escaping from jihadist violence.

The paper, meanwhile, accepts as fact that the Syrian regime is behind the recent use of chemical weapons, although this is yet to be established and the rebels, too, have previously been implicated in chemical weapons use. Western states, of course, have quite a reputation for lying and manipulating information about WMD (Iraq) and atrocities (Kosovo), and so we would be wise to maintain a healthy skepticism towards any such claims, particularly when the accusing states show no desire for, and even hostility towards, UN investigation.

Most importantly, although there is general acceptance by the international community of humanitarian problems in Syria, there is widespread disagreement as to who is responsible for these problems, and what relief would be appropriate. Some states hold the rebels rather than the regime more responsible for the situation, while others see it as a civil war with blame on both sides. And only a handful of states support the idea of bombing Syria. So even in the highly loose manner in which the government frames this first criteria, it cannot seriously be considered met.

(ii) it must be objectively clear that there is no practicable alternative to the use of force if lives are to be saved;

There are very clear alternatives to bombing to improving the situation in Syria, a fact which is “objectively clear” to the majority of the world, and the majority of the British public.

Most obviously, the West could try to de-escalate rather than escalate the Syrian conflict, by promoting negotiations and compromise between the different factions, rather than directly and indirectly supporting the rebels and maintaining their hopes of full intervention on their side. So far, negotiations have not taken place because of the one-sided insistence that Assad must go, followed by difficulties forming a negotiating team on the rebel side. Assad’s regime may be a reprehensible dictatorship but it clearly has popular support of some, particularly Alawites and Christians who fear the Sunni majority. The civil war has evident sectarian elements to it, and the rebels, too, have been accused of war crimes. The situation on the rebel side, meanwhile, is highly chaotic, and there are major jihadist elements among them.

This is not a black and white situation, and even if the regime’s side is a darker shade of grey than the rebels, the course of action that is most likely to save lives is, undoubtedly, to try to de-escalate the conflict and promote negotiations between the warring sides. Given that the majority of the world holds the above opinion, this second criteria has clearly not been met.

(iii) the proposed use of force must be necessary and proportionate to the aim of relief of humanitarian need and must be strictly limited in time and scope to this aim (i.e. the minimum necessary to achieve that end and for no other purpose).

This very criteria presupposes that bombing can achieve an aim of reducing the loss of lives and preventing chemical weapons usage, whereas many in Britain and globally would argue that such bombing would most likely only escalate the fighting and the civilian suffering – as it did in, for example, Kosovo. It is, therefore, very contestable and debatable. In the light of NATO’s misuse of the “limited” and “proportionate” UN authorisation for action in Libya, meanwhile, it is hard to see how anyone could take such assurances from Western governments serious again.

The government presents three very loose criteria by which the bombing of Syria would be considered legal, but even these criteria cannot be considered met by any objective observer. As the partisan rhetoric of the UK government’s paper highlights, this amounts to a very weak attempt, made more with crude propaganda than any serious legal argument, to justify its highly unpopular and contested proposal to bomb Syria.


Photo Credit: Madhu babu pandi

The Syrian Conflict: Time to Start Thinking Outside the Box

As the conflict drags on, and as more people continue to suffer, it is time to start putting new ideas on the table, and partitioning Syria is certainly one of the suggestions that could work.




[dropcap]A[/dropcap]n end to the violence and conflict in Syria is not in sight, far from it. The UN estimates that around 100,000 have died in the conflict so far and the number is set to rise as both the Assad regime and the rebel movement refuse to end the bloodshed. Many suggestions have been put forward which aim to bring an end to what has been the bloodiest out of all the Arab Spring uprisings. Some believe that arming the rebels is the answer. The supporters of this claim are the UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the French President Francois Hollande and the USA. Russia, on the other hand, has put forward a diplomatic solution which aims to bring both sides of the Syrian conflict to the negotiating table. Britain, France and the USA favour a diplomatic solution as well, however they claim that Assad will never join the negotiations when he is winning on the ground, thus the need to arm the rebels to create a stale-mate.

However in this article I will argue that both of the above proposals are unlikely to reap any substantial results and therefore out of the box thinking is required.

An argument against arming the rebels

There seems to be a consensus among many, that if President Assad was removed from power, Syria would go back to normality and a start of a new and bright era could begin. However, such a view is obscured by a shallow thinking: Assad is bad, rebels are good. Over the last few months, such a view has suffered a great dent, due to the grotesque and vile actions by some of the rebels- atrocities against the Syrian minorities, such as Christians, inhumane treatment of enemy soldiers, harsh treatment of civilians in rebel held areas, among other despicable incidents. Some argue that these actions are only committed by an extremist minority who do not represent a more liberal faction fighting Assad.

Such a claim in itself provides two reasons for why arming the rebels would not work. Firstly the claim correctly points out the fact that the rebel movement is deeply fractured. There is a civil war, in the civil war. There have been many reports of rebel groups fighting each other and murdering fellow generals. Secondly, this leads to the natural conclusion that if Assad were to fall right now, the conflict in Syria would not end. It would simply shift from rebels fighting Assad and fighting each other, to rebels fighting each other to a greater extent. If weapons were provided to the opposition, these would eventually be used to kill fellow opposition groups, thus leading to more bloodshed. Even if the Arab Spring in Syria began with Syrians wanting more democracy and freedom, right now the conflict has become a sectarian and religious war, between Shias, Sunnis and hardened Islamists. Iraq should be the perfect example of how getting rid of a dictator for its own sake does not lead to positive results. Despite over 10 years since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq is still plagued by sectarian violence, almost on a daily basis. Syria is even more diverse than Iraq, therefore there is a grave possibility that the violence would be enhanced.

Further reason to doubt the appeal of arming the rebels are claims that the people living in rebel held areas are deeply dissatisfied with the opposition movement, mainly due to the implementation of strict Sharia laws, which the majority of Syrians are not in favour of. Furthermore, there is a strong possibility that, if these rebels were to win, they would initiate mass atrocities against Assad supporters as part of their revenge. This has happened in Libya after the fall of Qaddafi.

Diplomacy as an end in itself is unlikely to work

Undoubtedly supporting Assad in this conflict would also be unthinkable, given the scale of destruction and deaths that have endured over his watch. For this reason some suggested that negotiations ought to take place where both sides agree to a ceasefire and a transitional government, eventually leading to proper democratic elections where the Syrian people will be able to decide how and who should govern the country. In principle this is a viable idea, certainly more so than the plan to arm the rebels. In practise, diplomacy is unlikely to work, since the rebels and their Western backers have set a pre-condition that Assad should step down. Understandably Assad and his support will never agree to such a condition, firstly because he is winning on the ground, and secondly because the rebels and the West have no political legitimacy to ask him for such a move.  Only the Syrian people have the legitimacy to remove their current leader, yet, as well documented, many Syrians continue to support Assad. To have a legitimate transitional government and legitimate future elections, Assad has to be a part of them, to allow the people the chance to once and for all decide whether they want Assad in or out. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the opposition will agree to this move, therefore breaking down any prospective positive outcomes from negotiations

Partition Syria

Unless either the West or Russia decide to end the conflict with a comprehensive victory for their respective sides (a move which is unlikely to occur), the stalemate between Assad and the rebels looks to continue. There is a dangerous possibility that Syria may turn into a new Afghanistan and Iraq, with violence and bloodshed continuing for decades. To prevent such an outcome, Syria may have to be partitioned into some parts that will be governed by Assad, and other parts governed by certain factions of the opposition. For now, Assad will never agree to such a plan when he is winning on the ground, when Russia continues to show undisputed support and when the West is so indecisive. Even if Assad were to win the civil war (which is unlikely as it is hard to see the Western powers allowing this to happen), the extremist rebels would continue to cause a nuisance as they would continue to receive financial and military support from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Partitioning Syria would look similar to the Russia and Chechnya situation, where technically Chechnya is part of Russia, but has a status of a republic and some limited independence, with their own leader.

Heavy negotiations would need to take place among the Syrian players to arrive at a common outcome and nobody is suggesting that this would be a simple procedure. However, as the conflict drags on, and as more people continue to suffer, it is time to start putting new ideas on the table, and partitioning Syria is certainly one of the suggestions that could work.


Photo Credit: World Shia Forum

The ‘Arab Spring’ Backfire

Egypt looks set for a battle between religious fundamentalists and secularists, with the military seemingly also attempting to pull strings. 




[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen the ‘Arab Spring’ began, with Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia, many Western countries and their overzealous administrations were quick to jump on the democracy bandwagon; quick was the change of discourse – away from decades of tolerable autocratic alliances, to outright denunciations of their friends of the past. Fair enough, dictatorship seems a much outdated concept with no place in the modern world; the evolution of political science has left no scope for debate in this regard. Yet, championing the cause of democracy so fervently was a mistake – the administrations of the Western world showed little tact and forward-thinking in their actions, as it has been made evident following the ousting of Mohammed Morsi.

The vehemence of external support empowered the people to act, perhaps not physically, but certainly psychologically. Concessions made by leaders in the Middle-East and, in certain cases, their deposition, meant that something which bore vague resemblance to democracy was born. The world rejoiced at the apparent demise of despotism. However, to revisit the self-immolation of Bouazizi, this almost completely missed the point. The man did not light himself on fire out of some uppity desire for democracy or political representation – this is a yearning of the intelligentsia. The masses, out in the past few weeks in Tahrir Square, belong to what would be categorised as the working class and their primary concern is often directed by necessity over want. In other words, people like Bouazizi would have appreciated the luxury of a vote, but they are much more inclined towards their own sufficiency. An end to corruption and a fair chance to make an honest living are what the masses desire; this was proved when the Egyptian military ousted the democratically elected President, to the rejoice of a nation. As Fraser Nelson of the Daily Telegraph identifies, what the people of the Middle-East needed was not democracy but instead capitalism.

In truth, democracy is nothing but a quixotic concept in the context of the near future of the Middle-East. Stability is needed before democracy can be introduced. William Hague’s insistence that stability comes from democratic institutions is correct, but not in a situation as complex as that particular region. By starting the democracy bandwagon too early, the Western powers have enabled the Egyptian public to recognise their true potency. They have learnt that laws can be broken, that the constitution can be changed, whenever they so desire. Stability is becoming an object shrinking in the distance.

Now, Egypt finds itself in a difficult place, as do America and the UK. To call the military junta it is now dealing with a consequence of a coup d’état would rescind approximately $1.6 billion of aid to Egypt and plunge it further into instability. Simultaneously, these administrations fear that Egypt is to return to its past of a political battleground between corrupt military leaders and staunch Islamists. Whilst its generals maintain they want nothing for themselves, their actions suggest otherwise: the Egyptian military already rejected a draft constitution, fundamentally because it suggested an elected civilian authority to control the armed forces. Effectively, Egypt has slipped out of the control of the Western powers; its fate rests, and power lies, in the hands of its military. The US and UK may look on and observe, but they missed their chance; whole-hearted intervention may well have been practiced a few years before but with the economic downturn and memories of past failures, both the UK and the US were reluctant to intervene in a region crying out for the establishment of a genuine capitalist system.

As for the future of Egypt? It looks set for a battle between religious fundamentalists and secularists, with the military seemingly also attempting to pull strings. What’s to stop them usurping another legitimate President? It’s a dire situation that’s just screaming out impasse.


Photo Credit: Diariocritico de Venezuela

The F1 Event in Bahrain: A Lost Chance For The Opposition

How did the revolutionaries use this event to raise more awareness or invite foreign support? A large-scale protest that disrupted the logistics or running of the race would have obviously grabbed some headlines and will have certainly embarrassed the Bahraini security forces.




[dropcap]M[/dropcap]uch to the chagrin of organisations like Amnesty International the F1 event in Bahrain went ahead and was earmarked to make around £26million for Bernie Ecclestone, let alone the huge amount of money generated by Grand-Prix-tourism and advertising for the Bahraini government. Even as some news agencies reported that the Grand Prix would be less eventful than last year, claims were being made that the government had arrested suspected pro-democracy supporters and had ejected an ITV news crew. In fact, even last week when I was in Manama, the tense mood was still apparent as I was stopped by the police on three separate occasions and asked which newspaper I worked for. Flattered though I was, I had to work hard to convince them of the truth that I was just a tourist. It is standard Bahraini government behaviour but still an opportunity for the opposition to attract more media attention.

So would it have been better if the Grand Prix had been cancelled, or if the event had continued with some reports of disturbances? A cancellation would certainly have caught the attention of the F1 fans, which had been waiting a whole week to see the continuation of the competition; how many of those fans are active human rights activists is unclear but probably not high given the level of spectation. However, the fact that the F1 continued gave the pro-democracy supporters an interesting opportunity to broadcast their grievances to the world. The mere fact that the majority of newspapers last week referred to the event as the ‘controversial Grand Prix’ is inadvertent propaganda for the revolutionaries. Interestingly, after his earlier dismissive reaction to calls for the F1 to be cancelled, Mr Ecclestone actually criticised the government for giving the opposition “a platform” to protest. He also told news reporters he would be meeting the opposition leader after the qualifying stage, for what purpose he did not say.

So how did the revolutionaries use this event to raise more awareness or invite foreign support? A large-scale protest that disrupted the logistics or running of the race would have obviously grabbed some headlines and will have certainly embarrassed the Bahraini security forces. Before the F1 events began such a situation seemed highly unlikely given the large security force, long-running crackdowns and pre-emptive arrests, but it seems the protesters realised this too as demonstrations were stepped up the night before and the early-morning of the race. Tyre burnings in Manama also drew some attention, but the tactics were too mild or poorly timed to encourage the kind of attention that would bring their situation forward in the news.

Obviously the Bahraini government and the F1 organisers also had their own press strategies which were extremely harmful to the pro-democracy campaign. This included F1 legend Jackie Stewart weighing in on the side of the Bahraini government. His statement that the anti-government clashes are “no different to the Glasgow Rangers and the Glasgow Celtics [clashes]” is in my opinion a disgustingly naive (or purposefully destructive) assessment of the situation. The fact that this may have been taken as gospel by F1 fans threatens to undermine any pro-democracy efforts to get their word across to the very influential audience of the motorsport. It’s hardly surprising that Jackie supports the Bahraini regime though, seeing as he had a hand in the promotion of Bahrain as a location for F1 races.

The question of violence and destruction of property in Bahraini protests is also an interesting point to address. The branding of the pro-democracy protesters as ‘terrorists’ because the protesters burned tyres and clashed with police seem highly sensationalist to an opposition supporter. But strangely it seems to have worked in turning (at least the British) F1 spectators against the opposition efforts. A very heated and exhausting conversation with my warehouse colleagues showed that they were angry that the “selfish” and “irresponsible” opposition wanted to spoil a beloved international event; although they understood there was excessive and extreme police violence. It would seem that the Bahraini government’s attempt at alienating the opposition argument from F1 spectators has been, in this specific case, successful. Given the lack of international support though I would guess that has been the occurrence across the wider F1 spectator community as well.

The overall effectiveness of the opposition’s campaign to push their story into the global or western spheres seems to have been quite unsuccessful, at least in the long term. The news outlets are no longer running large stories on Bahraini affairs because the tournament has moved on and the Syrian situation has progressed very far in recent weeks. It seems that the only ways to really globalise this situation effectively are to either heavily disrupt a future F1 event to the point of cancellation or relocation (like 2011), or for the opposition movement to turn to much more violent means of resistance. The latter may gain intense media coverage, but is it worth the cost of human life?


Photo Credit: Shabbirhtz

Nothing New in Israeli Politics

The Palestinian question cannot be shunned by Israel’s political class and by its Jewish electorate since it is part and parcel of Israel’s essence. No “new” coalition can change this fundamental fact.


israel flag gaza palestine hamas


Although almost two months have passed since Israeli citizens have cast their vote to elect the 19th Knesset, a government is yet to be formed.

In the meantime, there are three considerations to be made. The first one regards Netanyahu’s claim that the main issue on which his government will focus will be “socioeconomic”. In the summer of 2011 tens of thousands of Israelis protested against austerity measures and the rising price of housing. The opposition seized the opportunity and accused the Netanyahu government of mismanaging the economy and finance of the country. Therefore Netanyahu pledged to make it his priority to see to it that no Israeli will ever again have to suffer financial angst.

There are two hidden aspects to the “socioeconomic” agenda. Firstly, Netanyahu believes that by focusing on it he will be able to focus solely on “domestic” issues. That is, he will be able to cast aside, at least for a while, anything which is “foreign”. By “foreign” Netanyahu means one thing and one thing only: the stagnation of the peace process with the Palestinians due to settlement construction in the occupied West Bank. Thus it is not a sincere desire to ease Israeli citizens’ lives that drives the Netanyahu to focus on the “domestic socioeconomic” issue but rather a desire to to postpone the creation of a Palestinian state.

The second hidden aspect is the fact that the “socioeconomic” situation which needs to be ameliorated pertains to Jewish Israeli citizens and not to all Israeli citizens. Indeed, the “socioeconomic” status of the Arab population has been neglected up to the point of asking whether Israel is a democracy at all. No wonder less than half of the Arab population was expected to vote.

The second consideration concerns the fact that any “new” coalition will not be that new after all since it will either be constituted by political parties which are not sincere about peace or by political parties which, while professing to be part of the “peace camp,” have not won enough seats to make a real difference.

The two possible heavyweight candidates to join Netanyahu are Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home), led by Naftali Bennet, a software tycoon, who has made explicit his intent of expanding settlement construction and to annex Area C of the West Bank, equivalent to 61% of the territory (indeed, Netanyahu himself pledged not to dismantle any settlements); and Yesh Atid, a centrist political party founded by Yair Lapid, a former journalist and TV presenter, who has delivered his main electoral speech at the University of Ariel, arguably the biggest and most controversial settlement in the West Bank. Mr. Lapid has also stated that Jerusalem must remain undivided (read: Israeli).

The political parties which seem genuinely interested in the peace process are Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah which won a mere 5% of the votes; Meretz also at 5% and Kadima at 2%. The three Arab-Israeli parties combined did not even make it to 10%.

Since settlement construction is deemed illegal under international law, it can be safely stated that the “new” government will be composed of criminal elements. The international community should condemn ferociously the policies of these political parties and make it clear that Netanyahu’s alliance with them is frowned upon. Alas, the only reaction seen so far was the usual hand tapping by the British Foreign secretary William Hague.

The previous two brief reflections lead me to the third and final one which perhaps is the most important: governments are not formed ex nihilo, they are elected by the people. Two things follow from this. Firstly, the policies which are implemented or which the elected parties pledge to implement reflect the values of the people voting for those same parties. Therefore the underlying problem is not so much that there are a few racist individuals in Israel’s political arena but that a great part, if not a majority, of the Israeli public shares these racist values and wishes for them to be implemented.

Secondly, and following the above remark, the Israeli public shares the responsibility for racist policies being implemented against the native Arab population. We are accustomed to aim criticisms at governments and other political institutions for injustices perpetrated by nations. The fact of the matter is, though, that in Israel people do elect governments and therefore share responsibility. Change will not come by putting pressure on the political establishment but only once the Israeli institutions will be reformed in such a way as to create a radical shift in the Jewish Israeli public’s values.

The Palestinian question cannot be shunned by Israel’s political class and by its Jewish electorate since it is part and parcel of Israel’s essence. No “new” coalition can change this fundamental fact.


Photo Credit: Lilachd

Syria Is Not Iraq Revisited

Afghanistan (2001-ongoing) and Iraq (2003-2011) should remind us of the unpredictability of mission creep.


syria protest democracy 2011


With more than 60,000 estimated deaths, the issue of military intervention to stop the bloodshed in Syria is becoming more and more topical. Some days ago on the pages of The Atlantic, Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, wrote a very thoughtful piece, Syria is Not Iraq, where he argued in favor of intervention.

Hamid is extremely critical of the way the United States is responding -or not responding- to the Syrian crisis:

In due time, the Obama administration’s inability or unwillingness to act may be remembered as one of the great strategic and moral blunders of recent decades. Hoping to atone for our sins in Iraq, we have overlearned the lessons of the last war.

Hamid’s article raises two questions. First, is it fair to define the Obama administration’s policy toward Syria “one of the great strategic and moral blunders of recent decades”? Second, is the 2003 war in Iraq the only precedent we should look at to find enduring lessons that could have influenced the current US policy in Syria?

With regard to the first question, the United States did make mistakes along the way. For example, I agree with Hamid that discarding the option of military intervention “in such a flagrant manner” could have been a mistake. In fact, publicly taking the military option off the table may have decreased the pressure the international community could exert on the Syrian regime to restrain its response to the uprising.

The United States could have also taken different decisions. It took US President Obama five months to state that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had lost legitimacy. It took Obama an additional month and a death toll of around 20,000 people to finally say that “for the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside.” That was a long wait, above all considering the level of violence reached in the Syrian conflict and the fact that in Libya the US president called on Colonel Qaddafi to leave after only two weeks and a much lower death toll.

Mistakes and questionable decisions notwithstanding, there is not sufficient evidence to support the statement that US policy has been one of the great strategic and moral blunders of recent decades. To make such a statement one should have the certainty that a military intervention would resolve the conflict once and for all. I simply do not think that at this time we have the luxury to believe that a foreign military intervention would inevitably bring back peace and stability in Syria. Reasons to be worried about the opposite outcome are indeed justified.

President Obama made such concerns public in a recent interview on The New Republic:

In a situation like Syria, I have to ask, can we make a difference in that situation? Would a military intervention have an impact? How would it affect our ability to support troops who are still in Afghanistan? What would be the aftermath of our involvement on the ground? Could it trigger even worse violence or the use of chemical weapons? What offers the best prospect of a stable post-Assad regime? And how do I weigh tens of thousands who’ve been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo? Those are not simple questions. And you process them as best you can.

Unfortunately, nobody is in the position to know exactly what would have happened had the United States intervened militarily in Syria. One can only speculate on it. However, I think Hamid’s criticism is not completely fair mostly because it does not consider past US experiences in the Middle East, other than Iraq in 2003, that may have influenced the Obama administration’s decision to take a prudent stance toward getting involved militarily in Syria.

Afghanistan (2001-ongoing) and Iraq (2003-2011) should remind us of the unpredictability of mission creep. Two military operations that started with a relatively narrow objective then progressively turned into prolonged and costly nation-building efforts whose outcomes one can arguably define as successes.

Hamid would probably rebut that 2011 Libya was a clear example of the Obama administration’s ability to avoid mission creep and the risk of getting bogged down into yet another nation-building effort in the Middle East. Today, however, Libya is a state with a very weak central government. Several armed militia are effectively in power in some areas of the country. Last September in the Libyan city of Benghazi Christopher Stevens was the first US ambassador to be killed after more than 30 years. Arms provided to the anti-Qaddafi opposition reportedly ended up in the hands of extremists. The same extremists that have crossed Libyan porous borders to export violence into neighboring countries such as Algeria and Mali.

What if, then, the United States intervened militarily in Syria and after the end of the military operations, following the script of the Libya intervention, did not take on the burden of nation-building? Who would be ready for a Libya-redux in Syria with similar levels of instability and lawlessness? What the potentially explosive implications for highly-sensitive countries such as Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey? All that considered, I believe that a limited US military intervention in Syria with no significant follow-up would be not only unwise but also extremely dangerous.

Finally, the Syrian crisis has clearly taken the form of a civil war that primarily pits a Sunni majority against an Alawite minority, with other minor groups picking side or standing idle. Lebanon in the early 80s was a dramatic example for the United States of the perils of getting involved in civil wars fought mostly along sectarian lines. At that time, in fact, US troops and personnel became targets of terrorist attacks that resulted in more than 300 American casualties on Lebanese soil.

Therefore, the US lack of enthusiasm to intervene militarily in Syria may go well-beyond the unfortunate experience of Iraq to include hard lessons from Afghanistan, Libya and Lebanon.

Hamid argues that the Obama administration is making a huge mistake by not getting involved militarily in Syria. I personally hold some doubts that the current Syrian mess could be resolved by military means. Instead, more resources and more energies should be invested in finding a difficult, but not yet impossible, political solution to crisis.


Photo Credit: Syriana2011

Iran And The Bomb: Coercive Diplomacy In, Arms Race Out

Talk delivered at A Nuclear Iran: The Start of a Middle Eastern Arms Race?, Public Conference, King’s College London, February 12, 2013, London, United Kingdom.



In order to address to the talk’s question, I will try to present the Iranian issue from a systemic point of view, framing it in the broader context of the international system and assuming Iran as one of the many actors belonging to it.

According to Matthew Kroenig and other strategic advisers such as Dov Zakheim, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nuclear Iran would trigger an arms race in the Middle East, as a product of the security dilemma put in place.

The security dilemma asserts that both strength and weakness in national security can be provocative to other nations. If a nation is too strong, this can be provocative since most means of self-protection simultaneously menace others.” On the other hand, if a nation is too weak, “great dangers arise if an aggressor believes that the status quo powers are weak in capability or resolve.”

A frequently cited example of the security dilemma is the beginning of the World War I. Supporters of this viewpoint argue that the European powers felt forced to go to war by feelings of insecurity, despite not actually desiring the war. However, the only case in which an arms race could occur is the so called “first world”, a theoretical place formulated by Robert Jervis in his seminal article “Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma”, published in 1978. In defining the security dilemma, two variables are pillar: on the one hand, offensive weapons and policies; on the other hand, defensive weapons and policies.

In the aforementioned first world, offensive and defensive behaviour are not distinguishable, but offense, conceived as the situation in which it is easier to destroy the other’s army and take its territory than defending its own, has an advantage: in this hypothesis, the security dilemma is “very intense”. The environment is “doubly dangerous” because even status quo states will behave in an aggressive manner and there will arise the possibility of an arms race. Consequently, chances of cooperation between states are low.

Iran, differently, is already seen as the threat by the whole region and from external actors, so its behaviour and weapons are very distinguishable: for that this case does not fall within the first, rather in the third case stipulated by Jervis. In the latter one, no arms race should occur: offensive and defensive behaviour are distinguishable but offense has an advantage. In this third world, the security dilemma is “not intense”, even if security issues do exist and an aggression might take place at some future time. As a result, status quo states are free to follow different policy than aggressor.

Accordingly, the inherent peril of a nuclear arms race in the region seems to be, from a theoretical point of view, quite unlikely. Adding the presence of the US as the hegemonic power in the region, capable to guarantee a good degree of security to Saudi Arabia and its other satellites, such a possibility is completely out of question. In addition, Israel already holds the nuclear bomb since 1979, and despite the perception of threat that its presence caused in the region, an arms race has never occurred as well.

As Hobbs and Moran have recently argued, Saudi Arabia’s political and strategic context does not favour the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Indeed, from a security perspective, the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States based on the “oil-for-arms” commitment continues to be well-working since the 1940s. On the other hand, the US strategic umbrella over this country has been reinforced after the events of the last years, such as the fall of the pro-Saudi Mubarak regime in Egypt; protests and instability in Bahrain and Yemen; the collapse of the pro-Saudi government in Lebanon; and civil war in Syria, which have made Riyadh one of the pillar allies of the US in the region.

By this token, justifying a preventive attack against Iran as the only way to stop the possibility of an arms race would be a strategic mistake, since it is not necessary and, additionally, it would bring more instability to the area. Given this explanation, two other policy choices remain on the table: allowing Iran to pursue its nuclear ambitions, and then deter it; conversely, forcing Iran to dismiss any pretension over the nuclear, through the so-called coercive diplomacy.

Rational Deterrence Theory

First and foremost, it is worth recalling that the debate over the possibility of nuclear proliferation and the related threat to regional stability has already been discussed by Kenneth Waltz and Scott Sagan in 1981, and renewed by the same scholars in 2002.

Waltz has always sustained the idea that nuclear proliferation should guarantee peace and stability, basing this assumption on the historical record of the Cold War confrontation and the following nuclear rivalry between India and Pakistan. As a result, in the last article by Waltz published on Foreign Affairs last year, nuclear asymmetry is conceived as destabilizing given the objective gap in military power and capabilities between Iran and Israel. In addition, such a strategic shortcoming is worsened by the ideological rivalry, that’s an irrational aspect that could be worked out only by the logic of deterrence. In fact, following this argument, once Iran obtains its own nuclear weapons, itself and Israel shall be strategically balanced, and no other country in the region should have the incentive to acquire further nuclear capability, leaving the region more stable than today.

If a first sight the rational logic suggested by Waltz seems to be correct and attractive, it is worth considering that the realm of international politics is quite complex and security concerns are not the only characteristic that states are affected by. As Sagan pointed out as early as 1981, states pursue nuclear weapons building because of three major considerations: security, domestic dynamics and international norms.

Aside from the security concerns already discussed, domestic considerations such as the existence of parochial but powerful political groups or individuals (such as the nuclear energy establishment, the military complex and populist politicians), and the concurrent influence of international norms and shared beliefs on national leaders (such as the Iranian establishment pretension to be a regional power with global aspirations), are not elements of the Waltzian equation and as such they alter the balance with unpredictable consequences.

Indeed, as Sagan himself recalled, the Cold War’s “nuclear peace” should not be deduced as the general rule or as an excuse for inaction with either arms control or non-proliferation; instead it remains an exception to celebrate and wonder about, given that even the World War II ended up with a nuclear bombing. Furthermore, considering the nuclear bomb inherently peaceful weapons since their possessors have never fought against each other, as Waltz and John Mearsheimer assert, represents a historical mistake.

In fact, Pakistan’s development of nuclear weapons has facilitated its strategy of engaging in low-intensity conflict against India, making the subcontinent more crisis-prone. As the political scientist Paul Kapur has shown, as Islamabad’s nuclear capabilities have increased, so has the volatility of the Indian-Pakistani rivalry. For example, in 1999 Pakistan sent conventional forces disguised as insurgents across the Line of Control in the Kargil district of Kashmir, triggering a limited war with India.

The historical record suggests that competition between a nuclear-armed Iran and its principal adversaries would likely follow the pattern known as “the stability-instability paradox”, in which the supposed stability created by mutually assured destruction generates greater instability by making provocations, disputes, and conflict below the nuclear threshold seem safe.

Finally, critiques against Waltz’s argument come from Stephen Walt, a neo-realist scholar labelled as “defensive” (as Waltz itself is): he doubts the contemporary validity and workability of deterrence because such a strategy could work well once both sides are endowed with survivable forces – namely, the second strike capabilities – that make each of them unwilling to launch the first attack for strategic calculations.

Coercive diplomacy

If deterrence and containment seem to be infeasible and probably unsuccessful, while allowing Iran to acquire its nuclear arsenal too risky a move, the last resort in the hands of the United States, in order to maintain stability in the Middle East is coercive diplomacy.

Despite the choice of attacking Iran is strategically flawed, ruling out any possibility of deterrence, it remains the last resort that President Obama currently takes in consideration. To date the only peaceful way to deal with Iran’s advancing nuclear program is called coercive diplomacy, also known as the diplomacy of threats. The theory of coercive diplomacy, elaborated by the political scientist Alexander George, aims at getting a target, a state, a group (or groups) within a state, or a non-state actor – to change its behaviour through either the threat to use force or the actual use of limited force.

Coercive diplomacy is a diplomatic strategy, that relies on the threat of force rather than the use of it. Force must be used to make diplomatic efforts at persuasion more effective, in order to demonstrate resolution and willingness to escalate to high levels of military action if necessary. There are five types of coercive diplomacy and the so-called “carrot and stick approach” seems to be the most useful.

In fact, such a strategic choice is based upon a twofold requirement: making both credible promises and credible threats simultaneously. In this case, the difficulty is heightened by several other factors: the long history of intense mutual mistrust between Iran and the United States; the U.S. alliance with Iran’s archenemy, Israel; and the opacity of Iranian decision-making.

In order to make credible threats, the US should voice them publicly and unambiguously, while U.S. policymakers should emphasize that an attack on Iran would benefit greatly the United States. Still, American policymakers could stress that a strike would severely affect Iran’s nuclear effort, serving as a powerful warning to other potential proliferators, strengthening the United States’ global reputation for resolve, and possibly even triggering an Iranian revolution. Finally, if threats are dispatched confidentially by third parties close to Tehran, such as China and Russia, might have more credibility.

Conversely, making credible promises would need a deal proposal, according to which Iran would agree to stop building warheads and to refrain from enriching uranium above the 20 percent level, and allowing  inspections of its nuclear facilities. In return, the United States would accept a limited Iranian enrichment program, promise not to try to overthrow the regime, and suspend sanctions imposed in response to the nuclear program. Ideally, the United States might also restore normal diplomatic relations with Iran.

History and Coercive diplomacy: the case of the Cuban missile crisis

The strategy of coercive diplomacy has been successful applied in history, namely in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. Indeed, by considering the current situation like a Cuban missile crisis in “slow motion”, Graham Allison has figured out a showdown in which the current US president will be forced to choose between ordering a military attack or allowing a nuclearized Iran, as happened to Kennedy in the final Saturday. Then, the US President chose for a third way, a secret promise to withdraw US missiles from Turkey within six months after the crisis was resolved.

According to Alexander George, three factors contributed to preventing escalation. First, Kennedy limited his demands to removal of the Soviet missiles from Cuba, while further demands would have increased Soviet resistance. Second, Kennedy limited the initial means of coercion to a blockade. The blockade did not involve the use of force, and bought Kennedy time to try persuasion with the Soviets. Finally, both Khrushchev and Kennedy followed important operational principles of crisis management. Kennedy in particular sent clear and consistent signals to the Soviets, acting to slow the pace of the crisis, and signaling his strong preference for a peaceful resolution.

Unfortunately, today the situation is much more complicated given the presence of a third nuclear party, Israel, and its domestic perception of threat. Accordingly, the key is the Israel behaviour. If Israel will contribute to reduce the likelihood of a unilateral attack, then U.S. policymakers will be able to implement a successful strategy of coercive diplomacy.


Photo Credit: Luciapro

Time For Palestine To Join The Arab Spring

Palestinians must decide whether they want to continue living in dire conditions under a brutal Israeli regime or take the plunge, join the Arab Spring and strive for the opportunity to achieve justice and freedom for themselves.


Palestine flags


As uprisings continue to sweep the Arab region, from the North African country of Tunisia all the way to Syria and Bahrain, it is rather astonishing that the Palestinians have not jumped on the bandwagon and joined the Arab Spring movement. After all, it would have been a timely opportunity to join the momentum of those revolutions that continue to strike the region in hope of achieving freedom from brutality. It would have also put the Western nations in a difficult situation. Western Europe, together with the United States, has been very supportive (at least in rhetoric) of the Arab Spring, playing a crucial role in overthrowing Gaddafi and continuing to be an important player in the Syrian civil war. It is well known, however, that the West-especially the United States-shows undeniable support towards Israel. This was witnessed during the last Israeli attacks on Gaza when the United States blamed the Palestinians for the conflict. For this reason, a Palestinian uprising would put the United States in a peculiar position. Could America really continue to show full support to the Syrian rebels and Egyptian civilians, who are once again demonstrating on the streets against their current leader Morsi, yet deny the Palestinians the opportunity to protest against the many grievances: Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the ghetto-like Wall that separates Gaza from the rest of humanity, the illegal settlements, the unfair treatment of Palestinians living in Israel, the shootings of Palestinian children on the Gaza border, the lack of food and clean water due to the Israeli blockade and against the constant threat that Israel will strike again any minute. While western nations are notoriously known for their hypocritical stance when it comes to their foreign policy in the Middle East (which usually reflects their own national interests), the denial of the Palestinian right to rise up against Israel would set in stone what the majority already fear: the West’s lack of concern for human rights of others.

Though the Arab Spring started in 2011, the uprisings are still in full swing and therefore it is not late for Palestine to join the movement. It would be essential for the Palestinians to carry out a peaceful protest (i.e. no rockets from Hamas and no killings of Israelis), but nevertheless a protest that sends out a clear message that they will not back down until some progress is made. This would deny Israel their usual defence: that Palestine is an aggressive region and poses a threat to Israeli national security. This protest should not be about borders, or about a potential creation of the Palestinian state, but about a simple desire to be treated like human beings rather than caged animals. The majority of the international community already support the Palestinians. Not only has Palestine been granted the status of an observer non-member state at the UN, but the reports by the United Nations continue to condemn and criticise the inhumane actions of Israel. If Israel were to retaliate with violence and force against a peaceful uprising by the Palestinians, the Jewish state would risk more alienation from the international community and more disapproval from the general public around the world. A nation cannot continue to survive with a long queue of enemies.

In 2011, the Arab populations took the leap of faith. Many knew that their uprisings could lead to brutal response from their dictators. Some were aware that perhaps they would not survive to see the end of authoritarianism in the Middle East. Yet as the saying goes, when you have nothing, you got nothing to lose. The Palestinians have suffered to the point of near-total submission. However they must use the inspiration from their fellow Arabs who made the decision that enough is enough. Emiliano Zapata, a leading figure in the Mexican Revolution against the dictatorship in 1910 said that “it’s better to die upon your feet than to live upon your knees”. The Palestinians must now make the choice between whether they want to continue living in dire conditions under a brutal Israeli regime or take the plunge, join the Arab Spring and strive for the opportunity to achieve justice and freedom for themselves.


Photo Credit: Joi

The Sabra-Shatila Massacre And The End Of A Love Affair

It is time for western activists, academics and journalists dealing with the Middle East to look at the region with an objective eye when covering conflicts and condemning human rights abuses. All parties to conflicts should be judged by the same standard.


1983 Sabra refugee


Last autumn marked the 30th anniversary of the Sabra-Shatila massacre, the most well-known incident of the Lebanese Civil War. Between the 16th and 18th of September 1982, Christian militiamen rampaged through the alleyways of the Sabra & Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in West Beirut, raping, butchering, and executing unarmed Palestinian civilians. Many of their bodies were horrifically mutilated. Some were castrated, scalped, or marked with Christian crosses etched into the skin. When asked why they killed pregnant women in the camps, militiamen answered to the effect that the unborn children were destined to become Palestinian terrorists and therefore represented legitimate targets. The militiamen responsible for these actions were mostly from the Phalange, a right-wing Lebanese Christian paramilitary group allied to the Israeli military forces that had invaded Lebanon three months earlier. The exact number of people killed in the massacre is unknown, and subject to dispute. It is likely that 1000-1500 civilians died.

Israel faces a string of accusations for its role in the massacre. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) had fully secured the camps’ perimeters prior to the Phalangists’ operations. It granted the Phalangists access to Sabra and Shatila ostensibly to seize Palestinian militants’ weapons. It guarded the exits throughout the Phalangists’ operations, fired flares for illumination, and turned back civilians attempting to flee. Israeli troops had a direct line of sight into the camp, and Israeli officers received radio calls bringing their attention to the killing of civilians. Still they failed to act to stop them.

Though extremely brutal, the Sabra-Shatila massacre was by no means unique within the context of the Lebanese Civil War. Thousands of civilians also died in the massacres of Karantina, Damour, and Tel al-Zaatar. At Tel al-Zaatar, the perpetrators and victims were precisely the same: primarily right-wing Christian militiamen massacring unarmed Palestinian civilians.

Indeed, the Tel al-Zaatar massacre was likely even bloodier than Sabra and Shatila. The United Nations-administered camp was besieged on-and-off by Christian militiamen for several months, and eventually overrun. Most estimates state that at least 2000 Palestinian civilians lost their lives. Even more shocking than this is the fact that Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) militants defending the camp repeatedly and deliberately aggravated the situation in order to increase the number of civilian “martyrs” slain and earn correspondingly greater media attention and sympathy for their cause. According to Robert Fisk, Arafat personally ordered his men to fire upon Christian fighters during a ceasefire in order to provoke a bloody counter-attack.

Both Tel al-Zaatar and Sabra-Shatila stand as bloody and horrific examples of the cynical inhumanity often characteristic of armed conflict. They are examples, too, of the great suffering experienced by Palestinian refugees in the Lebanese civil war.

And yet the Sabra -Shatila massacre was unlike the massacre of Tel al-Zaatar in one significant respect: it generated a massive international response. Where Arafat had failed, for all his “martyrs”, to generate a lasting story at Tel Al-Zaatar, Sabra-Shatila would change the world’s impression of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict forever. In the fallout, the New York Times ran a ten-thousand word article on the massacre. The United Nations General Assembly voted in favour of condemning it as genocide. The largest demonstrations in Israel’s history took place in Tel Aviv. The Israeli “Kahan” Commission was set up, and called for Ariel Sharon to be dismissed as Defence Minister. Defence Appropriations Committee member and pro-Israeli lobbyist within Congress, Charlie Wilson, pointed to Sabra and Shatila as marking the moment when he fell out of love with Israel. The massacre remains important in popular culture. As recently as 2009, freshly-released film Waltzing with Bashir won a Golden Globe. The film follows the story of an Israeli war veteran seeking to remember his experiences in the 1982 war who finally discovers that he was suppressing memories of his involvement at Sabra-Shatila.

Meanwhile, Tel Al-Zaatar remains forgotten. Whereas many major international news agencies (including, amongst others, Al-Jazeera; the Independent; the New York Times; Euronews; the Huffington Post; Press TV) ran stories about Sabra-Shatila on the day of its 30th anniversary last year, a search for news articles relating to the Tel al-Zaatar massacre dated August 2006 (the 30th anniversary of the Tel al-Zaatar massacre) returns no results at all. Even pro-Palestinian blogs are mute. Why is that? Why did the massacre of a comparable number of civilians not prompt similar international concern and media coverage? Why was the Tel al-Zaatar massacre not important enough for the UN’s time? Why wasn’t that also genocide?

The answer to all these questions is that Israel was not involved.

Israelis have often complained of international media and foreign governments applying double-standards when they report on, or involve themselves in, Israeli foreign policy. Israelis are not wrong when they do this: the example of Tel al-Zaatar and Sabra-Shatila is a clear-cut case of double-standards. Not only is Sabra-Shatila remembered only because of Israeli involvement, but only Israeli involvement in Sabra-Shatila is remembered. It will be recalled that the Israelis were not the direct perpetrators. No Israeli soldier engaged in the massacres. It was the Phalangists who were directly responsible for the slaughter. Yet the Israelis received such disproportionate blame for their lesser part in the events that the Phalangists’ role became all but forgotten. Journalistic reports at the time focused not on criticising Phalangist militiamen for the ruthless rapes and murders they had committed, but rather on condemning the Israeli military for failing to have predicted the violence the Christians were inevitably going to unleash upon Palestinians in the camps, and for failing to stop it once they became aware of it.

In order for this narrative to be maintained, it must be assumed that the Phalangists had lesser capacities for moral thought and action. It must be assumed that it is natural that they will act violently when given the opportunity. It must be assumed that they are nothing more than amoral, sectarian killing machines: clockwork toy soldiers wound up on a predetermined path of violence intrinsic to their very natures. It is not worth spending valuable column-inches deploring the acts of fighters who lack any capacity for knowing or doing any better. Meanwhile, a second premise of the same narrative is that Israeli soldiers are capable of understanding the barbarity of other combatants, of making independent ethical judgements, and of policing accordingly.

Put simply, in order to be more shocked at the behaviour of a party which has failed to prevent a murder than with the conduct of the murderer himself, we must be forming judgements on the basis of deeply biased opinions of the two parties. We must consider the murderer inherently inferior, or less capable of making moral judgments than the aloof witness in the first place. After all, if the farmer fails to lock the door to the chicken coop and the fox kills the chickens, we blame the farmer. What sense is there in blaming a fox, an animal without reason?

It is often claimed that the extra criticism Israel receives in such situations is rooted in anti-Semitism. This charge has been levelled against scores of academics, journalists and government officials, and has ended many a career. However, it is not anti-Semitism at the heart of this hypocrisy. The opposite is true. We hold Israelis to be superior to their Arab neighbours rather than inferior. The hypocrisy stems from the deeply ingrained, sub-conscious, racist views we in the West continue to hold of Arabs and of Orientals generally. We consider them to be less moral than us, and to be naturally more at ease with violence. Israel has re-enforced this image by presenting itself as a lonely outpost, flying the flag of democracy in a dangerous and savage land in which it is surrounded by nothing but tyranny and threat. It is the fact that we consider Israel superior to the Arabs that leads to our noisily reproaching it.

It is not the case that we go too far in our criticisms of Israel. It is right and proper that we should condemn Israeli activities when they appear to go against international law or common morality, as they clearly did at Sabra and Shatila. What is unacceptable is that when Arab groups and governments commit far greater crimes we do not respond in the same terms. We say nothing because we consider it normal as a result of institutionalised and racist beliefs. We think it natural that governments throughout the Arab World continue to engage in the vicious oppression of their own peoples, opposition groups, and minorities. Most guilty of all are the likes of George Galloway: pro-Palestinian activists willing to express support for dictators like Saddam Hussein and violent sectarian militias like Hezbollah in the same breath as denouncing Israeli human rights abuses.

It is time for western activists, academics and journalists dealing with the Middle East to look at the region with an objective eye when covering conflicts and condemning human rights abuses. All parties to conflicts should be judged by the same standard. If that were achieved there would be a great deal more criticism of Arab governments and militias. If that were achieved, the victims of the Tel al-Zaatar massacre would be as well remembered by everyone, including “pro-Palestinian activists”, as those of Sabra and Shatila.


Photo Credit: Cliff1066™

Libya, Two Years After Gaddafi

A monopoly over the legitimate use of violence- the hallmark of a sovereign state- must be regained by the Libyan government. Security issues should be the priority, as they prevent every other sector of the society from progressing.


Libyan protestor Gaddafi


As the second anniversary of the Libyan revolution approaches, threats of protests from angry citizens have prompted the Libyan government to announce a plan to reinforce security and surveillance capabilities around Tripoli and other cities.

Though the odds of an armed uprising remain relatively small, renewed calls for change have found enough resonance amongst the population to incite a response from the government. Prime Minister Ali Zaidan’s announcement came as a response to calls for a ‘second revolution’ from citizens in Bani Walid, Benghazi and Tripoli. Additionally, various civil society groups aim to organize protests against the government’s slow progress on reforms. The rise of critical voices points to growing dissatisfaction amongst Libya’s citizens and the myriad of challenges the government faces.

Perhaps the biggest issue remains one of basic security. Armed militias continue to escape the control of the government and High profile incidents such as the September attack on the US consulate in Benghazi only highlight the government’s inability to cope and provide the basic provision of security within its borders.

Armed militiamen continue to roam freely the streets of many Libyan towns, often demanding special treatment because of their ‘services’ during the war.

Strategic cities such as Benghazi-Libya’s economic hub and the bastion of the revolution- provide a stark example of broken institutions and lawlessness. Benghazi has witnessed a rising tide of kidnappings, bombings and assassinations, often targeting government and security officials. The lack of basic security hampers the ability of local authorities to provide basic social provisions such as garbage collection. Though symbolically integrated within the national security apparatus, armed militias outman and outgun local police and continue to control key parts of the city. Arrests are seldom made out of fear of reprisal attacks and kidnappings.

The town has historically been wary of centralized control from Tripoli. The inability of the government to meet the expectations of its citizens has renewed calls for a return to a federalist arrangement. This would significantly weaken the government and could set a precedent for other regions to do the same.

Security problems are not exclusive to isolated hamlets or destroyed cities like Benghazi. Tripoli has had its fair share of violence. Assassination attempts on government and security officials are common occurrences. The General National Congress (GNC) has been stormed by protesters and militiamen on a number of occasions, and its president Mohamed Magarief survived an assassination attempt on 4 January 2013.

The violence during the revolution already had a serious impact on the stability of the region. Many experts point to the flow of weapons and fighters from the Libyan conflict towards Mali as a major cause in the security deterioration in the Sahel. Despite having closed all borders, the Libyan territory continues to be a transit hub and the home of Islamist militants active in the region. The attackers of a gas facility in neighboring Algeria are reported to have crossed from Libya and to have benefited from the inadequate security provisions on the border.

As Libyans prepare to mark two years of rule without Gaddafi, the government faces the immense task of rebuilding a nation after a civil war that destroyed vital infrastructure and addressing the aspirations of the Libyan people at the same time. Avoiding a popular backlash or renewed violence requires greater action on the security front and a rapid application of political reforms.

The monopoly over the legitimate use of violence- the hallmark of a sovereign state- must be regained by the government. Security problems should be the priority, as they prevent every other sector of the society from progressing.


Photo Credit: شبكة برق | B.R.Q

Addicted to Oil Cash and Seeking Help (Part 2)

In part two of this series looking at the fight for transparency in Iraq and Yemen’s energy sectors, Diana Kaissy of the Publish What You Pay coalition and Yemen expert Fernando Carvajal look at some of the big challenges facing Yemen, as continued strife puts pressure on food supplies.


oil field oil wells


Read the first half here

Last month we looked at some of the problems with Iraq’s first report as an EITI “compliant” country. The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative awarded Iraq this status satisfied that Iraq’s energy revenue flows were adequately accounted for and publicly viewable. Oil expert Ahmed Mousa Jiyad was quick to point out some of the flaws in Iraq’s EITI report, while I noted the challenges facing civil society in Iraq as it struggles to hold a notoriously corrupt government to account.

Yemen faces many similar problems, notably a tenuous security situation and the lack of a free press. This has not stopped them from joining Iraq in signing up to EITI, and despite a delay in the validation process (due to the revolution) the country was declared “compliant”to EITI standards in March 2011. Overall progress against corruption has been mixed, depending on your opinion of EITI and whether it will work. Nonetheless, the country has its own coalition (TCEIW) determined to hold a dangerously fragmented transitional government to account. Diana Kaissy explains:

 “TCEIW is an independent, neutral and non-for-profit coalition that represents an organizational frame that unifies the efforts of civil organizations, academia, human rights activists, media and others, who participate in monitoring extractive industries to achieve transparency and a better utilization of these resources. Its aim is also to ensure easy access to information related to this sector.”

Kaissy gives an insight into the network of pressure groups and civil society organisations working for transparency:

“Since 2009, PWYP has been closely collaborating with the TCEIW to help them in their mission. Coalition members have attended several capacity building workshops done by PWYP /RWI targeting areas of revenue monitoring, advocacy planning, oil contract reading and understanding, national strategy building and execution. PWYP has lately been heavily involved with the coalition to help them expand and include new members that are representative of the several provinces in Yemen.”

She goes on to say how this also works within a regional framework:

“Members of the TCEIW participated in PWYP MENA (Middle East North Africa) workshops 1 and 2 that were done last year to help promote building a national as well as a regional strategy that is aligned with PWYP vision 20/20. TCEIW members will also be participating in the upcoming 3rd MENA workshop organised by PWYP in Beirut in March. The workshop aims at helping current PWYP coalitions in the MENA area finalize their national strategy, and build the capacity of participants in areas such as contract understanding and analysis, obtaining/using access to information laws, good governance within coalitions and revenue monitoring.”

A looming disaster?

Many reports have noted that Yemen’s oil production is dropping rapidly and liquid natural gas production is not yet at the stage where it can make up for these falling revenues. By many indicators such as violence, economic potential and even the supply of food and water, Yemen is in serious trouble. I wondered if there was a sense of urgency among those in Yemen to get EITI working and leave the old days of patronage and corruption behind, or if things were moving slowly. Kaissy believes there is positive momentum:

“There is definitely a sense of urgency within the Yemeni multi stake holders to get the EITI working in order to reduce corruption in the extractive industry sector that is fast becoming depleted.The Yemeni parliament endorsed its annual budget on January 19th, 2013, where serious concerns regarding the use of their fast dwindling resources were raised, with parliamentarians making several demands.

These included requiring the ministry of finance and the ministry of oil and minerals to draw the contracts related to the transfer of oil derivatives (by land or sea) in accordance to the tenders, auctions, and government storage law, and to refer all those who were caught smuggling oil derivatives to the judiciary court. Also, parliamentarians demanded the establishment of a national public organization for petrol that will handle all excavation, production and administration of gas and oil fields.”

Kaissy remains optimistic that this new sense of urgency about a looming crisis will continue:

“Taking the above into consideration, and keeping in mind the very active role of the Yemen PAC (Yemen Parliamentarians Against Corruption), a group of Yemeni parliamentarians who are actively lobbying against corruption within the Yemeni parliament, we can clearly see that the Yemeni multi stakeholder groups (government, parliamentarians and CSOs) are very much aware of the critical situation that Yemen has reached where its EI sector is concerned. This awareness should ultimately be maintained by their position as an EITI compliant country with huge obligations to maintain “compliant” status.”

A bleaker view

In 2006 USAID identified oil wealth as “the main source of state patronage in Yemen.” I asked a Yemen analyst (who wished to remain anonymous) if he thought the networks of patronage are changing or dissolving and are whether he was hopeful about the current “national dialogue”-ongoing talks about the future of Yemen’s political system:

“Oil networks run through Ali Muhsin (powerful Yemeni general) and Hamid al-Ahmar (millionaire politician) as much as Ali A Saleh (former president.)  There are many shifts involving Islahis now (Yemen’s largest party affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood) specifically in the petrol industry. Hadhramawt’s oil is highly contested (the main oil producing region) and the main airport is under the control of a commander under Ali Muhsin.”

This analyst was sceptical about reports of Yemen’s oil running out: great news if they can put a stop to corruption, but this is apparently “a big if.”

“There are no ‘dwindling’ oil supplies because Yemen has huge reserves (according to diplomats and oil companies.) Access to supplies is just more difficult and expensive and needs more security. Only Total and OMV have a hold on the industry, so why would they demand more transparency?”

Press freedom

Without a free press, civil society will be unable to access information on oil deals and revenues from Yemen’s oil and growing natural gas extraction (as well as Zinc mining which is also covered by EITI.) I asked Fernando Carvajal about how press freedom is evolving in Yemen today. Like the unnamed analyst, his outlook was also bleak:

“In 2010 an NGO was holding ‘investigative journalism’ training workshops in Sanaa. There is no way this approach will ever have a real impact. The issue is with political actors who have a hold on journalists. It is an underpaid profession co-opted by all political sides. Yemen’s media is a long way from being a truly independent media.”

Likewise, the unnamed analyst was particularly gloomy about the prospects for transparency:

“Transparency is of no interest to any party, not the government, not the oil companies.  We saw this issue arise last year with the Ministry of Energy, where a tender was given to an Islah ally to buy power for cheap and sell it back to the government at a much higher price. Someone leaked the contract to a newspaper and only when it reached social media outlets did the government deal with the issue, but the contract is still valid today.”


Yemen and Iraq’s ascendency to EITI compliance has arguably had a limited impact on the wider culture of corruption that afflicts them. Additionally, oil companies’ commitment to transparency is erratic in both countries. But EITI could be the start of something excellent for the region, and is getting increased international backing in the form of tough US and EU legislation that major oil companies have opposed. In both countries, EITI has brought the subject of corruption into focus at the highest levels. This is surely a start for nations recovering from decades of war and dictatorship, and a long way from when EITI started a decade ago.

But like the many groups now fighting corruption, CSOs who back EITI are not ignorant of the challenges ahead. Like the first protesters of the Arab Spring, they are determined not to give up, believe in their cause and won’t be satisfied until there is real, lasting change.

From my own analysis of Iraq and Carvajal’s analysis of Yemen, I fear the success of these initiatives will always be fragile until the rulers of these countries commit to transparency. Until then, the global coalition against corruption will keep on fighting. EITI, while flawed, is a necessary start in a long battle.


Photo Credit: Loco Steve

The Algerian Response, Motives & Consequences

In the aftermath of the operation of In Amenas, a number of questions remain to be answered including what exactly happened at the gas facility and how a security breach of this scale was ever possible.




The Algerian National Press Agency had released a preliminary assessment on January 19th stating that 23 had been killed, 32 terrorists neutralized. Nearly 800 hostages were freed including 107 foreigners. However, The Algerian Minster of Communication Mohamed Said, said on 20/01/2013 that these were provisional figures, and the numbers of those killed is likely to be higher (press conference by Prime Minister Sella: 37 foreigners dead).

The assault came as a surprise to most outsiders, including Washington, London and Paris. All claim not to have been consulted by the Algerian prior to the assault. Yet following the release of information about the scale and overall results of the operation, all have expressed greater support for counter-terrorism efforts in the region.

Many observers have deemed the Algerian response heavy-handed  or brutal. The Minister of Communications summed up Algeria’s policy with respect to negotiations quite clearly when he stated: “No negotiation, no blackmail and no respite against terrorism”. However, an overview of Algeria’s historical legacy, the current regional dynamics and factors specific to the crisis at In Amenas provide a better understanding of Algeria’s hard-line policy and actions.

The Algerian Army launched the assault on the gas installation south  east of the capital Algiers after a group of Jihadists calling themselves the ‘Signers in Blood’; took over the installation and captured over 600 hostages including a large number of foreigners. The operation lasted over three days and details are starting to slowly emerge.

Historically, Algeria’s ‘dark decade‘ continues to shape the country’s counter-terrorism policy. Throughout the 1990s, the country’s armed forces fought Islamist militants in a bloody war with casualties including a large number of civilians. During the crisis, the ruling military establishment – Algeria’s core centre of power – was divided into two camps: those in favour of dialogue and the ‘eradicators’. Despite a return to civil rule, it is the latter that continue to hold key posts in the country’s security apparatus.

After more than a decade of fighting, and a brokered political solution, the country managed to push what it labels ‘residual terrorism’ south of major population centres and into the Sahel region. It is around this time that the rules of the game changed for both the armed Islamist – now franchised Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – and for the government. In 2003 European tourists were taken hostage and released upon an alleged ransom payment. The same group went on to perpetrate the country’s first suicide attack in 2007. Thus, Algerian authorities see any negotiation or interjection from outside countries as not only a breach of sovereignty, but also a direct security risk stemming from better armed groups.

The assault should also be seen in the larger context of instability in the region and the implications of this for the Algerian ruling regime. Firstly, civil war in Libya brought instability and heightened the threat of Islamist armed militants on the country’s eastern flank, where Algeria’s oil and gas operations are most concentrated. Furthermore, instability in Northern Mali became an additional source of insecurity. The vast porous borders – imaginary lines in the sand – and the inherent weakness of bordering states in the region create an ideal operating environment for armed groups. This helps both explain Algeria’s push for a political solution in Mali as well as its harsh response at home.

The attack on the gas installation itself constitutes a first in the country’s history. These were largely untouched during the instability of the 1990s. The country’s economy is largely based on its oil and gas exports, which account for over 90% of all exports. The In Amenas installation itself accounts for 10% of Algeria’s gas production and nearly 20% of its exports, all in an economy dominated by the public sector. Thus the oil and gas exports are not only the backbone of the economy, but the pillar of political and social stability for the country. The militant attacked a core interest or as Dr. Geoff Porter put it: ‘the golden goose that keeps the regime’In this light, the Algerian overwhelming response should be regarded as clear message to both militants and outside powers.

In the aftermath of the operation of In Amenas, a number of questions remain to be answered including what exactly happened at the gas facility and how a security breach of this scale was ever possible. Early reports indicate the use of embedded operatives by the militants to gain strategic intelligence inside the plant and the whereabouts of foreign employees. One Algerian employee reported that the militant knew their way around and had even known about a planned strike.

How this will affect Algeria’s stance on the Mali conflict? Past behaviour and the current policy points towards a more ‘hunker-down bunker-up’ Algerian response. The Algerian government is maintaining its usual silence, but greater involvement cannot be ruled out. Reports show the Algerian Air force has been put on standby, and additional troops have been dispatched towards the Malian border.


Photo credit: Magharebia

Avoiding The Entanglement Trap Lies Beyond French Control

France is better off sticking to limited objectives in the short term, or faces the prospects of its own Afghanistan.


french flag wind


France has entered the Malian conflict this week following a surprise rebel offensive in the south of the country. The fall of strategic towns in rebel hands and the Malian Military’s inability to contain the assaults prompted the French to mobilize troops and aircraft to stem the rebel advancement towards the capital Bamako. France bombarded rear rebel positions in their stronghold of Gao & Kidal and deployed ground forces around the capital Bamako and the Mopti Province.

The situation bears the hallmarks of a modern conflict: a transnational network of non-state armed groups fighting a weak government in an area that stretches across an entire  Sahel region with porous borders that are essentially imaginary lines in the sand: a remnant of France’s colonial past.

Commenting on how long his country will take the lead in the campaign “It’s a matter of weeks” declared French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. The government insists that its current presence on the frontline of the conflict is a temporary measure that aims to contain the rebel advance until African troops from ECOWAS are deployed. However, such promises will be hard to keep as factors deciding how the conflict plays out lay beyond the French army’s control.  A closer look at the actors, the dynamics of the conflicts, suggest that the French army could easily be lured into deeper involvement if clear and limited objectives that fall within the UN intervention mandate are not maintained.

Due to the logistics and coordination necessary, the original intervention plan did not foresee a deployment of 3,300   regional forces (a number deemed too low by some military quarter) until September 2013. The preemptive assault by Islamist was an attempt to capitalize on this since the capture of significant territory would provide considerable strategic leverage on both  the ground and at the negotiating table. As stated previously, this is what precipitated French involvement, refuting earlier assurances by the French President Francois Holland that there would be “no French boots on the ground”. Moreover, French authorities acknowledged that the militants have turned out to be better-armed and equipped than initially thought after a French combat helicopter was downed by the rebels.  Current plans anticipate a deployment an additional 2,500 troops.

French Defense minister Le Drian described his country’s action in broader terms such as the eradication of terrorism in the region and has recently acknowledged the likelihood of a lengthy campaign.  According to retired French General Vincent Desportes, France is currently pursuing three objectives: the securitization of French nationals and the capital, holding the frontline around Konna (700kms from Bamako), and training troops from Niger, Burkina, Bénin, Togo and Sénégal to recapture the north of Mali.

In the short term, France has for the most part fulfilled the first two; however, the ‘Africanization’ of the intervention through full deployment, coordination and training of Malian and ECOWAS forces in short period of time is a significant endeavor with numerous hurdles. At this point in time the Malian military remains weak, with the French military like to bear the brunt of the work. Furthermore, the deployment of ECOWAS troops likely to arrive this week is also expected to encounter complications due to the premature timing vis-à-vis the initial plans. The conflict has already spilled over into neighboring countries, including the regional power Algeria that suffered an attack on a gas installation on 16 January 2013.

Algeria, who possesses experience fighting armed Islamist groups within its borders, has always expressed reservation with respect to a military intervention in Mali. However, its advocacy for political dialogue with the main Islamist group Ansar-Eddine is likely to be reversed following an attack deep within its territory in retaliation for opening its airspace. The attack resulted in numerous hostages constitutes a first for the country. Such installations never suffered even during the troubled 1990s. The distance of the base relative to the Malian border (near In Amenas) is closer to Libya, again reinforcing the relative insignificance of political borders in the region, their porous nature and the potential vastness of the theater of operations.

France should not expect much from Algeria. Despite have the strongest capabilities in the region these remain relative to inherently weak states in the Sahel such as Mali. Though direct involvement beyond its borders would provide a boost in capabilities, these remain untested beyond Algeria’s borders, and are likely to be dedicated to reinforcing the securitization of its own borders.

The dangers of France finding itself entangled in a long conflict that stretches across the Sahel are real, and lie beyond its control. Worst case scenarios for France would be the being sucked into its own Afghanistan, or a debacle similar to the US involvement in Somalia. The effect and quality of deploying of ECOWAS troops is a determining factor but remains to be seen. France is better off sticking to limited objectives in the short term or faces the prospects of its own Afghanistan.


Photo Credit: fdecomite

Addicted to Oil Cash, and Seeking Help (Part 1)

Two of the Middle East’s most corrupt governments have signed up to a cutting edge anti-corruption initiative.  In part 1 of a 2 part series, Iraq oil expert Ahmed Mousa Jiyad explains Iraq’s commitment to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.


oil field oil wells


Of the 32 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, only 2 have signed up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, the worldwide scheme initiated by civil society organisations with oil company involvement which “aims to strengthen governance by improving transparency and accountability in the extractives sector.”

Incredibly, the MENA region governments who have signed up to this “resource curse” beating plan are Iraq and Yemen, two of the most corrupt and unstable governments in the region. But EITI is an excellent idea, and has already had a major impact in Nigeria where major anti-corruption investigations have been boosted by its reports.

In the first of a two part series, I spoke to Iraq oil expert Ahmed Mousa Jiyad who has reviewed Iraq’s first EITI report after the country won “compliant status”- the seal of approval from EITI that oil and gas revenue flows are transparent. But a deeper analysis of the conditions required for EITI to be truly effective show that the scheme is not the silver bullet that will end the “resource curse” – at least not until there is full disclosure and a healthy civil society with sufficient access to information, two things Iraq and Yemen currently lack.

RT: If the recent US SEC law, proposed EU law and the EITI cover all International Oil Companies (IOCs) operating in Iraq, is there any chance for corruption to remain in Iraq’s oil and gas sector?

AMJ: The enforcement of the above mentioned modalities would surely work as both a deterrent and a punitive measure against corruption. However, the three of them are not sufficient to ensure what I call the “Transparency Value Chain” (TVC) which is peculiar to the “Extractive Industry” in Iraq and I would claim to all other developing countries.

The concept of the TVC basically aims to trace and account for all “resource and cash flows” pertaining to this industry. And these flows fall in three categories, firstly, payments by IOCs. These cover two main items, cash payments to the host country- such as signature bonuses and all other fees like corporate income taxes etc, and secondly  investment (in the related contracted project.)

The first items could be controlled and accounted for with a good degree of transparency and verification, though Iraq’s Report for 2010 did not cover them properly. But there is difficulty and resentment on the part of IOCs regarding their actual investment in the related activity.Without full disclosure of investment there can be no comprehensive and meaningful transparency.

The second category is resource flowcharts and revenues, which covers two items. The first is the export of resources (say oil) and the generated export revenues. The parties involved here, in Iraq’s case, are SOMO (Iraq Oil Marketing Company) and all International Crude Oil Buyers-ICOBs. All export revenues are in US Dollars, and currently should be deposited in the Development Fund for Iraq (DFI) accounts at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York  (FRBNY) which confirmed total export revenues in 2010.

The second item in this category is the domestic use of resources and generated revenues. The parties involved are the Ministry of Oil (MoO) through its Regional Oil Companies (ROCs) which deliver oil and gas to other entities such as refineries, power plants, industry etc. The MoO provides very aggregate data on the produced oil and gas from ROCs and their allocation to export and for domestic use (only Refineries, Power plants and flared gas) but no revenues are provided for.

While the first item is subject to confirmation by all reporting entities and thus easy to reconcile and account for all export revenues, the second item is not. So a comprehensive modern and functional metering system is critically needed to insure the material balance of petroleum between all producing ROCs and receiving entities. Without such a comprehensive modern and functional metering system the transparency in the petroleum sector would be compromised. (Lack of metering was a critical factor in energy sector corruption in Nigeria- RT.)

The third category of resource and cash flows covers payment by Iraq to IOCs, which can be done easily, since each IOC is contractually obliged to prepare and present annual work programmes and corresponding budgets. Moreover, IOCs are obliged to submit “invoices” on actual expenses to MoO for auditing, approval and payment purposes.

The significance of knowing and accounting for IOC investment is to use such information in the verification and reconciliation process of “payment” that Iraq will make to these IOCs once the process of investment recovery and payment of remuneration fees begins.

According to the service contracts (type of oil contract currently in effect in Iraq) the payment of dues to the IOCs might be in kind- crude oil. Such payment in kind would be technically and statistically included in oil export shipments, but no export revenues would result from them.

Unless a special category in oil exports data and terminology is created to cover this payment in kind and cater for its accountability, there will be too many discrepancies in the reported data on oil revenues. Such payment in kind had started already in 2011, and it is expected to increase significantly in volume and value in the years to come.

It is worth recalling that each of these contracts has duration of more than twenty years. Therefore, it is vital to create the capacities and make the necessary preparations as early as possible to cover these items fully, properly and effectively.

For a country such as Iraq, especially in its current conditions, it is vital to have all three flows under the watchful eyes of transparency.

RT: In the last report, Open Oil claimed that signature bonuses amounting to over $1 billion were not documented. While some of these are the form of a loan, another bonus was altered to be simply a payment. Can they do that?

AMJ: Technically and contractually it is incorrect to claim that the Report for 2009 did not account for or document the signature bonuses. The reason is simple: no signature bonuses were due in 2009.

According to the service contracts of the first and second bid rounds, the related signature bonus has to be paid within one month from the “effective date” of the related contract. This implies that all signature bonuses from the 11 contracts resulting from the first two bid rounds were paid in 2010.

The 2010 Report confirms and accounts for all $1.65 billion paid by IOCs and received by MoO. But the Report did not cover what I call “Bid Round Related Payments,” which include four types of payments.

Moreover, the Author and the Reconciler of the 2010 Report, PwC, (PricewaterhouseCoopers) was not successful in producing a good and coherent report. The PwC Report suffers from many flaws, inconsistencies and shortcomings. I was asked to give opinion on the Report, which I did, and communicated my assessment to Baghdad and others within my professional network.

Ahmed Mousa Jiyad’s verdict on the PWC report can be found here.

Looking ahead

As Ahmed Mousa Jiyad can attest, some progress has been made in shining a light on Iraq’s energy sector, but much more needs to be done. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, in order for any transparency initiative to be successful there must be a fairly free society so that people can access information, hold officials to account and affect change. This is a problem in Iraq, where the media have been increasingly under siege: according to Reporters Without Borders, Iraq ranks 152 out of 179 in the press freedom index. As we will see in the next part of this series, finding a role for civil society in the EITI process has been a stumbling block in Yemen.


Photo Credit: Loco Steve