Iraq: SOFA sparks protests, oil struggle continues

Shi’te followers of Moqtada al-Sadr protested Nov. 21 in Baghdad, defacing and burning an effigy of President George Bush in a display of contempt for a deal struck between the departing US administration and the Iraqi government to keep US troops in the country for another three years. The protest drew thousands of people to Firdous Square, where a statue of Saddam Hussein was torn down and destroyed five years ago in the wake of the invasion.

The demonstration followed a week of tension in the national parliament following the cabinet decision to approve the deal (formally known as the Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA), which for the first time commits US forces to a departure date in 2011. A spate of exchanged insults and desk-pounding in the debates led to several bodyguards bringing weapons in to the parliamentary chamber for the first time.

Iraqi officials took a first step to exert their new authority under the pending law by warning all 172 foreign security companies operating in the country that from early next year their employees will lose immunity from prosecution for crimes committed under Iraqi law. (The Guardian, Nov. 22; AP, Nov. 20)

Meanwhile, Turkish technicians are still trying to get the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline working again, after it was damaged in a bomb attack Nov. 21. The attack took place within Turkish territory, and Ankara is blaming it on Kurdish guerillas. (Reuters, Nov. 22)

The PKK guerillas have previously attacked the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline that bring oil across the Caucasus. This is the first time we are aware of that they have attacked the Kirkuk-Ceyhan, and may indicate a falling-out between the PKK and Iraqi regime which has heretofore afforded them a degree of protection.

Iraq’s Deputy Oil Minister Saheb Salman Al-Qutub was wounded in a bomb attack outside his home in Baghdad’s northern Ataifiyah neighborhood Nov. 3, in what a ministry statement called an “assassination attempt.” Al-Qutub, a Shi’ite from the southern province of Basra, also survived an assassination attempt in 2004 along the highway between Baghdad and Hilla to the south. His driver was killed in that attempt. He was an adviser to the oil minister at the time.

Al-Qutub was appointed to his position last year when the former deputy oil minister, Abdul Jabar Al-Wagaa, a Sunni, retired after being kidnapped along with four other ministry officials. Al-Wagaa was released a few weeks later.

The latest attempted assassination on Al-Qutub coincided with reports that Iraq’s crude oil exports in October rose 3.6% to 1.703 million barrel per day from 1.644 mbpd. Some 1.385 mbd left through the Basra oil terminal, and some 309,000 mbpd via the Ceyhan pipeline. The remaining 9,000 mbpd were trucked to neighboring Jordan. (Oil & Gas Journal, Nov. 3)

See our last posts on Iraq, Kurdistan and the oil struggle.