Steven Vincent killed in Basra

Someone has killed Steven Vincent, author of “In the Red Zone,” in Basra two days after he wrote a New York Times op-ed criticizing the Basra police:

BAGHDAD, Iraq – An American freelance journalist was found dead in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, the U.S. Embassy said Wednesday.

Police said Steven Vincent had been shot multiple times after he and his Iraqi translator were abducted at gunpoint hours earlier.

“I can confirm to you that officials in Basra have recovered the body of journalist Steven Vincent,” said embassy spokesman Pete Mitchell. “The U.S. Embassy is working with British military and local Iraqi officials in Basra to determine who is responsible for the death of this journalist.”

I didn’t know Steve, but his agent, Andrew Stuart, is my former book agent. He was also a blogger and was researching another book, this one on post-war Basra. Already the comments section on the latest post is filling up. I also didn’t agree with much of what he wrote, but he was intrepid enough to spend months living in Basra, which is a hard thing for a westerner to do.

It is unknown if he was killed for his coverage or if it was kidnapping and robbery gone sour. All I know is that my thoughts go out to his family and friends.

Concerning the control of oil

The United States has placed a proposed resolution before the U.N. Security Counil to lift most of the sanctions against Iraq. The draft also — surprise! — would grant the United States “broad control over the country’s oil industry and revenue until a permanent, representative Iraqi government is in place.” (_Washington Post_)

The United States has tabled a U.N. Security Council resolution to lift most of the sanctions against Iraq. The draft also would — surprise! — grant the United States “broad control over the country’s oil industry and revenue until a permanent, representative Iraqi government is in place.” (Washington Post)
“The resolution, which is to be presented to the 15-nation body Friday, would shift control of Iraq’s oil from the United Nations to the United States and its military allies, with an international advisory board having oversight responsibilities but little effective power. A transitional Iraqi government, which U.S. authorities have said they hope to establish within weeks, would be granted a consultative role.”
In an earlier article on B2I, I wrote about Feisal al-Istrabadi, a founding member of the Iraqi Forum for Democracy and an activist on various humanitarian issues relating to Iraq. Istrabadi is also a member of the planning committee for the State Department?s Future of Iraq Project, serving on its Transitional Justice and Democratic Principles working groups.
During his talk, he outlined the ideas for a transitional government.

It would last two to three years at most, must provide immediate benefits to the people of Iraq, would hold municipal elections within six months and regional elections within another six months after that and begin immediate criminal prosecutions. The other duties must be to fulfill obligations to the U.N. regarding weapons of mass destruction, he said, and human rights agreements must be adhered to. “It’s critical to me that the transitional period not be seen as a final status,” he said. “I don?t think the transitional government should be the government that signs a peace treaty with Israel. That should be the permanent government.”
And most important, he said, the United Nations should not _lift_ the sanctions. Instead they should be _suspended_ so that the transitional government doesn?t gain control of the country?s treasury and the permanent lifting of sanctions is an incentive to democratize.
“If you want to ensure the transitional figures do not become transitional in the Iraqi sense of the word — by that I mean lasting 40 years — you cannot hand over the purse strings of Iraq,” he said. “Saddam did not immediately rule by fear. He co-opted the elite during the 1960s and ’70s by drowning them in cash.”

Taking control of the oil industry, while looking really, _really_ bad to the rest of the world, is probably the best that can be made of a bad situation. Istrabadi’s right; if a transitional government took control of Iraq’s oil revenue, there likely result would be wholesale robbing that would make the looters in the closing days of the war look like pikers.
Granted, this will not help the United States’ image in Iraq or in the Arab world. They’re already convinced the U.S. was making an oil grab. The only way to combat this impression is to manage the oil industry in an enlightened and benevolent manner with no favortism given to corrupted Iraqis or American companies.
Handing out crony contracts to Halliburton subsidiaries and other, well-connected American corporations ain’t the way do this. There really don’t seem to be many good solutions to this mess.

Why Iraq?

The United States’ invasion and occupation of Iraq is not just about oil, colonialism or empire building. But neither is it not about those things either. I’ve tried to map out what I believe is the administration’s thinking based on reports, research and balance-of-power analysis.

A few days ago, I mentioned I would publish my thoughts on the real reasons for the Bush administration’s drive to attack Iraq. My apologies for the delay. I’m a one-man operation here and sometimes I have to do other stuff, like sleep.
There are several theories floating around about the need to attack Iraq, some coming from the White House and others coming from various sources. The most common argument for attacking Iraq, that given by the administration, is a mish-mash of worries about weapons of mass destruction, disregard for U.N. Security Council resolutions, ties to al Qa’ida and Saddam’s wickedness. Of these reasons, the WMD rationale seems to have gained the most traction in the minds of many Americans. This is hardly surprising, as the White House has been relentlessly on message regarding Saddam’s weapons programs until recently, when Osama bin Laden (remember him?) conveniently popped up to exhort Muslims to defend their Iraqi brothers through martydom operations against Western interests worldwide if the United States assaults Baghdad.
Despite bin Laden’s sneering references to Saddam as a “socialist” and an “apostate,” the White House lept upon the tape as proof that Saddam and bin Laden were playing footsie when the West wasn’t looking. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said bin Laden’s reference to “our mujahideen brothers” inside Iraq and his appeal to Muslims to prepare for jihad suggested a “strong statement of alliance” between Iraq and al Qa’ida.

Continue reading “Why Iraq?”

On the road to Baghdad

I’ve heard from an undisclosed source that Baghdad is “Phase-1 Houston” in U.S. military parlance and that it will be getting a visit from the air “very soon.” This is all I know, except that it jibes with a March 1 (or slightly later) start to the campaign to oust Saddam. I also indulge in some informed speculation on where the attacks will come from — and why.

I’ve heard from an undisclosed source that Baghdad is “Phase-1 Houston” in U.S. military parlance and that it will be getting a visit from the air “very soon.” This is all I know, except that it jibes with a March 1 (or slightly later) start to the campaign to oust Saddam.
This is starting to get tricky. I’m starting to get information specific to war plans and which, if published, could conceivably endanger United States forces. Just to be clear: I will not be publishing any information that could get people killed. If I have advanced information of troop movements, you won’t see it here. I may oppose the war, but I won’t do anything to harm people in the field. I have friends in the military, and they have a tough job. Most them don’t want this war any more than peace activists do and they don’t have the opportunity to march in the streets saying “no.” However, they do make it possible for everyone else to march by nature of their service to their country.
Therefore, what follows is speculation. I have no data that the following is accurate, but I think it makes sense.
The massive buildup in Kuwait and in other Gulf countries such as Qatar is a Calais-style feint. Just as in the first Gulf War, when Marines practiced an amphibious invasion that turned out to be a ruse only to mount a massive “left hook” by armored divisions, the United States is hoping to convince Iraq that the majority of its attack will be from the south. However, two other fronts could be open without the American media being informed.

Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan: Much has been said about the reluctance of Turkey to allow U.S. forces to open up a northern front in order to tie down Iraqi forces from racing to defend Baghdad. Recent article have mentioned further foot-dragging on the part of the Turkish Parliament. This is likely a ruse. I think it’s probable there is already a modest build-up of American forces larger than previously admitted but smaller than what the United States is publicly asking for. The situation is probably even more stabilized in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Washington Post reported on Jan. 30 that “small numbers” of American military forces are operating in Iraqi Kurdistan. Jalal Talabani, chairman of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan made a laughable distinction between the”personnel”and”troops.” My theory is that the numbers are much greater in Iraqi Kurdistan than anyone is admitting. The northern front, despite its public disarray is probably in pretty good shape.
Iraqi armored vehicleJordan and Saudi Arabia: There have been consistent rumors of American troops “training” in Jordan. It’s not unreasonable for the one Arab country with a free-trade agreement with the United States and a peace treaty with Israel to have allowed a modest build-up in the eastern desert ready to launch into Iraq’s vast western provinces to seize SCUD sites and advance on Baghdad. There are already troops in Saudi Arabia and the desert kingdom’s public protests, reluctance to allow the use of its bases and declarations that the Americans will be expelled after the war could very well be a head-fake on Saddam. The government-controlled media could be easily brought to heel, as evidenced by protests that rocked the country months ago and which were never reported in the newspapers.

in each region I’ve mentioned, the media are either tightly controlled or can quickly be censored. My speculation mirrors a war plan that was leaked to the New York Times in July 2002 but which was quickly disowned by the Americans and the regional powers. Turkey and Jordan, especially, said quickly that their territories would not be used. I’m skeptical of these claims, especially considering the leverage the United States has on Ankara and Amman.
Again, this is speculation, but considering the history of the United States using massive build-ups to distract enemies only to hit them hard from another direction, it makes sense. There are also signs that Iraq may be wise to this tactic. Along an Iraqi army post about 100 yards from the Kuwaiti border, “there is no sign here that Iraq is doing much to prepare itself militarily against an invasion. A stray tank or two can be seen farther north, off the road from Basra to Baghdad, but otherwise there is little evidence of any real military presence near the zone.”
In two weeks or so, we’ll see how close I was in my predictions. Any takers?
[UPDATE: I swear I didn’t read this article in the Boston Globe before I wrote this entry. But the two pieces seem to jibe pretty closely, eh?]