The word ‘chutzpah’ scarcely covers John Howard’s most recent intervention in Iraq.

On Saturday, Greg Sheridan reported that Howard had sent Iraqi PM Nouri al-Maliki a ‘tough-minded letter’ warning that “prompt, concrete measures are needed not only to secure Iraq’s future, but also to ensure regional stability and continued constructive, international engagement.”

And what particular concrete measures would Mr Howard like?

The letter urges Maliki to shepherd through legislation on two areas of particular concern to Washington: de-Baathification and the oil industry.

By de-Baathification Howard really means re-Baathification.

In the early phase of the occupation, when the US saw the oppressed Shiites as natural allies, former Baath Party members were barred from positions of authority.

These days, the Americans recognise that the main beneficiary of the Iraq adventure has been Shiite Iran, and so they want to tilt back to the Sunnis. But most Shiites and Kurds are quite happy with the law – and they just happen to be the majority of the population. Michael Rubin, a former official with the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority, explained: “If de-Baathification were left to Iraqi democracy, it would remain as the policy of Iraq.”

As for the oil laws, Sheridan claims that they are important to “the equitable distribution of Iraq’s oil wealth to its various Shia, Sunni and Kurdish areas”.

Well, that’s one interpretation. Here’s another, from Jonathan Steele in the Guardian:

Washington has promoted the law as a ‘reconciliation’ issue, claiming its early passage would show that Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian communities could share revenues on a fair basis. But this is a trick. Only one of the law’s 43 articles mentions revenue-sharing, and then just to say that a separate ‘federal revenue law’ will decide its distribution. … Independent analysts say the terms being proposed are far more favourable for foreign oil companies than those of any other oil-producing state in the region, including Kuwait and Saudi Arabia…

Platform, an oil industry watchdog, warns that the Iraq oil and gas law could ‘sign away Iraq’s future’. Greg Muttitt, its co-director, says: ‘The law is permissive. All of Iraq’s unexploited and as yet unknown reserves, which could amount to between 100bn and 200bn barrels, would go to foreign companies.’

The Maliki government has already tried to silence Iraqi opposition to the oil grab, with the energy minister using Saddam-era laws to crack down on trade unionists. Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of Iraqis, whatever their ethnic origins, continue to oppose the oil ‘reforms’ – which puts real limits on what even the puppet Maliki can do.

Still, even if Howard doesn’t succeed in getting Maliki to run roughshod over his people, the leak of his ‘tough-minded letter’ to a reliable leg-humper like Sheridan serves another purpose: it dumps the blame for the Iraqi fiasco on the Iraqis.

Since John, George and Tony invaded Iraq, between 600,000 and a million Iraqis have died. Four million have fled the country. Civil war is raging; the national infrastructure barely functions.

But here’s Howard sending a message to silly old Maliki and his ungrateful nation: after all we’ve done for you, why can’t you just secure Iraq’s future?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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