Friday, April 20, 2007

Saddam's oil man

I need to get some comments down about some of the people I have been speaking to in my line of work. While discretion necessitates that I don’t divulge their details or too much about my activities, I think some outlines would be of use. Early on in my period here I was reconnecting with some old contacts, but also openly embracing new ones and the recommendations of others too. This process led to me meeting in the lobby of one of the plethora of five stars, a former Iraqi oil minister and then oil advisor to Saddam who lived in Baghdad up until the invasion in 2003, when redeployment seemed to make tactical sense. Burly, this gentleman had a bearing that reminded me of those on the intelligence side of the ancien regime. He proved however to be a convivial person to have coffee with. Obviously his observations on the rise of the Shia in his country lacked at times a little tact, but one was at least getting a for real feel of how the dispossessed see developments back home. Not that life in the Emirates is treating him that badly, but well-funded consultancy is hardly recompense for the throwing overboard of a state and, for him and his family, a whole way of life. The US, he opined, has allowed a regime of ayatollahs to take over when they had seemingly sought to weaken one to its east. It is understandable how Sunni Arabs, whether from Iraq or the Gulf, struggle to find a “rational” explanation for this shift, and cannot accept that events were not so intended. Certainly the fact that many of the US and UK’s discussants among the opposition in the Saddam days were Shia Islamists with connections to Iran ought to have created warning signs. I think on balance there was an almost willful naivety in the war planning and the assumption that somehow those Shia of a more secular bent, or those assumed to be thus, would be able to take charge of the situation, in a country without a secular base other than the remnants of one the US sought to destroy, even after the regime had been overthrown. Yet the factions created or at least trained by Iran were the ones with an organization and sizeable forces, aside from the Kurds who for the most part shape events in their relatively stable northern territories. Riding roughshod over the strategic risks takes us to where we are now in Iraq.

Next time, Saddam’s oil man wants to hear my opinions. This will create some sharp differences as it’s hard to swallow all of what is, by the western liberal standards to which I have some attachment, essentially a sectarian secular nationalism, which has little purchase in Iraq, and which was, for at least the ten years prior to the invasion, already in a state of collapse. Still, with any luck, there will be some Johnny Walker Black label to ease any discomfiture.

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