Saturday, February 02, 2008

Bribes For Iraq's Parliament

A computer-generated translation of an article in the Akhbar Alkhaleej newspaper.

An Iraqi MP preferred to remain anonymous told the newspaper that highly confidential negotiations took place by representatives from American oil companies, offering $5 million to each MP who votes in favor of the Oil and Gas law.

I've always assumed that direct corruption is an important element of US leverage over Iraq's government. And I've read reports that Iraq under the occupation has become the most corrupt place in the Middle East.

I've never read a report of a direct accusation of a specific instance of corruption until now.

My first thought on reading this is to congratulate the Iraqi parliament for so far resisting what I'm sure are huge pressures from the US to succomb to this type of corruption.

My second thought is that I guess it's mathematically possible that this report is fabricated from nothing, I find that completely implausible. I see no reason that the US would not engineer the writing of an oil law substantially more favorable to the US than the standard oil laws of the region and attempt to use corruption to split the difference between US companies and whichever Iraqi leaders are willing to be paid off.

My third thought though, is that I am very disappointed by the failure of the Western press to uncover and present this story earlier.

When Iraq's parliament, at the urging of the Sadr faction, prepared to nominate Jaafari for another term as Prime Minister, Bush said that was not acceptable. Rice flew into Iraq for consultations on stopping his candidacy. As adamant as the US or England could be, the fact was they had no votes on Parliament. My questions at the time were "What leverage does Rice have?" "What can Rice be saying that could be persuasive to members of Iraq's parliament?"

The common answer at the time was since the US has around 150,000 troops in the country it has to have some leverage. While as a generality that may qualify as a true statement, the specific story of what Rice could and did promise to change the votes of Iraq's parliamentarians had to be an interesting and important story.

It was very frustrating at the time to watch the Western press fail to even address that question. I concluded that the reason for that failure was partly that the Western press was sympathetic to the aims of the Bush administration, more widely than they pretended and partly that many members of the press are not able to immediately see the disconnect between the influence the US had in theory and the influence the US was acting as if it had. If members of the press had perceived that gap, they would have worked to explain it, instead the gap never entered their field of vision.

We're getting the first concrete indications that US influence in Iraq's parliament is powered at least partly by direct monetary payments. It is true that every skeptical observer, including myself, has believed this to be the case for years now. But belief via ruling out of alternatives is different from having specific examples. A press that was doing its job would have provided specific examples a long time ago.

Along with Iraq's legistlature, congratulations are also in order for the Akbhar Al-Khaleej Newspaper that has done in Arabic what no Western press source has done in English to my knowledge.

No comments: