Petraeus! Is Baghdad Burning?

By Stan Goff

The United States makes up about 5 percent of the Earth's population, but as an aggregate we burn more than 25 percent of its fossil energy. That's roughly true of all three main forms of fossil energy-oil, natural gas and coal.

The coal we get mainly by having West Virginians surrender their mountains, where coal operators now lop the tops off those mountains to get at the seams of coal and dump the rubble into nearby watercourses. That's what we do for most of our electricity. Canada sells us most of the natural gas we use ... nearly 90 percent in fact.

The reason I lead into a discussion of the Bush administration's military "surge" plan for Iraq by talking about fossil fuels is that neither the government nor the media seem inclined to talk about the subject.

The problem we have is that our nation's transportation fleet is almost completely dependent on that other store of ancient sunlight, petroleum. Neither natural gas nor coal can feasibly run fleets of tractor-trailer trucks, trains, airplanes and a quarter-billion passenger vehicles (around 98 million of which are SUVs and larger). Neither coal nor natural gas can run ships, tanks and attack helicopters either.

The other thing we need oil for is food ... more than people realize. In Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma," he traces the U.S. food chain back to the oil fields through corn, which is now the basis of most of our other foods, then back to the oil field. It is widely known that each calorie of food consumed in the world today represents an expenditure of 10 calories of fossil energy, but Pollan's remarks while observing a cattle feed lot, where the beef-on-the-hoof was being force-fed corn produced by Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, are more to the point than any statistical review:

"I don't have a sufficiently vivid imagination to look at my steer and see a barrel of oil, but petroleum is one of the most important ingredients in the production of modern meat, and the Persian Gulf is surely a link in the food chain that passes through this (or any) feedlot. Steer 534 started his life part of a food chain that derived all of its energy from the sun, which nourished the grasses that nourished him and his mother. When 534 moved from ranch to feedlot, from grass to corn, he joined an industrial food chain powered by fossil fuel-and therefore defended by the U.S. military, another never counted cost of cheap food."

Empty gas tanks and empty bellies are not the basis of political stability, or profit, here in the United States of America, where the appropriation of immense amounts of time and space, using this store of ancient sunlight, is considered almost our birthright.

The hydrocarbon law

The reason I lead into a discussion of the Bush administration's military "surge" plan for Iraq by talking about fossil fuels is that neither the government nor the media seem inclined to talk about the subject. The desperation of the coming escalation of criminal lunacy is based not on some fantasy but on a real and coming competition between the U.S. and basically everyone else for these energy stores, even as most honest experts agree that world production of oil has now peaked and will begin an inexorable and irreversible decline. The reason for attempting to implant permanent U.S. military bases in the Persian Gulf area and install compliant governments (the real reason for the war from the very beginning) has everything to do with securing control over the region.

The surge plan is a painfully twisted military option, but what is twisting it is not well understood. Stability in Iraq could be achieved relatively easily, even now, in conjunction with a precipitous redeployment of Anglo-American military forces. The strange attractor-strange mostly because the media never mention it-is Iraq's "first postwar draft hydrocarbon law," which would set up a committee consisting of highly qualified experts to speed up the process of issuing tenders and signing contracts with international oil companies to develop Iraq's untapped oilfields." This law, which is tantamount to privatization with an Anglo-American franchise in perpetuity, is the bottom line for the U.S., as evidenced by the fact that this is the one, absolute, bottom-line point of agreement between the Bush administration and the so-called Iraq Study Group. The rhetorical scuffle between these two entities is not the what, but the how.

The population of Sadr City, the "neighborhood" under the leadership of Sadr, is approximately that of Brooklyn.

Before any assessment of the balance of forces in Iraq can be undertaken from a purely military perspective (never possible, since military success is always measured against political objectives,) it is essential to survey the major Iraqi military and political actors on where they stand with regard to the proposed Iraqi "oil law." If the top priority is to salvage U.S. access to future hydrocarbon mining in Iraq, then the fundamental requirement is a comparatively "stable" Iraqi government that supports this access. The fundamental show-stopper is any leader or set of leaders who reject this plan.

The catch for the U.S. is that, as we shall see, the Iraqi leaders who support the hydrocarbon law have no legitimacy upon which to establish stability, and the leaders who have the popular legitimacy to establish stability support neither the occupation nor the hydrocarbon law.

When the situation is looked at in this way, we can bypass all the chatter from government and media mystigogues about regional stability for the sake of the people, democracy, terrorism, et cetera. These rhetorical smoke screens are concealing two inescapable facts: (1) The U.S. has lost the Iraq war and (2) the best retrenchment position possible now is to salvage the draft hydrocarbon law.

The Shiite 'government'

This explains, to a large degree, why the U.S. is harassing Iranian diplomats, even as it courts Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), as Dawa Party leader and putative Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's replacement. Hakim, after all, is practically an Iranian citizen. Why would the Bush administration court the most pro-Iranian leader among the diverse Shiite factions as successor in the event that Maliki fails to live up to U.S. expectations? Hakim has been a consistent and strong supporter of the hydrocarbon law.

The Shiite leader who has most vehemently opposed this law, and the U.S. occupation, has been Muqtada al-Sadr. The press has frequently portrayed Sadr as pro-Iranian, and nothing could be further from the truth. The SCIRI has been most aggressive in the demand to divide Iraq into a very loose federation and transform southeastern Iraq into an Iranian rump state. Sadr has called for Iraqi unification, left the door open to Sunnis for an anti-occupation alliance, denounced the hydrocarbon law, and modeled his political and military leadership on Hezbollah.

Here is where we come to the nub of The Surge, and why it is probably the political death knell of Nouri al-Maliki. The principle aim of The Surge is to break the power of Muqtada al-Sadr. Sadr not only has the seats in the Potemkin parliament of Iraq that put Maliki (a leader in a relatively small Shiite party, the Dawa) into power against the SCIRI (the largest parliamentary faction); he commands the ferocious loyalty of two and a half million people and has an 80,000-strong militia concentrated a stone's throw from the U.S.-protected Green Zone in Baghdad. Baghdad has about 6 million people; New York City has 8 million, just by way of comparison. The population of Sadr City, the "neighborhood" under the leadership of Sadr, is approximately that of Brooklyn.

To realize this helps in understanding the considerations that go into planning a military operation. We need some kind of comparative scale to really comprehend the dangerous lunacy of The Surge.

There is, in reality, no such thing as an Iraqi government now. There is this formation inside the Green Zone. Maliki cannot leave the Green Zone without an escort of armored vehicles and attack helicopters. If anyone can explain how this constitutes governance, I'm all ears.

Congressional and media accounts constantly refer to the Iraqi government as the entity that requires U.S. military assistance to become the guarantor of Iraqi security. But the Maliki government-or any other government that relies on U.S. military protection to survive for a week-commands the loyalty of only a fraction of the armed actors in Iraq, and it positions itself tactically against most other armed actors. The armed forces being trained for that "government" are themselves loyal to factions with agendas, and these forces are filled with opportunists and infiltrators. Consider these facts: Seventy percent of Iraqis now are asking for an end to the Anglo-American occupation (that number goes up dramatically when the Kurds are subtracted). And the Iraqis themselves are not merely Sunni or Shiite (as simplified accounts have it) but are identified with three major armed Shiite factions, two major Sunni armed factions, or a Kurdish militia of 100,000 that resides in the north and itself is divided into two camps. In light of those realities there is no possibility of one faction gaining the acquiescence of the whole Iraqi population and the various armed expressions of populations. The Bush surge plan is designed to eliminate Maliki's Shiite opposition inside Baghdad, i.e., Sadr and his Mahdi Army. (...)


This article was excerpted from a much longer article by Stan Goff, a retired U.S. Special Forces soldier, who takes an oil-filtered look at Bush's "surge" plan for Iraq. The rest of his essay can be accessed on the Internet


-Truthdig, January 12, 2007