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Concerns Over Convicted Felon Chalabi's Choice As Iraqi Oil Minister

by repost
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iraq's choice of Ahmad Chalabi as acting oil minister has raised concerns that he is not the best person for the job because he has little energy experience and was once convicted of bank fraud, U.S. energy experts said on Thursday.
Oil is Iraq's chief source of revenue as the nation struggles to rebuild. Iraq now produces about 1.9 million barrels of crude oil a day and will try to boost output as it slowly repairs and replaces obsolete technology.

"You are to some extent, from the perceptions of many Iraqis, putting a fox in charge of the henhouse," said Anthony Cordesman, referring to Chalabi. Cordesman is a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies based in Washington.

Chalabi is taking over the ministry at a critical time. It must make decisions on which companies get preference for oil sales, which contracts are honored and which will be renegotiated. The ministry also faces frequent sabotage against its oil pipelines.

"(Chalabi) is going to make it extremely easy for people to make charges about corruption and raise questions on how the oil money is distributed," said Cordesman.

In 1992, a Jordanian military court found Chalabi guilty of bank fraud. He denied the charges, fled Jordan and filed a lawsuit in the United States accusing the Jordanian government of framing him.

On Thursday, Chalabi said he would be acting oil minister for "a short time" and would not make any abrupt changes. He was appointed by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

U.S. experts said a long-term assignment for Chalabi could rock Iraq's oil ministry and the country's vital oil revenue stream.


Iraq has an estimated 115 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and at least 110 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

"What the Iraqi oil sector needs right now is security, transparency and stability, and Chalabi does not have a reputation for bringing any of those," said energy consultant David Goldwyn. He dealt with international energy issues during the Clinton administration.

"There's certainly potential for mischief-making," Goldwyn said, adding that other cabinet members will keep a close eye on Chalabi to maximize Iraq's revenue from oil sales.

If Chalabi gets a permanent job at the oil ministry, even as a deputy rather than the oil minister, it will signal that politics rules over engineering, said Daniel Sternoff, director of geopolitics at Medley Global Advisors.

"The oil technocrats and engineers will be extremely unhappy if Chalabi is named full-time (minister or deputy minister)," said Sternoff. "These are people who suffered under Saddam and his over-politization of the oil ministry, choosing politics over what is best for Iraq and its oil industry."

However, John Lichtblau, an energy analyst at the PIRA Energy Group in New York, said Chalabi needs to rely on the ministry's experienced workers and can't afford to replace them with friends.

It does not really matter with foreign companies who the oil minister is at this point, because Iraq remains an unsafe place to do business, Lichtblau said. "The main problem is not any government policy, but the insurgents that try to block (oil) exports," he said.

The high-profile oil ministry job may be especially attractive to Chalabi who has expressed interest in other top government positions, Cordesman said.

"It's one of the most powerful positions in Iraq," Cordesman said. "He has political ambitions."
by reposted
By Jenny Booth, Times Online

Iraq formed its first democratically elected Government in 50 years today after the country's Parliament approved a 36-strong Cabinet of ministers.

The National Assembly voted by an overwhelming majority - 180 of the 185 present - to approve the list of names put forward by Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Prime Minister designate, who comes from a religious Shia party. A few cheers broke out when the speaker of Parliament announced the result.

The Cabinet will consist of 31 ministers, four deputy Prime Ministers and the Prime Minister himself. Several of the appointments are however provisional, suggesting that the bitter disagreements which created a 12-week power struggle to divide the most influential posts between Iraq's different cultural and political groupings are not yet resolved.

Mr al-Jaafari himself will act as Defence Minister - a position that was supposed to go to a Sunni.

In a twist that is likely to raise a few eyebrows in Washington, Iraq's great political survivor Ahmad Chalabi - first the darling and then the scapegoat of the Bush Administration - will take the hotly-contested post of Oil Minister on an interim basis. Mr Chalabi, who is a Shia Muslim, is also one of the four deputy Prime Ministers.

The electricity, human rights and industry ministers are also temporary appointments. Rousch Nouri Shaways, a Kurdish leader, will combine the job of acting electricity minister with being a deputy Prime Minister.

Both the oil and electricity ministries were the subject of lengthy infighting within Mr al-Jaafari's own party, the United Iraqi Alliance.

The key roles at the head of the interior ministry and the finance ministry will be taken by Shias, with Bayan Jabbor at the interior and Ali Abdul Amir Allawi at finance.

Officials said that the full Cabinet consisted of 17 Shias, eight Kurds, six Sunnis and one Christian. Six of them are said to be women, in charge of seven portfolios. Shias represent 60 per cent of the population, Kurds 20 per cent and Sunnis between 15 and 20 per cent.

Mr al-Jaafari said from the steps of his office: "The Iraqis will find that their Government has religious, ethnic, political and geographic variety, in addition to the participation of women. Now that the process has started, we will spare no effort to bring back a smile to children's faces."

Iyad Allawi, the outgoing interim Prime Minister, is due to conduct a handover to Mr al-Jaafari within days.

Mr Allawi's secular Iraqi List party, which holds 40 Assembly seats, has been left out of the Government altogether - a sign that Mr al-Jaafari has given up the unequal struggle to balance Mr Allawi's demands with those of Sunni leaders who say they could open negotiations with the militants.

Much of the optimism created by the success of multi-party elections in Iraq on January 30 has dissipated in the three months of backroom horse-trading between religious and secular parties representing the different ethnic groups.

The insurgency, which died down during and after the ballot, has since gained new strength and viciousness. A woman MP was shot in the head nine times yesterday as she answered the door at her brother's home.

Lameah Abed Khadouri al-Sakri was the first of the 275-strong National Assembly to be murdered by the rebels, many of whom are Sunni extremists.

Mr al-Jaafari has been coming under ever-increasing pressure from Washington to form a transitional Government, so that co-ordinated action can be planned to suppress the insurgents.,,7374-1589157,00.html
by NYT

The Iraqis have thrown us another curveball.

Ahmad Chalabi - convicted embezzler in Jordan, suspected Iranian spy, double-crosser of America, purveyor of phony war-instigating intelligence - is the new acting Iraqi oil minister.

Is that why we went to war, to put the oily in charge of the oil, to set the swindler who pretended to be Spartacus atop the ultimate gusher?

Does anybody still think the path to war wasn't greased by oil?

The neocons' con man had been paid millions by the U.S. to tell the Bushies what they wanted to hear on Iraqi W.M.D. A year ago, the State Department and factions in the Pentagon turned on him after he began bashing America and using Saddam's secret files to discredit his enemies.

Right after the invasion, the charlatan was escorted into Iraq by U.S. troops and cultivated an axis of Americans, Iraqis and Iranians. He got a fancy house with layers of armed guards and pulled-down shades, and began helping himself to Iraqi assets. The U.S. occupation sicced the Iraqi police on his headquarters only after an Iraqi judge ordered thugs in the Chalabi posse arrested on suspicion of kidnapping, torture and theft.

Newsweek revealed that the U.S. suspected Mr. Chalabi of leaking secret information about American war plans for Iraq to the Iranians before the invasion, and of perhaps leaking "highly classified" information to Iran that could "get people killed" if abused by the Iranians. Mr. Chalabi claimed the Iranians set him up.

In August of last year, while he was at a cabin in the Iranian mountains, the Iraqis ordered him arrested on counterfeiting charges, which were later dropped for lack of evidence.

Now, showing survival skills that make Tom DeLay look like a piker, the resourceful Thief of Baghdad has popped back up as one of the four deputy prime ministers and the interim cabinet minister controlling the one valuable commodity in that wasteland: the second-largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia. He even has a DeLay-like talent for getting relatives on the payroll: a Chalabi nephew is the new finance minister.

Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told Reuters that many Iraqis would consider the plum oil job for Mr. Chalabi "putting a fox in charge of the henhouse." The choice, he added, "is going to make it extremely easy for people to make charges about corruption."

Oil isn't on the front burner only in Iraq. Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney know that time is running out to pay back the Texas buddies who sent them here with an energy bill. So those two oilmen are frantically pushing one loaded with giveaways to the oil industry at a time when it's already raking in huge profits because of high gasoline prices.

In Baghdad, we may wind up with a one-man Enron - never underestimate the snaky charmer. And the draconian efforts of Mr. Chalabi and other Shiites in power to purge Baathists from the government will breathe fire into the insurgency.

Mr. Bush wanted Iraq to have a democracy like ours. It's on its way, nearing an ethics-free zone where a corrupt official can hold sway and a theocracy can curb women's rights.

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