Azzaman

Angry Farmers Sabotage Chinese Oil Equipment in Southern Iraq

Angry Iraqi farmers have grounded Chinese oil activities in southern Iraq to a halt, sources and residents said.

They said the farmers destroyed cables and pipelines the Chinese have extended over their farms.

It is the second incident in less than a week involving the Ahdab oil field which the China National Petroleum Corporation is developing.

Last week unidentified gunmen destroyed a power station feeding the field but an Oil Ministry source said the damage did not lead to a halt in Chinese activities.

The damage the gunmen caused "did not halt the seismic and exploration work by the Chinese," said Assem Jihad, the ministry's spokesman.

But the farmers' revolt has practically prevented the Chinese from working as without these cables and pipelines the field's development would be impossible.

The farmers fear the government will confiscate their farms. "The Chinese have entered our land without permission and extended their cables. The work has destroyed our farms," one farmer, refusing to be named, said.

Jihad said the damage to the farms was minimal and "and cannot be used as an excuses for sabotage.

"There are hidden hands pushing the farmers to commit acts of sabotage. They want to stop the oil project on behalf of a foreign state," he said.

Jihad admitted that conditions for the Chinese were not so good.

"The company has moved its position to an uninhabited site. Such moves have detrimental impact on the sensitive equipment the company is dealing with," he said.

Jihad said all the area needed for the development of Ahdab belonged to the state and the farmers had illegally moved there.

But the farmers say they will prevent any such activities on their land until they are handsomely compensated.

Jihad said the government has intensified security in the area where the Chinese are working.

Gunmen Attack Chinese Oil Installations In Southern Iraq

Unidentified gunmen have destroyed a power station feeding the Ahdab oil field which a Chinese firm is developing.

The attack is the first on Ahdad for the development of which the China National Petroleum Corporation had signed a $3 billion contract with Iraq in 2008.

The Chinese had only started operations in earnest last month and the attack is a blow to their plans to develop the field situated in the border Province of Wasit southeast of Baghdad.

Iraqis provide security for the Chinese workers and their equipment and the Chinese are also reported to have brought with them their own security team.

A provincial official, refusing to be named said: “Installations belonging to an important oil field have been subjected to a terrorist attack from unidentified gunmen.

“The attackers targeted the electricity system linked to the field as well as the lines carrying power. The damage is estimated at more than $1 million,” the source added.

He said the authorities believe the attack is a warning for the Chinese to leave.

China was the first foreign country to have won such a lucrative foothold in the country, seen as one of the riches in oil reserves in the world.

Although representing only a modest fraction of Iraq’s oil riches, the Ahdab field was marketed as proof that security conditions have improved and foreign workers in the country would be safe.

There has been no reaction from the Chinese side but their withdrawal would squash Iraqi dreams of boosting oil production to 4.5 million barrels a day from the current 2.5 million.

The attackers, analysts say, are probably sending “a warning signal” to the Chinese for more attacks if they stay put.

Iraq hopes the development of Ahdab will add at least 900,000 barrels a day to its output.

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What Iraqis Want From Obama

And finally we have the man who many in the U.S. and the world at large wanted to see replacing George W. Bush.

On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama will be officially inaugurated as U.S President. Bush as a person and a picture will no longer be in the Oval Office but his deeds and legacy will fill the room's air, shelves and even the drawers of Obama's desk.

And certainly, wherever Obama turns in the White House the specter of Iraq and the untold suffering of its people and the heavy price in blood and resources the U.S. has had to pay will be haunting him.

Obama has promised to end the devastating and reckless war Bush had started in Iraq. But one thing he will have to remember: starting a war is always easy; ending it is the most difficult thing to do.

I do not think any Iraqi would feel sorry for Bush, the man who ruined their country, turned millions of its people into refugees, turned hundreds thousands of its children into orphans and divided the country into ethnic and sectarian lines with wounds which some say are impossible to heal.

If Obama thinks that he is not responsible for addressing the calamities Bush brought on the Iraqi people, he is wrong. Morally and ethically, his administration is responsible for the orphans, the refugees, the chaos and insecurity which Bush will bequeath him.

Iraqis hope that instead of bombs, warplanes, heavy artillery, daily raids and invasions, killings and destroying of houses, villages and cities, Obama will try to rebuild.

Even if the troops are withdrawn, and that is the wish of many in the country, Iraqis hope Obama will commit his administration to correcting Bush's blunders. Instead of killing fathers and turning their children into orphans, Iraqis hope Obama will build factories, bridges, roads, schools and hospitals to put unemployed Iraqi parents to work.

Iraqis hope Obama will commit resources that will take care of the army of Iraqi orphans, send in relief and aid to the impoverished Iraqis instead of shipping sophisticated warplanes and helicopter gunships with the ability to drop precision bombs weighing hundreds of kilograms of explosives.

Iraqis would like to see Obama exerting real pressure on the government and Iraqi political and ethnic factions for a real compromise and not coddle them as Bush has been doing so that they would sign a hugely unpopular security agreement.

Iraqis hope Obama will work with all Iraqis groups and stand at the same distance from all of them and favor only those who are loyal to their own country and support them to lead.

Iraqis hope Obama will extend a real helping hand to the millions of Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries and elsewhere, first by helping them making ends meet and, second, encouraging them and supporting them to return to a safe Iraq.

Iraqis' wish list is long and they do not expect Obama to have it all fulfilled. Their few expectations emanate from the same principles of democracy and human rights that helped an African American win the presidential elections in the U.S.A., the world's mightiest power.

No End in Sight to Anti-Christian Violence in Mosul

The measures the government has taken so far have failed to put an end to the exodus of Christians from the northern city of Mosul.

Thousands of Christian families have fled the city following threats from unidentified groups. So far 14 Christians have been killed in the city.

Some Iraqi politicians and media have raised questions on the timing and scale of the anti-Christian campaign in a city traditionally known for its tolerance.

There are no exact figures on the numbers of Christians in Mosul but for centuries the city has been one of Christianity’s main centers in Iraq with scores of churches and monasteries some of them of great antiquity.

Iraqi Christian monks are reported to have fled the Monastery of Mar Gerwargees, the last inhabited abode in the city of an ancient order which traces its roots to the Persian Christian Saint Hormuz who was killed centuries before the birth of Islam.

There are no clear answers to who is behind the campaign to force the Christians to flee. Some local media reports, quoting government officials, blame Kurdish militias which control Mosul's left bank which has been emptied of its Christian population.

Tens of thousands of Christians from Mosul and its suburbs demonstrated when Iraqi parliament last month removed a paragraph from the constitutional which allowed Iraqi Christians and other minorities a set of seats in provincial councils.

Kurdish deputies in the parliament spearheaded the move to have the paragraph removed.

Analysts say the Kurds were shocked by Christian protests.

Who Is Driving Christians Out of Iraq?

The current plight of Christians in the northern city of Mosul is a reminder of how precarious conditions in Iraq as whole are.

At least 2,500 families have been forced to leave the city, a dozen killed and many of their houses destroyed.

Christians are not the only minority under persecution but their fleeing is being highlighted because it comes at a crucial moment for Iraq and particularly its northern region.

And therefore many have began raising questions on who would benefit from forcing thousands of families out in the open from a city which has traditionally been known for its tolerance and a mosaic of cultures, religions, sects and ethnicities.

Neither the government nor the Christians themselves have clearly specified who could be behind the current wave of persecution.

Iraq's al-Qaeda group has denied responsibility. So have all the other groups fighting U.S. occupation.

The Kurds, who keep a sizeable force of their militias known as Peshmerga in the city, have even mocked at reports implicating them in the persecution. And of course the government says it is doing its best to preserve peace and punish the perpetrators.

This newspaper blames no one but it sees that most media reports have overlooked the reality of the current situation in the Province of Nineveh of which Mosul is the capital.

Sunni Arabs are predominant in the province but they are mainly concentrated on the right bank of the Tigris River. The left bank along with a string of villages and small towns to the east, north and west of the city is a mix of peoples among them Yazidis, Shebeks, Turkmen as well as Christians.

With the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Kurdish militias occupied Yazidi, Christian and Shebek areas and moved their control as far as the left bank of Mosul.

Kurdish leaders do not hide their claims to these areas and their insistence that their inhabitants are ethnic Kurds. Kurdish leaders' tactics have turned many Christians, Yazidis, Shebeks and Tukmen against them. As for the Sunni Arabs, many of them draw parallels between Kurdish occupation of these areas and U.S. occupation of Iraq and that both must be resisted.

Calls on Kurdish militias to withdraw have fallen on deaf ears. On the contrary, they have solidified their armed presence in the Province.

Kurdish leaders are notorious for their political favoritism and tactics. In 1996, Massoud Barazani, sent a personal letter to Saddam Hussein pleading with him to send troops to fight his opponent Jalal Talabani whose militias had then spread their control over most of northern Iraq. Anyone found writing to Saddam in such beseeching and friendly terms would have certainly been covered by the government's infamous policy of debaathification.

Talabani did the same a few years later when he felt that his militia stronghold of Sulaimaniya was in danger of being overrun by the al-Qaeda-sponsored Ansar al-Islam, which had established a foot in his areas. Saddam sent advisers, money and weapons and some say even troops to help him contain the threat.

If Christians, Shebeks and Yazids vote for Kurds in the forthcoming provincial elections, the Kurds will have the upper hand in Nineveh. This might be some form of a conspiracy scenario but such scenarios are not impossible in a failed country like Iraq.

Some say Christians are partly to blame for their plight. First, they have divided themselves into 'ethnic groups' relying on their denominations. The so-called Assyrians, who say they are the descendants of the Assyrian Empire, are openly calling for an autonomous region, separate from the Kurdish and Arab areas. The so-called Chaldeans, who say they are the descendants of the ancient Chaldean Empire, have mostly aligned themselves with the Kurds at the expense of their traditional neutrality.

Christian numbers have dwindled in Iraq. Nonetheless, some of their spiritual leaders openly associate themselves with the 'Christian' West and particularly the Roman Catholic Church. The leaders of Iraqi Catholics, who are the majority, were too timid to issue a statement rejecting Pope Benedict XVI negative remarks on Islam in his 12 September 2006 lecture in Germany.

The leader of the Iraqi Catholics was promoted to a Cardinal, raising Muslim suspicions of some form of complicity.

And finally, one can mention the nature of U.S. invasion of Iraq and President George W. Bush's fundamentalist Christian base in America.

U.S. missionaries came to Iraq with the invasion, rousing Muslim fears that the troops were sent not to 'liberate' but 'proselytize'. Some of these missionaries were brutally murdered.

And instead of proselytizing, these fundamentalist evangelicals began persuading Iraqi Christians to convert. Iraqi evangelical church established roots in Baghdad and other areas among Iraqi Christians, which made many Muslims view them as collaborators of a foreign invader.

The U.S. invasion and its repercussions have dealt the heaviest blow to Christianity in Iraq in its long history which scholars trace to the 1st century A.D.

Iraqi Ministry Reopens Cases of Murdered Journalists

The Ministry of Interior has reopened the case of scores of Iraqi journalists who were either assassinated or kidnapped in the past few years, a senior ministry official said.

Lt. Gen. Abdulkarim Khalaf said Iraqi police have begun investigating at least 49 files related to Iraqi journalists killed or kidnapped in the spiral of violence that engulfed the country since the 2003-U.S. invasion.

Khalaf said the ministry was coordinating its efforts with a non-governmental body on press freedoms with the regard to all the cases which it could not pursue in the past.

Scores of Iraqi journalists have been killed or kidnapped but none of the perpetrators has ever been brought to justice.

"We have initiated investigations of almost all the crimes that have targeted Iraqi journalists and issued orders to arrest the perpetrators," Khalaf said.

He said the ministry has many suspects in detention. “Some of them have already admitted their crimes and others were still being interrogated,” he added.

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