Oil Bonanza for Hunt; Displacement, Hunger, Alcoholism, Addiction for Iraqis

My Texas oil theory of the Cheney wing’s decision to go to war against Iraq got some (admittedly ex post facto) support on Sunday when it was announced that Hunt Oil is doing a deal for petroleum development in Iraqi Kurdistan. (Such Kurdistan deals are not typically being put through the federal government in Baghdad, and Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani is threatening to cancel them out if they are not approved centrally.)

One of the things that has prevented Iraqis from just starving to death, given the very high levels of unemployment and insecurity, is the old government food rationing system, which is still in place but increasingly tattered. Rations have been reduced by 35 percent, and of the 5 million Iraqis who depend on them (about a fifth of the country), two million are having trouble receiving the rations because they live in high-risk areas. Now the news is that with Ramadan looming, where square meals at sunset and in the morning before dawn are all that keep people going during the fast, the rations may not be available in nearly the required amounts. Iraqi foodstuffs are increasingly threadbare or rotten, and delivering the rations to risky areas is very difficult. (Imagine the difficulty in feeding the 200,000 Fallujans, 80 percent of whom are unemployed, given that no one is allowed to drive vehicles in that city).

Hunger is already a widespread problem in Iraq, and is likely to become more of one as time goes on.

Iraq’s physician shortage is also worsening dramatically:

‘ According to the Iraqi Medical Association (IMA), the shortage of doctors and nurses in Iraq is now critical and having a devastating effect, especially on small towns and villages.

“Our latest research shows that up to 75 percent of doctors, pharmacists and nurses have left their jobs at universities, clinics and hospitals,” Walid Rafi, a senior member of the IMA, told IRIN. Of these, at least 55 percent have fled abroad, he added.

According to Rafi, low salaries and the shortage of equipment and medicines, are other push factors. “Medical staff earn US$50-300 per month. They might persevere for a while but if the opportunity arises, they don’t think twice and leave the country,” Rafi said.’

The Iraqi Psychiatric Association estimates that in the past two months, the number of patients treated for alcoholism grew to be 36 percent greater than during the same period a month ago. Anecdotal evidence suggests that drinking to excess is widespread and getting worse rapidly. It is, of course, a further sign of despair, like massive out-migration. I saw it happen in Lebanon in the early years of the civil war there. Drug use and drug smuggling are also big problems.

The new chairman of the Expediency Council, Akbar Rafsanjani, is suggesting that Iran and Iraq establish an “Islamic Common Market.”

Another general, Wesley Clark, gives his report on Iraq. His conclusion: diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria is the only realistic way out.

Former State Department diplomat John Brown has some advice for General Petraeus: which is that the US is occupying Iraq, and therefore will never really have the allegiance of the people, just as the Soviets could not actually convince the Czechs about that universal workers’ solidarity thing.

As always, check out Tomdispatch.com.