New Australian PM Rudd will Withdraw Combat Troops from Iraq Shahristani: Kurdistan Oil Deals Void Bush scales back Expectations (again)

Another one bites the dust. World politics is littered with the political corpses of rightwing leaders who bucked their own public to join in George W. Bush’s wars and misadventures. Spain, Italy, Poland, and in a way the UK are all object lessons in this regard. Now John Howard of Australia has joined their number Australia’s new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, has pledged to withdraw Australia’s 550 combat troops from Iraq (Australia has about 500 more non-combat troops doing development work in Iraq, and it is not clear what will now be done with them). Rudd will also sign the Kyoto Treaty on fighting global warming. Rudd speaks Chinese and will stake out a new geopolitical position for Australia, while attempting to retain good or at least correct relations with Washington (next year this time that will likely be easier). Rudd’s deputy prime minister is a woman (a first), and his team includes a rock star, former Midnight Oil singer Peter Garrett.

Hey, I want a government in the US that looks like this– pro labor, against foreign military adventures, afraid of global warming, the leader speaks an Asia language, and a rock star is on the team.

Australia also has some troops in Afghanistan, which looks increasingly troubled. See Barnett Rubin’s important recent postings on the situation there and Manan Ahmed’s excellent entry on northern Pakistan at our Global Affairs Group Blog.

The NYT reports that the Bush administration is giving up on most of its political benchmarks for Iraq. Apparently the most they think they can now hope for is that Iraq will ask the United Nations to authorize an extension of the US mandate in Iraq, that parliament will pass a budget, and that the Iraqi parliament will pass a law allowing mid-level former Baath officials to hold government jobs if they have not been shown to have committed crimes in the Saddam period. Powerful blocs in parliament such as the Sadrists oppose the UN extension of the US mandate in Iraq, and most Shiites and Kurds also oppose changes in the de-Baathification regulations. I wonder if even these scaled-down political expectations are realistic. PM Nuri al-Maliki is a minority prime minister with very little support in his own parliament, and only his Kurdish alliance even allows him to stay in power.

Oil Minister Hussein Shahristani declared Saturday that all oil contracts signed with the Kurdistan Regional Government that were not pre-approved by the Baghdad federal government are null and void. Shahristani has been threatening to take this step for some time, out of frustration that Kurdistan is acting like an independent country and making its own petroleum deals. (Recently Hunt Oil, the owner of which is close to the Bush family, explored contracts in Kurdistan.)

Kurdistan officials charged that Shahristani is exceeding his authority and say that their procedures are in accord with the semi-autonomy granted provincial confederations by the Iraqi constitution (which recognizes regional rather than federal claims to new petroleum and mineral finds).

Shahristani is known to be close to Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, and this tiff can be seen as a struggle between Shiites who want a fairly strong central government and Kurds who want a very weak one.

These kinds of disputes raise the question of whether it is even possible to develop Iraqi petroleum before there is a comprehensive political settlement in the country (see above for the likelihood of that happening any time soon).

Sawt al-Iraq reports that the Sadr Movement is rejecting any Iraq participation in the Annopolis conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said that participation would constitute an open recognition of the state of Israel, a step he opposes.

The US military is blaming what it describes as an Iran-backed “special group” cell inside the Shiite Mahdi Army for bombing a pet market in a Shiite part of Baghdad on Friday, which killed 9 and wounded 60 persons. The US military says it has forensic evidence and confessions by detainees to substantiate its claim.

This story doesn’t make any sense to me, and I would need to see some evidence before I would accept it. Confessions under duress prove nothing, and circumstantial evidence has often fallen apart under inquiry by defense counsel. In Iraq, there is no defense counsel for “insurgents” arrested by the US military, and no way to question such allegations. The Mahdi Army is unlikely to bomb Shiites to make them want to join it. Shiites have already joined it in the hundreds of thousands. A crime has means, motive and opportunity. The motive being ascribed here makes no sense. If it had been a Sunni neighborhood, that would be different.

The US military depends on the Mojahedin-e Khalq terrorist organization, Iranian expatriates to whom Saddam gave a based in Diyala Province, for much of its intelligence on Iran. The MEK is a cult-like group of notorious liars and murderers linked to the American Neoconservatives, and so it is no wonder that the US military in Iraq is always coming out and saying the most amazing and implausible things about Iran.

McClatchy on Saturday’s violence in Iraq.

At the Napoleon’s Egypt blog, the British editors of the captured French letters from Egypt slam Napoleon.