The Oil Factor in the Iraq Study Group (Interview)

Interview with Dori Smith on Talk Nation Radio, December 13, 2006

Journalist Dahr Jamail speaks about the reality of the Iraq Study Group Report and what is going on in Iraq today: US support for death squad militias, US air attacks, and the steady intensification of the violence. If US forces withdrew there may be a potential for the Iraqis to contain the worst perpetrators of violence, but without a major policy change the potential for worsening chaos and wider war persists.

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Welcome to Talk Nation Radio, a half hour discussion on politics, human rights, and the environment. I’m Dori Smith.

Independent journalist Dahr Jamail joins us for the half hour to talk about what he sees as the most important news stories about Iraq. After reporting from Lebanon during the Israeli/Lebanon War Dahr Jamail returned to writing about Iraq for Inter Press Service IPS News online at

We start by listening to a segment of audio from a talk Dahr Jamail gave in Boston, October 25, 2005, about his eight months of coverage from Iraq: “The targeting of ambulances by the US Military was practiced with enough vigilance in Fallujah that even the Iraqi Minister of Health on April 17th, publicly pressed Paul Bremer to account for it. Bremer explained that the U.S. authorities believed ambulances to have been used by fighters; offering as a response the very definition of collective punishment.

Another doctor that I interviewed inside Fallujah at the small clinic said, “The Americans shot out the lights in the front of our hospital. They prevented doctors from reaching the emergency unit at the hospital and we quickly began to run out of supplies and much needed medications; all of which, of course, are violations of international law. He went on to say: “Not less than sixty percent of the dead are women and children. You can go see the graves for yourself.””

At that time Dahr Jamail was calling on the U.S. Press and member of Congress to take a more truthful look at the war he had been covering for eight months from Iraq. In May of 2005, Jamail went to Jordan. And he was one of the only journalists from the U.S. to interview the [then] half a million Iraqi refugees living there.

Early on he had written about torture going on in U.S.-run prisons, the destruction of Fallujah, and U.S. Military attacks on medical personnel in Fallujah during two sieges in 2004. He wrote of failing medical systems, reconstruction failures, Bechtel’s failure to decontaminate drinking water, and the steadily increasing death toll

After an early start as an independent without many media contacts Dahr Jamail’s work took off as more and more international media outlets came to recognize the importance of his on scene coverage. Now his work has been translated into ten different languages and he has been published in Inter Press News Service, the Nation, the Sunday Herald, Islam Online, Asia Times, the Guardian, the Independent, and many other publications.

During his travels Dahr Jamail has reported for Pacifica’s Democracy Now and Flashpoints In addition to reporting from Iraq he has also reported from Syria Lebanon during the Israeli/Lebanon War and Jordan.

Dahr Jamail has been touring the U.S. and Hawaii on a speaking tour and he is also just back from Europe where he appeared on Danish National TV and he is finally taking the time to collect his thoughts for a book.

Listen to or watch Dahr Jamail’s recent news reports.

Dori Smith: Dahr Jamail welcome to Talk Nation Radio.
Dahr Jamail: Thanks for having me Dori.

Dahr your web site is so full now of all of your many articles and lectures; you have been going to Europe to speak. Just talk about your latest trip there and tell us what the climate is there as the situation in Iraq continues to be terribly chaotic with violence.

Dahr Jamail: I was recently over in both Sweden and Denmark and it was a really interesting trip mainly by how the information I was giving to people was handled by even the mainstream media there. It was much more open, much more receptive to broadcasting the information I was giving out. Just to give you an example just while I was in Denmark alone I was on a national television nightly news program called, “Deadline”. I was on a national radio program. I was interviewed by at least four newspapers and a couple of different magazines as well, just very broad exposure. We figured that by the end of that trip we got information out to over a million people in that country alone.

Contrast that to the U.S. where the only time I’ve been on a national program was just at the end of last week, ironically, I was on NPR, National Public Radio, for a five minute segment and that was after a twenty minute interview. We were talking about the Iraqi hospitals and I talked about the U.S. Military attacking hospitals and shooting ambulances and impeding medical care, which is of course a war crime, but that part was cut from the interview. Contrast that to the exposure I had while over in Europe. The mainstream media there, while quite imperfect, of course, was still not reluctant to go ahead and broadcast everything that I was saying.

Dori Smith: It’s not as if the reports that you’ve been sending home when you were in Iraq for eight months or any of your other reports have not been proven to be true and later on we see the mainstream press picking up on at least some of the various details, not telling the story as you have but at least we certainly know that your reports have been borne out.

Dahr Jamail. It’s true and it’s been very interesting to watch whereas European countries and their mainstream media are reporting things far more rapidly than the mainstream media here in the U.S. The information is out there and it’s interesting because I’ll even sometimes be contacted by people within the mainstream media outlets here to help put them in touch with someone in Iraq, for example, to get them particular information but I’d never see any of that information come out in any of their reports ever.

Dori Smith: Very interestingly too we’ve been talking a little bit about media and we’ve touched on some of what gets on CNN. Now, we’ve seen stories about tens of thousands of Iraqis leaving the country, violence is rampant there, death squad violence is continuing; NPR has reported on the refugees a little bit but CNN’s reporter Arwa Damon even used the term “ethnic cleansing” in one of her recent reports. Dahr what do you see as the key stories that Americans should be paying the most attention to if they are interested in working to stop the war?

Dahr Jamail: Well I think if they are going to talk about ethnic cleansing they need to be talking about what is the root of these death squads in Iraq because that is now the leading cause of death in that country. When we look at, it’s very well documented that retired Col. James Steele was working under then US Ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, James Steele was in charge of the Iraq Security Forces. In fact, his title was “Counselor of Iraqi Security Forces,” and he reported directly to John Negroponte.

These are the same two men who helped set up and facilitate the right wing death squads in Central America in the 1980s under the watchful eye of Ronald Reagan. And they did the same thing in Baghdad. So if we talk about ethnic cleansing and sectarian violence and the millions of refugees; let’s talk about the core reason that these things happen and it’s the U.S. backed, formed, armed and supported death squads that are supported by the United States to this day. So I think that is probably one of the most unreported stories to date where once again we have the U.S. mainstream media conveniently decontextualizing the situation. We’ll talk about what’s happening after, we’ll talk about the death and “blame it on the Iraqis”. The classic blame the victim game, but we won’t talk about who instituted the entire process and who’s behind it and that is the U.S. occupation.

Dori Smith: We have heard recent reports that the U.S., the government, the Military, even some members of Congress, have expressed an interest, shown interest, in talking with, negotiating with, some of the opposition if you will, although that’s pretty hard to define right now. But we’ve heard some reports of the U.S. seeking to have dialogue with Moqtada Al Sadr’s people for example. So let’s be specific about who we’re talking about when we say that the U.S. is supporting death squads, which groups are you talking about and how can you identify some of the facts for us?

Dahr Jamail: The groups that these death squads were pulled from were the largest militias in the country. One of these is the Mahdi Army which is the militia of the Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr. Another group is called the Badr Organization, it was called the Badr Army previously; it was since renamed. It is another Shiite death squad which is basically the armed wing of the dominant religious party in the new government which is SCIRI the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The Badr Organization is an Iranian backed and armed militia and one of the largest in the country.

The third group is the Kurdish Peshmerga Militia. It’s from these three groups that the U.S. has pulled people and formed the death squads from. So it is quite Ironic if they are making signals that they are willing to talk with people like Sadr and of course people like Abdul Aziz Al Hakim, who is the leader of SCIRI who Bush is of course talking with, because these two men alone are directly responsible for the burgeoning number of dead Iraqis. These men are without a doubt criminals, they are without a doubt the arm behind their own militias which are acting as these death squads, and these are the men that Mr. Bush is meeting with and of course they will not be talking about the use of these death squads.

Dori Smith: What would happen if American forces left and there was no more coalition force occupying Iraq? Would these death squads move into more of a position of political power? How would that look?

Dahr Jamail: I would argue that they would not because all of my sources on the ground in Iraq are saying that the only reason that this government exists and the only reason that these death squads are able to function is because they have total backing from the U.S. and from the occupation forces.

Just to give you an example so people have an idea of what this looks like on the ground. The consistent report that I keep getting is that the U.S. Military will go in, for example, to a Sunni area of Baghdad and seal off that area and then while its sealed allow these Shiite death squads to go through their perimeter into the neighborhoods to conduct killings, to conduct home raids, and to detain people, and then bring them back out of that U.S. perimeter and then the U.S. will pull away and leave. They are essentially using these death squads to do their dirty work and these death squads would not exist without the U.S. there. Because right now if we look at the situation on the ground, even this month alone, already, we are barely into December, we have over 31 U.S. deaths in that country just in the first week of this month. There are over a hundred and eighty attacks a day being carried out by a primarily Sunni resistance against U.S. forces. So if the U.S. left that country instead of a Sunni resistance going after only the occupation forces I would argue that the Sunni resistance would most likely then go after these death squads and dismantle them in very short time.

Dori Smith: What do you make of the appointment of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense Dahr? Do you think that there is any hope that he will start to demilitarize the situation?

Dahr Jamail: Quite the contrary. I don’t see him having any effect on U.S. policy in Iraq. I would point to what I hope that we will talk about shortly is this Iraq Study Group to get some ideas of what we can expect in Iraq in the near and long term future. Robert Gates, I think, is key when we start talking about policy regarding Iran. This is someone who was very involved in the Iran/Contra affair and I think that we should look for him to start making moves on how the U.S. is going to be approaching Iran, which is going to be quite the contrary to using the Military less. I still believe that short of massive policy change in this country or some radical shift in the government, meaning, we actually have elected officials that represent what the people of this country want to see happen, I unfortunately would have to say that I still believe an attack on Iran by the U.S. and/or Israel is imminent.

Dori Smith: It does seem Dahr that there is some dissent in the ranks. Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Rice, has been moving away from this military option, according to Gareth Porter, who has been on the show. He talks about the fact that the former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was for an attack on Iran.

Dahr Jamail: I hope that Mr. Porter is right and I have read a lot of his analysis over time and I think he does a very fine job. I hope that he’s right and that I’m wrong. But I think we would need to see a massive shift in the U.S. policy as well as a massive shift in the U.S. alliance with Israel and their interest in the region as well because right now I feel that both U.S. empire objectives and the interests of Israel are quite synthesized in the Middle East and working to benefit both entities. And until both of those are shifted again I still believe that there is a very high probability that there will be an attack against Iran in less than two years.

Dori Smith: Condoleezza Rice was, according to Gareth Porter, trying to offer talks with Iran in the context of E.U./Iran talks on the nuclear issue and hope that this would lead to broader U.S./Iran negotiations. We’ve just seen the Bush Administration, George Bush, say that he doesn’t want to take the option of meeting with Iran that was suggested by the Iraq Study Group.

Dahr Jamail: That would be a very good example as to why I still hold to my rather cynical and skeptical opinion about what this government plans to do with Iran where God forbid we even reference someone like Condoleezza Rice as a dove in this situation regarding Iran, which is a bit of a kind of sick joke. She’s one of the leading hawks in the Administration. But where she’s coming out as somewhat of a dove, arguing against attacks in Iran and arguing for political dialogue then I think we are in a very bad situation regarding our policy regarding Iran. So I hope that cooler heads would prevail, I would hope that that dialogue would start, but as you just said Mr. Bush continues to make it very clear with his bellicose rhetoric that he has no intention of political dialogue with Iran in solving those issues diplomatically.

Dori Smith: You mention the Iraq Study Group Report and that report begins by calling the situation in Iraq, ‘grave and deteriorating.’ But it also happens to have the word, oil in it 63 times. And I would call the attention of anyone listening to this program to the web site the U.S. Institute for Peace, where you can download the whole report in a PDF file.

Dahr, I know you questioned the presence of James Baker in the study group and you have talked about who he is as a kind of private citizen now having a huge impact on foreign policy. Just talk about the Iraq Study Group first in general and your impressions of the group itself.

Dahr Jamail: Ah yes James Baker who also was conveniently on the board of directors of Bechtel Corporation, awarded $2.3 billion dollars in contracts in Iraq. Talk about a conflict of interest. –A couple of other individuals who were very much involved in this report, another one who’s name is Edwin Meese III who is a member of this Iraq Study Study Group that produced this report; he also is a representative of the Heritage Foundation, a very conservative think tank in the United States that has been hawkish and very pro-war from the beginning. We also have to talk about the fact that James Carafano was also very instrumental in the Iraq Study Group’s Report and he is also a member of the Heritage Foundation. So there are conflicts of interest with the people involved in this report. And I think really you summed it up; the fact that the word ‘oil’ is mentioned in the report 63 times. I think basically this report is a smoke screen, an attempt by the U.S. Administration to kind of play the ‘good cop – bad cop’ game and using this rhetoric like oh it’s a ‘grave and deteriorating situation,’ as if this is going to address the problem. And the bottom line about this study group is that it does not talk about any firm dates or numbers for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from that country.

It does not talk about a legitimate government in that country where Iraqis would have real sovereignty. Instead it lays out the importance of oil for U.S. interests in the region and on page 1 of the entire report it talks about the fact that Iraq has the world’s second largest known oil reserves. Then it goes on in other areas of the report to mention very specific things they recommend to be done in order for the U.S. to get their hands on more of that oil.

Dori Smith: Conditions in Iraq are so bad, so many people are fleeing for their lives, literally, Dahr. I just wonder if we run the risk that the U.S. Military options of further bombing of Iraq could be pulled out of the closet.

Dahr Jamail: Well we’re already seeing that today where six children and eight women were killed in a U.S. bombing raid that killed thirty two people in total in a small village northwest of Baghdad. Just the other week another U.S. fighter jet was shot down by resistance fighters. A couple of days after that a Marine helicopter was shot down in a lake in Anbar Province. So we are seeing a very heavy increase in air power as the situation spirals further out of their control on the ground. As I said before, just in this month alone, so far, with U.S. troops, actually we’ve had thirty five killed. So we are averaging almost five dead soldiers a day in this month alone so far this has been one of the bloodiest weeks of the entire occupation. So I think we are seeing an increase in the number and use of air power to try to compensate for that and all its really succeeded in doing is killing more Iraqi civilians.

Dori Smith: It’s as if some of the media anyway is discovering the stories that you were writing about in 2003 and 2004 including the one about Bechtel and their failure to make good on their contract to purify Iraq’s water. But in that you have done these reports on Bechtel and looked at the corporate side, I want to call attention to your December 4th story in Alternet where you talked about business as the next big casualty in Iraq. And you did cite some of the work by Antonia Juhasz. –Juhasz has said that the Iraq Study Group is basically further pressure on the Iraqis to accept privatization and Western corporatization of their country.

Dahr Jamail: It does very much. I cite Antonia Juhasz often because she does such an excellent job of reporting what’s actually happening here. And back to the Iraq Study Group. Another thing that we should discuss that Juhasz has pointed out so well is that of the dozens of recommendations made by this study group to assist the situation in Iraq, let’s look at recommendation number ‘63’ which calls on the U.S. to ‘Assist Iraqi leaders to reorganize the national oil industry as a commercial enterprise.’

OK. Let’s talk about why the use of the word ‘oil’ is in this report 63 times. Also in this recommendation ‘63’ is to ‘encourage investments in Iraq’s oil sector by the international community and by international energy companies.’ Now, what does this have to do with liberating the Iraqi people? What does this have to do with weapons of mass destruction? What does this have to do with links between Iraq and 9/11? –It’s all about the oil and this Iraq Study Group makes that clearer than ever for anyone in this country who is still determined to believe that the invasion and occupation of Iraq has any positive reason behind it whatsoever. If they believe any of the propaganda that this had something to do with helping the Iraqi people, or providing security for this country, I would say all they need to do is read this Iraq Study Group Report. It’s all about the oil; it’s very clearly written there what this group’s goal is to do.

• The United States should encourage investment in Iraq’s oil sector by the international community and by international energy companies.
• The United States should assist Iraqi leaders to reorganize the national oil industry as a
commercial enterprise, in order to enhance efficiency, transparency, and accountability.
• To combat corruption, the U.S. government should urge the Iraqi government to post all oil
contracts, volumes, and prices on the Web so that Iraqis and outside observers can track
exports and export revenues.
• The United States should support the World Bank’s efforts to ensure that best practices are
used in contracting. This support involves providing Iraqi officials with contracting templates
and training them in contracting, auditing, and reviewing audits.
• The United States should provide technical assistance to the Ministry of Oil for enhancing
maintenance, improving the payments process, managing cash flows, contracting and
auditing, and updating professional training programs for management and technical

I mean if we look at recommendation number ‘28’ which calls for putting control of Iraq’s oil revenues in the hands of the central government in Baghdad, this is just after recommendation number ‘26’ with the Iraq Study Group’s call for a review of the Constitution to be pursued on an urgent basis. And that’s in order to centralize power in Bagdad because they have direct control over this puppet government right now. And then of course we go back to recommendation number ‘63’ which also calls for the U.S. Government to provide technical assistance to the Iraqi Government to prepare a draft oil law, which, that has been going on now for over a year in that country where as we speak they are haggling over percentages of production sharing agreements as regards to who gets what amount of Iraq’s oil. –That’s what this is all about. We’re seeing that today clearer than ever.

Constitution review. Review of the constitution is essential to
national reconciliation and should be pursued on an urgent basis. The United Nations has
expertise in this field, and should play a role in this process. Iraq Study Group Report

Oil revenue sharing. Oil revenues should accrue to the central
government and be shared on the basis of population. No formula that gives control over
revenues from future fields to the regions or gives control of oil fields to the regions is
compatible with national reconciliation.
Iraq Study Group Report

Dori Smith: I want to call attention to something Dennis Kucinich has noted about this Iraq Study Group Report which is that 500,000 barrels of oil are being stolen per day in Iraq. That’s how he puts it. He says, “That is $11.3 billion worth per year. The Ministry of Oil in Iraq has been notoriously corrupt, and we saw people like Ahmed Chalabi involved with it. But also, as Dennis Kucinich points out, some U.S. troops were sent to protect the oil and then we saw this sort of setting up of an infrastructure around Iraqi oil. Just comment on the way the war has been waged in terms of both this money for oil and the process of pumping it and the U.S. troops protecting the process.

Dahr Jamail: Again very very clear sign, hard physical proof, of what the priorities were in Iraq when the only two ministries guarded by U.S. troops when the rest of Baghdad, including the most important museums and libraries there were allowed to be completely eviscerated by looters; the only ones protected were the Oil Ministry and the Ministry of the Interior where many of the important oil records are kept. This was not lost to the Iraqi people one bit and when we talk about corruption and smuggling of oil and oil that’s gone missing, of course, who are being blamed? –The Iraqi resistance and Iraqis themselves for smuggling oil and corruption. But we don’t talk about the fact that already as we speak and since nearly the beginning of the occupation western oil companies like Shell and Chevron have been cashing out on Iraq’s refined oil and shipping it out of their countries themselves. I wonder if that’s being included in the corruption and the oil theft that’s being discussed here.

Dori Smith: Dahr Jamail we’re also looking at a recommendation that meetings take place between the so-called “Quartet”. The U.S., Russia, the E.U. and U.N., and between Israel and Lebanon and Syria. Now they’re saying Lebanon and Syria on the one hand and Israel and the Palestinians on the other, the recognition of Israel again being the thrust of the argument. Just talk about though the insertion of Israel and the Palestinians, and other parts of the Middle East, in general, in this report. In a way that’s kind of a startling aspect to it.

This effort should include—as soon as possible—the unconditional calling and holding of meetings, under the auspices of the United States or the Quartet (i.e., the United States, Russia, European Union, and the United Nations), between Israel and Lebanon and Syria on the one hand, and Israel and Palestinians (who acknowledge Israel’s right to exist) on the other. The purpose of these meetings would be to negotiate peace as was done at the Madrid Conference in 1991, and on two separate tracks—one Syrian/Lebanese, and the other Palestinian. Iraq Study Group Report
Dahr Jamail: If there is a silver lining to this report it’s simply that they do bring up the issue that anyone with a pulse over in the Middle East is all too aware of and has been all too aware of for decades now; that until there’s a resolution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict there will be no peace in the Middle East period. That is the baseline that any discussion of the Middle East has to recognize.

So it’s kudos to the report for at least acknowledging that fact but I think that’s where I would draw the line with my kudos because the fact is it’s extremely biased, insisting that states like Syria and Iran and then the Palestinian people acknowledge the Israeli’s right to exist as a state but where is the flip side of that? Where is it that the report might demand that Israel recognizes that the Palestinians have a right to exist as a state? –At least as much as the State of Israel does? So if we are going to do that let’s at least be balanced and equal handed in what they are going to recommend as part of the solution to that crisis where we can’t call for an acknowledgement for the State of Israel having a right to exist unless simultaneously we have a call for the State of Israel to acknowledge that the Palestinians have a right to exist in their own state at the very least.

Dori Smith: Talk about the role that the Palestinian crisis has played in let’s say convincing people about how the United States will treat Iraqis.

Dahr Jamail: What’s very clear early on in the occupation and some of the first things I reported on, and probably the first things I ever talked with you about Dori because you are the first person to ever do a radio interview with me, ever, in my time over in Iraq when I first started reporting from there and maybe even some of the things we discussed were the collective punishment tactics being used by the U.S. Military.

It was very clear that they had been trained, it was very well documented that they had been trained, by Israeli counter insurgency experts. And that’s why we started seeing things like home demolitions and collective punishment being used by the U.S. Military as early as December 2003 and actually even before that date so we were talking about that back then, we look at the situation in Palestine and its been flashing across the Iraqi’s television screens for decades now and then seeing this collective punishment on the ground, seeing the same tactics being used, and I think yeah you could easily argue that this was one reason the anti-occupation resistance in Iraq has been so fierce and getting fiercer by the day because the resistance fighters in Iraq are all too aware that the longer this occupation is allowed to continue the more likely it will degrade into something resembling what the Palestinian people are having to suffer through where we have a decades long military occupation where daily these people are being disenfranchised for more and more of their land and what’s rightfully theirs in their territory. So people in Iraq get this. That’s why I think it’s really a no brainer to say that we can certainly look for resistance to increase, the base of support for that resistance to increase, to it to only get more fierce as time goes on. And the bottom line is the resistance is fully in control of the situation of what’s happening in Iraq today.

About the only thing the U.S. Military can now do effectively is to drop bombs from fighter jets on civilian homes killing scores of civilians on a daily basis which they are doing right now and doing more and more and simultaneously we are seeing more and more of those aircraft brought out of the sky by resistance fighters. And I think these trends will continue directly because the situation in Palestine is worse today than it ever has been before and as that continues to worsen I think we can watch as resistance in Iraq increases and that’s exactly what’s happening today.

Dori Smith: Dahr Jamail thanks so much for joining us again to help us understand these complicated problems.
Dahr Jamail: Thanks very much again for having me Dori.

Dori Smith: Journalist Dahr Jamail reported from Iraq for eight months then covered the Israel/Lebanon War. You can find his stories online in various publications including Inter Press Service And you can find much of his work online at

For Talk Nation Radio I’m Dori Smith. Talk Nation Radio is produced in the studios of WHUS Radio for the People at the University of Connecticut. to listen live Wed. at 5 PM. and for transcripts and discussion. Our music is by Fritz Heede.

Relevant Links

Oil for Sale: Iraq Study Group Recommends Privatization By Antonia Juhasz, AlterNet. Posted December 7, 2006.

Eli Lake, Bush Will Meet with the Leader of Iraq’s Sciri Party.

NeoCon Continuity at the Pentagon: Robert Gates Involved in Iran-Contra Scandal by Michel Chossudovsky, Global Research, November 9, 2006

Global Security, SCIRI

El Salvador-style ‘death squads’ to be deployed by US against Iraq militantsFrom Roland Watson in Washington, January 10, 2005, The Times.

Aiding Iraq: Funds Diverted to Death Squads C. L. Cook July 3, 2005