Daily MoJo


Pipe(line) Dreams
Bush’s promise of a revived economy based on oil revenue is proving vulnerable to saboteurs.

Crackdown in Iran
Iran’s Islamic elite are busy on all fronts — suppressing fed-up students, warding off the US and building more missiles to stay in power.

Forcing The Chair on San Juan
Is Puerto Rico’s legal relationship to the US a colonial relic? The issue is back on the table because of a death penalty case.

Pipe(line) Dreams
In the face of guerilla attacks that are killing soldiers on an almost daily basis, US and British troops in Iraq seem to be having a hard enough time with the safekeeping of their own lives, never mind the country’s ramshackle infrastructure. The troops’ inability to secure the oil and energy infrastructure in Iraq has left oil pipelines and electricity facilities vulnerable to sabotage. As a result, international oil prices are rising, and the administration’s promise to fund Iraq’s reconstruction with oil revenues has started to ring a bit hollow .

Still recovering from over 10 years of UN sanctions, Iraq’s economy is in desperate need of a boost. The US-led Iraqi administration had always planned to use the country’s oil revenues to revive the slumping economy. But that revival seems increasingly distant, since as of today, the Economist reports, Iraq has not exported any oil produced since the war. The country’s mid-July production goal is set for just half of the country’s pre-war capacity. According to Reuters, eight million barrels will be sold for the whole month of July. Before the war, the country sold two million barrels daily.

Since Saddam instructed his supporters to target pipelines and electricity in the event of his ousting in the first Gulf War, US and British troops were prepared to defend the infrastructure during the latest invasion, according to The Economist. But staying on guard in the ensuing post-war chaos has proved much more difficult:

“This time, the American-led forces planned carefully to try to prevent sabotage of Iraq’s oil fields. In addition, they enlisted the help of private oil companies to ensure that any repairs would be carried out quickly. This strategy was largely successful. However, since Saddam was toppled in April, those elements opposed to the coalition’s occupation of Iraq have found oil installations and pipelines an easy target. American troops patrolling Saddam’s central Iraqi heartland have enough trouble guarding themselves, let alone protecting thousands of miles of exposed pipeline in barren desert.”

The Christian Science Monitor reports that the chief of reconstruction efforts in Iraq says the situation isn’t so bad and must be looked at “holistically.” But other senior officials admit that there is less available power in Baghdad now than before the war . Meanwhile, Reuters’ reports that one of Iraq’s main export pipelines, from the country’s northern Kirkuk oilfields into Turkey, was hit again this weekend — just one in a series of sabotage efforts that have squelched efforts to export crude oil. In turn, Iraqi hearts and minds seem to be less and less excited about the troops who liberated their homeland, as Recknagel reports:

“Repeated attacks on pipelines carrying crude oil from Iraq’s northern oil fields to the main al-Daura refinery in Baghdad caused panic buying of gasoline by motorists in the capital last month. Those attacks, which reduced the refinery to operating at 45 percent capacity, were accompanied by the spreading of anti-American rumors. One rumor was that the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was restricting gasoline supplies to punish ordinary Iraqis for resisting them.”

As long as soldiers are not able to provide the revenue, the stability and the democracy that the Bush administration promised the Iraqi people, the troops will be hard pressed to win more Iraqi support. But US and British troops are already “stretched too thin” to provide more security to basics like pipelines and power lines, Recknagel writes. In the meantime, he notes, international investors are watching Iraqi oil with a wary eye: “Oil companies remain hesitant to sign contracts to buy Iraqi oil on a steady basis – the mainstay of the oil industry business – until a steady flow of oil is assured.” And the Economist reports that “Oil officials in Iraq are now careful about issuing any production and export targets, having already missed several.”

To counter the saboteurs, British and American troops have offered rewards to anyone providing information on the criminals’ whereabouts. Given that oil revenues are far from secure, bounty rewards may be the only promise of riches the US can keep.

Crackdown in Iran
Iranian student demonstrators are preparing to brave the police and the Islamic militias in what could prove to be another night of violence. The month old pro-democracy protests have come under increasing attack from Iran’s hard-line Islamic thugs. Indeed, the students are causing a ruckus for the theocratic Ayatollah Khemeini these days, but his troubles are only growing as the US and the UN turn up the pressure on Iran’s growing weapons program.

Tuesday marked the fourth anniversary of the 1999 student uprising in Tehran — the first large-scale demonstrations since the nation’s revolution in 1979. Iranian officials have refused to issue the students a demonstration permit and have subsequently banned all rallies. And to be sure the students aren’t tempted to take to the streets, the University of Tehran has closed many of its dormitories for the days preceding and following the commemoration. All satellite broadcasts from the United States have been jammed in attempts to prevent students from being “influenced” by Iranian ex-pats in California.

Iran’s government has historically tolerated some dissent within its borders, but with the Bush administration expressing support for the demonstrators and cries of “foreign meddling” on the rise, the current crackdown has been widespread. In the last month at least 4,000 people have been arrested while protesting Iran’s conservative government policies. Many of the detained are still awaiting trial and haven’t been formally indicted. For several weeks, reports have been confirmed that demonstrators have been repeatedly attacked by Islamic militias while the police stand by and watch. Forbes magazine reports that such violence has been perpetuated by members of Hezbollah militias who are in cahoots with Iran’s ruling mullahs.

According to an independent press release students have been on a hunger strike for several days and are demanding the release of all detained protestors. Iranians students across the globe have also planned demonstrations in solidarity with their brethren in Iran.

In the meantime, one of the Bush administration’s primary concerns — Iran’s nuclear status — has been moving to the fore. On Tuesday Israeli officials announced that intelligence reports confirmed that Iran has been testing mid-range missiles. An Iranian foreign minister confirmed their successful test of missiles with a 900-mile trajectory — far enough to strike Israel. Following the missile announcement Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency hopped on a plane to Iran. A UN spokesperson told reporters that ElBaradei is pressuring leaders to sign, ratify and implement the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran has stated that its missile development is a means of deterrence and that its nuclear development program is restricted to electricity production technology.

With the nukes and the riots, tensions are clearly on the rise, in Iran. Bush heads a government that supports the destabilization of Iran, and Dubya has expressed his explicit support for the rioting students. But while it’s clear that such support has had a destabilizing effect on Iran, it’s not clear that it’s actually a good first step towards an Iranian democracy. Bush’s encouragement of the demonstrators struck many Iranians as “meddling,” and gave hardliners an excuse to lash out.

What is clear is that Iran is at a political crossroads, as Mustafa El-Labbad writes in Cairo’s Al Ahram Weekly:

“Currently, the region and Iran in particular are in the spotlight. Iranian political orientation and its long track of opposition to the world’s sole superpower are taking their toll, especially as the United States seems to have developed an insatiable appetite to rearrange the region and redraw its map according to its own interests. Iran’s geopolitics and its oil reserves make it a perfect target for the US administration. The latter supported the [student] protests and used them to turn up the heat on Iranian decision-makers.”

El-Labbad is not the only commentator worried about the US crusade spreading to Iraq’s eastern neighbor. Simon Jones of Counterpunch writes that destabilizing Iran is just another step in the neocon strategy for the Middle East.

“What is clear is that actively destabilizing Iran is shaping up to be the key to the neocon strategy of eliminating any ‘third way’ for Islamic countries, all of which are in crisis, whether it be direct occupation by the US (Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, et al.), or stuck in an authoritarian time-warp, either secular (Syria, Egypt, et al.) or religious (Saudi Arabia and, Iran).”

Whether the commotion in Iran will help an actual democratic movement or simply give the hardliners a further excuse to crack down is yet to be seen. Thus far Iran has been reluctant to open its borders to UN weapons inspectors. And with the American threats mounting the whole mess is beginning to look eerily familiar.

Forcing The Chair on San Juan
Puerto Rico — whose 4 million inhabitants are considered American citizens but have no vote in Congress — began the controversial trial of Hector “Gordo” Acosta Martinez and Joel Rivera Alejandro on Monday. Both are accused of kidnapping and dismembering a grocer in 1998. The case marks the arrival of Puerto Rico’s first federal capital punishment case in over 75 years, and the failure of a new legal strategy to keep the death penalty out of San Juan.

Originally the case was presided over by Puerto Rican District Court Judge Salvador Casellas, who ruled in favor of the defendants — citing that the death penalty violated San Juan’s constitution. The defendants used Puerto Rico’s autonomy as a commonwealth territory as a basis for disallowing federal capital punishment in their case and in Puerto Rico in general. According to the Puerto Rico Herald, Casellas agreed and in his decision wrote:

“‘It shocks the conscience to impose the ultimate penalty, death, upon American citizens who are denied the right to participate directly or indirectly in the government that enacts and authorizes the imposition of such punishment.'”

But the prosecution appealed Casellas’s decision, arguing that an exception to federal law couldn’t be made. The Puerto Rico Herald writes:

“‘Our recommendation is that it should be appealed because we’re talking about setting Puerto Rico apart from all other states, and we can’t allow that to happen here because it’s going to affect the applicability of the federal justice system,’ [Acting U.S. Attorney Guillermo] Gil said.”

The prosecutors cited a 1994 U.S crime law that allows federal authorities to seek the death penalty in murder cases anywhere on U.S. soil — even in territories that have outlawed the practice. The First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals court overturned Casellas’s decision and found Puerto Rico subject to U.S. federal law — and the U.S. Supreme court agreed.

The Supreme Court’s decision and the start of the defendants’ capital punishment trial have prompted Puerto Ricans and human rights activists to challenge Puerto Rico’s political status. The Associated Press reports:

“‘It’s not right for the U.S. to impose a law that Puerto Ricans had no hand in crafting,’ said territorial Sen. Fernando Martin, a member of the Independence Party.

‘We do not believe in capital punishment and we feel that what has happened is an affront to our relationship (with the United States),’ said Arturo Luis Davila-Toro, president of the Puerto Rico Bar Association.”

The Los Angeles Times’ John-Thor Dahlburg argues that Washington’s imposition of the death penalty is another example of the U.S. exerting its semicolonial rule over San Juan. The trial, he points out, has reawakened arguments to challenge the Caribbean Island’s status:

“The situation has given rise to a grass-roots protest movement and brought objections from some islanders that the United States is behaving like a semicolonial ruler.

Some people in Puerto Rico, who are questioning whether the defendants belong in federal court at all, want the trial to become another rallying point for those demanding a change in the island’s status — just like the successful struggle to shut down the US Navy’s bombing range at Vieques island. Following a four-year campaign that landed more than 1,200 protesters behind bars, the Navy last month abandoned the lands it had held since World War II.

‘Vieques was a tremendous experience for our country and proved — not only in Puerto Rico, to our own people, but internationally — the power of civil society, [that] without using violence . . . there can be change,’ said Juan Pablo De Leon, a professor of social sciences at Sacred Heart University in San Juan.”

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