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Maliki’s Oil Grab

The Wall Street Journal has a good story about Maliki ousting a competent executive of the Southern Oil Co. in Basra:

Baghdad characterized Mr. Leaby’s reassignment as a promotion, and named his deputy, Kifah Nauman, as his interim replacement. But the government announced the decision at the same time it fired a handful of other Basra-based petroleum officials for alleged corruption and incompetence. Included in the purge were the heads of South Gas Co., Iraqi Tankers Co. and South Refineries Co.

The moves were seen as a broad effort by Baghdad to extend control over the south’s oil industry. The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had accused the industry of falling under the sway of rogue Shiite militias and criminal gangs. (The prime minister is a Shiite himself, but considered relatively moderate.)

Basra oil executives and politicians reacted angrily to Mr. Leaby’s reassignment, accusing Mr. Maliki of a power grab ahead of provincial elections, tentatively set for October. Western officials agree the timing was suspicious. “Doing this now looks like an effort by the central government to make sure it has control over Iraq’s main revenue areas no matter who wins the provincial elections,” says one Western official in Basra.

This is of a piece with Maliki’s endorsement of Obama’s withdrawal strategy. If you were going into an election with little hope of winning on the merits, wouldn’t you try to co-opt the opposition as much as possible? Except in Iraq, co-opting also means getting a little taste for yourself.

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