Carne Ross on the Chilcot Inquiry

Carne Ross – who now runs Independent Diplomat, but who used to be a Foreign Office diplomat based at the UK Mission to the UN until he resigned in protest at the decision to go to war in Iraq – gave evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry last week; here’s his testimony.

Carne comments in an email to me and others (quoted with his permission) that:

Before I testified, FCO officials refused to give me access to all the documents I requested.  They also pressured me – apparently on behalf of the Cabinet Office – to delete references to some of the most egregious documents including those directly illustrating how the government exaggerated the WMD case (I refused, though I agreed to a couple of insignificant redactions at FCO request).  It was not a pleasant experience nor was I left feeling that Chilcot et al are equipped for the task of dismantling a well-constructed infrastructure justifying the government’s decisions. 

Chilcot’s panel has largely been offered a narrative that war was more or less unavoidable because Iraq was escaping from sanctions and containment was collapsing.  There is some truth to this, but there is also an alternate account – namely, what the Foreign Office actually believed at the time.  The testimonies of other witnesses showed clearly that many are painting a picture at odds with that evident in the internal policy documents and, secondly, that the panel is not forcing them to reveal the true picture, and instead letting them proffer their account without much challenge.

Tediously therefore, for these reasons, the fight for full revelation and the truth must continue.  My main conclusion is that the answer lies in more or less full disclosure of the relevant documents (as no less than the Deputy Prime Minister seems to have suggested).  Chilcot instead seems to be proposing partial disclosure when requested by witnesses.  This is in no ways adequate.

See also this by Chris Ames in the Guardian.

Blackwater founder implicated in murder


A former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for the company have made a series of explosive allegations in sworn statements filed on August 3 in federal court in Virginia.

The two men claim that the company’s owner, Erik Prince, may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. The former employee also alleges that Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,” and that Prince’s companies “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life.”

From the Nation, who also have the full sworn depositions – in which it just goes on and on. Such as:

“Mr Prince intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis. Many of these men used call signs based on the Knights of the Templar [sic], the warriors who fought the Crusades.”

“Mr Prince generated substantial revenues from participating in the illegal arms trade … [including] on Mr Prince’s private planes.”

The other deposition goes on,

“When I first arrived in Baghdad, I was asked to assist with unloading bags of dog food into the Armory. As I unloaded the bags of dog food, another Blackwater employee opened the bags and pulled out weapons from the dog food. Blackwater was smuggling weapons into Iraq.”

See also this.

The ‘Buy Iraq’ conference

I was at the Invest in Iraq conference yesterday, being heralded by Lord Mandelson as a “new chapter” in Iraq’s history. I wondered if the timing was planned – the UK unveils a big conference to attract private investment into Iraq, the same day it pulls its troops out of Basra…out with the troops, in with the bankers! – but maybe that’s cynical.

It was an impressive event – the main hall at the Landmark Hotel, which seats around 500, was completely full, with people being turned away. Prime minister Al-Maliki and several other ministers gave a strong message: Iraq is moving from a centrally-planned to a free market economy, and it wants to move very quickly to provide jobs and services to the economy. ‘Otherwise’,  as the suave deputy PM Barham Saleh put it, ‘we will be voted out at the next election.’

One of the key talking points was the negotiations now going on between the government and around 30 foreign oil companies, for the rights to develop Iraq’s enormous oil reserves. This will be the first major post-war private investment into the country, and the deal that really kicks off the country’s post-war reconstruction.

Apparently the negotiations are going well, though I heard mixed reports about what the government is demanding – some said a 51% stake in projects, others a 75% stake, others that they may allow foreign companies to take a controlling stake in projects, which would be fairly unheard of in most emerging markets, but the government needs money to stay in power, the price of oil is low, so it’s not in as strong a bargaining position as say the Kremlin was in 2007, when it ‘re-negotiated’ several 90s era deals.

Hopefully the Iraqi government will build some flexibility into deals, so that it will get a greater share of profits if and when the oil price rises.

The other question was the reconstruction of the electricity sector. Apparently, it’s now back to pre-war output levels, which means the country receives on average 14 hours of electricity a day. Improving this will be key to the government and economy’s success.

It’s a daunting task. One businessman I spoke to, who’s advising on the sector’s reconstruction, said output needed to be quintupled to cope with the rising energy demands of Iraqis. Western private investment could be persuaded into that sector, according to some bankers I spoke to, but it would need western government support, because unlike the oil sector, electricity revenues cannot be secured offshore, so there’s all the local legal risk for big electricity investments.

That support could come in the form of export credit agency (ECA) guarantees. Such ECA guarantees are quite normal for big infrastructure projects in emerging markets, and in today’s low liquidity market, it’s essential if public-private deals are going to get done. Otherwise, governments have to finance deals off their own balance sheet, which Iraq’s government cannot yet afford to do. So ECA coverage would seem to be essential for the reconstruction of Iraq’s infrastructure.

But here’s the rub – not a single western government provides any export credit agency coverage (ECA) for project finance in Iraq. Not the US, not the UK, nothing.

Many bankers I spoke to said they are willing to put alot more money into the reconstruction of infrastructure, but they would need ECA coverage to do so.

I was really shocked to hear we don’t provide any ECA coverage for the country. All that talk of nation-building, and according to Hugh Sykes of the Today show, all Basra has to show for it is a UK army-constructed fish market.

There’s a strong economic motive for providing ECA coverage for private firms to help re-build Iraq. And, I would argue, there is also a moral argument for it.

At the moment, however,  Iraq is apparently ‘too risky’ for ECA coverage. But if western governments are not prepared to risk their money in Iraq, how ever are they meant to persuade private companies to do so?