Iraq: Progress and setback

Two stories out of Iraq show the promise and the frustration in stabilizing the country.  A bombing that has claimed more than 50 lives at a funeral for two Sunnis killed by AQI will dominate the day’s reporting.  However, in the back pages of the Washington Post, another story about the first bidding for petroleum licenses since the invasion will go mostly unnoticed.

First, a suicide bomber killed dozens at a Sunni funeral for two Awakening fighters north of Baghdad:

A blast from a suicide bombing killed 55 people at a funeral service in a village 85 miles south of Kirkuk, the latest in a string of deadly attacks this week by Sunni insurgents.

Police said a suicide bomber blew up an explosive vest he was wearing in the town of Edhaim while mourners were gathering for lunch around 11 a.m. The funeral service was being held for two members of Sunni Awakening councils — groups of volunteer fighters who have joined with American military and Iraqi security forces to fight insurgents. …
Police said the two fighters from Sunni Awakening groups were killed two days ago in an attack carried out by al-Qaeda of Iraq, the Sunni insurgent group that has often targeted policemen and security forces from the Shiite-led Iraqi central government.

Presumably this attack also came from AQI.  The Awakening councils and the US forces in the west have mostly driven AQI towards Mosul, but obviously some stragglers remain.  This attack will infuriate other Sunnis in the area, most of whom got sick of AQI years ago over exactly these kind of atrocities.  Meanwhile, it represents a setback to security in this area, and the bombing will get used for all sorts of propaganda purposes.

On the other hand, in the D section of the Post, comes another development about security in Iraq that tells a different story.   Thanks to disunity in the Iraqi body politic and security problems around the country, investors had been unwilling to bid for oil licenses despite the lucrative oil field in Iraq.  That has changed in 2008:

Iraq will open at least six major oil and natural-gas fields for exploration and production in the first bidding for licenses since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Iraq, which pre-qualified international oil companies this week for the bidding, will open the southern fields of Rumaila North, Rumaila South, West Qurna and Zubair for exploration, Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani said in an interview in Brussels yesterday. In the north, international oil companies will be invited to develop the Kirkuk oil field and the Akkaz gas field. …

Iraq pre-qualified 35 of 120 U.S., European and Asian companies that submitted documents between Jan. 9 and Feb. 18 to participate in the licensing round, Oil Ministry spokesman Asim Jihad said Monday.

Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest oil company, and Europe’s two biggest, Royal Dutch Shell and BP, were among the 35, as were ConocoPhillips, Chevron and Total. Others included Russia’s Gazprom, the world’s largest natural-gas producer, and Lukoil, the Russian oil producer with the most overseas assets. Mitsubishi and Inpex Holding of Japan and China’s Sinochem were also accepted.

Suddenly, the oil companies want to invest in Iraq, and the Iraqis welcome them.  The enthusiasm for Iraqi investment comes as the US has mostly pacified the west and Iraq has taken control of its south for the first time since the British began retreating there.  The south is significant, as not only does it contain massive oil fields but it also has the ports through which Iraq exports its crude.  Basra and Umm Qasr are now in the hands of the Baghdad government, not Moqtada al-Sadr, and the companies can conduct business on a normal basis.

These companies would not put their money and personnel where the investments could not be secured.  Having 120 companies apply for prequalification shows confidence in the stability of Iraq that seems to have escaped the media and some of our own politicians here in the US, who seem more interested in portraying Iraq as a continuing disaster.  Contributing to that stability is an upcoming revenue-sharing agreement, which Maliki promised would soon gain approval at a conference in Belgium, which would give all Iraqis a stake in maintaining security.

The bombing story understandably occupies the headlines this morning.  Why is the second article, a measure of long-term success, relegated to the D section?