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Can we depend on a “Call on OPEC”, or has OPEC peaked? » Peak Oil BarrelPeak Oil Barrel

Can we depend on a “Call on OPEC”, or has OPEC peaked? » Peak Oil BarrelPeak Oil Barrel.

Steve Kopits, in his recent presentation at Columbia University, ridiculed the IEA’s often used term a “Call on OPEC“. That is, the IEA looks at the world oil supply and if they see a supply shortage looming on the horizon they then issue a “Call on OPEC” to supply x number of extra barrels and fill that gap. But the next time the IEA issues such a call can OPEC deliver? Or, is OPEC already producing every barrel they possibly can.

One thing for sure, there are eight OPEC countries that are definitely producing every barrel they possibly can, those countries are Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar and Venezuela. The chart below is the combined production of those 8 nations.

All charts in this post are “Crude Only” in kb/d with the last data point Jan. 2014.

OPEC 8

There can be no doubt that all eight of these OPEC countries are producing every barrel they possibly can. While it is true that Iran and Libya have political problems that is holding their production back, but political problems in that part of the world are likely to get worse rather than better.

But what about the other four OPEC nations. The chart below shows the combined production of Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

OPEC 4

It is my contention that not only are these four OPEC nations producing every barrel they possibly can but that they have little prospect of producing much more. I will examine each country one by one.

Iraq has not been subject to OPEC quotas since the the beginning of Mr. Bush’s war and make no bones about producing every barrel they can and hope to produce more, a lot more.

Iraq

But their production has been relatively flat for almost two years. They may be able to squeeze out a few more barrels in the future but any increase will be very slow in coming.

But what about the other three. First Kuwait.

Kuwait

Kuwait initiated Project Kuwait in 1997 in hopes of slowing the decline of Burgen and increasing production in their northern fields. The project was delayed by political bickering about bringing in outside contractors but finally got underway in early 2007 only to be delayed a year later by the crash. But the project, really a massive infill drilling program, got underway again in early 2011 and has managed to increase their production by some 200,000 bp/d over their 2008 peak. That simply means more infill drilling. But they are clearly at peak right now.

However their production has been flat for almost two years. Recently they announced an effort to increase their “Production Capacity” by another 150 kb/d. Like all other OPEC countries they claim to be able to produce a few more barrels than they are actually producing.

The United Arab Emirates?

UAE

The UAE has learned the same trick as every other nation with tired old fields. That is if you drill new horizontal wells that run along the length of the top of the reservoir, they can increase production slightly or at least slow the decline rate. They are looking toppy right now and can expect decline to set in soon.

That leaves Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia was among the first nations in the world to initiate new infill drilling programs. Before they they did this their decline rate of their old fields was averaging 8% per year. They claimed, with that drilling program, they got that decline rate down to almost 2% per year. But that was over eight years ago. I suspect that the decline rate has increased considerably since then.

Saudi has however, been able to keep from declining in net production by bringing on new fields, or rather old mothballed fields back on line. The most recent being Khurais which was brought on line in 2009 and Manifa which came on line last year with 500,000 bp/d and is ramping up to its full capacity of 900,000 bp/d this year. The spike you see in 2013 is Manifa ramping up.

Saudi may be able to produce a few more barrels but not very many. But as, Sadad Al Husseini a former executive at Aramco, said in 2012 “Saudi is producing flat out”. If they did manage to squeeze out a few more barrels it would be only temporary. Saudi is about to go into decline, or at least that is my opinion.

Any “call on OPEC” by the IEA would likely produce about as much new oil as a call on their grandma.

Note: I send out an email notification to about 100 people when I have published a new post. If you would like to be added to that list, or your name removed from it, please notify me at: DarwinianOne at Gmail.com

Can we depend on a "Call on OPEC", or has OPEC peaked? » Peak Oil BarrelPeak Oil Barrel

Can we depend on a “Call on OPEC”, or has OPEC peaked? » Peak Oil BarrelPeak Oil Barrel.

Steve Kopits, in his recent presentation at Columbia University, ridiculed the IEA’s often used term a “Call on OPEC“. That is, the IEA looks at the world oil supply and if they see a supply shortage looming on the horizon they then issue a “Call on OPEC” to supply x number of extra barrels and fill that gap. But the next time the IEA issues such a call can OPEC deliver? Or, is OPEC already producing every barrel they possibly can.

One thing for sure, there are eight OPEC countries that are definitely producing every barrel they possibly can, those countries are Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar and Venezuela. The chart below is the combined production of those 8 nations.

All charts in this post are “Crude Only” in kb/d with the last data point Jan. 2014.

OPEC 8

There can be no doubt that all eight of these OPEC countries are producing every barrel they possibly can. While it is true that Iran and Libya have political problems that is holding their production back, but political problems in that part of the world are likely to get worse rather than better.

But what about the other four OPEC nations. The chart below shows the combined production of Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

OPEC 4

It is my contention that not only are these four OPEC nations producing every barrel they possibly can but that they have little prospect of producing much more. I will examine each country one by one.

Iraq has not been subject to OPEC quotas since the the beginning of Mr. Bush’s war and make no bones about producing every barrel they can and hope to produce more, a lot more.

Iraq

But their production has been relatively flat for almost two years. They may be able to squeeze out a few more barrels in the future but any increase will be very slow in coming.

But what about the other three. First Kuwait.

Kuwait

Kuwait initiated Project Kuwait in 1997 in hopes of slowing the decline of Burgen and increasing production in their northern fields. The project was delayed by political bickering about bringing in outside contractors but finally got underway in early 2007 only to be delayed a year later by the crash. But the project, really a massive infill drilling program, got underway again in early 2011 and has managed to increase their production by some 200,000 bp/d over their 2008 peak. That simply means more infill drilling. But they are clearly at peak right now.

However their production has been flat for almost two years. Recently they announced an effort to increase their “Production Capacity” by another 150 kb/d. Like all other OPEC countries they claim to be able to produce a few more barrels than they are actually producing.

The United Arab Emirates?

UAE

The UAE has learned the same trick as every other nation with tired old fields. That is if you drill new horizontal wells that run along the length of the top of the reservoir, they can increase production slightly or at least slow the decline rate. They are looking toppy right now and can expect decline to set in soon.

That leaves Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia was among the first nations in the world to initiate new infill drilling programs. Before they they did this their decline rate of their old fields was averaging 8% per year. They claimed, with that drilling program, they got that decline rate down to almost 2% per year. But that was over eight years ago. I suspect that the decline rate has increased considerably since then.

Saudi has however, been able to keep from declining in net production by bringing on new fields, or rather old mothballed fields back on line. The most recent being Khurais which was brought on line in 2009 and Manifa which came on line last year with 500,000 bp/d and is ramping up to its full capacity of 900,000 bp/d this year. The spike you see in 2013 is Manifa ramping up.

Saudi may be able to produce a few more barrels but not very many. But as, Sadad Al Husseini a former executive at Aramco, said in 2012 “Saudi is producing flat out”. If they did manage to squeeze out a few more barrels it would be only temporary. Saudi is about to go into decline, or at least that is my opinion.

Any “call on OPEC” by the IEA would likely produce about as much new oil as a call on their grandma.

Note: I send out an email notification to about 100 people when I have published a new post. If you would like to be added to that list, or your name removed from it, please notify me at: DarwinianOne at Gmail.com

Arab States “Unprecedentedly” Withdraw Ambassadors From Qatar After “Stormy” Meeting | Zero Hedge

Arab States “Unprecedentedly” Withdraw Ambassadors From Qatar After “Stormy” Meeting | Zero Hedge.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain said on Wednesday they were withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar after it had not implemented an agreement among Gulf Arab countries not to interfere in each others’ internal affairs. The move, unprecedented in the 30-year history of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), follows the Bahrain state minister for information Samira Rajab saying she has evidence of Qatari media provocation against her country. As Gulf News reports, Qatar has been a maverick in the region, backing Islamist groups in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East that are viewed with suspicion or outright hostility by some fellow GCC members. Not a good sign for the oil-generating center of the world.

Via Gulf News,

The move by the three countries, conveyed in a joint statement, is unprecedented in the three-decade history of the Gulf Cooperation Council, an alliance of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE and Oman.

The statement said GCC members had signed an agreement on November 23 not to back “anyone threatening the security and stability of the GCC whether as groups or individuals – via direct security work or through political influence, and not to support hostile media”.

GCC foreign ministers had met in Riyadh on Tuesday to try to persuade Qatar to implement the agreement, it said. Media reports described the meeting as “stormy”.

“But unfortunately, these efforts did not result in Qatar’s agreement to abide by these measures, which prompted the three countries to start what they saw as necessary, to protect their security and stability, by withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar starting from today, March 5 2013,” the statement said.

The nations have also asked Qatar “not to support any party aiming to threaten security and stability of any GCC member,” it added, citing media campaigns against them in particular.

Media reports have said that Shaikh Tamim was given an ultimatum by Saudi Arabia in the November meeting in Riyadh that was facilitated by the Kuwaiti emir, Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmed. The new emir was told to change Qatar’s ways and bring the country in line with the rest of the GCC with regards to regional issues. The GCC has in particular been concerned about Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, its close relations with Turkey, its opposition to the new regime in Egypt and its perceived support for Al Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Relations between Qatar and the UAE have been rocky lately. A top UAE court on Monday sentenced Qatari national Mahmoud Al Jidah to seven years in prison followed by deportation after he was convicted with two Emiratis of raising funds for a banned local Muslim Brotherhood-linked group, Al Islah. The move was criticised by Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee, which is close to the government.

Early in February, in a rare move for Gulf countries, the UAE announced that it had summoned Qatar’s ambassador in Abu Dhabi for remarks made by controversial Egyptian-Qatari cleric Yousef Al Qaradawi. Dr Anwar Mohammad Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, expressed the UAE Government’s “extreme resentment” over Al Qaradawi’s statement. Speaking live on Qatari state TV from a Doha mosque, Al Qaradawi criticised the UAE for supporting the current Egyptian government. He claimed that the UAE “has always been opposed to Islamic rule”.

We have held back so that our neighbour can clearly reject such insult, extend sufficient clarifications and guarantee that such provocation and defamation will not recur,” Gargash said then.

Qatar, which used to enjoy close relations with Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Turkey and Bashar Al Assad’s Syria, has in recent years found itself isolated after relations with Hezbollah, Iran and Al Assad deteriorated. The GCC’s decision is expected to further isolate the new emir.

Arab States "Unprecedentedly" Withdraw Ambassadors From Qatar After "Stormy" Meeting | Zero Hedge

Arab States “Unprecedentedly” Withdraw Ambassadors From Qatar After “Stormy” Meeting | Zero Hedge.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain said on Wednesday they were withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar after it had not implemented an agreement among Gulf Arab countries not to interfere in each others’ internal affairs. The move, unprecedented in the 30-year history of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), follows the Bahrain state minister for information Samira Rajab saying she has evidence of Qatari media provocation against her country. As Gulf News reports, Qatar has been a maverick in the region, backing Islamist groups in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East that are viewed with suspicion or outright hostility by some fellow GCC members. Not a good sign for the oil-generating center of the world.

Via Gulf News,

The move by the three countries, conveyed in a joint statement, is unprecedented in the three-decade history of the Gulf Cooperation Council, an alliance of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE and Oman.

The statement said GCC members had signed an agreement on November 23 not to back “anyone threatening the security and stability of the GCC whether as groups or individuals – via direct security work or through political influence, and not to support hostile media”.

GCC foreign ministers had met in Riyadh on Tuesday to try to persuade Qatar to implement the agreement, it said. Media reports described the meeting as “stormy”.

“But unfortunately, these efforts did not result in Qatar’s agreement to abide by these measures, which prompted the three countries to start what they saw as necessary, to protect their security and stability, by withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar starting from today, March 5 2013,” the statement said.

The nations have also asked Qatar “not to support any party aiming to threaten security and stability of any GCC member,” it added, citing media campaigns against them in particular.

Media reports have said that Shaikh Tamim was given an ultimatum by Saudi Arabia in the November meeting in Riyadh that was facilitated by the Kuwaiti emir, Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmed. The new emir was told to change Qatar’s ways and bring the country in line with the rest of the GCC with regards to regional issues. The GCC has in particular been concerned about Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, its close relations with Turkey, its opposition to the new regime in Egypt and its perceived support for Al Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Relations between Qatar and the UAE have been rocky lately. A top UAE court on Monday sentenced Qatari national Mahmoud Al Jidah to seven years in prison followed by deportation after he was convicted with two Emiratis of raising funds for a banned local Muslim Brotherhood-linked group, Al Islah. The move was criticised by Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee, which is close to the government.

Early in February, in a rare move for Gulf countries, the UAE announced that it had summoned Qatar’s ambassador in Abu Dhabi for remarks made by controversial Egyptian-Qatari cleric Yousef Al Qaradawi. Dr Anwar Mohammad Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, expressed the UAE Government’s “extreme resentment” over Al Qaradawi’s statement. Speaking live on Qatari state TV from a Doha mosque, Al Qaradawi criticised the UAE for supporting the current Egyptian government. He claimed that the UAE “has always been opposed to Islamic rule”.

We have held back so that our neighbour can clearly reject such insult, extend sufficient clarifications and guarantee that such provocation and defamation will not recur,” Gargash said then.

Qatar, which used to enjoy close relations with Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Turkey and Bashar Al Assad’s Syria, has in recent years found itself isolated after relations with Hezbollah, Iran and Al Assad deteriorated. The GCC’s decision is expected to further isolate the new emir.

UAE, Egypt plotting coup in Libya, say Libyan RoR rebels | StratRisks

UAE, Egypt plotting coup in Libya, say Libyan RoR rebels | StratRisks.

Source: WB

Libya Shield

The Libyan “Revolutionaries Operations Room” (ROR) said that it acquired “documented information” regarding plots by the UAE and Egyptian military-led authorities to meddle in Libyan affairs and to abort the Libyan revolution.

According to the Middle East Monitor, in a Facebook statement the ROR claimed that UAE’s security agencies has recently formed two “cells” to circumvent the Libyan revolution and to stop Libyan oil exports.

The statement read: “We received information that UAE’s security apparatus has formed two high level cells. The first aims at overthrowing the new Libyan regime, the Libyan National Congress, and confronting the rise of Islamists. The second cell is a specialized media one based in Amman, Jordan.”

According to the statement, the “media cell” is primarily tasked with disseminating news that would serve the agenda of the “security cell”. Part of its agenda is to distort the image of Islamists, particularly with their rising popularity in Libya, the statement claims.

The ROR claimed that it obtained all information related to the “security cell” in Libya, and that it is led and funded by the UAE. It claimed that the cell has been operating in Libya since January 26, 2013.

“A high level Libyan source told ROR that a group affiliated with Mahmoud Gebril abducted Abu Anas Al-Libi based on a request from the UAE which immediately handed him over to the American CIA.”

The statement claimed that Sheikh Tahnoun Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan leads the security cell, while the members of the cell are counter-revolutionary figures in Libya, including Al-Saadi Al-Ghadhafi who managed to escape from the rebels, and a Libyan close to the Egyptian coup leader Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.

The ROR affirmed that the “security cell” is based in Abu Dhabi, and convenes regularly with the protection of UAE security.

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U.A.E. convicts group over spoof documentary – World – CBC News

U.A.E. convicts group over spoof documentary – World – CBC News.

American convictedShezanne Cassim of Woodbury, Minn., was among eight people convicted under tougher measures governing internet use in the United Arab Emirates. (Associated Press/Courtesy Shervon Cassim) (The Associated Press)

A court in the United Arab Emirates sentenced eight people, including an unidentified Canadian, to up to a year in prison Monday after being convicted in connection to a satirical video about youth culture in Dubai.

The video they produced and uploaded to the internet — a spoof documentary of would-be “gangsta” youth in the Gulf Arab city-state.called Ultimate Combat System: The Deadly Satwa Gs — is set in the Satwa district of Dubai. It pokes fun at Dubai youth who styled themselves “gangstas” but are not particularly thuggish, and shows fictional “combat” training that includes throwing a sandal and using a mobile phone to call for help.

It opens with text saying the video is fictional and is not meant to offend.

The state-owned daily The National said they were accused of “defaming the image of United Arab Emirates society abroad.”

Supporters of the defendants reported that they were charged under a 2012 cyber-crimes law that tightened penalties for challenging authorities.

Shezanne Cassim, 29, from Woodbury, Minn., became the public face of the defendants after his family launched an effort to publicize his months-long incarceration following his arrest in April. Cassim, who was born in Sri Lanka and moved to Dubai for work after graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2006, was sentenced Monday to a year in prison followed by deportation and received a 10,000 dirham ($2,725 US) fine, according to family spokeswoman Jennifer Gore.

Cassim’s brother, Shervon, called the ruling “painful and unfair.”

“Shez is coming up on nine months incarceration for making a parody. This isn’t justice,” he said in a statement.

Canadian only identified by initials

Two Indian defendants received similar sentences, while two Emirati brothers were sentenced to eight months behind bars and received 5,000 dirham fines, according to The National. A third brother was pardoned.

Three other defendants — a Canadian, a Briton and an American — were convicted and sentenced in absentia to the penalties given to the other foreigners. They have never been detained by authorities and so are unlikely to serve their sentences. The paper identified the defendants only by their initials, which is common in the Emirati media.

Gulf Arab authorities have been cracking down on social media use over the past two years, with dozens of people arrested across the region for Twitter posts deemed offensive to leaders or for social media campaigns urging more political openness.

 

Peak Oil Barrel: OPEC Oil Production

Peak Oil Barrel.

OPEC just published their latest Monthly Oil Market Report with crude only production data through November 2013. Their October numbers were revised downward by 67,000 barrels per day to 29,827 kb/d. Their November production was 29,633 /b/d. That was 261 kb/d below their unrevised October production and 194 kb/d below their revised October production numbers.

OPEC 12

OPEC production at 29,633,000 bp/d is at their lowest point since June 2011. As you can see from the chart OPEC has hat two peaks since 2005. Actually these are the two highest peaks ever for OPEC if the EIA data is correct. I only have MOMR data going back to January 2005.

The July 2008 peak was 31,672,000 bp/d and the April 12 peak was 31,619,000 bp/d. I thought it might be interesting to plot who was up and who was down since those two peaks. The Gainers were Ecuador, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Venezuela. Ecuador and Venezuela were up only slightly however. Here is a chart of the six gainers.

Gainers

In July 2008 the combined Gainers production stood at 19,976,000 bp/d. In November their combined production stood at 21,769,000 bp/d, up 1,793,000 bp/d since that point

The losers were Algeria, Angola, Iran, Libya, Nigeria and Qatar.

Losers

The Losers peaked in December 2007 at 11,870,000 bp/d. In November 2013 their combined production stood at 8,498,000 bp/d, down 3,372,000 since their peak. Libya and Iran account for 2 million bp/d of this. So even if both were producing flat out the losers would still be down almost 1.4 mb/d.

However even before the sanctions Iran was in serious decline. If sanctions were lifted tomorrow they would be lucky to get back to half a million barrels per day below their 2005 level of about 3.9 million barrels per day. Their November production stood at 2.7 mb/d.

Libya, after the revolution could only get up to within 200,000 barrels per day of their pre-revolution production numbers. They will likely not ever get that close again however.

But something is always happening somewhere. One can say, “if there were no sanctions, no revolutions, no terrorists attacks and no other political problems then they could produce a lot more”. But there has never been a such a time in recorded history and it is not likely there will ever be such a time. So we can only measure what each country is producing today and go with that.

One person has posted me and seems very concerned over the sudden rise in US consumption. It also caught OPEC’s attention. From the latest MOMR, link up top, page 32:

US Demand

Wikileaks Cables: Saudi Arabia Oil Reserves Overstated – Our World

Wikileaks Cables: Saudi Arabia Oil Reserves Overstated – Our World.

The United States fears that Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude oil exporter, may not have enough reserves to prevent oil prices escalating, confidential cables from its embassy in Riyadh show.

The cables, released by WikiLeaks, urge Washington to take seriously a warning from a senior Saudi government oil executive that the kingdom’s crude oil reserves may have been overstated by as much as 300 billion barrels — nearly 40%.

The revelation comes as the oil price has soared in recent weeks to more than $100 a barrel on global demand and tensions in the Middle East. Many analysts expect that the Saudis and their OPEC cartel partners would pump more oil if rising prices threatened to choke off demand.

However, Sadad al-Husseini, a geologist and former head of exploration at the Saudi oil monopoly Aramco, met the US consul general in Riyadh in November 2007 and told the US diplomat that Aramco’s 12.5 million barrel-a-day capacity, needed to keep a lid on prices, could not be reached.

Tapping the truth

According to the cables, which date between 2007-09, Husseini said Saudi Arabia might reach an output of 12 million barrels a day in 10 years but before then — possibly as early as 2012 — global oil production would have hit its highest point. This crunch point is known as “peak oil“.

Husseini said that at that point Aramco would not be able to stop the rise of global oil prices because the Saudi energy industry had overstated its recoverable reserves to spur foreign investment. He argued that Aramco had badly underestimated the time needed to bring new oil on tap.

 

“We are asleep at the wheel here: choosing to ignore a threat to the global economy that is quite as bad as the credit crunch, quite possibly worse.”

Jeremy Leggett, UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy

One cable said: “According to al-Husseini, the crux of the issue is twofold. First, it is possible that Saudi reserves are not as bountiful as sometimes described, and the timeline for their production not as unrestrained as Aramco and energy optimists would like to portray.”

It went on: “In a presentation, Abdallah al-Saif, current Aramco senior vice-president for exploration, reported that Aramco has 716 billion barrels of total reserves, of which 51% are recoverable, and that in 20 years Aramco will have 900 billion barrels of reserves.

“Al-Husseini disagrees with this analysis, believing Aramco’s reserves are overstated by as much as 300 billion barrels. In his view once 50% of original proven reserves has been reached … a steady output in decline will ensue and no amount of effort will be able to stop it. He believes that what will result is a plateau in total output that will last approximately 15 years followed by decreasing output.”

Kingdom of contradictions

The US consul then told Washington: “While al-Husseini fundamentally contradicts the Aramco company line, he is no doomsday theorist. His pedigree, experience and outlook demand that his predictions be thoughtfully considered.”

Seven months later, the US embassy in Riyadh went further in two more cables. “Our mission now questions how much the Saudis can now substantively influence the crude markets over the long term. Clearly they can drive prices up, but we question whether they any longer have the power to drive prices down for a prolonged period.”

A fourth cable, in October 2009, claimed that escalating electricity demand by Saudi Arabia may further constrain Saudi oil exports. “Demand [for electricity] is expected to grow 10% a year over the next decade as a result of population and economic growth. As a result it will need to double its generation capacity to 68,000MW in 2018,” it said.

It also reported major project delays and accidents as “evidence that the Saudi Aramco is having to run harder to stay in place – to replace the decline in existing production.” While fears of premature “peak oil” and Saudi production problems had been expressed before, no US official has come close to saying this in public.

In the last two years, other senior energy analysts have backed Husseini. Fatih Birol, chief economist to the International Energy Agency, told the Guardian last year that conventional crude output could plateau in 2020, a development that was “not good news” for a world still heavily dependent on petroleum.

Jeremy Leggett, convenor of the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security, said: “We are asleep at the wheel here: choosing to ignore a threat to the global economy that is quite as bad as the credit crunch, quite possibly worse.”

◊ – ◊ ◊ – ◊

 

Syrian Rebel Groups Vie for Saudi Funding and Weapons

Syrian Rebel Groups Vie for Saudi Funding and Weapons.

Syrian Rebel Groups Vie for Saudi Funding and Weapons

By ISN Security Watch | Thu, 07 November 2013 22:59 | 0
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Various Syrian rebel groups have announced a spate of mergers and alliances over the past month. In theory, the trend is a welcome sign that the opposition’s extreme fragmentation is at long last being reversed. Such a development would complement the emergence of a few dominant multibrigade groupings and “fronts” within the armed rebellion over the past year.

But the reality is quite the opposite. The recent announcements reflect realignment rather than unification, and they reveal a competitive logic driven by the expectation of external funding that presages greater political polarization and deepening division.

This dysfunctional dynamic has long bedeviled the armed rebellion, but driving the latest trend is a Saudi plan to build a new national army for the Syrian opposition. It aims to create a force trained outside of Syria that is capable of defeating the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and countering the growth of jihadist rebel groups affiliated with al-Qaeda. The rebel groups realigning to receive Saudi support profess a supposedly “centrist” Islamist but avowedly Sunni ideology.

This Saudi effort will only serve to further polarize the rebels. The main losers are likely to be the currently recognized leaders of the opposition—the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and the allied Higher Military Council of the Free Syrian Army. At its latest meeting on October 22, the Friends of Syria core group, of which Saudi Arabia is a member, called on the National Coalition to commit to representing the Syrian opposition at a Geneva II peace conference slated for late November. But many of the new rebel alliances, including those receiving stepped-up Saudi support, have already withdrawn their recognition of the National Coalition and Higher Military Council, or threatened to do so, in response to their presumed readiness to attend the conference.

Unless the Saudi-supported rebels adhere to an agreed political strategy and buy into being represented by the National Coalition, they are likely to suffer the same lack of cohesion and capacity as those they seek to supplant. And by funding its own chosen group of rebels, Saudi Arabia too risks slamming shut its windows of opportunity and undercutting its goals in Syria.

Saudi Arabia Shifts Into High Gear

The shift to an increasingly assertive stance on the Syrian crisis reflects the Saudi leadership’s dismayabout the U.S.-Russian agreement on dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons capability. The effort effectively removes the specter of U.S.-led military action against the regime and potentially rehabilitates Assad as a partner of the international community. Riyadh has long pushed for a tougher line. The additional prospect of a U.S.-Iranian understanding on the nuclear file has only made the Saudi leadership more grimly determined to bring down Assad.

The first public sign of Saudi Arabia’s intentions was an August 8 statement by the chair of the National Coalition, Ahmad al-Jarba—regarded as a Saudi nominee—that he was working with the Free Syrian Army to form a unified force of 6,000 men to confront warlords operating in liberated areas. Other National Coalition members disclosed that the force was intended as the nucleus of a national army with a strength of 7,000–10,000, including 6,300 army defectors who had taken refuge in Jordan and Turkey.

According to Saudi insiders, training involving some 5,000 rebels had already been under way in Jordan for several months with the aid of Pakistani, French, and U.S. instructors, although well-connected Jordanian sources suggest a much lower number. In any case, little can be expected from the defectors, who chose to leave Syria and have remained in isolated officers’ camps in exile ever since. This may have influenced the thinking of Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal bin Abdulaziz, Director General of the Saudi Intelligence Agency Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, and Deputy Defense Minister Prince Salman bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, to whom the Syria file has been transferred. Notably hawkish on Syria, their plan is to build a rebel army of 40,000–50,000 at a cost of “several billion dollars,” according to insiders.

The plan appears to have been discussed, at least in general outline, by the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates, who met French President François Hollande on September 13. This resulted in an agreement “to step up international support for the democratic opposition to allow it to cope with attacks from the regime.” A high-level Saudi delegation visited Paris a month later to negotiate contracts for arming and equipping both the Free Syrian Army and the new national army.

Following what it regards as the “defection” of the U.S. administration from the coalition of countries willing to support the Syrian opposition militarily, Saudi Arabia has turned to Pakistan to provide training for the new army. But this may prove difficult, given the major national security challenges facing the Pakistani armed forces ahead of the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan and the uncertainty of the country’s civil-military relationship during the selection of a new chief of general staff. Sources with good access to the Pakistani Ministry of Defense and military intelligence services confirm that the armed forces were already reluctant or unable to meet a previous Saudi request to provide special forces training to the Syrian rebels. They regard the scale of the new Saudi proposal as unmanageable.

Related article: Why Syria is Important to Iran?

Crucially, it will be difficult to find a steady place to base and train the new force. Resistance to acting as a rear base for the rebels or supporting external military intervention in Syria is building up in Jordan, which has been a conduit for Saudi-funded training and arms since late 2012. Since then, the kingdom has become part of a clear axis with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates regarding Syria. But the new Saudi plan requires Jordanian commitment on a scale that is opposed within the security and military establishment and is unlikely to be implemented.

Buying a Ready-Made Rebel Army

The prospect of building a rebel army outside Syria is poor. The only practical way to build one is to amalgamate and sponsor existing armed groups inside Syria—but that too is becoming more difficult as rebel alliances shift and proliferate.

Many of Syria’s rebel groups are positioning themselves to receive Saudi funding and weapons by declaring mergers and alliances. In fact, competition for external funding has long been a powerful driver of organizational dynamics within Syria’s armed rebellion. Not all of that support comes from government sources. It is already customary for private donors in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates to sponsor rebel groups of their choice, most often Salafists or jihadists, as the Facebook pages of these forces proudly attest.

Most prominent among the new groups receiving Saudi government funding is the Army of Islam, formed on September 29. It was founded by 43 rebel brigades and battalions in the Damascus region under the leadership of Zahran Alloush, commander of the local Islam Brigade (the backbone of the Army of Islam) and secretary general of the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front. Although the Army of Islam denied press reports of Saudi sponsorship, its stated aim of “uniting the efforts of all factions . . . and forming an official army” coincided precisely with the Saudi objective.

The formation of the Army of Islam closely followed the publication by the association of Muslim ulema in Syria of a proposal to unite Islamist rebel groups under a single Army of Muhammad, with a stated target of building up to a strength of 100,000 by March 2015 and 250,000 by March 2016. Although such an army would espouse a centrist and nonsectarian ideology, according to the proposal’s authors, it would nonetheless follow “the path of the Sunnah and Jama’ah,” unambiguously declaring its Sunni affiliation. Since then, the Army of Islam has discussed forming the all-encompassing Army of Muhammad with the “moderate Islamist” Tawhid and Suqour al-Sham Brigades.

The fracturing has gone even further. When Alloush announced the Army of Islam, several of his main partners in the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front complained that they had not been consulted and pulled out of the Damascus-area joint operations room in protest. Five of them then formed the Glories of Islam Assembly on October 4. Elsewhere, four moderate Salafist groups in the northeastern Albu Kamal region had already announced the formation of the Army of the People of the Sunnah and Jama’ah on October 2.

A day after the Army of Islam was formed, the al-Habib al-Mustafa and al-Sahaba Brigades announced that, along with Ahrar al-Sham Islamic Movement, probably the strongest rebel faction in Syria, they were withdrawing from the Chamber of the Council of Kuwaiti Supporters of the Syrian Revolution in Damascus and Its Rif. They cited what they described as the hegemony of certain groups, the exclusion of others, and the lack of an agreed vision as the reasons for the pullout.

The competitive dynamic also seems to have prompted 106 non-Islamist rebel groups from across Syria to form the Union of Free Syrians on October 13, again as “the nucleus of the future Syrian army.” The absence of Islamist discourse from their founding statement may not preclude Saudi support, but a more favored recipient is prominent Islamic preacher Sheikh Adnan al-Aroor. Aroor features in the network of rebel groups being pulled together in the new Saudi plan, highlighting its focus on building a Sunni rebel army.

Taking on Jihadists or Weakening Centrist Islamists?

The Saudi leadership may be forgiven for believing that, in contrast to the modest role it played among those supporting Syria’s armed rebellion a year ago, its intervention will be decisive now that it is firmly in the driver’s seat and ready to commit what an insider describes as “limitless” funds. But that approach may prove counterproductive. A year ago the battle lines were simpler: the Free Syrian Army versus the Assad regime. Today, as former intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal explained, the Saudi leadership seeks to wage two battles—one against Assad and his family, the other against al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria. But Riyadh is not winning the fight against the jihadists, and its efforts may splinter the opposition further.

A number of groups seem to have mobilized in the face of the Saudi effort. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, an umbrella group of jihadist insurgents formed in Iraq in 2006, has been moving forcefully against other rebel groups in northern Syria since late August, wresting control of border crossings with Turkey and forcing affiliates of the Free Syrian Army in Raqqa and Aleppo to leave or declare allegiance to it. Along with other jihadist groups, it believes that it is targeted by the United States and U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia. The group has also reached an understanding with its sister al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, and the powerful Ahrar al-Sham Islamic Movement to set aside their differences, form a joint judicial council, and increase joint operations against Assad regime forces. This axis, along with several smaller jihadist groups that continue to appear, is bearing the brunt of fighting against regime forces to the southeast of Aleppo. Jabhat al-Nusra now also operates along the border with Jordan.

The network of alliances being woven by Saudi Arabia has yet to prove its mettle in this looming confrontation. On the contrary, the Tawhid Brigade, despite having been invited to join the Army of Islam in forming the larger Army of Muhammad, has repeatedly declared its neutrality in an onslaught waged by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant since mid-September in northern Syria.

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Equally significantly, the Saudi drive to build an unmistakably Sunni army may increase the potential for rebel fragmentation, even among the like-minded centrist Islamist and Salafist groups it targets. The groups that refused to join the Army of Islam, for example, include several of the main armed factions in the eastern Ghouta area of Damascus and members of the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front, bringing the army’s unity and cohesion into question.

Implications for the Secular Moderates

At a time of deepening polarization within the Syrian opposition, the Saudi plan’s focus on creating a Sunni army undermines those who share an interest in preventing the rise of the jihadist wing of the armed rebellion. Some members of the National Coalition have sought to join the bandwagon, speaking warmly of creating a “central political-military council under Islamic command.” But this only underlines the declining fortunes of the coalition and the Higher Military Council, both of which have nominally been under Saudi patronage since last June, when Jarba became the coalition’s new chair. The single-minded focus on a military approach undermines what residual standing and authority the National Coalition and Higher Military Council still have inside Syria.

Saudi disappointment with both bodies is understandable. Their leadership has lost credibility and lacks a strategy for defeating the regime, whether militarily or politically, by developing concrete proposals for transitional power sharing that might persuade the regime’s principal institutional and social constituents to abandon it. The National Coalition also remains unable to govern liberated areas.

But by channeling funding and weapons flows directly to rebel groups on the ground, rather than entirely through the Higher Military Council, the Saudi approach runs counter to the needs of military consolidation. And by working around the recognized opposition and relying on massive funding to create a unified rebel army, Riyadh neither assures its military effectiveness nor does anything to address the critical political failings of the Syrian opposition.

The focus on manipulating and micromanaging rebel dynamics also complicates civil-military relations on the ground. When, for example, civilian bodies announced the formation of an expanded civilian council for the city of Douma in eastern Ghouta on October 13, Army of Islam commander Alloush condemned them for “dividing the voice of Muslims, which is haram [forbidden] and splits the ranks.” Their announcement of an independent judicial body was also, in Alloush’s view, an “inexcusable transgression” against the local Shura Council that he helped to found in March, and that he dominates.

All this has significant implications for the upcoming Geneva II peace conference. The National Coalition faces a particularly fateful moment as its partners drop away. Twelve rebel groups, most of which nominally belong to the Free Syrian Army, joined al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra on September 24 in rejecting thecoalition’s representative status. On October 15, 50 armed groups announced that they were forming an independent revolutionary command council in the southern region and withdrawing recognition of the National Coalition because “it has abandoned the principles of the homeland and the revolution.” Two days later, Alloush warned starkly that “the coalition will be treated as our enemy, just the same as Bashar al-Assad’s regime, if it decides to go to the Geneva II peace conference next month to seek a political solution to the Syrian crisis.” And on October 26, nineteen rebel groups, including all three members of the putative Army of Muhammad, regarded anyone attending the conference or negotiating with the regime as being guilty of “trading in the blood of the Syrian people and treason . . . [they] must be brought to justice.”

Scoring Own Goals

Saudi Arabia has ample reason to be distressed by the continuing death and destruction inflicted on the Syrian people and dissatisfied with the actions of its friends and allies in the Friends of Syria group of countries. But its current approach risks undermining its own objectives in Syria.

Already, deep unhappiness with U.S. policy on Syria—as well as on Iran and Palestine—has prompted Saudi intelligence chief Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz to warn of a “major shift” in the two countries’ bilateral relationship. A policy shift on this scale is almost certainly unsustainable. More immediately, the widening rift places Jordan and the National Coalition, which are important to the success of Saudi plans in Syria but rely no less heavily on the strength and durability of their own relations with the United States, in a distinctly uncomfortable and potentially untenable position.

The divergence of Saudi and U.S. approaches additionally complicates the Geneva II peace conference. Although the Friends of Syria’s October 22 final communiqué set tough terms for participation in the conference and strict parameters for the transition that meet National Coalition and Saudi expectations, Riyadh’s insistence on excluding Tehran from the meeting opens up another possible rift with its allies, several of whom have openly signaled their willingness to accept Iranian participation.

The Saudi leadership might argue that its plan to increase military pressure on the Assad regime will compel it to accept the terms set by the Friends of Syria for participation in the peace conference. Turki al-Faisal seemed to argue this when he reiterated the need to help the opposition achieve “a level playing field.” But this is belied by the unexpected and unusually public spat with the United States, which damages the prospect that the Saudi plan can weld rebels into a unified army. The conference may not convene or succeed anyway, but the fact that the rebel groups receiving Saudi support have vocally rejected the effort lowers its chances further. And the collateral damage to the National Coalition undermines a different part of the Saudi approach, constituting another own goal.

This leaves the Saudi leadership heavily dependent on Syria’s Sunni rebels. If its plan to unite them fails, Riyadh’s credibility will be diminished. Worse, Saudi Arabia could find itself replicating its experience in Afghanistan, where it built up disparate mujahideen groups that lacked a unifying political framework. The forces were left unable to govern Kabul once they took it, paving the way for the Taliban to take over. Al-Qaeda followed, and the blowback subsequently reached Saudi Arabia.

In Syria, Saudi reliance on funding and weapons supply as principal levers of acquiring influence, the concentration on escalating military pressure on the regime without developing a clear political strategy to defeat it in parallel, and the focus on mobilizing and strengthening groups with an overtly Sunni Muslim character risk contributing to a similar outcome. The Saudi leadership should be careful what it creates in Syria: Muhammad’s Army may eventually come home to Mecca.

By. Yezid Sayigh for Carnegie Middle East Center

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Arab states of the Persian Gulf. Arab Gulf Sta...

Arab states of the Persian Gulf. Arab Gulf States. ‪Norsk (bokmål)‬: De arabiske golfstater. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

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