Obama's Shifting Positions on Iraq: A Rezko Connection?
Barack Obama's position on Iraq has shifted significantly over the last six years. What is interesting is how his position on Iraq matches up with developments in Chicago. Specifically, there appears to be a direct correlation between the rising and falling prospects of his longtime friend and fundraiser Tony Rezko's attempts to secure multi-million-dollar contracts to build and operate a power plant in Kurdish Iraq and the senator's Iraq flip-flops.
On October 2, 2002, Obama gave a speech categorically opposing an invasion of Iraq. He said:
I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.
I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars.
So for those of us who seek a more just and secure world for our children, let us send a clear message to the president today. You want a fight, President Bush? Let's finish the fight with bin Laden and al-Qaeda, through effective, coordinated intelligence, and a shutting down of the financial networks that support terrorism, and a homeland security program that involves more than color-coded warnings.
But on April 5, 2004, Barack Obama appeared to significantly alter his position on Iraq. A YouTube video of Obama shows the incredulity on the interviewer's face as Obama unexpectedly sounded almost like President Bush on the subject of retaining troops in Iraq.
Interviewer: But you said that troops should be withdrawn.
Obama: No, no. I've never said that troops should be withdrawn. What I've said is that we've got to make sure that we secure and execute the rebuilding and reconstruction process effectively and properly and I don't think we should have an artificial deadline when to do that. What's important is that we have a long-term plan in process and short-term security strategy.
It's been suggested that that change in the senator's position from opposition to a stern refusal to leave until the job had been finished can be explained by the unexpected ease with which the campaign had gone up till that time. But that doesn't quite square with the facts. April 2004 was in fact the bloodiest month in the Iraq campaign till then and the start of the Sunni insurgency and Moqtada al-Sadr's uprising. On March 31, 2004, Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah ambushed a Blackwater convoy and hung the mutilated bodies of the Americans on the bridge. Wikipedia recounts the rush of bloody events which followed:
On April 3, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force received a written command from the Joint Task Force, ordering offensive operations against Fallujah. This order went against the wishes of the Marine commanders on the ground who wanted to conduct surgical strikes and raids against those suspected of involvement in the Blackwater deaths.
On the night of April 4, the U.S. forces launched a major assault in an attempt to "re-establish security in Fallujah" by encircling it with around 2,000 troops. At least four homes were hit in aerial strikes, and there was sporadic gunfire throughout the night.
By the morning of April 5, headed by the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, American units had surrounded the city with an aim towards retaking it. American troops blockaded roads leading into the city, with Humvees and concertina wire, and took over a local radio station, and handed out leaflets urging residents to remain inside their homes, and help American forces identify insurgents and any Fallujans who were involved in the Blackwater deaths.
Obama's change of tone in 2004 was so noticeable that Howard Kurtz couldn't help but notice how striking the Illinois senator's position was in mid-2004. Obama was quoted as saying:
There's not that much difference between my position and George Bush's position at this stage. The difference, in my mind, is who's in a position to execute.
But Rezko Watch, a blog following the trial of the Chicago political operative and Obama's close friend and contributor Tony Rezko, remembered that something else took place in April 2004. Obama was at a party on April 3 -- two days before the video-- with Nadhmi Auchi, a London-based Iraqi billionaire who attended a Tony Rezko party in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune blog covered Obama's recollection of the party in depth.
Late last week, Sen. Barack Obama said he didn't recall meeting a controversial Iraqi-born billionaire at a party held at the home of his former friend and fundraiser, Antoin "Tony" Rezko, on April 3, 2004, because it was in the midst of his campaign for the U.S. Senate seat from Illinois.
But a check on the senator's calendar showed he had no campaign activities on the day of the Auchi party. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that despite Obama's inability to recall meeting Mr. Auchi, two sources said the senator was present.
According to two sources familiar with the gathering, the Obamas attended the Wilmette reception, which came less than a month after Obama's Democratic primary win for his U.S. Senate seat.
The meeting with Auchi takes on a special suggestiveness in light of later revelations that Rezko planned to build a $150 million Chamchamal Power Plant in Kurdish Iraq despite the fact he had no resources to do it with. According to John Batchelor, the former Obama supporter's straitened circumstances at the time he was bidding for the project came up during the discovery proceedings at his recent trial:
[In] January 16, 2007, ex parte proceedings before Federal District Judge Amy J. St. Eve, in the case of the United States v. Antoin Rezko, in the discovery of Mr. Rezko's resources in order to set his bail awaiting trial. ... The judge asked about Mr. Rezko's creation, Rezmar International LLC.
Mr. Rezko answered, "Rezmar International entered into contract with the Ministry of Electricity in -- of -- Iraq, to build a power plant and sell power to the government. And we were negotiating for over, now, I guess, two years." Mr. Rezko added that the deal, for the never-built, $150 million Chamchamal power plant in Kurdistan Region, Iraq, was finally canceled November 6 or 7, 2006.
When the judge pressed for details Mr. Joseph Duffy, of Stetler & Duffy, spoke for his client, "there was a request for purchase by the Iraqi government. Mr. Rezko and an engineering firm here in the state of Illinois put together a bid, along with other entities; and, then, they won the bid for the contract. The company has no assets. They were just going to -- if the contract was given, as I understand the financing was going to be a letter of credit -- letter of credit from the Iraqi government and other financing; and then, they were going to put together someone to build or supply the electricity."
But if Rezko had no money to build or finance the Chamchamal Power Project, how could he convince the Iraqi government to give him a letter of credit and where would the "other financing" come from? Subsequent events suggest the letter of credit would be arranged by another local connection, a Chicago Iraqi-American named Aiham Alsammarae, who is a one-time classmate of Tony Rezko and had been appointed as Iraq's Minister of Electricity by L. Paul Bremer in July 2003. With Alsammarae at the head of the ministry, a letter of credit was possible. The money ("other financing") would likely come from Nahdmi Auchi, who according to the Times Online, practically owned Tony Rezko.
According to court documents, Mr. Rezko's lawyer said his client had "longstanding indebtedness" to Mr. Auchi's GMH. By June 2007 he owed it $27.9 million.
Under a Loan Forgiveness Agreement described in court, Mr. Auchi lent Mr. Rezko $3.5 million in April 2005 and $11 million in September 2005, as well as the $3.5 million transferred in April 2007. ...
A posting last week on a GMH-owned website, middle-east-online.com, portrayed Mr. Auchi as a Middle Eastern "Donald Trump" with a global business construction empire.
Mr. Auchi visited the United States in 2004. Pictures show him meeting Emil Jones, the president of the Illinois state senate, an ally of Mr. Obama, a former state senator.