BY YOCHI DREAZEN
Faycal Maroufi, a U.S. military translator from Florida, has spent the past three months confined to an American base in the deserts of Kuwait. The local authorities have promised to arrest Maroufi if he leaves the compound, and American officials have so far been powerless to help. Maroufi isn’t wanted for a crime or accused of wrongdoing. He, like more than 50 other U.S. citizens, is instead being effectively imprisoned in Kuwait because of a nasty and complicated business dispute between an American contractor and its local partner.
The histories of the Iraq and Afghan wars are littered with cases of low-paid contractors from countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan being kept in the war zones against their will by companies that forced them to work seven days a week and sometimes confiscated their passports to ensure that they couldn’t return home. The current standoff in Kuwait appears to be the first time that large numbers of American citizens have faced a similar predicament. The contractors are caught in the middle of a fight between two large companies, a battle they didn’t choose and don’t fully understand. For all intents and purposes they’re under house arrest despite not doing anything to deserve it.
Maroufi and his colleagues are currently living in hangars on Camp Arifjan and Camp Buehring, the two main U.S. bases in Kuwait, and using lockers and curtains to carve out small slivers of personal space. Their makeshift barracks are infested with bedbugs, and the nearest bathrooms are in trailers several minutes away. They aren’t allowed to access the bases’ military hospitals or leave the country for personal emergencies. One employee lost his mother but was blocked from returning to the U.S. for the funeral; another lost his father but was similarly confined to the base by Kuwaiti authorities. Iowa resident Majdi Abdulghani was arrested at the Kuwait City airport as he was preparing to board a flight back to the U.S. to see his ailing mother. He was jailed for a week.
“We are prisoners here,” Maroufi said by phone from Kuwait. “We’re pawns in a fight between these two companies. I want to go home and be with my family, but instead I’m stuck here, and I don’t know when they’ll let me leave.”
The linguists are now trying to get even. Late last month, Maroufi and 18 colleagues filed a lawsuit against their employer, Global Linguist Solutions, or GLS, a U.S.-based firm that has a piece of a $9.7 billion Pentagon contract to provide translation services to military personnel across the Middle East. GLS is a joint venture between defense contracting giants DynCorp and AECOM, so Maroufi and the other plaintiffs sued them as well. Joe Hennessey, their lawyer, says he plans to ask for damages “in the tens of millions of dollars, if not higher.”
GLS and DynCorp declined to comment, citing the litigation, but GLS argues that the Kuwaiti subcontractor, Al Shora General Trading and Contracting Co., bears full responsibility for what has happened to their employees. Al Shora couldn’t be reached for comment, either. However, the company’s owner, Reham Aljelewi, told Stars and Stripes earlier this year that she no longer wanted to work with GLS and accused it of making false allegations about her firm to various Kuwaiti officials.
American military and civilian officials say they’re doing what they can for the contractors, but have gone out of their way to emphasize that the entire crisis boils down to a fight between two private companies.
Ron Young, a spokesperson for the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, which oversees the GLS contract, said the military was working with the State Department to find a way to get the contractors out of Kuwait. But he stressed that the “current situation regarding the American linguists in Kuwait is a legal matter under Kuwaiti law.”
A State Department official said the American embassy in Kuwait had “reached out to Kuwaiti government officials at a variety of levels in order to seek clarification and identify a path to allow the citizens to depart Kuwait or otherwise address the matter.” The official declined to say whether Ambassador Matthew Tueller had personally lobbied the Kuwaiti government to allow the contractors to return home.
The dispute stems from a Kuwaiti law that requires foreign firms to partner with a Kuwaiti company, or “sponsor,” which is responsible for obtaining work visas for individual employees. GLS had initially partnered with Al-Shora, but chose to work with a different Kuwaiti company when it’s initial contract ended last year and the firm decided to submit a bid for a new one.
Here’s where things get tricky. According to the lawsuit, Al Shora warned GLS that severing the relationship could lead to legal problems for their contractors. GLS, the suit says, “made a conscious business decision” to do so anyway. GLS, for its part, said it had to sever ties with Al Shora because the Kuwaiti firm refused to submit a formal proposal for a share of the new contract. GLS says that Al Shora’s managing director, the sister-in-law of the country’s prime minister, responded by threatening to “destroy” the American company.
Things soon deteriorated even further. GLS says that Al Shora promised to transfer all of the U.S. contractors to the company’s new Kuwaiti sponsor, but never did. Instead, Al Shora told Kuwaiti authorities that Maroufi and the other GLS contractors had failed to show up their jobs, violating the terms of their work visas and putting them in breach of Kuwaiti immigration law. GLS said it tried to negotiate with Al Shora to rescind the allegations, only to have the Kuwaiti company demand $22 million in exchange for doing so. When GLS refused to pay, the Kuwaiti government began arresting individual contractors like Abdulghani, the Iowa resident trying to return home to see his sick mother.
The lawsuit claims that after the arrests of Abdulghani and a pair of other contractors, Maroufi and his remaining colleagues found themselves effectively under house arrest at Buehring and Arifjan.
“They were trapped because they could not venture out beyond the compound for fear of arrest by Kuwait authorities,” the lawsuit states. “Moreover, the Kuwait government would not issue exit documents or other papers to such plaintiffs because they were considered to be in the country illegally.”
Three months later, the bulk of the contractors remain marooned at the bases. The Army flies aircraft in and out of Arifjan and Buehring every day, and it’s not clear why the military doesn’t simply take the contractors out of the country on their own. It’s also not clear why the U.S. government, which sells large quantities of weapons to Kuwait and once went to war to restore its independence, isn’t doing more to pressure the Kuwaiti government to let the contractors leave. For the moment, only a lucky few have managed to do so.
Nada Malek has worked for GLS in both Iraq and Kuwait since the summer of 2010. This past February, her husband developed serious health problems and was put into an intensive care unit, but she was told she couldn’t return to her home in Nevada because of the fight between GLS and Al Shora. Malek’s husband eventually recovered, but she suffered a bigger blow last month when her son tried to kill himself. Staffers from the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid interceded on her behalf and she was finally allowed out of Kuwait. She returned home last Sunday.
Despite her family problems, Malek is paradoxically one of the lucky ones. The remaining contractors don’t have powerful political allies and face the real prospect of being stuck in Kuwait for months as the new lawsuit winds its way through the U.S. legal systems and back channel talks with the Kuwaitis plod forward. This Saturday is Maroufi’s birthday, and he will spend it thousands of miles from home.
“I still don’t believe that I can sit in my backyard and watch my husband take care of our garden,” she said. “I still feel like I’m stuck in Kuwait.”
Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan, Dubai’s police chief was quoted yesterday in an interview published in the Kuwaiti daily Al Qabas as saying that the Muslim Brotherhood, the main Islamist force that emerged after the Arab Spring, is plotting to take over Gulf countries.
“My sources say the next step is to make Gulf governments (their ruling families) figurehead bodies only without actual ruling. The start will be in Kuwait in 2013 and in other Gulf states in 2016,” Khalfan said.
Khalfan sparked a controversy after threatening earlier this month to arrest renowned Islamic scholar and leading Brotherhood figure, Dr Yusuf Al Qaradawi, for criticising the United Arab Emirates for deporting Syrian protesters.
Reacting to the developments in the UAE, Mahmoud Ghazlan, Spokesman of Muslim Brotherhood, condemned the arrest warrant for Dr Al Qaradawi, Head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars.
Challenging the UAE establishment, Ghazlan said: “The United Arab Emirates cannot dare to arrest Sheikh Al Qaradawi. It is just a physiological war and propaganda. The cleric cannot be arrested.”
Meanwhile, the UAE government has asked the Egyptian authorities to explain its stand on the statement of Ghazlan.
Notably, Dr Al Qaradawi recently criticised the decisions of UAE government to cancel the residency permit of Syrian expatriates for staging protests against Syrian regime in Emirates and withdraw the citizenships of six Islamists who were found involved in terrorism funding.
General Secretary of GCC Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayyan also criticised Ghazlan’s account as an ‘irresponsible statement’.
He added that the statement is also against the efforts of UAE and Egypt to strengthen the bilateral relations.
Khalfan, highlighting the credibility of his statement, said his information is based on “leaks” from Western intelligence sources and said this “had been known to us.”
“If these leaks from Western intelligence were to be correct, by 2016 all Gulf rulers will be just figureheads with no actual power. I am warning Gulf states about these groups”, Khalfan said.
All of the six hydrocarbon-rich GCC member states namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been governed for centuries by ruling families.
Khalfan said the alleged plot will begin in Kuwait because “it is ready more than any other Gulf state… this is a strategy.”
Sunni Islamists made an impressive show in a February 2 snap election in Kuwait, securing more than 20 seats in the 50-member parliament.
- Obama Recruits Qaradawi (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Arab Insult News (ifaynsh.wordpress.com)
- Toulouse siege: Nicolas Sarkozy bans imams from entering France in fundamentalist crackdown (dailymail.co.uk)
- Jailed French Imam Suspected of Jihadist Plans: Sarkozy Proposes Ban on “Militant” Imams (atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com)
- France launches hunt for Islamic extremists after attacks (vancouversun.com)
- Muslim Brotherhood- History and Ideology (lettingfreedomring.com)
- Kuwait: Ahmad Mansoor, a UAE blogger denied entry (advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org)
- Syria troops shell; Muslim group wants democracy (goerie.com)
by Benoit Faucon & Summer Said
Dow Jones Newswires
Six months after Libya‘s production shutdown sparked a clash within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Tripoli‘s oil status is set to pour oil again at the group’s next meeting on Dec 14. This time it’s not because Libyan barrels are out but because they are back on the market.
Following a swift return of the country’s production, a split has resurfaced within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries between members like Kuwait which believe the market still requires extra oil and those like Iran which want other members to cut their output.
“The market still needs more oil even with the return of the Libyan oil,” Kuwait oil Minister Mohammad Al-Busairi said Sunday, as he announced his country had boosted production above 3 million barrels a day.
The remarks came after Rostam Ghasemi, Iran’s oil minister and OPEC’s current president, on Friday said “we will tell members of the organization that increased their production that given that Libya’s production has returned” they need to reduce their oil flows.
In June, Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia advocated a production boost as global oil demand was increasing amid the loss of Libyan supplies. They clashed with an Iran-led group that opposed the move because of an uncertain outlook for the global economy. After the meeting collapsed without an agreement, the Saudi-led coalition boosted its production in a lock-step move with global oil demand.
Though nobody expects the December meeting to be as acrimonious, the return of Libyan oil is reviving differences regarding demand and supply that had narrowed in recent weeks.
Libya’s oil head Nuri Berruien said Thursday that the country’s production would be back to half of its prewar level of 1.6 million barrels a day by the year’s end, twice as fast as some experts had forecasted.
Such a return has triggered fears in Iran and other countries that markets could be oversupplied and prices may fall if other members don’t cut production.
However, in the short term, OPEC’s most recent statistics don’t suggest any need to rush to the panic button.
Based on its latest monthly report, the group’s production in October was about 750,000 barrels a day short of the average demand it sees for its crude in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, U.S. commercial oil inventories have been wearing thinner –down by 9.8 million barrels in October, suggesting the market is still slightly tightening despite Libya’s return. But at the same time, continuous concerns in the euro zone show OPEC will still face a balancing act in the coming months. The group has downgraded its global oil demand growth forecasts four times in recent months and, although it didn’t cut its prospects this month, has warned it could slash them again.
Furthermore, in the first half of 2012, amid lower seasonal consumption, demand for OPEC crude is expected to fall by over 1.3 million barrels a day compared to the fourth-quarter to an average of 29.29 million barrels a day. That’s higher than OPEC’s current production and will likely come amid higher Libyan production. So the numbers will likely give ammunition to those in the group calling for a reduction of Gulf production.
“The Saudis will cut whether they like it or not,” said an OPEC delegate with a country that opposed an increase in June. “The conditions in the market dictate that.”
Copyright (c) 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Source – RIGZONE