As Carbon Web goes to press, an announcement is expected of President Bush’s “new strategy” for Iraq. But one thing unlikely to change is his approach to Iraqi oil – This analysis article was first published in Platform’s Carbon Web Newsletter, Issue 6.
In December, the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group urged the US government to provide “technical advice” on a new Iraqi oil law and to encourage multinational companies to invest, but to publicly claim that the USA has absolutely no interest in Iraq’s oil.
While Bush is expected to reject many of the Group’s recommendations, their oil proposals were entirely consistent with existing policy. Having given “advice” since 2002, US officials have recently been applying increasing pressure for the passing of an oil law by the end of 2006. Indeed, this deadline was one of the ‘milestones’ US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and General George Casey ordered the Iraqis to comply with in October.
The Iraqi government is a little behind schedule, but not much. According to reports, a draft law was presented to the Iraqi cabinet in late December. It currently awaits their approval before passing to the parliament for ratification. The law would give control over around two thirds of Iraq’s oil to foreign companies, mostly through production sharing contracts of up to 20 years.
In December, just weeks before parliament is expected to pass the law, PLATFORM asked a seminar of 20 Iraqi MPs how many had seen the draft. Only one of them had, five months later than the US government and oil multinationals.
Meanwhile, all five of Iraq’s trade union federations met last month to plan their response to the oil law. Furious at their complete exclusion from the decision-making process, their view on its content was categorical. “We strongly reject the privatization of our oil wealth, as well as production sharing agreements”, they said in a joint statement, describing such moves as “a red line that may not be crossed.”
While Baker-Hamilton’s approach to achieving the USA’s oil objectives may have been more sophisticated than Bush’s is likely to be, their mistake is to preserve the objectives themselves – which are fundamentally at odds with those of the Iraqi people.
On the other hand, the trade unions’ agreement to work together to insist on public consultation on the oil law is a rare positive development in Iraq. For all the great and the good’s deliberations on how to move from sectarian conflict to democracy, they would do well to look to Iraq’s own civil society.