August 31, 2007

Huffington Post, and a shorter op-ed version was published in: Topeka Capital Journal, KS; The Mirror, NV; Asheville Citizen-Times, NC; The Daily Journal, MN; Portland Observer, OR; Tri-County Press, WI. Distributed by Minuteman Media.



With the U.S. consuming a quarter of the world’s petroleum, President Bush courageously admitted the obvious during his 2006 State of the Union address: “America is addicted to oil.”

While recognizing that you have a problem is laudable, and the first step on the road to recovery, we must now be honest with ourselves and ask some tough questions.

Knowing that addiction can drive normally kind, law-abiding people to steal or even to violence in the single-minded pursuit of a fix, is America guilty of such behavior in Iraq?

With the third largest proven oil reserves in the world — estimated to be around 115 billion barrels — and much left to be discovered, Iraq does have quite the stash.

Critics of the war have never shied from making this connection. Neither, for that matter, have the vast majority of the Iraqi people.

According to one recent poll, 76 percent of Iraqis believe that the real reason for the invasion was a U.S. desire “to control Iraqi oil.”

The Bush administration, on the other hand, despite its ever-evolving rationale for attacking Iraq — from nonexistent WMDs to spreading democracy in the Middle East — has consistently denied such crude motives.

“This is not about oil,” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld flippantly told Al Jazeera on the eve of the invasion, “and anyone who thinks it is, is badly misunderstanding the situation.”

Recent moves in Washington, however, tell a different story.

President Bush and the Democrat-led Congress are currently putting intense pressure on the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to pass a controversial new oil law as one of the main “benchmarks” that must be met to show political progress.

In what amounts to little more than high stakes blackmail, U.S. lawmakers included language in the $100 billion war supplemental that threatens to cut off reconstruction aid if these targets are not reached by the time General Petraeus makes his much-anticipated report to Congress, which is now set for September 11th.

While U.S. officials and the mainstream media have generally billed this law as a measure that will equitably distribute Iraq’s massive oil revenues — projected to reach $31 billion this year — between the country’s different sectarian groups, this is far from a complete or accurate picture of its contents.

Rather than originating in Baghdad, the law was first conceived within the bowels of the State Department prior to the war. The U.S. then brought in BearingPoint, a private contractor, to assist Iraq’s Ministry of Oil with the actual writing of the text.

After its completion, in a thoughtful gesture to their occupiers, executives from the major U.S. oil companies and the International Monetary Fund were given the opportunity to offer their comments on the draft. Only then was the Iraqi Parliament shown the law.

The end result is hardly surprising.

Except for three vague sentences that deal with revenue sharing, the rest of a 33-page draft of the law effectively lays the foundation for the privatization of Iraq’s oil industry, which was nationalized in 1972.

Under the proposed law, international oil companies could be granted 30 year-long contracts that would give them far greater ownership of and profits from Iraqi oil fields than they would be allowed by other possible models for the development of the country’s oil sector. Indeed, every other major oil producer in the region — including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Iran — maintains a nationalized oil system that forbids foreign control of its oil reserves.

According to Antonia Juhasz, an analyst with Oil Change International, the oil law would also not require foreign companies “to invest their earnings in the Iraqi economy, partner with Iraqi companies, hire Iraqi workers or share new technologies.”

To the great consternation of the Bush administration, the oil law has been stalled in the Iraqi Parliament for months.

Somehow, amidst the horrific violence that surrounds them, the Iraqi people are catching wind of the grave threat that this law poses to their country’s long-term economic prosperity, and are voicing their opposition.

“We reject this kind of agreement absolutely,” Faleh Abood Umara, general secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, said in a recent interview. “The law will rob Iraq of its main resource: its oil. It will undermine the sovereignty of Iraq and our people.”

This may in fact be one of the few issues that actually unites all Iraqis. According to a poll released several weeks ago, almost two out of three Iraqis — including a majority of every ethnic and religious group — oppose the privatization of their oil resources.

Trade unions, oil experts, and various political parties in Iraq are all organizing against the law. And having already gone on strike in June, the influential oil workers union has threatened to do so again should the law pass in its current form.

Recently, six female Nobel Peace Prize laureates added their voices to the growing chorus of opposition. In a public statement, they urged: “The U.S. government should leave the matter of how Iraq will address the future of its oil system to the Iraqi people to be dealt with at a time when they are free from occupation and more able to engage in truly democratic decision-making.”

If this war is not about oil and we have even some regard for the will of the Iraqis, Congress must prove it by taking this disastrous benchmark off the table.

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