The Iraqis’ Failure to Pass the U.S.-Authored Oil Law

Missing the Benchmark

When it became apparent as of mid-2003 that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the mendacious Bush administration found a scapegoat: the CIA and its “intelligence failures.” No matter that the lies about Iraq originated in the circle around the Vice President, rather than the intelligence community; the CIA (powerless to protest by its very role in the system) was faulted and “reorganized” in an embarrassingly public way to make it friendlier to the Straussian/neocon concept of intelligence based on deception. The real disseminators of disinformation were meanwhile left off the hook. Anyway, arch-neocon lie-peddler Paul Wolfowitz told reporters after returning from an Iraq visit in July 2003, Americans shouldn’t be “fussing so much about this [merely] historical issue” when there are so many practical issues to attend to in Iraq, like fighting the Baathists and building democracy.

The reconstruction and democratization of Iraq became the new rationale for the invasion and occupation. But it’s become apparent that these are as much chimeras as the missing WMDs. The real prospect of failure looms — the failure of the U.S. to implant a government perceived by the people as legitimate; the failure to obtain adequate international cover for occupation; the failure to sufficiently persuade the American people that their youth aren’t dying for an Iraqi regime weak, doomed, paralyzed by factional division, dominated by various forms of Islamic fundamentalism. (One has to emphasize that this Islamist empowerment followed the wholesale purging of the secular Baathists accomplished in 2003. Bush now wants to undo that last deed, declaring January 10, 2007 that “to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation’s political life, the government [of Iraq] will reform de-Baathification laws — and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq’s constitution.” Washington worked well enough with the Baathists all through the Cold War, favoring them as a mainstream secular alternative to Islamists, and also anticommunist. Now bringing back secular Baathists is a benchmark for the Iraqis to meet. The problem is the U.S. has placed in most of the top positions people who don’t want to do that.)

If the U.S. must withdraw, those responsible for the war will need to deflect liability for the failure from themselves. The “sovereign” Iraqi regime — which was in fact created in response to massive demonstrations beginning in late 2003, created as window-dressing for ongoing occupation — has been targeted as the scapegoat for some time, threatened repeatedly with the withdrawal of U.S. support if it doesn’t meet Washington’s demands.

Democrats and Republicans, Congress and the administration, all take part in the scapegoating and thus (wittingly or not) protect the neocons responsible for the unfolding crime of occupation. They are blaming the victims: the Iraqi people who never asked to be invaded and have responded with a mix of violent resistance, militant protest, militia organizing, and sectarian fighting. The sectarian fighting would not be taking place had a secular government that had provided order, firmly separated mosque and state and kept the lid on political Islam not been destroyed by the invaders. But in U.S. political discourse it is attributed to Iraqis’ arcane centuries-old religious disputes, while attacks on U.S. troops are chalked up to fanatical anti-Americanism. “These are the same people who attacked us on 9-11,” insists Bush.

Of course the U.S. has few friends in Iraq. Polls have shown for a long time that the vast majority of Iraqis want the U.S. out! Such friends as it has are in the client regime headed by Nouri al-Maliki, a man highly uncomfortable in his position. He said in January, “I wish I could be done with it even before the end of this term. I didn’t want to take this position. I only agreed because I thought it would serve the national interest, and I will not accept it again.” Contradictions have developed between his administration (one divided within itself) and new Parliament on the one hand, and the U.S. government on the other. A majority of Iraqi legislators have recently called for the U.S. to withdraw. If you can’t get better cooperation than that from people risking their lives and reputations to work with you and give your imperialist project some cloak of legitimacy, you’re in big trouble.

So what do you do, if you’re an official in the government of the imperialist country responsible? While rabid American news commentators complain about how ungrateful the Iraqi people are for all America’s sacrifice on their behalf, you express your disappointment at the failure of the Iraqi “government” to meet U.S.-posted “benchmarks.” If you’re a legislator urging gradual withdrawal you say, “Well, Maliki’s government isn’t doing its job so we’re not going to help him anymore.” As though all this slaughter of Iraqis has been a form of altruistic assistance requited with incompetence. If on the other hand you’re urging, “Stay the course,” you can at some point proclaim some failing on the part of this sovereign Iraqi government the last straw and join your colleagues in endorsing an end to the war.

Reasons for blaming the victim vary. There are those who simply find it politically useful to say, “We did our best at establishing a democracy, but we should get out now and avoid involvement in their civil war.” That means not having to say you’re sorry about the dead and all that, while still satisfying the American masses’ demand for withdrawal. Then there are those mulling the replacement of Maliki by a military coup which might posture as a regime better organized to meet the dictated benchmarks as the country prepares for a “return to democracy.” (The U.S. has historically had no problem with military coups. The one in September last year in Thailand, deposing the first democratically elected prime minister in Thai history, met with a State Department statement of “disappointment,” zero media coverage and few cries of outrage. And have Americans been reminded lately that in October 1999 the constitutional prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, sought to replace the man who is now Pakistan’s president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who then seized power? Musharraf was the Army Chief of Staff, promoted to that post by Sharif a year earlier. When Sharif tried to replace him, the army executed a coup d’état. These days the State Department hails Musharraf as a statesman and key ally in the War on terror.)

What are these benchmarks Iraq is supposed to achieve? While administration officials have used the term broadly and vaguely, there are actually 18 specified in the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007. That’s Public Law 110-28, which mandated two reports from the president (one just released) indicating his judgment about Iraq’s progress in achieving the benchmarks. These involve security, political reconciliation, diplomacy, economic changes, etc., with the establishment of an effective Iraqi (puppet) army and reintegration of reconcilable Baathists near the top of the list. But the most important single benchmark to the neocons centered around Vice President Cheney’s office is the passing of the Hydrocarbon Act by the Iraqi parliament. This would reverse the nationalization of Iraqi oil accomplished by law in 1975.

As Rep. Dennis Kucinich recently explained in a long, detailed speech before the House of Representatives, the law was drafted by BearingPoint (a McLean, Virginia-based management consulting provider listed by the Center for Corporate Policy as the number 2 top war profiteer of 2004) in February 2006. It was presented soon thereafter to the newly-appointed Iraqi Oil Minister Dr. Hussein Al-Shahristani (a scientist in exile from 1991 who returned with the invaders in 2003). Shahristani then met in Washington DC with representatives of Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco and ConocoPhillips to get their comments on the draft. Shahristani promised (optimistically, as it turns out) the International Monetary Fund that the Iraqi parliament would pass the law by the end of 2006. But as Kucinich noted, the Iraqi parliament bunkered in the Green Zone hadn’t even seen the draft law yet. (The 33-page text was only leaked to the press on Feb. 15 of this year. One could say that like most products of Cheney’s office it had been marked “top secret.”) Months earlier an Oil Ministry official had said that Iraqi civil society and the general public would not be consulted at all on this matter!

London-based Iraqi political analyst Munir Chalabi has written that an as yet, unrevealed appendix to the draft law “will decide which oil fields will be allocated to the Iraqi National Oil Company (INOC) and which of the existing fields will be allocated to the IOCs [international oil companies]. The appendices will determine if 10% or possibly up to 80% of these major oil fields will be given to the IOCs.” Six women recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize recently wrote that the Hydrocarbon Act “would transform Iraq’s oil industry from a nationalized model to a commercial model that is much more open to U.S. corporate control. Its provisions allow much (if not most) of Iraq’s oil revenues to flow out of Iraq and into the pockets of international oil companies.” These voices are part of a rising chorus challenging the oil law.

Kucinich nicely documents U.S. efforts to shove this law down the Iraqi people’s throats and the smug assurance the law’s authors felt about its passage. But something happened — something the arrogant, sneaky, bullying, greedy proponents of the law in this country somehow didn’t anticipate. Civil society rebelled against the Hydrocarbon Act. The Sunni bloc in parliament rejected the law. So did the Shiite followers of Muqtada al-Sadr who denounce the act as an attack on Iraqi sovereignty. Oil field workers have staged protests and vowed “mutiny” if the law is passed. “This law cancels the great achievements of the Iraq people,” Subhi al-Badri, who heads the Iraqi Federation of Union Councils, said in a televised interview last week. “If the Iraqi Parliament approves this law, we will resort to mutiny. This law is a bomb that may kill everyone. Iraqi oil. … belongs to all future generations.” Even the Iraqi minister of planning and development, Ali Baban, has vowed to “resign one hour after [the] passing [of the] oil and gas draft law.”

Cheney, with one foot in the military-industrial complex and the other in the neocon cabal, is upset about this. In his last trip to Iraq, he told the Los Angeles Times, May 13, “I did make it clear that we believe it is very important to move on the issues before us in a timely fashion and any undue delay would be difficult to explain.” (Explain to whom? Certainly not the Iraqi people, who don’t want “their” lawmakers to approve the law. Nor the American people, who aren’t well-informed about the issue and not very well-disposed to the oil companies. Maybe Cheney means it would be hard to explain to Congress, where so many have signed onto a demand for progress on this benchmark as a condition for continued U.S. “support.”) Secretary of Defense Gates also, according to the Guardian, “rebuked politicians” during an Iraq visit in June “for failing to reach consensus on sharing oil revenues” — a euphemism for failing to provoke the Iraqi people by selling off the precious natural resource that produces 90% of Iraq’s revenue!

Yes, they are getting very upset at the Iraqi legislators’ failure to pass that act. No doubt angry too at the oil workers; the Sunni bloc in parliament, the Sadrists and the foreign critics. So they try to depict opposition as being ethnic-based (a squabble among these inscrutable fractious people about who gets what quantity of the oil profits) rather than acknowledging their own desire to claim a hefty share. They want to depict the Iraqi politicians’ delay in passing this law so crucial to their own rapacious selves as a reflection of conflicting Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish claims to shares of oil revenue petty enough to resolve through a few days of talks with some expert U.S. input. But as Kucinich notes, the “fact is that except for three scant lines, the entire 33 page ‘Hydrocarbon Law,’ is about creating a complex legal structure to facilitate the privatization of Iraqi oil.” The issue holding up passage isn’t ethnic and religious rivalries but Iraqi nationalism versus imperialist globalization.

The Iraqi parliament’s plans for a long summer break have drawn strong reaction in Washington. Maybe it’s to escape the 130 degree heat, Bush spokesman Tony Snow suggested. That drew reactions from legislators again blaming Iraqis for this whole mess. “If they go off on vacation for two months while our troops fight — that would be the outrage of outrages,” declared Rep. Chris Shays ( R-Conn). (Snow was forced to apologize for his remark and thus cave in to the bashing of the Iraqi lawmakers.) But maybe the parliament, that has met rarely and often lacked a quorum, just finds itself inclined to respond to overbearing U.S. pressure on this oil issue and others by absenting itself for awhile. Sort of like going on strike.

Thus the failure of Iraqis to meet this “benchmark” in a timely fashion, as demanded by Dick Cheney, the International Monetary Fund, Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco and ConocoPhillips, and the U.S. Congress is a failure to say, “Yes, Boss, go ahead and rape my country. Even more than you already have! You overthrew our dictator, so your deserve it! Thank you!” Congress and the administration are almost united in demanding this statement of abject submission in the form of the Hydrocarbon Law. Sen. John Warner in particular has led efforts to pressure the Iraqi puppet regime to get this passed and he’s produced overwhelming bipartisan support. Just goes to show you: we live in an imperialist country in which those holding high political office almost inevitably cast their votes for what the Nobel laureates cited above call “more U.S. corporate control.”

Kucinich seems to be an exception. By no coincidence, he has introduced House Resolution 333, calling for Vice President’s impeachment. As the people of Iraq rise up against this made-in-Cheney’s-office draft law, we can help them by forcing the ouster (now!) of the Cheney/Bush regime.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Gary.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Deadbeat said on July 28th, 2007 at 11:06am #

    A “Law” For Oil?!

    So the U.S. went to war and spent billions and untold carnage to get a law passed.

  2. david kennedy said on July 31st, 2007 at 8:59am #

    Anyone of independent mind – that is, those not taken in by the propaganda of the ruling clique – can recognise what lay behind the wiping of Yugoslavia from the map and the follow-up rape of Iraq.

    In both cases it was to serve the interests of ‘big oil’.

    Yes, the war was precisely to get a law passed – a law that gives the ruling power what it wants under a cloak of legitmacy. It would allow the exploitation of Iraqi oil, worth trillions of dollars (and growing with the increasing price of oil) for the benefit of the multinational oil companies.

    Energy is essential to the economies of the West and you can get no more important than that. It is certainly worth the torture, death and destruction that has been paid and which will continue to be paid.

    This price is NOT being paid by the ruling power junta, but by people whom the junta regard as expendable (and that includes American service personnel), what they term “collateral damage” in their scheme of things.

  3. edtruth said on July 31st, 2007 at 12:02pm #

    Yep pretty much, with oil contracts we can keep printing money to “trade” for oil, a pretty good deal for US and its economic partners. Without the oil there is nothing to back the fiat cash system and the empire crumbles.

  4. Curtis said on August 30th, 2007 at 4:14pm #


  5. M Swaid said on August 30th, 2007 at 11:29pm #

    So…well. Don’t worry. No one can destroy Islam. You see….Allah didn’t write this amazing parable and decide to play the role of loser.

    We muslims know that. This is just the precursor to his victory. Hard to watch I know. Hard to watch.

    Salaam wa alaikum wa rahmatullah.