The Iraq Oil Ministry: In the Service of the Oil Companies?

According to the OneWorld news service, a recent poll of 2200 Iraqis representing all religious, social and ethnic groups inside the country conducted by KA Research showed an overwhelming percentage of those polled to be opposed to the privatization of the country’s oil resources. The poll, which was paid for by a number of British and US nonprofit organizations including Oil Change International, the Institute for Policy Studies, Global Policy Forum, PLATFORM, and Jubilee Iraq, showed 66 percent of the Sunni, 62 percent of the Shia and 52 percent of the Kurds support national control of Iraq’s oil. Meanwhile, Kurdish officials are ignoring this desire and with the Baghdad government are going ahead with plans to offer 40 new oil blocks to foreign companies. In addition to the move by these Kurdish authorities, the Dow Jones newswire reported on August 8, 2007 that “oil giants Total SA and Chevron Corp. have signed a services agreement that would lead to the two jointly exploring and developing hydrocarbons from one of Iraq’s biggest oil fields once the country gets an oil law in place.” The report goes on, stating that although there is no production sharing agreement (PSA) in place yet with Iraqi Green Zone officials, the agreement between the two corporations the services contract gives them a a “large advance” on the exploitation of the oil field in question. That field is known as the Majnoon field and lies near the Iranian border. It holds an estimated 12 billion barrels of oil, making it the fourth largest in Iraq. Besides, the Majnoon field, the two corporations are also looking to seal an agreement on a smaller field in the same region.

To date, there is no oil law in place in Iraq, but if Washington and its Iraqi clients inside the Green Zone have their way, the law currently being considered will be passed in September. As most followers of the Iraqi situation know, this law will essentially remove Iraqi control over any unexploited oil resources inside Iraq territory. That control will then be sold to the foreign bidders, with US and British corporations predominant among those bidders. The framework within which these transactions will occur are known as production sharing agreements or PSAs. This oil law, which was written as much in the office buildings where Washington bureaucrats and Wall Street capitalists meet and conspire to grab the world’s riches as it was in Baghdad, is one of the primary benchmarks that virtually all of official Washington is insisting its client government in Baghdad agree to as soon as possible. Unfortunately for the White House and Congress, a majority of the Iraqi parliament is refusing to go along with the program and has consistently denied Washington this ultimate plum of a reward for its invasion of Iraq and the destruction of its society and infrastructure. What will happen if the law isn’t passed by the end of September when US general Petraeus makes his report to Congress remains to be seen.

There are those in the Green Zone government that are doing whatever they can to push this law forward as quickly as possible and with its essential ingredients intact. One of those involved in this attempted robbery of an Iraqi national resource is Hussein Shahrastani, the country’s oil minister. Shahrastani’s most recent undertaking in support of the effort to make the legislation law was to ban the Iraqi Oil Worker’s Union. Although the Iraqi constitution that was put in place in 2005 guarantees ‘the right of forming and joining professional associations and unions,’ the fact that there have been no laws passed to describe how these workers’ organizations will be formed and administered is being used by the Oil Ministry to state that there can be no unions until such laws are written and passed. So, Shahrastani has dusted off an old law from the time of Saddam that forbids the forming of any type of unions and simply denied the Oil Workers’ Union’s existence. Despite this legal shell game, the oil workers’ rank and file is standing with the union and continues to organize against the implementation of the new oil law. If the poll is to be believed (and there is little reason to deny it), then these workers are much more in tune with their fellow Iraqis than those in the Green Zone that support the law and its fountain pen grand larceny.

As for the move by the Kurdish officials, although it appears to be a further attempt to emphasize Kurdish autonomy, the fact that most Kurds oppose the end of Iraqi national control of the oil resources gives the move a different appearance. Indeed, it appears to be more of an attempt by some Kurdish elites to make grandiose profits for themselves in the name of the Kurdish nation. This would not be the first time such a thing happened, as the modern history of Kurdish nation is replete with instances of men acting for themselves in the name of the Kurdish people.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground and Tripping Through the American Night, and the novels Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator's Tale. His third novel All the Sinners, Saints is a companion to the previous two and was published early in 2013. Read other articles by Ron.