The struggle over future control of Iraq’s oil is coming to a head, with parliament deeply divided over American proposals designed to benefit the major corporations and the country’s trade unionists vowing to resist any foreign takeover. It adds to the deepening crisis engulfing the US-UK four-year occupation of Iraq. Among Americans, sentiment against the Iraq war is at its highest level ever at 76% while the so-called surge of US troops has made no difference in terms of stability and security. Behind the invasion was the dream of privatising Iraq’s state-owned oil industry and opening up the world’s third largest reserves to the global market. Like all the other fantasies concocted by the White House, the notion of easy control of Iraq’s oil has also come up against harsh reality.
Despite attempts to keep the parliamentary process hidden from view, more and more Iraqis are coming to realise the purpose behind a law drafted in Washington before the invasion even took place. The long-sought "hydrocarbons framework" law would give Big Oil virtually unrestricted access to 80% of Iraq’s reserves. According to leaked documents, Iraq stands to lose billions of dollars in oil revenue. Meanwhile, a parallel law carving up the country’s oil revenues between the different regions will add to the sectarian and ethnic divisions that have appeared since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Trade unionists are the most powerful group opposing the carve-up. Subhi al-Badri, head of the Iraqi Federation of Union Councils, said recently: “This law cancels the great achievements of the Iraq people. If the Iraqi Parliament approves this law, we will resort to mutiny. This law is a bomb that may kill everyone. Iraqi oil does not belong to any certain side. It belongs to all future generations." Oil workers staged a three-day strike last month, defying arrests by armed troops, and union president Hassan Jumaa Awaad, has warned: “If those calling for production-sharing agreements insist on acting against the will of Iraqis, we say to them that history will not forgive those who play recklessly with wealth and destiny of a people and that the curse of heaven and the fury of Iraqis will not leave them.”
A recent poll commissioned by a coalition of NGOs and other groups found that a clear majority Iraqis from all ethnic groups would prefer "Iraq's oil to be developed and produced by Iraqi state-owned companies" over foreign companies. Most Iraqis are, however, in the dark about the laws, in yet another example of US-style “democracy”. More than three out of four Iraqis - including nine of 10 Sunni Arabs - say "the level of information provided by the Iraqi government on this law" was not adequate for them to "feel informed" about the issue.
Far from being a great display of US-driven global corporate power and reach, the invasion and occupation of Iraq has turned into a great debacle. It is coming to represent the end of empire rather than the beginning of a new one, the place where corporate-driven globalisation ran into the sands.
Paul Feldman, AWTW communications editor