Iraqi oil for the Iraqis? Not if the occupiers have their way.

In an article in today’s edition of The Guardian the senior lecturer in Middle East economics at the University of Exeter, Dr. Kamil Mahdi, draws readers attention to the fact that that the Iraqi government, which has very little control over anything that goes on in that country, is, with the help of USAid, the World Bank and the UN,  is framing an oil law which favours foreign oil firms and which, if passed, may well deprive future generations of Iraqis of control over the one resource they have in some abundance.

Government officials, including the deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, have announced that the draft oil law is ready to be presented to the cabinet for approval. Salih was an enthusiast for the US-led invasion of Iraq, and the Kurdish militia-led administration he represents has signed illegal oil agreements that it is now seeking to legalise. Given that parliament has not been meeting regularly, it is likely that legislation will be rushed through after a deal brokered under the auspices of the US occupation.

There is nothing unpredictable or in any way earth-shattering about this piece of news. If you invade a country, you simply reap the rewards. Or so the argument goes. I don’t suppose Bush or his cronies are too eager to have it known that not only were they in the business of liberating Iraq from the tyranny of a dictator, they were also in the business of making sure that that blighted country’s natural resources did not get into the wrong hands. But even if it is known, they will no doubt justify themselves by saying that someone must foot the bill for rebuilding Iraq. The old imperial instinct never goes away, does it? It just takes another form.

Dr. Mahdi issues a stark warning.

The oil law is likely to open the door to these corporations at a time when Iraq‘s capacity to regulate and control their activities will be highly circumscribed. It would therefore place the responsibility for protecting the country’s vital national interest on the shoulders of a few vulnerable technocrats in an environment where blood and oil flow together in abundance. Common sense, fairness and Iraq’s national interest dictate that this draft law must not be allowed to pass during these abnormal times, and that long-term contracts of 10, 15 or 20 years must not be signed before peace and stability return, and before Iraqis can ensure that their interests are protected.

If Tony Blair, who likes to lecture us a lot on common-sense and fairness, really wants to do something to repair the damage he has done in Iraq, and if he wants make the last days in office seem less tarnished, he should be working to expose this piece of gross mismanagement by the Iraqi government for what it is. Will he? I wouldn’t bet on it.

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