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Wall Street drools over prospect of capturing Iraq oil wealth
The Iraqi cabinet’s adoption last week of a law creating the legal framework for turning over the country’s oil wealth to American corporations has touched off a chorus of salutes from the Bush administration, congressional Democrats and the corporate-controlled American media.
Perhaps the crassest expression of money-grubbing glee came in the Wall Street Journal, which published an article March 4 celebrating the unlocking of untold riches, including “dozens of untouched oil fields loaded with proven reserves and scores of exploration blocks that may prove a magnet to international oil companies.”
The draft law lists 51 oil fields, 27 in production and the balance with proven reserves, as well as 65 exploration blocks. The fallow fields and exploration blocks are located in every region of the country, while the working fields are concentrated in the northern region around Kirkuk and in the southern region near the border with Kuwait. Citing a cabinet document, the Journal reported that “Iraqi officials must first agree to the framework of contracts to be used when negotiating with foreign oil companies by March 15 if the country’s draft hydrocarbons law is to be submitted to parliament for its approval.”
The draft law calls for reviewing and renegotiating contracts with Russian, French and Chinese oil producers, signed under Saddam Hussein. These countries, which initially opposed the US invasion, are expected to be cut out of any lucrative oil deals in favor of American and British companies.
The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki endorsed the draft law February 26, after months of bitter conflicts among the representatives of rival bourgeois factions within Iraq—Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite—over the terms of the deal. Approval is likely in the Iraqi parliament, although not certain, as news of the agreement is sure to provoke widespread popular outrage over the sell-off of the country’s most valuable resource.
The cabinet conflict revolved around two related issues: Kurdish determination to hold onto Kirkuk, a city of mixed Arab, Kurdish and Turkomen population that is the center of the northern branch of Iraq’s oil industry; and the Sunni demand for revenue-sharing at the national rather than regional level, since the proven oil reserves are largely in the Shiite and Kurdish populated areas, with relatively little in the central and western provinces where most Sunnis live.
Neither issue was completely settled, but the formula agreed upon under heavy pressure from outgoing US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who reportedly dictated the final terms, provides rather more concessions to the Sunnis, largely at the expense of the Kurds.
In public, the Bush administration and congressional leaders of both parties have cited the working out of inter-ethnic compromises as the main purpose of the oil legislation. In reality, however, the Bush administration sought an agreement on whatever terms it could impose, so that the Iraqi oil industry could be placed on legal foundations suitable for opening it up to foreign (and largely American) capital.