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Iraqi oil law

04/09/07 12:00AM By Jay Craven
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(HOST)As we work to find new solutions to the conflict in Iraq, commentator Jay Craven wonders if we're overlooking the old question of who will control the oil.

(CRAVEN) Like many Vermonters, I'm following Congressional deliberations on the Iraq war, but I'm concerned that the debate in Congress may be lacking an important dimension.

After the recent U.S. Senate vote, Alabama Republican Senator Richard Shelby said he hopes U.S. forces will prevail soon since, quote, no one wants us to remain in Iraq forever."

Senator Shelby is right - few people say they favor a long-term military force in Iraq - but I'm beginning to think that some policy makers may be aiming at just that.

U.S. leaders have presented the Iraqi government with a list of "benchmarks" that call for constitutional reform, local elections, and outreach to former Baath Party members.

Perhaps the most important benchmark for the Americans is passage of the Iraq Oil Bill. Indeed, Secretary of State Rice made a recent surprise trip to Bagdhad and the Oil Law was on her mind. Quote, I'm told that the oil law is almost complete.'' she said. ''I've heard it's almost complete before, and this time I hope it really is complete - as in, complete. It's really critical . End quote.

Most press accounts describe the Oil Law's plan for equitable distribution of royalties to Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. What is not said is that those oil revenues will be only a fraction of what they are today.

Iraq has the world's second largest oil supply. The proposed law will de-nationalize most Iraqi oil and open its exploration and production to foreign companies.

Writing in the New York Times, oil analyst Antonia Juhasz notes that three quarters of the world's oil supply is nationalized--owned and controlled by governments including Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, and others. Until about thirty-five years ago most of this oil was in the hands of seven corporations that have now merged into four: Exxon/Mobil, Chevron, Shell, and British Petroleum. The new Iraqi Oil Law will allow these companies to again dominate a huge oil supply.

Short-term advantage may surely be gained by advancing U.S. and other corporate access to Iraq's oil supply. But what will be the long-term consequence of this radical change? Do we think that the insurgency will stop, given the prospect of massive oil revenues leaving Iraq? Or that the threat of terrorist attacks against us will be reduced?

And while private armies are envisioned to protect new foreign-controlled Iraqi oil wells, the U.S. military has also been building what the Pentagon calls "enduring bases." What's the plan?

Some Iraqi parliament members and five trade union federations oppose the Oil Law and reject, quote, "the handing of control over oil to foreign companies, which would undermine the sovereignty of the state and the dignity of the Iraqi people.'' End quote.

According to Antonia Juhasz writing in the Times, quote, "the Iraqi unionists ask for more time, less pressure and a chance at the democracy they have been promised."

We may do well to heed their call.

Filmmaker Jay Craven teaches at Marlboro College and directs Kingdom County Productions.

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