8 March 2008

Why is our oil in another country?

By Liam Carroll

"Why does our oil have to be in other people's countrys?" read one of the placards on the historic anti-war march that took place in February 2003 shortly before the invasion of Iraq on March 19. The implication of the placard was clear enough – that the war was being launched to seize control of the oil resources in Iraq – but it left the sordid details to the imagination.

Well, you couldn't have asked for a better account of exactly how the horror of the security situation in Iraq was being exploited to force through the privatization of the world’s second largest oil reserves, than the one delivered to an attentive audience in St Gregory's Centre for the Arts, Norwich, last Sunday night.

Hassan Juma'a, President of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, on a speaking tour of the country to alert people to their struggle in Iraq and seek support for the anti-war demonstration in London next Saturday (15th March), gave us his first hand account of how his country's oil was being liberated, not its people.

"Some Iraqi's" he explained "expected the removal of Saddam Hussein to be the turning over of a new leaf for the country", but "were soon disappointed as chaos followed and important infrastructure was destroyed, except for that of the heavily protected Oil Ministry" giving an early indication of the invaders priorities. The ministry was important because it contained the maps and figures that documented the countries oil resources.

Paul Bremer, the first proconsul of Iraq, was then quick to demand the preservation of Saddam's hated Law 150 that restricted the activities of unions and free expression, only a few months into the occupation.

Understanding that the country needed the income from oil production, which represented more than 70% of the country's GDP, the indigenous oil workers worked hard to overcome enforced stoppages, severe material shortages and other US obstructions, to maintain a production level of 2½ million barrels per day compared to a pre-war level of 4.

This undermines the American claim, Hassan told us, that only the multinationals can develop and run the Iraqi oil industry, which had actually been nationalized and run by the Iraqi's since 1973.

"If the Americans had come to liberate us, there would have been at least some benefits," he said "but the democracy has brought only pain and destruction with 4 million people dispersed from their homes." He complained that there was no reconstruction and that the foreign troops only huddled in their military bunkers while Iraqis suffered.

"How do the occupying forces cover their failures?" he asked, "by divide and rule, by blaming terrorists, by exaggerating the sectarian strife. It is painful for me that I am always asked about sectarian differences wherever I go, but I am a Shia, and my wife is Sunni, and according to all these people she should be at my throat!"

"Then the US designed the Oil Law" we were told, "even though Iraqis are quite capable of making our own oil policies. For George W Bush the Oil Law, if it is ever passed, will be a gold plated trophy for him to bring back from Iraq. That is why the first person to congratulate the cabinet, when they approved the Oil Law, was Condoleeza Rice! But we, the Iraqi oil workers, were the first to oppose it. We have succeeded so far (Iraq's Parliament has been under pressure to pass the law for over a year now, but has not done so), thanks to the help of the Stop the War Coalition and all the people who have publicized our struggle on the internet."

The Oil Law, as it currently stands, envisages long term contracts known as Production Sharing Agreements that would guarantee a rock bottom price per barrel of oil be paid to Iraq over 30-40 years, while an estimated 75% of the profits would remain with the international oil companies that want to develop the fields. These arrangements are very unusual in the industry, and normally only used when the field size is unproven or the oil hard to extract. Iraq has some of the most accessible fields in the world, most of which are proven and are of the highest quality.

"Therefore we want to bring an end to the five years of occupation and ask you to demonstrate in London as it will do us a great service, and then one day, hopefully we'll meet in Basra after the foreign mercenaries have left. Thank you so much for letting me speak."

Coaches leave 8.00 am from Theatre Royal, 15th March 2006. Tickets; £12/£8 from The Greenhouse, Bethel Street, Norwich.