A new oil law set to go before the Iraqi Parliament this month would, if passed, go a long way toward helping the oil companies achieve their goal. The Iraq hydrocarbon law would take the majority of Iraqâ€™s oil out of the exclusive hands of the Iraqi government and open it to international oil companies for a generation or more.
In March 2001, the National Energy Policy Development Group (better known as Vice President Dick Cheneyâ€™s energy task force), which included executives of Americaâ€™s largest energy companies, recommended that the United States government support initiatives by Middle Eastern countries â€œto open up areas of their energy sectors to foreign investment.â€ One invasion and a great deal of political engineering by the Bush administration later, this is exactly what the proposed Iraq oil law would achieve. It does so to the benefit of the companies, but to the great detriment of Iraqâ€™s economy, democracy and sovereignty.
The recent hydrocarbon law, approved after much wrangling by Iraq’s council of ministers, deserves a great deal more praise than it has been receiving. For one thing, it abolishes the economic rationale for dictatorship in Iraq. For another, it was arrived at by a process of parley and bargain that, while still in its infancy, demonstrates the possibility of a cooperative future. For still another, it shames the oil policy of Iraq’s neighbors and reinforces the idea that a democracy in Baghdad could still teach a few regional lessons.
To illustrate my point by contrast: Can you easily imagine the Saudi government allocating oil revenues so as to give a fair share to the ground-down and despised Shiite workers who toil, for the most part, in the oil fields of the eastern region of the country?