The US wants to get it hands on Iraq’s oil wealth and is pressuring the Iraqi government to pass a law that will mortgage the country’s future, says Hassan Jumaa Awad, the leader of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions.
The union, which represents 26,000 oil workers in southern Iraq, recently staged a series of strikes in protest at the proposed oil law.
The US has made passing the law one of its “benchmarks” to judge the success of its “surge” strategy to regain control of the country.
Hassan Jumaa accuses the US of wanting to “fill its hands with Iraqi oil”. The proposed new law will hand over the oil industry to multinational companies and drain Iraq of its wealth.
Hassan Jumaa said, “There is agreement among all sections of the US, including among the military and those in the US Congress who want to withdraw from Iraq, that they should have control over our oil.
“George Bush failed in the military aspect of the occupation, but if he can force this law through then he could claim some kind of victory.
“When the US ends its military occupation over our country its economic occupation will continue for many years to come.”
Hassan Jumaa Awad was in Britain recently as part of an international campaign against the proposed law.
He met British trade union leaders and visited a postal workers’ picket line at Mount Pleasant sorting office in central London on Thursday of last week.
He warned people that the proposed oil law, which is now being debated in the Iraqi parliament, is creating huge anger among Iraqis, including those who are part of the government.
The oil workers’ leader debunked a series of “myths” used to justify the oil law.
He said that one of these is that Iraq needs foreign investment, and that multinationals need to be guaranteed profits before they pour money into the industry as part of “production sharing agreements”.
He said, “Iraq produces up to 2,100,000 barrels of oil a day. The revenue from that is $43 billion. Iraq potentially has a huge amount of revenue to develop future operations and reconstruction.”
This can be done by the national oil company: “If multinationals want to take part in rebuilding the industry they have to do so under the control of Iraqis and not as a scheme to loot the country’s resources.”
He said that despite a preamble that guarantees control over the industry to the Iraqi National Oil Company, hidden away in the footnotes are provisions that effectively surrender all control over the industry.
“The greatest problem is the references to the four appendixes to the oil law,” he said.
“Appendixes one and two state that production in existing oil fields remain within the control of the national company.
“But appendixes three and four state that all newly discovered oil fields must be handed over to foreign companies.
“There is a newly discovered field in Wasit province in central Iraq with the potential to fill millions of barrels of oil.
“Under the law this new field will be given over to multinationals.”
He said the national oil company should have exclusive rights to produce oil in the interest of the Iraqi people.
According to Hassan Jumaa, the oil law was drafted in secret under US pressure and this “contravened the articles of the new Iraqi constitution that states that Iraqi oil and gas wealth is the property of the Iraqi people.
“We are critical of the process, how the law was written behind closed doors and how they kept the Iraqi people in the dark about important details of this proposed law.
“The US and Britain are exerting maximum pressure on the Iraqi government to pass such a law.”
Hassan Jumaa said that oil workers were leading the opposition to the law.
The union staged a two day strike in May demanding revisions to the law and improvements in wages and conditions. The government issued arrest warrants against the union leaders.
Hassan Jumaa Awad stressed that the condition of the industry reflects the deteriorating situation across the country.
He said, “Whatever you see on the TV about Iraq, the misery of its people, I tell you that the conditions on the ground are much worse.
“We hold the US directly responsible for this situation, and we warned from the beginning that the occupation would be a disaster.
“It is unwise and unwelcome to introduce laws that will bind future generations. Iraq is under occupation and no law that affects our future should be introduced.”
He dismissed claims that the security situation in the south of Iraq had created conditions for reconstruction.
Hassan Jumaa said, “A lot of people predicted that because of relative calm in Basra there would be more reconstruction and that this would become an example for the other provinces.
“But this is not the case. Despite the relative calm in comparison to other provinces, we no see no programme of reconstruction.”
Hassan Jumaa warned that the proposed law will create severe problems for the country’s future.
He said, “If this law is carried now it will affect future generations, and will impact upon the reconstruction programme.
“This is an important issue for us because oil revenue accounts for 85-90 percent of our national income. Iraq needs every penny to rebuild shattered lives and a shattered economy.”
For more information on the campaign go to » www.basraoilunion.org