November 07, 2006

The Oil Law And Dividing Iraq

So will Big Oil ever be able to sign their coveted new Oil Law, either with a central Baghdad government or with regional powers? Read this:
A new oil law could help Iraq's oil sector and its crumbling infrastructure by resolving how Iraq's Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions would share oil revenues and resources, and broker deals with international oil companies regarding desperately needed exploration and development.

Most of Iraq's known oil wealth is exported from the south, where majority Shiites predominate and where U.S. and Iraqi ground forces and ships work around the clock to protect Iraq's main offshore oil terminal near Basra from insurgent attacks.

In the other main area — the Kurdish north — the regional government already has signed agreements with small international oil companies, in defiance of the central government. Minority Sunnis, who mostly live in barren, war-torn central and western Iraq, worry they will be left with little or no control over the country's oil industry.

"The Kurds have submitted a draft Petroleum Act to be adopted that gives them the right to control oil, regardless of the government in Baghdad. The Oil Ministry has submitted another completely different draft that gives the authority to the ministry, not regions. It's the main issue of the conflict: oil and Kurds," said [former Iraq Oil Minister Issam] al-Chalabi.
That sounds like quite a big obstacle to the Oil Law, but it is an issue which will have to be resolved, one way or the other, in its own right.

Juan Cole's op-ed, "Breaking Iraq Apart, argues against partition:
The vagueness and, frankly, incoherence of some of the comments made about splitting up Iraq by politicians on the stump suggests that they are using the idea merely as an election-season mantra. They are putting it forward as an exit strategy. Divide the place up and get out, they say, hoping that if the Iraqis could not live with one another peacefully inside one country, they will be able to do so once they are separated.

Historically, partition has not always brought peace. The partition of Germany by the United States and the Soviet Union after World War II provoked a nuclear standoff and nail-biting tensions for 40 years. The British Empire in its waning days agreed in 1947 to partition colonial India into the nations of India and Pakistan, which went on to fight several wars and now brandish nuclear weapons at one another. The partition of Palestine in 1948 set the stage for six Arab-Israeli wars.

The purely American context of these deliberations about the fate of a whole Middle Eastern nation seems somewhat detached from reality.
Cole warns of "the dangerous shoals of religion, national identity and geopolitics in the area".
The neighbors of Iraq fear that the aftermath of an Iraq partition will be a regional conflagration. Partition is strongly rejected by U.S. allies in the region, such as Turkey (a NATO member) and Saudi Arabia. Riyadh's ambassador in Washington, Prince Turki al-Faisal, warned last week that dividing Iraq into three parts ``is to envision sectarian killing on a massive scale and the uprooting of families.'' He added emphatically that Iraqis were too intermingled to be neatly divided up, and that ``Those who call for a partition of Iraq are calling for a three-fold increase in the problems.''

Some of the Saudi uneasiness about a breakup of Iraq derives from fear that a Shiite super-province or new country in southern Iraq will fall under the influence of the ayatollahs in Tehran. The royal family is also anxious about what it will mean for the loyalties of the kingdom's own Shiites, who make up 10 percent of Saudis.
Turkey, which has a large Kurdish minority, is also nervous about the prospect of a Kurdish state on its doorstep.

Cole cites Senator Joe Biden's (D-Del) plan for "three big ethnically homogeneous provinces under a fairly weak federal government, which would nevertheless try to hold the country together by keeping control of petroleum receipts and sharing them with the provinces".

Interestingly, the Bush White House is also against the idea of partitioning Iraq.

On the other hand, here's Peter W. Galbraith in TIME:
The case for the partition of Iraq is straightforward: It has already happened...

In the December 2005 national elections, Shi'ites voted overwhelmingly for Shi'ite religious parties, Sunni Arabs for Sunni religious or nationalist parties, and the Kurds for Kurdish nationalist parties. Fewer than 10% of Iraq's Arabs crossed sectarian lines. The Kurds voted 98.7% for independence in a nonbinding referendum.

Iraq's new constitution, approved by 80% of Iraq's voters, is a road map to partition. The constitution allows Iraq's three main groups to establish powerful regions, each with its own government, substantial control over the oil resources in its territory and even its own regional army. Regional law supersedes federal law on almost all matters. The central government is so powerless that, under the constitution, it cannot even impose a tax.
It seems to me that the Iraqis must decide for themselves which way to go - split or not - and Big Oil will be waiting and ready when they do. In fact, Big Oil will be holding out bribes and contracts to get the partition (or not) deals done. Profits are the bottom line. Victory in Iraq is still not lost.


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