A PACKED public meeting of more than 300 British trade unionists and anti-war campaigners has heard an Iraqi trade union leader speak out against American government plans to seize the country’s vast oil reserves.
The meeting in London on Wednesday night was told that Iraq’s oil revenues account for some ‘95 per cent’ of its earnings, and that the oil law being planned demonstrated what the anti-war movement had said all along, that the Iraq war was a war for oil.
The meeting was organised by Naftana (‘Our Oil’) and supported by the Stop The War Coalition and Hands Off Iraqi Oil.
A press statement issued before the meeting, said the 26,000-strong Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) ‘has a policy of advocating national unity, no privatisation of Iraqi oil and has consistently called for immediate withdrawal of the occupation forces since 2004.’
It added: ‘In June 2007 Iraqi troops were sent into the Iraqi oil sector and arrest warrants issued against IFOU leaders after a decision to strike over unfulfilled agreements.
‘International pressure succeeded in the withdrawal of troops and a return to negotiations.’
Hassan Jumaa Awad al-Assadi, president of the IFOU, said: ‘The British people need to hear about the occupation’s planned theft of Iraqi oil disguised as “The Hydrocarbon Law’’.’
During his visit to Britain, the IFOU president has been meeting British MPs, trade union leaders, journalists and anti-war movement leaders.
In his address to Wednesday night’s meeting, he said: ‘Greetings in my name and the name of oil workers and their unions and other trade unions in Iraq and I would like to tell you our trade union actually started immediately after the occupation and the downfall of Saddam’s criminal regime.
‘I would like to enlighten you about the oil law and why our union is opposed to the law, which will be sent to parliament soon.
‘When the occupation forces invaded Iraq they destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure and we notice how they destroyed schools, hospitals and other infrastructure installations, but they kept safely the oil installations and pumping stations for oil.’
He continued: ‘There is no clearer proof that the invading forces did not come merely to replace Saddam, but came to control the oil fields of Iraq.
‘Immediately after the occupation, we decided in the oil fields in Basra to reconstitute our union.’
He said the union’s objectives were: ‘One: controlling oil production; second: to protect the rights of workers and their salaries – because of the chaos that followed the occupation workers didn’t receive any wages.’
He said that one of the first acts of the union came on August 10, 2003, within months of the beginning of the occupation, when the union decided to strike against the American contractor Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), to stop the company moving into the Zubair oil field in Basra.
‘We decided to face down this company, despite the fact that they were protected by British and American tanks,’ he said to loud applause.
‘One of the secrets of the success of our union is that it doesn’t ally itself to any of the parties active in the political process,’ al-Assadi went on to say.
‘We pride ourselves on this independence, in that we secure the interests of workers and the aims of the union.
‘Otherwise it will become an utter failure, if it is dominated by any of these parties.’
He said that on Monday this week there were a number of demonstrations, in Basra and three other cities in southern Iraq, organised by the union, which he described as an ‘early warning to the US government and its oil companies not to touch Iraq’s oil fields.’
He added to more applause: ‘Our aim is for the total control of Iraq’s oil by the Iraqi people, under the umbrella of the Iraqi National Oil Company.’
He then said: ‘I would like to tell you about how the oil law came about.
‘The first draft law was published on January 15 this year.
‘Initially, three people were involved in drafting an oil law, oil experts. . .
‘The version that appeared on January 15 was not in fact the version these three experts actually wrote and two said the law had nothing to do with what they wrote and presented to the Iraqi government.’
He said the law was in fact redrafted because it had displeased the United States administration.
In fact, he said, the third expert involved in the original drafting also thought the draft oil law was not what he had written.
Al-Assadi said that on February 6, 2007, the union organised a seminar in Basra against the oil law.
A number of Iraqi experts and academics addressed the conference and presented to the Iraqi government a final statement of the seminar to reflect the Iraqi oil union’s position.
He said: ‘I warned the US government against entering Iraq’s oil fields without a legal umbrella that served the Iraqi people.
‘There were other conferences held against the oil law, significantly the Amman conference of Iraqi oil experts who also sent their opposition to the law to the Iraqi parliament.
‘Our own opposition focused on the production-sharing element within the law.’
Al-Assadi said ‘we were surprised’ when the February 15 version of the oil law removed “production-sharing elements’’, but replaced them with “exploration’’ arrangements.
‘But it was a cosmetic subterfuge,’ he said, ‘replacing one phrase with another but leaving the substance the same.’
He said that ‘production-sharing agreements’ are normally reached when there is a ‘high risk’ involved.
‘But Iraq sits on oil,’ he said. ‘There is no risk attached.
‘The cost of producing Iraqi oil is minimal in comparison to the cost of producing it in other regions.’
He said production costs in Iraq were just ‘$1 to $1.5 per barrel’.
He added: ‘Control of Iraqi oil is being squandered.
‘Even though the Iraqi National Oil Company is going to be re-established – they scrapped it for political reasons – the oil law appendices three and four state that regions belonging to the Iraqi National Oil Company will also be subject to production-sharing agreements, stripping it of its real operational value within the Iraqi oil sector.
‘There will be fields for the Iraqi National Oil Company and fields outside the control of the Iraqi National Oil Company.
‘The appendices even undermine control of the fields nominally under the control of the Iraqi National Oil Company.
‘Iraqi technicians and engineers are well capable of boosting Iraqi oil production.
‘At one time, Iraq was producing four million barrels of oil per day, now it is about one million per day.
‘We in Iraq have become used to Bush’s lies and probably Bush is the biggest liar in the world, because he talks about achieving justice in Iraq through this oil law!
‘If Bush is really interested in justice, he might push the Iraqi government and parliament to enact the restructuring and investments law because that does tackle investing in Iraq’s infrastructure and a fairer distribution of Iraq’s oil across the country.
‘Another very important aspect of the oil law is undermining the unity of the Iraqi people and this is done through the 18 provinces as well as the federal bits they are dreaming of establishing.
‘The Iraqi constitution has a loophole giving the 18 provinces and the federations greater powers over the oil fields, giving them rights and aspects of control, challenging the central control of Baghdad.
‘It is like a timebomb to splinter the Iraqi people.
‘It gives them massive rights over the Iraqi unified decision-making process.’
Al-Assadi continued: ‘An important part regarding the law is that the January 15 version referred to potential conflict between foreign oil companies and the Iraqi side resorting to third party jurisdictions not within the Iraqi law.
‘The February version said Iraqi justice should take its course, but if foreign companies don’t like it they can take it outside Iraq to a third party judicial source!’
He said: ‘Because of the popular opposition, there is even opposition to the law within the Iraqi government itself.’
Al-Assadi added that one minister had already declared that if the parliament passes the new law he will resign.
‘The Iraqi people expect the Iraqi parliament to stand up for the rights of the Iraqi people and not pass this law.’
Al-Assadi said in 1961 the land was nationalised for the purposes of oil exploration and production in Iraq and said the Iraqi parliament should reflect the Iraqi people’s opposition to the new law by taking such a ‘brave stand’ again.
‘A law we expect and we want is a law written by Iraqi experts to reflect the interests of the Iraqi people,’ he said.
He added that a reflection of the widening opposition to the law was the stand taken by the Advisory Council (a body advising the Iraqi government), which sent the law back to the government with 13 observations opposing the legal framework and wording of the law, ‘practically undermining this law’.
He added in conclusion: ‘Only US pressure and interference is keeping it alive.
‘The US will never, never get Iraq’s oil!’