‘THE STRUGGLE FOR IRAQ’S OIL’ Part two – ‘We are fighting to end the occupation’

A demonstrator in London reminds Blair of the legacy that he brings as the new ‘Middle East envoy’
A demonstrator in London reminds Blair of the legacy that he brings as the new ‘Middle East envoy’

HANDS Off Iraqi Oil – the campaign launched to stop the theft of Iraq’s oil reserves – says that mainstream media coverage ‘has uncritically reproduced and popularised a wide range of myths about Iraq’s economic options.’

The campaign adds: ‘An Oil Law giving foreign companies the primary role in developing Iraqi oil is about to go before Iraq’s parliament.

‘The current draft favours Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs) – exclusive 30-year contracts allowing companies to control the extraction, development, and depletion of Iraq’s oil, which has been in the public sector since the 1970s.’

Hands Off Iraqi Oil also points out that Production Sharing Agreements ‘are commonly used in countries with reserves which are small or difficult to access (eg offshore), or where there is high exploration risk.

‘They are not used in countries like Iraq, which has proven reserves of 115bn barrels (the world’s third largest), with an additional potential total of 100bn according to Energy analysts IHS.

‘Extraction costs are among the cheapest in the world – estimated at $1.50 per barrel.

‘None of the top six oil producing countries in the world use PSA and the contracts are non-existent amongst Iraq’s neighbours in the Middle East.

‘In fact, only 12 per cent of global oil reserves are covered by PSA contracts.’

At a packed-out public meeting of over 300 people in London on Wednesday, Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions president, Hassan Jumaa Awad al-Assadi outlined the Iraqi workers’ struggle to stop the US-sponsored oil law coming into effect.

He vowed that the US ‘will never, never get Iraq’s oil’ in a speech that was loudly applauded.

In response to questions from the audience, he went on to speak about Iraqi workers’ opposition to the continuing occupation of Iraq.

He said: ‘There is very little investment in infrastructure and they have a huge amount of money in the bank still.’

He said that if oil production was increased to four million barrels a day there would be no need for any ‘production-sharing agreements’ with the foreign oil companies.

‘Maybe’ Iraq needed some technology, but it didn’t need these production-sharing agreements.

He also said that the recent Asian Cup football match between Iraq and Australia, which Iraq won 3-1, had united the whole of Iraq, with every village, town and city coming out on the streets to celebrate.

‘The fight against this law is going to be another factor to unite the Iraqi people.’

One member of the audience said that ‘words cannot convey the shame I feel about what’s been done to your country in the name of my country.’

He added: ‘In the current situation under occupation there are various armed groups – and one calling itself a government – that don’t like trade unions and the crusaders don’t like trade unions – how can you protect yourself when they leave?’

Al-Assadi said: ‘I always say the peoples across the world are not responsible for the actions of their governments.

‘And I agree with the first person who said that British people are not responsible for the actions of the Blair government towards the Iraqi people.

‘We are threatened by militias, by the occupation, but that doesn’t stop the Iraqi people from acting as part of the struggle.

‘We are not a secret organisation, we are not frightened of holding public meetings and seminars and these meetings and activities generally are part of the actions of the Iraqi people in general to end the occupation and be part of the honourable resistance to end the occupation.’

He added that the unions were regarded as ‘illegal’ under the occupation, as the government has still not issued a law legalising trade union activity.

‘But,’ he continued, ‘workers have elected us and we regard ourselves as legal and legitimate.’

He said the unions in Iraq were ‘materially quite poor, but they are active organisationally.’

He added: ‘Yes, the unions have a role in fighting against occupation and ending occupation but one way is to maintain oil production.

‘We firmly believe the US is trying actually to sabotage Iraq’s efforts to produce oil independently, to prove to the world they can’t do it by themselves, even putting obstacles in front of the government they support.

‘Our role is to preserve the oil fields and prevent these companies taking them over or taking over production.

‘This in itself is a form of fighting against the occupation.’

But if he was asked directly if he thought the Iraqi puppet parliament would take the same stand as the Iraqi government took in 1961 when it nationalised the land for the purposes of oil exploration and production, he would say: ‘No.’

He stressed: ‘What concerns us is the interests of workers.’

But, he joked, as to who benefits from oil, the Iraqi workers and people in general see the country’s vast oil resources as ‘a curse’!

He added: ‘Our struggle is about oil benefiting the people and we will continue to struggle along these lines.’

He said he agreed that the multinational oil companies were the ‘paymasters’ of the foreign governments that had come to Iraq and that any smuggling of oil that has taken place since the occupation is because of the chaos and lack of security the occupation has caused.

And he reminded the audience of the shameful looting of Iraq’s artefacts and the national museum in Baghdad when the occupation forces invaded Iraq in 2003.

Finally he said: ‘Are you all agreed with me, the US is the enemy of the peoples?’ ‘Yes!’ was the audience’s reply.

Wednesday’s meeting was opened by chairman Sabah Jawad, who said: ‘Thanks for coming to this meeting, which is particularly about American imperialism’s oil law, which deprives Iraq of its natural resources.’

He said Hassan al-Assadi had arrived in Britain to conduct a series of meetings and interviews ‘to expose the proposed oil law which was proposed by the Iraqi government and will be submitted to the Iraqi parliament soon.’

He added: ‘In Basra the union has been playing a very important role since the first draft law was proposed, including demonstrations yesterday in many provinces, including Basra, against such a law.’

Andrew Burgin, press officer of the Stop The War Coalition, said: ‘Oil was originally the real reason for the invasion of Iraq.’

He condemned the attack on Respect MP and anti-war movement leader George Galloway, who is threatened with suspension from parliament.

He said now the enemies of the anti-war movement were looking for George Galloway to be prosecuted by the police.

Burgin contrasted this with the ‘sickening, tear-stained standing ovation Tony Blair received when he left parliament’, while Military Families Against the War and others are pursuing a case for Blair to be indicted on war crimes charges.

‘This is the kind of democracy we have in this country,’ he added.

Burgin concluded that ‘for four years they’ve been trying to get this hydrocarbon law passed in Iraq.

‘We need unity between the anti-war movement in the West and the resistance to occupation in Iraq itself.

‘We in the Stop The War movement salute the 30,000 oil workers who demonstrated yesterday and we pledge to them all our possible support and pledge to support them in campaigning to keep the oil for the people of Iraq, and therein lies the true sovereignty for Iraq.’

Ewa Jasiewicz, from Hands Off Iraqi Oil, said the campaign was made up of a coalition of many groups with the solidarity of the Stop The War Coalition.

She said: ‘We do really need a movement to stop Iraq’s oil being privatised.’

Iraq’s oil accounted for some ‘95 per cent of Iraqi government revenue’.

‘Let’s turn the slogan of “No Blood for Oil’’ into a reality: 650,000 people have lost their lives, let’s make sure they don’t get their oil for that blood,’ she concluded.

Iraqi academic Sami Ramadani was the next speaker.

‘I’m confident the Iraqi people will never accept being a client state of the United States of America,’ he said.

‘They are a politically-aware people,’ he added, predicting that the efforts to divide Iraq along ethnic, sectarian or religious lines would fail.

‘It is a war among people reliant on US support and the rest of the Iraqi people,’ he stressed.

‘The majority of the Iraqi people remain opposed to the presence of the US in their country and I believe eventually their struggle will be victorious.’

Riad al-Tahir, from Friendship Across Frontiers, said there was ‘constant killing every day’ in Iraq under occupation.

‘There is no stability and yet the Americans are embarking on an oil law for whose benefit?

‘It is allowing governorates to control the oil resources, but the oil is not confined to the geographical boundaries of any governorate.

‘This will constitute constant division and infighting between governorates.’

He said the law was not aimed at unifying Iraq ‘but dividing it’.

Nadia Mahmoud, from the Iraqi Freedom Congress, said: ‘My organisation is against the oil law and organised a demonstration in Baghdad and took part in the Basra demonstration against the oil law.’

She said that ‘because we are under occupation there is a mission to be accomplished.

‘The political issue is the occupation.

‘The oil law, yes, we have political activities against it.

‘We might have this law stopped, but what about occupation and the puppet government?

‘We are not living in a normal situation.’

She said herself, she didn’t expect the Iraqi parliament to repeat the nationalisation of 1961.

• Concluded