Thursday, September 13, 2007

Scratch the oil law, it ain't gonna happen

The timing on this simply could not be worse.

This might have kept aWol awake, tossing and turning until 9:30 - possibly even 9:45.

The legislative process covering the Exxon-Mobile Enrichment Act Iraqi oil sharing law has finally, officially, collapsed. The oil law represented the last straw that the Bush administration had hope of grasping onto as Iraq slips away; and aWol’s position as Most. Pathetic. Excuse. For. A. Human. Being. Ever. is secured for time immemorial.

At the very moment in time that it is crucial to exhibit evidence of reconciliation, the flagship legislation fails. The collapse comes in the wake of conflict between Hussain al-Shahristani, the Iraqi oil minister, and officials of the provincial government in the Kurdish north, where some of the nation’s largest fields are located.

I’m sure that the Kurds deciding to begin signing contracts with international oil companies before the law was passed had nothing to do with that conflict…

I’m sure that the decision by the Kurdish authorities last week to enter into an oil exploration contract with Hunt Oil Company of Dallas (the same Hunt family that owns the Kansas City Chiefs) had no bearing at all on the breakdown of the legislation. Of course not…

The language of the law was hammered out in February, but it has been unable to move forward through parliament ever since. This final collapse comes just as the American occupying power is desperately looking for any thing that can be latched onto as representing progress to parade before congress as the battle for funding the war for next year ramps up.

But instead of resolution, what we have at hand is dissolution.

The Sunni Arabs who removed their support for the deal did so, in part, because of a contract the Kurdish government signed earlier with a company based in the United Arab Emirates, Dana Gas, to develop gas reserves.

The Kurds say their regional law is consistent with the Iraqi Constitution, which grants substantial powers to the provinces to govern their own affairs. But Mr. Shahristani believes that a sort of Kurdish declaration of independence can be read into the move. “This to us indicates very serious lack of cooperation that makes many people wonder if they are really going to be working within the framework of the federal law,” Mr. Shahristani said in a recent interview, before the Hunt deal was announced.

Kurdish officials dispute that contention, saying that they are doing their best to work within the Constitution while waiting for the Iraqi Parliament, which always seems to move at a glacial pace, to consider the legislation.

“We reject what some parties say — that it is a step towards separation — because we have drafted the Kurdistan oil law depending on Article 111 of the Iraqi Constitution, which says oil and natural resources are properties of Iraqi people,” said Jamal Abdullah, a spokesman for the Kurdistan Regional Government. “Both Iraqi and Kurdish oil laws depend on that article,” Mr.

The Prime Ministers office, however, sees a simpler – and darker – reason for the Sunnis withholding their support. In Maliki-world, his opponents would rather betray the nation than give him a political victory. “I think there is a political reason behind that delay in order not to see the Iraqi government achieve the real agreement,” said a political adviser to Mr. Maliki.

Yes, I’m sure that’s it. In fact, I’m absolutely certain that that is absolutely all there is to it. It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the de facto secession of Kurdistan, and the loss of the largest oil reserves in the country formerly known as Iraq.

But think about it this way – if Americans are willing to go halfway around the world and fight a war for access to those oilfields - does anyone in their right mind think that those who feel wronged, and who happen to be in the neighborhood, are going to let it go without a fight?

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