As was the case with all previous U.S.-sponsored “milestones,” the only fruit we are likely to reap from the proposed new oil law is disappointment.
There are clear signs that rather that being a “gift to all the Iraqi people,” as Prime Minister al-Maliki described the draft oil law approved by his government a few days ago, the legislation is likely to turn into “poison” for Iraq as a nation.
Originally drafted almost a year ago, many believed the government’s assertion that it would substantially review the bill, which was initially rejected outright by almost all of the country’s political factions.
Back then, Iraqi oil experts, important national figures, politicians and government factions warned that unless it was redrafted, the bill would certainly trigger infighting and the eventual division of the country.
But the government paid no heed to the warnings, and according to a senior official who took part in recent deliberations over the oil bill, hardly any changes or revisions have been rendered to it.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, accused the Maliki government of undermining the very national reconciliation that it says it is pursuing.
“The object of the oil law was to cement national unity and reconciliation, not undermine them. We wanted this law to bring Iraqis together,” the official said.
While we cannot reveal the identity of this official, there is good reason to believe his warning. This is borne out by the fact that the government hasn’t denied the statement, and it is further supported by the comments of experts, who continue to view the draft bill as a potential danger to what has become Iraq’s only source of livelihood.
Since the draft bill hasn’t been revised to respond to the potent criticism and opposition it initially generated, Maliki’s credibility and that of his government is again being called into question.
The entire country was relieved to hear that the law would be revised in a way that would bring disparate Iraqi groups together and send a strong signal of national reconciliation.
But apparently, the government has exerted no effort to rectify the imbalances in the draft law. As a result, we find ourselves once again in a state of disappointment, complaining to the Almighty about those determined to steal our happiness and sell us lies and fabrications.
There’s no need to remind the government or the nation that the draft law that has now been put before Parliament is a time bomb, which threatens what remains of out nation’s unity, as well as the rights of current and future generations.
Sunni MPs are leading the opposition to the law, and representatives of other factions are expected to join them, including the block of 30 MPs controlled by the movement led by Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr.
The largest Sunni bloc, which is in control of 40 seats, is at present boycotting the 275-member Parliament. But it has indicated that it will reconsider its position and vote on the law.
The secular bloc of former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, which also controlled 40 seats, has signaled its opposition to the law.
The fact that the draft law was not substantially revised as demanded by a number of major Parliamentary blocs apparently pleases the Kurds.
It isn’t clear whether the opposition will muster enough votes to defeat the draft law, but its passage is bound to aggravate political tensions and make national reconciliation even more difficult.
The main criticism of the draft oil law is directed at a paragraph which gives autonomous regions the right to strike oil deals on their own. According to the law, the central government would have no authority over such deals.
The paragraph was crucial to win Kurdish support for the law.
There is also criticism of the role that the foreign oil majors would play in Iraq’s oil industry.