Iraqi workers strike against the new Oil Law
The following is an excerpt from the interview that Amy Goodman conducted with Antonia Juhasz, the author of The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time. The interview is aired on Wednesday as the 600 pipeline workers in southern Iraq began a strike on June 5 to protest the new oil law for Iraq. You can follow the news pertaining to the Iraqi labor movement and the growing number of strikes across the country from the website of the General Federation of Iraqi Workers.
AMY GOODMAN: First, talk about this strike, Antonia.
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Well, the strike is critical. It’s been a long time building. There had been some negotiations between the strike leaders and Prime Minister al-Maliki. There are a number of demands, basic working conditions, wages, as you say, but also a seat at the table and opposition to the attempt to turn over Iraq's oil to foreign oil corporations and the -- as more knowledge has been brought to Iraq, it’s been very difficult for Iraqis to even learn what this oil law was about, just like it’s been difficult here. As more information has spread, the opposition has spread, as well, and now the workers have taken the situation into their own hands and struck.
AMY GOODMAN: And what is this US-backed proposal?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: It’s a Bush administration, US corporate, very simple attempt to figure out: if you’re going to wage a war for oil, how do you get the oil. Does Exxon come in on a tank with a flag and stick it in the ground, or do you have a more careful process? The careful process is very simply: write a law, get a new Iraqi government in place, have the Iraqis pass the law, and then turn the oil over to US oil corporations.
The Bush administration designed the law. Last January, President Bush announced that it was a benchmark for passage by the Iraqi government. It was the same day that he announced the surge. And in the language of the administration, the surge was meant to provide the political space so that the Iraqis could discuss the oil law and other benchmarks. The Democrats then adopted this language of the benchmarks and said in the supplemental war spending bill, again, that the Iraqis have to pass this benchmark. And it very simply turns Iraq from a nationalized oil system, essentially closed to US oil corporations, to a privatized system in which potentially two-thirds of all of Iraq’s oil could be owned by foreign oil companies, and they can control the production with as long as thirty-year contracts.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, what about the news coming out of Iraq that Raed Jarrar has reported on, talking about the significance of the vote for the US to get out of Iraq by the parliament?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: It’s very significant. The United Nations mandate for the US occupation of Iraq gives ultimate authority to the Iraqi parliament and the Iraqi cabinet to determine if the occupation can continue. So, theoretically, if the Iraqi parliament, joined by the cabinet -- and that’s critical -- say that the occupation cannot continue, theoretically it would have to end. That stands in vast opposition to the plans of the Bush administration and now, apparently, the plans of the Democratic leadership, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Couldn't it give Bush an out?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: It could give Bush an out, if he wanted an out. I don't think he wants an out.
AMY GOODMAN: Because?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Well, I think there’s many ways in which the war is not going all bad for the President and for the administration. The only thing that’s truly going bad is the instability. But what has worked is a government in place that is more amenable to US interests than the last ten years of the Hussein regime, a government in place that is willing to negotiate in a dramatic fashion on the nature of Iraq's oil regime, and being on the precipice of a transfer of Iraq, a fundamental transfer, in its oil policy. We have US oil corporations engaging daily in negotiations with the Iraqi oil ministry, waiting on the sidelines. If the law passes, US corporations have the potential to own a true bonanza of oil and, if the US military stays, protection to get in and get it. Now --
AMY GOODMAN: Which companies, in particular?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Chevron, Exxon, Conoco, BP, Shell, Marathon.
AMY GOODMAN: Are all now working intensively with the oil ministry.
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yeah, they absolutely are, and have been from the beginning.
AMY GOODMAN: And if they don't pass this law?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: If they don't pass the law, it’s a big strike at the heart of the agenda. I would say that the game wouldn't be over, and the fact that the administration is talking publicly about this Korea policy, the idea that the United States would maintain some sort of military presence similar to the US presence, quote/unquote, "keeping the peace between South and North Korea," that’s a permanent military engagement, which could last as long as fifty years. The thirty-year contracts, the length, the extended length of the occupation, leads me to believe that this is the idea that the administration wants to pursue.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think of this comparison?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: It’s incredibly disturbing. First of all, the conditions are completely dissimilar, except for the desire of the United States to maintain a presence and to use the misunderstanding, I think, of the American public as to the role of the US military in Korea, to say, “Well, we’ve created peace for fifty years in one situation. We can create peace for fifty years in this other situation. Oh, and by the way, our military will be really well situated to move forward across the region to spread peace across the Middle East, where, oh, by the way, there also happens to be two-thirds of the world's remaining oil.” It’s a terrifying proposition.