Oil law compromise breaks down
Posted September 13th, 2007 at 9:45 am
This week, Amb. Ryan Crocker pointed to progress on Iraqi oil-revenue sharing as a sign of increasing political stability and progress. Alas, this success story has failed, too.
A carefully constructed compromise on a draft law governing Iraq’s rich oil fields, agreed to in February after months of arduous talks among Iraqi political groups, appears to have collapsed. The apparent breakdown comes just as Congress and the White House are struggling to find evidence that there is progress toward reconciliation and a functioning government here.
Senior Iraqi negotiators met in Baghdad on Wednesday in an attempt to salvage the original compromise, two participants said. But the meeting came against the backdrop of a public series of increasingly strident disagreements over the draft law that had broken out in recent days 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.
Of all the benchmarks crafted by the Bush administration and Iraqi officials, this one was the lynchpin of political progress. The president’s “surge” policy was supposed to, at a minimum, lead to progress on an oil-revenue law. Now, progress is going backwards, making the failure of the surge even more obvious.
As Hilzoy explained, this policy area is key to resolving several other political crises: “Once an oil law is in place, contracts will be on firmer ground, Iraq can collect more revenue, and it will be clear how that revenue is to be distributed to the various provinces. Money flowing to the regions, in turn, could help bolster provincial governments, and give people a stake in the continued functioning of the central government. But it takes actual cooperation to produce, enact, and sign off on that sort of legislation, and cooperation has always been in short supply. If, for some unfathomable reason, we needed more evidence that the Iraqi political process is dysfunctional, we just got it.”
Josh Marshall went on to highlight the Bush ally that helped disrupt the negotiations.
The story though connects up with another one we told you about just a couple days ago — the decision of the Kurdistan regional government to sign an oil exploration deal with Dallas-based Hunt Oil, run by Mr. Ray L. Hunt.
The Shia and Sunni leaders believe the Kurds are opting for a sort of oil secession that puts them outside the whole concept of a law to share the country’s oil resources. And the Hunt deal is apparently the straw that broke the camel’s back, shall we say.
But remember, Hunt, in addition to being the son of legendary Texas John Birch Society extremist H.L. Hunt, is also a pal of the president’s. Indeed, President Bush has twice appointed Hunt to his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. So while the president is striving to get the Iraqis to meet these benchmarks one of his own pals — and more importantly, political appointees — is busy helping to tear the whole thing apart.