Thursday, May 03, 2007
we know where we get the oil from: II:
Sure enough, the Kurds and Sunnis oppose the oil law. The Times quotes Jalaleddin Saghir saying the Kurds are merely staking out a bargaining position, but if the Kurds won't be able to control the revenue from future-field development, they simply won't accept the deal. By contrast, if the Sunni objection is that Maliki has to magically provide security for them before they'll accept movement on the oil law, then they're really out to cripple Maliki's government. Keep in mind the Sunnis are the very people the law is meant to mollify.

Perhaps this is all pre-negotiating bluster. But the idea that the passage of a law can overcome the massive amount of sectarian bad faith in Iraq is a dicey proposition. Consider this critique of the law, recently made by one of the oil experts who wrote it, Tariq Shafiq of Petrolog & Associates:

"While all revenue is earmarked to the whole nation, this may not necessarily be the maximum revenue as long as the management of the resources is not optimal," he wrote in the MEES article, which was a call for central planning for Iraq's oil sector. "An optimal management plan can only be based on unbiased allocation after assessing the whole resource and infrastructural base of the country."

He says the regions don't have the "necessary institutions" or "required expertise" to develop and operate their oil fields without the help of the central government -- via the reconstituted Iraq National Oil Co. (Shafiq was founding executive director of INOC in 1964) -- or international oil companies. He fears, however, the regions will then be too reliant on foreign companies.

This is, to speak broadly, the Sunni critique, and it reveals two related things. First, that the Sunnis all this talk of regionalism is orthogonal to the actual development of the oil sector and the enrichment of the country; and, as a result, that the Sunnis don't trust that, in practice, they'll get the equitable -- and that, of course, is in the eye of the beholder -- mechanism for oil revenue the law is supposed to provide. The more the law tilts in favor of centralization, the less the Kurds will accept it, as is already happening; the more it tilts in favor of regionalism, the less the Sunnis will accept it.

In other words, the oil law is a proxy for the ongoing struggle over federalism, with the extremes uniting in order to weaken the Shiites. Resolution of the issue has become secondary -- how the Kurds and the Sunnis would actually write an oil law from such diametrically opposed positions is rather unclear. What's much clearer is that some benchmarks don't really mark benches.
--Spencer Ackerman