As the Bush administration rumbles to an end, it is pushing with increasing urgency for a commitment to a long-term US presence in Iraq. Though the military aspect of this "commitment" has garnered substantial publicity, the administration is equally invested in the economic aspect: securing US control over Iraqi oil before Bush leaves office, according to experts in the field.
A leaked version of the US-Iraq status-of-forces agreement (SOFA), supplied and translated for Truthout by American Friends Service Committee Iraq consultant Raed Jarrar, states that the US will indefinitely "continue to protect Iraq's natural resources of gas and oil and protect Iraq's foreign financial and economic assets."
According to Jarrar, the Bush administration and the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are in basic agreement on the SOFA, probably because an American presence in Iraq would keep Maliki in power. However, the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi Parliament and the Iraqi people oppose the pact and reject US control over Iraq's resources.
In October, just as the Bush and Maliki administrations were attempting to finalize the SOFA's terms - under the wary gaze of Parliament - the Iraqi cabinet dropped another big one in Parliament's lap: the Iraq oil law. The law would set the rules for foreign investment in Iraq's oil industry, and determine how oil revenues are shared within Iraq. Many in Parliament say both the SOFA and the oil law would prolong the US occupation, allowing American control over both its people and its resources. Parliament will debate the oil law this week.
Cleric Hashim al-Ta'i, of the Iraqi Islamic Party, captured the sentiments of many in a late October sermon on the Baghdad Satellite Channel, saying, "There is a unanimous Iraqi voice which says: No to an agreement that consolidates the occupation and prolongs its life; no to an agreement that consolidates sectarianism and racism and fragments the country into groups and cantons; no to an agreement that mortgages the country and its resources for many decades."
However, that unified voice clashes with another, very powerful voice in Iraq: American and British oil companies, which share the interests of the Bush team, according to Antonia Juhasz, a fellow with both the Institute for Policy Studies and Oil Change International.
"US and British oil companies and the Bush administration have been circling their wagons in Iraq over the last few months to bring both the SOFA and the Iraq oil law to a conclusion before Bush's term in office officially comes to a close," Juhasz told Truthout. "The Bush administration, US oil companies and the al-Maliki government are all on the same timeline for trying to lock in the continued presence of the US military in Iraq, which is the al-Maliki government's only hope of holding on to power - and US oil corporations' only hope of securing their long-sought control over Iraqi oil."
The large oil companies seek long-term contracts that would give them control over much of Iraq's oil and oil production, according to Juhasz. Although Kurdistan has entered into several contracts with foreign oil companies, Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein Al Shahristani declared that any contract signed before the passage of the oil law is void.
In addition to pushing the international SOFA and Iraq's oil law, the Bush administration is attempting to unilaterally carve a place in US law for a takeover of Iraqi oil, according to Jim Fine, legislative secretary for foreign policy for the Friends Committee on National Legislation. In a signing statement tacked on to the 2009 Defense Authorization Bill, Bush excused himself from a provision intended to rein in US power of Iraq's oil.
The statement - if one accepts it as authoritative - would allow Bush to use defense funds "to exercise United States control of the oil resources of Iraq." Bush wrote that prohibiting such a use of funds "purport(s) to impose requirements that could inhibit the president's ability to carry out his constitutional obligations."
Experts view this latest expansion of Bush's powers in Iraq as a kind of rush to the finish line: an attempt to accomplish as many of the administration's oil-control goals before it steps down and the Obama administration - which may well have different ideas - steps up. Bush's signing statement could forebode a weighty US push for Iraq's oil in the next two months, whether or not the SOFA passes, according to Fine.
"The signing statement is in effect a corollary to the Bush doctrine of preventive warfare, which he is now extending to military action to seize control of natural resources in a foreign country," Fine told Truthout. "The logic of the signing statement is inescapable and extremely dangerous. Absent repudiation by a future president, this and other authorities that President Bush has asserted in signing statements constitute a foundation for draconian unilateral action by the US."
However, the US's next president seems to have a very different interpretation of the US's relationship to Iraq's oil. In fact, Juhasz took the title of her book, "The Tyranny of Oil," from a line in President-elect Barack Obama's Iowa Caucus victory speech. Obama emphasized his hopes for a transition away from oil and toward sustainable energy sources throughout his campaign. He has also promised a drawdown of troops in Iraq.
The next two months will measure just how far President Bush is willing to go to fulfill the objectives that, many say, underlie his occupation of Iraq. Erik Leaver, Foreign Policy in Focus's policy outreach director, says that the administration's last-ditch efforts - the signing statements, the SOFA, the oil law pressure - demonstrate that Bush has not taken his eye off Iraqi oil.
"Although Bush has verbally assured the Iraqi people that we are not occupying
their country for oil, the actions of the United States
indicate otherwise," Leaver told Truthout. "The language calling for the protection of Iraq's oil resources in the long term agreement between Iraq and the US is another strong indication of what the US intent is inside of Iraq - gaining long-term access to Iraq's oil."