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Context of 'January 16, 2007: Iraqi Economist Calls Proposed Oil Law ‘Sellout to Oil Corporations’'

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Top Iraqi officials head to Washington for the second meeting of the Iraq-US Joint Economic Commission. The first meeting took place in September. At a press conference, Iraqi Finance Minister Adil Abdel Mahdi tells reporters that the new Iraqi government is implementing, or intends to implement, a number of major changes to the country’s economy. Some of the reforms he mentions would be part of a new oil law that will be “open to investment, to foreign investment downstream, maybe even upstream.” He explains that the law is being developed by a “high-ranked official from the Oil Ministry” in consultation with “his counterparts and with agencies here in the States.” Mahdi also says that Iraq will review the oil contracts that Saddam Hussein had inked with countries like France and Russia. “So I think this is very promising to the American investors and to American enterprises, certainly to oil companies,” he says. Mahdi also defends an agreement the Iraqi government recently made with the IMF to implement certain reforms, which included an end to food subsidies (see September 29, 2004). “I think this is a necessity for the Iraqi economy,” Mahdi says. “We really need to work on our subsidy side. Subsidies are taking almost 60 percent of our budget. So this is something we have to work on… Other measures really were a real necessity for the Iraqi economy before becoming conditions asked by the IMF.” But as Inter Press Service notes, Iraq’s food subsidies system “have kept millions of Iraqis from starvation under US and UK-pressed sanctions imposed by the United Nations after the 1991 Gulf War.… It is believed that many more Iraqis would have died if not for Hussein’s strong subsidies system that gave food to Iraqi families.” An issue that is apparently not discussed during the two-day meeting between US and Iraqi officials is the large amount of money that is known to have been defrauded from the CPA. In response to a reporter’s question, Mahdi says only, “No, this issue has not been discussed. We are interested to follow such issues, of course. Whatever concerns corruption or money, we are interested.” [US Department of State, 12/21/2004; Inter Press Service, 12/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Adil Abdel Mahdi

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Britain accuses Iran of having played a role in the transfer of explosive technology from Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi army in Iraq. British officials say Iran is responsible for the deaths of all eight UK soldiers killed in Iraq this year, all of whom died in explosions. Iran denies the charges. [BBC, 9/5/2005; Reuters, 10/6/2005]

Entity Tags: Moqtada al-Sadr, Hezbollah, Mahdi Army

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

The Guardian publishes an op-ed piece by Iraqi economist Kamil Mahdi under the title “Iraqis will never accept this sellout to the oil corporations.” Mahdi, a professor at Exeter University (UK), writes: “Before embarking on controversial measures such as [the proposed Oil Law] favoring foreign oil firms, the Iraqi parliament and government must prove that they are capable of protecting the country’s sovereignty and the people’s rights and interests… The oil law (see January 16, 2007) is likely to open the door to these corporations at a time when Iraq’s capacity to regulate and control their activities will be highly circumscribed. It would therefore place the responsibility for protecting the country’s vital national interest on the shoulders of a few vulnerable technocrats in an environment where blood and oil flow together in abundance. Common sense, fairness, and Iraq’s national interest dictate that this draft law must not be allowed to pass during these abnormal times, and that long-term contracts of 10, 15, or 20 years must not be signed before peace and stability return, and before Iraqis can ensure that their interests are protected. This law has been discussed behind closed doors for much of the past year. Secret drafts have been viewed and commented on by the US government, but have not been released to the Iraqi public—and not even to all members of parliament. If the law is pushed through in these circumstances, the political process will be further discredited even further. Talk of a moderate cross-sectarian front appears designed to ease the passage of the law and the sellout to oil corporations. The US, the IMF and their allies are using fear to pursue their agenda of privatizing and selling off Iraq’s oil resources. The effect of this law will be to marginalize Iraq’s oil industry and undermine the nationalization measures undertaken between 1972 and 1975. It is designed as a reversal of Law Number 80 of December 1961 that recovered most of Iraq’s oil from a foreign cartel. Iraq paid dearly for that courageous move: the then prime minister, General Qasim, was murdered 13 months later in a Ba’athist-led coup that was supported by many of those who are part of the current ruling alliance—the US included. Nevertheless, the national oil policy was not reversed then, and its reversal under US occupation will never be accepted by Iraqis.” [Guardian, 1/16/2007]

Entity Tags: Kamil Mahdi

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The US has unwittingly strengthened the Mahdi Army of radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr by working hard to train and equip Iraqi security forces. The Mahdi Army is fighting to take over much of Baghdad as US forces try to secure it. US Army commanders and enlisted men who are patrolling east Baghdad - home to more than half the city’s population and the front line of al-Sadr’s campaign to drive rival Sunni Muslims from their homes and neighborhoods - say al-Sadr’s militias had heavily infiltrated the Iraqi police and army units that the US has trained and armed. Platoon leader Lieutenant Dan Quinn says, “Half of them are JAM. They’ll wave at us during the day and shoot at us during the night.” JAM is the acronym for the Arabic name of the Mahdi Army, Jaish al Mahdi. He adds, “People [in America] think it’s bad, but that we control the city. That’s not the way it is. They control it, and they let us drive around. It’s hostile territory.” The soldiers worry that Bush’s “surge” of approximately 17,000 combat troops allocated for Baghdad will, like previous escalations, merely strengthen the Mahdi Army. The new US soldiers will work to improve Iraqi security units so that American forces can hand over control of the area and withdraw to the outskirts of the city. Instead, Mahdi fighters are themselves withdrawing from the city, in effect ducking the American push until it is over. Lieutenant Alain Etienne says, “All the Shi’ites have to do is tell everyone to lay low, wait for the Americans to leave, then when they leave you have a target list and within a day they’ll kill every Sunni leader in the country. It’ll be called the &slquo;Day of Death’ or something like that. They say, &slquo;Wait, and we will be victorious.’ That’s what they preach. And it will be their victory.” Quinn agrees, saying, “Honestly, within six months of us leaving, the way Iranian clerics run the country behind the scenes, it’ll be the same way here with Sadr. He already runs our side of the river.” Many US officers say that, in hindsight, it is obvious that too much pressure was brought to bear on giving Iraqi army units their own areas of operation, a process that left Iraqi soldiers outmanned, outgunned, and easy targets for infiltration and coercion. “There was a decision…that was probably made prematurely,” says Lieutenant Colonel Eric Schacht. “I think we jumped the gun a little bit.” An Iraqi Sunni says, “[I]f the Mahdi Army comes in here, they will come with the support of the Iraqi army.” [McClatchy News, 2/2/2007]

Entity Tags: Moqtada al-Sadr

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr orders his militia, the Mahdi Army, to suspend offensive operations for six months following the deaths of over 50 Shi’ite Muslims during recent sectarian fighting in the holy city of Karbala. “I direct the Mahdi army to suspend all its activities for six months until it is restructured in a way that helps honor the principles for which it is formed,” al-Sadr says in a statement issued by his office in the nearby city of Najaf. The statement continues, “We call on all Sadrists to observe self-restraint, to help security forces control the situation and arrest the perpetrators and sedition mongers, and urge them to end all forms of armament in the sacred city.” Asked if the unexpected order meant no attacks on American troops, as well as a ban on Shia infighting, a senior Sadr aide says, “All kinds of armed actions are to be frozen, without exception.” [Daily Telegraph, 8/31/2007] Just three weeks before, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno talked of the US concerns over heavy casualties inflicted on US troops by Shi’ite militia fighters using new roadside bombs called explosively formed penetrators (EFPs). [New York Times, 8/8/2007] US, British, and Iraqi officials are apparently surprised by the sudden announcement, and military officials are cautious about accepting the truth of al-Sadr’s ceasefire order. British military spokesman Major Mike Shearer says, “We don’t know how real this is and I suspect it will take some significant time to see if violence against us does diminish as a result.” But, two days after the announcement, the US military puts out a statement that calls the ceasefire order “encouraging,” and says it will allow US and Iraqi forces to “intensify their focus on al-Qaeda in Iraq… without distraction from [Mahdi Army] attacks.” It adds: “Moqtada al-Sadr’s declaration holds the potential to reduce criminal activity and help reunite Iraqis separated by ethno-sectarian violence and fear. [The ceasefire] would also be an important step in helping Iraqi authorities focus greater attention on achieving the political and economic solutions necessary for progress and less on dealing with criminal activity, sectarian violence, kidnappings, assassinations, and attacks on Iraqi and coalition forces.” Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubbaie is carefully optimistic: “I will see on the ground what is going to happen. It is good news if it is true. If it happens it will reduce violence in the country a great deal.” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office says, “This initiative is an encouraging step toward consolidating security and stability throughout the country and an opportunity for the suspension of the work of the rest of the militias in various political and ideological affiliations to preserve the unity, independence and sovereignty of Iraq.” Al-Sadr does not control all of the Shi’ite militias in the country; those groups do not follow al-Sadr’s lead in suspending hostilities. However, the Mahdi Army is considered by the Pentagon to be the biggest threat to stability in Iraq, even more so than al-Qaeda. In recent months, Mahdi-inflicted casualties have dropped in and around Baghdad, as al-Sadr’s fighters have left the capital to avoid the military crackdown, and gone to Shi’a-dominated southern Iraq. [Daily Telegraph, 8/31/2007; CNN, 9/1/2007] In the weeks and months that follow, US casualties indeed drop; administration and military officials do not credit the ceasefire, but instead showcase the drop in casualties as proof the surge is working (see Early November, 2007).

Entity Tags: Mahdi Army, Mike Shearer, Mowaffak al-Rubbaie, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Raymond Odierno, Nouri al-Maliki, Moqtada al-Sadr

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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