A chance for Iraq....
Christopher Hitchens writes about Iraq's new Oil law which splits revenues evenly among the various ethnic groups.
On the left and in the anti-war camp, the very mention of the word "oil" is usually considered profane: a Brechtian clue to the secret designs of neoconservatives. So, I was interested to see Christian Parenti, a staunch foe of the Bush policy in Iraq, saying in the March 19 Nation that "on key questions of foreign investment and regional decentralization versus centralized control, the law is vague but not all bad." What have Iraqis got to lose here? It's not as if a withdrawal of foreign investment would leave the oil as a trusteeship for the people. Remember that Iraq under Saddam had already seen the most extreme form of "privatization," with the whole industry a private fiefdom of a parasitic elite. Remember that no real investment was made in the oil fields for almost 20 years, so that when experts visited the refineries after 2003, they could not (in the words of one I spoke to) "find anywhere even to put a Band-Aid." Remember that the Baathists used the "oil for food" program to sow corruption throughout the United Nations. Remember that Saddam Hussein set fire to the Kuwaiti fields and also ordered the taps opened so that crude oil would flow straight into the seawater of the Gulf, destroying the marine habitat. After all that, even Halliburton must come as a blessed relief.
Of course, all this is still heavily overshadowed by the daily menace of vicious jihadist sabotage, of corruption in a sectarian oil ministry, and of the generally parlous state of the infrastructure. And the deal has yet to be approved by the Iraqi parliament—a body that has some difficulty in meeting. Nonetheless, a principle is being established that does great credit to the Iraqis who signed it and to the coalition forces that made it possible. If it were not for the general American feeling that oil is a substance too dirty even to be mentioned in polite society, this consideration might even influence the current debate about an "exit strategy." One would like to know, of those who advocate leaving Iraq, whether they are happy to abandon the control of its fabulous wealth to be parceled out between the highest or most ruthless bidders—say, al-Qaida in Anbar, the Turks in the north, and the fans of Ahmadinejad in the south? Or might it be better to have even an imperfect federal democracy that could be based not just on ideals but on an actual material footing? A country that might, over time, undercut the power currently exerted by Saudi Arabia and Iran? I only ask. And it's no good chanting "no blood for oil" at me, because oil is the lifeblood here, and everybody knows it and always has.