In the “first round” of contracts, whose launch is now postponed till tomorrow, several giant oil fields containing over 40 billion barrels of proved reserves will be given up for development by foreign companies. For the sake of comparison, that amount represents more than double the entire proved reserves of the US. And in an age where control over oil deposits is shifting away from private companies to sovereign states, the Iraq oil bounty has attracted most of the big names in the international energy industry.
The granting of these contracts is supposed to occur through a complex process – on live TV. The Oil Ministry is to open the envelopes containing the bids of the energy companies, announce a winner for a specific project, then allow the contenders to adjust their offers for the rest of the oil fields, including the possibility of making joint proposals, all within a span of 48 hours.
We have previously reported on the protests to Shahrastani’s plan, which are emanating from the Kurdistan Regional Government (which is opposing the tendering of oil fields situated in “contested territories”,) the Parliament and the Iraqi national oil companies. While multinational firms are salivating over the Iraqi contracts, these political questions, in addition to the well-known security risks, could endanger the contracts or transform them into a protracted legal battle. Unlike countries such as Lybia, Saudi Arabia or Saddam’s Iraq, where a contract granted by the supreme authority is sure to be enforced, political power in Iraq is currently fractionalized into several bodies, each of which are claiming authority over the national oil wealth. In addition to the Kurdish leaders, members of Parliament are already saying that the oil contracts may not be considered legal if they were not approved first by the legislature, which already casts doubts over the Oil Ministry’s tenders.
In other news, and two days prior to the date of US withdrawal from urban centers, Az-Zaman reports on a new deadly explosion that targeted a motorcycle market in Baghdad, killing 20 Iraqis and injuring 46.
The proliferation of these attacks has prompted the Iraqi Premier, Nuri al-Maliki, to renew his attacks against unnamed “Arab governments,” this time accusing neighboring states of “remaining silent” in the face of “excommunication fatwas” that he considered responsible for the attacks and suicide bombings targeting Iraqi civilians.
An interesting trend has been Maliki’s departure from accusing Syria and Iran of facilitating attacks (these two governments were the main target of Iraqi government criticisms, especially during the days of their intense feuds with the Bush administration) and his directing – thinly veiled – accusations at Saudi Arabia, which is the main exporter of extremist Wahhabi ideas and which hosts many of the extremist Sheikhs who openly advocate against shi'as as “infidels.”
In parallel, al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda (a Shi'a – openly – sectarian paper that specializes in attacking Saudi Arabia and Sunni Gulf states) devoted its front page to the latest conspiracy theory: allegedly, a “sectarian meeting” took place in Dubai, joining 'Izzat al-Duri (the highest ranking Ba'thi still at large) and Yunis al-Ahmad (the leader of a competing Ba'thi wing) and the anti-American cleric Harith al-Dhari. In this alleged meeting of personalities with radically different ideological convictions, an agreement was struck against the Shi'a! The conferees wrote a “secret” statement (that the paper published) calling for the “extermination” of the Shi'a in Iraq. To complete the circle, the paper alleged that personalities participating in the meeting were each handed two million dollars provided by the Saudis.
Lastly, Iraqi papers report that the new constitution of Kurdistan (which was approved last Wednesday) is causing broad protests among Iraqi Arabs. Az-Zaman and al-Bayyna al-Jadeeda quoted Iraqi politicians who described the new constitution as “unconstitutional,” “illegal” and “a bomb that will undermine the process of building the new Iraq.”
The most controversial parts of the constitution consist in announcing oil-rich Kirkuk, in addition to parts of the Nineveh and Diyala provinces, as inseparable parts of Kurdistan, an escalation that will take the conflict over “disputed territories” into a new dimension. In a first response, Az-Zaman reports that Iraqi MPs representing Mosul (the Nineveh province) published a strongly-worded statement rejecting any “encroachments” against their province’s territories, referring to Kurdish “expansionism” and “territorial ambitions” (an Arabic term usually employed in conflicts between states) and claiming that these constitutional articles represent a “provocation to the feelings of the province’s masses, and the entire people of Iraq.”