OIL over troubled waters
The continuing violence in Iraq shakes its parliament, as it considers a made-in-Washington oil law, reports Nermeen Al-Mufti from Baghdad
Two suicide bombings, one on Al-Sirafiya Bridge and the other in the Iraqi parliament add to Iraq's tragic toll. Al-Sirafiya Bridge is one of the oldest bridges in Baghdad and one of the most splendid in the world. A week ago, a truck driven by a suicide bomber exploded and wrecked that bridge. Arab and Western media, perhaps insensitively, pointed out that the bridge was a link between the Sunni area of Al-Waziria and the Shia neighbourhood of Al-Itifiya. So while the Baghdad inhabitants were doing their best to overcome sectarian tensions, the media seemed to be fuelling those tensions. Now Baghdad has lost one of its most beautiful sites, just as it lost museums, libraries and statues in the past.
Shortly after the bridge was bombed, a man wearing an explosive belt blew himself up in the cafeteria of the Iraqi parliament, killing and wounding dozens, including the deputy for the National Dialogue Front, Mohamed Awad. The incident posed questions over Operation Imposing Law (OIL), now in its third month. How can a man wearing an explosive belt and carrying an explosive briefcase, infiltrate the fortified Green Zone? Anyone going into the Green Zone passes as a matter of routine through several checkpoints and electronic gates. Parliamentarian Mohamed Al-Deini says that mobile phone networks ceased to operate one hour before the suicide bombing. The Iraqi authorities had taken over the security in the parliament only a short while earlier. Now the occupation forces say that they may have to take back control of the parliament's security.
The day following the bombing, the parliament held an extraordinary "Defiance Session". Television screens showed deputies wiping their tears and others putting wreaths on the seat of the slain parliamentarian. The Iraqi public greeted the incident with scepticism. Umm Hussein, a teacher, says that, "Iraq in general, and Baghdad in particular, is witnessing suicide bombings in which dozens of civilians are killed everyday, but the Iraqi parliament didn't hold an extraordinary session over those bombings. We've seen no tears in the eyes of our parliamentarians before."
While the US is planning to retake control of parliament's security, the spokesman for the pro-Sadr parliamentarians, Nasr Al-Rabiyi, says that the six pro-Sadr ministers intend to withdraw from the government in protest against the absence of a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces, though. The 30 pro-Sadr parliamentarians will stay in parliament.
Adnan Al-Deleimi, leader of the Reconciliation Bloc in parliament, who stands to lose his immunity over charges related to violence in the country, says that an armed group has broken into his house in Al-Jamaah section of Baghdad. Al-Fadila Parliamentarian Hassan Al-Shamri told a parliamentary session that Deputy Hussein Al-Sannid, a close aid of Nuri Al-Maliki, warned of a plan to kill one of its senior members, Basra Governor Mohamed Al-Waeli. A few days ago, several Shia parties in Basra marched in the city streets calling for the dismissal of Al-Waeli. Basra is Iraq's second largest city and has several major oil fields. Over the past two years, the city witnessed clashes among various armed groups involved in the smuggling of oil.
Ata Qassem Al-Musawi, spokesman for OIL, said that the Iraqi and US forces have killed 5,215 gunmen, wounded over 1,000, and arrested 1,000 in the course of their work. Yet, on the 60th day since the start of OIL, suicide bombers killed over 70 civilians in Baghdad, and some 22 unidentified bodies were found across the country, including six in Falluja and six in Mosul.
The group calling itself the "Islamic State of Iraq", which abducted 20 policemen in February after Sabrin Al-Janabi (not her real name) appeared on television and gave account of her rape by Iraqi police forces, recently gave the government 48 hours to release all women detainees and hand over those suspected of raping Sabrin.
Prime Minister Al-Maliki had ordered an investigation into the case, and the committee responsible actually reported its findings, the only one of hundreds of such committees to do so, though the findings were clearly not enough to satisfy the "Islamic State of Iraq". The fate of the 20 abductees is still unknown. Speaking of committees, the government has just formed two fact-finding committees into the bombings at the bridge and the parliament.
With two months left before the deadline set by the US administration for the passage of an oil law in Iraq, Issam Al-Jalabi, minister of petroleum in Iraq between 1987 and 1990 and one of the world's top oil experts told Al-Ahram Weekly that the seminars he has held outside Iraq are the reason why the law wasn't submitted to the parliament last March as scheduled. The law was supposed to pass at the end of May, but the parliament hasn't dared to table the law, which deals with the distribution of oil fields, the signing of contracts, the distribution of revenues, and the organisation of the petroleum ministry and the national petroleum company.
Many Iraqi oil experts believe that President Bush himself is sponsoring the law. The original draft of the law was written in English and the Arabic translation is full of grammatical and idiomatic errors. Al-Jalabi sent a letter to parliament, bearing the signature of 61 oil experts, which points out the drawbacks of the law. If passed, the law would deprive Iraq of its natural wealth, especially if the foreign companies were given the right to operate fields already producing oil, for they would be making profits without bringing in new investment to the country. However, there are certain Iraqi officials who want the law passed, arguing that it would ensure a "fair distribution of oil revenues among all Iraqis".
The parliament did discuss a document intending to get the international community to pledge funding for the rebuilding Iraq in return for Iraqi pledges scheduled to be signed soon in a conference at Sharm El-Sheikh. Some deputies expressed optimism over the document saying that it would "resolve the troubles of the country". Other deputies expressed their opposition to the document, saying that it should be discussed under provisions of international treaties in Article 64 of the Iraqi constitution. These provisions would allow the document to pass only if supported by two-thirds of the parliament. "Some people in the government want to sidestep the regulations and pass the document without going through the necessary committees," one of the parliamentarians opposing the documents said.
The question of Kirkuk is far from being resolved. Kurdish Minister Mohamed Ihsan said at a press conference that anyone obstructing the referendum on the Kurdish plan to annex the city would "pay a dear price". Meanwhile Turhan Kattana, political adviser of the Turkoman national movement, says that had the Kurds been sure Kirkuk was theirs, they wouldn't be in such a rush to hold the referendum.