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Iraq Oil Law Doomed To Failure

[ Posted Thursday, September 13th, 2007 – 12:15 UTC ]

[Note: Updated below...]

The New York Times is reporting this morning that negotiations within the Iraq government on hydrocarbon legislation have completely collapsed. [I refuse to link to subscription sites, but you can view the article at the San Jose Mercury News website for free.]

Ironically, the Washington Post printed a letter today from Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States' Ambassador to the United Nations. He defends the American pressure on Iraq to pass an oil law, while at the same time speaking of it in the past tense. Either he's prophetic, or he already knew when he wrote it that the deal was going to fall apart:

First, the agreement within the Iraqi cabinet on the basic law in February was a major achievement. It is a requirement of the constitution. Moreover, all Iraqi factions said that an agreement on oil and gas revenue was an essential political condition for stabilizing the country. Only if all Iraqi communities knew that they would fairly benefit from these resources would they commit themselves to Iraq's new political order. The issue was fundamental to achieving a national compact.

. . .

The inability of the Iraqi parliament to complete this and related legislation on model oil contracts and other issues is an indication of how much is at stake and of the difficulty and importance of this legislation.

Achieving stability and prosperity will ultimately require Iraqi leaders to return to this draft law and the fundamentally sound bargain it contains.

Most of his letter is in reference to a Washington Post article from the previous week, which examines in detail the obstacles and infighting which have arisen within Iraq's government, and which paints a picture of Iraq as moving further and further from the Bush administration's ideal strong central government.

The collapse of negotiations over this law is significant because it was supposed to be the crown jewel in Iraq's "political reconciliation." This is not just my take on the situation, this has been front and center of the White House's spin (on how peachy everything is in Iraq) for over a year now. Which makes the collapse relevant to the point of irony, right before President Bush addresses the nation on why we should spend more lives and money in Iraq.

Here is an extensive review of White House pronouncements on the subject, in a handy timeline [these are all taken directly from the White House's website].

President Bush was the first to bring the subject up, on 6/14/06:

"I've directed the Secretary of Energy to travel to Iraq to meet with his counterpart and identify ways we can provide additional support. It's up to the Iraqis to pass a hydrocarbon law, which they're now debating. It's up -- for the Iraqi government to decide what to do with the people's asset. Our advice is to be careful, and to develop it with the people's interest in mind."

The following are all highlights from Tony Snow's press conferences (emphasis added by me).

MR. SNOW: For instance, by the end of the year, there will be a hydrocarbon law. As you know, the share of petroleum receipts is an enormously important issue, not only economically, but politically within Iraq.

MR. SNOW: ...we've [the White House has] talked a lot about the hydrocarbon legislation. That's going to be voted on, we understand, this month.

MR. SNOW: It appears, for instance, that there is going to be a cabinet vote quite soon, maybe this week, on hydrocarbon law. They're working pretty aggressively and assertively also on other reconciliation efforts, including revisions to the de-Baathification law and the election law.

Q: Tony, on the same subject, can you just give a better sense of what you're watching for? There are no specific dates, they don't have a vote on this hydrocarbon law at a specific date. So is it just a sense that the Iraqis are doing their part, that you're watching?

MR. SNOW: No, I think -- what we take a look -- for instance, I've mentioned maybe the most important part right now is the hydrocarbon law, because that's one that takes the considerable revenues from oil and natural gas and distributes them equitably across the country. They're moving pretty rapidly toward passage of that, and that is enormously significant because it says to everybody, you've got a financial stake in the success of this country.

MR. SNOW: Within the last 24 hours, there has been progress on the hydrocarbon law.

MR. SNOW: ...[Prime Minister Maliki] has told the Council of Representatives that he wants the Council, during its current legislative session, which just has a couple more weeks to run, to pass a hydrocarbon law and also de-Baathification reform.

Finally, almost two months after his initial deadline for passage (not merely getting out of committee, mind you, but actual enactment) of the Iraq oil law... Mr. Snow proudly announced, on 2/26/07:

Good afternoon. We open with a bit of good news: The Iraqi Council of Ministers had passed -- or has approved the hydrocarbon law, which will be passed on to the Council of Representatives at sometime in the near future.

From a "Fact Sheet" on Iraq put out by the White House on 3/6/07:

Iraq's Council of Ministers approved a national hydrocarbon law that provides for an equitable distribution of oil revenues throughout the country. The draft law will need to be enacted by the Iraqi Council of Representatives when it returns from recess, but the prospects for passage are excellent because all the major parliamentary blocs are represented in the cabinet.

One month later, Dana Perino (filling in for Tony Snow) gave a press briefing with Dr. Ali Al-Dabbagh, billed as "Spokesman for the Government of Iraq." Here's what he had to say about the oil law on 4/13/07:

Q: Doctor, the administration here often cites progress on the national oil law and de-Baathification. Yet, those benchmarks have not been met yet. What is the progress report on those?

DR. AL-DABBAGH: The hydrocarbon law is already approved by the cabinet, and we are waiting on the revenue sharing law to be also submitted to the cabinet to be approved, and then simultaneously they will go to the council of representatives, in order to be approved.

Q: But it's been in that spot for a while. It's been approved from the cabinet. What's the time line for getting approved by the parliament?

DR. AL-DABBAGH: It has been submitted to the -- it's got a priority. The priority is in the house of representatives. They've got their priority. But we feel that this is very urgent, and the government do urge the council to approve it, along with the revenue sharing, which is very, very important. The de-Baathification, as you said, there are a draft -- four draft being submitted. One of them is the by -- presidency council and the cabinet council, and it is now in the council of representatives, along with the other three drafts, which they are going to get one draft in order to get it approved.

Q: So if you were to predict when those things would pass, what's the time line? A couple months, end of the summer, this year?

DR. AL-DABBAGH: We thought that 2007 is the year where all this important laws will be decided, also the election, government election as well.

Got that? Sometime this year, if they find the time.

Vice President Dick Cheney was the next to officially weigh in on the situation, and he appeared to begin the process of "walking it back" -- in other words, to lower the bar and lower expectations for the oil law ever becoming a reality. From 5/9/07:

Q: Thank you, sir. You said you were impressed by the responses that you heard from Prime Minister Maliki and his colleagues. Did they offer any specific commitments, particularly time commitments, in moving forward on some of the specific measures that you and other American officials have talked about; namely, hydrocarbon law, de-Baathification, provincial elections and constitutional reform?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: I believe that Prime Minister Maliki plans an address to the parliament this week on many of these issues - [cough] excuse me - and, of course, it's a political process that depends upon action by their legislative body. And but as I say, I do believe that there is a greater sense of urgency now than I'd seen previously.

Q: But no specific time commitments?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: It's difficult to do with our own Congress, let alone somebody else's.

White House Spokesman Tony Fratto walked this back even further, a few weeks later, on 5/21/07:

Q: Tony, you mentioned that when the President spoke to the Prime Minister this morning he got some updates on some of these key measures -- the hydrocarbon law and constitutional review. Are we getting -- is the President getting any commitments about when those things will happen?

MR. FRATTO: It's very hard to put a sense of timing on some of these things. Obviously, we want the Iraqis and the Iraqi parliament to move as quickly as possible. Progress on advancing these initiatives is not moving as quickly as anyone wants, and I think that includes Prime Minister Maliki and many members of parliament. So we don't have a specific time frame on that. We want to see them move quickly. Obviously, those are elements of benchmarks that we've talked about and that Prime Minister Maliki has talked about. We think they're essential for bringing peace and security and an equity feeling in a national Iraq that is, to a large part, based on those kinds of reforms. So we want to see progress on those issues.

Within two months the White House has gone from "the prospects for passage are excellent" to "we don't have a specific time frame," but "we want to see progress."

In July, the White House was forced to report on Iraqi benchmarks to Congress. Here's the relevant text, dated 7/12/07:

Assessment: The current status is unsatisfactory, but it is too early to tell whether the Government of Iraq will enact and implement legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources to all Iraqis.
The Government of Iraq has not met its self-imposed goal of May 31 for submitting the framework hydrocarbon and revenue-sharing laws to the [Council of Representatives]. Although the [Kurdish] and the Shi'a parties have agreed to the text of the Revenue Management Law, Council of Ministers' approval has been delayed by a Sunni party boycott. The effect of limited progress toward this benchmark has been to reduce the perceived confidence in, and effectiveness of, the Iraqi Government. This does not, however, necessitate a revision to our current plan and strategy, under which we have assigned a high priority to this subject, and the process overall has continued to move forward.

So we're still "moving forward" despite being "delayed," and "it is too early to tell" whether they will even enact this law, so the "current status is unsatisfactory." Wow. Winston Smith would be proud.

Tony Snow, in a press conference the day after this report was released, is now suddenly averse to predicting when (if ever) this law will be passed. From 7/13/07:

Q: Well, specifically, do you think things like de-Baathification and their oil law will be achieved by September?

MR. SNOW: We're going to have to see. Again --

Q: Well, of course, but, I mean --

MR. SNOW: I'm not going to -- it doesn't matter what I think. I'm just not going to make prognostications on this. But also, the thing that -- there are others that you look for. For instance, how well is the presidency council working with the Prime Minister? Do you see signs of a political accommodation? If you do not have certain laws passed, do you see a greater sense of cooperation, cohesion and national identity among the various sectarian and regional groups within Iraq, reflected not only at the national level but also at the regional level? So there are going to be -- when you see the report in September, it not only is going to address benchmarks, but as it said, if you read the early parts of this report, there will be a more comprehensive assessment in taking a look at other factors also that will allow people to weigh the success of the surge.

This is the new spin, not to be confused with the old spin. Now the entire process is going to magically happen organically -- from the "bottom up." And then the Iraqis will finally greet us with flowers in the streets, perhaps. Tony continues this spin literally up to the end. From yesterday's press conference, which was Tony Snow's last (9/12/07):

MR. SNOW: Well, actually -- General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker pointed out some interesting things that have been going on at the national level, without necessarily the enactment of national legislation. For instance, there's a lot of talk about the oil law, when do you come up with a hydrocarbon law. Well, it turns out the government has been redistributing oil and natural gas revenues to provinces --

Q: It's really their only revenue, right?

MR. SNOW: Well, but they've been doing it. You're asking about --

Q: At far lower levels than you wanted them to.

MR. SNOW: Look, they've started doing it sort of de facto. What we would like to see is an oil law passed. You have seen de facto de-Baathification. And the members -- lower levels of the Baath party have, in fact, been readmitted to civil society in other parts of Iraq. You have started to see a recognition that these matters of reconciliation have to take place. Do we want to see more political progress? Absolutely. Absolutely.

Got that? We don't actually need an oil law in Iraq, because they're going to work it out all on their own. Never mind the fact that the ministries are sectarian fiefdoms, never mind the rampant corruption, never mind the black market in oil that is helping fund the insurgents -- the free market is going to triumph, and they'll no doubt all sit down soon after and sing the Iraqi equivalent of "Kumbaya."

Hoo boy.

This story is likely going to be buried with the flood of other news today (Bush's nationally televised speech, the assassination of the Sunni sheik Bush met with a few weeks ago, Britney Spears' lipsynching, etc.), but it deserves more attention than it is going to get.

If Democrats were smart, they'd include this in their official response to Bush's speech tonight, as a milestone of utter failure of the Iraqis to politically reconcile now or any time in the near future. But that may require a lot more political savvy than Democrats have shown they are capable of mustering. Which is a shame, because it is such a glaring example of the White House's complete inability to predict the future in Iraq.


-- Chris Weigant



[This article has been cited on Salon's "The Blog Report" page. The citation appeared on Thursday, and is still up there as I type this on Saturday. On the left side of the page, look under "On The Radar" for (with a "Buzz") "Iraq Oil Law Doomed To Failure" (they seem to have forgotten to post my name, oh well...). This is the first time I've been cited on Salon, so I was happy to see it.]


12 Comments on “Iraq Oil Law Doomed To Failure”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    So, let me see if I got this straight...

    The Left slams the Iraqi Hydrocarbon Law as "proof" of Bush's excesses and his meddling and how it is bad for Iraq and the world and it will bring about Armageddon and cause MASSIVE overdue library books...

    Then it's failure should be a GOOD thing, right???

    But now that it HAS failed, the Left moves the goal posts (AGAIN) and claims that the passage would have been a GOOD thing and beats the Bush Administration over the head with the fact that the IHL **DIDN'T** pass...


    1984 is alive and well and the Left is running true to form...

    Just how many goal posts are the Dems going to move over the Iraq situation????


  2. [2] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Michale -

    I'm not sure who this guy "The Left" you're talking about is, but I've personally been pretty consistent on what I've said about the oil law.

    OK, to be fair (much fairer than you're being), there has been a lot of talk about the oil law from the Left being a bad thing. I did not join in this talk, because I have not taken the time to study the text of the law, so I therefore counted myself too ignorant on the issue to have an informed opinion.

    I'm not sure how "the Left" is going to react to the story, but you may be right, they may declare it a good thing. You'll notice I took no stance on whether passing it would be a good or bad thing, I merely pointed out the political timeline the White House has been giving it since last summer, and the inconsistencies in their statements. They're hoisting themselves with their own petard, in other words, "good" thing or "bad."

    And that, my friend is the definition of "moving the goalposts." The goalpost for passage of this law was originally set 10/23/06 by Tony Snow: "For instance, by the end of the year, there will be a hydrocarbon law." That was over nine months ago. No wonder he doesn't want to prognosticate on it now.

    Those are the goalposts that have moved, which was the point of the article, not whether the law itself was good, bad, or indifferent.

    But thanks for writing, as always.


  3. [3] 
    CDub wrote:

    Wow, Michale, I nominate you for Tony Snow's job. If you can successfully blame the admin's shifting realities on the democrats, AND make it stick, Karl Rove will buy you dinner for the rest of your life. (Of course, if it gets expensive, they have ways to give you cancer).

  4. [4] 
    fstanley wrote:

    My feeling is that the White House et al will continue to "shift goal posts" until the cows come home! They don't care about anything except what benefits/profits them.


  5. [5] 
    Michale wrote:


    I didn't direct my diatribe at you personally.. I just found it interesting how "the Left" rallied against the passage of the IHL just a few short months ago is now rallying against it's non-passing now..

    You cannot deny that you are part of "the Left", no?? That's not an insult, despite how I make it come out. I am part of "the Left" on many aspects regardless of how it may make "the Left" cringe.. :D

    But, you do bring up an interesting aspect that I wanted to expand upon..

    Don't you find it interesting how there are so many factions, branches and parts of "the Left" that are constantly at war with each other up to an including the Presidential Candidates???

    I mean, yes, sure, you see the GOP Pres Candidates snipe and snip at each other every once in a while.. But you rarely see the type of antagonism between Romney and Guiliani that you see between Clinton and Obama or Clinton and Edwards.. You don't see Right organizations attacking the GOP with the vehemence and aggression that attacks Democrat Candidates, do you??

    Now, why is that???

    Further, I fully agree that the Bush Administration has stepped on their wee-wees in promoting the IHL as a benchmark and then failing to meet said benchmark.. The point is conceded and is definitely a strike AGAINST the Bush Administration...

    I was just pointing out that it is so hard to get behind the Democratic Party and their position, because, like the bible, their positions change weekly and often contradict their previous positions...


    I am not blaming the Democratic Party for the Bush Administration's shifting of positions.. I am merely pointing out that the Democratic Party seems to be shifting IT's positions to be whatever is opposite of what the Bush Administration position is. Regardless of the fact that the position shifted to is 180 degrees from the position they held the previous week...

    See, that is the problem with people like CDub and Michael Gass

    You get blue in the face trying to convince me (and yourselves) that the GOP is all evil and bad and the Democratic Party is all goodness and light...

    Whereas, I simply point out (and rightly so) that the Democratic Party is no better or worse than the GOP....


    And please show examples where the Democratic Party is any better??

    Democratic Party PRO Petraeus THEN
    Democratic Party ANTI Petraeus NOW

    Democratic Party PRO IHW THEN
    Democratic Party ANTI IHW NOW

    Can you point to one aspect of the Democratic Party that is "better" than the GOP???


  6. [6] 
    Michael Gass wrote:

    See, that is the problem with people like CDub and Michael Gass

    You get blue in the face trying to convince me (and yourselves) that the GOP is all evil and bad and the Democratic Party is all goodness and light…

    No Michale...

    YOU are the one who brings out arguments just to have, time and again, proven to be wrong. You post hyperbole, opinion, and attacks. In return you get verifiable FACT. You then spin in a totally different direction coming up with a brand new argument that, once again, gets proven to be wrong.

    When you attack the source as "biased", you are given another source from the MSM. You simply change your argument and abandon the old one like an old tire on the side of the road.

    You say that "you are part of the Left", yet, many of your arguments are nothing more than rehashed GOP talking points (many of which have ALREADY been debunked).

    You use Karl Rove's very strategy; accuse others of what you are doing... "watch... the Left is moving the goalposts!!!"

    Chris posted so many articles above proving his point that it would take a pure hack or a flaming idiot to try and defend any position contrary to the facts, and yet, here you are attacking "the Left" as being wrong... and then you accuse OTHERS of having "blind hatred".

    If you were simply ARGUING a position objectively, you would admit when you are, and have been, WRONG. You don't. You simply run to a new argument... a new talking point... a new rhetoric. You run back to "but but Clinton"... "but but Democrats"... "but but". You spin faster than Karl Rove. You cut and run faster than the GOP from Somalia.

    Anyone with an IQ above a 6th grader has figured out your game by now.

  7. [7] 
    Michael Gass wrote:


    Reference the oil in Iraq and Hydrocarbon Law:

  8. [8] 
    Michale wrote:

    My only point was that "the Left" cannot make up it's mind.

    A few short months ago, the Left was castigating Bush for not listening to Petraeus. Now that the surge is working and Petraeus is actually winning in Iraq, the Left is making disgusting personal attacks on the General and saying that Bush SHOULDN'T listen to the General.

    Can you explain this inconsistency??

    A few short months ago, the Left was screaming and crying about the IHL and how it was "proof" of Bush's ulterior motives. Now, the Left is using the non passage of the IHL as a reason to bash Bush.

    Can you explain this inconsistency??

    Also, while you are justifying the unjustifiable, perhaps you can explain why, when I continue to point out what a bunch of hypocrites the Democrats are, all you can respond with is personal attacks against me?

    Looks like you have a lot of typing ahead of you, so I won't keep you.. Have at it...


  9. [9] 
    Michale wrote:

    While Michael is typing out his next round of attacks, let me ask everyone..

    How many of ya'all condemn the barbaric attack on the honor and integrity of General Petraeus by


  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:

    Democrat response to President Bush's Thu Nite speech.

    Senator Reed:"We intend to exercise our constitutional duty and profoundly change our military's involvement in Iraq."

    So, things are working in Iraq and the Democrats want to "profoundly change" things...

    Leave it to the Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.. Even in Iraq....


  11. [11] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Note to all:

    See the "update" I added at the end of the article.


  12. [12] 
    Michale wrote:

    Congrats, CW... :D

    So, tell me.. If you had your choice of ALL Democratic Party Presidential Candidates, who would you want to write speeches for??


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