Iraqis oppose oil development plans, poll finds

6 August 2007 - 12:53pm
Press release

Iraqis oppose plans to open the country's oilfields to foreign investment by a factor of two to one, according to a poll released by War on Want today.

63% of poll respondents said they would prefer Iraq's oil to be developed and produced by Iraqi public sector companies rather than foreign companies.

» Full results of the poll can be found here

Iraqis oppose plans to open the country's oilfields to foreign investment by a factor of two to one, according to a poll released today. Iraqis are united in this view: there are no ethnic, sectarian or geographical groups that prefer foreign companies. The poll also finds that most Iraqis feel kept in the dark about the oil plans - with fewer than a quarter feeling adequately informed about a proposed new law to govern Iraq's oil sector.

This poll is the first time ordinary Iraqis have been asked their views on the contents of the oil law, which has been debated by Iraqi political parties for over a year. The US government is pressing Baghdad to pass the oil law by September, as one of their 'benchmarks'. [1]

At the centre of the oil law is a proposal to give multinational oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon the primary role in developing Iraq's oilfields, under contracts of up to 30 years.

Yet 63% of poll respondents said they would prefer Iraq's oil to be developed and produced by Iraqi public sector companies rather than foreign companies, with 32% of those indicating a strong preference. Only 10% strongly preferred foreign companies, and 21% moderately.

Only 4% of Iraqis feel they have been given 'totally adequate' information for them to feel informed about the oil law. A further 20% describe information provision as 'somewhat adequate', and 76% as inadequate.

According to the analytical report, by US-based Custom Strategic Research [2]:

"The lack of credible information on the content and consequences of the draft Oil Law and on the debate surrounding the future of Iraq's oil resources is likely to undercut the legitimacy of both the process and any law that it ultimately produces".

The lack of information is especially significant, given that those most informed about the oil law plans are the strongest opponents. Last month, more than 100 of Iraq's most senior oil experts wrote to the parliament, calling for changes to the oil law. Meanwhile, workers in the oil sector have been consistently critical of the law. [3]

The survey was commissioned by a group of development and human rights organisations, including War on Want, Oil Change International and PLATFORM. [4] Louise Richards of War on Want commented,

"The British government maintains our troops invaded and occupy Iraq to free its people from dictatorship so that they can decide their own future. But the government and UK companies plan to plunder its oil despite opposition from the great majority of Iraqi citizens. David Miliband says the Foreign Office is there to help use British assets to build a better world. Now he should match his words with action to heed this clear message from Iraqis."

While critics suspect the USA's real motivation is the contracts for American and international companies, US officials have stated that they see the law as a reconciliation measure, designed to unite Iraq's ethnic and sectarian groups in a common vision of how to develop their oil.

Ironically, the law has indeed united Iraqis - in opposition to the privatisation proposals.

The poll was carried out in June and July by KA Research, and coordinated and analysed by Custom Strategic Research. It was based on face-to-face interviews with 2,200 Iraqis in all 18 provinces.

» Watch War on Want's short film on Iraq's oil law here

For more information: Ruth Tanner, War on Want: 07811 469 547 Greg Muttitt, PLATFORM: 07970 589 611

Notes for editors:

1: In President Bush's new strategy, announced in January 2007, he set a number of political benchmarks, to be achieved by the Iraqi government, in parallel to the surge in US troops. Progress on these benchmarks will be reported to the US Congress in mid-September. US officials have strongly emphasised the oil law benchmark, on repeated visits to Baghdad - including Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and head of Central Command Admiral William Fallon.

2: The report is available on an unlinked webpage here

3: The experts - all with many decades of experience in the Iraqi oil sector, and including four former ministers - have criticised the rushing of the oil law. They have called for the law to be delayed until after the review of the constitution; they state that now is not the time to sign long-term contracts, due to the security situation; they insist that (contrary to the law) any contracts should be reviewed by the parliament; and they warn that the law may create a fragmented and ineffective oil industry.

The Iraq Federation of Oil Unions represents 26,000 workers in the oil sector: more than half of the workforce in the southern four provinces of Iraq. They have consistently criticised the oil law for handing control to foreign companies, and undermining Iraq's sovereignty.

4: The poll was sponsored by:

UK: Iraq Occupation Focus; Jubilee Iraq; PLATFORM; War on Want; Voices

USA: Global Policy Forum; Institute for Policy Studies; Oil Change International


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