The oil law and the situation in Basra

This is just a small excerpt from an article at Democracy Now. It gives a glimpse into the situation and conflict in the Basra area. No doubt violence could break out at any time.

RICK ROWLEY: But some opponents of the oil law still see Prime Minister Maliki as an American ally and worry that this current draft will lead to privatization and an American oil grab.

FALEH ABOOD UMARA: [translated] The law was written by the American administration, and it serves the American interest in Iraq.

RICK ROWLEY: Faleh Abood, head of the Southern Oil Workers’ Union, has led several strikes against the government.

FALEH ABOOD UMARA: [translated] We achieved many things. We were able to raise salaries and get workers pieces of land. But what made people oppose us was our opposition to the oil and gas law.

RICK ROWLEY: In fact, Oil Minister Shahristani used a Saddam-era law that the Americans left in place to declare the union illegal and has pledged to stop future strikes.

HUSSAIN AL-SHAHRISTANI: The law under Saddam was reinstated, so even after the fall of the regime, that was the law, and anybody who tries to disrupt oil production and export would be liable to government actions, because this would be considered as a sabotage of national economy.

RICK ROWLEY: Back in Basra, the political storm is growing around Governor al-Waili, whose party is linked to the Oil Workers’ Union. Prime Minister Maliki has called for his resignation, and charges of corruption, mismanagement and fraud are circulating in the press. The Iraqi newspaper Kitabat alleged that he skimmed $80 million from reconstruction contracts.

We leave the governor’s compound to try to see what normal Basrans think of this crisis, but the governor refuses to let us go without an escort of twelve heavily armed guards. One man is brave enough to speak to us, telling us that he has not seen any of the $340 million worth of projects the governor claims are 85% complete.

BASRAN MAN: [translated] There are no services, no reconstruction. There is a lot of fraud.

RICK ROWLEY: When asked about political parties in Basra, this man is too frightened to say anything more.

BASRAN MAN: [translated] I voted, but I’d rather not say.

RICK ROWLEY: After that interview, the governor was reluctant to let us talk to anyone else in Basra or to visit any of his reconstruction projects. Claiming it was for our security, he locked us in a house on his compound, surrounded by soldiers. We escaped once in hopes of doing more interviews on the street, but were spotted before we even left the compound and firmly escorted back to our quarters by armed men. After being held four more days, we were taken to the airport and flown back to Baghdad.


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