Saturday, May 12, 2007

Some in Congress Trying To Make Sure Iraq Retains Sovereignty Over Its Own Oil

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A coalition of Congress critters encompassing both the House and the Senate are trying to get clarity from the Bush administration on what the oil benchmark in Congress's war funding legislation is intended to do. They want, amazingly enough, to make sure the United States government is not trying to grab Iraq's oil:

A new measure to fund the Iraq war has run into opposition from congressional Democrats who say it does not offer enough provisions to keep the United States away from Iraq's oil.

"We have to be concerned that the oil in Iraq belongs to the Iraqi people," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif. "It's absolutely that simple."

Woolsey is co-chair of the 72-member Congressional Progressive Caucus and 76-member Out of Iraq Caucus, a coalition from both chambers attempting to champion an exit strategy from Iraq. A bill to do so received 171 votes, including two Republicans, but was defeated Thursday prior to the supplemental passage.

Woolsey and seven caucus colleagues voted against the supplemental. Unlike the supplemental bill vetoed earlier this month, the new bill does not have a timetable for U.S. troops to end combat operations, and it still includes provisions concerning Iraq's oil.

"All I can say is I'm not satisfied that what we're doing will actually benefit the Iraqi people and not billions of dollars for oil companies," Woolsey said. The Washington Post reports at least 138 of Iraq's 275 parliamentarians signed onto a draft bill proposing a timetable, enough to carry the measure.

The U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act of 2007 was approved 221 to 205. The Chicago Tribune reports it will likely not make it through the Senate and will be vetoed again. It authorizes $42.8 billion now but forces Congress to assess President Bush's success in Iraq in July before giving him another $52.8 billion.

Congress would look at, among other things, "whether the Government of Iraq ... enacted a broadly accepted hydrocarbon law that equitably shares oil revenues among all Iraqis," according to the bill's language. This is one of four benchmarks for Iraq Bush outlined in speeches back in January.

United Press International made numerous requests to ask House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave Obey, D-Wis., about the oil benchmark but received no response. His committee drafted the language. When House Democrats asked him about the issue in a private meeting this week, The Politico reports, he cussed them out.

Negotiators in Iraq are trying to find common ground on three key issues governing Iraq's oil: which fields the central or regional governments will control; the percentage of and mechanism for distributing Iraq's oil revenue; and the scope and method for foreign investment. Much of the dispute boils down to interpretation of the Iraqi Constitution, passed in 2005.

"Were what was being presented simply and exclusively a piece of legislation to clarify the constitution's position on the sharing of Iraq's oil revenues, that might make some sense," said Antonia Juhasz of Oil Change International and visiting scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies. "There's absolutely no reason why the United States should be involved in those discussions."

Via Juan Cole, who dryly remarks, "I don't think these Dems understand why W. is in Iraq."

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