The panic and distraction of the security crisis should not be used as cover for handing Iraq’s wealth to foreigners
Glad tidings from Baghdad at last. The Iraqi parliament has gone into summer recess without passing the oil law that Washington was pressing it to adopt. For the Bush administration this is irritating, since passage of the law was billed as a “benchmark” in its battle to get Congress not to set a timetable for US troop withdrawals. The political hoops through which the government of Nouri al-Maliki has been asked to jump were meant to be a companion piece to the US “surge”. Just as General David Petraeus, the current US commander, is due to give his report on military progress next month, George Bush is supposed to tell Congress in mid-September how the Maliki government is moving forward on reform.
The signs are that, on both fronts, the administration will carry on playing for time. Bush and his officials are already suggesting they will maintain the surge for another year, and that Petraeus’s report will merely be an interim score card. It will not use the fateful Vietnam-era language of light at the end of the tunnel, but it will say progress is under way and therefore more congressional patience is needed.
Similarly Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador in Baghdad, is playing down the urgency of the benchmarks. He has reminded the US media that Congress can take years to make reforms on complex issues such as immigration and healthcare. He argues it is unfair to expect the Iraqi parliament to do everything as fast as outsiders might wish.
That said, the administration – particularly the vice-president, Dick Cheney – and the oil lobby are enraged that the oil law is stalled. The main reason is not that the Iraqi government and parliament are a lazy bunch of Islamist incompetents or narrow-minded sectarians, as is often implied. MPs are studying the law more carefully, and have begun to see it as a major threat to Iraq’s national interest regardless of people’s religion or sect.
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