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Targeting the New Iraq Oil Law in San Francisco

Showdown at Chevron

by BEN TERRALL

On April 19th in San Francisco, activists, protesting what they called moves by U.S. and British petroleum corporations to take greater control of Iraq’s oil, staged a mock celebration which began at a downtown Chevron station. In front of a banner reading "Mission (Nearly) Accomplished/ Iraq Oil Theft Law," anti-war protestors wearing facemasks of oil company executives took turns explaining to the assembled press why they were toasting the impending passage of a law in Iraq’s parliament that would "liberate" the country’s oil to British and U.S. companies.

Antonia Juhasz, visiting scholar at the Institute for Policy studies and author of the excellent history "The Bush Agenda: Invading the World, One Economy at a Time," recently wrote that if passed, "the new law would go a long way toward helping the oil companies achieve their goal… transforming Iraq’s oil industry from a nationalized model closed to American oil companies except for limited (although highly lucrative) marketing contracts, into a commercial industry, all-but-privatized, that is fully open to all international oil companies."

Demonstrators wearing cut-out faces of CEOs Rex Tillerson of Exxon Mobil and John Browne of BP exulted in the war helping their companies secure access to more petroleum. Nearby, a seemingly over-caffeinated Dick Cheney waved a sign with a large Chevron logo which said "This War Has Nothing to Do With Oil" and danced to appropriate numbers blaring from a nearby boombox, including "Celebration," "Money (That’s What I Want)," and "Fight For Your Right (to Party)." (In a 1999 speech to the Institute of Petroleum in London, Cheney, then CEO of oil services company Halliburton, said: "By 2010 we will need on the order of an additional fifty million barrels a day. So where is the oil going to come from? [] The Middle East, with two thirds of the world’s oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies.")

Dancing next to the snarling Cheney were two members of local guerrilla theatre troupe The Ronald Reagan Home for the Criminally Insane, their faces covered by oversized head shots of Condoleeza Rice and George W. Bush. Ms. Rice’s stand-in was also carrying a sign with a Chevron insignia, this one reading "Thanks For the Record Profits, Sorry About Your Kids."

San Francisco resident Jim Morrison, who was sporting the visage of Chevron CEO David O’Reilly on his mask, told me, "listening to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifying before Congress today about his role in the dismissal of eight U.S. attorneys left me upset that the firing of attorneys is scandal, while the much more disturbing scandal for me, Gonzales’s role in diluting our historical antipathy to torture, is no longer talked about. That’s one of the reasons I came out today, that our continued misappropriation of Iraq’s resources is being facilitated by a military occupation which employs torture, and I think we as U.S. citizens are complicit in that torture unless we speak out."

A gas station employee taking money from behind bulletproof glass told an activist, "I don’t think my manager will be happy, it appears to be discouraging many customers from coming in."

Mock chants from protestors as they marched to San Francisco’s Federal Building included "More Blood for Oil!" (an ironic inversion of the standard "No Blood for Oil!"), "Whose Oil? Our Oil!" and "How Did Our Oil Get Under Their Soil?"

Once at the Federal Building, site of San Francisco congresswoman and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s local office, activist David Solnit told the assembled activists and passersby that Pelosi shared responsibility for the potential oil giveaway since the supplemental spending bill Democrats just united behind contains Iraqi approval of the oil law as a "benchmark" for a belated U.S. departure from the occupied country. Toby Blome of the anti-war group CODEPINK encouraged Pelosi’s constituents to step up grassroots pressure on Pelosi to drop that "benchmark." Jeff Grubler, co-founder of the The Ronald Reagan Home for the Criminally Insane then told the crowd, "The proposed Hydrocarbon Law is supposed to go before Iraq’s Parliament next week. The Hydrocarbon Law, which we prefer to call the ‘Iraq Oil Theft Law,’ has its origins in the U.S. State department and was drafted and written in English by the U.S. contractor BearingPoint. There apparently was no rush to translate it into Arabic. Most members of the Iraqi parliament only saw the draft of the law after it was leaked to the press months after the Bush Administration, the big oil companies and the International Monetary Fund had all viewed it."

As the anti-war protestors began putting away props and heading to the nearby weekly peace vigil sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee, I asked Grubler how he felt Iraqis would fare if this law passes. Grubler said, "If that happens, the law will give the Iraq National Oil Company exclusive control of only 17 of Iraq’s 80 known oil fields, leaving two-thirds of known reserves and all of its as yet undiscovered reserves open to foreign control for at least a generation. Iraq will lose hundreds of billions of dollars in oil revenue and tens of thousands of much-needed jobs. Most Iraqis have been kept in the dark about this law and, possibly, if protestors in the U.S. and England make enough of a stink the people of Iraq will finally hear about it through international media."

Iraq’s five trade union federations, representing hundreds of thousands of workers, have opposed the law via a statement rejecting "the handing of control over oil to foreign companies, which would undermine the sovereignty of the state and the dignity of the Iraqi people."

BEN TERRALL is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. He can be reached at bterrall@igc.org