AI: You place the struggle over Iraq’s “oil law” at the center of Iraq’s recent history. What is the oil law, how has it evolved, and what is its present status?
Once it leaked out, it started to spread into civil society. In December 2006 I attended a meeting of Iraq’s trade unions in Amman. They were discussing the law and decided that they were going to campaign against it. Their strategy, which began in early 2007, was basically just to get it known about: to tell people about it. So they produced pamphlets, which they handed out to their members and to the general public. They also organized conferences, public meetings, demonstrations, etc. The more this was done, the more people knew about it, the more anger there was that in secret this government — that had a fairly limited mandate given the circumstances of an election under occupation — was trying to push something through that the occupation powers were demanding, and that looked like it would do considerable damage to Iraqi interests and the Iraqi economy. Iraqis feel very strongly that oil should remain in Iraqi hands, not least because of their historical experience with foreign companies. So during the course of 2007 this opposition spread. One after another, new groups and new constituencies got involved in it.
GM: After the first contracts were signed in 2009, there was a member of the Iraqi parliament – Shatha al-Musawi – who challenged the first of the contracts, which was with BP, in the Iraqi Supreme Court. Her challenge was unsuccessful, but not on substantive legal grounds. It was rather stopped on process grounds. The Supreme Court has been quite problematic over the last few years in that the Maliki government has had increasing influence over its decisions, and that has been seen in a number of decisions that have gone the way that Maliki wanted them to, in contradiction to where the law as written should have pushed it. That was seen especially after the 2010 election when Maliki was given the right to form the government rather than it being given to Allawi. That decision was the Supreme Court’s. There are strong indications that he has channels of influence. In the case of Shatha al-Musawi’s challenge to the BP contract, what happened was that the court ordered her to pay a deposit of three hundred million Iraqi dinars, which was about 225,000 dollars at the time. She was ordered to pay that, and it would be returnable if she won. She did not have that kind of money, so the case collapsed. So in order to carry out a legal challenge in Iraq, I think what would be needed would be some means of containing government influence over the Supreme Court. A way of containing that might be a set of institutions that are backing the case financially, institutionally, and politically, such that it becomes difficult for the Maliki government to steer the court or for the court to side with the Maliki government. But that is the major block there.