The Akkaz Revolt: A Test Case for Iraq, and for Iraqiyya
Posted by Reidar Visser on Wednesday, 20 October 2010 13:02
For the past couple of years an interesting energy revolt has been simmering in the mainly-Sunni governorate of Anbar: Local councillors are increasingly expressing a desire for a leading role for the local authorities in developing the Akkaz gas field. When the central government earlier this year included that field in a batch of contracts put up for auction to foreign companies, the local council protested and recently issued a threat about non-cooperation in case the deals went ahead.
Today, the Akkaz field was awarded to a South Korean consortium after an auction in Baghdad. It will be interesting to see not only how the governorate politicians in Anbar react, but also how the Iraqiyya coalition – which is strongly represented locally in Anbar – responds at the national level.
The constitutional facts of the matter are that the central government is supposed to be in the lead when it comes to “existing fields”, albeit in some kind of unspecified cooperation with the local authorities. Back in 2007, when an attempt was made to agree on an oil and gas law, Akkaz – which was discovered in the Saddam Hussein period before 2003 – was listed in the annexes to the draft law in category 3 of “non-producing” fields in need of considerable investment. Of course the oil and gas law was never adopted (and the Kurds protested strongly at the way the annexes were drawn up), and the central government has since gone ahead with the award (or attempted award) of several category 3 fields in previous licensing rounds with foreign companies, including Badra, Gharraf, Kifl and a gas field in Diyala. It is thought that the degree of “coordination” with the local authorities in these mostly Shiite-majority governorates (that is, except Diyala) has been quite minimal, and whereas protests from the local governorates themselves have been limited – and possibly have been ameliorated by the generous fees given to oil and gas-producing governorates in the 2010 budget – a general challenge to the government’s line has been mounted in the courts by Shadha al-Musawi, a former deputy of the old, all-Shiite United Iraqi Alliance, with respect to the contract signed with a British-Chinese consortium for the supergiant Rumaila field in the Basra area.
Thus, the question is whether the oil ministry needs to do anything more in terms of coordination with the Anbar authorities than they have done in places like Dhi Qar. It is interesting that so far, the vision of a dominant central government in these issues has been promoted by Hussein al-Shahristani, a close ally of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Conversely, the Kurds and forces close to another Shiite party, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) have been accused of abetting regionalist tendencies in Anbar, which used to have a nationalist orientation. Given the current rivalry between Maliki and Ayad Allawi to win over the Kurds in order to form the next government, it would be interesting to see where Allawi’s Iraqiyya really stands on this important issue concerning the key question of whether Iraq should be centralised or decentralised. If Iraqiyya supports the Akkaz revolt against Shahristani, maybe it should stop calling itself Iraqiyya altogether and instead merge with the Kurds and ISCI to form a new parliamentary bloc called Al-Kurdistaniyya? It is noteworthy in this context that the ministry of planning, headed by Ali Baban who is considered quite close to Maliki, recently announced its decision to scrap the question about ethnicity in the forthcoming census – a move likely to meet with Kurdish protests and applause from the Sunni Arabs in northern Iraq.
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