SAN FRANCISCO - A new public opinion poll has found nearly two thirds of Iraqis oppose plans to open the country's oilfields to foreign companies.
The poll found a majority of every Iraqi ethnic and religious group believe their oil should remain nationalized. Some 66 percent of Shi'ites and 62 percent of Sunnis support government control of the oil sector, along with 52 percent of Kurds.
Eric Leaver, of the Washington, DC-based Institute for Policy Studies, a non-profit think tank that helped pay for the poll, said it was the first time ordinary Iraqis have been asked their views about an oil law geared towards privatizing Iraq's most lucrative natural resource.
The law has been debated in Iraq's parliament for more than a year.
"You have a question that's of vital importance to the future of the country," Leaver said. "Most of the Iraqi budget comes from the development and sale of Iraqi oil and here we have arguably one of the largest questions that's going to be decided for the future of Iraq being done without any citizens' consultation or input."
Only 4 percent of Iraqis polled said they had been given "totally adequate" information for them to feel informed about the oil law.
The U.S. government has been pressuring the Iraqi government to pass the oil law by September. Anontia Juhasz of the group Oil Change International told OneWorld that the Bush administration and Congress have made the law's passage one of the "benchmarks" that would indicate the U.S. is making progress in the war.
According to Oil Change International, the oil law sets no minimum standard for the extent to which foreign companies would have to invest their earnings in the Iraqi economy, partner with Iraqi companies, hire Iraqi workers, or share new technologies.
It also would allow multinational oil companies to sign exclusive 30-year contracts with Iraq's current government.
"We're talking about opening up the second largest oil reserves in the entire world to foreign investment," Juhasz said. "It costs about $75 a barrel -- and about 60 cents to get it out of the ground. Do the math."
So far the Iraqi Parliament has resisted the bill. After debating it for more than a year, the body adjourned for a month-long vacation and so will not take up the issue until at least September.
But officials in northern Iraq passed their version of an oil law Tuesday, a move that the Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani called a "historic moment."
The measure gives Kurdish leaders the right to administer its oil wealth in the three northern governates -- Arbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk -- as well as what it called "disputed territories," including the ethnically mixed, oil rich city of Kirkuk.
In June, the Kurdish regional government said it was planning to offer 40 new oil blocks to foreign companies.
"The Kurds are really pushing this process of extreme federalism by entering into their own oil agreements," Leaver told OneWorld. "This is causing a destabilizing effect on the rest of the country because now they feel like they really need to move on getting a grip on what the oil laws will be before they become de facto, because that's the way the Kurdish area has been operating."
The poll was based on interviews with 2,200 Iraqis conducted in June and July by KA Research and was paid for by a coalition of non-profit groups in the United States and Great Britain, including Oil Change International, the Institute for Policy Studies, Global Policy Forum, PLATFORM, and Jubilee Iraq.
Copyright © 2007 OneWorld.net.