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Anti-Saddam Iraqis Promise Oil Deal After War

by Emad Mekay

Post-Saddam Iraq May Look Like Pre-Invasion Afghanistan
(IPS) DAVOS -- U.S. backed Iraqi opposition leaders have vowed to turn the country into a secular, multi-party, federal and non-sectarian state that will welcome investment in massive oil fields.

Speaking to a group of business leaders and governments officials at the close of the six-day annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, they said that they have largely managed to iron out their differences and signed several agreements that set a roadmap of their working together.

The nine opposition members, many of them virtually unknown and inactive before the U.S. said it may take Saddam Hussein by force, have been long the subject of doubt over their ability to rule if Saddam Hussein is forced out of office.

Some European allies and experts on Iraq have raised questions over what kind of system the opposition might bring to the country -- given Iraq's historic diversity of ethnicities and frequent disagreements, often violent, between the opposition factions themselves.

But Ghassan Atiyyah, editor-in-chief of Iraqi File, said that the opposition in exile had agreed to form a government that would rule for a transitional period of "a year or two" before general elections could be held.

Iraq, a large country in the Middle East with the world's second largest proven oil reserves, contains a blend of ethnicities, religions and nationalities. The speakers said they all represented a cross-section of the Iraqi people including leading Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish and Turkmen regional and political groupings.

"Sectarian differences have been greatly exaggerated," said Adnan Pachachi, former foreign minister of Iraq. "What actually divides Iraqis are sheer political persuasions, which are found in all other countries. There are liberal Iraqis, socialists, nationalists and others."

The leaders said their record in the northern part of Iraq, known as the northern no-fly zone, which is patrolled daily by U.S. and British aircraft, show that they can rule Iraq and give consideration to human rights, women's rights and education.

"We have three universities now, up from one a few years ago," said Barham Salih of the autonomous Sulaymania Kurdistan Regional Government. "We have four women judges, and remember this is the Islamic Middle East."

Another Kurdish leader said that the groups were trying to build their credibility in the world and "let the voice of the Iraqi people heard."

"We are trying to organize ourselves to be a credible opposition so that we can run our country and not foreigners," he said. "We have tremendous human resources, a very well-educated population that could do the job."

Playing to a mostly Western audience, suspicious of the Middle East and its values, Salih said that opposition leaders were ready to commit to a democratic and a free Iraq -- on Western lines. "We'll be committing to a democratic and Iraq and follow all the values that we'll cherish so much," he said.

The event, which was not part of the World Economic Forum's original schedule, appeared, however, to be part of the ongoing U.S. public relations campaign that sought to make use of the high-profile and the well attended annual gathering to sway reluctant world opinions towards a war with Iraq.

The nine leaders were given the high-profile farewell dinner party with members of the press on Monday night.

The leaders said they were due to meet with some corporate executives, who may include representatives from oil companies.

"If the chance arises to meet oil companies, we will," said Ayad Allawi who heads the London-based Iraqi National Accord. "But we'll not be talking about anything specific and certainly no contracts."

But the leaders said that oil was and, will still be, an integral part of the work of any government in Iraq.

"Everything in Iraq depends on oil today, " said Adil Abdul Mahdi, President of the Shiite Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. "No oil, no life."

Mahdi told the audience that his country, with the worlds' second largest oil reserves at 112 billion barrels and with much larger potential to be explored, would need an investment of $2 to 3 billion dollars to bring back Iraq's pre-Gulf War production level of 3.5 million barrels a day

Iraq also has the potential to increase production to around 5-6 million b/d by 2010 with investment of around $30 to $42 billion.

"All opposition groups said they were going to re-study all oil contracts signed during the last ten years and to see their validity and whether they represent the interests of the Iraqi people or not," Mahdi told IPS.

Mahdi, however, said he could not confirm whether Iraqi opposition leaders would give preference to American and British companies to develop the country's oil fields, a view widely held by oil experts.

"If this corresponds with the Iraqi interests, then yes," he said. "But you have to remember that American companies often take 20 percent of oil profits when other companies take only eight to 10 percent."

The Iraqi opposition meeting with corporate executives brought to an end the conference which was attended by 2,311 people -- including 24 heads of state, 82 cabinet ministers, 67 heads of international organizations, 13 labor leaders, 74 heads of non-governmental organizations, 177 academics, 1,300 business leaders and 282 media leaders, who attended nearly 300 sessions.

The event, held against a background of global economic uncertainty, was largely dominated by looming war and attempts by U.S. officials to focus on the so-called "war on terror" and to win backing for a military invasion of Iraq by U.S. and British troops.

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Albion Monitor January 29, 2003 (

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