Outgoing finance minister Adel Abdel Mahdi was named by the Iraqi parliament to be one of the country’s two vice presidents. We speak with author and activist Antonia Juhasz about Abdel Mahdi’s ties to neo-liberal institutions and his plans to privatize Iraq’s oil. [includes rush transcript]
- Antonia Juhasz, author and activist. She is currently working on a book about corporate globalization and Iraq. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Cambridge University Review of International Relations Journal, and the LA Times. For years, she was Project Director at the International Forum on Globalization.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined by analyst, Dilip Hiro, from Britain. We are also joined now by activist and author Antonia Juhasz. For years, she was Project Director at the International Forum on Globalization, currently working on a book about corporate globalization and Iraq. We’re also joined by author Larry Everest, who’s the author of Oil, Power and Empire: Iraq and the US Global Agenda. Antonia Juhasz, let’s go you to. You write about the former Iraqi Finance Minister, now one of the deputy presidents, Abdel Mahdi. Can you talk about him?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Sure. Thanks for having me this morning. Basically Abdel Mahdi is an economist and a politician who currently serves as the finance minister of Iraq and also served on the Iraqi Governing Council. He was the leader of the United Iraqi Alliance ticket, the Shiite Party pegged to be the prime minister of Iraq. Then through the negotiations that happened after January 30, he, as you said, has become one of the vice presidents and part of the Presidency Council. He can be considered the Bush administration’s economic man on the ground in Iraq. After Paul Bremer, who was the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority of the US Government of occupied Iraq, left, Abdel Mahdi essentially took over to implement the economic transformations that Paul Bremer had set into place in his 100 Bremer orders which fundamentally restructured the Iraqi economy. Mahdi essentially implemented those ideas and moved them forward. He has taken two trips to DC. He took two trips prior to the January 30th elections, one in October and one in December. Both times he met, or at least one of the two visits, with both President Bush and Vice President Cheney. And he announced, in a press conference while in DC, negotiations on a new oil law for Iraq that he said would be very good for US Oil companies that would look at privatization of the oil. And he also talked about all of the economic reforms that he had put into place to fundamentally shift Iraq from a state controlled economy to an economy completely open to foreign investment, free trade, and the like. He wasn’t elected president, and won’t be prime minister, however remaining in a key leadership post makes it very likely at a minimum that he will continue to work, try to work to push all of those economic reforms. Just to also be clear, he is in the position to keep doing that for one simple reason which is that the Bremer orders, those economic changes, stay in effect unless they are specifically overturned by the new national assembly, meaning they did continue. They continue on unless they’re specifically overturned. And Mahdi will be in a position to see those move forward. He is definitely somebody who is very much supported by the Bush administration, and has continually expressed his commitment to US corporations.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Antonia Juhasz, author and activist. You right write in your latest piece, "Of Oil and Elections," "Remember when we used to talk about how the war in Iraq was about oil? Remember the banners that read 'No Blood for Oil!'? Oil has fallen out of the discussion, but it’s time to bring it back in light of the Iraqi elections." This was a little while ago, but you specifically, even then before Adel Mahdi was known by most people, talk about this meeting that he had in December of 2004. Can you describe it?
ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yes. This was a press conference. It was part of a couple of days’ meetings of the US-Iraq Economic Commission which has met twice. That was the second time. Basically, a US government corporate Iraqi government body that came together for the second meeting to discuss, it seems, largely oil. The proceedings, of course, are not public. I have only seen press releases that the State Department put out. The entire focus was on Iraq’s economy and its transformation of oil. So, at this press conference, Mahdi described what he was thinking about in terms of oil, and again this is prior to the election, so it’s definitely setting himself up as the person who the Americans should feel comfortable with. At that meeting, he said that Iraq’s oil law was being completely reconsidered, and of course, Iraq’s oil was fully nationalized in 1972. It has been off-limits to US companies. The only company that has continued to do well is ChevronTexaco which has been marketing Iraqi oil, selling it both during the Oil-for-Food period, and also currently has a contract to market Iraqi oil. The rest of the oil of Iraq has been completely shut off to US companies, and obviously, they have been very eager to get back in. Mahdi discussed several changes, one of which would be privatization, full privatization of the oil sector, but the other is, you know, a slow process of opening up of the sector, either at a contract by contract basis, or things like simply allowing foreign companies to come in and build oil infrastructure, pump oil out of the ground, do joint excavation policies with the Iraqi government. There’s a whole slew of ways that the US government — the US corporations can enter the Iraqi oil sector without full privatization needing to go forward. But he said full privatization. And again, he said, you know, basically this would be very good for US companies, and the reason why he said that was because it is French and Russian companies that had contracts that were pending with Iraq, waiting for the sanctions to end and basically most members of the Iraqi — current Iraqi government have said we are not going to honor those contracts. So Mahdi was saying, the French and Russian contracts are out. The door is open to US companies. You know, I’m going to open it as far as it can go. Let’s move forward these elections and get me into office, is how I read that process. And it has already been going forward. ChevronTexaco, Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell, they’re all already offering free services in Iraq, training Iraqi oil workers, helping rewrite laws to open their access, bidding on oilfields in Kirkuk and elsewhere across Iraq, and they’re poised and ready to go.