Basra’s Unfair Share: Wealthy in Oil, Poor in Every Other Way

The work that oil companies were doing was also proving detrimental to other economic activities in the region. Many farmers north and west of Basra had seen their vegetable fields damaged by seismic exploration of oil in these areas. Even if financial compensation was paid, one farmer said, it wouldn’t make up for the deterioration in conditions for agriculture or for the rise in unemployment.

This discontent is also being expressed by the regional authorities in Basra; they have gone so far as to file a lawsuit against the central government alleging that they have been left out of negotiations around lucrative oil and gas contracts.

The local authorities in Basra believe that because they contribute so much to Iraq’s national coffers, that they should be receiving more than they are at the moment. Like many other regions, Basra believes the central government in Baghdad is keeping Iraq’s wealth for itself; this is just part of the reason for the various calls for more autonomy from Baghdad.

The new contracts, signed late last year, “marginalize our role in strategic decision making,” Sabah al-Bazouni, head of the Basra’s provincial government, said. Additionally al-Bazouni felt that the international companies involved should be compensating locals for the damage they were doing, as well as the pollution they were causing.

“Basra should get some kind of compensation from these companies,” he said. “Such as the provision of health services or social development projects for citizens.”

The Basra authorities have also demanded that the payment plan by which the region gets its share of oil money be changed. Rather than being allocated one dollar per barrel of oil produced, they say they want 3 percent of the total oil revenues produced by the state. Only this would be enough to cover the costs of developing suitable infrastructure and compensating locals for the environmental and other costs of oil production.

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