an occupant’s rights under international law do not include the right to develop a new oil field, to use the oil resources of occupied territory for the general benefit of the home economy or to grant oil concessions.
That’s from a State Department legal memorandum prepared in the Ford administration, at a time when Israel intended to develop new oilfields in occupied Palestinian territories. William Greider quotes it in the current Nation (in an article that’s not available online) and says the memo is correct: “The obstacle is the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.” What this means, Greider says, is that
Despite what many people, including many Washington officials, seem to believe, the US government is prohibited from simply seizing Iraqi oil revenues and spending the money however it chooses. Indeed, the US occupying force cannot remove the country’s judges and suspend Iraq’s domestic laws. Nor may it create massive unemployment by firing police, civil servants or military troops. On the contrary, an occupying force is required to maintain civil order and humanitarian necessities, to protect private property and public assets as well as individual rights. In fact, international law is designed to prevent an occupying nation from transforming a defeated society into its own likeness.
Greider says that
once Iraqis have re-established a sovereign government they will be free to sue the US government for damages and reparations. They may also sue Halliburton, the oil companies and any other businesses acting as contract agents for the Coalition Provisional Authority..... This venture could morph into multibillion-dollar lawsuits that go on for many years.
If the future government of Iraq does not wish to sue, then groups of citizens might still become plaintiffs. They could be joined by the foreign creditors who lent billions to Iraq in Saddam’s time -- including French and Russian interests.