Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Iraqi Oil, Western Profits

At the commencement of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, suggestions that the pretext for war-despite valiant attempts by the President's PR apparatus to convince us otherwise-was essentially securing the availability of Iraq's oil were met with scorn and denigration. Such insanity, although backed by any comprehensive review of the regional history, simply cannot be allowed to persist in the respectable American political arena.

The only stated pretext for war that remains intact, if only because there's no way to prove definitively otherwise, is Bush's unfettered dedication to the proliferation of democracy in the region. But, as the historical record illustrates quite clearly, the US has never been fond of democracies that choose a path independent of Washington. In that context, it was implied that any democratic government allowed to form after the toppling of Saddam Hussein would be one facing West.

That's not to say that the Maliki government doesn't need a couple taps on the shoulder every now and again because it maintains the audacity to look to improving relations with its neighbor to the east, or a little coaxing to eliminate any prospect of Muqtada al Sadr mounting a successful political campaign for his faction in the coming (maybe) provincial elections.

As it stands, the news that the US had helped draw up oil contracts with five Western firms was met with little fanfare and even less surprise, as any delusions that may have existed in the Spring of 2003 have long since vaporized. As is standard fare in the War Profiteering sector, the contracts were no-bid rewards for the US's good deed of destroying Iraq's infrastructure and displacing a fifth of its population, which only seems fair. And make no mistake, there are plenty who see it in exactly that light: Iraqi oil is rightfully America's as quid pro quo for the 2003 invasion.

Naomi Klein in conversation with Jerry Doyle:

[Doyle:] We've invested $650bn to liberate a nation of 25 million people, shouldn't we just demand that they give us oil? There should be tankers after tankers backed up like a traffic jam getting into the Lincoln Tunnel, the stinkin' Lincoln, at rush-hour with thank-you notes from the Iraqi government ... Why don't we just take the oil? We've invested it liberating a country. I can have the problem solved of gas prices coming down in 10 days, not 10 years.

One presumes we still owe a significant portion of our natural resources to the French for their help in liberating us, and the interest on that debt has to be pretty high.

As Klein reports, the "foreign corporations will keep 75% of the value of the contracts, leaving just 25% for their Iraqi partners." That proportion is simply astounding, as it takes an incredible amount of chutzpah to take three-fourths of a country's main source of income with a straight face, even if seen in Doyle's light as some form of payment. It should be accepted without comment that the US would accept nothing even remotely on that scale to occur with its own resources, but leverage is a funny thing.

So what makes such lousy deals possible in Iraq, which has already suffered so much? Paradoxically, it is Iraq's suffering - its never-ending crisis - that is the rationale for an arrangement that threatens to drain Iraq's treasury of its main revenue source. The logic goes like this: Iraq's oil industry needs foreign expertise because years of punishing sanctions starved it of new technology, while the invasion and continuing violence degraded it further. And Iraq needs to start producing more oil urgently. Why? Also because of the war. The country is shattered and the billions handed out in no-bid contracts to western firms have failed to rebuild it.

And that's where the new contracts come in: they will raise more money, but Iraq has become such a treacherous place that the oil majors must be induced to take the risk of investing. Thus the invasion of Iraq neatly creates the argument for its subsequent pillage.

Essentially, the world imposes sanctions on a country over the course of more than a decade, drives it to ruins, and then uses that very ruin as the pretext for walking off with its most significant source of income. Only a policy built on the notion that Middle East oil belongs to the West to begin with could lead to such inequity.

But, of course, this has been the policy throughout the century following the discovery of the region's combustible gold mine, be it the establishment of puppet regimes by the British (cheaper than running the countries themselves) or the US-backed coup in 1953 to re-establish the Western-friendly shah in Iran, the Middle East has long been a prize believed to be in its rightful hands when belonging to the West. At no point does the indigenous population figure into the equation.

This attitude is what makes terrorism so hard to understand for Westerners, who are never asked to consider what they might do were the situations reversed. Say, if a North Carolina resident was forced to farm tobacco for a pittance only to load it on ships for an Asian country to sell and profit from. Not a likely scenario, but it doesn't take too large a toll on the imagination to envision his response or conception of that foreign country.

The concept of war-for-oil is no longer a secret, as the need for pretense has vanished.

On US National Public Radio's To the Point, Fadhil Chalabi, one of the primary Iraqi advisers to the Bush administration in the lead-up to the invasion, recently described the war as "a strategic move on the part of the United States of America and the UK to have a military presence in the Gulf in order to secure [oil] supplies in the future". Chalabi, who served as Iraq's oil undersecretary of state and met with the oil majors before the invasion, described this as "a primary objective."

When rhetoric and pretense fade away, all that remains is the tall, dark shadow of reality. And for the Iraqi population already devastated by 5 years of invasion, occupation and infighting, that light shows no signs of re-appearing any time soon.


The Iraq SOFA and Its Assault on Iraqi Sovereignty, June 5

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