The sp(oil)s of war

July 1, 2008

Western oil giants will get contracts that lay the foundation for exploiting Iraq's oil resources for decades to come.

IRAQ IS officially open for business. To Western oil giants, that is.

In mid-June, it was revealed that four Western oil companies--ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and the French firm Total--plus Chevron and some smaller corporations, were putting the finishing touches on contracts that would allow them to operate in Iraq for the first time since the country's oil industry was nationalized more than three decades ago, driving out the very corporations now set to make their return.

The sweetheart deal consists of a number of no-bid contracts won almost exclusively by the Western companies--unsurprisingly, they beat out more than 40 other companies, including some from Russia, China and India.

Though the contracts are only one to two years in duration, the Western giants will gain in bidding on future contracts--the deals "lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations," the New York Times reported.

An iraqi techniqian inspects oil pipes at the al-Bakr port in the southern Iraqi city of Basra
An iraqi techniqian inspects oil pipes at the al-Bakr port in the southern Iraqi city of Basra (Essam al-Sudani | AFP)

Plus, wrote the Times, while the they are relatively small by industry standards, the contracts "include a provision that could allow the companies to reap large profits at today's prices: the [Iraqi oil] ministry and companies are negotiating payment in oil rather than cash."

"[R]emember when the mainstream media, the Times included, seconded the idea that Bush's invasion, whatever it was about--weapons of mass destruction or terrorism or liberation or democracy or bad dictators or...well, no matter--you could be sure of one thing: it wasn't about oil," left-wing writer Tom Engelhardt wrote on

"'Oil' wasn't a word worth including in serious reporting on the invasion and its aftermath, not even after it turned out that American troops entering Baghdad guarded only the Oil and Interior Ministries, while the rest of the city was looted. Even then--and ever after--the idea that the Bush administration might have the slightest urge to control Iraqi oil (or the flow of Middle Eastern oil via a well-garrisoned Iraq) wasn't worth spending a few paragraphs of valuable newsprint on....

"Now, with a barrel of crude selling at more than quadruple its prewar price, more than double its price a mere year ago, the oil majors are finally moving in for the...well, let's not say 'kill,' let's just say that tasty little sip of the ol' patrimony."

Even now, though, the mainstream media rarely connects the oil bonanza taking place for Western companies with the reasons for the war and occupation in the first place. Such thinking continues to be dismissed as the "suspicions" of Arabs and U.S. leftists.

IN THE face of such a naked power play, carried out on behalf of U.S. corporate interests, many millions of people hope that the Democratic Party and a possible Obama presidency will bring change. They expect that Obama--whose popularity rests, in significant part, on his early opposition to the Iraq war--will end the occupation and withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq. But they will be disappointed.

The day before the New York Times revealed the new Iraq oil deal, the Washington Post reported that Barack Obama spoke by telephone with a leader of the Iraqi puppet government and assured him that a future Obama administration wouldn't "destabilize" the country by withdrawing U.S. troops too quickly.

According to the Post, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said he made his message to Obama "very clear...Really, we are making progress. I hope any actions you will take will not endanger this progress."

As the Post summarized, "He said he was reassured by the candidate's response, which caused him to think that Mr. Obama might not differ all that much from Mr. McCain. Mr. Zebari said that in addition to promising a visit, Mr. Obama said that 'if there would be a Democratic administration, it will not take any irresponsible, reckless, sudden decisions or action to endanger your gains, your achievements, your stability or security. Whatever decision he will reach will be made through close consultation with the Iraqi government and U.S. military commanders in the field.'"

As if to underline the similarities of Obama's plans for Iraq with the Bush administration's, news reports at the end of June indicated that Obama, if elected, might keep Defense Secretary Robert Gates in his current position.

The Times of London quoted Obama's top military advisor, Richard Danzig, a former secretary of the Navy under Bill Clinton, as saying, "My personal position is Gates is a very good secretary of defense and would be an even better one in an Obama administration." Added the paper, "Obama's top foreign policy and national security advisers are pressing the case for keeping Robert Gates at the Pentagon after he won widespread praise for his performance."

It's hard to imagine a President Obama dismantling the occupation of Iraq while keeping one of the current architects of that occupation in place. That's because while Obama's blueprint for securing U.S. interests in the region might be slightly different than the Bush's, he is committed to the same objectives overall--continued military and economic dominance of the Middle East.

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