In a December 2005 I wrote in this space that there was evidence to suggest that the reason for regime change in Iraq had little to do with weapons of mass destruction. The invasion of Iraq instead had a great deal to do with getting Saddam Hussein out of the way so the U.S. could improve their position relative to Iraqi oil. The fear at the time was the United Nations would lift the sanctions on Iraq and the French and other governments had agreements in principle with Baghdad.
Iraq sits on top of the world’s second largest oil reserve. According to most accounts, the proven reserves are 112 billion barrels, with a probable pool in excess of 400 billion barrels. At prices on the market this past spring, that amounts to about $25 trillion worth of crude. It is not surprising, or shouldn’t be, to anyone that the large U.S. oil companies would love to have the vast Iraq oil reserves opened to privatization. Under Saddam the reserves were a nationally owned resource. They remain that way today. The question is for how long.
The May issue of a newsletter edited by Jim Hightower, and published by Public Intelligence Inc., said that in 2002, just before the Iraq invasion the state department’s oil and energy working group was saying that Iraq “should be opened to international oil companies as quickly as possible after the war.” The war has dragged on much longer than first anticipated, but the idea of opening the oil fields has not faded.
The newsletter reported that a legislative proposal developed in 2004 would transfer the oil reserves from an Iraqi owned resource, to a privatization model. The proposal calls for opening two-thirds of the known Iraqi oil fields, and all fields discovered in the future to private oil companies. The decision-making body would be an appointed authority, called the Federal Oil and Gas Council, and the council would make the major decisions over oil. The council would also decide who gets contracts to extract the nation’s oil and, as proposed, would not require those getting the oil to reinvest profits into Iraq, hire Iraqis or share new technologies with them.
This February, following the election that changed the majority in Congress, which opened the door to the possibility of timelines for bringing home U.S. troops, the proposal was introduced in the Iraqi parliament. The administration, oil lobbyists and some Iraqi politicians are urgently trying to pass the proposal into law.
The oil report scenario provides a different perspective on the administration’s public urging of support for the new “surge” strategy. The report also offers another explanation for the insistence of waiting until September for the progress report to be issued by Gen. David Petraeus, U.S. commander in Iraq, that Congress has required. There is important work to be done and not much time to do it. A provision in the proposal would allow the foreign interests to hold onto their pieces of the reserves until after the current civil war settles down and then come in to harvest the oil and the profits that result.
Given the heavy U.S. reliance on foreign oil, and the current players in the marketplace, it is easy for one to give credence to the clandestine reasons for the invasion of Iraq. It seems as national oil fortunes grow, a certain degree of diplomatic arrogance accompanies them. There are major shifts in political power occurring internationally due to the rising prices of oil and the profits they bring to the oil exporting countries. Cases in point are Russia, Venezuela and Iran. Changes can be as subtle as the cooling of the relationship between the Russian and U. S. presidents, to the dangerous situation of Iran developing a nuclear weapons program.
The buzzword in Washington these days is “transparency.” To date it seems to be applied mostly to domestic legislation, particularly as it relates to earmarks or the pork barrel legislation for a Congressman’s district or state. There does not seem to be the same initiative for disclosure when it comes to foreign policy. After five years of the Iraq war, more than 3,700 military deaths and $500 billion the American public warrants more candor out of Washington. If Iraqi oil is what they mean when they say we are there protecting our national interests — they need to say so.
Robert Brincefield is publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Sunday. He may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.