Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Blood for Oil, Revisited

In a June, 2005 interview with the Progressive Magazine, Robert Fisk, the noted Middle East correspondent for the Independent of London, was asked why the US and Britain invaded Iraq. His response: "We didn't invade for weapons of mass destruction, because there weren't any. We didn't want to help the Shiites, because we had asked them to rise up in 1991 and sat back while they were all massacred. Clearly, we wouldn't have invaded Iraq if its chief export was cauliflower or carrots. So the oil dimension has to be there."

A couple of weeks ago a good friend and I were talking about the Iraq debacle, and he asked: "What happened to blood for oil?" Anyone who was there for 2003 pre-war protests remembers this slogan, so common on signs, posters, stickers and so on. My friend's question was a good one, since more than five years after the invasion Iraq's oil industry is still sputtering, and the west is more captive than ever to the whims of the Opec countries, especially the Saudis.

I stumbled across a Chomsky article on Alternet, which in turn points back to a Times article from a few weeks ago that sheds some light on the situation. Yes, Virginia, it was about the oil after all. Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP, along with some smaller oil companies including Chevron, were recently granted a no-bid contract to operate some of Iraq's largest oil fields. The four major players were the original constituents of the Iraq Petroleum Company, who were kicked out of Iraq when Sadaam nationalized Iraq's oil reserves in 1971.

Iraq law apparently requires that these concessions should be open to a transparent bidding process, and many other countries, including Russia and China, expressed great interest. But the Iraq Oil Ministry has learned a lot from the Bush administration about skirting pesky laws, and circumvented this one by granting the US consortium "service contracts" as opposed to actual concessions. The companies have negotiated that their payment be in oil instead of cash.