Gotta get that oil!

Despite what we've always been told, US companies are set to pump Iraq's oil supply

Let’s hop in the old time machine for a moment: February, 2003. Donald Rumsfeld is still secretary of defense, and he’s still lying through his teeth. Specifically, he’s talking about Iraq and its oil: “We don’t take our forces and go around the world and try to take other people’s real estate or other people’s resources, their oil,” Rumsfeld is saying. “That’s just not what the United States does.”

Back in the present, we now know that Rumsfeld, and every other government flack who tried to tell us that oil was not a factor in the decision to invade Iraq, was full of it. Many war critics suspected this at the time, but were shouted down by those who insisted that our goals in Iraq were totally pure. Monday’s New York Times put that idea to bed. It turns out that the Bush administration has been, well, helping the Iraqi government negotiate its shiny new contracts with western oil companies. Not that there’s any conflict of interest there at all.

Before Saddam Hussein took power in Iraq, four oil companies were partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company: Exxon Mobile, Shell, Total, and BP. Now, those same four companies (along with Chevron and a few smaller oil firms) are set to reassert dominance over Iraq’s petroleum. The contracts were awarded no-bid; meaning the companies never had to compete in order to win the lucrative rights to Iraq’s vast oil reserves. And the deals are long-term, giving the western companies the rights to Iraqi oil for decades to come.

The no-bid nature of the contracts looked suspicious enough – Russian companies with experience in the region were shut out. Then came the news on Monday that the U.S. government had been taking an active role in the contractual negotiations. In Andrew Kramer’s Times article, we can see the laughable justifications put forth by administration officials. A White House spokesperson said that “Iraq is a sovereign country, and it can make decisions based on how it feels” about its oil. These are the same people that tell us the country would collapse without our military support. Convenient.

Some of the contradictions are blatant. One State Department official is quoted in the article saying that the U.S. government simply offered suggestions for the contracts, and the Iraqis could have ignored them. But that same official also pointed out that Iraq hadn’t negotiated with an oil company for nearly 40 years, so they had very little knowledge of how to do so. Iraq might have been superficially free to reject U.S. assistance, but without that help no deal could have been reached at all.

International reaction to these deals has already been unkind. (You can find Al Jazeera English’s June 30 report on the topic on YouTube.) Our contradicting of Rumsfeld’s 2003 claim will not do our reputation any favors. General David Petraeus has occasionally expressed concern over the appearance of our military presence in Iraq. “We want to be seen as an army of liberation, not of occupation,” he has said. “You wear out your welcome at some point.” Now, instead appearing as liberators, it just looks like we want to drink Iraq’s milkshake. And we wonder why the mid-east doesn’t love us.

John Sharkey welcomes comments at [email protected]