May 11, 2019

THE POINT WAS DESTABILIZING THE REGION:

The Iraq War Was Not About Oil (Tal Tyagi, 5/11/19, Quillette)

With American troops building up on the border in March 2003, Saddam made a desperate attempt to cling on to power. His secret service sought out American-Lebanese businessman Imad Hage, who acted as an intermediary, meeting influential White House-advisor Richard Perle. Hage reported that in return for the regime's survival, "the U.S. will be given first priority as it relates to Iraq oil." The offer was rejected.

The situation is best summarized by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary S. Becker: "If oil were the driving force behind the Bush Administration's hard line on Iraq, avoiding war would be the most appropriate policy."

It is often considered laughable and ludicrous to claim the U.S. and U.K. cared about bringing democracy to Iraq, given their historical record in the region. On countless occasions, oil interests have trumped human rights. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, with an archaic attitude to women that holds public beheadings and sponsors Islamic terrorism, but where is the outcry or intervention? Since 1945, oil has flowed and arms have been sold, fostering a close connection between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

Nevertheless, the "war for oil" thesis makes even less sense in this context. Given that Saudi Arabia (alongside all the other oil-rich Gulf states with the exception of Kuwait) opposed the war, invading Iraq risked future deals. Leading war proponent and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz was reported to be "more than pleased" that democracy in Iraq would make the Saudis uneasy and was supportive of "rocking the stability of tyrannies in the Arab world." Such antagonism was antithetical to the interests of Shell and Exxon-Mobil who had made huge investments in the Kingdom's natural gas.

Cosying up to dictators is not the only reason the motives of the U.S. and U.K. have come under suspicion. It's also their remarkable double standards and duplicity when it comes to supporting democracy. Iran's Mohammed Mossadegh was democratically elected but was deposed in a CIA/MI6-backed coup in 1953 after he nationalised the Anglo-Persian oil company (now BP). He was replaced by the Shah who suppressed opposition while guaranteeing Anglo-American business interests.

Although parallels have been drawn between the Iranian incident and the Iraq invasion, this comparison not only ignores the coup's Cold War context but it equates the overthrow of democracy and installation of a dictatorship with the overthrow of dictatorship and installation of a democracy. Both the Saudi monarchy and the Shah show that Big Oil's profits are often better protected by a despotism that keeps its people down while passing on money to the West. If an appetite for Iraq's oil fields was what drove U.S. policy then why not replace Saddam with a compliant strongman who could be controlled? Why insist on elections that would put the power to shape the Iraqi oil industry into the hands of the Iraqi people?

After the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, no major oil company could even consider investing in Iraq. While an unstable underdeveloped country may hand over its resources to multinationals because it's desperate for investment, the risk is that once a country recovers its government will reject what it sees as an unfair deal. This is known as the Obsolescing Model in international trade. Since elections were not scheduled until December 2005 and a permanent government would not be formed until May 2006, Big Oil would have to wait three years before its representatives could bargain with a government that would be considered sovereign. Only this could allow them to sign contracts that would be protected under international law.

An additional problem Iraq's parliamentary system posed to the creation of conditions favorable to outside oil companies was legislation from the 1960s that stated any oilfield development contract would have to be approved by a specific new law passed in the Iraqi parliament, potentially stalling or torpedoing new deals.

An even bigger blow to the stability required for a smooth oil agreement was when the December elections in 2005 delivered a decisive defeat for the secular pro-U.S. elements (such as the INA) and a huge victory for Shia Islamist parties, in the form of the United Iraq Alliance (UIA). This group had links to the Islamic Republic of Iran, arch enemy of the U.S. It also included the Sadr Current, the political wing of the Mahdi Army, which had engaged in attacks on Coalition forces. The dominant group was the Da'wah Party, whose founding philosophy forbids the private ownership of oil. From 2005 to 2018, three of Iraq's four elected prime ministers, al-Jaafari, al-Maliki and al-Abadi, have been drawn from Da'wah.

By 2007, Iraq's parliament was debating the direction of the oil industry. A plan was put forward to "promote foreign investment and private sector development" of Iraq's oil, gas and electricity, known as the Hydrocarbon Law. However, this infuriated Iraqis and united them across class, region and religion.

Previously outlawed unions were able to organise oil workers, strike and issue statements declaring that "privatization of oil is a red line that may not be crossed." The Association of Muslim Scholars (possibly Iraq's most influential Sunni group) used their new-found free speech to issue a fatwa against the plans, outlining how "oil is the common property of the ummah." Four hundred and nineteen members of Iraq's intelligentsia, including diplomats, doctors, engineers, former ministers and lawyers, expressed opposition by signing a petition. Iraqi parliamentarians responded to concerns of their constituents by opposing the proposals.

Ultimately, the post-Saddam order, which gave birth to a thriving democracy and civil society, was a far cry from a playground for foreign oil companies or the "client state" resource colony Noam Chomsky accused the U.S. of invading Iraq to create.

Posted by at May 11, 2019 10:33 AM

  

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