It Was Oil, After All

July 10, 2006

Last month the new prime minister of Iraq proposed to his country a plan of reconciliation which included, among other provisions, that the United States withdraw by a date certain.  That proposal was on the table for only a couple of days and then, reportedly because of pressure from the United States, removed. The prime minister’s plan for reconciliation no longer contains that provision. The US says that Iraqi forces are not yet trained, or that to pull out too soon would be to cast the country into civil war, or that the Iraqi democracy is not yet fully established.   Unfortunately, there is another explanation which is more troubling.

In the spring of the year 2001, when Dick Cheney had been in office less than three months, he convened a task force to discuss energy policy for the United States.   His group asked for and was supplied by the Commerce Department, a document entitled “Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oil.” The document, subsequently obtained by Judicial Watch through a FOIA request, can now be understood to have had great significance.   It was only three pages but it listed 30 countries which had obtained concessions from Saddam Hussein for the huge oil reserves of Iraq.   Countries on the list ran through the alphabet from Australia to Vietnam and the details included the specific names of the private companies and locations of their concessions.   Sadly, in all this list of 30 countries and companies, the United States was not anywhere to be found.   Not one US company was in negotiation or had achieved an agreement with Saddam Hussein.

Vice President Cheney and his Energy Policy Task Force were therefore confronted with the appalling fact that the US oil industry had been completely out-maneuvered in the competition for the world’s third largest oil reserves. Cheney and his colleagues must have known, further, that they could not abolish that list with any peaceful tools.   UN sanctions or weapons inspectors were irrelevant to establish control of the oil fields.

The only way to get rid of that list foreign oil concessions, therefore, was to put US troops on the ground.   In the Spring of 2001, unfortunately for Cheney and his friends, they had no excuse to do so.   It took them two years to create that excuse,

First came the president’s Axis of Evil.   Then Americans began to hear of the danger of a Saddam-created mushroom cloud.   Then after two years, the invasion took place.   Accordingly, Cheney and Rumsfeld sent their friend Ahmad Chalabi into Baghdad with 700 troops of his own which they had outfitted.   In the confusion of the months that followed, Chalabi became interim oil minister.

  That man was then in charge of all the contracts for Iraqi oil.   It does not take much imagination to realize that he was in a position to erase the pre-war map of Foreign Suitors for Iraqi oil.

Last year, in 2005, it was reported by the Chicago Tribune and others that the United States is now building 14 “enduring” military bases in Iraq. “Enduring” means permanent.   That is, we are building bases which are intended to house US troops indefinitely.    We have such bases still in Germany and Japan, 50 years after the end of World War II, and those bases are kept there, not because of any current danger from either Germany or Japan but because of grand geo-political strategy which says that America wants to remain dominant in both Europe and Asia.

Similarly, there is a grand geo-political reason for keeping US military bases in Iraq, and keeping them there indefinitely.   When one lays the map of the “enduring” base locations over another map which shows the distribution of oil reserves in Iraq, they go together.   With the exception of British zone in the southeast, the “enduring” US bases are located where the oil is, or where the refineries are, or where the pipeline junctions are.   They are not, on the other hand, in El Anbar province, where the greatest insurgent activity is.   They are not where the danger is, unless the danger that is most feared is the danger to oil.

It is not surprising, then, that this administration forced the new Iraqi prime minister to retract any provision for a scheduled withdrawal of US troops. It may be said, of course, that from the standpoint of democratic reform the Iraqi war has been a catastrophe.   From the standpoint, however, of Haliburton and the US oil industry, the troops are right where they should be.