Sen. Barack Obama’s recent trip to Iraq is an excellent time to ask where we are in Iraq both militarily and economically. First, let’s be clear, the United States invasion and occupation of Iraq was and is about seizing and controlling its major oil fields. Those who still believe otherwise haven’t been paying attention. (By the way, an invasion to seize natural resources is illegal under the Geneva Conventions.) Thus, it would seem to be the responsibility of the United States to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure. We broke it. We should fix it. Remember, Saddam Hussein’s regime paid $9 billion to Kuwait in reparations for its 1990 invasion. The ill-advised Iraq adventure so far has cost the United States 4,125 dead and 30,324 wounded and $538.6 billion. In addition, thousands of Iraqi civilians have died or been displaced by the war.
Instead of fixing the breakage it caused, the United States is attempting to force Iraq to sign no-bid contracts giving 75 percent of about half of its known oil reserves to a few Western oil companies with Iraq retaining 25 percent. The U.S. government has even provided advisors to help draft these no-bid contracts.
Why, we ask, shouldn’t Iraq have 100 percent control of its oil? No new oil fields need be developed; they are already in production. Why is Iraq different from other countries emerging from colonial rule? Because, so the argument goes, Iraq lost much of its technology through years of sanctions followed by a U.S.-led invasion and occupation. Therefore, Iraq needs to start producing oil to pay for reconstruction, which billions of dollars in no-bid contracts to Western firms have failed to accomplish. And, of course, Iraq is now such a risky place to operate that the oil companies must be paid more to induce them to invest. Thus, the years of sanctions, the invasion, and now the occupation of Iraq has created the argument for its continued pillage. Of course, the planned long-term U.S. occupation of Iraq will ensure the no-bid contracts are enforced. In other words, we broke it so now we own it or will own it.
Iraq does not need to continue or create more fast and easy markets for ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, Halliburton, Bechtel, Blackwater, at al, but, rather needs to assert its sovereignty to achieve success on its own terms. The United States must stop using Iraq as a cash cow.
Fortunately, there are some signs that Iraq is grabbing hold of its own destiny. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki now wants U.S. troops out of Iraq “as soon as possilbe.” The Iraq government is also having second thoughts about entering into long-term no-bid contracts with a few Western oil companies. Now the plan is to limit no-bid service contracts to one year to be paid in cash, rather than a percentage of oil profits. Without a U.S. in-country presence, perhaps Iraq will begin to rebuild the country with profits from its own oil.
Sen. Obama talks of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq within sixteen months. Then on to Afghanistan, where everyone agrees more support is needed for reconstruction and security. President Obama will have his work cut out for him.
Ralph E. Stone is a San Francisco resident.