Before the invasion of Iraq, while millions demonstrated in the streets, often waving homemade placards with “No Blood for Oil” — or equivalents like “Don’t Trade Lives for Oil” and like “How Did USA’s Oil Get under Iraq’s Sand?” — the Bush administration said remarkably little about the vast quantities of petroleum on which Saddam Hussein’s regime was perched. The President did, however, speak reverently about preserving not Iraq’s “energy reserves” but its “patrimony,” as he so euphemistically put it. The American mainstream media followed suit, dismissing arguments about the significance of Iraqi and Middle Eastern oil as the refuge of, if not scoundrels, then at least truly simpleminded dissidents who knew not whereof they spoke. Generally, in our news pages and on the TV news, with Iraq at the edge of a shock-and-awe invasion, Iraqi! energy reserves were dealt with as if no more than a passing thought, as if the Middle East’s main export was hummus.
Little has changed. When former Fed chief Alan Greenspan recently indicated in passing in his memoir that the war was “about oil,” there was a brief firestorm of scorn in Washington; an administration spokesperson termed it “Georgetown cocktail party analysis” (“A refill of crude, please, straight up…”) and Greenspan quickly began to backtrack under the pressure. Oil? Who us? The Bush administration’s plans to protect the Oil Ministry in Baghdad and Iraq’s major oil fields amid otherwise unchecked chaos in April 2003 were certainly noted in the news, but went largely uncommented upon (unless you were an Internet news jockey).
Here’s the strange thing about the Iraq oil “debate” in our media world. Call me crazy, but if you were going to invade Iraq and oil wasn’t right at the forefront of your brain, you would be truly derelict, even if you hadn’t run a major energy services corporation or hadn’t had a double-hulled oil tanker named after you. Jack Miles, author of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning book God: A Biography and the first writer to consider Iraqi casualties at Tomdispatch (or probably much of anywhere else) back in July 2003, now takes up the oil endgame — of which, except in the Web world, there has largely been neither a beginning game. nor a middle game. Tom
Endgame for Iraqi Oil?
The Sovereignty Showdown in Iraq
By Jack Miles
The oil game in Iraq may be almost up. On September 29th, like a landlord serving notice, the government of Iraq announced that the next annual renewal of the United Nations Security Council mandate for a multinational force in Iraq — the only legal basis for a continuation of the American occupation — will be the last. That was, it seems, the first shoe to fall. The second may be an announcement terminating the little-noticed, but crucial companion Security Council mandate governing the disposition of Iraq’s oil revenues.
By December 31, 2008, according to Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, the government of Iraq intends to have replaced the existing mandate for a multinational security force with a conventional bilateral security agreement with the United States, an agreement of the sort that Washington has with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and several other countries in the Middle East. The Security Council has always paired the annual renewal of its mandate for the multinational force with the renewal of a second mandate for the management of Iraqi oil revenues. This happens through the “Development Fund for Iraq,” a kind of escrow account set up by the occupying powers after the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime and recognized in 2003 by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1483. The oil game will be up if and when Iraq announces that this mandate, too, will be terminated at a date certain in favor of resource-development agreements that — like the envisioned security agreement — match those of other states in the region.
The game will be up because, as Antonia Juhasz pointed out last March in a New York Times op-ed, “Whose Oil Is It, Anyway?”: