Western oil cartel recolonizes Iraq

In a piece entitled “Bush & Cheney Always Saw Iraq as a Sweetheart Oil Deal,” Noam Chomsky writes that “US war planners want an obedient client state that will house major US military bases, right at the heart of the world’s major energy reserves.” (AlterNet, July 12) Chomsky references reports by Andrew Kramer in the New York Times last month that “Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP β€” the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company β€” along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields.” Since then, the soup has considerably thickened:

On July 1, Sabrina Tavernise and Kramer reported in the Times, “Iraq to Open Oil Fields for 35 Foreign Companies”:

BAGHDAD β€” Iraq announced Monday that it was opening six key oil production fields to more than 30 foreign companies, while delaying an announcement on a series of no-bid consulting contracts with a handful of Western oil companies.

Iraq’s oil minister, Hussain al-Shahristani, speaking at a news conference here, said Iraq would begin taking bids later this year for longer-term contracts on six of its oil fields. Thirty-five foreign companies have qualified to participate. Winners will be announced in 2009, Mr. Shahristani said.

Iraq hopes to almost double its production, to 4.5 million barrels of oil a day over the next five years from the current 2.5 million barrels, Mr. Shahristani said. The contracts are aimed at helping the country do that.

Iraq had been expected on Monday to issue its first contracts to foreign oil companies that would provide technical support and help raise Iraqi oil production ahead of awarding lucrative long-tern contracts.

Those initial short-term contracts, with Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total, BP and Chevron, are still under negotiation, a person close to the talks said, and will probably be completed in the next month.

The reason for the delay was unclear.

Chevron said in a statement that it was “continuing to negotiate” with the Oil Ministry on the short-term technical contract on an oil field called West Qurna, which is currently producing.

“The ministry has separately announced a tender for full field development and Chevron has been prequalified to participate in that bid round,” the company said.

In the June 30 Times, Kramer reported “US Advised Iraqi Ministry on Oil Deals”:

A group of American advisers led by a small State Department team played an integral part in drawing up contracts between the Iraqi government and five major Western oil companies to develop some of the largest fields in Iraq, American officials say…

In their role as advisers to the Iraqi Oil Ministry, American government lawyers and private-sector consultants provided template contracts and detailed suggestions on drafting the contracts, advisers and a senior State Department official said.

It is unclear how much influence their work had on the ministry’s decisions.

The advisers β€” who, along with the diplomatic official, spoke on condition of anonymity β€” say that their involvement was only to help an understaffed Iraqi ministry with technical and legal details of the contracts and that they in no way helped choose which companies got the deals.

Repeated calls to the Oil Ministry’s press office for comment were not returned…

For its part, the administration has repeatedly denied steering the Iraqis toward decisions. “Iraq is a sovereign country, and it can make decisions based on how it feels that it wants to move forward in its development of its oil resources,” said Dana Perino, the White House spokeswoman.

As for that “obedient client state that will house major US military bases,” dig how the actual content of the story contradicts the headline in this one from Tavernise in Times of July 8, “Iraqi Favors Short Security Pact With US”:

BAGHDAD β€” Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki publicly confirmed Monday that his government was leaning toward concluding a short-term security pact with the United States instead of a broader agreement that would last for years.

The legal authority for American troops in Iraq is now provided by a United Nations mandate that expires at the end of the year. Iraq and the United States have been negotiating details of a broad new agreement that would formalize the security relationship, but with elections nearing in both countries and opposition likely from the Iraqi Parliament, Iraqi leaders seemed to be opting for a narrower and short-term pact.

Mr. Maliki’s office said in a statement that the “current trend is toward reaching a memorandum of understanding” that would extend the presence of American troops for a period of time. While the statement used the words “scheduled withdrawal” about American troops, it did not seem to mean that a precise timetable for troops to depart was being negotiated.

Ali al-Adeeb, a prominent leader in Mr. Maliki’s political party, said in a telephone interview that while there were many options for withdrawal and several end points under discussion, “We think that what is suitable for withdrawal is when our soldiers are ready and well armed to take the responsibility.”

Oh, so it seems that “short” actually means “open-ended.”

See our last posts on Iraq, the struggle for the oil, and the politics of escalation.