Outside View: Controlling Iraqi oil

By NICK MOTTERN, UPI Outside View Commentator

"Americans remain optimistic that a last minute deal can be reached," reported The Wall Street Journal in its June 14-15, 2008 edition, describing an impasse over an extraordinary long-term "security" deal between the United States and Iraqi governments that would keep U.S. troops in Iraq for many, many years.

Gina Chon, reporting from Baghdad, was not referring to the American public. She was referring only to a statement by the State Department's Iraq coordinator, David Satterfield, who, she said in breezy style, "is in town for the negotiations" on the deal, which is opposed by an increasing number of Iraqis because it would make Iraq a captive state of the United States.


Oil was not mentioned in connection with Satterfield's negotiations. Nor was oil mentioned in the negotiation reports in The New York Times or Financial Times. In fact, it has been the practice of the major media to avoid mentioning oil in connection with military activity in Iraq; something also common in the Congress, all following the lead of the Bush administration.


But it is no coincidence that news of negotiations over the "security" agreement comes with news on June 19 that the occupied Iraqi government is getting ready to sign contracts with ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron and Total to assist in developing Iraq's vast oil fields, holding the world's third-largest reserves. Although the contracts are simply for services, not long-term production agreements, the contracts give the major oil companies a foot in the door.

That they are no-bid contracts given to these Western firms over Russian, Chinese and Indian competitors is exceptional and clearly a matter of an occupied government responding to pressure from the occupier.

What the Bush administration and the major oil companies are striving for is a "security" agreement that will be locked into place before the November election, enabling U.S. troops to protect U.S. oil interests in Iraq and to control the Iraqi government for years to come.

The U.S. military-Iraqi oil connection was made surprisingly clear in March 2008 when Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said at a news conference in Iraq, as reported by United Press International, that he had made calls to major "energy" companies, urging them to invest in Iraq. Since it has been obvious the "majors" want back into Iraq, and have been pushing for an Iraq oil law that would result in huge profits for them, his calls could only have been to assure the oil officials their investments will be safe.


The United States is, according to a report by Patrick Cockburn in the newsletter Counterpunch, pushing the Iraqi government to allow the U.S. military total freedom in Iraq to do virtually anything it wants, supposedly to fight terrorists. The real day-to-day reality is that the agreement would provide a "legal" basis for allowing the U.S. military to do whatever it takes to protect the investments of major oil companies in Iraq after the U.N. mandate covering the occupation expires at the end of the year.

The United States will be protecting the oil operations not from invaders of Iraq but from Iraqis who are opposed to the long-term oil deals now being pushed by the United States and resisted by many inside and outside the government. Perhaps the most notable opponents of the long-term deals are members of the Iraqi oil workers union, who also oppose the occupation.

The terms of the proposed agreement have been kept secret by the Bush administration, even from the Congress. The Cockburn report says the terms, some acknowledged by Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, include:

-- Permanent military bases in Iraq; 50 is reportedly the minimum number.

-- Complete control of Iraqi air space below 29,000 feet.


-- Complete freedom to conduct military operations as the United States sees fit.

-- Immunity from prosecution for U.S. troops and U.S. mercenaries, also known as private contractors.

-- Freedom to jail and interrogate Iraqis at will.

It is possible that provisions yet to be made public may also include commercial privileges, such as freedom for the United States from import and export duties, which would likely mean profit-making possibilities for big oil. This is suggested by a draft of the agreement, created by the United States as early as 2003, made available through the work of the National Security Archive and reported by The Public Record on June 14.

The astounding military/detention provisions of the agreement would effectively put all Iraqis under the control of the United States, with perhaps less sovereignty than any supposed nation in the world. The possibility that the United States may back down from some of these terms does not change the fact that these extraordinary demands have been made at all. The only reason anyone is even talking about them is the deadly force being thrown around in Iraq by the United States.

An example of why the Bush administration wants a blank check for the U.S. military in Iraq is the operation under way this week in and around the city of Amarah in southern Iraq, not far from the Halfaya super-giant oil field, which is estimated at 3.8 billion barrels. This field likely holds the equivalent of about 25 percent of the total reserves under control of ExxonMobil worldwide.


The official reason for the offensive, according to the occupied government of Iraq, is to root out "outlaws" and "criminals," according to Reuters. The area is reportedly under the control of Moqtada Sadr, a Shiite cleric opposed to the occupation.

If the offensive in Amarah, with a population of 250,000, goes like a similar attack in the oil center of Basra in March, following the Petraeus news conference, Iraqi troops will be supported by U.S. helicopter gunships that fire Hellfire missiles. This U.S. air weapon has been responsible for countless horrific civilian deaths as it often has been used in crowded urban neighborhoods.

There is no question that Americans are incensed about high gasoline prices. But it is doubtful that the vast majority of Americans want to be using gasoline in their cars that is being secured at gunpoint.


(Nick Mottern is the director of


(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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