US staying the course for
Big Oil in Iraq
By Pepe Escobar
Times" -- --- Washington at large and
President George W Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney
in particular may apply every contortionist trick in the
geopolitical book to save their skins in Iraq - and the
reasons are not entirely political.
In addition to the recently released report by the Iraq
Study Group, any other Washington establishment report -
Pentagon, State Department, think-tanks - considered by
the White House
cannot deviate from much of the ISG. There can be no
firm timeline for a complete US withdrawal because it
all depends on Iraq's new oil law being passed and US
troops being able to defend Big Oil's investment.
Once again, it's the oil. The Bush-Cheney system by all
accounts went to Iraq to grab those fabulous reserves.
The only way for an overall solution to the Iraqi
tragedy would be for the Bush administration to give up
the oil - with no preconditions, turning the US into an
honest broker. Realpolitik practitioners know this is
not going to happen.
Instead, the ISG is explicitly in favor of privatizing
Iraq's oil industry - to the benefit of Anglo-American
Big Oil - after the impending passage of a new oil law
that was initially scheduled to be passed this month by
the Iraqi Parliament.
For Big Oil, the new oil law is the holiest of holies:
once the exploitation of Iraq's fabulous resources is in
the bag, "security" is just a minor detail. Enter the
ISG's much-hyped provision of US troops remaining in
Iraq until an unclear date to protect not the Iraqi
population, but Big Oil's supreme interests. This is
really what ISG co-head James Baker means by
According to reports, the draft law, Iraq's first
postwar draft hydrocarbon law, proposes allowing - for
the first time - local and international companies to
carry out oil exploration in Iraq.
Dow Jones Newswires reports that the draft law
stipulates that the Iraqi Oil Ministry "should set up a
committee consisting of highly qualified experts to
speed up the process of issuing tenders and signing
contracts with international oil companies to develop
Iraq's untapped oilfields".
The law as drafted by a government committee also says
that all matters concerning oil and gas exploration,
production and transportation should be handled by the
federal government - something Kurdish officials in
northern Iraq resist.
Nechirvan Barzani, the Kurdish region's prime minister,
has been quoted as saying that talks he held with the
Baghdad government had failed to produce an agreement on
his demands for control of oil resources in the region.
"We demand that the signing of contracts to develop
oilfields in Kurdistan should be handled by the
Kurdistan region," he said.
Iraq needs international companies to investment as much
as US$20 billion to increase crude-oil production to 3
million barrels a day from below the 2 million at
Meanwhile, back in the zone
When the ISG stressed that "the ability of the United
States to influence events within Iraq is diminishing",
it was a sterling understatement at best. The US does
not control much in Iraq apart from the Green Zone. The
gruesome, daily accumulation of death proves the US Army
provides no security and is distrusted by all parties.
The troops don't even know whom they are supposed to be
fighting (apart from Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army). At
the same time, the Pentagon's aerial bombings - with
scores of "collateral damage" victims - remain as
relentless as counter-insurgency run amok.
The Proactive, Preemptive Operations Group implemented
by the Pentagon is regarded by Sunnis and quite a few
Shi'ites as being the mastermind of some of the car
bombings, assassinations, sabotage, kidnappings and
attacks on mosques fueling the civil war. The "Salvador
option" has developed into the "Iraqification option".
US-trained death squads in Iraq are not much different
from the death squads in El Salvador during the 1980s -
subordinated to the same "divide and rule" tactics. This
is the "civil war" dirty secret: let the Arabs kill one
another with the US posing as "victims".
Although the House of Saud's Interior Ministry will deny
it, the ISG had to admit that Sunni Arab guerrillas are
being financed - to the tune of tens of millions of
dollars - by wealthy, private Saudi and, to a lesser
extent, Gulf state donors, following instructions of
powerful Wahhabi clerics. Thirty-eight of these have
just released a statement on Saudi websites calling on
Sunnis worldwide to "mobilize" against Iraqi Shi'ites.
This has stopped short of being a formal declaration of
jihad not only against Shi'ites in Iraq but also
Shi'ites in Iran, as well as US troops. The guerrillas'
Russian Strela anti-aircraft missiles in Iraq have been
paid for by Saudi money (according to Khudair
al-Murshidi, a Ba'athist spokesman based in Damascus,
"We have stockpiles of Strelas.") There's no US pressure
capable of reverting the situation: this is a matter of
Arab tribal solidarity - not a state affair.
There can be no direct negotiation with the Sunni Arab
muqawama (resistance) because in essence what they want
is the breakup of the Washington/Shi'ite majority
government collaboration and their return to power. The
Nuri al-Maliki government - in fact, any Shi'ite
majority government - cannot possibly quash militia hell
and the non-stop carnage because the Saudi-financed
Sunni Arab guerrilla identifies any government as an
And there's not much Iran can do to crush either the
jihadis (not more than 1,300 operatives) or the
40,000-strong Sunni Arab resistance at large: one cannot
possibly imagine the Republican Guards crossing the
border from Iran to fight pitched battles in Ramadi
alongside the US Army.
What could be accomplished - even though it's an
extremely long shot - is a Shi'ite-majority government
sharing some measure of power and guaranteeing a
substantial share of oil-related profits to Sunni
parties. But certainly not under the terms of the new
oil law favoring Anglo-American Big Oil.
The axis of despair
Washington's impotence and bewilderment are astonishing
- considering the flurry of extrication-from-Iraq
wishful-thinking schemes. It starts with being caught in
the middle of a "Sunni axis" - US ally/client regimes
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait - supporting
Sunni Arab politicians and most of all the anti-US Iraqi
guerrillas; and on the other side Shi'ite Iran and
pro-Hezbollah, pro-Palestine Syria (predominantly Sunni)
supporting sections of the Shi'ite-dominated, US-backed
The US may be squeezed between the Sunni axis and Iran
and Syria, but it's Iraq that's the supreme
battleground. Morbidly, Iraq is now also configured as a
remix of Taliban Afghanistan in the 1990s: Wahhabi Saudi
Arabia against "apostate" Shi'ite Iran. Meanwhile, in
Lebanon - another battlefield - the Sunni axis supports
the corrupt, Saudi-related Hariri clan and the virtually
meaningless Fouad Siniora government, against Iran and
Syria supporting Hezbollah.
Many Persian Gulf strategists tend to abhor the ISG
recommendation of reduced US troops in Iraq. They either
go for total US withdrawal (it won't happen anyway) or
at least doubling the current number of 145,000 troops.
There are insistent rumors in Dubai that Saudi Arabia,
the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait - all Organization
of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members and Gulf
Cooperation Council members as well - could engineer,
alongside the US, a substantial increase in oil
production to force prices below $40 a barrel, thus
really hurting Iran. But in this case, Hugo Chavez'
Venezuela would certainly use all his influence inside
OPEC to undermine the move.
Inside Iraq, Sunnis - politicians, not the resistance -
want the US to take out the Shi'ite militias, which
means, in practice, the Badr Organization (the
paramilitary wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic
Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, thus part of the
government) and Muqtada's Mehdi Army. The Pentagon may
be itching to engage in a battle of Sadr City, the
massive Shi'ite slum in Baghdad, but that, like the
flattening of Fallujah, would accomplish nothing, apart
from horrific "collateral damage" and the opening of
another, deadlier anti-American guerrilla front.
Suppose Bush finally decides to bet on the return of the
Ba'athists - now represented by al-Awdah (The Return)
party. An overall amnesty for the Sunni Arab resistance
might be offered (unlikely: Maliki would be eaten alive
by Shi'ites everywhere). Anyway, the guerrillas have
never been interested in talking to the Americans in the
first place. Take the heavily tribal, pro-Saddam Hussein
al-Anbar province. Even the US Marine Corps has admitted
that al-Qaeda in Iraq is the "dominant organization of
influence in al-Anbar", ahead of the Sunni resistance,
the government in Baghdad and the US "in its ability to
control the day-to-day life of the average Sunni". At
the same time al-Awdah is also very powerful; so
al-Qaeda has to fight not only the Americans and the
Baghdad government but the neo-Ba'athists as well.
The resistance would never dissolve by simply believing
a US pitch on the Badr Organization and the Mehdi Army
also being dissolved (by a Bush/Maliki joint decree?).
On the other side of the spectrum, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim,
leader of the SCIRI, as well as Muqtada would never fall
into this trap in the first place.
Iraqi Shi'ites fear that the White House now wants a new
Saddam. They should not worry (or should they?): the
only man with certified street power in Baghdad to
become a new Saddam is Muqtada, which for the US is
anathema. What Shi'ite politicians - SCIRI and Da'wa -
want most of all is for the US to help them take out the
Sunni Arab guerrillas as well as al-Qaeda in Iraq. In
his recent visit to Washington, Hakim was explicit: no
US withdrawal. Instead, full speed ahead against the
Sunni Arab guerrillas, but not against the Shi'ite
militias (especially his own).
Muqtada, an Iraqi nationalist (and not an Iranian
puppet), in this case would disagree, because he views
the Sunni Arabs as a legitimate resistance force (with
preconditions: in a recent sermon in Kufa, Muqtada
stressed that Sunnis must not kill Shi'ites, must not
join al-Qaeda, and must rebuild the Askariyah Shrine in
Muqtada strikes back
The crucial development in the next few weeks is
Muqtada's fine-tuning of a stunning Shi'ite counterpunch
to demolish once and for all the US-created
pro-sectarian strategy: a nationalist, pan-Islamist,
anti-occupation coalition of the Sadrists and the
neo-Ba'athists, plus any other religious or secular
Transcending the Sunni/Shi'ite divide, this would
preempt any threat of all-out civil war - not to mention
decide the fierce Shi'ite family feud between Hakim and
Muqtada in the Sadrists' favor. No wonder US Senator
John McCain wants to "take out" Muqtada as much as the
Already virtually ruled out by Bush, US dialogue with
Iran on Iraq - were it to happen - would also imply some
hard truths. Tehran might have some sway in forcing the
SCIRI to dissolve the Badr Organization. But it would
ask in return for a complete US withdrawal - sprawling
military bases included. There's no guarantee Iran would
deliver: the SCIRI is not a puppet party. On top of it,
Iran would be helpless against the Sadrists. Once again:
Muqtada is above all an Iraqi nationalist.
So the conclusion is grim: militia hell will continue -
no matter what the US tries in desperation - because the
Sunni Arab guerrillas will only disarm when the
occupation is over, and when the Shi'ite militias also
disarm; and the Shi'ite militias will only disarm when
the Sunni Arab guerrilla war is finished. Not likely, on
No wonder Saudi King Abdullah is concerned, warning that
Iraq is a "tinderbox". The new Greater Middle East hot
war is already on. Baghdad is its horrific microcosm -
public executions, non-stop ethnic cleansing, the Tigris
as the Sunni/Shi'ite border with Shi'ite district
Kadhimiya and Sunni district Adhamiya as ghettos under
siege on the "wrong" sides of the river. Maliki is as
irrelevant as Bush - who at least has his own militia,
the US Army, just one more militia in militia hell or,
as Hunter Thompson would put it, "just another freak in
a freak kingdom".
The neo-conservative hallucination of a puppet Iraqi
regime as the centerpiece of a US-driven Greater Middle
East - loads of cheap oil, Israel-friendly, anti-Iran -
may have been derailed by a Mesopotamian sandstorm. But
even with the defeat of the occupation, the US - or "the
snake", as Muqtada defines it - still is not going
anywhere. The "snake" will redeploy. Sunni Arab US
ally/client regimes fear that a US withdrawal would lead
to a whole new regional ball game tilting toward
pro-Iran or pro-al-Qaeda regimes.
Not even a long-drawn civil war - Arabs killing one
another - may save Bush and Cheney. And Iraq won't
succumb to "divide and rule" and break up - because its
identity as the eastern flank of the Arab nation is a
geopolitical fact. So the real tragedy is how much
longer millions of Iraqis caught in the crossfire will
be paying with their own blood for the United States'
Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd