Monday, January 08, 2007

Blood and the Spoils of Oil.

The recent execution of Saddam Hussain has placed a question mark over the whole matter of the Iraq war. Did the allies initiate the invasion in an attempt to topple a barbarous dictator, or to secure world peace by locating and confiscating the oft mentioned weapons of mass destruction, referred to so often that they are usually known by the nickname "WMD's"? Since Saddam is just one of a long list of Dictators, including Marcos, Ceaucescu and various African tyrants, in modern times, most who have been largely unmolested throughout their careers by the West, it has been suggested that the real reason for removing him from power is intimately connected with Iraq's considerable reserves of oil. No WMD's were ever found, and so the credibility of that particular reason evaporated some while ago, and indeed the claim subsequently that the whole military effort to find them was based on false intelligence would, in any civilian case, ensure grounds for compensation from the aggressors toward those whose lives had been taken or irreparably marred by their actions.
Not that it has been a one way street. Records appear scant as to the number of Iraqi's killed during the conflict since its inception four years ago, a situation that is obfuscated by the emergence of a near civil war, with a growing daily toll of dead irrespective of military action by the coalition armies of the West. The number of U.S. soldiers killed amounts past the 3,000 mark and George Bush now places his bets on swelling the force of troops in Iraq by another 30,000. It now appears that the newly elected Iraqi government is about to pass a law which confers to Western oil companies rights to develop and exploit the country's oil reserves, which are thought to be the third largest in the world. Not surprisingly, the U.S. government has been closely involved in phrasing the legal niceties, and the law as it appears in draft, would allow 30 year contracts to major oil companies such as B.P., Shell andExxonMobil to extract Iraqi crude oil and mean the first large-scale action by foreign interests in the country since its oil industry was nationalised in 1972. Not surprisingly, this outcome is tantamount to handing a banner to those who are further compelled in their conviction that it was "all about oil".
I make no comment here, but it is a fact that the major holdings of oil lie under the sands of the Middle East, and demand for oil worldwide is one of inexorable thirst. In 1999, the U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney, is quoted as saying that the world would need an additional 50 million barrels of oil a day by 2010. When asked where that oil was going to come from, Cheney answered: "The Middle East, with two thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies." It is interesting that just four years later the "second" Iraq war found itself underway, with the smoking rubble from 9/11 still in the sight of memory. Oil industry experts and analysts say that the new law, which allows Western companies to take up to three-quarters of the profits of oil exploitation in the early years, is the only way to get Iraq's oil industry back up and running after so many years of loss of war(s), sanctions and an exodus of trained technicans and engineers from the region.
Whatever the intentions, it seems that war was the most convenient means to hold Iraq and its oil in reserve as a potential "swing-producer", ripe for harvesting when world market forces so dictated. Even if Cheney is right about world demand for oil, I don't understand the logic involved, since his 1999 prediction implies a world that uses 120 million barrels of oil a day in 2010. Since this amounts to nearly 44 billion barrels a year, taken from a (known) resource of one trillion (one thousand billion) barrels altogether, even assuming we could extract the whole lot leaves only 22 years worth. Hence, although it took 150 years to get through the first trillion barrels of crude oil, here we are now, some say at the peak of oil production, looking at a network of pipelines that will have dripped dry by 2029 - and then what?

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