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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What About Iraq's Oil?

Christopher Hayes wants to know why "the word oil never crossed the lips of any of the reporters at today’s press conference" with president Bush, and why reporters don't ask about the establishment of permanent bases once the war has ended:

Oil Law, by Christopher Hayes: Listening to the President’s press conference..., something caught my ear. ... Bush mentioned that a key to unifying the country would be getting Iraq’s new oil law passed. The idea is, I imagine, that once Iraq’s new government has figured out how to equitably share oil revenues among various factions, everyone’s going to get along just fine. Of course, along with bringing Iraqis together, the new law might just also provide a boon to American energy companies A win-win!

As Antonia Juhasz shows in a new cover story for In These Times (not yet on line), and argued in the LA Times earlier this month, access to oil continues to drive US policy in Iraq:

The Bush administration hired the consultancy firm BearingPoint more than a year ago to advise the Iraqi Oil Ministry on drafting and passing a new national oil law. Plans for this new law were first made public at a news conference in late 2004 in Washington. Flanked by State Department officials, Iraqi Finance Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi (who is now vice president) explained how this law would open Iraq’s oil industry to private foreign investment. This, in turn, would be “very promising to the American investors and to American enterprise, certainly to oil companies.” The law would implement production-sharing agreements. ...

In July, U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman announced in Baghdad that oil executives told him that their companies would not enter Iraq without passage of the new oil law. Petroleum Economist magazine later reported that U.S. oil companies considered passage of the new oil law more important than increased security when deciding whether to go into business in Iraq.

There are two elephants in the room when it comes to Iraq, and for some reason the establishment press can never quite bring itself to broach the subjects: permanent bases and access to oil. It’s fairly clear that Bush is not going to withdraw from Iraq no matter what happens. Part of this is due to the fact that he has decided that as long as we stay in Iraq we can’t lose the war, and he doesn’t want to lose. But there’s also the not-so-minor fact that if we withdraw from Iraq we’ll have a hard time establishing permanent bases and may not have any secure access to the country’s oil.

So why is it the word oil never crossed the lips of any of the reporters at today’s press conference?

Update: In response to comments, let me add that I think the form of the contracts/law matters. Access is different from control/property rights and that's where people may be talking past each other.

If, for example, the law gives U.S. companies the right to some of the oil in return for developing the infrastructure destroyed in the war, preferential treatment about who gets the development contracts, etc. - the kind of cronyism we've seen again and again - that's one issue, and one that merits raising. It's this phrase:

The law would implement production-sharing agreements.

that caught my eye in that regard.

If it's just access, the so long as the oil hits world markets, then that's another issue, and I agree that it won't affect price, etc.

Update: Angy Bears follow up - see PGL, then Steven Kyle.

    Posted by on Wednesday, December 20, 2006 at 02:09 PM in Economics, Iraq and Afghanistan, Oil, Press | Permalink  TrackBack (1)  Comments (77)


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