US efforts to force Iraqis to swallow permanent vassal status and give up control of their oil echoes British imperial history
- The Guardian, Thursday June 26, 2008
Whatever the Iraq war was about, we were assured, it definitely wasn't about oil. Tony Blair called the idea a "conspiracy theory". It was about democracy and dictatorship, weapons of mass destruction and human rights, anything but oil. Donald Rumsfeld, then US defence secretary, insisted the conflict had "literally nothing to do with oil". When Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, wrote last autumn, "Everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil," he was treated as if he were some senile old gent who'd embarrassingly lost the plot.
That argument is going to be a good deal harder to make from next week, when four of the western world's largest oil corporations are due to sign contracts for the renewed exploitation of Iraq's vast reserves. Initially, these are to be two-year deals to boost production in Iraq's largest oilfields. But not only did the four energy giants - BP, Exxon Mobil, Shell and Total - write their own contracts with the Iraqi government, an unheard-of practice: they have also reportedly secured rights of first refusal on the far more lucrative 30-year production contracts expected once a new US-sponsored oil law is passed, allowing a wholesale western takeover. Big Oil is back with a vengeance.
It's a similar story when it comes to the future of the US occupation itself. The last thing on anyone's mind, we were told when the tanks rolled in, was permanent US control, let alone the recolonisation of Iraq. This was about the Iraqis finally getting a chance to run their own affairs in freedom. But five years on, George Bush and Dick Cheney are putting the screws on their Green Zone government to sign a secret deal for indefinite military occupation, which would effectively reduce Iraq to a long-term vassal state.