Analysis; US Interest in Iraq Oil: Stability and Profit

Manila Bulletin, September 19, 2007 | Go to article overview

Analysis; US Interest in Iraq Oil: Stability and Profit


Byline: PAT REBER

WASHINGTON (dpa) - For the past years, US President George W. Bush has pushed the Iraqi government to nail down a national revenue- sharing law for oil and gas as a cornerstone to democracy and development of the country's most important resource.

Equitable oil distribution among "Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, Kurds and other Iraqi citizens" is important to "defining federalism in Iraq," the White House said last Friday in a report to US Congress.

It found however that Iraq has "not made satisfactory progress" on the crucial issue.

The negative rating was reinforced this past week when negotiations on the law collapsed in Baghdad just as Bush's ambassador and top military commander in Iraq were in Washington trying to persuade Congress that things have been improving.

Perhaps even more significantly, a deal sealed earlier this month between the local government in Iraq's northern Kurdish region and a billionaire US oilman and top Bush supporter, Ray Hunt, could say even more about the prospects for national reconciliation on the oil law, observers said.

The deal could bolster the perception, held by many critics in Iraq and abroad, that the US war in Iraq has been, after all, about sequestering its enormous energy reserves for the US, they noted.

Avoiding that perception was at the heart of a report in December 2006 by the bipartisan Iraq study group, which urged Bush to make clear to the world that Washington was not seeking to control Iraq's oil wealth.

The report said the disavowal of US energy interests in Iraq would be vital in averting political and economic chaos in the country.

"The United States can begin to shape a positive climate for its diplomatic efforts, internationally and within Iraq, through public statements by President Bush that reject the notion that the United States seeks to control Iraq's oil, or seeks permanent military bases within Iraq," the high profile group suggested.

For several analysts in Washington, this has clearly not happened.

Daniel Serwer, vice president for peace and stability operations at the government-funded US Institute for Peace (USIP), believes that Iraq's oil wealth is not a "major motive" for US involvement in Iraq, because the US buys its oil on a world market and draws more of its oil from Africa than from the Middle East.

"But obviously, many Iraqis believe it is, and many foreigners do," Serwer told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. He noted that the administration has not gone out of its way to debunk the myth, because Bush addresses mainly his domestic audience when he speaks about Iraq.

To Mark Schneider of the International Crisis Group, an independent think tank in Washington, Bush's speech last Thursday night sketching out a long-term US military involvement in Iraq undermined his own policies for Iraqi independence and equitable oil distribution.

The prospect outlined by Bush of decades of military and financial commitment "seemed to encourage the view that our real goal is maintaining substantial control over the region," Schneider said in a telephone interview. …

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