Two Presidents Bush; Two Iraq Wars; One Shared Goal: US Access to Oil
December 4, 2018
Middle East Research and Information Project & History.com & Naval History and Heritage Command & Antonia Juhasz / CNN & Portside
In 2000, Big Oil, including Exxon, Chevron, BP and Shell, spent more money to get fellow oilmen Bush and Cheney into office than they had spent on any previous election. The National Energy Policy Development Group, chaired by Cheney, brought the administration and the oil companies together to plot our collective energy future. In March, the task force reviewed list of targets, outlining Iraq's entire oil productive capacity. Planning for a military invasion was soon under way.
Oil and the Gulf War
Paul Aarts and Michael Renner / Middle East Research and Information Project
(July/August 1991) -- No blood for oil! The rallying cry of many of those who took to the streets in protest against the Gulf war is simple. Is it too simple? "Even a dolt understands the principle," said one unnamed US official, "We need the oil. It's nice to talk about standing up for freedom, but Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are not exactly democracies, and if their principal export were oranges, a mid-level State Department official would have issued a statement and we would have closed Washington down for August." 
To be sure, no conflict is one-dimensional. Some in Washington welcomed the crisis to demonstrate that the US still has a clear advantage over its economic competitors: military power. The military has tested its new weapons under realistic conditions, and the political leadership is glad to bury the "Vietnam syndrome." The conflict also deflected attention from domestic difficulties with a rousing foreign adventure.
Persian Gulf War: Operation Desert Shield
"Of course it's about oil;
we can't really deny that,"
-- Gen. John Abizaid, former head of US Central Command and Military Operations in Iraq
Though the long-running war between Iran and Iraq had ended in a United Nations-brokered ceasefire in August 1988, by mid-1990 the two states had yet to begin negotiating a permanent peace treaty. When their foreign ministers met in Geneva that July, prospects for peace suddenly seemed bright, as it appeared that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was prepared to dissolve that conflict and return territory that his forces had long occupied.
Two weeks later, however, Hussein delivered a speech in which he accused neighboring nation Kuwait of siphoning crude oil from the Ar-Rumaylah oil fields located along their common border. He insisted that Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and cancel out $30 billion of Iraq's foreign debt, and accused them of conspiring to keep oil prices low in an effort to pander to Western oil-buying nations. . . .
Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion and occupation of neighboring Kuwait in early August 1990. Alarmed by these actions, fellow Arab powers such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt called on the United States and other Western nations to intervene. Hussein defied United Nations Security Council demands to withdraw from Kuwait by mid-January 1991, and the Persian Gulf War began with a massive US-led air offensive known as Operation Desert Storm.
After 42 days of relentless attacks by the allied coalition in the air and on the ground, US President George H.W. Bush declared a cease-fire on February 28; by that time, most Iraqi forces in Kuwait had either surrendered or fled. Though the Persian Gulf War was initially considered an unqualified success for the international coalition, simmering conflict in the troubled region led to a second Gulf War–known as the Iraq War–that began in 2003.
"Even a dolt understands the principle.
We need the oil.
It's nice to talk about standing up for freedom,
but Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are not exactly democracies."
-- An unnamed US official
Operation Iraqi Freedom
Naval History and Heritage Command
March 20, 2003, marked the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom with preemptive airstrikes on Saddam Hussein's Presidential Palace and military targets followed by approximately 67,700 "boots on the ground" with 15,000 Navy personnel on ships in the region (Belasco). OIF was authorized when Iraq was found to be in breach of UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1441 which "prohibits stockpiling and importing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)."
Iraqi forces were overwhelmed quickly and Baghdad fell a mere five weeks after the invasion began. With the invasion complete, an insurgency and influx of al Qaeda inspired fighters poured into the country, which sparked guerilla warfare tactics against US troops and civil war between the Sunni and Shia tribes.
On December 15, 2011, "The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other top US military leaders observed the official end of US Forces Iraq's mission after nearly nine years of conflict that claimed the lives of nearly 4,500 troops (Torreon)."
After US forces withdrew from Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) invaded areas of Syria and Iraq causing widespread causalities, destruction of the country's infrastructure and barbaric practices against citizens. In response to the terrorists group, Operation Inherent Resolve began August 21, 2016.
Why the War in Iraq Was Fought for Big Oil
Antonia Juhasz / CNN & Portside
People say we're not fighting for oil.
Of course we are.
-- Then-US Senator Chuck Hagel in 2007
(March 20, 2013) -- Yes, the Iraq War was a war for oil, and it was a war with winners: Big Oil.
It has been 10 years [now 15] since Operation Iraqi Freedom's bombs first landed in Baghdad. And while most of the US-led coalition forces have long since gone, Western oil companies are only getting started.
Before the 2003 invasion, Iraq's domestic oil industry was fully nationalized and closed to Western oil companies. A decade of war later, it is largely privatized and utterly dominated by foreign firms.
From ExxonMobil and Chevron to BP and Shell, the West's largest oil companies have set up shop in Iraq. So have a slew of American oil service companies, including Halliburton, the Texas-based firm Dick Cheney ran before becoming George W. Bush's running mate in 2000.
The war is the one and only reason for this long sought and newly acquired access.
Full Coverage: The Iraq War, 10 Years On
Oil was not the only goal of the Iraq War, but it was certainly the central one, as top US military and political figures have attested to in the years following the invasion.
"Of course it's about oil; we can't really deny that," said Gen. John Abizaid, former head of US Central Command and Military Operations in Iraq, in 2007. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan agreed, writing in his memoir, "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil." Then-Sen. and now Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the same in 2007: "People say we're not fighting for oil. Of course we are."
For the first time in about 30 years, Western oil companies are exploring for and producing oil in Iraq from some of the world's largest oil fields and reaping enormous profit. And while the US has also maintained a fairly consistent level of Iraq oil imports since the invasion, the benefits are not finding their way through Iraq's economy or society.
These outcomes were by design, the result of a decade of US government and oil company pressure. In 1998, Kenneth Derr, then CEO of Chevron, said, "Iraq possesses huge reserves of oil and gas-reserves I'd love Chevron to have access to." Today it does.
Exclusive: Hans Blix on the
"Terrible Mistake' in Iraq
In 2000, Big Oil, including Exxon, Chevron, BP and Shell, spent more money to get fellow oilmen Bush and Cheney into office than they had spent on any previous election.
Just over a week into Bush's first term, their efforts paid off when the National Energy Policy Development Group, chaired by Cheney, was formed, bringing the administration and the oil companies together to plot our collective energy future. In March, the task force reviewed lists and maps outlining Iraq's entire oil productive capacity.
Planning for a military invasion was soon under way. Bush's first Treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, said in 2004, "Already by February (2001), the talk was mostly about logistics. Not the why (to invade Iraq), but the how and how quickly."
In its final report in May 2001 (PDF), the task force argued that Middle Eastern countries should be urged "to open up areas of their energy sectors to foreign investment." This is precisely what has been achieved in Iraq.
Here's how they did it.
The State Department Future of Iraq Project's Oil and Energy Working Group met from February 2002 to April 2003 and agreed that Iraq "should be opened to international oil companies as quickly as possible after the war."
Iraq Suffocates in Cloak of Sorrow
The list of the group's members was not made public, but Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum -- who was appointed Iraq's oil minister by the US occupation government in September 2003 -- was part of the group, according to Greg Muttitt, a journalist and author of "Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq." Bahr al-Uloum promptly set about trying to implement the group's objectives.
At the same time, representatives from ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Halliburton, among others, met with Cheney's staff in January 2003 to discuss plans for Iraq's postwar industry. For the next decade, former and current executives of western oil companies acted first as administrators of Iraq's oil ministry and then as "advisers" to the Iraqi government.
Before the invasion, there were just two things standing in the way of Western oil companies operating in Iraq: Saddam Hussein and the nation's legal system. The invasion dealt handily with Hussein.
To address the latter problem, some both inside and outside of the Bush administration argued that it should simply change Iraq's oil laws through the US-led coalition government of Iraq, which ran the country from April 2003 to June 2004. Instead the White House waited, choosing to pressure the newly elected Iraqi government to pass new oil legislation itself.
Did Iraq Give Birth to the Arab Spring?
This Iraq Hydrocarbons Law, partially drafted by the Western oil industry, would lock the nation into private foreign investment under the most corporate-friendly terms. The Bush administration pushed the Iraqi government both publicly and privately to pass the law.
And in January 2007, as the ''surge" of 20,000 additional American troops was being finalized, the president set specific benchmarks for the Iraqi government, including the passage of new oil legislation to "promote investment, national unity, and reconciliation."
But due to enormous public opposition and a recalcitrant parliament, the central Iraqi government has failed to pass the Hydrocarbons Law. Usama al-Nujeyfi, a member of the parliamentary energy committee, even quit in protest over the law, saying it would cede too much control to global companies and "ruin the country's future."
In 2008, with the likelihood of the law's passage and the prospect of continued foreign military occupation dimming as elections loomed in the US and Iraq, the oil companies settled on a different track.
Bypassing parliament, the firms started signing contracts that provide all of the access and most of the favorable treatment the Hydrocarbons Law would provide -- and the Bush administration helped draft the model contracts.
Why Women Are Less Free after Iraq War
Upon leaving office, Bush and Obama administration officials have even worked for oil companies as advisers on their Iraq endeavors. For example, former US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad's company, CMX-Gryphon, "provides international oil companies and multinationals with unparalleled access, insight and knowledge on Iraq."
The new contracts lack the security a new legal structure would grant, and Iraqi lawmakers have argued that they run contrary to existing law, which requires government control, operation and ownership of Iraq's oil sector.
But the contracts do achieve the key goal of the Cheney energy task force: all but privatizing the Iraqi oil sector and opening it to private foreign companies.
They also provide exceptionally long contract terms and high ownership stakes and eliminate requirements that Iraq's oil stay in Iraq, that companies invest earnings in the local economy or hire a majority of local workers.
Iraq's oil production has increased by more than 40% in the past five years to 3 million barrels of oil a day (still below the 1979 high of 3.5 million set by Iraq's state-owned companies), but a full 80% of this is being exported out of the country while Iraqis struggle to meet basic energy consumption needs. GDP per capita has increased significantly yet remains among the lowest in the world and well below some of Iraq's other oil-rich neighbors. Basic services such as water and electricity remain luxuries, while 25% of the population lives in poverty.
Share Your Story of the Iraq War
The promise of new energy-related jobs across the country has yet to materialize. The oil and gas sectors today account directly for less than 2% of total employment, as foreign companies rely instead on imported labor.
In just the last few weeks, more than 1,000 people have protested at ExxonMobil and Russia Lukoil's super-giant West Qurna oil field, demanding jobs and payment for private land that has been lost or damaged by oil operations. The Iraqi military was called in to respond.
Fed up with the firms, a leading coalition of Iraqi civil society groups and trade unions, including oil workers, declared on February 15 that international oil companies have "taken the place of foreign troops in compromising Iraqi sovereignty" and should "set a timetable for withdrawal."
Closer to home, at a protest at Chevron's Houston headquarters in 2010, former US Army Military Intelligence officer Thomas Buonomo, member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, held up a sign that read, "Dear Chevron: Thank you for dishonoring our service" (PDF).
Yes, the Iraq War was a war for oil, and it was a war with losers: the Iraqi people and all those who spilled and lost blood so that Big Oil could come out ahead.
Antonia Juhasz is a leading oil industry expert. She is a policy-analyst, author and journalist. Juhasz is the author of three books: Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill (2011), The Tyranny of Oil (2008), and The Bush Agenda (2006).
Juhasz founded the Energy Program at Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based human rights non-profit organization, and directed the program from July 2009 to July 2011. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Petroleum Review Magazine, The Progressive, and TomPaine.com. She is on the National Advisory Committee of Iraq Veterans Against the War and is an Associate Fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies.]
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