Iraq: Obama’s great vanishing trick

On 4 June President Obama made a speech at Cairo University that was intended to cement ‘better relations’ between the US and the Muslim world. The cornerstone of the speech was a promise that the US would keep no bases in Iraq and would withdraw its military forces from the country by the end of 2011. Fine words, but reality does not mirror them. Obama has stated that only ‘combat’ troops will be withdrawn; such troops make up only about a third of the 130,000 US forces still in Iraq. The rest of the military personnel have now been re-labelled ‘advisors’ so that they can stay on in the areas vacated by ‘combat’ troops.

Language helps sow the illusion of withdrawal. The imperialist governments and the bourgeois press use such doubletalk to deceive their own public. Iraq is not going to be a client state, they say, but, in the words of General Odierno, the highest US commanding officer in Iraq, it is ‘a long-term partner with the United States in the Middle East’. The US embassy in Iraq is by far the biggest in the world, housing not just ‘diplomats’ and various ‘assistants’ but military technicians and intelligence chiefs. The US is setting the conditions for a long-term presence in the region.

The US marked 30 June as the date for its ‘withdrawal’ from Iraq’s cities and made a big show. The Iraqi puppet government represented by President Nouri Al-Maliki marked the day as a ‘great victory’. A victory for whom? Presumably not the Iraqi people, hundreds of thousands of whom have been murdered, traumatised, and left in dire poverty.

30 June did not mark independence for Iraq. Though US troops may now be less visible on the streets, the US military is still effectively running the country. The Iraqi security force is being directed in all major respects by the pervasive US military advisers still embedded in Iraq.

Sectarian violence returns
Iraq has suffered further sectarian violence. In the week leading up to 30 June, a string of bombs, including in the Kurdish region of Kirkuk and the eastern Baghdad district of Sadr City, killed more than 200 people. A series of further attacks, again mainly sectarian in nature, also followed the ‘handover’. Such attacks have been fostered, directly and indirectly, by US intelligence services. Sectarian violence can be useful for the US as it plays two roles. Firstly, it thwarts any move towards a unified Sunni-Shia-Kurdish anti-occupation resistance and, secondly, helps the US to justify its continued military presence. This also helps to maintain the view that the Iraqi security forces, though ready to die in military operations, are not yet able to command them.

Let the bidding commence!
‘Iraq is the last big, low-cost play in conventional oil anywhere in the world,’ says Bill Farren-Price, a Middle East expert and energy director at Medley Global Advisors. Iraq not only has the world’s third largest official reserves of oil at 115 billion barrels but, due to three decades of war and sanctions, its vast oil fields are uniquely underexploited. It is no surprise that bidding for drilling licences at the end of June attracted more than 30 oil companies from around the world.

The licence round was meant to raise Iraqi oil production from 2.4 million barrels a day to 4 million, and provide the lucky winners with huge revenues for years to come. However, the bidding exposed a massive gulf between the expectations of the companies and those of the government, so in the end just one contract was signed. The government needs money for reconstruction, yet its income has plunged due to a collapse in oil prices over the last year. So the government sought to squeeze the oil companies, but they were not open to being squeezed. They walked away from the bidding table promising to return only when a better deal is on offer.

The Iraqi government exerts little control over Iraqi oil revenues. The Development Fund for Iraq, whose revenues are deposited in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, was established under the auspices of the UN after the invasion and receives 95% of the proceeds from Iraq’s oil sales. The solitary signed contract was jointly won by BP and China’s CNPC to produce oil at the giant Rumaila field near the Kuwaiti border. Whoever wins the contracts in the future, the US embassy will almost certainly be responsible for inspecting and supervising the contract winners, while the US military and private contractors will become guarantors of their security. Fayed Al Nema, the CEO of the Iraqi South Oil Company, said that the contracts, if approved, would ‘put the Iraqi economy in chains and shackle its independence for the next 20 years.’

Andrew Alexander

FRFI 210 August / September 2009


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