Commentary by David Hungerford
It’s in the news that four big oil companies that once formed the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC) are back in Iraq. Up until 1972, Iraq did not ‘own’ its own oil. – Iraqi oil belonged the to IPC.
The four have been back in Iraq for a number of months. They are about to sign ‘service contracts’ for reconstruction of the country’s oil production infrastructure. The contracts do not require approval by the occupation puppet Green Zone ‘government.’
The big oil cartel is arguably the most powerful corporate combine in the world. It has its foot in the door and that’s all it needs to regain dominance. It’s far more than just another ‘war for oil’ story, however. Rather, it raises two other, essential questions about the war: Why war? Why Iraq?
There are many ways to get oil. War is the worst. So why war? There are many countries that have oil. Saudi Arabia has oil but we are not fighting them. So why Iraq?
These are absolutely critical questions but rarely asked. Now Big Oil has raised them in spite of itself.
The IPC was a cartel of four giant oil companies. Today the companies are known as Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell and Total. At one time they had been in Iraq for many years. Then in 1958 the Iraqi Revolution put an end to British domination of Iraq. The IPC retained control of the oil, however.
When Iraq achieved a stable government under the Baath Party in 1968 it set about claiming its own oil. Many problems had to be solved.
Iraq needed oil extraction technology of its own and capital. It needed to avoid overthrow by the imperialist countries, as had happened in Iran in 1952 when the government of Mohammed Mossadeq was overthrown in a CIA-instigated coup. Iraq needed to overcome the ability of the oil giants to embargo sales of its oil, something that had also happened to Iran.
The person Iraq turned to for answers to hard questions was Saddam Hussein. Time and again Saddam’s solutions worked. By 1972 the Iraqis were able to tell the IPC that the ‘party was over,’ the oil now belonged to them. As Lee Raymond, a former chairman of Exxon Mobil told Newsweek, “Saddam Hussein threw us out.” (Sept. 15, 2007)
Although he was not yet formally head of state, from that point on Saddam Hussein was the key person in Iraq. He came to power not because he killed or terrorized anyone but because he was the one who figured out how to nationalize the oil. That’s why the U.S. demonized him. That’s why they hanged him.
After the 1973 war with Israel and the use of the ‘oil weapon’ by the Arab countries, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a previously insignificant force, was able to take control of oil pricing away from the big oil cartel. It was a great step forward for all of the OPEC countries not just economically, but also in sovereignty.
Now we have the answer to the question of why there is a war for oil: It is due to the conflict between imperialist domination and national sovereignty
But why Iraq and not the others? Among Arab countries in OPEC Iraq alone had full control of its oil from production through sale. It was the only fully sovereign Arab country in the Persian Gulf. By 1990 the conflict had become so intense that the imperialists could think of nothing better than to rig up the Kuwait crisis and commit aggression against Iraq.
The IPC could get back into Iraq only at gunpoint, by invasion and occupation. That’s the only way it can stay. That’s what John McCain meant when he said he is willing to stay in Iraq for “maybe 100” years. It can’t be done. As long as the occupation stays the Iraqi people will fight. The war has its ups and downs but the people will always fight. Their cause is just. In the end they are certain to win.