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Fortunes of War: Death and Chaos No Problem for Profit-Seekers in Iraq

by Chris Floyd

It is the oil law -- not civil war, sectarian strife, or the cynical U.S. "surge" policy of arming all sides to guarantee continuing conflict -- that is holding up Western investment.
Monday, 25 February 2008—We have long been told that the "security situation" in Iraq is the reason why the loudly promised "reconstruction" of the shattered nation by altruistic Western firms has been thwarted. Foreign corporations, particularly the oil companies, are eager to come to the aid of the suffering Iraqi people with expertise, technology and massive investment -- just as soon as those quarrelsome Arabs settle down and stop killing each other.

So the story goes. But as usual, the truth is far from that. As the British government's top advisor revealed this week in a remarkably candid interview with the Observer, Western business leaders don't care how many Iraqis die -- or who kills them -- just as long as their own profits can be guaranteed. It is the oil law -- not civil war, sectarian strife, or the cynical U.S. "surge" policy of arming all sides to guarantee continuing conflict -- that is holding up Western investment.

That's the word from Michael Wareing, chief executive of the multinational consultancy firm KPMG. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has put Wareing in charge of the Basra Development Commission, the Big Business quango tasked with developing southern Iraq -- where British forces once held sway, but now hide away in a remote enclave while Shiite militias and criminal gangs battle for control of the lucrative region.

Wareing told the paper that security in the area "was no longer an issue for investors." After all, he said, you will often find a spot of bother amongst the dusky peoples who have unaccountably found themselves living on top of America and Britain's oil:

"If you look at many other economies in the world, particularly the oil-rich economies, many of these places are quite challenging places in which to do business," he said. "Frankly, if you can successfully operate in the Niger Delta, that is a very different benchmark from imagining that Basra needs to be like London or Paris."

Indeed. You don't have to bring the savages up to the level of white folks in order to get in there and grab their oil. (And certainly not to the level of London or Paris! The very idea!)  Again, Wareing is quite frank on this point:

Iraq's parliament has yet to pass a hydrocarbon law setting out the terms oil companies will operate on and how profits will be split. "My sense is that many of the oil companies are very eager to come in now, and actually what they're waiting for is the hydrocarbon law to be passed and various projects to be signed off. That is what is causing them to pause, rather than the security position," he said.

And what is the "security position" in this very juicy slice of the Iraqi pie? (As the Observer notes, the Basra region "accounts for 90 percent of government revenue and 70 percent of Iraq's proven oil reserves.") Commondreams.org gives us the lowdown on a situation that is perfectly acceptable to KPMG, the oil companies, Her Majesty's Government -- and Her Majesty's Government's true masters in Washington:

Murdered Iraqi civiliansIn Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, 2008 was ushered in with an announcement of the 2007 death toll of women targeted by Islamist militias. City officials reported on December 31 that 133 women were killed and mutilated last year, their bodies dumped in trash bins with notes warning others against “violating Islamic teachings...” But ambulance drivers who are hired to troll the city streets in the early mornings to collect the bodies confirm what most residents believe: the actual numbers are much higher.

The killers’ leaflets are not very original. They usually accuse the women of being prostitutes or adulterers. But those murdered are more likely to be doctors, professors, or journalists...Their crime is not “promiscuity,” but rather opposition to the transformation of Iraq into an Islamist state. That bloody transition has been the main political trend under US occupation.

It’s no secret who is killing the women of Basra. Shiite political forces empowered by the US invasion have been terrorizing women there since 2003.

The Observer story on Wareing has more:

Basra fell largely under the control of Shia militias after the ousting of Saddam Hussein and has witnessed a violent turf war, as well as high rates of murder and kidnapping. Corruption is rife, residents are afraid to use banks in case they are robbed and smuggling of oil and other goods helps fund militias and criminal gangs. Unemployment has been put at between 30 per cent and 60 per cent, and the agricultural sector is in serious decline as cheap imports grow.

An insight into the situation in Basra is also provided in a second candid interview that appeared in the same issue of the Observer, this time with one of Britain's top military men in the region:

In an unusually frank analysis, Colonel Richard Iron, military mentor to the Iraqi commander General Mohan al-Furayji, said "There's an uneasy peace between the Iraqi Security Forces [ISF] on the one hand and the militias on the other. There is a sense in the ISF that confrontation is inevitable. They are training and preparing for the battle ahead. General Mohan says that the US won the battle for Baghdad, the US is going win the battle for Mosul, but Iraqis will have to win the battle for Basra."

Basra has been the scene of a violent power struggle between rival Shia factions, prominently Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) led by the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who last week announced an extension to its six-month ceasefire. It has seen armed groups move into hospitals and university campuses to impose their religious and political ideology, bullying or even beheading women for going out to work or dressing inappropriately.

Asked who runs the city now, Iron, who has been in Basra since December, said: "There's no one in charge. The unwritten rules of the game are there are areas where the army can and can't go and areas where JAM can and can't take weapons."

"There's no one in charge." Think of that: five years after the invasion of Iraq, a trillion dollars gone, a million people killed, and still, "there's no one in charge."  The extremist Shiite militias -- including the militia known as the American-armed, American-funded, American-backed Iraqi government – are sharpening their knives for the eventual showdown within the sect; women are being killed and mutilated; professionals, doctors and teachers are being snatched off the streets, murdered or driven out; the city and region are being carved up into warring fiefdoms; murder and thievery are rampant; the chance for an ordinary, decent human life is receding for a population plunged into violent anarchy and immense suffering ...but none of this is "an issue for investors." They could not care less. If the Green Zone gang back in Baghdad can just get this damn oil law signed already, then Big Oil and its attendant industries will move in and start restoring and expanding the infrastructure of the Iraqi economy.

Naturally, since Nigeria is the openly stated model for what's to come, the actual people of Iraq will get the barest trickle of this bumper harvest of their national wealth. As in Nigeria, most of it will be shipped back to the West and spread around a thin layer of corrupt and corrupting local elites, while the majority lives in poverty and the society is riven with ethnic, religious and political conflict spurred by the twin goads of greed and vast injustice.

Wareing's revelations tie in to what we've been saying here (and elsewhere) for years: the Bush Faction (and the various elites it represents and embodies) has already "won" the war – no matter what happens. As I wrote here last fall, combining threads from a series of articles going back to August 2003:

In a world of dwindling petroleum resources, those who control large reserves of cheaply-produced oil will reap unimaginable profits – and command the heights of the global economy. It's not just about profit, of course; control of such resources would offer tremendous strategic advantages to anyone who was interested in "full spectrum domination" of world affairs, which the Bush-Cheney faction and their outriders among the neocons and the "national greatness" fanatics have openly sought for years. With its twin engines of corporate greed and military empire, the war in Iraq is a marriage made in Valhalla.

And this unholy union is what Bush is really talking about when he talks about "victory." This is the reason for so much of the drift and dithering and chaos and incompetence of the occupation: Bush and his cohorts don't really care what happens on the ground in Iraq – they care about what comes out of the ground. The end – profit and dominion – justifies any means. What happens to the human beings caught up in the war is of no ultimate importance; the game is worth any number of broken candles.

And in plain point of fact, the Bush-Cheney faction – and the elite interests they represent – has already won the war in Iraq...They've won even if Iraq collapses into perpetual anarchy, or becomes an extremist religious state; they've won even if the whole region goes up in flames, and terrorism flares to unprecedented heights – because this will just mean more war-profiteering, more fear-profiteering. And yes, they've won even if they lose their majority [in November 2006] or the presidency in 2008, because war and fear will still fill their coffers, buying them continuing influence and power as they bide their time through another interregnum of a Democratic "centrist" – who will, at best, only nibble at the edges of the militarist state  – until they are back in the saddle again. The only way they can lose the Iraq War is if they are actually arrested and imprisoned for their war crimes. And you know and I know that's not going to happen.

So Bush's confident strut, his incessant upbeat pronouncements about the war, his complacent smirks, his callous indifference to the unspeakable horror he has unleashed in Iraq – these are not the hallmarks of self-delusion, or willful ignorance, or a disassociation from reality. He and his accomplices know full well what the reality is – and they like it.


photo of Chris FloydChris Floyd has been a writer and editor for more than 25 years, working in the United States, Great Britain and Russia for various newspapers, magazines, the U.S. government and Oxford University. Floyd co-founded the blog Empire Burlesque, and is also chief editor of Atlantic Free Press. He can be reached at cfloyd72@gmail.com.

This column is republished here with the permission of the author.



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This story was published on February 27, 2008.