Whatever else happened under Saddam Hussein’s regime, one thing is certain – oil production remained under state control, with the lion’s share of revenues going into the government’s coffers to pay for education and other social provision. Forget about weapons of mass destruction - this is what really bugged the United States and what inspired the 2003 invasion. Almost four years later, the Iraqi parliament is poised to rubber stamp a new law that will throw open the country’s massive oil reserves, the third-largest in the world, for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies. This provides the context for George Bush’s anticipated announcement this week that tens of thousands of extra troops will be sent to Iraq, despite the opposition of the majority of Americans. The troops’ main role will be to try and make the country secure enough for the oil to flow without interruption. Oil industry executives and analysts are rubbing their hands in anticipation of the victor’s dividend. The US government has been involved in drawing up the latest draft of the law which would give the vastly profitable transnational oil companies such as BP, Shell and Exxon 30-year contracts to extract Iraqi crude and allow the first large-scale operation of foreign oil interests in the country since the industry was nationalised in 1972. Under the law, Western companies would pocket up to three-quarters of profits in the early years under "production-sharing agreements". These are highly unusual in the Middle East, where the oil industry in Saudi Arabia and Iran, the world's two largest producers, remains state controlled.
Planning for the takeover of Iraq’s reserves began in 2001, within weeks of Bush first taking office and well before the September 11th attack on the World Trade Centre. in 1999 Dick Cheney, while he was still chief executive of the oil services company Halliburton, said that the world would need an additional 50 million barrels of oil a day by 2010. "So where is the oil going to come from?... The Middle East, with two-thirds of the world's oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize ultimately lies." A year later he was Vice-President and one of the main architects of the neo-conservative strategy of overthrowing unsympathetic regimes and replacing them with governments that would participate in the global market economy. Of course, a smokescreen had to be created – enter the elusive WMDs – to try and justify the illegal, pre-emptive war. With hand on heart, Tony Blair denied the "false claim" that "we want to seize" Iraq's oil revenues when he proposed the parliamentary motion for the invasion. Colin Powell, then US Secretary of State, said: "It cost a great deal of money to prosecute this war. But the oil of the Iraqi people belongs to the Iraqi people; it is their wealth, it will be used for their benefit. So we did not do it for oil." Now the truth is out. Blair, Powell, Bush, along with every member of their governments, have blood on their hands – the blood of tens of thousands of Iraqis in exchange for oil. We witnessed their victors’ justice last week with the barbaric hanging of Saddam; peoples’ justice will demand that these leaders one day face trial for their crimes against humanity carried out in the name of oil and profit.
Gerry Gold, economics editor